Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rami Elhanan: "I am Bassam Aramin" and more

In these pieces below, two bereaved fathers reflect on their losses. Rami Elhanan is the father of Elik Elhanan, an activist with Combatants for Peace, and Smadar Elhanan, a young woman killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem ten years ago. Rami is active with the Bereaved Families Forum which, like Combatants for Peace, is made up of Israelis and Palestinians together working for an end to the bloodshed. In Rami’s essay, just published, he talks about the trip he made last week to Warsaw, a trip that Bassam Aramin, whose daughter Abir was killed last year by Israeli troops, was prevented from making.

Rami’s essay highlights the presence and absence of Palestinian partners, and specifically of one partner, Bassam. Bassam and his family are so present - present in shared bereavement, friendship, and struggle to transform their communities and end the violence. And yet Bassam and his family and Palestinians in general are so absent: absent from the international forums to which they’re invited to speak but are denied the necessary visas that would allow them to attend, and thus absent in their own voices, and absent as victims and survivors and partners for justice and peace. This absence is especially stark in the official speech of the Israeli government, for whom Palestinians are present almost only as terrorists or, at least, as responsible for their own suffering and deaths. Indeed, in keeping with that discourse, the Israeli army suggested that Abir Aramin, who died from a bullet in the back of her skull, was responsible for her own death.

Rami, Bassam and the other members of their groups are guiding lights for work for justice and against the ongoing oppression, violence and suffering. They bestow upon any of us great gifts: their dedication and insight, which suggest immense emotional and psychic labor they must do to live with their heartbreak and take up the public mantle of struggle for peace. And their work with the Bereaved Families Forum (, and Combatants for Peace ( is a reminder of the great power people can generate when coming together to organize for change.

Included in this post are:

1) Rami Elhanan’s essay about his trip to Warsaw last week, published by Search for Common Ground (
2) Bassam Aramin’s op-ed about Abir’s death, from February 2007, published originally in The Forward and reprinted by Search for Common Ground.
3) An email from The Rebuilding Alliance ( with two pieces of good news: the U.S. State Department’s 2007 Country Report for Israel and the Occupied Territories includes a paragraph about Abir’s death; and Abir’s Garden, playground built by Combatants for Peace in memory of Abir, opened last month in Anata, Abir’s hometown.
4) On March 10th, Terry Gross interviewed Bassam Aramin and Zohar Shapira (also of Combatants for Peace) on the radio program “Fresh Air.” Here is the link:

Sarah Anne Minkin


I am Bassam Aramin

Rami Elhanan

JERUSALEM—Last Thursday evening, my family was invited to dinner at the home of Bassam Aramin, in Anata.

Anata is a twenty minute ride from Motza, twenty light years away from Jerusalem.

We ate a mountain of maqloube with almonds and yogurt. Bassam told us about his meeting with the actor Shlomo Wizcinski who is slated to play Bassam in a new play. And my wife gave his wife, Salwa, a gift: a silver pendant with the name of her daughter Abir, may she rest in peace, made by a Jerusalem silversmith.

We laughed. It was fun. It was emotional.

And then, on the television screen, we saw the images of the attack on the Jerusalem Merkaz Harav school.

And again a cold hand seizes your heart, and again the blood freezes in your veins, again that sword twists inside you, knowing again there will be no rest until that blood is avenged. On the side of the screen, a news ticker of stark updates from Gaza: eight dead in one hour.

And beside the television, Salwa is bitter with tears for the mothers of the dead.

It was hard. Truly hard.

"Alright," said Bassam when we parted. "At least we'll see each other in Warsaw on Sunday…"

The two of use were invited by Warsaw television and HBO for the premier of a new documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian bereaved families organization, Parents Circle-Families Forum. I was glad. I knew that together we would be able to pass on a message of hope to people who, for the most part, had not the faintest idea about the conflict. I knew that by virtue of our shared grief people would listen to us—and perhaps even talk about peace.

I was naïve. I completely forgot that the average Palestinian couldn't just get up one morning, like most free men, and travel to wherever he pleases. Despite a barrage of telephone calls, scores of angry emails, pleas and shouting, Bassam stayed at home without a visa.

And thus I find myself Monday evening at the Polish National Theater in Warsaw, alone, in front of a curious Polish audience, two ambassadors, Israeli and Palestinian, and an empty chair—Bassam's chair.

