Thursday, January 29, 2009

More on police repression of Israelis' outrage

While the following item, from Inter Press Service (IPS) News reports a large majority in Israel supporting its actions in Gaza, it also describes the harsh police repression of oppositional voices, both Jewish and Palestinian, throughout the country. The severity and extent of these measures raise doubts as to the claims of near-unanimous public support. As Professor Koby Snitz told journalist Nora Barrows-Friedman, "demonstrations happened virtually by themselves … anybody who is not severely indoctrinated or ignorant just feels compelled to do something every day." Additional protests are scheduled for this coming weekend.

Rela Mazali



A 'Police State' Celebrates

Nora Barrows-Friedman

The Israeli government is stepping up efforts to suppress dissent and crush resistance in the streets. Police have been videotaping the demonstrations and subsequently arresting protesters in large numbers.
According to Israeli police reports, at least 763 Israeli citizens, the majority of them Palestinian and 244 under 18 years old, have been arrested, imprisoned or detained for participating in such demonstrations. Most have been held and then released, but at least 30 of those arrested over the past three weeks are still being held in prison.

Ameer Makhoul, director of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations in Haifa, tells IPS that these demonstrations "are part of the uprising here inside the Green Line, to share responsibility and to share the challenge with the people in the Gaza strip."

As an organiser of many of these solidarity demonstrations inside Israel, Makhoul himself was arrested by the Shin Bet (the Israeli secret service). "They called me, came to my home and held me for four hours," he tells IPS. "They accused me of being a terrorist and supporting terror. They said that they are watching me and monitoring me." Israel, he said, "has become a terror state."

The Shin Bet has accused Makhoul and the hundreds of others arrested of "being a rebel, threatening the security of the State of Israel during war time."

Makhoul believes that such threats are being implemented by Israel's security forces "(in order to) break our will and the spirit of our people. But I think our spirit is much, much stronger here in Haifa and in Gaza than the Israeli oppression."

On Jan. 15, a Haaretz-Dialog public opinion poll taken in Israel found that 82 percent of the Israeli population believes that Israel did not go too far in its three-week operation in Gaza, "despite pictures from Gaza depicting massive destruction and a large number of wounded and killed, including women and children," reports Haaretz.

At a demonstration last week in front of Kishon prison north-east of Haifa, where some of the Palestinian demonstrators are being held, Israeli anarchist and professor of mathematics Kobi Snitz tells IPS that this figure is indicative of the current social climate inside the state.

"People are made to be afraid. Virtually all Israelis, particularly Israeli Jews, are convinced that Hamas was the one that violated the ceasefire. This just isn't true...(But) you won't find this in the Israeli media. There is no understanding of the level of violence used on Gaza by the Israeli military. And the police operate under the assumption and guidelines that every political expression now is to be repressed and prevented."

IPS asked Snitz to describe the momentum of these daily protests across the country. "These demonstrations happened virtually by themselves," he says. "At this point, anybody who is not severely indoctrinated or ignorant just feels compelled to do something every day. It's unbearable to sit at home and not do anything."

Last Saturday night in the coastal town of Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, several thousand demonstrators - including Palestinians, various peace groups, Israeli anarchists and teenaged Israeli refusniks fresh from jail for refusing to serve in the mandatory military - marched through the main street in the old city with flags, banners, and vociferous determination to keep up the fight inside Israeli society against their government's lethal operations in Gaza. Israeli security forces, carrying weapons and video cameras, heavily flanked the protesters.

But activists say it is crucial to expand the discussion from this current struggle for Palestinians inside the Gaza strip outward into the larger context. "I'm here to take a stand for Gaza," Mahmood Jreri of the acclaimed Palestinian hip-hop group DAM, based in Lydd (east of Tel Aviv), tells IPS during the march.

"The main reason (I'm here) is to say that we are not part of what the Israeli government is doing. The Palestinian people are fighting for their freedom and fighting against the occupation. When Palestinians have their freedom, then there will be peace here." (END/2009)

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gaza war outcomes; speaking as a Jew; an Israeli checkpoint monitor appeals to Obama

Contents of this post:

1) Gideon Levy on the Gaza war (introduced by Joel Beinin)

2) Michael Ratner on the betraying silence (introduced by Racheli Gai)

3) A Machsom-Watch volunteer's video letter to President Obama (introduced by Lincoln Shlensky)

4) Missile Tov: Jon Stewart on the imbalance of the American discourse (introduced by Lincoln Shlensky)



1) Gideon Levy on the Gaza war

Gideon Levy, one of the few Israeli journalists who criticized Israel's assault on Gaza even before it began, repudiates the triumphalist post-invasion Israeli consensus by arguing that the war was not only a moral failure, but a military failure. Its four proclaimed and implicit objectives: 1) halting rocket attacks on Israel; 2) preventing smuggling; 3) restoring deterrence; and 4) restoring the capability of the Israeli armed forces, were not achieved. The invasion of Gaza made Hamas more popular, and Fatah less popular among Palestinians. And the state of Israel has lost standing in the international community.

(See the text of the article below or visit <>)

--Joel Beinin

2) Michael Ratner on the betraying silence

Michael Ratner is a human rights attorney and the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights(CCR) ( CCR is currently the lead attorneys for those imprisoned without rights at Guantánamo. He is also one of the hosts of the WBAI radio show, Law and Disorder.

In the essay below, Ratner talks about the difficulties (internal as well as external) - that he has encountered, as a Jew, in speaking up speak up on Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. "For too long, and I do not exempt myself - he writes - most of us [Jews as well as non-Jews] have stood silently by or made only a marginal protests about the massive violations of Palestinian rights carried out by Israel." What he (and many of us) have learned from MLK is that, when all is said and done - "A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal", and this time is NOW.

(See the text of the article below or visit <>)

--Racheli Gai

3) A Machsom-Watch volunteer's video letter to President Obama

A member of Machsom-Watch, Israeli volunteers who stand as witnesses at the checkpoints to discourage or document abuse of Palestinian civilians, recently wrote this video letter to President Obama. She asks the newly elected president to visit Israel to help her -- to help the entire country -- lead a happier life. She cannot live normally or contentedly while Palestinians are suffering day-to-day privations because of an occupation that Israel cannot seem to end by itself. The feelings of guilt and shame she feels can only be resolved, she feels, when the Palestinians, her neighbors, are not thwarted so harshly in their own pursuit of happiness. Her feelings are her own, and yet we know they are shared by many Israelis who are outraged and ashamed by the continuing oppression and occupation, but feel helpless to compel a political change. Obama, she hopes, can untangle this knot -- the political one, and the one in her stomach.

(See the video letter at <>)

--Lincoln Shlensky

4) Missile Tov: Jon Stewart on the imbalance of the American Middle East discourse

Jon Stewart does a remarkable job of saying a lot in a short space about the one-sidedness of the American discourse on Gaza. Jewish Voice for Peace, the largest grassroots Jewish peace organization in the US, has launched a campaign to acknowledge Jon Stewart and the Daily Show for daring to speak out against the Gaza war and its typical portrayal in the US media (see the JVP campaign Web site <>).

(See the Jon Stewart video at <>)


Article contents:

1) Gideon Levy on the Gaza war

Gaza war ended in utter failure for Israel

By Gideon Levy

Haaretz, Jan. 26, 2009

Click here for more articles by Gideon Levy

On the morrow of the return of the last Israeli soldier from Gaza, we can determine with certainty that they had all gone out there in vain. This war ended in utter failure for Israel.

