Monday, January 31, 2011

Amnesty International: Israel is Criminal by Definition

 I've been wondering for months if Amnesty International would ever repent for the way it blasted Israel when our police arrested Ameer Makhuol last year. (Here, here, here and here). I even e-mailed them a couple of times, and tweeted. There was of course never any response, nor was one ever expected.

Yesterday, following Makhoul's conviction, Amnesty International finally revisited the story:
"Ameer Makhoul's jailing is a very disturbing development and we will be studying the details of the sentencing as soon as we can," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.

"Ameer Makhoul is well known for his human rights activism on behalf of Palestinians in Israel and those living under Israeli occupation. We fear that this may be the underlying reason for his imprisonment."
Translated into English: we haven't read the court's decision, but we know it's wrong, and we know it was handed down because Makhoul is a human rights activist who stands up for Palestinians.

Since the court's decision is in Hebrew, there's no reason to expect anyone at AI will ever read it.

Many years ago, when I was a wee lad at university, I was profoundly and lastingly impressed by the writings of Carl Popper. One of the things I learned from him was about how rational inquiry always needs to ask itself not only what might constitute proof, but what would constitute disproof. In other words, what set of facts might force the inquirer to admit that his thesis is wrong, or at least needs to be modified. If the AI folks and I were still sophomoric students bandying around ideas for the intellectual stimulation, I'd ask them what set of hypothetical facts could possible dampen their conviction that Israel is evil, and is the kind of place that sends innocent men to long jail terms out of mere spite.

Since we're not, I'll postulate that they're driven, among other motivations, by simple old hatred of the Jews, and invite them to submit facts that would disprove this. In any case, they're clearly not in the business of carefully reporting reality. And they are in the business of discrediting the noble idea of human rights.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ameer Makhoul: Human Rights Activist and Hisballah Spy

In May 2010 Amnesty International blasted Israel for arresting one of their own, a human rights activist; they trumpeted the action as cruel Israeli harassment of a honorable man. This morning he was sentenced to nine years in jail for spying for Hisballah.

Either Amnesty retracts its statements, or we'll be left with the conviction the organization supports Hisballah in its war against Israeli citizens.

Racism in Israel (Against Jews)

I don't have much to say at the moment on Egypt. Last night however there was a demonstration in Tel Aviv in which the demonstrators supported the Egyptian demonstrators, with a delicious twist to the story.

You no doubt remember how a while back some rabbis wrote an awful letter against Israeli Arabs moving into Jewish parts of Safed. Someone, I think it was Jeffrey Goldberg, wrote at the time that the subsequent events were proving to him that Israel's immune system was working quite well against this pernicious virus, as almost everyone, from left to right, from the prime minster to most rabbis, united in condemning the racist letter and its few supporters.

That was then. Now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, as Arab activists in Jaffa demonstrate against Jews who are moving into their area. (Of course, Jews have been living in Jaffa, on and off, since before the days when Jonah shipped out on a whale). Last night about a thousand demonstrators, Arabs and Jews, marched in Jaffa against the racist Jews who wish to live there. They chanted their support for the Egyptians, and their detestation of Jews, or at any rate, religious Jews:

The demonstrators including Hadash Knesset Member Dov Khenin, who said: "We came to say no to racism and to settlement in a clear voice. Justice and equality will defeat racism and the settlers."
If that isn't delicious enough for you, reflect on the predicament of Joseph Dana, one of the most extreme voices in the Israeli democracy, a man who routinely demonstrates with Palestinians against the troops of his own army. I haven't found anything he wrote directly about the Safed rabbi, though he did link approvingly to some colleagues of his who wrote back then about how awful and racist Israeli society is. Last night he participated in the demonstration, yet his report is uncharacteristically terse, made up mostly of pictures and this short text:
As Egypt continued its revolution on the streets, the citizens of Jaffa held a passionate march thorough the city against racism and settlements. About 800 Palestinian and Israeli residents of the city marched through the streets chanting in Arabic and Hebrew against the wave of racism taking over Israeli society. “Jews and Arabs Against the Hate and Terror of Settlers’ and ‘From Jaffa to Cairo all people power is revolutionary.” Some protesters carried Egyptian flags and many seemed energized by the events unfolding in Egypt. Despite a heavy police presence and even police helicopters, no incidents of violence were reported from the nonviolent protest.
You see, Dana's got a problem: he's a Jew.... who lives in Jaffa.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Maronites in Jerusalem

I spent a few hours this morning at the Maronite compound in the Old City. I admit that until recently, I hadn't even been aware there is such a place, nor that there are any Maronites in town. There are, it seems, and have been since the 19th century. They were extremely hospitable, and their small compound is beautiful. It's in the Armenian quarter, very near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the heart of the Christian Quarter. (The double domed church in the center of the picture)

While there, a number of thoughts crossed my mind.

First, during the Ottoman era the entire Levant was one political unit, and people moved around it all the time. I have no doubt that there are Palestinians whose families have been here for millennia, perhaps even back to Jewish forebears; large numbers of them, however, got here in the 20th century, or the 19th, or the 18th. They aren't any more natives to this particular patch of land than the Jews who had been moving here since the 16th century (or earlier).

Second, there are probably a few thousand Arabic-speaking Israelis (I"m not certain how "Palestinian" our main host was) who have moved to Jerusalem since 1967 and live on the "Palestinian" side of the Green line. If you're a stickler for the interpretation of international law that says Israel is forbidden from allowing its citizens to move over the Green Line, that has to include non-Jewish Israelis, too. Which means these Arabs, since they don't live in the Jewish neighborhoods, must be pulled out when Israel divides the city.

The idiocy of the idea of dividing Jerusalem gets ever greater, the more you look at the details.

In the next section of this series I left the Old City, and walked south, toward the Abu Tor section.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Seamus Milne Is Correct - and Evil

Seamus Milne lives in a different reality than most people I know. This isn't new - back when I wrote Right to Exist I cited an outlandish article of his to illustrate the oddities the Guardian is capable of. (The newspaper has since gotten worse). Now, however, having spearheaded the paper's Palestine Papers project, he sums up what he's learned from it, or rather, what he always believed but has now had re-confirmed. Any Palestinian leadership which is willing to compromise with Israel so that both nations embark on peaceful co-existence is an evil leadership which must be overthrown; the only way toward peace is to have the Palestinians get everything they demand and the Israelis forced to give it to them.

One doesn't expect better from Seamus, of course. Yet in his present column he is actually more revealing.  His thesis, that the only arrangement acceptable to the Palestinians will mean dismantling Israel, is actually plausible; it may well be correct. Yet note how he couches this:

It's a study in the decay of what in Yasser Arafat's heyday was an authentic national liberation movement. Try to imagine the Vietnamese negotiators speaking in such a way at the Paris peace talks in the 70s – or the Algerian FLN in the 60s – and it's obvious how far the West Bank Palestinian leadership has drifted from its national moorings.
The role models for authentic liberation movements? Arafat in his heyday, when his troops were murdering Israeli children in Maalot or Avivim; the communist Vietnamese, and the FLN. Arafat's movement differs, however, in that it didn't succeed, moans Seamus, and the Palestinians must return to those days of glory and achieve the successes of... whom? The North Vietnamese? The FLN?

Seamus Milne hates real people. He hates them with a passion. The only thing he loves are a set of warped and cruel ideas. If millions of Vietnamese have to suffer for his ideas, or generations of them live in a stunted impoverished and primitive country, great; if Algeria is one of the least humane regimes in the world, who cares so long as the French have been vanquished half a century ago by an authentic movement of liberation. This is what needs to happen to the Palestinians, too, and the sooner the better.

Truly sickening. 

Israeli Loonies Envy Egyptians

Hagar Sheizaf and Bar Rose, contributing to +972, Israel's radical-Left community, reporting from the demonstrations in Cairo:
We would be lying if we said we did not envy the Egyptian people: Seeing masses of people out on the streets to protest for what they believe in is something we, as Israelis, can only dream of now. And it is truly frightening to think that similar masses of Israelis will act only when have experienced the levels of oppression and rage that people are experiencing here.‬
There may be more than one possible way to read this statement, but I can't think of any that makes any sense. (h/t Noah)

A Story about Jews, Muslims, and Christian Pilgrims

The other day Israel's Antiquities Authority showed some journalists an ancient sewage duct which runs under the southern wall of the Old City, from the area under the Western Wall more or less, down into the City of David. Apparently some of the defenders of the city during the war against the Romans used this tunnel, but up till then it had been for sewage and since then it was blocked by the detritus of millennia, so in a way you can say it's a "new" tunnel.