The film begins. Deathly silence. Heartbreaking stories of unbearable human anguish, without political demands, without attempts to quantify suffering. Stories of bereavement and futile attempts to give even a little meaning to the incredible, needless loss each family experienced. An unsure outreaching of a hand to the other side, a hug, reconciliation, and the shade of a smile, a bud of hope. Men and women, faces lined with suffering, in extreme close-up, telling and telling. A sigh can be heard from the audience in the dark hall, and perhaps tears falling—the atmosphere is heavy and onerous.

As the screening ends, the Israeli ambassador fidgets in his seat, his body language communicating impatience and blatant aggression. "Count to ten!" shouts an Israeli from the audience, but it's already too late.

He stands and takes the single microphone, and everyone, including the Palestinian ambassador, sits admonished like disobedient children, listening to the words of His Lordship. And he explains, his Honor, that he had had misgivings and hesitancies about appearing at the evening's event after what happened in Jerusalem on Thursday, but out of respect for the bereaved families he had decided to come. And he went on to say that Israel would be resolute in its fight against terror, without compromise. And that there is no comparing the pain of someone who was hurt by terror with that of someone who was hurt as a result of others acting in self-defense…that Israeli children don't go blow themselves up in the market in Gaza, and…

And then someone from the audience yells at him that Israel sends tanks and fighter planes to Gaza, that the Israeli occupation is also a form of terrorism. Immediately the same ugly argument restarts, with His Excellency affirming that everyone has a right to their opinion—meanwhile his press agent has no idea where to bury himself from embarrassment, in front of his astonished Polish hosts. We too, myself and my son, cast our eyes downwards in shame at this strange behavior, this bombastic performance of our representative in Warsaw.

That same morning, across from the remains of the Warsaw ghetto wall, I had asked myself how I, as a Jew, as an Israeli and as a human, could express my feelings about Bassam's loss. Then, I was not able to come to any conclusion. And now, in a split-second decision, I said to those assembled at the screening, "I—am Bassam Aramin! I represent here the missing character of this brave and noble combatant for peace."

I told them that the fact that Palestinians are missing from nearly every international forum that speaks about the conflict is a source of embarrassment. I said that this absent bereaved father, this ex-prisoner who chose the path of reconciliation and peace, is a powerful voice against the glaring injustice that continues to assert that there is no one to talk with, that there is nothing to talk about, and that we should give up talking.

At that point, the ambassador assembled his bodyguards and left in a suitably royal huff. The head Rabbi acknowledged that "there is no pain like your pain," and the panel nodded in agreement out of Polish politeness.

We went together to be photographed, and afterwards to drink and then to eat, and while present physically, my soul and in my heart were in Anata. I could not for an instant stop thinking about Bassam and Salwa Aramin. I though to myself that only Bassam, with his nobility and his endless smiles, could have made the ambassador embarrassed and lower his glare in shame; only he could have helped him understand that the attacks in Gaza preceded the ones in Jerusalem, that Sderot preceded Gaza, that the Occupation preceded Jenin, and ad infinitum—an endless cycle of senseless violence…

But Bassam was not there with me. I left Warsaw with a bowed head, wounded, shamed and hurting.

And that is all there is. It is up to us to move forward… or not.


* Rami Elhanan is the father of Smadar Elhanan, who was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in September, 1997. He lectures daily for the Israeli-Palestinian bereaved families organization Parents Circle-Families Forum. This article, translated from Hebrew by Miriam Asnes, is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at


A plea for peace from a bereaved Palestinian father

by Bassam Aramin

14 February 2007

ANATA, West Bank – I fought with my daughter on the day she was shot.

On her way out the door to school, Abir announced, in that way children have of doing, that she would be playing with a friend that afternoon rather than coming straight home to study for an exam scheduled for the next day. She was 10 years old, smart, dedicated to her schoolwork and still a little girl.

She wanted to play. I told her to not even think about it.

If I could tell her anything now, it would be: Go. Do whatever you want. Play.

Because now, she never will. She will never laugh again, never hear her friends calling her name, never feel the love of her family wrapped around her at night like a warm blanket.

Abir, the third of my six children, was shot in the head as she left school January 16, caught in an altercation between Israel Border Guard troops and older kids who may or may not have been throwing rocks. She died two days later.

I know what the Israeli army has said about the incident, and I know what Abir's older sister Arin saw with her own two eyes: Abir was running away from the troops when she suddenly stopped and fell, and blood splattered onto the ground. An independent autopsy confirms the most likely cause of death: a rubber bullet, through the back of Abir's head. I have that bullet in my house, because poor Arin, watching her sister get shot, picked up the bullet and brought it home. I was not surprised when the Israeli army tried to blame Abir for her own death. First we were told that she was among the rock throwers; then we were told that "something" blew up in her hands - though her hands remained miraculously in tact - before she could toss it at the Border Guard jeep.

