Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Trip to Hebron Yesterday

There haven't been many tours to Hebron run by Breaking the Silence or Bne Abraham lately. Sure, the High Court upheld their right to conduct tours, but trips to Hebron take place, surprisingly, in Hebron and not in a courtroom. And in Hebron the bosses are the army and the police, which have close ties to the settlers. So while the army and the police cannot officially ban the tours, they can "dry out" the groups by delaying them, or by calling for clearance, etc., etc.

I saw this in action for myself yesterday. I did not go on a tour but on a private visit arranged by the Hebron activists. We went in an Israeli taxi from Jerusalem, driven by a Palestinian cab-driver who spoke Hebrew, English, and a little Yiddish. I hadn't been in Hebron for two years, and things have changed for the worse. The road to Hebron is mostly tunnel and wall; the tunnel reminded me of the famous Agnon story, "The Tale of the Goat," in which a Jew follows a goat into a hole in Poland and emerges in the Land of Israel. Only this time I did not emerge in the Land of Israel but rather in the Land of the Settlers, the land where there are two sets of laws, roads, and lives for two sets of people. Efrat epitomizes Settler Sprawl; what was once a relatively small growth on the landscape of the Land of Israel gets bigger, uglier, and more out of place every year. And Efrat, one huge illegal outpost, now has its own illegal outposts.

The Separation Wall completely hides Beit Lechem from the view of the Israeli-only road. I must congratulate the wall designers, though; the wall (from the Jewish side) is more aesthetically pleasing than the concrete slabs one generally sees in the pictures (or the the-much photographed wall along Highway 443, where somebody actually painted a landscape without Arabs.) Of course, I couldn't see how it looked from the Palestinian side.

We emerged from the car park near the Cave of the Machpelah, when we were met by our escort, a Settler Goon named Ofer who recognized one of us as the Enemy. When he found out that we going to take a tour on foot, he attached himself to us, filming us on his video camera, talking, and in general harrassing us. Part of the parasitical nature of the Hebron Settlers is to do everything that they think the human rights activists do. You know, they will take a law suit and then submit the same one, changing the names. If the human rights activists have video cameras, they will also have a video cameras. They don't actually do anything with the videos, and I am not really sure that he turned it on. He was, afterall, a Goon.

Of course, the next thing that the Goon did was to complain to the soldiers, who asked us what we were doing there. The soldiers then asked us for identification and told us to wait, which we did. When nobody showed up, we continued our journey. Mind you, these streets are open to Jews, and we saw other Jews walking along them. But the other Jews were dressed like Haredim, and so nobody bothered to ask them for identification. I guess we looked like Israelis. (Note that in the picture below, the Palestinians have to walk on the left side of the fence. That's not apartheid; that's hafrada.)

We then made our way through the streets that have been shut down since the Goldstein massacre. The way things work in Hebron is that a Jew massacres lots of Arabs, and then the Arabs are, "for their own protection," not allowed to open their businesses near the Jews. Aaron Miller's book opens with him measuring the Shuhada Street in Hebron to see where the border will be….needless to say, all this is a buffer zone that a) makes the Arabs suffer, b) makes the Jews feel good, and c) provides the possibility for expansion.

And suffer they do. We then went to visit some Palestinian friends who told us how the latest brigade of soldiers have been harrassing them. Of course, if Israeli soldiers harrass Palestinians, they get to complain to…Israeli soldiers. (That, in a nutshell, is the difference between the suffering of Jews and Arabs in Israel – not who blows you up, but who you turn to turn in order not to be blown up.)

We then went to visit Palestinians who are living in the house that the activists helped renovate a year ago. The settlers had recently smashed windows, part of which the Palestinian occupants had filmed on their cell phone.

By the way, we were stopped several times by soldiers who wondered why we wanted to go to visit Palestinians. Once again, we were told that we could not go "for our own protection." But at least once, a higher up instructed the soldiers to escort us for our own protection (presumably from the settlers, not from the Palestinians, although I must say that because there were only a few of us, not many settlers besides the Goon even noticed us.

At the end of the trip, we went to visit some of the souvenir salespeople who have been doubly hit by the cancellation of the tours because the haredim won't by from them. But they were very friendly to us, even though, when you think about it, they have tsuris from the settlers because they are nice to the activists.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Israel Security Forces Kill Nine Year Old Palestinian Boy at Nil’in

Haaretz and Palestinian sources are reporting that Hamada Husam Musa, a nine-year old boy from the village of Nil'in, was killed by Israeli security forces during a protest at Nil'in today. The IDF said it has launched an investigation.

The protests are against the land grab wall and have been ongoing. Some rocks are thrown at these protests, and some soldiers are hurt. But some rocks are also thrown by settlers, and some soldiers are hurt – yet settlers have not been killed or shot at by security forces. This appears to have been a clear violation of even the IDF's rules of engagement.

The Anarchists Against the Wall have announced an urgent financial appeal for a legal defence fund. You can read about it here, but more importantly, you can donate here

Monday, July 28, 2008

Another Bogus Triumph of Justice

On its front page yesterday Haaretz proclaimed an apparent triumph for the cause of justice: Part of the barrier that separates the villages of Jayus and Falamah from their lands would be moved closer to the Green Line – at the cost of 50 million shekalim to the Israeli taxpayer. The original route had been planned, of course, to accommodate the expansion of the settlement Tzofim, which itself is built on Palestinian land.

It seems that IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi,doesn't want to spend time, energy, and money, planning a route that may later be moved by the High Court of Justice. In this case, the new route follows the suggestions of the "dovish" Council for Peace and Security headed by Col. Shaul Arieli (ret.), who has co-authored a book on the barrier with the human rights lawyer, Michael Sfard.

A triumph for the good guys, you say? Think again.

The new barrier will be closer to the Green Line, not on the Green Line. What difference is it to the villagers of Jayus and Falamah if the barrier is moved closer to the Green Line, when they still have to go through gates and get permits to farm their lands. Maybe some villagers will benefit. But if you have lands on both sides of the barrier, and if you have to farm both lands at the same time, you still lose out – and plenty.

The decision is emblematic of the way things work here in Israel. A decision is made that involves an outrageous injustice and that causes untold suffering in the name of Israeli security. Then comes along the High Court, usually because of a suit brought when the human rights organizations are involved, and occasionally a policy is changed, with great fanfare, to something more moderate. The Alan Dershowitzes and Michael Walzers of the world are happy. But the less egregious decision still involves an outrageous injustice and causes untold suffering. Israelis pat themselves on the back and retain their self-image of being civilized – since they had the power to do worse.

Any wall, even one on the Green Line, is a lousy idea that endangers both people's security.

But I won't argue that in this post. Rather I wish to claim that the question is not, "What can the State of Israel legitimately do to Palestinians for the sake of its security?

The question is rather, "What can the State of Israel legitiimately do to any civilians, including Jews, in the name of its security?

The answer to the second question determines the answer to the first. If it is wrong to do it to a Jew (say, one that is not a citizen of Israel), it is a wrong to do it to a Palestinian.

Please read the article below or here

In one West Bank village, new barrier route won't help

By Avi Issacharoff


Farmers in the village of Jayus, in the northern West Bank, were not overjoyed over the defense establishment's reported decision to move the separation fence, thus giving the villages there easier access to their lands.

"Israel's decision is a disaster for us," said Jayus farmer Sharif Khaled.

Until now, Khaled would pass through the fence every morning and evening, via a special gate the Israel Defense Forces opens three times a day, in order to access his lands and greenhouses west of the fence.



He and his wife returned home Monday at 4:30 P.M., as they have been doing since October 2003. He showed the soldiers at the gate his special IDF-issued work pass, and entered Jayus.

However, even after the fence is moved, Khaled will have to go through a similar gate in the new fence, he said.

Contrary to Israel's announcement that 2,600 of the village's 3,000 dunams will be east of the new fence, another 6,000 dunams of Jayus' land will remain west of it, Khaled said.