As expected, various Palestinian notables immediately castigated the Israelis for intending to undermine the nearby mosques. No-one expected them not to. Of course, anyone with a modicum of understanding of the matter realizes that digging to the west of the Herodian wall which supports the Temple Mount can't lead under the mountain. The reason Herod's wall still stands so intact more than 2,000 years after it was built, having survived dozens of major earthquakes and destructive conquests of the area is that it's very very solid. No-one knows how thick it is, since no-one has ever blasted through it, but the assumption is somewhere between four and seven meters (that would be about 20 feet of solid rock).

The story I'd like to tell, however, isn't about the malicious Palestinian notables,but about the more regular folks.

About a week ago I went to listen to Prof. Dan Bahat, one of Jerusalem's top archeologists, talk about the current state of archeological knowledge about the city. He spoke for about four hours, in front of an audience of about a hundred people, many of them tourist guides. I'd say about 10-15 of them were Palestinian, some Israelis and some from East Jerusalem. For the first three hours, or more, Bahat talked about all the incendiary aspects of the city you'd expect from an important archeologist: have we identified this building from the Bible, that building from the revolt against the Romans, the market from the days of the Arab conquest, and so on. Throughout it all, the audience sat politely, with an occasional request for this clarification or that. If there was any animosity or even mere tension, I didn't notice.

Then, near the end of his lecture, Bahat said something about the Via Dolorosa, and how accurate or not its various stations might be. At which point the room erupted. A very loud group of the guides - Jews and Arabs together - demanded that he explain, or retract, or apologize, or jump in the lake, or all of the above. The explanation for this became clear: The Jewish and Arab stuff was all academic. The Via Dolorosa, however, is a crucial source of income if you're a tour-guide who works entirely with Christian pilgrims. Everyone knows the Jews and Arabs disagree about lots of stuff, so there's no need to make an issue of it. Cast doubt on a central part of the Christian narrative, however, and you'll soon be out of a job.

Gadi Taub's Levelheaded Views

Still by way of contradicting what I wrote yesterday here, about how Israel's Left has lost it, see this fascinating interview with Gadi Taub, a secular lefty Tel Aviv fellow who writes books about dens of iniquity (not available in English), and a fine and thoughtful book about The Settlers: And the Struggle over the Meaning of Zionism. The interview, done by Michael Weiss of Just Journalism, deserves to be read in its entirety, but here are some nice sections:
We tend to remember the danger of nationalism, but to forget that it has a central role in supporting the democratic structure. The sense of ‘we’, as in ‘we the people’, is what makes each citizen use the vote with a view to the public good. So the connection runs both ways: democracy allows national sentiments and national sentiments are functionally necessary for the well being of democracy.
The question is how to prevent national chauvinism, and Herzl believed – quite rightly, I think – that national chauvinism comes about when national sentiments are stifled by force. Zionism followed this path, in anchoring the right of Jews to self-determination in a vision of universal democracy. The Jews, explains our Declaration of Independence, have this right because they are a people, and all peoples do. This is why Zionism cannot be reconciled with an occupation. You cannot demand a right for yourself based on its universality, while denying it to others. By the same token, if someone believes in the right of all peoples to self-determination, it makes little sense to say that all, except Jews, have it.

A look at Gaza, where the differences between Hamas and Fatah were settled by the use of arms, should help us all wake up from imaginary schemes of peaceful bi-nationalism. I don’t see how Gaza would have turned into a liberal democracy if only there was a Jewish faction added to the mix. What the one-statists are promoting is going to be a chronic Lebanon style civil war. And the odd thing is, how little the London Review has drifted from old colonial habits of mind. The natives – we Jews and Arabs – aspire to national self-determination. But the good ol’ Brits, never tired of carrying the White Man’s Burden, know that the natives are too barbaric to understand what the right form of self-determination should be for them. So until they grow up, we, Western intellectuals, will serve as their political parents, and impose on them the state we know they should want. Because it is Western and enlightened, of course.

Though there are very shrill chauvinistic tones in Israel’s public sphere, and many anti-democratic forces, in many ways we are far more open than other democracies. I can only imagine what would have happened to an American legislator had he or she participated in a flotilla in which American Navy Seals were beaten with iron rods. Not only would that person not have returned to Congress, he or she would not have returned home, but gone straight to prison.
Israel let [Arab Knesset Member] Hanin Zuabi back to parliament, and I think it did well. Israel also does not outlaw a political party (named Ballad) despite its explicit support of the enemy at a time of war (in this case the Hezbollah in the last Lebanon war). This is illegal in Israel as it is in most democracies, but I don’t see any other state which would turn a blind eye to it as Israel did. So, despite the shrill tones, which should be and are denounced, we are not yet on the road to lose our democratic institutions.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stories of Birthright

By way of muddying the waters of my previous post, allow me to say that one of the most intelligent and prominent figures of the eclipsed social-democrat-EU-model of Zionism was Yossie Beilin. Yet some future biographer of his may yet conclude that his single most important contribution to Israel and the Jewish people was his creation of the Birthright programs. He didn't do it alone, of course, but he played an important role.

Anyway, allow me to introduce you to Wayne Hoffman's What We Brought Back: Jewish Life After Birthright- Reflections by Alumni of Taglit-Birthright Israel Trips. If you'd like, you can start by reading one of the stories, which doesn't fit into any standard pigeon holes.

Is Israeli Democracy Finished? If not, Why?

Benjamin Kerstein has an excellent article on the subject of Israel's eroding democracy and slip towards fascism. He starts by quoting some of the more serious Israelis who are currently warning about the end of Israeli democracy. He then firmly rejects the thesis
Have Jewish hands indeed wreaked the destruction of Israeli democracy? The real problem with polemics like these is not that they are critical of Israeli society, but that their basic descriptions of that society bear no relation to reality. For the truth is that Israel today is more democratic, and substantively so, than it has ever been before. Until 1977, Israel was essentially a one-party state, dominated by a secular and socialist Ashkenazi elite. Today, it is one of the most politically, ethnically, and religiously diverse societies in the world. Sephardi Jews, religious Jews, Arabs, Russian immigrants, and many others have a voice and a degree of political influence they could never have enjoyed in the past that is so nostalgically remembered by the Israeli Left.
Many Israelis today may not like what these groups have to say, or what they want to do. But that is not a threat to democracy. It is democracy. And here, in its apparent powerlessness to change the face of this democracy, lies the Left's insoluble dilemma. To paraphrase Brecht, its only recourse is to dissolve the Israeli people and elect—or, better, appoint—another one.
Finally, he suggests an explanation, having to do with the failure of the Oslo Process and the fading of hope for peace with the Palestinians.On this point Kerstein is correct, but too narrow. The real divide between intellectuals of the Zionist Left (in the case of Gideon Levy, it's probably the ex-Zionist Left) and the rest of us is cultural, not political. In a nutshell, the part of the Left which so bemoans Israel's decline is mourning a worldview in which the point of Zionism was to create a Hebrew-speaking and Jewish-majority Western European state, one which could comfortably fit into the EU and its project of shared sovereignty, weak nationalism, and belief in Human Rights as the overriding principle of social organization. Of course, this isn't what Zionism's founders had in mind, since the EU hadn't been invented at the time. But when you read Herzl's two books, The Jewish State and especially Old New Land (Altneuland), you'll see that he'd have been quite comfortable with the EU had he lived a century later.

Most Israelis, however, aren't interested in that vision. Not that they've got a clearly defined alternative vision - they haven't. But they've got a healthy appreciation of the nation as an important component of identity, and many of them are of course committed to a version of Judaism as a religion. This forms a distance, and sometimes a chasm, between the majority of Israelis and the remnants adherents of the more universally-minded social-democratic vision of Zionism.

The sad part of the story is that some (not all) of the old elite, the one that founded Israel and fought for its success for decades, are refusing to accept that their vision has been replaced, and arguably they're willing to tear down the edifice if it doesn't look like what they imagined.

This needs to be fleshed out in greater detail than a blog post, but a blog post is all I'm offering right now.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Picture with the Wrong 1000 Words

I'm not going to say much about the so-called "Palestine Papers" yet, if at all. Being a trained historian and archivist, I can easily recognize the potential significance of a sizable collection of documents created during peace negotiations. I can also imagine some of the more obvious pitfalls. In any case, the value lies in a careful reading of the documents along with a solid understanding of their context and relation to other documents. Cherry picking single sentences and cutting them out of context is propaganda, not history; in a better world, it wouldn't even be acceptable journalism. (Hah!)