I was not surprised, but the anguish that such fabrications cause my wife and me is hard to express. Our baby was killed - must her name and innocence be desecrated, as well?

It would be easy, so easy, to hate. To seek revenge, find my own rifle, and kill three or four soldiers, in my daughter's name. That's the way Israelis and Palestinians have run things for a long time. Every dead child - and everyone is someone's child - is another reason to keep killing.

I know. I used to be part of the cycle. I once spent seven years in an Israeli jail for helping to plan an armed attack against Israeli soldiers. At the time, I was disappointed that none of the soldiers was hurt.

But as I served out my sentence, I talked with many of my guards. I learned about the Jewish people's history. I learned about the Holocaust.

And eventually I came to understand: On both sides, we have been made instruments of war. On both sides, there is pain, and grieving and endless loss.

And the only way to make it stop is to stop it ourselves.

Many people came to support and comfort us as Abir lay dying, her small face chalk white, her eyes forever closed. Among those who never left my side were a number of men I have recently come to love as brothers, men who know my past, and who share it. Men who, like me, were trained to hate and to kill, but who now also believe that we must find a way to live with our former enemies.

Israeli men. Every one of them, a former combat soldier.

These men and I are members of Combatants for Peace. Each of us, 300 Palestinians and Israelis, was once on the front lines of the conflict. We shot, bombed, tortured and killed. We believed it was the only way to serve our people.

Now we know this not to be true. We know that to serve our people, we must fight not each other but the hatred between us. We must find a way to share this land each people holds in the depths of its soul, to build two states side by side. Only then will the mourning end.

I will not rest until the soldier responsible for my daughter's death is put on trial and made to face what he has done. I will see to it that the world does not forget my daughter, my lovely Abir.

But I will not seek vengeance. No, I will continue the work I have undertaken with my Israeli brothers. I will fight with all I have within me to see that Abir's name, Abir's blood, becomes the bridge that finally closes the gap between us, the bridge that allows Israelis and Palestinians to finally, inshallah, live in peace.

If I could tell my daughter anything, I would make her that promise. And I would tell her that I love her very, very much.


* Bassam Aramin lives in Anata, just outside of Jerusalem. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Forward, 9 February 2007,


Dear Friend of the Rebuilding Alliance,

This morning, attorney Shamai Leibowitz wrote, "Our efforts to get Abir Aramin's death reported in the State Department's 2007 Country Report for Israel and the Occupied Territories were successful. The report, released yesterday, includes the following paragraph. While not being critical (they never are), the mentioning of the witnesses and the pathologist report implies that there is a cover-up by the authorities."

On January 19, 10-year-old Abir Aramin died from a wound to the back of the head inflicted as she was leaving school during clashes between Israeli Border Police and Palestinians. The Jerusalem District Prosecutor closed the investigation July 31 for lack of evidence. On September 25, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din appealed, alleging that according to 14 witnesses and independent Israeli pathologist Dr. Chen Kugel, she was shot with a rubber-coated bullet while running away. At year's end the Prosecutor's Office had not taken further action.

The Aramin family's visit in January to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. State Department in Washington proved to be key to inclusion of their case in the U.S. State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices. We are now in the process of translating the Yesh Din appeal into English and creating a web-based timeline of what happened as a resource for you to present to your elected representatives. We plan to have this available in May, when Bassam Aramin and Combatants for Peace return to the U.S. for a speaking tour and to receive the Courage of Conscience Award from the Peace Abbey (they were nominated by September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows).

Why pay attention to this case? The Aramin Family and the whole of Combatants for Peace believe it is vitally important to bring this case to justice, to set precedent so soldiers will stop shooting children, and to demonstrate that justice will prevail over violence. According to B'Tselem, not one of the 884 cases of Palestinian children killed by Israeli soldiers has ever been prosecuted.