"We had hoped the new fence would be on the Green Line. It will leave 6,000 dunams west of the fence and only 2,000 on our side. It will still be difficult to reach the land," he said.

Khaled has 175 dunams of land west of the fence, where he grows vegetables and fruit. He must renew his permit every few months in order to access his lands. However, he fears that by the end of this month, he may not be able to do so.



The Brouhaha in the South African Jewish Community over the Human Rights Delegation to Israel

Last week I posted two articles on the visit of a highly respected delegation of ANC-activists, including former government officials and a Supreme Court judge, to the West Bank. Sources close to the delegation informed me that some of the delegates were not pleased with some elements of the the press coverage. But the bottom line was that they returned to Israel shocked and dismayed by the treatment of West Bank Palestinians, and that, while respectful of Israel's genunine security concerns, they questioned the proportionality and the long-term effects of its response.

What has annoyed some members of the South African Jewish community, is that liberal Jews were involved in the planning of the tour. In fact, a former member of the Zionist group Habonim-Dror, together with an Israeli IDF veteran who was a counselor at an Habonim-Dror camp, were instrumental in putting the group together. And, not surprisingly, the trip has been defended by liberal members of the South African Jewish community.

I confess that the only South African Jews I know are the ones who made aliyah to Israel. And I have been reading a bunch of emails from South African expats who consider themselves liberal, and yet are not happy to find themselves on the wrong side of the fence, so to speak…

Anyway, one piece that has annoyed some of the South Africans is the editorial yesterday by the Johannesburg Sunday Times' Editor in Chief, Mondli Makhanya, a member of the delegation, who speaks of the "permanent apartheid" separating Palestinians from Jews. Read about it here. His piece is less about the Wall than about the hatred and distrust both side feels for the other.

The South African Jewish Report has coverage of the delegation in the July 18 issue and the July 25 issue. These are pdfs and will take time to load, but they are worth reading.

The South African Jewish Report should be commended for providing a platform for readers to express their viewpoints, for and against.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Would Somebody Help Me Out Here?

I am unable to understand the logic of those Israel supporters who say that they regrettably have no choice but to accept the West Bank status quo. I am referring to those who say, "Look, we Israelis have no desire to rule over 3 ½ million Palestinians. But, unfortunately, we have no alternative but to continue the current situation that, admittedly, will make life miserable for the Palestinians and will arouse their hatred of us. They are responsible for the mess they are in. They could have had a state or something like it. Instead they sent suicide bombers. We would be crazy to unilaterally withdraw – just see what has happened in Gaza."

I am not bothered by the fact that the argument rests on the following questionable assumptions:

  1. Were it not for the security issue Israelis would be willing to have a Palestinian state next to them on the Green Line.
  2. The threat to Israel from the Palestinians is greater than Israel's threat to them.
  3. Israel bears no responsibility for the breakdown of the Oslo Peace Process, the Intifada al-Aksa, or the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
  4. The Palestinians were offered a State at Camp David/Taba/Annapolis.
  5. The Palestinians want an immediate and unilateral Israeli withdrawal.

Every one of these assumptions is debatable. I believe them to be false and that Israelis deceive themselves when they claim to accept them. But that's not what bothers me.

What bothers me is that even if we grant all these propositions, I don't see how they justify the West Bank status quo.

Even if we assume that the Palestinians were offered a state at Camp David/Taba, and that they turned it down because they want to destroy Israel, and that they have the power to destroy Israel through terrorism, and that they are responsible for the whole mess they are in – why does it follow that we have the right to conduct massive human rights offenses against them indefinitely?

One could respond that a) Palestinians have collectively forfeited their human rights or b) our human rights trump their human rights, or c) the existence of a Jewish state justifies the massive and indefinite human rights violation of another people. Any of those additional propositions would help the argument go through. But not a whole lot of Israel advocates want to be explicit about a), b), or c). Rather they minimize the human rights violations, calling them "inconveniences" or "unintended" or "regrettable" or "not our responsibility".

I don't understand these guys. Much more consistent are the rightwing Israelis who simply say that the Palestinians don't act like humans and therefore can be abused if necessary.

Why should Israel's right to exist trump the right to exist of the Palestinians, for that matter, any other alternative?

It seems to me that the only morally justifiable answer is that no matter how bad the current situation is, any other situation would be worse for both peoples. If you can show that the Israeli occupation is better for the Palestinians than their own government would then that answer have some purchase.

Has anybody seen that answer argued somewhere? I haven't.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

No Judge and No Law

There is an article in Haaretz today (in Hebrew) about the findings of the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din ("There is Law"), that less than 10% of the complaints of Palestinians against West Bank settlers result in indictments. Most of the files are closed by the police for lack of evidence, because the perpetrators are unknown, etc.

Here is the blurb concerning the report from Yesh Din's website:

Yesh Din's monitoring of the handling of investigations into offenses committed by Israeli civilians against Palestinians in the West Bank exposes that the rate of failure of the Samaria and Judea (SJ) District Police investigations is at 90%.  This and other statistics are published in a data sheet which tracks 205 investigation files opened in recent years and which have been followed closely by Yesh Din. Out of the 205 investigations opened into offenses committed against Palestinians which Yesh Din is following, police processing and prosecutorial review have concluded in 163 files. Out of those 163, only in 13 (8%) of the cases were indictments filed against defendants. One case file was lost and never investigated, and 149 (91%) investigation files were closed without filing any indictments against suspects.


Additional findings in the data sheet show that out of the 149 investigation files that were closed, 91 were closed on grounds of "perpetrator unknown" (61%) and 43 cases were closed on grounds of "lack of evidence" (28%).


To read Yesh Din's Report, please click here. From its monitoring, it seems that the police "investigations" are the stuff of farce. On rare occasions, appeals have been successful. But one can only marvel at the amount of Sysiphisian labor performed by the tiny Yesh Din organization. They work so hard in the face of such adversity.

According to Haaretz, the response of the state's attorney in charge of law enforcement in these cases was to challenge Yesh Din's statistics – not 13 but 30 indictments resulted. That means 78%, rather than 92%, of the investigation files were closed without an indictment.

Whew, now I can sleep at night….

Of course, I don't believe the state's attorney. If you read Yesh Din's report, you will see that no official statistics are kept that track complaints of offenses against Palestinians; they are mixed with settler' offenses against the police. Yesh Din documents its cases; when they have requested the state's attorney's documentation, they have been stonewalled.

On the Wild West Bank, settlers move against Palestinians with impunity. Small wonder that most Palestinians don't even bother to report complaints to the police

It would be instructive to compare these statistics with those of settler complaints against Palestinians. Are those recorded anywhere?



Selling Circumcision to Jewish Progressives

A few days ago, my newborn grandson Uri had his bris.

Circumcision is one of Judaism's oldest customs; according to the Bible, it predates the covenant at Sinai. It is also practiced in many areas around the world. It is a primitive – some would say 'barbaric' – practice. What bothers people most about circumcision in the Jewish case is that an irreversible and painful procedure of questionable medical benefit is performed on human beings without their knowledge and consent. But even if it is a relatively benign procedure, the idea of having it conducted by a mohel, and then having a party after it, while the baby is still in pain…well, you catch the difficulty. And if you don't, then go watch the Seinfeld episode where Kramer kidnaps the baby before the bris.

There is nothing liberal or progressive about male infant circumcision. And yet, when asked to say a few words at the reception, this is what I said.

Cicumcision is the only custom in Judaism where Jews are commanded to perform an action that brings pain on ourselves (According to the Torah, our children are extension of ourselves.) Of course, pain is not essential to the mitzvah; if one could circumcize without causing pain,that would be fine. Circumcision is the sign of the covenant with God, according to the Bible. But in most cases the pain will be there, and the ethical imperative against unnecessarily causing pain is the strongest argument against circumcision.