Anyway, I assume most readers of this blog are fully aware of the fine work being done by others. Elder of Ziyon is looking closely at lots of the hogwash being trotted out by Israel's enemies and their ignorant chorus, and calmly poking holes in it. So I don't need to do that. CiFWatch is documenting how the Guardian has no interest in supplying news, only in bashing Israel and the facts be damned. I honestly don't know how the CiFWatch folks manage to wade through that muck day after day and not lose their sanity. Hats off to them. Robin Shepherd has a magnificent post about how the BBC, Guardian and others are now publicly aligning with Hamas, since the PA negotiators have proven willing to consider some of Israel's claims and thus must be beyond the pale. Anyone who regards Israelis as anything less than monsters, is himself a criminal.

Ethan Bronner in the NYT has an article which, while not always accurate, is reassuring for its lack of excitement. The whole story, he seems to be saying, is yet another anecdote on the long road to wherever it is we're going. This is probably true.

Assuming I should be trying to say something original that you won't get elsewhere, well, the photo at the top of Bronner's article was actually quite tickling:
The caption in the NYT was "Palestinian schoolgirls on Monday near Jerusalem’s Old City. Documents reveal that much of Jerusalem would have remained Israeli as part of a peace deal."

Well, no. The schoolgirls are indeed Palestinian. And yes, they're near the Old City. You can see the wall right behind them. But they're actually in Mamila, on the Israeli side of town, and they're headed deeper into the Jewish side. In other words, this innocent picture of schoolgirls wandering through their town will not be possible if the city gets divided. The pundits all insist it will, of course, because the city will be divided but it won't really; but those are the pundits who look at this picture and haven't the faintest idea what it's about.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Har Homa

A while ago Jonathan sent me a link to this article in the Guardian, by a fellow who says he knows all about real estate in Israel and Palestine. Having read it I'm unconvinced of his expertize, but everyone's entitled to spout nonsense. What Jonathan wanted to know was about this section:
Thirteen years ago, the first Netanyahu administration built the settlement of Har Homa on land inside the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. Har Homa has struggled to find residents and is still largely empty. The head of the residents committee recently claimed it had filled 4,000 properties, but a tour of the development tells another story, with building after building unglazed and cold.
Might I comment, Jonathan asked?

So, first, the part about Bethlehem. Har Homa, and Um Tuba, and Tsur Baher, are all situated in what the Jordanians defined as the Bethlehem county. Not the city, the county. Since the Jordanian control of the West Bank was illegal according to international law, and lasted only 19 years ending in 1967, one might wonder why it's important to mention and if the author's description is helpful. More significant, however, was the part about the empty buildings. I admit I'd never heard that there are lots of empty apartments in Har Homa, rather the opposite, but it never hurts to check. So one evening last week I drove down to Har Home, about a 20-minute drive from where I live. It was early evening, when families with children tend to have lots of lights on, and cars are parked out in front. Lo and behold: most buildings had lights in the windows and cars parked out front. The only place that fit the Guardian's description was at the edge of the neighborhood, where some of the buildings are clearly just a bit short of being populated, in that chaotic stage where the construction workers are still there but the first movers can be seen coming.

I came away with the surprising result that once again, the Guardian isn't the most trustworthy purveyor of facts about Israel.

Yesterday the Guardian joined up with Al Jazeera to launch what they're calling "The Palestine Papers". I admit I don't know if these papers are or are not authentic. However, they tell that the Palestinian negotiators apparently acquiesced to the Clinton Parameters of December 2000, whereby Jerusalem would be divided along ethnic lines: Jewish neighborhoods in Israel, Arab ones in Palestine. Except when they didn't: they were not willing to except Israeli control of Maale Adumim (population of about 40,000), nor of Har Homa. Perhaps because Har Homa is the most recent of Jewish neighborhoods, with construction beginning in the 1990s (and still going on today). There are somewhere betwen 15-20,000 people in Har Homa, but they must leave, say the Palestinians. True, the hill lies less than a mile from the Green Line of 1967, and there are no Palestinian neighborhoods that will be "trapped" between it and Jewish Jerusalem, but it must be dismantled.

So I went down there again today, to look around in daylight. Here's what some of it it looks like from the main road, traveling east.
 This is what it looks like from Um Tuba, directly to the north, and then what Um Tuba and Tsur Baher look like from Har Homa:
 Once you're inside the neighborhood, it looks like a standard large-scale development project. Lots of uniform buildings marching up the roads.

It's a middle class area, with lower prices than most of Jewish Jerusalem, so the folks here tend to be young families, not the top of the professions, a standard mix of orthodox, secular, Russians, the usual. The more enterprising families will move on in a few years, to be replaced by their somewhat younger counterparts; others will stay here for decades and never manage to move up the real estate ladder. It's not a slum, so that won't be a catastrophe for them.

Looking out from their windows one can see the security fence (the winding road) with Bait Sachur, a suburb of Bethlehem, or Tsur Baher, or, if they're pointed west, they can see the hotel at Ramat Rachel, which is inside the Green Line. None of it is very far.

Finally, if they look down towards the bottom of the hill, they can see the new buildings, still under construction, that so impressed that Guardian fellow.
If it makes sense to you that these people must be uprooted so as to have peace, you might ask yourself what peace is for.

Next chapter of this series: Beit Safafa. I assure you that if you've found any of this so far disconcerting, the story of Beit Safafa is even worse. There's nothing in it that fits the universally accepted narrative. The only way to deal with it is to pretend it isn't there: which is what everybody does, of course.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Re'em Hacohen Combines Belief and Clear Thinking

Here's a link to a fascinating talk by the Rav Re'em Hacohen about the divine origins of the Torah, and the impact of human choice upon them. It's in Hebrew, and it's long. If you can deal with those two, I recommend.

Due disclosure: Back when the rav was a child in short pants and sandals, he and I were in the same class at school.

Reflections on the Practice of Israeli Occupation

According to Aljazeera, the Palestinian Authority banned a group of Palestinian demonstrators from rallying in Ramallah in support of the Tunisian uprising.

As a general rule I stay away from news items about what the various Palestinian governments do to their subjects. I lack the language, the knowledge, the perspective, and the overall ability to credibly say anything about how Palestinian society operates. Freedom House says there's no freedom in the Palestinian territories, and there's no dearth of stories about Palestinians who'd prefer to live in Israel, but I try to concentrate on Israeli things, which I know more about.

The point about that Aljezeera story, however, is that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians live in places where the decision to allow them to demonstrate or not is made by Arabs, not Israelis: Lebanese, Jordanians, Syrians, Hamas in Gaza, and the PA in most of the West Bank. Aljazeera didn't report that the Israelis prevented the Palestinians from demonstrating, since Israel isn't there to be asked. It was the Palestinian authorities that banned the demonstration. If a Palestinian group wishes to demonstrate almost anywhere in the West Bank, not to mention Gaza, the Israelis don't care, don't get asked, and don't express an opinion. Which is as it should be. The only places where Israelis may intervene are when Palestinian demonstrators physically impact on Israelis. In today's reality, that means almost entirely in a very few places along the barrier; potentially it could also mean along some of the roads, but this doesn't happen much.

Almost all thedemonstrations are in two areas: near Bil'in, and near Na'alin, to the east and northwest of Modi'in Illit, respectively. In both places the barrier was planned deeper into the West Bank than it should have been, and in both places the High Court of Justice listened to the local Palestinian farmers, accepted their pleas, and ordered the state to move the fence closer to the Green Line and further from the villages. Such procedures happened elsewhere, too, the fence was moved and the demonstrations ended. For whatever reason, at Bil'in and Na'alin the moving hasn't yet happened. In Na'alin there's still an opening of a few hundred meters where the original fence was never completed and the new one isn't up yet; at Bil'in the original one is still up and the new one hasn't yet been completed. (The fact that there's a hole in the fence isn't good, but since hundreds of kilometers of fence are in place, it's a lot easier to watch the remaining few kilometers here and there which are not yet closed). I haven't talked to the relevant Israeli authorities and can't say why the work at those two spots hasn't been completed. They've certainly had long enough, and it would have been better for everyone involved had they put the issues behind us all in 2005, or 2006, or 2007 at the latest.