Here's how you can help::

1. First, please take a moment now to send the Aramin family words of encouragement and hope. When the Israeli State Attorney rejected their appeal on the day after Combatants for Peace held the memorial ceremony for Abir at her school (and the opening of playground part of the Abir's Garden project in her memory), the family felt like she was "being killed all over again." E-mail them a picture of beauty, note of condolence, a photo of yourself if you want, or even a short video. Their e-mail address is FortheAraminFamily @

2. Please make a donation, large or small, to help pay for film-interviews with the eyewitnesses, the independent pathologist, and the legal team. We'll use the interviews to create a web-based chronology that shows what really happened to Abir. In this time of such danger, grief, and loss, our good work is all but overshadowed by it all. May you draw solace and strength from Zohar Shapira's words, on February 9th, at the opening of the playground named for Abir. Zohar is Combatants for Peace coordinator for the Abir's Garden Project. He wrote that in addition to the 120 adults (mostly former fighters) who attended, there were "dozens of children that were all the time playing and laughing around. The joy [the playground] brought those children was much over my expectations." Now we hear it is crowded with children and parents past dark, the first playground in Anata.

Donna Baranski-Walker
Executive Director of the Rebuilding Alliance

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Alistair Welchman
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Friday, March 28, 2008

Klein: "Laboratory for a Fortressed World"

The following article by Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), is from the July edition of The Nation, but it has been updated to reflect some of the more recent events in Gaza. Klein's article remains compelling because she argued then, at the height of the 2003-07 economic boom, that the military industrial complex was driving Israel's tremendous economic growth (for the past five years, Israel has had the largest GDP growth of any Western country). Since last summer, the Tel Aviv stock market has essentially mirrored the recent woes of the US economy, but this is a predictable pattern, given that the US is Israel's biggest trading partner.

Klein's "theory" (as she calls it) about the source of Israel's tremendous economic growth in the past five years is overly reductive, but there is more than a kernel of truth in her argument. She claims that, contrary to the pronouncements of globalization cheerleaders like the NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Israel's economic success cannot be attributed simply to its encouragement of high tech entrepreneurship and basic science. Its success must be understood, rather, as a product of its ability to use the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank as a laboratory for defense industry innovation -- and as a convenient showroom for potential buyers. After 9/11, when "Homeland Security" became an industry unto itself, Israel prospered because its military infrastructure was geared to implementing technological solutions to political and "security" problems. Israel has thus been a major innovator in fields like avionics (aviation communications and navigation) and aerospace technology, high tech surveillance, anti-ballistic weaponry, remote control warfare, physical segregation technology, and so on. Klein's article suggests that the effectiveness of such technologies can be tested at will on the "home-front" -- that is, against Palestinians, who lack anything like a serious deterrent force.

Where Klein's theory falls short is that she doesn't adequately account for the fact that many, if not most, young Israeli computer scientists and engineers gain their training in the military, and then go on to start the kind of technology companies that have proliferated wildly in Israel and whose products are much sought after abroad. The entire Israeli hi-tech sector, and not just military technology per se, is thus an outgrowth of Israel's hypermilitarization. The Israeli economy's tech sector grew by 20% in 2006 alone, and Israel is now the foreign country with the second most US stock exchange-listed companies. Klein's point that Israel's military-derived technologies are an economic growth-driver because they can be tested in situ is correct, but it is insufficient for describing the magnitude of the military's tremendous penetration of the country's economy. Palestinians under occupation can indeed be seen as human "guinea pigs" and not just military targets, as Klein claims, but the society's militarization is far more profound than even she suggests.

A recent book worth reading on this subject is Le Monde editor Sylvain Cypel's Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse (2007), which probes the roots and consequences of the "cult of force" that grips the nation.

One group resisting the further militarization of Israel is New Profile. You can read about its political platform and work here.

Naomi Klein will be the keynote speaker this weekend (March 28-30, 2008) at the kickoff event of a new Canadian organization that aims to become an alternative to the Canadian Jewish Congress. The Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians (ACJC) says in a press release that it will organize as a network of anti-occupation groups dedicated to building real peace and justice in the Middle East. Jewish Voice for Peace and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom are among the international organizations attending the event in Toronto. You can read more about the new organization here.

--Lincoln Shlensky


Laboratory for a Fortressed World
By Naomi Klein

Article available online at:

[from the July 2, 2007 issue of The Nation]
Editor's Note: This article has been updated with additional detail on recent developments in Gaza.

Gaza in the hands of Hamas, with masked militants sitting in the president's chair; the West Bank on the edge; Israeli army camps hastily assembled in the Golan Heights; a spy satellite over Iran and Syria; war with Hezbollah a hair trigger away; a scandal-plagued political class facing a total loss of public faith.