Yet circumcision can be removed from the category of unnecessarily producing pain if the pain that is produced has a humanizing effect. Not on the infant, of course, but on ourselves.

The Jew believe that circumcision is good for the infant because being part of the covenant with God is good. But no matter how good we think it is, we are or should be aware that the infant is in pain. And that should cause us pain, and cause us to want to alleviate the infant's pain – and to make us feel guilty that we were the cause of the pain, even if it's for our good.

The infant is powerless to determine his destiny. Only if the powerful are able to empathize with the pain of the powerless can that pain have meaning.

This we learn from Abram, who, according to the Midrash, was recovering from this circumcision when the three strangers arrived. Because of his own pain Abram could empathize with the pain of the strangers. And he overcame his pain by running to provide for his guests. Until that time, Abram had never helped anybody beyond the confines of his tribe – unless his own kin, like Lot, were affected. Feeding the strangers was the first selfless action he undertook. And it is not a coincidence that the selfless act followed his circumcision.

Next, Abraham negotiated with God on behalf of the people of Sodom. These were people that were alien to his tribe and to his moral code. Yet thanks, apparently, to the pain of circumcision, he could feel their pain as well.

The idea that circumcision makes one truly human is reflected in those midrashim that see it as the completion of the creation of man. It is also reflected in the commandment in Deuteronomy to circumcise one's heart – to remove the external cover that blocks our feelings of empathy for our less fortunate fellow-creatures.

The opposite of the a circumcised heart is a hardened heart – when we steel ourselves against empathizing or identifying with the less fortunate. If I had to suggest the one sin that characterizes the people Israel today it is that they have hardened their hearts against the suffering of the unfortunate, Jew and non-Jew. They just don't care; they are ready to point the blame but not to take the reponsibility. Ditto for the Palestinians.

You don't need circumcision to teach you the lesson of empathy. But if you are going to accept the covenant of circumcision, then the foreskin shouldn't be the only thing circumcised.

We should let the sensitivity to our and to our children's pain take us beyond ourselves to those other, less fortunate, ones for whose pain we are responsible.


Weiss and Fleshler on J-Street

I have been following with interest the exchange between Phil Weiss and Dan Fleshler on J-Street, the alternative Jewish lobby. Phil has been disappointed, though hardly surprised, by some of J-Street's positions, just as he has been disappointed, though hardly surprised, by some of Obama's statements on Israel. Phil's fate in life is to be disappointed, though hardly surprised. We are in the same club, here. From the moment I jumped on the Obama bandwagon, I had zero expectations from him on Israel-Palestine. True, the news that Rob Malley and Dan Kurtzer, were involved with Obama's policy team, was encouraging. But how far can Obama go, when he accepts, fundamentlly, the Israeli-Zionist narrative – a narrative that has been accepted by every president since Truman and Kennedy? Will J-Street go past the Zionist consensus and reach-out to Jews who are disaffected with political Zionism? Hardly.

Fleshler says that Weiss is wrong on J-Street, but Weiss didn't say he was opposed to J-Street, only that he thought that its positions weren't that far from those of AIPAC. I think he's right, but I don't mind building coalitions with the Zionist Left over such no-brainers as freezing settlements. Neither does he. And it doesn't hurt to have people to the left of J-Street pushing it a bit on the issues, just as it doesn't hurt to have people to the left of Obama pushing him a bit on the issues.

Don't get me wrong. I deeply admire anybody who spends a lot of time trying to get Israel-Palestine out of the mess it is in – if they are effective. But it seems to me that the successes of the liberal Zionists have been miminal, especially during and after the breakdown of Oslo, and they have been slow at drawing lessons from the failure of Oslo – repeating the mantra of peace will not get you very far. On engaging with the democratically-elected Hamas parliament they have been lukewarm at best. Still, the spread of liberal Zionism a la Peace Now and Brit Tzedek ve-Shalom may help provide political cover for nervous politicians (J-Street's goal) and prepare the ground for people to begin to rethink the conventional wisdom of liberal Zionism. But as long as the discourse in America is almost exclusively Zionistic, there is little hope for an even-handed approach to Israel-Palestine. Will J-Street join with AIPAC in opposing politicians like Jim Moran?

There is another important role for progressive Zionist groups, and that is to support the efforts of the human rights NGO's in Israel/Palestine. The emergence of the discourse of human rights, and international humanitarian law, is one of the most encouraging developments in sixty years of the Jewish state. (The emergence of effective spokespeople for the Palestinians is another hopeful sign.) When Dror Etkes left Peace Now's Settlement Watch for Yesh Din, the message he was sending was that there are immediate problems of human rights violation that need to be addressed and publicized. To my knowledge, the American progressive Zionists have been, on the whole, very supportive of the NGOs, from the New Israel Fund, to the smaller groups. Not all – it seems to be that Jeff Halper's Israel Committee Against House Demolitions is still outside of the Zionist consensus, but maybe I am wrong here. If Progressive Zionists join Palestinians and non-Jews in supporting the NGO's then dayyenu – it will be sufficient for us.




Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Kristof Should Have Written

Nicholas Kristof published an op-ed in the New York Times today that sounds like it could have been an editorial for…Haaretz! Kristof attempts to answer his critics in the sort of liberal Zionist way that is no longer satisfying for me. So I thought I would follow his answers with my own.

Tough Love for Israel? By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

On his visit to the Middle East, Barack Obama gave ritual affirmations of his support for Israeli policy, but what Israel needs from America isn’t more love, but tougher love.

Particularly at a time when Israel seems to be contemplating military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites, the United States would be a better friend if it said: “That’s crazy” — while also insisting on a 100 percent freeze on settlements in the West Bank and greater Jerusalem.

Granted, not everybody sees things this way, and discussions of the Middle East usually involve each side offering up its strongest arguments to wrestle with the straw men of the other side. So let me try something different.

After I wrote a column last month from Hebron in the West Bank, my blog, , was flooded with counterarguments — and plenty of challenges to address them. In the interest of a civil dialogue on the Middle East, here are excerpts from some of the readers’ defenses of Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and my responses:

Jews lived in Hebron for 1,800 years continuously ... until their community was murdered in 1929 by their Arab neighbors. The Jews in Hebron today — those “settlers” — have reclaimed Jewish property. So I don’t see what makes them illegitimate or illegal. (Irving)

True, Jews have deep ties to Hebron, just as Christians do to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but none of these bonds confer any right to live in these places or even visit them. If Israel were to bar American Christians from Jerusalem, that would not be grounds for the United States to send in paratroopers and establish settlements. And if Israel insists on controlling the West Bank, then it needs to give citizenship to Palestinians there so that they can vote just like the settlers.

Jerry’s turn: The analogy with American Christians is bizarre. What Kristof should have said is that, yes, Jews have a claim to live in Hebron. But the Palestinians have always been a majority in Hebron and in the West Bank, and they have the greater claim to sovereignty over all these areas. If the Jews want to press their claims to live under Palestinian sovereignty, that’s their business. If they are afraid they are going to be massacred, let them leave. But if they press historical claims, then the same should apply to the Palestinians going back to Palestine. (Hence, I am in favor of Jews living in Hebron, and of Palestinians returning to Palestine.)

One side is a beautiful, literate, medically and scientifically and artistically an advanced society. The other side wants to throw bombs. Why shouldn’t there be a fence? (Mileway)

So, build a fence. But construct it on the 1967 borders, not Palestinian land — and especially not where it divides Palestinian farmers from their land.