In addition there are occasional clashes elsewhere, such as Nabi Saleh, west of Ramallah. 

Still, let's keep things in perspective. These events are the exception, not the rule. The Palestinian economy of the West Bank is booming, and the number of IDF troops active there is the lowest since before the first intifada (1987!) because both sides are doing their best to get on with their lives, not clash. Something like 99% of the West Bank population goes about its lives these days with very little encounter with IDF troops. They see the settlers on the hilltops, yes, and they share roads with them, but there's almost no violence on either side, and very little "brutal Israeli occupation" going on. Thank god.

It's hard to understand, therefore, why Lisa Goldman has decided that now is the time to begin her move from staunchly left-wing politics into Yonathan-Shapira-like radicalism. (See my description of him here). But apparently she has:
To my great sorrow, it is impossible to discuss these issues with most of my friends. Over the past couple of years, as I have spent more and more time in the West Bank, I have found myself feeling increasingly isolated from my oldest friends, because they do not want to hear, or they do not believe me, or they think ‘the Arabs’ deserve what happens to them. Compassion is rare – partly, I think because the ‘other’ is behind a wall and mostly invisible. It has become difficult, for me, to just “be” in Tel Aviv, filtering out what is happening a short distance away. That is why I rarely write, anymore, about art galleries, restaurants and fashion. I don’t seem to have the heart for it.
Goldman is not yet Yonatan Shapira; she seems not yet to hate us for imaginary brutalities with his ruthless and evil passion; perhaps she'll stop before she reaches that point. But she is clearly willing to make baseless pronouncements.

Start with her title: In the West Bank, everyone knows there's no accountability. I assume "everyone" means all the few dozens Israelis she talks to. The rest of us know this is simple nonsense. Of course there's accountability. I've been talking to real-life soldiers  who are on the West Bank now or have been there recently, and they can tell about the elaborate measures in place to ensure that every event is planned in advance, recorded, and de-briefed afterwords. It's possible that Goldman would prefer more IDF troops to be hauled to court-martial, but legal systems aren't supposed to serve narrow political agendas, they're supposed to apply the law. Carefully. Ultimately it's the same legal system that says the fence at Bil'in must be moved, to protect the Palestinian farmers.
The death last week of Bil’in resident Jawaher Abu Rhamah, after she inhaled tear gas at a demonstration, has received a great deal of publicity, making her into a symbol of the violent means the Israeli army uses to maintain its control over the West Bank. Many commentators are parsing the incident as if it were an isolated one, but the truth is that violence and brutality are the norm. And while there is plenty of documentation to support that statement, most Israelis would prefer not to know.
Of course, the IDF claims Abu Rhamah didn't die because of Israeli tear gas, but Goldman isn't interested in what the IDF says, in spite of its notionally being the army that's defending her life, too. To use her own words: she'd prefer not to know. Her claim about Israeli brutality being the norm is puzzling, since in light of the description above, it's hard to know where this purported "norm" takes place. Her next paragraph then illustrates the brutality-that-is-the-norm-that-Israelis-don't-want-to-know. Note that she has to go back a few months to find this one case:

A few months ago, at a Friday demonstration in Nabi Saleh, a border police officer threw a percussion grenade on my foot. I was standing on the main road of the village, taking photos of some Palestinian women who were pleading with soldiers to release a young man, when he removed a metal cylinder from the webbing on his chest, pulled a pin out of it and tossed it at me. He was grinning a little bit.
I can't say whether he was or wasn't grinning, and what it meant.
My voice sounded wild, fearful and hoarse, even through my ringing ears, as I screamed at the indifferent soldier. “What the fuck did you do? Are you crazy?! Are you fucking crazy?!” He just turned away and shoved his way through the crowd, disappearing into the chaos that was a Friday afternoon demonstration in Nabi Saleh. An Israeli photojournalist standing nearby shrugged his shoulders, smiled sympathetically and said, “I tried to warn you, but there wasn’t enough time.” The interesting thing, which only hit me much later, was that it never occurred to either of us that I should make a complaint against that border police officer. Because we all know that they function in a culture of near-total impunity.
Yes, "we all know". The interesting thing in this paragraph is the pervasive presence of Jewish Israeli demonstrators. I'll write about them in a different post sometime soon, but the more I look into the matter the more I'm convinced that these young Israelis are playing a central role in the events. Israeli citizens, confronting their own troops, and at the very least empowering the Palestinian demonstrators; in some cases, they're leading the events and the Palestinians are tagging along. You can find them in every You-Tube video routinely put up after these events.

Having told us about how she personally suffered at the hand of an IDF soldier she then gos one to tell about suffering Palestinians
In the annals of brutality meted out by soldiers upon civilians in the West Bank, that incident was so minor that I was embarrassed to discuss it with the hardcore activists. A few meters away, soldiers were aiming tear gas directly at unarmed demonstrators, rather than shooting in arcs in order to avoid causing injury, as one is supposed to do. Earlier that day, I had seen two old women stumble out of their home, retching and coughing up mucus from the tear gas that had seeped through the cracks around their windows and doors. Sometimes, tear gas canister break windows.
No context. Was anyone hit by the directly aimed tear gas canisters? If so, how come she doesn't say so? If not, perhaps the soldiers weren't actually aiming at anyone? The tear gas at one point seeped into a home. That's not good, but it's not obviously brutal nor a war crime. Was the gas shot at the home, and if so why? If not, who was it shot at, and were they totally innocent bystanders or something else?
In practice there are no rules or accountability in the Wild West Bank. Soldiers can do pretty much whatever they want, and there are plenty of video clips and testimony online to prove that. Once in awhile a particularly shocking video clip makes its way to television, eliciting condemnations and mutterings of bad apples. But, as Breaking the Silence documents in Occupation Testimonies (the oral testimonies of dozens of soldiers who served in the West Bank, collected over a 10-year period), it’s the occupation that’s rotten. Give heavily armed, poorly-disciplined soldiers with little-to-no accountability control over a population that is defined as an enemy, and which has no civil rights, and you will have soldiers who commit evil acts.
Her source for there being no rules is Yesh Din, a group of Israelis like herself. There's no particular reason to accept the veracity of their statements simply because they say them. Those online You-Tube videos and Breaking the Silence testimonies, also on-line, are worth watching and reading. I do so regularly, and don't find them telling the story Goldman is telling. More on that some other time. As for the heavily-armed and poorly disciplined soldiers: bah! Nonsense. Those are my sons and nephews she's talking about, and while it's her right to defame them, she needn't expect the rest of us to respect her for doing so. It's sentences like this which illustrate how people like her cut themselves off from what was once their society, and descend into that cycle of scorn and then hate.

One of the many sad things about Lisa Goldman's departure is that the fundamental base for her anger is solid. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is a bad thing. We shouldn't be sending our sons to clash with Palestinian farmers, or any of the rest of it. The Nabi Saleh clashes have to do with the settlement of Halamish; better it not be there and there be no clashes. Zionism can live perfectly well without it. Alas, however, the events of the past 18 years (or 43, or 91, take your pick) demonstrate that there's no way to reach the European-style peace we'd all so dearly love to have. The war with the Palestinians isn't about Halamish, nor about a fence near Biil'in. So we can live the complexity and its many pitfalls, or we can pretend there's no complexity, only an evil Israel. Lisa Goldman is well on her way to the second option.

In Absence of Peace Negotiations, What Happens Now?

Accurately predicting things is notoriously hard to do, especially predicting the future. Last week we were treated to a torrent of predictions about what Ehud Barak's splitting of the Labor Party would inevitably achieve. Since much of the torrent contradicted much of the other parts of the torrent, some folks will inevitably be proven wrong - or perhaps all of them will. The split will be good for the Left, no it will be good for the Right; it will enable negotiations, no it will prevent them even more than heretofore. It will inject new energy in the Zionist Left, it will be the final blow that will kill it off. And so on.

I haven't the faintest idea how the move will look six months from now, nor six years from now, nor if anyone will even remember it three years from now.

I have however been tapping various brains recently, asking well connected and well-informed people what they think is likely to happen over the next year or two, before or after we have our next elections.All of the people I'm referring to are better informed than most of us regular mortals. The responses fall into two rough categories. The first says we're back at a Yitzchak Shamir moment in time, where Israel's government is trying mostly to kick the can down the road, make no dramatic decisions, not get maneuvered into any corners, and wait for the world to change in some unforeseeable way. Before you sneer about how shortsighted that position is, keep in mind that Shamir launched this policy in the late 1980s, and close to a quarter century later, an entire generation, the reality is still recognizably similar to the one he saw.