At a glance, things aren't going well for Israel. But here's a puzzle: Why, in the midst of such chaos and carnage, is the Israeli economy booming like it's 1999, with a roaring stock market and growth rates nearing China's?

Thomas Friedman recently offered his theory in the New York Times. Israel "nurtures and rewards individual imagination," and so its people are constantly spawning ingenious high-tech start-ups--no matter what messes their politicians are making. After perusing class projects by students in engineering and computer science at Ben Gurion University, Friedman made one of his famous fake-sense pronouncements: Israel "had discovered oil." This oil, apparently, is located in the minds of Israel's "young innovators and venture capitalists," who are too busy making megadeals with Google to be held back by politics.

Here's another theory: Israel's economy isn't booming despite the political chaos that devours the headlines but because of it. This phase of development dates back to the mid-'90s, when Israel was in the vanguard of the information revolution--the most tech-dependent economy in the world. After the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, Israel's economy was devastated, facing its worst year since 1953. Then came 9/11, and suddenly new profit vistas opened up for any company that claimed it could spot terrorists in crowds, seal borders from attack and extract confessions from closed-mouthed prisoners.

Within three years, large parts of Israel's tech economy had been radically repurposed. Put in Friedmanesque terms: Israel went from inventing the networking tools of the "flat world" to selling fences to an apartheid planet. Many of the country's most successful entrepreneurs are using Israel's status as a fortressed state, surrounded by furious enemies, as a kind of twenty-four-hour-a-day showroom--a living example of how to enjoy relative safety amid constant war. And the reason Israel is now enjoying supergrowth is that those companies are busily exporting that model to the world.

Discussions of Israel's military trade usually focus on the flow of weapons into the country--US-made Caterpillar bulldozers used to destroy homes in the West Bank and British companies supplying parts for F-16s. Overlooked is Israel's huge and expanding export business. Israel now sends $1.2 billion in "defense" products to the United States--up dramatically from $270 million in 1999. In 2006 Israel exported $3.4 billion in defense products--well over a billion more than it received in US military aid. That makes Israel the fourth-largest arms dealer in the world, overtaking Britain.

Much of this growth has been in the so-called "homeland security" sector. Before 9/11 homeland security barely existed as an industry. By the end of this year, Israeli exports in the sector will reach $1.2 billion--an increase of 20 percent. The key products and services are high-tech fences, unmanned drones, biometric IDs, video and audio surveillance gear, air passenger profiling and prisoner interrogation systems--precisely the tools and technologies Israel has used to lock in the occupied territories.

And that is why the chaos in Gaza and the rest of the region doesn't threaten the bottom line in Tel Aviv, and may actually boost it. Israel has learned to turn endless war into a brand asset, pitching its uprooting, occupation and containment of the Palestinian people as a half-century head start in the "global war on terror."

It's no coincidence that the class projects at Ben Gurion that so impressed Friedman have names like "Innovative Covariance Matrix for Point Target Detection in Hyperspectral Images" and "Algorithms for Obstacle Detection and Avoidance." Thirty homeland security companies were launched in Israel in the past six months alone, thanks in large part to lavish government subsidies that have transformed the Israeli army and the country's universities into incubators for security and weapons start-ups (something to keep in mind in the debates about the academic boycott).

Next week, the most established of these companies will travel to Europe for the Paris Air Show, the arms industry's equivalent of Fashion Week. One of the Israeli companies exhibiting is Suspect Detection Systems (SDS), which will be showcasing its Cogito1002, a white, sci-fi-looking security kiosk that asks air travelers to answer a series of computer-generated questions, tailored to their country of origin, while they hold their hand on a "biofeedback" sensor. The device reads the body's reactions to the questions, and certain responses flag the passenger as "suspect."

Like hundreds of other Israeli security start-ups, SDS boasts that it was founded by veterans of Israel's secret police and that its products were road-tested on Palestinians. Not only has the company tried out the biofeedback terminals at a West Bank checkpoint; it claims the "concept is supported and enhanced by knowledge acquired and assimilated from the analysis of thousands of case studies related to suicide bombers in Israel."

Another star of the Paris Air Show will be Israeli defense giant Elbit, which plans to showcase its Hermes 450 and 900 unmanned air vehicles. As recently as May, according to press reports, Israel used the drones on bombing missions in Gaza. Once tested in the territories, they are exported abroad: The Hermes has already been used at the Arizona-Mexico border; Cogito1002 terminals are being auditioned at an unnamed US airport; and Elbit, one of the companies behind Israel's "security barrier," has partnered with Boeing to construct the Department of Homeland Security's $2.5 billion "virtual" border fence around the United States.