Jerry’s turn: Please, Mileway, save your racist and condescending comparisons for some colonialist “paradise” like Algiers or apartheid South Africa There have been “literate, medically and scientifically and artistically advanced societies” that committed genocide. One side throw bombs, the other side has planes that drop bombs. As for the fence, build it on the border – but not before you have made restitution for the colonialist exploitation of the Occupied Territories. When Israel withdraws it will have an ongoing and historical responsibility to help create a strong and vibrant Palestinian state.
While I do condemn this type of violence, it pales in contrast to Palestinian suicide bombers, rockets and other acts of terror against Jews. (Jay)

B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, reports that a total of 123 Israeli minors have been killed by Palestinians since the second intifada began in 2000, compared with 951 Palestinian minors killed by Israeli security forces.

Jerry’s turn: And, Jay, don’t play the intention game. Israel intends to beat the other side into submission. Each side blames the other side. The stronger party carries the most blame.
To withdraw from the West Bank without a partner on the Palestinian side will find Israel in the same fix it has once it withdrew from Gaza: a rain of daily rockets. Yes, the security barrier causes hardship, but terrorist attacks have almost disappeared. That means my kids can ride the bus, go to unguarded restaurants and not worry about being blown up on their way to school. Find another way to keep my kids safe, and I’ll happily tear down the barrier. (Laura)

This is the argument that I have the most trouble countering. Laura has a point: The barrier and checkpoints have reduced terrorism. But as presently implemented, they — and the settlements — also reduce the prospect of a long-term peace agreement that is the best hope for Laura’s children.

If Israel were to stop the settlements, ease the checkpoints, allow people in and out more freely, and negotiate more enthusiastically with Syria over the Golan Heights and with the Arab countries on the basis of the Saudi peace proposal, then peace might still elude the region. But Israel would at least be doing everything possible to secure its long-term future, rather than bolstering Hamas.

Jerry’s turn: Laura, I am going to be blunt – if the price for your children’s safety is the suffering of Fatima's children, of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children, then the moral answer is to come up with a solution that maximizes both sides’ children’s safety. Your children cannot be safe at the expense of their children. Your children are more important to you than theirs are to you – but your children, or my children, for that matter, are not more important than theirs are.

Neither Israel nor Zionism is worth a damn if it cannot be implemented without massive suffering on the other side. Now, I know that there are mafia-morality Jews who will say, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” I fully expect most people not to care at all about the other side. Common-sense says that Laura’s first concern will be rightly with her children. That’s the same with the Serbs and the same with every group. But I can expect disinterested parties to stand up and say, “Laura, we understand why you don’t care about those folks, but you should understand why we care about them. Because their children deserve nothing less than do your children.

To paraphrase Hillel, if I are only for myself, then what the hell am I?

If there is no two-state solution, there will be a one-state solution — and given demographic trends, that will mean either the end of Israeli democracy or the end of the Jewish state. Zionists should be absolutely clamoring for a Palestinian state.

Laura is right about the need for a sensible Palestinian partner, and the failures of Palestinian leadership have been legion. At the moment, though, Israel has its most reasonable partner ever — Palestinian President Mahmud Abbes — and it is undermining him with its checkpoints and new settlement construction.

Peace-making invariably involves exasperating and intransigent antagonists and unequal steps, just as it did in the decades in which Britain struggled to end terrorism emanating from Northern Ireland. But London never ordered air strikes on Sinn Fein or walled in Catholic neighborhoods. Over time, Britain’s extraordinary restraint slowly changed attitudes so as to make the eventual peace possible.

I hope Mr. Obama, as a candidate or as a president, will be a true enough friend of Israel to say all this, warmly but firmly.

Jerry’s turn: Scripture says, “Seek and pursue peace”..but. it emphasizes “Justice, justice you shall pursue” And without a strong, vibrant, Palestinian state, and an equitable solution for all the refugees, there is no justice. Those two conditions are the sine qua non of a justifiable Jewish state.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Close Shave During the Three Weeks?

Yesterday, a few minutes before 2, I dropped a friend off on Washington St. in Jerusalem, and then headed to a meeting. Washington St. winds around the YMCA, where there is now a construction zone. As I drove on the narrow road – mine was the only car around – through the construction site, a tractor crossed my path and stopped. I squeezed behind the tractor. As I did so I thought to myself three things: "I hope he sees me, because if he goes into reverse, that's the end of the car" and "I hope that I am not p-ssing him off because he has to wait for me" and then "Hey, this is a public road, he probably expects cars."

Around five minutes later, when I was way out of the area, the same tractor went on a rampage smashing cars. (I assume that it was the same tractor because the map in Haaretz this morning had the tractor/bulldozer starting right at the place where I had squeezed by.) You can read about it here.

If you live in Jerusalem long enough, you have a "close shave" story. I have two; the last time was when I happened to get to the scene of a bus explosion before the ambulances, but after the police had blocked the street.

Well, I have no lessons to draw from this story, except, perhaps, that I should drive a bit more defensively. If the driver wanted to have backed into me, he could of.

(To my non-orthodox Jewish readers – the not-such-good-taste title of this post refers to the Jewish law of not shaving during the Three Weeks before the Ninth of Ab.)

Acts of Injustice and the Three Weeks

In the Jewish calendar we have now entered the period of the Three Weeks. This is a semi-mourning period beginning on the Seventeenth of Tamuz and that will end on the Ninth of Av, the day the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. (and later, the day(s) that Herod's Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E.)

As an orthodox Jew, I believe that there is a God, and that in some way there is divine providence. And my tradition teaches me that acts of injustice will not go unpunished eventually. The Three Weeks should remind of us that.

What do I mean by acts of injustice? Well, the Torah says "You shall have one law for the stranger and for the native; for I am Hashem your God." Strangers are always at a disadvantage merely by being part of the out group. Not only does the Torah forbid afflicting the stranger, but it also mandates that one law apply to both native and stranger. When we discriminate in terms of fundamental human rights, we are unjust. So how are we in Israel doing in that regard?

1. Akiva Eldar reported a few days ago in Haaretz about a Palestinian family named Khurd that is being evicted from its home in East Jerusalem. It seems that the building belonged to Jews before 1948, and when Israell took control of the area, the Jewish owners (or their agents) sued to have that ownership recognized. The court ruled in the Jewish owners' favor, but allowed the Palestinian residents to stay, provided they pay rent. They are now in default on their payments, and they will be evicted. (All this, according to the article in Haaretz. )

What gives the story its special poignancy is that the Palestinian family lived in West Jerusalem until 1948 and they owned property there. They are now being evicted from their homes to make way for Jews, but they cannot get restitution for their own property, which they left during the 1948 fighting. Some estimates say that the Palestinians owned as much as 62% of property in West Jerusalem. Even if that is an exaggeration, Palestinian ownership was considerable.

Now, I ask you – why is a Jew allowed to reclaim Jewish property in East Jerusalem whereas a Palestinian, who lived, perhaps, two blocks away from that Jew, is not allowed to reclaim Palestinian property in West Jeruasalem? If you argue that it is not the right time for Palestinians to make claims for property abandoned sixty years ago, then wouldn't it be right to postpone Jewish claims until the same right time?

But that's not the way Israel works. Because we have the power.

I learned this a while back, when I lived in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. After 1967, the Israel government threw Palestinian families out of an expanded Jewish Quarter that never existed prior to 1948, and whose legal segregation was justified by the liberal Supreme Court Chief Justice Haim Cohen. Since Jews, he wrote, were discriminated against in housing in the Old City, they could now have their special (expanded) quarter as a sort of affirmative action. The "Quarter" System was supposed to ensure that each group would have its own homogeneous quarter. Fair enough.

But then Israel turned around and let Jews reclaim Jewish property in the Muslim Quarter. Why? Because we have the power.

The Torah says "You shall have one law for the stranger and for the native; for I am Hashem your God."

Well, so much for the Torah.

2. Haaretz and Ynet published a story about the shooting of a bound Palestinian protester. By now the pattern is familiar; soldiers abuse Palestinians; nothing happens unless the abuse is caught on camera; the politicians and the military brass condemn the incident; once things quiet down, nothing is down about it. From experience we know that the IDF spokesperson routinely lies to cover its tuches.

