Friday, January 17, 2014

Many people outside Israel think that settlers in the Palestinian territories are a small but powerful group of religious zealots—back-to-the-land types who form hilltop encampments and chase Palestinians from their olive groves. Though that kind of scenario exists, it is not what anthropologist Callie Maidhof found, for the most part, when she embarked on her field research in the West Bank. Maidhof wanted to find out who lives in settlements and why they go there, so she moved to a settlement of 8,000 people—she likens it to an American bedroom community—for nearly a year. The answers she found challenged the perception that religious Zionism has motivated nearly one in 10 Israeli Jews to put down roots in the West Bank and raised the new question of why that perception persists.

Maidhof joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss how Israelis inside Israel view settlers, how the American dream is responsible for settlement growth, and how her experiences living on the settlement compare to where she lives now: in the heart of Ramallah.

Friday, June 28, 2013

If Netanyahu believed in peace, he’d leave the Likud

Depending on when you read this, is it possible that the disembowelling of the Likud by the most fanatical and idiotic of annexationists will have been completed.

The process has been short and swift. Prior to the last election, Likud primary voters selected a party list lousy with reactionary, myopic territorial maximalists: Ze’ev Elkin; Yariv Levin; Tzipi Hotovely; Miri Regev; Moshe Feiglin; and Ofir Akunis. In so doing, Likud voters pushed out a number of Revisionist Zionists who were considered to be too mushy, due in part to their respect of the most basic precepts of domestic and international law and norms: Michael Eitan; Dan Meridor; and Benny Begin.

Chief among those to benefit from the primaries was Danny Danon, a cheap and shallow charlatan and shameless self-promoter whose very name ought to make one’s skin come alive in irritation. Twenty-fourth on the Likud list in 2009, Danon shot up to fifth place in 2013, thus securing ninth place on the joint Likud Beiteinu list and the right after the election to demand for himself a cosy cabinet position.

All this is remarkable considering Danon is an astonishingly vapid and incurious man with no notable legislative or intellectual accomplishments who somehow became a deputy speaker in the last Knesset and Deputy Defence Minister in this one. Indeed, considering his main political proposal consists of annexing most if not all of the West Bank, never mind the Palestinians who live there, one might say his very existence is an anti-intellectual endeavour, or at least one not grounded in the real or substantial.

Danon’s principal interest, in fact, when not propagating land theft or attempting to suppress and denigrate Israel’s minorities is augmenting his international media profile and personal brand, doing whatever is necessary to grab five more minutes of airtime. This unappetising combination of self-aggrandisement and philosophical emptiness was best demonstrated when he considered inviting Glenn Beck – a man who has at the very least flirted with anti-Semitism in his criticism of George Soros – to address the Knesset Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs Committee, about which he knows nothing at all. Only a shameless dope would consider this to be a tasteful or desirable thing to do.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Documentary looking at justice in the land inhabited by Palestinians and captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The occupation began with the idea that Israel’s presence would be temporary. Israelis dispensed justice through military courts, but these still exist. The film explores the challenges of administering this military justice system as seen through the eyes of those responsible for doing so. Do Palestinians receive the same level of justice that they would if they were Israeli citizens? Are these military courts adequate? Israeli authorities have always insisted that they are.

Israeli filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrowicz interrogates Israeli judges and officials in a haunting and factual film about the quality of justice under the occupation of the West Bank.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Challah Hu Akbar:

Israel’s Channel 2 recently conducted a program on Hamas in the West Bank. Here is the report with English subtitles. The translation was completed by Jayne S.


Monday, November 19, 2012

The Road They Didn’t Take

Thoughts of mortality, of committing thousands of young men and reservists to war, ought to trouble and concentrate the mind. Worrisome, then, are the loose lips of Israel’s top brass like Eli Yishai, who stated Saturday, “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages”. Disconcerting too are the attitudes of Michael Ben-Ari, who stated he wants to see 2,000 killed in Gaza, and Gilad Sharon, son of Ariel, who wrote in The Jerusalem Post the following:

We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing.