Since Israel began its policy of sealing off the occupied territories with checkpoints and walls, human rights activists have often compared Gaza and the West Bank to open-air prisons. But in researching the explosion of Israel's homeland security sector, a topic I explore in greater detail in a forthcoming book (The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism), it strikes me that they are something else too: laboratories where the terrifying tools of our security states are being field-tested. Palestinians--whether living in the West Bank or what the Israeli politicians are already calling "Hamasistan"--are no longer just targets. They are guinea pigs.

So in a way Friedman is right: Israel has struck oil. But the oil isn't the imagination of its techie entrepreneurs. The oil is the war on terror, the state of constant fear that creates a bottomless global demand for devices that watch, listen, contain and target "suspects." And fear, it turns out, is the ultimate renewable resource.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Brain Washing

It is important to look at how a nation can generate wide-spread popular support for vicious public policy decisions. In Israel, like in the US, schools are often on the front line of efforts to mold and indoctrinate young people into accepting and affirming the belligerent agenda of the military establishment.

The following news item reports a demonstration aimed at resisting this agenda. It took place today in response to a public relations initiative in which 8000 IDF officers entered Israeli high schools, and it aimed to call attention to the way in which the IDF brainwashes schoolchildren. The demonstration was initiated by New Profile, an organization that opposes the militarization of Israeli society. (Members include JPN’s Rela Mazali and Racheli Gai.)

The demonstration, accurately enough, involved people dressing up as IDF officers and washing a large model of a brain. This is playful but at the same time incredibly subversive: it goes to the heart of the occupation. Schoolchildren are indoctrinated into a system of military values and interests, and this translates directly into a mindset that supports and enables belligerent policies towards the Palestinians. The mindset privileges men over women, Jews over Palestinians, and military force over political negotiation. As the old saying goes, when you are holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

For more information about New Profile, see:

For video footage of the washing (in Hebrew, but with some priceless images) see:,7340,L-3523799,00.html.

Judith Norman

Abe SeligThe Jerusalem Post, Mar. 24, 2008
[Posted on Occupation Magazine --]

Activists decry IDF presence in schools

In a move to protest the IDF’s plan to send thousands of officers into the country’s schools on Wednesday, New Profile - a movement opposed to what they see as ‘brainwashing’ by the army - plans to set up a demonstration in which members dressed as IDF officers will wash a large model of a human brain.

The organizers of the planned protest hope to draw attention to the IDF`s nationwide campaign for students and voice their opposition to the `militarization of Israeli society.` The demonstration will take place opposite Tel Aviv`s Cinematheque and next to the city`s Ironi Alef High School, which has one of the highest draft-dodging rates in the country.

`I think the fact that military officers have free access to schools exploits the status of soldiers and the status of schools,` said Lotahn Raz, a New Profile activist and organizer of Wednesday`s demonstration, which he called a `street performance.`

`We want to reach out to students across the country and tell them that they have an opportunity to think differently. We also want to reach out to the larger Israeli public and tell them that the army should not play a part in our schools,` he added.

Raz, who did not serve in the army for `ideological` reasons, told The Jerusalem Post that the issue was not about enlistment, but about the army putting pressure on students to enlist.

`The army is something that they need to think about,` he said. `It shouldn`t be an automatic decision. But the army coming in and exploiting their position of power is brainwashing.`

`The army is a hierarchical organization,` Raz continued. `It doesn`t have respect for life, and they have no regard for the equality of women. It encourages following orders instead of individual thinking.`

Lt.-Col. Ronen Ofer, one of the officers in charge of the program, said on the Knesset Channel Monday that `we`re not coming to change the educational program or replace teachers. We want to talk to young people for a short amount of time about why the military is important and about certain values that have helped us succeed in the past.`

The show`s host asked Ofer if the program had encountered any negative reactions, as `the spirit of the country isn`t what it was 30 years ago.`

`We`ve tried the program out at three different schools already,` Ofer answered, `and the kids were very welcoming and received us well.`

But Raz told the Post that the values to which Ofer referred were not the the kind that should be expressed in schools.

`They`ve brought us constant conflict with our neighbors,` he said. `The military`s presence in schools is reminiscent of countries we`d rather not like to think of ourselves as. If there is a change in the attitude of young people and Israeli society in general about the military, maybe that`s what needs to be heard.`

Monday, March 24, 2008

On the return of Palestinian refugees and the present and future Israel

The letter below, written by Tomer Gardi, touches on some of the core topics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, on prevailing attitudes to it in mainstream Israel and on chances and hopes for a true solution.