You will ask, if abuse is routine, then why don't we hear about it more often? Three reasons: First, most Israelis are insensitive to the suffering of the Palestinians. (The same is true vice-versa. Collectively speaking, neither community could care less about the other.) So what most people consider abuse, most Israelis consider "minor inconvenience at best." Second, most people, and certainly most Jews, are moral chauvinists – they consider themselves morally superior to the other. I have yet to meet an Israeli Jew who doesn't consider himself or herself morally superior to an Arab. That is true of all cultures, but Judaism, in my opinion, suffers in a unique way from moral chauvinism.

Third, we are individualists when we come to our side and collectivists when we come to the other side. Our army is pure except for a few bad apples, we say. But the Palestinian people as a whole glorify violence, we say.

The Jerusalem Post ended its editorial on the shooting by saying that, "We must not allow Palestinians' glorification of violence to brutalize us." Hah, it that isn't the case of the pot calling the kettle black!. As if we are any different from the Palestinians or they from us. The only difference is that we have the power and they don't. So we can and do hurt more of them than they do us. That is the only difference. Oh, sure, educated people on both sides react differently from simple folks on both sides. But let's face it – if we were under occupation, and we thought that only through violence could we liberate our homeland, we would do whatever it takes.

Not a whole lot of Zionists were pacifists. What kept Ben Gurion and some Zionists in check was the pragmatic, usually displomatic consequences of the Jews' actions. I am not belittling this; pragmatism is important.

But just ask yourself, supporter of Israel, just what you would be willing to do for the survival of the Jewish State. Where would your "red line" be?

3. Speaking of moral chauvinism, there has been a lot of that lately surrounding the prisoner exchange. You know, the self-congratulatory "We-don't-dance-on-the-rooftops-we-don't-dip-our-hands-in-the-blood-of-lynch-victims we-don't-trade-in-corpses-we-don't-cause-mental-anguish-to-the-families-of-prisoners" kind of thing.

But some of those things we do, and other things that they never do we do – because we have the power to do them and they don't. How many Jews have been humiliated by Palestinians on a daily basis? When the Palestinians don't like our elected government, how long are we kept under siege? How many Israeli Jews have lived for a second, much less sixty years, subject to the total control of the Palestinians? We have almost all the cards in our hand, and yet we kidnap civillians; we barter with corpses; we detain five thousand Palestinians in jails, many of them without charge, none of them after trials in courts by a jury of their peers.

And yet, we say to ourselves, "Look at the difference between us and them. We will move heaven and earth -- we will free murderers to get back our soldiers, dead or alive. Whereas they are willing to let many of their terrorists rot in Israeli prisons rather than hand back Gilad Shalit."

But suppose that they were holding 5000 Israelis, and the only card we had was a single Palestinian soldier. Would we trade that soldier for, say, only half of ours? Would we be able to look in the eyes of the parents of the soldiers who were not released and say, "We had to be flexible"

Yes, there is a difference between us and them. The difference is that on the day we release their prisoners, we can round up more. We can squeeze them economically; we can reduce their water and electricity; we have absolute control over their lives. And they have no control, nada, over our lives.

If there is a difference, it is between us and us, and between them and them – between the us (and them) that feel it necessary to draw the line when it comes to unjust behavior, and between the us (and them) who say that en guerre comme la guerre. And, yes, where the line is drawn will be different for us and for them , because of the asymmetry of power –but there are some norms that all are bound to.

Moral chauvinists beware – you are destroying the Temple by your baseless hatred.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gans vs. Gavison: Nationality-Based Preference, Rather than Ethnic Rights, in Immigration to Israel

Prof. Chaim Gans devotes the last chapter of his recent book, A Just Zionism: On the Morality of the Jewish State, to the question of Jewish hegemony in immigration to Israel and in other domains. In previous chapters his argument had entailed that "the realization of the right to national self-determination does not itself require the existence of a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel." (115). However, he had also argued that the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict, and the persecution of the Jews, does justify the aspiration for a Jewish majority, as long as those circumstances exist. Since one should aspire to settling the conflict, and reducing persecution of the Jews, one should also be committed to reducing some aspects of Jewish hegemony in the future.

One way of helping to ensure a Jewish majority is to have immigration laws that make naturalization automatic for Jews and virtually impossible for non-Jews (although, strictly speaking, the Israeli Law of Return is not an immigration law, but rather a law recognizing the "natural right" of every Jew to be a citizen in the Jewish state.)

The Law of Return discriminates on the basis of nationality criteria that are "religio-racist". If you are Jewish or you have one grandparent who is Jewish, you have the right to become a citizen; you have no such right, nor can you ever have one (unless you convert). Now this is patently discriminatory. Can such discrimination be justified?

Well, one can play the "affirmative action" card and argue that since Jews were traditionally discriminated against, and since their efforts toward self-determination were thwarted (according to the Zionist narrative), they are entitled to "affirmative action" in immigration. Just as today's whites and men pay the price for the historical discrimination against women and people of color, so, too non-Jews pay the price in terms of eligibility for Israeli citizenship for the historical discrimination of the Jews. Yet the analogy is flawed. Whatever moral justification "affirmative action" possesses derives from the fact that white, male society benefited historically from discrimination against females and people of color, and that they were the agents of that discrimination. But this is not the case with the Palestinians, who were not responsible for the persecution of the Jews or the thwarting of their national aspirations throughout history. More fundamentally, the purpose of affirmative action is to level the playing field for groups in a society; it is not to foster a certain group's culture at the expense of another.

According to Gans, the liberal way to justify nationality-based preferences in immigration is to claim that a national group has a justifiable interest in preserving and fostering its national culture, especially in the case of a people that had recently been decimated; hence, immigration policies that facilitate members of that nationality to join the majority, though discriminatory, are justifiable. Add to this the assumption that liberal nationalists make – that an individual's identity is often enriched by possessing natural culture and heritage – and one can allow for nationality-based preferences immigration.

Gans argues that it is one thing to talk of nationality as a factor in immigration; it is quite another to make it the only factor. The Law of Return says that if you are a Jew you have a right to citizenship ; if you are a non-Jew you have no right (and, practically speaking, you cannot become a citizen.) No other country in the world, even countries that have ethnonationality-based preferences in immigration, go that far. Gans would substitute the following principles for the current religio-racial principle embodied in the Law of Return: 1) Nationality-based motivations of potential immigrants should bear considerable weight; 2) national groups may admit the number of members into their homelands that is required in order to maintain their self-determination; 3) states have a duty to take in refugees and persecuted members of specific national groups that have a right to self-determination within these specific states. (Gans adds that states have a duty also to grant priority to refugees among the other groups that make up the immigration quota.)

Of course, there are other ways to ensure a Jewish majority in the Jewish State. One could encourage Arab emigration (the Kleiner bill), or reduce Arab family size through incentives and/or sterilization. If one allows for some forms of discrimination, why not others?

A few days ago, Prof. Ruth Gavison, wrote an op-ed in which she defended the exigency amendment of the Citizenship Law that denies Palestinian residents of the occupied territories and their Israeli family members the right to live together in Israel. Most people who defend the amendment appeal to security considerations. But Gavison will have none of those. Even if there were peace between Israel and Palestine; even if there were no terrorism, the mandate for a Jewish majority overrules an Israeli citizen's right to live with his or her spouse. Gavison noted that citizenship is not a right; other countries have denied citizenship to spouses of citizens who belonged to groups outside of the state's ruling culture, such as Holland, which ruled against fundamentalist Muslim spouses. (One could add to this the recent French Supreme Court's decision upholding the denial of citizenship to a Muslim citizen's spouse, on the grounds that her values were not those of the French "community.")

Gans argues that a person's right to marry whomever he wishes, and to live with his or her spouse in the place where that person has lived, is a fundamental human right. The amendment of the Israeli citizenship law violates that right, and violates that right based on race. Yes, a state does have a legitimate concern with fostering a national culture, but that concern cannot override its citizens' basic human rights.