This goes beyond the profound moral failure, which is a grave matter in itself, but pertains to its inability to reach its stated goals. In other words, the grief is not complemented by failure. We have gained nothing in this war save hundreds of graves, some of them very small, thousands of maimed people, much destruction and the besmirching of Israel's image.


What seemed like a predestined loss to only a handful of people at the onset of the war will gradually emerge as such to many others, once the victorious trumpeting subsides.

The initial objective of the war was to put an end to the firing of Qassam rockets. This did not cease until the war's last day. It was only achieved after a cease-fire had already been arranged. Defense officials estimate that Hamas still has 1,000 rockets.

The war's second objective, the prevention of smuggling, was not met either. The head of the Shin Bet security service has estimated that smuggling will be renewed within two months.

Most of the smuggling that is going on is meant to provide food for a population under siege, and not to obtain weapons. But even if we accept the scare campaign concerning the smuggling with its exaggerations, this war has served to prove that only poor quality, rudimentary weapons passed through the smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egypt.

Israel's ability to achieve its third objective is also dubious. Deterrence, my foot. The deterrence we supposedly achieved in the Second Lebanon War has not had the slightest effect on Hamas, and the one supposedly achieved now isn't working any better: The sporadic firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip has continued over the past few days.

The fourth objective, which remained undeclared, was not met either. The IDF has not restored its capability. It couldn't have, not in a quasi-war against a miserable and poorly-equipped organization relying on makeshift weapons, whose combatants barely put up a fight.

The heroic descriptions and victory poems written abut the "military triumph" will not serve to change reality. The pilots were flying on training missions and the ground forces were engaged in exercises that involved joining up and firing weapons.

The describing of the operation as a "military achievement" by the various generals and analysts who offered their take on the operation is plain ridiculous.

We have not weakened Hamas. The vast majority of its combatants were not harmed and popular support for the organization has in fact increased. Their war has intensified the ethos of resistance and determined endurance. A country which has nursed an entire generation on the ethos of a few versus should know to appreciate that by now. There was no doubt as to who was David and who was Goliath in this war.

The population in Gaza, which has sustained such a severe blow, will not become more moderate now. On the contrary, the national sentiment will now turn more than before against the party which inflicted that blow - the State of Israel. Just as public opinion leans to the right in Israelafter each attack against us, so it will in Gaza following the mega-attack that we carried out against them.

If anyone was weakened because of this war, it was Fatah, whose fleeing from Gaza and its abandonment have now been given special significance. The succession of failures in this war needs to include, of course, the failure of the siege policy. For a while, we have already come to realize that is ineffective. The world boycotted, Israel besieged and Hamas ruled (and is still ruling).

But this war's balance, as far as Israel is concerned, does not end with the absence of any achievement. It has placed a heavy toll on us, which will continue to burden us for some time. When it comes to assessing Israel's international situation, we must not allow ourselves to be fooled by the support parade by Europe's leaders, who came in for a photo-op with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Israel's actions have dealt a serious blow to public support for the state. While this does not always translate itself into an immediate diplomatic situation, the shockwaves will arrive one day. The whole world saw the images. They shocked every human being who saw them, even if they left most Israelis cold.

The conclusion is that Israel is a violent and dangerous country, devoid of all restraints and blatantly ignoring the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, while not giving a hoot about international law. The investigations are on their way.

Graver still is the damage this will visit upon our moral spine. It will come from difficult questions about what the IDF did in Gaza, which will occur despite the blurring effect of recruited media.

So what was achieved, after all? As a war waged to satisfy considerations of internal politics, the operation has succeeded beyond all expectations. Likud Chair Benjamin Netanyahu is getting stronger in the polls. And why? Because we could not get enough of the war.


2) Michael Ratner on the betraying silence

[On the Celebration of King's Birth, January 19, 2009]

On the celebration of King's birth I often read or listen to the anti-war speech that he gave at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967-A Time to Break the Silence. It was a powerful statement of his opposition to the Vietnam War. He spoke of how he was told to not oppose the war because his opposition would anger President Johnson and harm the civil rights movement. He was warned that "Peace and Civil rights don't mix." King admitted he held back because of this possible consequence for too long and failed to speak out earlier.

I bring this up today when I think about Israel's recent invasion of Gaza. While we are celebrating King's birth and the inauguration of Barack Obama, Israel invaded Gaza killing over 1200 people, men women and children, and injured thousands. It targeted UN buildings, homes, mosques, police stations, universities and media outlets. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed-a ratio of one hundred Palestinians for each Israeli. The international law violations have been well documented: disproportionate military force, attacks on civilian targets, collective punishment. The killings of the three daughters of a Palestinian doctor gave a face to those killed in way that numbers could not. Members of my broader family knew the doctor, had visited him in Gaza and heard from during the Israeli onslaught. He was terrified for his family, but had no way out.

When I heard the news of the murders of the doctor's children I was at the Sundance film festival and had just viewed an amazing and moving film about radical lawyer Bill Kunstler called Disturbing the Universe. The film shows Bill in Chicago during the 1969 Chicago 8 trial. During the time of the trial Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was murdered by the Chicago police. Bill was appalled by the murder, but he did not just blame the Chicago police. He blamed himself and all white Americans. For it white Americans that for too long had remained silent and accepted the pervasive racism and the murder of Blacks in our society.

This brings me to Gaza and role of American Jews and, in fact, of almost all Americans. For too long, and I do not exempt myself, most of us have stood silently by or made only a marginal protests about the massive violations of Palestinian rights carried out by Israel. I recall a conversation I had some years ago with the political artist Leon Golub, famous for his outsized oil paintings of torture carried out by American mercenaries in Central America. Leon told me that he had been invited to attend a panel to address what it meant to be a Jewish political artist. He said he had never thought of himself as a "Jewish political artist" but only as a "political artist." Then he thought some more. Of the works of art he had made, none concerned Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. And then he knew, at least for himself and probably many others: to be a "Jewish political artist" was to be an artist who avoided depicting the horrors inflicted on Palestinians. Of course, that is true
for more than just artists. Many Jews who are very involved in human rights, ending poverty and war, and fighting for the underdog avoid criticism of Israel. They wrongly think that human rights are divisible; or that like ostriches they can hide their heads and pretend not to see what is clearly staring them in the face and makes them uncomfortable: the inhuman treatment of Palestinians.

Some of our willful blindness and refusal to act is a result of our ambivalence about condemning the actions of a people that have experienced pervasive anti- Semitism and the holocaust. Some of our hesitation to act results from the condemnation and opprobrium anyone, but especially Jews, encounter with even mild criticisms of Israel. Organizations that take a position against Israeli actions subject themselves to a loss of funding from foundations and individuals. Few can afford to do so. As long as this silence continues, so will the U.S. billions in aid and arms that facilitates the killings of Palestinians. As long as this silence continues, more and more settlements will be built. As long as this silence continues, there will be more and more Gazas and more and more children murdered.

The lesson here is simple, but difficult to act on. We are, each of us, responsible for the murders in Gaza. Our silence is betrayal. Each time we hesitate to speak out; each time we moderate our condemnation we become accomplices in killing. The time, if there ever was one, to show courage is now. Yes it will be difficult for many. As King said about the reluctance of some to oppose the Vietnam War:

"Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainly; but we must move on.

We must take King's words to heart. We, each of us, "must move on."

We must begin somewhere even if it just means saying the issue is not off our agenda. Begin the discussion; begin to act; show that you care. And remember,

"A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal." That time has come.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Cooperative resistance and criminal repression

In this posting:
1) Refusing to serve the killing wall and the killing fields;
2) Israeli leaders preparing for possible charges for war crimes


Refusing to serve the killing wall and the killing fields

In many cases, the English version of Haaretz fails to feature even the highly selective and watered down reports that the Hebrew paper or website carry on oppositional actions inside Israel. The following item, however, according to New Profile activist Haggai Matar, who is quoted in it, was published in English only and will not be printed in Hebrew.