Brief, simply worded and direct, the letter broaches the "cockfight" typical of most exchanges in Israel about the origins and solutions of the conflict, precluding civil and real dialogue between Israelis of different opinions.

It outlines a view of the current state of Israeli society as not democratic but, rather, "a democracy only for Jews", militarized, brutalized and exploitative and oppressive of both Jews and Palestinians. The letter construes this condition as directly related to Israel's measures towards maximizing Jewish numbers and minimizing the number of Palestinians, making the country "a barricaded fortification, a huge, suffocating stockade, a prison we have constructed around us."

The letter concludes with Gardi's stand on the return of Palestinian refugees and his vision of a possible post-conflict state and society.

Tomer Gardi, who authored the letter, is an active member of the Israeli non-profit "Zochrot" (or "Remembering"), "a group of Israeli citizens working to raise awareness of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948" (quoted from the Zochrot website at: Gardi is also editor of a Hebrew literary periodical Sedek [literally meaning "a crack"] focusing on topics that relate to the Nakba and its active erasure and aftermath within Israeli culture and society (the first edition is available on-line at:; the second is available through the website of Pardes publishers – see below). Sedek is published jointly by three organizations: "Parrhesia", a group of artists working to develop "a civil communications language: respectful, humanist, in dialogue; an alternative to the language of force used by the market and the regime" (; Hebrew-to-English translation
mine, RM), the independent publishing house, Pardes ( and Zochrot.

His letter is an answer to a position piece posted on the internet version of the Hebrew paper Ma'ariv, in which publicist Ben-Dror Yemini expressed his strongly negative view of Zochrot and its activities. (Yemini's piece [in Hebrew] can be accessed [via link] from the URL of Gardi's Hebrew letter, provided below.)

While none of the above organizations are household names in Israel, a discussion – or even a cockfight – raising the possibility of Palestinian return would not have been published in Ma'ariv till just a few years ago. As Gardi rightly points out, "people are being eliminated here daily … [and t]owns [are] being bombed on both sides of the border." Nevertheless, the visible existence of this debate in the public sphere in Israel, along with the terms and concepts it introduces is, in and of itself, a change.

Rela Mazali


Racheli Gai added:

For readers who would like to learn more about the ongoing joint Israeli-Palestinian study and formulation of questions regarding refugee return:

A Badil/Zochrot US Speaking Tour is taking place from March 27 - April 7, 2008.

It's titled:
"Acknowledging the past; Imagining the future: Palestinians and Israelis on 1948 and the right of Return".

The speakers will be Mohammad Jaradat from Badil and Eitan Bronstein from Zochrot.

About BADIL (taken off their website) : Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights takes a rights-based approach to the Palestinians refugee issue through research, advocacy and support of community participation in the search for durable solutions.

BADIL ('badeel') is an Arabic word that means 'alternative'. Badil's alternative approach to the question of Palestinians refugees and displaced persons is based on international law, relevant UN resolutions, and the participation of refugees themselves.

To find out more, go to

The tour will visit Providence RI, Boston, Chicago, Portland OR, Seattle, New York City, and Lancaster and Phildelphia PA.

Full tour information can be found at


Ma'ariv NRG
March 19, 2008

Translated by Charles Kamen

Dear Ben Dror Yemini,

I read your posting yesterday on the NRG site about Zochrot. I read, and thought to myself, “Forget it.” Why make the effort to respond? The differences between us seem so great, and I’d have to write so much even to get within hearing distance, so that even now, while I’m sitting and writing, I say to myself again, “Forget it; why even bother. Get on with your life.”

I’m strongly tempted to drop the whole thing. But there’s something else tempting me, my fingers itching on the keyboard, to join the cockfight. Perhaps because of the tremendous distance I’d have to travel to reach you, it’s easier and more tempting to get within shouting distance, rather than close enough for an actual conversation. I’m tempted. You yelled, “Enemy!” I’ll yell back, “Fascist!” You yelled, “Warped!” I’ll respond, “Racist!” You yelled, “Hamasnik!” I’ll cry, “Settleroist!” And we’ll go on like that until both of us are dead, hopefully in the fullness of our years, two bitter, hoarse foes.