Their detached attitude to combat, the blasé stance on the sanctity of life, the ease with which they would commit their nation to a war of destruction and desolation, is wicked, callous, and truly frightening. It can’t help but bring to mind, during this month in which we mark the conclusion of the First World War, Wilfred Owen’s take on the Binding of Isaac, “The Parable Of The Old Man And The Young”. After the angel of the Lord appears before Abraham and commands him to offer up “the Ram of Pride” over his threatened son, Owen’s verse takes a grim turn:

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one

Four years ago, Israel was on the verge of a ground war with Hamas and other militant organisations based in the Gaza Strip after a significant uptick in rocket attacks upon civilians living in the Negev. In the elections that followed Operation Cast Lead – which halted the showers of explosives, at a cost of thirteen dead Israelis and 700 dead Palestinian non-combatants – Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud gained fifteen more seats and formed a government of parties opposed to peace, or to use the father Benzion’s adage, in favour of an accord that they must know the Palestinians would never accept.

To say that history is repeating itself, or is in danger of doing so, would be facetious and a little cheap. Yet the familiarity of the position Israel finds herself in – at war with Hamas once more, no closer to an agreement with the PLO, and weeks away from a general election – should certainly sharpen the focus of the Israeli voter and give them just cause to reflect on the Netanyahu administration’s failings.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

The map presented here shows the various assaults from last month alone, but it is not complete because it does not include Jerusalem. It is based on reports that have been cross-checked, and eyewitness testimonies from the Ta’ayush Arab Jewish partnership, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Haaretz will continue to follow events on a regular basis and the way they are handled by the authorities.       

The map presented here shows the various assaults from last month alone, but it is not complete because it does not include Jerusalem. It is based on reports that have been cross-checked, and eyewitness testimonies from the Ta’ayush Arab Jewish partnership, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Haaretz will continue to follow events on a regular basis and the way they are handled by the authorities.       

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Economics Over Easy

For $50,000 per head, guests at the King David Hotel on Monday morning received a menu which included croissants, coffee, various cheeses, eggs, salad and shakshuka. On the side, attendees at this fundraising breakfast were treated to a joint economics and social studies lecture from Mitt Romney on the “dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality” between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. “Culture makes all the difference” Romney said, citing David Landes’ findings in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations as his inspiration for such a conclusion.

Landes’ work, oft-cited by Romney, argues that beginning with the United Kingdom, nations which have become wealthy and prosperous have done so because their national cultures were and are amongst other things capitalistic, meritocratic, technocratic and science-orientated. By extension, countries that have experienced stunted development have failed to integrate these qualities into their own cultures. It is Landes’ assertion, for example, that Islam has discouraged diversity, initiative, and education in the countries where it is the predominant religion under authoritarian, oil-rich regimes.

Within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic, Romney’s emphasis on Landes’ shambling and sweeping conclusions regarding national culture could not be less helpful or enlightening. Rather, the present disparity – where the GDP per capita in Israel is $31,400 compared to $2,900 in the West Bank – is directly attributable to the ongoing politico-military conflict and the influential role of governments and institutions, of the political culture.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney in Israel: Now We Know

Now we know that Mitt Romney did not really much care for the idea of not criticising the President, or contradicting the nation’s current foreign policy, when outside the United States. “Diplomatic distance that is public and critical emboldens Israel’s adversaries,” he proclaimed in a speech in Jerusalem on Sunday. In the same address, he referred to the city as “Israel’s capital”, in defiance of official U.S. policy on the matter.

Now we know, or rather we can confirm, that Romney has no ear for poetry or language, and lacks the ability to turn a phrase and convey real human emotions. During an address at a fundraising breakfast Monday morning that was supposed to convey his appreciation and even love for Israel, Romney said, “As I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognise the power of at least culture and a few other things”. I recognise the power of at least culture and a few other things. The trees are the right height. Its roads and houses are small.