The second school of interpretation says we're approaching an Arik Sharon moment, when in 2004, having defeated the Second Intifada, Sharon launched the unilateral disengagement from Gaza and a corner of the West Bank, and probably would have continued it on more of the West Bank had he stayed with with us. The top story in Haaretz this morning supports this second view, when it tells about a Lieberman plan to hand over something like 50% of the West Bank to the PA, and to recognize the area as an independent Palestinian state with territorial disagreements with Israel about their mutual final borders.

Although I won't make predictions, I admit the second plan is preferable in my mind. I would even take it further, and dismantle some of the far-flung settlements, and enable an independent Palestine with well more that 50% of the WB. The more they get up front, the less they'll be able to whine about how they can't do anything because they're so cruelly occupied by the Israelis, and the more Israel will be able to demand that the rest be handed over, or not, as the result of real negotiations aimed to reach End of Conflict status - which can't be achieved anytime soon.

This is what Netanyahu just says he did, after all: according to him, his leaner new coalition is more coherent and stronger than the flabby one he had until last week. Fair enough. Now apply the exact same logic to Israel's borders: less and coherent is better than more and not coherent.

PS. Have you seen the news item about Lieberman's Beduin aide, and how he's popular with some Arab voters? Who knows how serious this is or isn't. It might be, for all we know.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Links Two

Michael Oren suggests how peace between Israelis and Palestinians can be reached, even while insisting Jerusalem can't be divided (which it cant of course).

Peter Berkowitz has what seems a serious discussion of how damaging the Goldstone Report is to the practice of international law. It's been online for awhile already, but I only just stumbled across it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Bereaved

It was dusk by the time we reached Leora Hason's cafe in Naama, and many of us had been on the road since before dawn. The cafe was to be our last stop before heading home, and it was nice that it looked like a warm sort of place, simple, but inviting. After we had our cups of tea or coffee, Leora came out from behind her counter and began talking. "This isn't actually a cafe: it's a memorial", she began, and a total hush descended.

Her son Guy opened the place, along with his girlfriend, on June 1st 2006. By mid-July he was climbing the wall as Hisballah shot rockets at civilians all over northern Israel but he wasn't mobilized. By early August he finally was, and by mid August he was dead.

"The first year was surreal. Obviously someone had made a mistake, and he'd call any moment and laugh away the confusion. The second was worse, because he wasn't ever going to come back. The third year was worse than the second. Then, in 2009, an elderly woman told me she envied me. What is there possibly to envy? That her son, killed in the Yom Kippur war, is gone and forgotten, a mere name on a list whom no-one remembers anymore; Guy is still a living memory. So I've re-opened his cafe, and I tell about him, and about how we've got to make life in this country worth dying for. And that's what I do, here in this cafe he built which still stands exactly as he built it".

By the time we wandered out it was dark. We milled around for a few minutes, until the last stragglers got back to the bus. I found myself standing near one of the six or seven Arabs of our group, who was pacing nervously back and forth. Curious to hear how he'd responded to the event, but not knowing how to ask, we began by chatting about his town in the Galilee, where two local Arab women were killed that summer by Hisballah rockets. But that wasn't what he wanted to talk about. "You know, I lost a 16-year-old son, a bit more than 14 months ago, in a traffic accident. That's why when she talked about how it keeps getting harder and harder, it was like a flame in my stomach. I haven't been able to get back to normality, and don't know when I ever will".

We were joined by another man, a 40-something, bald man with glasses and a ponytail. "Eventually, it will get better. I lost my brother in the Yom Kippur war, and for a long time the pain was unbearable. Then I came across a comment by Rashi, our 11th century scholar. He says that the reason Jacob never managed to get over his grief about the loss of Joseph was because Joseph wasn't really dead. The dead, you see, eventually do get forgotten from our hearts (mishtakchim min halev). Then I finally knew it was permissible for me to let go. Someday it will get better,believe me".

As I turned to get on the bus, the bereaved Arab father was discussing the impossibility of his ever forgetting his dead son with the bereaved brother from a long-past war. Leora was clearing up Guy's cafe and shutting down for the day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ron Dermer Replies to the Defamers

Look, I understand the rules of the game. Any reasonable citizen in a democracy is supposed to automatically prefer criticism of society and government over smugness, not to mention governmental spin. All that talk about how crucial it is that there be critics who hold up the proverbial unpleasant mirror to our communal face, to show us how we really look and not how we'd like to look? I get it. And the part about how unpleasant facts are still facts, even if they're inconvenient, and society's health and well-being ultimately require us to accept for facts what are truly facts, even if we'd dearly love to explain them away, or shoot the messenger, or pretend to be busy with more pressing matters. It's all true. Really.

It's also a sign of the perversity of our home-grown critics of the radical Left, that they've given constructive criticism such an awful name that any reasonable person has no choice but to stand with the government against the defamers, the slanderers, the villainizers. Me, I didn't even vote for this government, and given the chance to vote again, I still wouldn't vote for it. But the villifiers have painted me into a corner where I've got no choice but to prefer the establishment spinmeisters.

And so we arrive at Ron Dermer. The other day Time Magazine printed an article cribbed thoughtlessly and unintelligently directly from the talking points of the NIF, or ACRI, or any of those critics of Israel who are working so hard these days to undermine the concept of important criticism in a democracy. Ron Dermer, one of Netanyahu's close aides, responded. I'm posting his response in its entirety, tho Time Magazine may be peeved. I'm peeved at them, too.

Dear Mr. Stengel,
I wanted to bring to your attention a recent article in Time entitled "Israel's Rightward Lurch Scares Some Conservatives." I hope that you will agree that the article's obvious bias and numerous distortions are not worthy of the standards of your prestigious magazine.
Israel is depicted in the article as essentially sliding towards fascism. Your correspondent refers to Israel's Shin Bet (the equivalent of the FBI) as a "secret police," claims that the Israeli government "increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty," and accuses the Prime Minister of "taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states."
The evidence offered for these outrageous allegations includes a preliminary vote in our parliament that would require naturalized citizens to make a pledge of allegiance, a proposal to strip citizenship from Israelis convicted of espionage and terrorism, a motion to investigate foreign government funding of local NGOs, calls on Jews to not rent property to Arabs, and demonstrations demanding prohibitions of Arab boys from dating Jewish girls.
But your correspondent did not find it necessary to inform your readers of a few facts.
Oaths of allegiance are commonplace in most democratic countries, including the United States. Naturalized citizens in America swear an oath to its Constitution and to defend the country against "all enemies, foreign and domestic." Israel's proposed pledge would require naturalized citizens to swear an oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, words taken directly from our Declaration of Independence.
Moreover, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy are just some of the many countries where citizenship can be stripped for various infractions that are defined as undermining "national interests." Are these European countries not democratic?
In the United States, Senator Joe Leiberman proposed a bill last year to "add joining a foreign terrorist organization or engaging in or supporting hostilities against the United States or its allies to the list of acts for which United States nationals would lose their nationality." Is American democracy threatened by such a bill?
As for questioning the legitimacy of foreign government funding of Israeli NGOs, mentioning America's Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) may have presented a more balanced picture.
FARA requires that any organization engaged in lobbying in the U.S. that receives money from foreign individuals, let alone foreign governments, must among other things register as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice and permit the Attorney General to inspect all of its activities.
It is hard to imagine any democratic country accepting foreign governments intervening in its domestic affairs by funding domestic groups engaged not merely in criticism of a particular government's policy but also attacking the very foundations of the State.
What would Britain do if the French government was actively funding a British NGO that sought to eliminate the monarchy? What would the United States do if the Iranian government was funding American NGOs pressing for a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East?
There is a vigorous public debate in Israel, including within the Likud party, over the best means to address the problem of foreign government funding of local NGOs. Proposals range from launching a parliamentary investigation to laws banning or restricting such funding to measures to ensure full transparency. Far from being a sign of Israel's slide toward fascism, the current debate in Israel is a testament to how vibrant our democracy truly is.
Finally, contrary to the implication of your correspondent, Prime Minister Netanyahu has publicly and forcefully condemned the racist sentiments that were mentioned in the article. For example, this is what the Prime Minister said at the opening of Israel's annual Bible Quiz to an audience of mostly observant Jews a few hours after he learned of the letter calling on Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs:
There are non-Jews among the citizens of this country. How would we feel if someone said not to sell apartments to Jews? We would have been outraged, and indeed we are outraged when we hear such things in neighboring countries or anywhere else. Such statements should not be made, neither about Jews nor about Arabs. They must not be made in any democratic country, let alone a Jewish-democratic country that respects the moral values of the Jewish heritage and the Bible. Therefore, the State of Israel categorically rejects these things.
Contrast this unequivocal condemnation by the leader of Israel to the Palestinian Authority law that mandates the death penalty for any one who sells land to Jews. Such laws are all too common in a Middle East in which Christians are persecuted, gays are hanged in public squares and women are stoned for adultery.
In Israel, things are different. Here, we protect the rights of women, gays and minorities, including the 20% of Israelis who are Arabs, who enjoy freedom of speech and religion and the protections afforded by independent courts and the rule of law.
Every decision in Israel is put under the microscope by one of world's largest foreign press contingents, the hundreds of human rights organizations and NGOs that operate freely here, a famously adversarial local press and most critically, by a vociferous parliamentary opposition.
Israel has upheld its democratic values despite being threatened like no country on earth. In defending itself against wars of aggression, unparalleled terror campaigns and continuous promises to annihilate it, Israel has a track record on the protection of rights that would compare favorably to the record of any democracy, much less democracies under threat.
Even in peacetime, other democracies enact laws that would be inconceivable in Israel. The Swiss ban on minarets and the French restrictions on headscarves passed in Europe, not Israel.
One final point regarding media coverage in the Middle East. In 2000, after an Italian television station (RAI) was threatened by the Palestinian Authority for broadcasting the film of a Palestinian mob lynching two Israeli soldiers, RAI issued a shameful apology. Similarly, in 2003, CNN admitted to burying negative coverage about Sadaam's regime so that its personnel could continue working safely in Baghdad.
I can assure you that no matter how biased and unbalanced your correspondents' coverage of Israel, they will always be free here to write whatever they want. Of course, Time is also free not to print it.
Ron Dermer
Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Books on Genocide