Less visible at present than the recent wholesale killing of children by Israel's military in Gaza is the ongoing shooting and, often, killing, of activists-- including youth and children--in the occupied West Bank. Many such shootings occur in the context of forceful military suppression of resistance to the separation wall, which continues to protect the theft of Palestinian lands, to deny Palestinian livelihoods and basic rights. And yet, in face of violent repression, the movement resisting the wall continues to create and maintain close ties and cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis.

Many of the younger Israeli activists against the wall are also draft resisters, refusing to comply with the law requiring them to serve in the military that forcefully imposes the policies and measures they are struggling to stop. Some of these young people are imprisoned for their refusal and JPN has reported on the most recent group of high school seniors ("Shministim") who are currently taking this stand.

The item below sketches this web of connections, offering a bleak and, at the same time, hope-inspiring picture of a stubborn, complex popular, non-violent resistance movement of both Palestinians and Israelis.

Rela Mazali


w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

Last update - 18:33 21/01/2009

View from Ramallah / Israeli refuseniks confront the IDF, from Ni'lin to Tel Aviv

By Jesse Rosenfeld

I had just returned to Tel Aviv from a demonstration in the West Bank village of Ni'lin last July, when I caught word that the Israeli military had shot 11-year old Ahmad Musa in the head during a protest against the separation wall. Twenty minutes later, three Israeli anarchists and I were speeding back to the West Bank to see what had happened.

Soon we were again in the West Bank, where Israeli suburban-like settlements interrupt Palestinian farmland and villages. Apart from the occasional phone call by the activists to spread the word, we drove mostly in a stifling silence of despair.

As we were waved through a military checkpoint by an Israeli soldier with an M16 dangling carelessly around her neck, activist Yonatan Pollack kicked the glove compartment. "Fucking child killers," he spat out.

On November 7, Haaretz reported that the army had requested that the Shin Bet - Israel's domestic spy network and internal security service - provide information on left-wing Israeli activists traveling to the West Bank.

The stated goal was to make it easier for the army to issue restraining orders to prevent the activists from entering.

Since the beginning of the anti-wall campaign in Ni'lin last May, village residents have been joined by Israeli and international activists in non-violent attempts to block the army's bulldozers.

At the same time, the youth in the town have responded to the army's use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition with stone throwing. Their collective effort has created heavy delays in construction, and the wall - scheduled for completion last June - is still unfinished.

The struggle has not only generated robust participation by Israel's small radical left, it has also regalvanized the military refusal movement after two years of relative quiet.

Inspired by the resistance of Ni'lin villagers and horrified by the brutality Israel has used to repress the village uprising, the "refuseniks" - as they are locally known - are back in the news.

"If the army backs off in Ni'lin it will be an example to the refusal movement and Israeli society. It will show that the army can't break us," explains Omer Goldman, a Ni'lin solidarity activist who went to military prison this past September at age 19 for refusing to enlist on her conscription date.

Because military tribunals usually hand out numerous consecutive small sentences for refusal rather than dealing with drawn out public trials, Goldman received a second sentence immediately following her first.

Army service is compulsory for all 18-year-old Jewish and Druze Israelis, with men serving three years and women two, and it has long been seen as a sacred cow in Israeli society. The refusenik movement first emerged during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and was re-launched at the height of the second Intifada with a refusal letter of 200 high-school graduates in 2001.

The refuseniks have now been thrown back into the national spotlight following the imprisonment of five Israeli draft dodgers - including Goldman last August and September. The jailings began after an open letter from graduating high school students refusing to enlist was published in the August 15 edition of Yedioth Aharonoth. Over 60 high-school students signed the letter, declaring their intention to evade conscription, once again taking aim at Israel's 41 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

"Our refusal comes first and foremost as a protest of the separation, control, oppression and killing policy held by the State of Israel in the occupied territories," reads the published letter that was also sent to both IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"We cannot hurt in the name of defense or imprison in the name of freedom; therefore we cannot be moral and serve the occupation," concludes the letter.

Goldman, whose father was a deputy head of the Mossad foreign intelligence agency, echoes the sentiment. I first met her hiding out in a Ni'lin medical clinic as the army invaded the village spraying live bullets.

As we sit in a trendy Tel Aviv cafe talking about both her political influences and activist experiences, it becomes clear that what drives the admirer of the 1968 Paris student revolt is both philosophical and visceral: she refuses to participate in what she has seen the military do in Ni'lin and rejects what the army represents.

"Ni'lin's [struggle] is a window that shows an example of Israeli-Palestinian solidarity," Goldman explains.

It is a perspective that grinds against the Israeli mainstream. For Defense Ministry spokesman Sholomo Dror, the issue of military refusal is one of a small minority of Israelis breaking the law and not fulfilling their national obligations.

Dror argues that Israelis have a "democratic" responsibility to serve in the state's armed forces.

"If you want to oppose the government's policies, then serve in the army and oppose the policies afterwards," he says in a phone interview from his Tel Aviv office. "I don't think serving in the army is violating people's rights."

According to Dror, refuseniks represent a fringe movement that poses no real threat to the military or challenge to Israeli society. "We have more people volunteering for elite unit enlistment being turned down," he says.

The war on draft dodging

Despite this claim, Defense Ministry statistics show that 25 percent of Israeli's avoided military service in 2007. While 11 percent of those were exempt for religious reasons, the majority falls into what is commonly referred to as "grey refusal." This category refers to those exempt for mental or physical health reasons, or marriage, in the case of women.

In response to these statistics, Defense Minister Barak and IDF Chief Ashkenazi called for a "war on draft dodging" - an operation to publicly shame those avoiding service.

A vigorous television and billboard campaign was launched across Israel last year, under the slogan "A real Israeli doesn't evade the army."

The ads featured a group of Israelis on a post-army tour of India - a rite of passage so popular it has almost become a social institution - trying to impress a group of Swedish travelers with tales from the battlefront. The Israeli who avoided military service is the one who doesn't end up with a beautiful blond.

Following publication of high school refusenik's open letter, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz last September launched a criminal investigation into the New Profile organization - which provides support and information for people planning on or actively refusing military service.

Haaretz reported then that the inquiry into whether the organization was guilty of "incitement to draft dodging" was launched in the wake of a February request by the military.

The "incitement to draft dodging" law has never before been investigated, but New Profile organizer Haggai Matar said the group is careful to ensure that all its work is legal.

"We are trying to offer an alternative to Israel's security discourse, to ask who's secure and whose security we are talking about," he explains. "We argue that perhaps we should talk about a different kind of security - social security, equality and security from needing."

During our chat after a refusenik demonstration at a Tel Aviv military base, Matar talks about the importance of the support he received from New Profile during his own army refusal in 2001. The bushy-bearded, strawberry blond radical was a leader in the first high school refusal letter of the Second Intifada, faced a high profile public trial for rejecting enlistment and spent two years in jail as a result. The case is now taught as precedent in law schools across Israel.

"New Profile helped me a lot when I was refusing, and therefore, all I can do is offer the support that I got," Matar smiles.

He is part of a small minority of the 25 percent of Israelis who avoid the draft by publicly opting out. Public refusal continues to receive prominent national attention and vicious social backlash.

Like Goldman and Matar, refusenik, Sahar Vardi, received national media coverage when she was jailed for the first time on August 25 for refusing her military induction.