Now we know there’s nothing Romney will not do to peel Jewish voters away from the Democrats, no matter how offensive his gesture. Jeffrey Goldberg described as “very vulgar” his decision to be photographed in prayer at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av – the day on which the First and Second Temples were destroyed, “one of the most solemn days on the Jewish calendar”. “I’m sure, by the way,” Goldberg added, that conservatives “would endorse an Obama campaign stop at Yad Vashem on the Holocaust Memorial Day”.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kadima Means Nothing — Ariel Is Worse

The break-up of Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz’s marriage of convenience bears no significance for the future of the peace process. The partnership between Likud and Kadima was never a serious endeavour to begin with, in spite of much talk about reforming the electoral process, introducing a universal draft, and even kick-starting the moribund talks between Netanyahu and Abbas. Rather, the deal was made entirely out of necessity: for Mofaz to elongate the life of his sham of a party, a project he has now surely annulled; for Netanyahu to continue his principal policy of inactivity on all fronts, under the auspices of national unity.

Far more noteworthy, at least when it comes to the hope that, someday, a democratic, Jewish state might reside with a democratic, Palestinian state in a condition of perpetual if uneasy peace, is the decision by the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education (JSCHE) to recognise the Ariel University Center as a full-fledged university. In doing so, the JSCHE have gone over the heads of the Council for Higher Education which recommended against recognition, thereby establishing Israel’s first university beyond the Green Line in the occupied territories.

But, as Liel Leibovitz notes in Tablet, the word of the council is essentially meaningless when it comes to the occupied territories:

Because Israeli law doesn’t apply in the West Bank…all civilian affairs in the region are overseen by the Israel Defence Forces. In 1997, after the council refused to supervise a number of nascent Jewish academic institutions established east of the Green Line, a new body was formed, called the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria (CHEJS). Its members are appointed by the army.

And, that this university has been established in Ariel only augments the controversy, given the settlement’s position in the West Bank. Ariel competes with Ma’ale Adumim for the indignity of being the most controversial settlement in all of the West Bank, principally due to its size – a city of some 17,700 people – and its location, some 13km west of the Green Line, north of Ramallah and southwest of Nablus. Netanyahu has previously referred to Ariel as a suburb of Tel Aviv, “the heart of Israel”, and “an integral, inseparable part of the state of Israel in any future arrangement”. Yet having the borders of any prospective Israeli state swoop around the settlement would create a lengthy talon of land that not would only threaten the contiguity of a Palestinian state, but would be indefensible and vulnerable to enemy assault.

The decision by the JSCHE is a far more dangerous and destructive event than the slipping away of Shaul Mofaz and his gang of status quo politicians into the political night. Because, much like the Levy Report, its acceptance beyond those who have a vested interest in its continuation represents a normalisation of perpetual occupation or eventual annexation, either of which would end finally and irreversibly the notion of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In Israel, How to End an Occupation

How does one solve a problem like a messy occupation of two and a half million people that threatens to make invalid a state’s Jewish and democratic character? Or, to put it another way, when is an occupation not an occupation? Apparently, when you appoint a committee to declare it so — that, in fact, because “Judea and Samaria have been under Israeli control for decades, and it is impossible to foresee a time when Israel will relinquish these territories, if ever”.

As reported by Ha’aretz:

A report by a committee formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to examine the legal aspects of West Bank land ownership rejects the claim that Israel’s presence in the territory is that of an occupying force and asserts that its settlements and settlement outposts there are legal.

The Levy Committee, headed by former Supreme Court vice president Edmond Levy, recommends a fundamental change in the legal regime in the West Bank, including the annulment of a long list of laws, High Court of Justice Rulings and procedures in order to permit Jews to settle in all of Judea and Samaria.

The committee also propagated the following: the legalisation all the outposts even without a retroactive government decision; the cancellation of the order that allows the head of the Civil Administration to force settler-farmers off ostensibly Palestinian land, even if there is no Palestinian complainant; and the annulment the High Court of Justice decision of 1979 that forbids the expropriation of land for “military needs” when the intent is to build settlements.

In other words, the Israeli government becomes master of the land — to hell with the people who live there. The corrupting impact of the lengthy and unwanted occupation is evident in such beggared and bankrupt thinking.

Diplomatically, it is almost impossible for Benjamin Netanyahu to accept and ratify the findings of the very committee he appointed, for it would unleash a torrent of condemnation and divestment which would result in the near-total isolation of his state. Should he reject the panel’s recommendation, then once more he would have ended up satisfying all sides without doing anything to actually advance the cause of peace: the settlers will have their document, their pamphlet, their justification; the peace movement will be content that their notions never became law.