It’s difficult to resist a temptation, and doubly difficult to resist two. But I’ll try anyway, try to get close enough to talk, by writing these words. Although I’m a member of the group you’re attacking, I’m also writing as an ordinary person. I don’t have the strength to formulate a document that all the members of the organization will discuss, reword, agree to and sign. Its activists, including me, hold many different views.

You accused Zochrot of acting to eliminate the Jewish state. A fairly common accusation. In my view, though – if you really want to know – a state isn’t something to be eliminated. A state is only a tool, a civil instrument that groups of people need in order to organize their communal life. I don’t see any essential difference between a state and a municipality, a local council or a regional council. I think it’s absurd to talk about eliminating the state. A state can be changed, and its citizens should engage in a political discussion about the nature of social arrangements in the territory where they live. A state can’t be eliminated because it isn’t a living entity. A state is institutions and government offices. What can be eliminated, killed, destroyed is not the state, but people. And people are being eliminated here daily in any case.

I don’t think Israel is a democratic state. Although its legislation includes some liberal democratic elements – my freedom to write this, for example – there’s a big difference between a regime that contains democratic elements, and a democracy. This May, the political entity known as the state of Israel will celebrate sixty years since its establishment. Subtract the forty-one years (1967-2008) that Israel has ruled over Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who have no rights, and another seventeen years (1949-1966) during which the Jewish majority imposed military rule over the Palestinian minority inside the borders of Israel, and you’re left with two years out of sixty that Arabs were not subjected to Israeli military rule. It’s hard for me to call that “democracy.” Israel is, in essence, a democracy only for Jews.

Zochrot actually does hope to threaten this regime, openly. Not by surreptitious spying, or by trickery, but publicly, for all to see. We want to threaten this regime and change it fundamentally, not only for reasons of justice and morality – reasons always denigrated as being no more than the fantasies of idealistic dreamers. The continuing Israeli project, whose essence is to push as many Arabs as possible out of as much territory as possible, is a disaster not only for the Palestinians who are being pushed out, but also for us who are doing the pushing. I’m really amazed by how upset you are at the fact that citizens want to bring about a fundamental change in Israel’s current social and political order. Look outside, read the papers – what’s so wonderful here that it’s worth preserving? A country of oligarchs and of people collecting bottles in the streets? Towns being bombed on both sides of the border? Unemployment, poverty, violence, aggressiveness?

You characterize Zochrot’s aim as “transferring power to the enemy.” That isn’t my aim. My political vision is that the people who live in the territory to which the laws of the state apply, between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, should have the right to rule and participate in its government. Why shouldn’t Jews live in Beit El and Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Shmona and Kiryat Arba, Dugit and Deganya, or Arabs live in Hebron and Haifa, Ramallah and Jaffa, call their towns Haif’a and Yaf’a – what’s the big deal? Israel is already a Jewish-Arab state. Why not make it a Jewish-Arab democracy?

Zochrot does support the return of the Palestinian refugees – not only supports, but acts to make it a reality. Here, too, not only for reasons of morality and justice which are easy to mock, and to ignore as fantasies. The stubborn efforts to prevent the refugees’ return has turned the country into a barricaded fortification, a huge, suffocating stockade, a prison we have constructed around us. I support the right of Palestinian refugees to live wherever they choose between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, because I prefer living in an open rather than a closed society, willingly heterogeneous, whose resources are invested in education, culture and welfare rather than in airplanes and fences, a society that doesn’t reek of gun oil.

It isn’t possible in a short text on the internet to give much detail about the vision of this kind of society, especially since much is still unknown. It has to be developed and expanded into a comprehensive and convincing political paradigm, in opposition to the one that assumes that maintaining a Jewish majority is the necessary condition for living here. What kind of economy will this society have? What will be the relation between religion and the state? How will the Palestinian refugees be absorbed? What arrangements will there be for compensation? How will the country’s resources be reallocated, not only between Arabs and Jews, but also among the classes? What relations will exist among social groups? What about those strange groups of people who are neither Jews nor Arabs – they exist in the world as well as here – Philippine migrants, Ukrainians, Chinese, Romanians, Sudanese, a growing number of migrants who aren’t Jewish but nevertheless entered by virtue of the Law of
Return? How will cities be planned, water resources allocated? What arrangements can be made to insure the security of citizens of the new state during the transition from occupation to civilian democracy? What can we learn from the experience of other countries, like South Africa, Albania, Namibia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Ruwanda? This coming June, Zochrot will hold a conference to begin discussing these questions. You’re invited, Ben Dror Yemini, along with all the other readers.

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

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