"I'm going to tell the recruitment officer that I'm not serving because of the occupation," Vardi said, just before entering the Tel Aviv military base for new conscripts. "I've seen Palestinian kids get shot and beaten by the army in the West Bank and this is something that I'm not going to be a part of." She seemed calmed and defiant, wearing a "courage to refuse" t-shirt with the graphic of a broken M-16.

In spite of facing both jail time and public backlash for their actions, refusenik activists are headstrong in their determination.

On December 18, the refuseniks rallied in front of Defense Ministry base in Tel Aviv - which also serves as a central army base - to present to Barak 20, 000 letters of international support calling for the release of jailed draft dodgers and commending their actions.

The action was organized by a coalition of Israeli and American anti occupation groups supporting military refusal, with most of the letters coming from supporters in the United States.

The crowed of 150 chanted "from Iraq to Palestine, choose refusal, stop the crimes," while several draft dodgers attempted to deliver the 20,000 letters. They were stopped by police, at the gate of the base.

"They're the army, they don't deal with these sort of things," said a police officer preventing the delivery of letters.

Since the beginning of Israel's offensive on Gaza three weeks ago, the refuseniks have been furiously organizing anti-war action, demonstrating at army bases and joining in mass demonstrations demanding an end to the war.

For many Palestinians, especially activists in Ni'lin, Israeli military refusal is an important act of solidarity for joint struggle against occupation.

"Despite being a small part of Israeli society, [the refuseniks] give us hope that even inside Israel there are people who are really rejecting occupation," says Hindi Mesleh, an energetic 25-year old activist with Ni'lin's popular committee who regularly engages with Israeli solidarity activists. His family is currently fighting to save their own farmland from being confiscated by the separation wall.

Mesleh speaks about the refuseniks with same glint of the admiration that comes out when discussing Palestinian prisoners. "It's hard for Palestinians to conceive of someone serving on a checkpoint one day and going to demonstrate in Ni'lin the next," he explains, two weeks after Musa's death.

According to eyewitness reports, Musa was fatally wounded by an M-16 sticking out of a rifle slit at the back of an Israeli jeep, as he turned to flee troops. His corpse in the Ramallah morgue, with his skull split diagonally in two on the cold metal table, corroborate his cause of death.

The anger that arose in response to the shooting was exacerbated at his funeral the next day when 17-year old Youseph Amira was killed by two rubber bullets to the head during a checkpoint clash.

That day in July, as we arrived in Ni'lin on the eve of Musa's funeral, Pollack jumped out of the car and walked towards the barricade lines, hugging the store front walls to avoid the army's rubber bullets.

Evaluating the situation, he turned to group of local children, and asked them in Arabic what needed to be done.

Jesse Rosenfeld is a freelance journalist based in Ramallah and Tel Aviv.


Israeli leaders preparing for possible charges for war crimes

Israeli officials are in a frenzy of activity to forestall legal actions abroad over their involvement in the recent Gaza offensive.
Apparently, Tzipi LIvni's trip to Brussels was almost cancelled based on a rumor (revealed later to be a hoax) that she might be arrested. This is an indication of how seriously worried Israeli authorities are.

Racheli Gai.


Israel's Leaders Are Frantically Trying to Prevent War Crimes Proceedings for Their Gaza Atrocities

By Jonathan Cook, AlterNet. Posted January 26, 2009.

Mounting fear in Israel that the country's leaders face war crimes charges over their involvement in the recent Gaza offensive pushed officials into a frenzy of activity at the weekend to forestall legal actions abroad.

The urgency was underlined after rumors last week that Belgian authorities might arrest Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, if she attended a summit of European counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday. In an indication of how seriously the matter is judged, Ms Livni's advisers were on the verge of cancelling her trip when the story was revealed to be a hoax.

Nonetheless, officials are braced for real attempts to arrest senior political and military figures following a warning from the country's chief law officer, Menachem Mazuz, that Israel will soon face "a wave of international lawsuits".

In response, the government is setting up a special task force to work on legal defenses, has barred the media from naming or photographing army officers involved in the Gaza attack, and has placed restrictions on overseas visits. Today, ministers were expected to approve an aid package to help soldiers fight warrants abroad for their arrest.

The concern about war crimes trials follows a series of pronouncements by Richard Falk, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the occupied territories and a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University in the United States.

He has accused Israel of gravely violating the laws of war during its three-week offensive, which killed more than 1,300 Gazans, most of them civilians, and wounded thousands more.

There is a well-grounded view that both the initial attacks on Gaza and the tactics being used by Israel are serious violations of the UN charter, the Geneva conventions, international law and international humanitarian law," he said during the final stages of fighting.

Since they gained entry to the tiny enclave after a ceasefire declared a week ago, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have added their voice. The two human-rights organizations have censured Israel over its failure to distinguish between Palestinian civilians and combatants as well as its use of controversial weapons.

There is incontrovertible evidence, both groups say, that Israel fired white phosphorus shells over Gaza, despite its banned use in civilian areas, setting homes on fire and burning civilians caught under the shower of phosphorus.

Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, has also lambasted Israel for using high-explosive shells in built-up areas of Gaza, even though the artillery has a blast range of up to 300 meters.

Initial indications suggest that the army may have resorted also to an experimental weapon -- dense inert metal explosive, or Dime -- that severs limbs and ruptures the internal organs of anyone close to the blast.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, is investigating claims forwarded by Saudi Arabia that depleted uranium shells were used in Gaza.

In addition, human-rights groups have begun documenting instances of the Israeli army's targeting of civilian buildings, including UN schools, and of soldiers taking Palestinian civilians as human shields.

A senior Israeli official told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper: "As far as the international arena is concerned, Israel is entering what is probably its darkest era."

In a further sign of concern, an unnamed government minister was quoted last week as saying: "When the scale of the damage in Gaza becomes clear, I will no longer take a vacation in Amsterdam, only at the international court in The Hague" -- a reference to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands that tries war crimes.

Over the past week about 300 human-rights organizations have jointly prepared a 37-page dossier of evidence to be presented to the court.

According to legal experts, it will be difficult to try Israel at the ICC because it is not a signatory to the Rome statute governing the court's jurisdiction and function. However, an ad hoc tribunal similar to the ones set up to deal with war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia may be an option. The ICC might also try to pursue individual Israeli commanders for war crimes.

A more pressing concern for Israel is that human-rights activists in Europe could use local "universal jurisdiction" legislation to initiate war crimes trials in their domestic courts against Israeli leaders.

Such actions have been launched before, most notably in 2005 when Doron Almog, the former Israeli commander in Gaza, avoided being arrested in the United Kingdom only after he was warned to remain seated in a plane after his arrival at Heathrow airport. Major Gen Almog had overseen the demolition of hundreds of homes in Gaza three years earlier.

In an attempt to make life more difficult for Israeli leaders, anonymous activists in Israel launched a website ( -- "outing" those it accused of war crimes, including Ehud Barak, the defence minister, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, and Ms Livni. It also identified most of the senior military command.

Offering photographs and information about each official's alleged offence, the site provides contact details for the ICC and tells visitors to alert the court when "the suspect is outside of Israel's borders".

To avert the danger of arrests for war crimes, IsraeI hurriedly initiated a series of moves to protect its leaders. A special task force, overseen by the prime minister's office, will convene in the next few days to start building a defence for army commanders.

The Israeli media suggested experts on international law would seek to compile evidence that Hamas stockpiled weapons in civilian buildings, and that the army went to great efforts to warn residents to flee before bombing areas.