A reader recently asked if I'd tell about books which are on my reading list. Here are two which have been mentioned online this week.

Daniel Blatman, a friend and colleague, author of The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide
is reviewed in Der Spiegel (in English). Blatman is a solid researcher, and he worked on this book for many years. I'll hazard the guess his is the most scholarly and serious book on the Holocaust to come out this year, and I look forward to its generating a lot of discussion. As the review shows, it offers lots to discuss, about how ordinary Germans participated in mass murder, at the very end of the 2nd WW, when there was a world of incentive not to. (h/t Silke and Norm, both)

Adam Hochschild is the author of the most important book about the first genocide in Belgium, King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. (That was the genocide that inspired Heart of Darkness). This week Hochschild has published a story on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. He doesn't say the assassination led directly to the second genocide in the Congo, the one that may still be happening, because that wouldn't be a sufficient explanation, but he is bleak about the whole thing.

Books and articles to keep things in proportion. These are stories about men and women at their very worst.

ACRI is the Messiah

Haggai El-Ad, the CEO of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), seems to have sent out a call to potential donors under the title: "Israeli Democracy can't Defend Itself. Support ACRI".

Not "We do important things to make our country and society a bit better"

Not "There's always room for improvement, and we strive to improve civil rights in Israel"

Not "Things aren't good enough in Israel; we need your help to make them better"

Not even the specific "Human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories aren't at the level Israel as a democracy needs to have them; ACRI makes them better with your help".

Nope. None of that. Rather, Israeli democracy is on its way out, but ACRI will save it (with your dollars).

The fictitious recounting of the facts is breath-taking, even if you really really don't like Israel's current government; the hubris is mind-boggling. And this gets sent to lots of worried supporters of Israel who aren't here, don't know Hebrew, have no real way to measure the veracity of the inflammatory language, and are despairing of the experiment in Jewish national expression which is going down the drain: look, this important and honorable Israeli fellow even says so!


Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Divide Jerusalem: Roofs of The Armenian Quarter

Last year I started this "Don't divide Jerusalem" series, in which from time to time I post snapshots of what the city really looks like, and where the international community and Israel's Left are so convinced there absolutely must be an international border as a prerequisite for peace.

Today I joined a tour by Eyal Meron, an archeologist and easily one of the best and most knowledgeable guides this city has. At one point we were standing on a plaza in the Jewish quarter, and he quoted Abdullah a-Tel, the Jordanian commander who conquered the Jewish quarter in 1948. (He quoted verbatim and in Hebrew, so my translation is twice removed from the source, and pardon any inaccuracies): "At the end of the battle there were no Jews left in the Jewish quarter for the first time in 2000 years, and there's no reason to think there will ever again be any". The plaza was full of the local orthodox Jewish children who throng the streets of the Jewish Quarter these days; most of their parents are too young to remember the Six Day War which reversed that outcome.

At one point Eyal took us up to a roof from which one can see stuff he wished to show us, and I took some pictures to show what I like to show: the sheer idiocy of dividing the Old City.

Here's the proposed division, as suggested by the folks of the Geneva Initiative:
The rooftop we were standing on is at the lower left (south east) corner of the section allocated to the Israelis, marked in pink:
The first problem with the north-south line next to the roof we were standing on is that it doesn't exist in reality. It's a straight line, you'll notice, but there is no straight line in that part of town that doesn't bisect homes, rooms, windowsills, doormats and kitchen cabinets. Don't believe me? Here, have a look at these two photos. They're both taken from the same roof, though in the second I moved a few steps to the left and the perspective changes a bit. In both of them, however, I'm looking north - so, along that straight line:
Note that both pictures show a high building right in front of a church spire, in the first picture it's to the right, in the second it's to the left. The church is part of the Armenian quarter, directly north of the roof I was standing on. The rooftop is part of the Jewish quarter, and I encourage you to find a straight line that might serve as a rational place to put an international border without bisecting anyone's bedroom.

It doesn't get any better when you look in the other directions. Here, for instance, is the perspective to the southeast:
The rail is an international border, then there's another one between us and the double-towered church. The rooftops below, however, are intended to be in Palestine. In the picture below, the international border will run between the rooftop I was on and the rooftop across the narrow alley, directly to the west.
Looking northwest the perspective is marginally less odd, but only because in the other directions it's so extremely wrong.
Most of what's in the foreground is the Jewish Quarter, with the new white dome of the reconstructed Hurva synagogue. Just beyond the edge of the hill is the Omar Mosque. Palestine, of course, according to the maps. The left half of the hill in the background is Mount Scopus, the Hebrew University, and thus Israel. The right half of the same hill is also Mount Scopus, but since there's a German hospital on the top of it (Augusta Victoria) it will be in Palestine. Finally, let's look due east:
The foreground is part of the Jewish Quarter, so Israel. The background is the Mount of Olives. Most of it is taken by the ancient Jewish cemetery, which has been growing up the hillside since early Biblical times. According to the Geneva Initiative folks, since the only people there are dead Jews, it belongs in Palestine. To the right of the top of the hill is an area which was purchased by Chabad before WW1, when it was an empty hillside next to the Jewish cemetery. Eventually Chabad sold it to Irwin Moskowitz who has been building Jewish apartment buildings there, commonly referred to by the Arab name of Ras el-Amud. Google it and you'll find lots of sources which will tell you these apartments are an obstacle to peace.

The American government, the EU, the UN, all of the international media, and Israel's Left are all convinced the idiocy I've reported on here is sane, reasonable, plausible, inevitable, and of course, it will be a fundamental cornerstone of peace. Apparently they all know something I don't know. After all, if everyone agrees on something, it surely must be true.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

World's 3 Largest Desalination Plants All in (Tiny) Israel

Well, actually, only two, right now. The construction of the third, which will be even larger than the two that are already in operation, began today; it will begin producing fresh water from the Mediterranean in 2013.

This is a nice story, but it has deeper layers to it. For years one of the standard stories about Israeli ineptitude, incompetence, inability to see beyond immediate political considerations and make long-term plans, and general stupidity, focused on the lack of water. The Sea of Galilee has been over utilized for decades, seawater has been seeping into coastal wells, sewage seeps into reservoirs - the works.I expect the stories were all true and justified. But then, a number of years ago, someone decided to get their act together, and within about a decade, the situation will have been turned on its head, all for the better. This fits a thesis I offer from time to time, that sooner or later Israelis notice major problems they're faced with, and purposefully set out to deal with them.