Note the important differences between the French and Israel case. For one thing, the French Supreme Court denied the Muslim spouse citizenship, not residency, whereas Gavison would say to an Israeli Palestinian: you can only live in Israel if a) you marry an Israeli Palestinian, or b) you live apart from your spouse, or c) you leave your home. For another, and this may not be so clear, the French notion of "values of the community" are not ethnonationally based; they are not even religiously based, but are rather liberal values. (Having said this, I, Jerry, am not happy with the French Court's decision, for obvious liberal reasons.)

Indeed, the ethnonational interpretation of "communaut̩" in France Рthe sort of interpretation that Gavison would apply to the Jewish community in Israel Рis a legacy of the Nazi-supported Vichy regime: the regime that said that a French Jew could not really be a member of the "communaut̩," since they were not ethnically French. There are many ethnonationalists who believe this; Israel isthe only "liberal democracy" that enshrines such a notion in law.

For my criticisms of Gans I refer my readers to Zionism Without an (ethnonational) Jewish State. Let me conclude with a hypothetical situation. Suppose that a distinguished member of the Jewish Studies faculty at Hebrew University is Christian. Suppose that this person, after a lifetime of service to his students and to his field, after having written important books and articles about Jewish history, after having won the Israel prize for Jewish Studies, and for his highschool textbooks, wishes to become a citizen. According to the present Law of Return, he could not become one, unless by special fiat of the Ministry of Interior. This is somewhat similar to the situation of those privileged Jews who achieved residency or citizenship in Europe before emancipation. Now, let us assume that Israel, as a nation-state of all its citizens, has a special obligation to foster the cultures of its dominant groups, though not necessary an equal obligation (size counts). Couldn't one establish as a factor in priority in immigration "significant contribution to the national culture(s)"?

You see, once liberal nationalism justifies itself through the effects of a flourishing national culture on an individual's identity and well-being, rather than simply being part of an ethnic group -- once ethnicity becomes subordinate to, and justified in terms, of a flourishing national culture -- then one can allow a more flexible (and liberal) notion of group membership than, say, the Nuremberg laws.

I have no problem with Israel as a "Jewish state," provided that "Jewish state is not defined in the ethnonationalist sense of the founders of Israel, but in the sense of a dominant (though not domineering) culture – language, calendar, culture. And, of course, not in an exclusivist sense.

Such as state would give some priority to Jews and to Palestinians in immigration – "some priority," though not blanket. Refugees from Africa, for example, would have higher priority, all things being considered, than Jews from Brooklyn.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Israel and "Jisrael"

Don't you hate it when you accept an invitation to a wedding or bar mitzvah, and then remember that you have tickets for something that same night?

So what do you do? Try to get rid of the tickets? Try to wheedle out of your social obligation? Try to attend both?

Well, after my wife and I purchased tickets to this evening's screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, we realized that we had also accepted an invitation to a bar/bat mitzvah celebration. You know, family friends from the US on a bar/bat mitvah tour....So my wife, who is native Israeli, went to the Cinemathèque, and I, the native American, went to the Bar/Bat Mitvah event.

Geographically, we were ten minutes walking-distance from each other. Psychologically we were in different worlds

I was in a world or country that I shall call "Jisrael" – Jewish Israel. Jisrael is a country that exists in the consciousness of Jews living outside Israel, and of those Anglos who come to live here. It is the Israel of the English-speaking subculture in Jerusalem, Raanana, Beit Shemesh, and the bedroom yuppie communities of the West Bank like Efrat, Alon Shvut, etc. In Jisrael, Hebrew is spoken, if at all, with an American accent. Most of the inhabitants of Jisrael nowadays are orthodox. In Jisrael, nobody is surprised when the bar and bat mitzvah from America give speeches celebrating their heroes, King David and Golda Meir. Everybody expects them to profess their love for Israel and Eretz Yisrael, and their father to speak with that American religious-zionist twinge of guilt for living in Suburban Maryland and not here. At the reception, the tables for the guests had Jisraeli place names including Masada, Hebron, and Kever Rachel. Now in Israel these places are, respectively, the past home of Jewish terrorists, the present home of Jewish terrorists, and an holy place invented during the Byzantine period, and then appropriated by the Muslims, and later by the Jews. (I don't know many things I, but I know that the odds of the matriarch Rachel being buried in Kever Rachel are one in a zillion.)

Most importantly, in Jisrael the only Arabs are street cleaners, construction workers, or terrorists. They aren't doctors, lawyers, teachers, or professionals. They aren't people you socialize with.

My wife, ten minutes away, was in the country of Israel. She was quite literally sitting in Gehenna, since the Jerusalem Cinematheque is in the valley identified by archaeologists as Gei Ben Hinnom, the Gehenna of the New Testament (and who knows if they are right?). But emotionally she was sitting in another Gehenna, because she was watching ten short films on Jerusalem. Sponsored by the Jerusalem NGO, Ir Amim.

Hebrew readers can read about the films here

While I was singing Hava Nagila and Oseh Shalom Bimromav, my wife was seeing films about four Palestinian brothers who support their families by selling chewing gum to Jewish motorists at intersections. She saw a short film about Said al-Haradin, who wakes up at the crack of dawn each day to embark upon a journey of several hours to get to al-Quds university in Abu Dis – a ten minute walk away from his refugee camp. Or a documentary by a Palestinian film student about how an Arab cab driver took into his home a Jewish woman with her family after they had been evicted from their flat.

The most powerful film was about the hideous "creatures" that for years have terrorized Palestinians, destroying their homes, building walls around and through their lands, and making life miserable for them. Last week, for the first time, the same creatures turned against the Jews. I refer, of course, to the Caterpillar bulldozers.

The films were not, on the whole, heavy-handed or propagandistic. There were no films about Israeli soldiers beating up Palestinian civilians, or about suicide bombers, or about Shin Bet infiltrators. The emphasis was on how normal people live abnormal lives in the shrinking Gehenna that is Palestinian Jerusalem

What would the Jews from Jisrael had felt had they attended the film screening? Some would have been deeply affected and deeply perplexed. Others would have pointed fingers at the Palestinians and would absolve the Israeli Jews of responsibility. But most would have had great difficulty recognizing Israel because of the Jisrael they had created.

What room was there for hope? Only this – the Jerusalem movie theater was filled with Jews and Palestinians, speaking to each other, relating to each other, talking about their experiences. My wife could not remember ever attending any event in Israel where Palestinians and Israeli Jews mingled freely, on the same footing. It gave her some hope for Israel.

As for Jisrael – well, I lost hope for that "imagined community" a long time ago.

Friday, July 11, 2008

ANC Delegation: Israeli Hafradah is “Worse Than Apartheid”

Well, the interminable argument over whether the Israeli system of hafradah ("separation") between West Bank Jews and Palestinians constitutes apartheid is now over. The experts were called in, and they have ruled: It's not apartheid.

According to some of them, it's worse.

A high-ranking delegation of ANC veterans, some of whom were jailed under apartheid, just completed a fact-finding mission of the West Bank. The delegation included Jews and non-Jews, Whites, Blacks, and Colored, a former deputy minister, and a high court justice..

I will reproduce here two articles that have appeared on the subject. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate those who organized the mission, both in Israel and in South Africa.

To call hafradah apartheid is an insult against apartheid and the White supremacist regime of South Africa.

The first article is from the Independent.

'This is like apartheid': ANC veterans visit West Bank

By Donald Macintyre in Hebron
Friday, 11 July 2008

Veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle said last night that the restrictions endured by Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories was in some respects worse than that imposed on the black majority under white rule in South Africa.

Members of a 23-strong human-rights team of prominent South Africans cited the impact of the Israeli military's separation barrier, checkpoints, the permit system for Palestinian travel, and the extent to which Palestinians are barred from using roads in the West Bank.