The military censor is excising from media reports all identifying information about senior officers involved in the Gaza operation, and officers who wish to travel abroad will be required first to seek the advice of military officials.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest book is "Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). His website is

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Henry Siegman: "Israel's Lies"

The London Review of Books published a new essay in which Henry Siegman thoroughly dismantles each of Israel's stated justifications for its assault on Gaza and Hamas. Siegman says "Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas's capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network....let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie."

Siegman, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and former Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, is also a rabbi and a Holocaust survivor from Germany. He's written extensively about the peace process, stating that no agreement can be made without the inclusion of Hamas and referring to his own experience of fleeing the Nazis to identify with Palestinian refugees and Palestinian suffering. In an article by Chris Hedges, formerly of the New York Times, Siegman discusses his disappointment in American Jewish leadership over Israel as well as the family strife that his speaking out on Israel and Palestine has caused ( Siegman's wisdom, insight and willingness to say unpopular things is always instructive and helps illuminate a path for those seeking justice and security for both Israelis and Palestinians. Of his many insights, one in particular that I want to emphasize is that "if
[Israel] succeeds in dismantling Hamas, the movement will in time be replaced by a far more radical Palestinian opposition."

Sarah Anne Minkin

Israel's Lies
Henry Siegman

Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas's capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network.

I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of events. Criticism of Israel's actions, if any (and there has been none from the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDF's carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.

Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF's Gaza Division. In an interview in Ha'aretz on 22 December, he accused Israel's government of having made a 'central error' during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing 'to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip . . . When you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,' General Zakai said, 'it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that
way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire . . . You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they're in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.'

The truce, which began in June last year and was due for renewal in December, required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad (even Israel's intelligence agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness), and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions. This understanding was seriously violated on 4 November, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. Hamas responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered to extend the truce, but only on condition that Israel ended its blockade. Israel refused. It could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn't even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the
strangulation of Gaza's population.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Hamas declared an end to suicide bombings and rocket fire when it decided to join the Palestinian political process, and largely stuck to it for more than a year. Bush publicly welcomed that decision, citing it as an example of the success of his campaign for democracy in the Middle East. (He had no other success to point to.) When Hamas unexpectedly won the election, Israel and the US immediately sought to delegitimise the result and embraced Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, who until then had been dismissed by Israel's leaders as a 'plucked chicken'. They armed and trained his security forces to overthrow Hamas; and when Hamas – brutally, to be sure – pre-empted this violent attempt to reverse the result of the first honest democratic election in the modern Middle East, Israel and the Bush administration imposed the blockade.

Israel seeks to counter these indisputable facts by maintaining that in withdrawing Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005, Ariel Sharon gave Hamas the chance to set out on the path to statehood, a chance it refused to take; instead, it transformed Gaza into a launching-pad for firing missiles at Israel's civilian population. The charge is a lie twice over. First, for all its failings, Hamas brought to Gaza a level of law and order unknown in recent years, and did so without the large sums of money that donors showered on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. It eliminated the violent gangs and warlords who terrorised Gaza under Fatah's rule. Non-observant Muslims, Christians and other minorities have more religious freedom under Hamas rule than they would have in Saudi Arabia, for example, or under many other Arab regimes.

The greater lie is that Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza was intended as a prelude to further withdrawals and a peace agreement. This is how Sharon's senior adviser Dov Weisglass, who was also his chief negotiator with the Americans, described the withdrawal from Gaza, in an interview with Ha'aretz in August 2004:

What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements [i.e. the major settlement blocks on the West Bank] would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns . . . The significance [of the agreement with the US] is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with [President Bush's] authority and permission . . . and the ratification of both houses of Congress.

Do the Israelis and Americans think that Palestinians don't read the Israeli papers, or that when they saw what was happening on the West Bank they couldn't figure out for themselves what Sharon was up to?

Israel's government would like the world to believe that Hamas launched its Qassam rockets because that is what terrorists do and Hamas is a generic terrorist group. In fact, Hamas is no more a 'terror organisation' (Israel's preferred term) than the Zionist movement was during its struggle for a Jewish homeland. In the late 1930s and 1940s, parties within the Zionist movement resorted to terrorist activities for strategic reasons. According to Benny Morris, it was the Irgun that first targeted civilians. He writes in Righteous Victims that an upsurge of Arab terrorism in 1937 'triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the conflict'. He also documents atrocities committed during the 1948-49 war by the IDF, admitting in a 2004 interview, published in Ha'aretz, that material released by Israel's Ministry of Defence showed that 'there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought . . . In the months of
April-May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them, and destroy the villages themselves.' In a number of Palestinian villages and towns the IDF carried out organised executions of civilians. Asked by Ha'aretz whether he condemned the ethnic cleansing, Morris replied that he did not:

A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.

In other words, when Jews target and kill innocent civilians to advance their national struggle, they are patriots. When their adversaries do so, they are terrorists.

It is too easy to describe Hamas simply as a 'terror organisation'. It is a religious nationalist movement that resorts to terrorism, as the Zionist movement did during its struggle for statehood, in the mistaken belief that it is the only way to end an oppressive occupation and bring about a Palestinian state. While Hamas's ideology formally calls for that state to be established on the ruins of the state of Israel, this doesn't determine Hamas's actual policies today any more than the same declaration in the PLO charter determined Fatah's actions.

These are not the conclusions of an apologist for Hamas but the opinions of the former head of Mossad and Sharon's national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy. The Hamas leadership has undergone a change 'right under our very noses', Halevy wrote recently in Yedioth Ahronoth, by recognising that 'its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future.' It is now ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state within the temporary borders of 1967. Halevy noted that while Hamas has not said how 'temporary' those borders would be, 'they know that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their co-operation, they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: they will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological goals.' In an earlier article, Halevy also pointed out the absurdity of linking Hamas to al-Qaida.

In the eyes of al-Qaida, the members of Hamas are perceived as heretics due to their stated desire to participate, even indirectly, in processes of any understandings or agreements with Israel. [The Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled] Mashal's declaration diametrically contradicts al-Qaida's approach, and provides Israel with an opportunity, perhaps a historic one, to leverage it for the better.

Why then are Israel's leaders so determined to destroy Hamas? Because they believe that its leadership, unlike that of Fatah, cannot be intimidated into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian 'state' made up of territorially disconnected entities over which Israel would be able to retain permanent control. Control of the West Bank has been the unwavering objective of Israel's military, intelligence and political elites since the end of the Six-Day War.[*] They believe that Hamas would not permit such a cantonisation of Palestinian territory, no matter how long the occupation continues. They may be wrong about Abbas and his superannuated cohorts, but they are entirely right about Hamas.

Middle East observers wonder whether Israel's assault on Hamas will succeed in destroying the organisation or expelling it from Gaza. This is an irrelevant question. If Israel plans to keep control over any future Palestinian entity, it will never find a Palestinian partner, and even if it succeeds in dismantling Hamas, the movement will in time be replaced by a far more radical Palestinian opposition.

If Barack Obama picks a seasoned Middle East envoy who clings to the idea that outsiders should not present their own proposals for a just and sustainable peace agreement, much less press the parties to accept it, but instead leave them to work out their differences, he will assure a future Palestinian resistance far more extreme than Hamas – one likely to be allied with al-Qaida. For the US, Europe and most of the rest of the world, this would be the worst possible outcome. Perhaps some Israelis, including the settler leadership, believe it would serve their purposes, since it would provide the government with a compelling pretext to hold on to all of Palestine. But this is a delusion that would bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Anthony Cordesman, one of the most reliable military analysts of the Middle East, and a friend of Israel, argued in a 9 January report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the tactical advantages of continuing the operation in Gaza were outweighed by the strategic cost – and were probably no greater than any gains Israel may have made early in the war in selective strikes on key Hamas facilities. 'Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal, or at least one it can credibly achieve?' he asks. 'Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel's actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes.' Cordesman concludes that 'any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that
Olmert, Livni and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends.'