The minister who set the rectifying in motion in this case, was - if memory serves - one Avigdor Lieberman.

Reduced Israeli reliance on rainfall and its derivatives will someday make reaching an agreement with the Palestinians easier. So that's good, too. (And the doing of Lieberman?)

Bil'in on You-Tube

Balfour St. has been watching Palestinian videos from Bil'in. As you'd expect, the only way to see them as evidence for any Israeli wrongdoing, not to mention brutality, is if you've decided in advance that's what you're going to see, irrespective of reality. If you're impartial, neutral, or have any understanding of police work, riots, military occupations or other relevant matters, they show an IDF that's doing just fine.

My favorite snippet is near the end of the first video: a Palestinian demonstrator on a wheelchair has been overtaken by the Israeli troops, and he sits among them (embeded, might we say?) as they shoot tear-gas canisters at his folks. A few seconds later the troops have stopped at the line they wished to reach, and they're flanked by a handful of Palestinian men who for whatever reason haven't fallen back. So there's a line of IDF troops and Palestinian men, facing a second line of Palestinian demonstrators and photographers.

You couldn't make this up.

Israel-Palestine: the Emerging Reality on the Ground

A commenter on my post about how growing numbers of Palestinians in East Jerusalem would prefer to be Israelis wonders what would happen if the Palestinians of the West Bank (and Gaza) were to take the same line. What then? The question demonstrated to me once again how detached the reality in this area is from the discussion of it elsewhere. Set aside the malicious observers who seek somehow to roll back a century of Zionist success or millennia of Jewish aspirations, and revert to a Mideast without those pesky Jews. I'm not relating to them, but rather to the more-or-less well-meaning foreigners, Jews and non-Jews, who think there are theoretical principles that can be applied in an academic manner to the problems of this region, and they'll be resolved.

Here then is a description of the major development on the ground; there are other parallel developments that are pulling in other directions, but this most significant of them seems to be remarkably unremarked on.

Between1967 and 1987 the various territories of what had once been Mandatory Palestine were in a process of slow but noticeable convergence. It was all one political unit. There were no internal borders. Everyone roamed freely throughout. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the territories worked in Israel, mostly in construction and other low-skill jobs. A growing number of Israelis were moving to the territories - though their percentage among Israeli Jews was always very small. The Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and the ones without were slowly growing closer; about 100,000 West Bank and Gaza Palestinians moved into Israel, often by marrying Israeli Palestinians (so the transfer of Jewish and Arab populations across the Green Line was roughly balanced).

In summer 1987 Sari Nusseibah went on Israeli television to announce that he and other Palestinians were playing with the idea of dropping their demand for Palestinian independence: "You Israelis are making partition impossible, so let's accept it and have a bi-national state", he said. Israelis of the Left (I was one, in those days) were horrified. This means the end of Jewish sovereignty, we warned; within a generation there will be an Arab majority, and by-and-by Zionism will be over.

In November 1987 the first Intifada broke out. This may have meant that Nusseibah was never reading his own community correctly, or it may have meant something else; I don't know. I do know that it changed the direction of the momentum. The Israelis stopped going to the West Bank (Gaza had been uninteresting all along), fewer and fewer Palestinian men came to work in Israel, Israel began importing Phillipinos and Thais in their place, and, perhaps most important, mainstream Israelis accepted that someday the Palestinians would have their own state and the settlements were a gamble that had lost. The convergence ended, and seperation emerged.

20-some years later, the separation is largely a done thing. Israel's radical Left still loves to tell about the Israeli occupation of Gaza, but they don't do facts. There is no meaningful way in which Gaza can be counted as part of the same political unit as Israel, and certainly not the same social or cultural unit. The West Bank is not far behind. Israelis, except for settlers and a dramatically dwindling number of IDF troops, never go to the West Bank (the current number of IDF forces there is smaller than at anytime since 1987). Palestinians effectively don't travel to Israel, except a small number of businessmen,and a large number (tens of thousands) who travel to Israeli hospitals. The ties between Israeli Palestinians and the rest are limited. The Israelis have a ramshackle and highly ornery political system, but at the end of the day it functions far better than most democratic governments these days, and under far greater pressures. The Freedom House report that came out last week places Israel solidly among the free. The Gazans have a ghastly theocratic police state, while the West Banker's have an inefficient kleptocracy under an unelected prime minister who seems to mean well. Freedom House puts them both near the bottom, deep in the Not Free category.

The Palestinian territories do not yet have political sovereignty, and there still are Israelis on the West Bank. So the partition is far from complete, clearly. But the major trends are clear. Societies create and maintain nation states when they've got some common denominator, a common something that enables them to act together, to live together, to accept political compromises. When they don't, sooner or later they either do, or they fall apart. India is a case for the former, Belgium is a case for the latter.

My point is that the geographical unit that was once Mandatory Palestine doesn't. The advocates of a One State Solution may chatter on to their heart's content; the reality on the ground is that with every passing month their option is getting further away. Jews and Palestinians never shared a language, history, a religion, culture, political tradition,a sense of common purpose - nothing. The Jews and the Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship (and to a lesser extent this includes the Palestinians of Est Jerusalem) are slowly and haltingly forging such a commonality. The Jews outside Israel still share a lot with the Israelis, though I fear the links may be weakening. The rest of the Palestinians, in the West Bank, Gaza, not to mention in the rest of the Arab World, are taking a different road. The moment when there could have been convergence has passed, and there's currently nothing to suggest it will ever be back.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Technology and the Internet Do Not Promote Freedom (Alas)

That, in a nutshell, seems to be the thesis of Evgeny Morozov's new book The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. The book is reviewed here, and what I'm getting from it is that human nature, once again, trumps technology. Dictators and other nasties can use technology just as well as freedom fighters, and increasingly, they do.Technology can change the world in many ways, but utopia is no more likely to happen than it ever wasn't.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Do the Palestinians of Jerusalem Prefer to be Israelis?

In 1949, when Israel's War of Independence had just recently been won, there were about 100,000 Arabs among its citizens. At the time almost no-one called them Palestinians, not even they themselves. Until then they had been subjects of the British Mandate. Now they were citizens of Israel, and no-one really knew what that meant. Over the next 15 years, for example, many of them lived under military rule, unlike the Jewish citizens. At the same time, the State of Israel invested considerable funds and efforts to ensure all their children went to school, an effort no-one had previously made. (I wrote a bit about this here). It was a complicated story, with lots of shades of gray.

Then, in 1967, it suddenly took on a new and unexpected aspect. Following 19 years of near-total separation from the Arabs of the West Bank, who often lived a mere mile or two away, suddenly the separation was over. There was no border between Bartaa and Diab, Bakaa and Bakka el-Sharkiya, Jaat and Zeita, Taibe and Far'un, not to mention Beit Safafa and Beit Safafa. And yet, it wasn't really gone, the separation. To everyone's surprise, 19 years of being Israelis vs. 19 years of being Jordanians had caused a deep rift, and everyone saw it. (There were no Israeli-Arab villages right next to Gaza).

I'm not a scholar of the matter, but my impression is that as time went on and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank lengthened into years and decades, some of the distinctions became blurred. But many of them didn't. Then, when Israel began to build the separation barrier in 2002, the blurring receded. There was the famous case of the mayor of Um El-Fahm, the largest Arab town along the Green Line, who publicly sighed with relief when the fence went up alongside his town: finally the Israeli Jews will know we're not on the West Bank and they'll come back to our stores and restaurants on weekends, he announced; we'll be able to get on with the project of integration into Israel without the confusion of the West Bank folks (two miles south of his town).

One of the most controversial things Avigdor Lieberman keeps saying is the assertion that when the time for two states really does finally come along, Israel must insist that all those Arab towns I mentioned above must be defined as Palestine, not Israel, since their denizens are ethnically Palestinians,and should live in Palestine. Nothing makes them more furious.

That's the background for this story about the town of A-Taibeh, home of the Zuabi clan and their most famous daughter, Knesset Member Hanin Zuabi, who is probably the most vocal of the anti-Israeli voices among the Palestinian MKs. Apparently she's not at all appreciated in her home town, where everybody wants to accelerate the process of becoming Israelis, not aggravate the Jews. The story may fly in the face of what you expect, but it shouldn't. Wander around the Galilee these days and there are lots of signs on many levels that the local Arabs may identify ethnically as Palestinians (and they may not), but they are very serious about being Israelis. And their Jewish neighbors, rabid rabbis or no rabid rabbis, are mostly reciprocating the process. We haven't reached utopia yet, and probably won't for a while, but the trajectory is positive. I've previously written about this here, for example).