After a five-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories, some delegates expressed shock and dismay at conditions in the Israeli-controlled heart of Hebron. Uniquely among West Bank cities, 800 settlers now live there and segregation has seen the closure of nearly 3,000 Palestinian businesses and housing units. Palestinian cars (and in some sections pedestrians) are prohibited from using the once busy streets.

"Even with the system of permits, even with the limits of movement to South Africa, we never had as much restriction on movement as I see for the people here," said an ANC parliamentarian, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge of the West Bank. "There are areas in which people would live their whole lifetime without visiting because it's impossible."

Mrs Madlala-Routledge, a former deputy health minister in President Thabo Mbeki's government, added: "While I want to be careful not to characterise everything that I see here as apartheid, I just do find comparisons in a number of places. I also find differences."

Comparisons with apartheid have long been anathema to majority Israeli opinion, though they have been somewhat less taboo since the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, last year warned that without an early two-state agreement Israel could face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights.

Fatima Hassan, a leading South African human rights lawyer, said: "The issue of separate roads, [different registration] of cars driven by different nationalities, the indignity of producing a permit any time a soldier asks for it, and of waiting in long queues in the boiling sun at checkpoints just to enter your own city, I think is worse than what we experienced during apartheid." She was speaking after the tour, which included a visit to the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem and a meeting with Israel's Chief Justice, Dorit Beinisch.

One prominent member of the delegation, who declined to be named, said South Africa had been "much poorer" both during and after apartheid than the Palestinian territories. But he added: "The daily indignity to which the Palestinian population is subjected far outstrips the apartheid regime. And the effectiveness with which the bureaucracy implements the repressive measures far exceed that of the apartheid regime."

Members of the delegation – the first of its kind – visited Nablus as well as towns and villages bordering the separation barrier, including Na'alin where a temporary curfew was imposed after joint Israeli-Palestinian demonstrations against the barrier.

The visit was organised by Israeli human rights groups which co-operate with Palestinians committed to non-violent campaigns against Israeli occupation.

In Hebron's main Shuhada Street, the South African delegation was plunged into a confrontation after one of the local settlers' leaders disrupted the tour by unleashing a barrage of abuse through a megaphone at one of the Israeli guides. Amid angry arguments, police arrested three of the Israeli guides.

Mrs Madlala Routledge exclaimed: "This is ridiculous. Why are they arresting our guides and leaving the man with the megaphone?"

Dennis Davis, a high court judge and one of the South African delegation's several Jewish members, told the extreme right-wing Hebron settlers' leader Baruch Marzel: "These provocations didn't come from us. I'm Jewish and I look at this and I say to myself, how can I feel fear from other Jews?"

Andrew Feinstein, a former ANC parliament member, said that the visit to Yad Vashem had been "extremely moving" because his mother had been a Holocaust survivor who lost many members of her family. "As you walk into Yad Vashem you see a quote that says in effect you should know a country not only by what it does but what it tolerates," he said. "So I found it very shocking to then come and here and see footage of teenagers heaping abuse on Palestinian children as they come out of school, and throwing stones at them. And that this should be done in the name of Judaism I find totally reprehensible.

"What the Holocaust teaches us more than anything else is that we must never turn our heads away in the face of injustice."

The delegation's final formal statement made no mention of comparisons with apartheid and Judge Davis said he thought the use of the term in the Middle East context was "very unhelpful".

He added: "The level of social control I've seen here, separate roads, different number plates [between Palestinian and Israeli cars] may well be more cynically pernicious than what we have ever had. But this is a country that is really about how there is going to be divorce and we were always a marriage." Ms Hassan herself said she thought the apartheid comparison was a potential "red herring".

Israelis point out there are no South-African-style laws segregating Israeli East Jerusalem Arabs from Israeli Jews in public spaces.

The delegation yesterday urged international support for the "new and small movement of Palestinian-Israeli joint non-violent struggle". And its members stressed their understanding of Israeli security needs. Mr Feinstein said: "I completely understand the fears of Israelis ... but at the same time we have seen for ourselves and been told about all sorts of measures that don't seem to be in terms of security and in some instances could if anything undermine security of state."

The delegation also visited the Parents' Circle – a joint organisation of Israeli and Palestinian families bereaved by the conflict. Ms Hassan said this had been at once the most "depressing and inspiring" visit of the trip.

And our own Gideon Levy, God bless him, here

'Worse than apartheid'

By Gideon Levy

I thought they would feel right at home in the alleys of Balata refugee camp, the Casbah and the Hawara checkpoint. But they said there is no comparison: for them the Israeli occupation regime is worse than anything they knew under apartheid. This week, 21 human rights activists from South Africa visited Israel. Among them were members of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress; at least one of them took part in the armed struggle and at least two were jailed. There were two South African Supreme Court judges, a former deputy minister, members of Parliament, attorneys, writers and journalists. Blacks and whites, about half of them Jews who today are in conflict with attitudes of the conservative Jewish community in their country. Some of them have been here before; for others it was their first visit.

For five days they paid an unconventional visit to Israel - without Sderot, the IDF and the Foreign Ministry (but with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and a meeting with Supreme Court President Justice Dorit Beinisch. They spent most of their time in the occupied areas, where hardly any official guests go - places that are also shunned by most Israelis.

On Monday they visited Nablus, the most imprisoned city in the West Bank. From Hawara to the Casbah, from the Casbah to Balata, from Joseph's Tomb to the monastery of Jacob's Well. They traveled from Jerusalem to Nablus via Highway 60, observing the imprisoned villages that have no access to the main road, and seeing the "roads for the natives," which pass under the main road. They saw and said nothing. There were no separate roads under apartheid. They went through the Hawara checkpoint mutely: they never had such barriers.

Jody Kollapen, who was head of Lawyers for Human Rights in the apartheid regime, watches silently. He sees the "carousel" into which masses of people are jammed on their way to work, visit family or go to the hospital. Israeli peace activist Neta Golan, who lived for several years in the besieged city, explains that only 1 percent of the inhabitants are allowed to leave the city by car, and they are suspected of being collaborators with Israel. Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, a former deputy minister of defense and of health and a current member of Parliament, a revered figure in her country, notices a sick person being taken through on a stretcher and is shocked. "To deprive people of humane medical care? You know, people die because of that," she says in a muted voice.

The tour guides - Palestinian activists - explain that Nablus is closed off by six checkpoints. Until 2005, one of them was open. "The checkpoints are supposedly for security purposes, but anyone who wants to perpetrate an attack can pay NIS 10 for a taxi and travel by bypass roads, or walk through the hills.

The real purpose is to make life hard for the inhabitants. The civilian population suffers," says Said Abu Hijla, a lecturer at Al-Najah University in the city.

In the bus I get acquainted with my two neighbors: Andrew Feinstein, a son of Holocaust survivors who is married to a Muslim woman from Bangladesh and served six years as an MP for the ANC; and Nathan Gefen, who has a male Muslim partner and was a member of the right-wing Betar movement in his youth. Gefen is active on the Committee against AIDS in his AIDS-ravaged country.

"Look left and right," the guide says through a loudspeaker, "on the top of every hill, on Gerizim and Ebal, is an Israeli army outpost that is watching us." Here are bullet holes in the wall of a school, there is Joseph's Tomb, guarded by a group of armed Palestinian policemen. Here there was a checkpoint, and this is where a woman passerby was shot to death two years ago. The government building that used to be here was bombed and destroyed by F-16 warplanes. A thousand residents of Nablus were killed in the second intifada, 90 of them in Operation Defensive Shield - more than in Jenin. Two weeks ago, on the day the Gaza Strip truce came into effect, Israel carried out its last two assassinations here for the time being. Last night the soldiers entered again and arrested people.