15 January


[*] See my piece in the LRB, 16 August 2007.

Henry Siegman, director of the US Middle East Project in New York, is a visiting research professor at SOAS, University of London. He is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
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Friday, January 23, 2009

Harold Pinter

Now that there's at least a lull in the latest round of violence in Israel/Palestine, we would like to re-visit the following.

Playwright and thinker, Harold Pinter, died recently, on Wednesday December 24 2008, at age 78. As the Guardian obituary recounted, he was many things besides a playwright, including Conscientious Objector in 1948, "Receiving his call-up papers for National Service, he registered as a conscientious objector, thereby risking imprisonment. He was summoned before a series of increasingly Kafkaesque military tribunals, in the end escaping with a fine."

(For the full obituary see: Some may take heart or, at least, take pause at the resistance – initially sanctioned by state and military – that informed the kind of work for which Pinter would later win such high esteem.

In memory of the man and the work, of the critical questioning and the outspoken criticism of states' misdeeds, we're sending this list the powerful lecture given by Harold Pinter on receiving the Nobel Prize in 2005.

Racheli Gai & Rela Mazali


Nobel Lecture

Art, Truth & Politics

In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is 'What have you done with the scissors?' The first line of Old Times is 'Dark.'

In each case I had no further information.

In the first case someone was obviously looking for a pair of scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the person addressed didn't give a damn about the scissors or about the questioner either, for that matter.

'Dark' I took to be a description of someone's hair, the hair of a woman, and was the answer to a question. In each case I found myself compelled to pursue the matter. This happened visually, a very slow fade, through shadow into light.

I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.

In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a man enter a stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), 'Dad, do you mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you call it? Why don't you buy a dog? You're a dog cook. Honest. You think you're cooking for a lot of dogs.' So since B calls A 'Dad' it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that there was no mother? I didn't know. But, as I told myself at the time, our beginnings never know our ends.

'Dark.' A large window. Evening sky. A man, A (later to become Deeley), and a woman, B (later to become Kate), sitting with drinks. 'Fat or thin?' the man asks. Who are they talking about? But I then see, standing at the window, a woman, C (later to become Anna), in another condition of light, her back to them, her hair dark.

It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

Political theatre presents an entirely different set of problems. Sermonising has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles, from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always work. And political satire, of course, adheres to none of these precepts, in fact does precisely the opposite, which is its proper function.

In my play The Birthday Party I think I allow a whole range of options to operate in a dense forest of possibility before finally focussing on an act of subjugation.

Mountain Language pretends to no such range of operation. It remains brutal, short and ugly. But the soldiers in the play do get some fun out of it. One sometimes forgets that torturers become easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to keep their spirits up. This has been confirmed of course by the events at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Mountain Language lasts only 20 minutes, but it could go on for hour after hour, on and on and on, the same pattern repeated over and over again, on and on, hour after hour.

Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating; the woman a lost figure in a drowning landscape, a woman unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others.

But as they died, she must die too.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case "innocent people" were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.

The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.

The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.

I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a 'totalitarian dungeon'. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.

But this 'policy' was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally - a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many
are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort - all other justifications having failed to justify themselves - as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, 'I'm Explaining a Few Things':

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses, bandits with black friars spattering blessings came through the sky to kill children and the blood of children ran through the streets without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out, vipers that the vipers would abominate.

Face to face with you I have seen the blood of Spain tower like a tide to drown you in one wave of pride and knives.

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes and from every crime bullets are born which will one day find the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry speak of dreams and leaves and the great volcanoes of his native land.

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!*

Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda's poem I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein's

Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity - the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons - is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force - yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection - unless you lie - in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called 'Death'.

Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?
Who was the dead body?
Who was the father or daughter or brother Or uncle or sister or mother or son Of the dead and abandoned body?
Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?
Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?
What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?
Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man.


* Extract from "I'm Explaining a Few Things" translated by Nathaniel Tarn, from Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems, published by Jonathan Cape, London 1970. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
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Correcting a garbled paragraph

Apologies for a garbled paragraph (the fourth paragraph of the introduction), caused by a technology glitch, in the posting headed: "Dissent despite repressive silencing in Israel".

The paragraph should read:

The first item below reports the detention of Mohammed Abu Humus, an activist openly opposing the government's actions in Gaza. "Administrative detention"—essentially unlimited detention with no charges or trial—has been used for decades to silence Palestinian activists including many working for cooperation and peace. Unlike Jewish activists, whose arrests are usually short term, Palestinians are regularly incarcerated for years as "Administrative Detainees".

Rela Mazali

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dissent despite repressive silencing in Israel

1) Alert from the Alternative Information Center (AIC) on the detention of AIC worker Mohammed Abu Humus;
2) Interview in the Guardian with Sharon Shalev
3) Report on Gathering to Mourn and Protest in Jaffa

Up to and also after Israel announced its unilateral cease fire, just in time to make sure that U.S. inaugural celebrations could go ahead unmarred, people all over Israel were vehemently expressing their outrage at the government's (equally unilateral) blanket destruction of Gaza. Despite repeated claims that a huge majority supported government and military actions, protests were a visible presence in the public sphere all over the country. In fact, the repressive measures taken by state authorities, clearly intended to stifle public opposition, seemed to belie the alleged wall-to-wall support described by media and identified in polls. Police resorted to arrests on an unprecedented scale to intimidate, stem and silence dissent. Among many others (most of them Palestinian citizens of Israel), the police arrested Nir Oren, co-chair of the Bereaved Families Forum and such (by her own account; see:
"wishy-washy … middle of the road" figures as Leah Shakdiel, an orthodox feminist pedagogue and Israel's first female member of a local Religious Council.

An intensified version of Shakdiel's comments on her own arrest is applicable to the overall treatment, by Israeli authorities and media, of acts and statements of opposition to the "war": "The police these dark days are apparently instructed to play an active role in boosting public morale and national unity, [i.e.: forcefully stifling opposition, R.M.] so they jumped into our midst literally and grabbed six of us on Wednesday into their cars … Worrisome is the silence of the press on all this in a country where there is freedom of the press, i.e. it is self imposed censorship. Many journalists called, were there at the watch, took pictures and interviewed, telephoned later, promised to come to the court, and nada, not a word, no coverage published."

Some of the milder intimidation tactics included strobe lights shown from low-flying police helicopters into a Saturday night protest I attended (January 17 2009), when many thousands marched from southern Tel-Aviv through the heart of Jaffa beating drums and chanting. On the ground, a power cut shut off Jaffa streetlights as police motorcycles bulldozed their way back and forth through the middle of the crowd.

The first item below reports the detention of Mohammed Abu Humucooperation and peace. Unlike Jewish activists, whose arrests are usually short term, Palestinians are regularly incarcerated for years as "Administrative Detainees".s, an activist openly opposing the government's actions in Gaza. "Administrative detention"--essentially unlimited detention with no charges or trial--has been used for decades to silence Palestinian activists including many working for

The second item is an interview with activist Sharon Shalev, who was subjected to a personal attack by Tel Aviv fire fighters in the course of a peaceful demonstration.