Then there's the case of Beit Safafa. This small Arab village south of Jerusalem was divided by the Green Line in 1949. The northern half of the village was in Israel, and became part of Jerusalem. The southern half was in Jordan. Then, in 1967, the southern half was also incorporated into Jerusalem and Israel, just like  Diab, Bakaa el-Sharkiya and Zeita weren't. A Palestinian friend of mine insists that as a result, the entire neighborhood is now the most Israeli of all East Jerusalem neighborhoods. 43 years of being in Israel have erased the chasm created by those first 19 years of not being in Israel.

The crucial question is if the same might happen in the rest of East Jerusalem. What happens to Palestinians who spend 35 years with the rights and benefits of being Israelis, and then, in 2003-4, they get physically severed from the West Bank? Because that's what's happening in East Jerusalem. The 270,000 Palestinians are cut off from the West Bank on the level of daily life (though they are allowed to travel there at will). They've got Israeli freedoms, Israeli health care, Israeli social security. Economically they're near the bottom of the Israeli standard of living (except the ones who are well off), but that's considerably better than on the West Bank and the possibility of improvement is significant. They can live anywhere inside Israel, should they so decide. This practical severing from the West bank is about six years old. How long will it take to achieve the same result as the 19-year severing back in 1948-67?

The Pechter poll presented yesterday suggests the process is already well underway. A plurality of East Jerusalem Palestinians want to remain Israelis. Haaretz summarizes the findings here. The full report is here, and a presentation based upon it is here. And note - since the report itself doesn't - that the numbers who prefer to remain in Israel are actually higher than stated, since the neighborhoods of Shuafat and Kfar Akeb don't really count, since they're outside the barrier and not really in Jerusalem. Kfar Akeb, for all practical purposes, is simply the southernmost neighborhood of Ramallah.

Speculation: what happens if sometime soon - say, ten years from now, which is a mere heartbeat in the story of Jerusalem - a clear majority of Jerusalem's Arabs actively want to remain Israelis, and, just like the Arabs of A-Taibeh, they refuse to contemplate the possibility of being citizens of Palestine? What then? Does anyone ask their opinion, or does the rest of the world insist that peace can be had only by dividing Jerusalem? I ask, because so far as I can see, we're well on the way to that situation, and getting nearer all the time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Virtual Tour of the Shepherd Hotel Area

The other day a private developer destroyed a large Jerusalem building which has been empty for decades, so as to construct an apartment building on its site. The building, originally built by the infamous Haj Amin al-Husseini in the 1930s, was confiscated during WWII by the British, while Husseini was hobnobbing with his Nazi friends in Berlin, then by the Jordanians when they conquered the area in 1948, then by the Israelis when they conquered it in 1967. It was sold to Irwin Moskowitz in 1985, but only recently did he manage to complete the legal process that would enable him to develop it. Along the way it became known as the Shepherd Hotel.

The move was condemned world-wide, by Hillary Clinton, Catherine Ashton, Ban Ki-Moon, and many others, and of course by the Palestinian leadership. The condemnations all claimed the new apartments will be in East Jerusalem, and thus part of Palestine, and therefore no Jews may be allowed to live there and if they are this will prevent the division of the city and peace.

Set aside the legal aspects of the matter, not because they aren't interesting, but because they've been set aside by all the negotiating parties for at least the past decade. When on December 24th 2000 President Clinton slowly dictated his terms for peace to a group of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, he determined that Jerusalem would be divided along the lines of ethnic division, irrespective of which part of the town had been in which country prior to its unification under Israel in 1967; his proposed lines would have had some Jordanian areas incorporated to Israel, and some Israeli ones incorporated to Palestine. Ever since then the principle of division along the ethnic lines has been the single option discussed in all relevant forums, effectively overriding earlier discussions of history, legality, morality or what have you.

I have written repeatedly about how this practical solution is not practical, and indeed should anyone ever try to impose it, the imposition will inevitably lead to violence bloodshed and eventually back to war (here, for example, and here). I have demonstrated this on various parts of town. (Here, here and here, for example),  Today I suggest we have a close look at the situation on the ground at the Shepherd Hotel compound.

First, the general area. Here's a Google Earth screenshot of the area to the north of the Old City in which the compound lies. (You can see part of the Old City at the bottom of the picture). Note that pre-1967 there was an island of Israeli territory to the east of the line of division; this is Mount Scopus, and before the division the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital had been there; after the division the Israelis had to shut them both down, even though they were still in Israeli territory, because the Jordanians wouldn't allow access to the mountain.

After unification in 1967, the Israelis built Jewish neighborhoods bridging the gap and connecting Mt. Scopus to Jewish Jerusalem. In the Geneva Initiative application of Clinton's principles, the change on the ground will look like this:
This is an interesting way of drawing the line, as it leave out some interesting information and possible complications.
The red triangle is where the Israeli national police headquarters and Ministry of Housing sit, raising the question why it was defined by the Geneva Initiative folks as Palestinian. The yellow blob is the British Counsulate, and has been an official British compound since the 1930s, so it's not obviously either Jewish nor Palestinian, either. The green blob I'll talk about in a moment: it's one of those sections of Jerusalem which defy ethnic cataloging. The Shepherd Hotel compound is the pink blob between the green and the yellow, which means that it isn't deep into a Palestinian neighborhood, but rather leaning on the fence of a Jewish one.

Here, lets see it all closer up.
 I've added three colored dots. At the bottom left there's a blue dot. That's the site of the memorial to the 78 Jews murdered by Palestinians on April 13th 1948. They were part of a convoy on its way up to the hospital and included the director of the hospital and many of his staff. The killing went on for more than six hours, though late in the afternoon when the British decided to put an end to the incident they did so in minutes. The consulate compound was manned by British troops at the time.
The black memorial is on the right; the consulate is the arched building in the upper center.

The yellow dot is the spot across from the entrance to the Shepherd complex where I stood earlier this afternoon and took four snapshots, one in each direction. West, into the compound:
North. The blue roofed compound is the sport center of the Hebrew University, and the 1967 line goes through its middle.
East. The HU campus is above, the buildings below are part of the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Jose, and the road between them is the highway to Maale Edumim.
 Finally, south. The Mount of Olives is above, Wadi Jose below it.

To the north of the Shepherd Hotel compound you'll see that I've added a light blue dot, at the intersection between the government compound and the Shepherd compound. Again, I stood on one spot, and pointed my camera left, then right. First, here's the Ministry of Housing, to my right.

To the left, here's the Shepherd compound, with all the trees. Less than a stone's throw from the ministry, and not figuratively. A real stone's throw.
 Finally, straight ahead, here's the compound I previously marked in bright green:
Near the top of the building you can see the logo of Briyut Klalit - twice. Once in Hebrew (right) and once in Arabic (left). Briyut Klalit is the name of the largest health insurance organization in Israel. The building, and the compound around it, is an Israeli institution, but since this particular branch serves the Arab population of Wadi Jose, most of its staff are Arab, and the language spoken in its hallways is mostly Arabic. So if you're dividing the city along ethnic lines, what is it? Do you go by the identity of the organization or the identity of the clients? If you decide it's Palestinian, the Israelis will of course shut down the building and its services, leaving the locals with no health service. If it's Israeli, then you're going to have to draw an international border between the health center and its clients, who will live in a different country and won't be eligible for its services. (And why should they be? Health services are paid by from the Israeli budget, from taxes collected from Israeli citizens. Not citizens of Palestine).

If the health center stays in Israel, the fence between it and the Shepherd Hotel compound will then be an international border. If there are Israelis living in the Shepherd area by the time the border gets drawn, the other fence of the compound will be the border. It's hard to see how either scenario is an existential threat to peace making, since the two fences are about 150 yards apart.

On the other hand, it's easy to see why the whole concept of drawing an international border along fences of properties might perhaps not be such a good idea. In the real world, I mean. From time to time I take foreign visitors for walks along the line the peace-makers propose, and am often asked why they don't see the division can't possibly work. I have no answer to this. Then my visitors ask me what the solution will be: if dividing the city will be a calamity, how do we reach peace? So far as I know, no-one has an honest answer to that.

The next chapter in this series is here, and tells about Har Homa.