The third item summarizes one of many protest events held despite police repression and continued marginalization by the corporate Hebrew media, which barely covered or mentioned the broad array of oppositional actions. Co-organized by the School for Peace at Neveh Shalom/Wahat al-Salam/Oasis of Peace and the "Psychoactive" mental health workers group, this "Gathering to Mourn and to Protest" was scheduled to take place in the Jewish-Arab Community Center in Jaffa. At the last moment, the Tel Aviv municipality denied access to the venue and the organizers relocated the event. The Jewish-Arab gathering, hosted by the Association for Jaffa Arabs, was addressed, among others, by Shulamit Aloni, who said that Israel had "turned Gaza into a giant detention camp with a million and a half inmates, with no way in or out. ... People who are incarcerated in a detention camp have the right to respond."

Rela Mazali


Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2009 4:49 PM

Subject: [ActLeft] FW: AIC staff member detained for interrogation

AIC Staff Member Mohammed Abu Humus Detained for 11 Day Interrogation by Israeli Security Services

The Alternative Information Center

Thursday, January 22, 2009

AIC staff member Mohammad Abu Humus was taken from his home at 3am today by masked members of the Israeli security forces, who stormed and searched his home with drawn weapons. Abu Humus was subsequently brought before a judge, who acquiesced to the police request and extended his detention for 11 days.
All of the material and evidence concerning Abu Humus is classified. Abu Humus is accused of involvement in unruly protests against Israeli military actions in Gaza, which he categorically denies, and the classified nature of the evidence for such a minor accusation calls into question the true motives of the Israeli authorities in the detention and interrogation of Abu Humus.

Abu Humus, 43 years old and a resident of the East Jerusalem village of Issawiya, is a long-time political and social activist in East Jerusalem. He is married to Wafa and has four small children, two daughters: Irfat (11) and Shahd (10) and two sons: Anas (8) and Majd (3). He has worked with the AIC since 2006

Attending the court hearing today were Abu Humus' wife Wafa, members of the Alternative Information Center and additional residents of Issawiya, who came in support and solidarity with Abu Humus.
Wafa noted that "our children were terrified by the masked men with drawn weapons. I asked them how they expect us to live with them in love and respect, when they act like this? They don't leave us any room for love," added Wafa sadly.

The detention of Abu Humus is part of Israel's wider campaign to repress the legitimate right of Palestinian residents and citizens of Israel to protest Israeli actions in Gaza and exercise their right to freedom of expression. Since the beginning of Israel's military attacks on Gaza, more than 300 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have been detained, arrested and taken for interrogation by the Israeli security services. For the past several days, Israeli forces have entered Issawiya every night, detaining prominent political activists.

The Alternative Information Center requests that you:
1. Contact the Israeli Attorney General, Mani Mazuz, in addition to the nearest Israeli embassy or consulate, and demand that the right of all citizens and residents of Israel to express their opinions and opposition to Israeli policy be respected, including that of Mohammad Abu Humus, in accordance with international human rights law. Attorney General Mazuz: Fax: +972 (0)2 646 7001; find your nearest Israeli embassy or consulate:

2. Send a message of solidarity to Mohammad Abu Humus:
ActLeft, action list in Israel-Palestine.

To visit Actleft on the web, go to:


How Israel drowns dissent
Firefighters turned their hoses on a peaceful anti-war protester last week. Their attitude reflects a worrying shift in public opinion

Seth Freedman, Wednesday 21 January 2009 14.46 GMT

Last week, at the height of Operation Cast Lead, a group of Israeli firemen threw their hats into the political ring, albeit in somewhat undiplomatic and uncivilised fashion. During a peaceful anti-war vigil outside a Tel Aviv air force base, several members of the fire brigade turned on one protester, drenching her relentlessly with water from their hoses, before approaching her and ordering her into the station in order to "give us all head".

Their actions were, while wholly illegal, none the less emblematic of a massive shift in Israeli public opinion over the last few years, according to Sharon Dolev, the woman on the receiving end of the assault. A veteran activist, Dolev has suffered a great deal during her 20 years of campaigning in the Israeli peace camp ("death threats, being shot with rubber bullets, hate mail, beatings"), but said that this incident was "the first time that the establishment felt safe in [taking action such as this]".

"It used to be a big deal if bus drivers criticised protests and vigils in public," she recalls, "since as employees of the state, they were not allowed to express political opinions in uniform." Now, however, the firemen felt so secure of escaping punishment that they even bombarded her with firecrackers during the attack, telling her "now you know what it's like to live in Sderot".

When video evidence emerged on an Israeli news website of her ordeal, readers' comments were predictably scathing of Dolev and her fellow protestors for daring to speak out in the first place against the IDF's operation. "Of the 380 comments, all but 10 were in support of the fire brigade," said Dolev. "Some readers even called openly for our murder, urging the police to shoot us, or saying 'Why use water – use acid instead'."
In her view, the inexorable shift of the Israeli public towards out and out hostility and hyper-defensiveness was inevitable from as far back as 1967, when the West Bank was first conquered. "We used to hold signs at protests reading 'The occupation will corrupt'," she told me. "Now, we can see that it has [come to pass]. As a society, we have lost our ability to see clearly; we have let fear blind us. Once, calling someone a racist was the harshest accusation you could make. Later, you began to hear people say 'I know I'm a racist, but...'; nowadays [during Cast Lead], we heard 'I know I'm talking like a Nazi, but at least the Nazis knew how to deal with their enemies'."

Despite others employing Nazi comparisons to describe Israeli military actions, Dolev isn't comfortable with such terminology herself, not least because it derails the debate about the issues at hand. "It's all too easy for the Israeli authorities to say 'we didn't build an Auschwitz for the Palestinians, so everything's ok', but in reality everything is not ok." She believes that history has come full circle, and that instead of learning the lessons of the Holocaust, "we have become the racists ourselves".

"Isn't Gaza a ghetto?" she continues. "OK, we don't use the Palestinians' hair for cushions, but the [stage is being set for the] same kind of process of dehumanisation here." Working in a joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation in Gaza in 1989 gave Dolev her first exposure to "the banality of evil", she says. "It wasn't seeing a soldier get scared and shoot into a crowd, but rather seeing a girl sitting in her house and getting shot by a stray bullet. And then, when she needed to be transferred to a Cairo hospital, the Shabak officers saying only she could cross, and no one else. A 12-year-old girl, in a vegetative state, and they wouldn't even let her mother accompany her. That is the banality of evil."

In her eyes, the Israeli public has allowed its leaders and military to get away with such punitive measures simply because they have allowed fear to override all other emotions: "Fear turns us into beasts," she says flatly. "I remember in my first week at school, aged six, we were taught how to blockade the classroom in case a terrorist got into the playground. While some fear is justified, there is not enough reason to make the public terrified on a daily basis." The media are just as responsible as the government for perpetually scaring ordinary Israelis, she believes. "Fear sells papers," she says cynically.
Such defensiveness allowed the police to get away with imprisoning some 700 activists over the course of Operation Cast Lead, she believes; many on the most spurious of charges. "They arrested some on the charge of disturbing public order, others on even vaguer charges. And some were even detained for 'damaging the nation's morale' – a charge which doesn't even exist [in the statutes]. There is no law in Israel anymore."

As well as her experience at the hands of the fire brigade, Dolev also points to the kind of sloganeering in the election campaign as proof that the bedrock of democracy on which Israel is founded is beginning to look far less solid. "When you have Lieberman declaring 'No loyalty, no citizenship', you start to worry about what point we've come to."

However, she is undeterred in her struggle on behalf of the peace camp, believing that hope is not lost in terms of convincing the Israeli public of an alternative to perpetual war and aggression. A firm promoter of the Arab Peace Initiative, she is convinced that the proposal is the best way to resolve the decades-old conflict.
"It's the biggest carrot ever offered to the Israeli people," she says. "One-state or two-state is a non-issue; whatever the two peoples agree on I would take with both hands. All that matters is that there are borders, and that those living within the borders are given full rights and citizenship. However, I worry about [Israeli Jews] becoming a minority, because after all we've taught them over 60 years of how to treat minorities, it's become dangerous to be a minority ourselves …"

A Gathering to Mourn and to Protest

Shulamit Aloni: Disgraced IDF no longer Israel's "Defense Forces"

Sunday 18 January 2009

January 17, 2009 – Jaffa: A standing-room-only audience of three hundred Israelis overflowed the auditorium at the Association for Jaffa Arabs on downtown Yefet Street yesterday, and loudspeakers were hastily set up for latecomers standing outside in the cold. Billed as "A Gathering to Protest and to Mourn," the event came in response to the massive civilian deaths in the assault on Gaza that began December 27, 2008. The program opened with a brief shared ritual of grieving – poetry read aloud and the music of an oud and a violin.

Displayed in the lobby of Rabita Auditorium was a list – inscribed in white ink against a black background – of the names of the civilians killed in the war, Arabs and Jews, alongside memorial candles lit in their memory. Most of the afternoon was devoted to workshops addressing themes like "From Mourning to Protest" and "The Sacredness of Life as a Shared Value."

Shulamit Aloni, the keynote speaker, minced no words. "Given the terrible actions taken in this war," said the former Member of Israel's Knesset and longtime civil rights champion, "the IDF can no longer be known as the 'Israel Defense Forces.' When I fought in Israel's War of Independence, we thought we were creating an exemplary society, but our army today is no longer an army of defense. It is a brutal and hedonistic army of conquest.

"I've heard people saying that 'we gave them Gaza and look how they behaved.' But we did not give them Gaza, to our disgrace; instead, we turned Gaza into a giant detention camp with a million and a half inmates, with no way in or out. Those leaving at three o'clock in the morning on their way to work were scrutinized as if they were slaves. People who are incarcerated in a detention camp have the right to respond. The IDF… spares no thought for families, old people, women and children. The [Israeli] public unashamedly celebrates the killing and the destruction. They rejoice that we have a large, strong army, but meanwhile Israel has abandoned its values and the values of its Declaration of Independence."

Aloni was also harshly critical of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who withdrew permission to hold the event at the Jewish-Arab Community Center in Jaffa, its planned location. "I thought Huldai believed in freedom of expression. How disgraceful for Tel Aviv's mayor that the city did not provide a venue for this civic gathering of people working for Jewish-Arab partnership and dialogue and peace.

"There is another voice discernible here," Aloni said, "but they silence it. I am sure that people will wake up now, and that this disgrace will be expunged. It will be expunged if Israel opens the gates and helps rehabilitate the terrible destruction it has caused, if it builds hospitals and rebuilds schools and helps rebuild the homes destroyed in this ghastly festival of destruction."

Spiritual numbness
Psychology Professor Ariella Friedman of Tel Aviv University: "I am dumbstruck that such a large percentage of the nation thinks this campaign [in Gaza] is legitimate. I don't think the Jewish people is the worst nation on earth, nor, sadly, is it the best nation on earth. But the circumstances here have turned us into people who perpetrate atrocities – and are then silent. I've heard people say that this was a 'successful war' – what cynicism, what spiritual numbness. There is a model here: they begin a war with a grand display of arrogant posturing but without any idea how they want to end it, and people enthusiastically embrace that decision. And afterwards they say 'there was no choice' – since when did we have no choice?

"In Israel," continued Prof. Friedman, "some people want to hang on to their faith in [their] morality at any price while waging war by any means. The price is an extreme separation between us and them. In Israel, the people weep over every citizen killed and there is a tremendous sense of togetherness. Yet how do people respond to the death of a mother and her five children, as happened one night in Gaza? Supposedly we are an enlightened army seeking only peace, doing what we do because we have no other option, whereas the killing that the other side perpetrates is intentional and evil. These are superficial statements that help people to deal with the intolerable situation and not to face the fact that they are committing atrocities against people under their control. That is the only way they can commit evil acts and still feel moral."

Dr. Ahmad Abu-Tuahina, director of the GCMHP-Gaza Community Mental Health Center, talked with the gathering by telephone: "The children of the Intifadas have undergone dreadful traumas. In the first Intifada, soldiers broke into homes and abused parents in front of their children. These children were traumatized: they discovered that those who are supposed to defend them have no defense, hence they were obliged to take the initiative to defend themselves. Children who felt lost and abandoned sought some figure to identify with, and they identified with the powerful – with members of Hamas who were fighting for their honor. This situation created a wave of extremism among the children and adults of both peoples. The same situation obtains today. In Gaza today there is no safe place – no safety at home nor on the street nor even in UN buildings, and the fact that UN buildings are no longer safe is heavily symbolic. The two children who were trapped for several days under a building
their mother who had been killed – imagine what kind of adults these children will grow up to be, after such an insane experience. With this war, Israel has nurtured its own enemies and obliterated the prospects for coexistence and peace."

Lieutenant Col. (Res.) Yoel Peterburg, among the founders of the Apache helicopter unit in the Israeli Air Force and a conscientious objector: "I helped create the Apache unit in the Air Force which today, with its dreadful missiles, so terrifies Palestinians. I commanded the capture of the ship Karine A. My experience is that the Air Force has undergone a steep moral decline, particularly among combat helicopter [pilots]. Until the second Intifada, we were not permitted during a targeted assassination to carry out the mission if within a radius of 500 meters there were 'uninvolved bystanders.' If we saw a vehicle approaching the village, we aborted the mission. Now they are launching one-ton bombs at houses when the pilot has no idea who is inside. After a bomb of that size hits, there is no way he can know who was there in hindsight, either. Two cornerstones of the IDF code of conduct become irrelevant here – respect for human life and the purity of arms."

Prof. Ramzi Suleiman, a psychologist from the University of Haifa: "You called for a gathering to mourn, but I refuse to mourn, not for the dead among my people and not for the dead of another people. Mourning helps keep the dead person among us after their spirit has departed. I cannot go forward yet; today I am still alive and in pain and protesting. I still have enough life left in me that I can look straight at the murderers of children and women and men, look them in the eye, or as someone once said, see the whites of their eyes, and tell them: Murderers, you have killed hundreds of children, women, and men, you have destroyed Gaza, a wretched place where a million and a half human beings live."

Prof. Suleiman enumerated the guilty: the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, and the Foreign Minister, along with the Chief of Staff, and added: "When the day comes that these people stand before a war crimes tribunal, I would like to see on the defendants' bench not just those who gave the orders and those who fired the weapons. I would also like to see those who 'fired and wept.' The authors and cultural icons who lent sleazy credibility to this terrible crime."

Three scheduled participants were unable to attend: Nir Oren, co-chairman of the Bereaved Families Forum, who is currently under arrest, on grounds of "unauthorized assembly," for participating in a silent protest vigil in Beersheba. The second is his Palestinian co-chairman who could not attend due to the closure enforced on the West Bank. And the last is Dr. Abu-Tuahina, who remains in Gaza with its injured, displaced, exhausted and traumatized residents.
"A Gathering to Mourn and to Protest" was conceived and organized by mental health professionals together with activist organizations that included the School for Peace at Wahat al Salam / Neve Shalom; OSIM-Shalom: Social Workers Make Peace; the Bereaved Families Forum; and PsychoActiv-Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights.
Posters of civilians killed during the offensive were displayed at the event:

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
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