It has been a long time since tourists visited here. There is something new: the numberless memorial posters that were pasted to the walls to commemorate the fallen have been replaced by marble monuments and metal plaques in every corner of the Casbah.

"Don't throw paper into the toilet bowl, because we have a water shortage," the guests are told in the offices of the Casbah Popular Committee, located high in a spectacular old stone building. The former deputy minister takes a seat at the head of the table. Behind her are portraits of Yasser Arafat, Abu Jihad and Marwan Barghouti - the jailed Tanzim leader. Representatives of the Casbah residents describe the ordeals they face. Ninety percent of the children in the ancient neighborhood suffer from anemia and malnutrition, the economic situation is dire, the nightly incursions are continuing, and some of the inhabitants are not allowed to leave the city at all. We go out for a tour on the trail of devastation wrought by the IDF over the years.

Edwin Cameron, a judge on the Supreme Court of Appeal, tells his hosts: "We came here lacking in knowledge and are thirsty to know. We are shocked by what we have seen until now. It is very clear to us that the situation here is intolerable." A poster pasted on an outside wall has a photograph of a man who spent 34 years in an Israeli prison. Mandela was incarcerated seven years less than that. One of the Jewish members of the delegation is prepared to say, though not for attribution, that the comparison with apartheid is very relevant and that the Israelis are even more efficient in implementing the separation-of-races regime than the South Africans were. If he were to say this publicly, he would be attacked by the members of the Jewish community, he says.

Under a fig tree in the center of the Casbah one of the Palestinian activists explains: "The Israeli soldiers are cowards. That is why they created routes of movement with bulldozers. In doing so they killed three generations of one family, the Shubi family, with the bulldozers." Here is the stone monument to the family - grandfather, two aunts, mother and two children. The words "We will never forget, we will never forgive" are engraved on the stone.

No less beautiful than the famed Paris cemetery of Pere-Lachaise, the central cemetery of Nablus rests in the shadow of a large grove of pine trees. Among the hundreds of headstones, those of the intifada victims stand out. Here is the fresh grave of a boy who was killed a few weeks ago at the Hawara checkpoint. The South Africans walk quietly between the graves, pausing at the grave of the mother of our guide, Abu Hijla. She was shot 15 times. "We promise you we will not surrender," her children wrote on the headstone of the woman who was known as "mother of the poor."

Lunch is in a hotel in the city, and Madlala-Routledge speaks. "It is hard for me to describe what I am feeling. What I see here is worse than what we experienced. But I am encouraged to find that there are courageous people here. We want to support you in your struggle, by every possible means. There are quite a few Jews in our delegation, and we are very proud that they are the ones who brought us here. They are demonstrating their commitment to support you. In our country we were able to unite all the forces behind one struggle, and there were courageous whites, including Jews, who joined the struggle. I hope we will see more Israeli Jews joining your struggle."

She was deputy defense minister from 1999 to 2004; in 1987 she served time in prison. Later, I asked her in what ways the situation here is worse than apartheid. "The absolute control of people's lives, the lack of freedom of movement, the army presence everywhere, the total separation and the extensive destruction we saw."

Madlala-Routledge thinks that the struggle against the occupation is not succeeding here because of U.S. support for Israel - not the case with apartheid, which international sanctions helped destroy. Here, the racist ideology is also reinforced by religion, which was not the case in South Africa. "Talk about the 'promised land' and the 'chosen people' adds a religious dimension to racism which we did not have."

Equally harsh are the remarks of the editor-in-chief of the Sunday Times of South Africa, Mondli Makhanya, 38. "When you observe from afar you know that things are bad, but you do not know how bad. Nothing can prepare you for the evil we have seen here. In a certain sense, it is worse, worse, worse than everything we endured. The level of the apartheid, the racism and the brutality are worse than the worst period of apartheid.

"The apartheid regime viewed the blacks as inferior; I do not think the Israelis see the Palestinians as human beings at all. How can a human brain engineer this total separation, the separate roads, the checkpoints? What we went through was terrible, terrible, terrible - and yet there is no comparison. Here it is more terrible. We also knew that it would end one day; here there is no end in sight. The end of the tunnel is blacker than black.

"Under apartheid, whites and blacks met in certain places. The Israelis and the Palestinians do not meet any longer at all. The separation is total. It seems to me that the Israelis would like the Palestinians to disappear. There was never anything like that in our case. The whites did not want the blacks to disappear. I saw the settlers in Silwan [in East Jerusalem] - people who want to expel other people from their place."

Afterward we walk silently through the alleys of Balata, the largest refugee camp in the West Bank, a place that was designated 60 years ago to be a temporary haven for 5,000 refugees and is now inhabited by 26,000. In the dark alleys, which are about the width of a thin person, an oppressive silence prevailed. Everyone was immersed in his thoughts, and only the voice of the muezzin broke the stillness.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chaim Gans' "A Just Zionism: On the Morality of the Jewish State"

I have in my hands -- well, next to my computer -- not only one of the most interesting books ever written about the morality of political Zionism (and the morality of Israel's policies), but one of the most sensible and sensitive books ever written about Israel and Palestine. Although I don't agree with many of the author's arguments or conclusions -- he still cuts political Zionism and Israel too much slack, in my opinion -- I have no hesitation in giving him and his book a moral "heksher"/seal of approval.

In A Just Zionism: On the Morality of the Jewish State (2008, Oxford University Press), Tel-Aviv University law professor and moral philosopher Chaim Gans presents a defence -- albeit a limited one, as we shall see -- of the right of the State of Israel to continue to exist as it was founded, and of some of Israel's controversial laws and policies, e.g., the law of return. His arguments position him to the the left of the Israeli-Jewish consensus (including much of the Meretz party), but to the right of the post-Zionist crowd. Gans is a liberal nationalist, that is, he believes that nationalism is defensible because a common national heritage has great possibilities for enriching the lives and identities of individuals in a liberal state. So if you're a post- or anti-nationalist, this book is not for you. In fact, what I like about most about the book it that is assumes, for the sake of argument, the truth of the Zionist narrative of Jewish history and the legitimacy of liberal nationalism. The author then explores what justifiably follows from such assumptions. And his answers will not make make most Israel advocates happy, those who, like most of us, are content with fallacious and self-serving moral arguments.

Because of its importance I plan to discuss the book in a series of posts. I have also put a widget on the right side of the page for the convenience of people who want to buy the book. Let me say this upfront: if you are reading this blog, you should read Gans' book. And that includes anti-Zionists, non-Zionists, and ultra-rightwing Zionists. The only people who shouldn't read the book are those who don't like to follow, or can't follow, a philosophical argument, or those who don't care to read anything written by an Israeli. Whatever pennies I get from Amazon Associates I will donate to leftwing Israel-Palestine causes, so if you are a rightwinger, you may want to get the book directly from Amazon.

Here are some lines from the Introduction:

The purpose of this study is to present a philosophical analysis of the justice of contemporary Zionism as realized by the State of Israel, including Israel's territorial and demographic aspirations and the way it conceives of itself as a Jewish state. Specifically, I will examine the justice of contemporary Zionism in the light of the gap between a particular version of Zionist ideology that oculd be considered just and the situation today, which is a consequence of both current Israeli policies and the Zionist past. I will mainly focus on three components of this situation: the Palestinian refugee problem...; the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip...; and the policies of the State of Israel toward the Arab minority living within Israel's pre-1967 borders.

What Gans does in the book is to attempt to establish what is morally defensible and and reasonable about Zionism, and then compare it with the principles and policies of the Zionist state founded in 1948. Thus, for example, he argues from a liberal Zionist perspective in chapter one that the Jews constitute a people with a legitimate claim to national self-determination and self-rule -- but that this does not confer on them automatically a right to Jewish hegemony in a Jewish nation-state. Such a hegemony is only justifiable "circumstantially" and only applies to restricted domains of demography and security, and then in much more limited ways than implemented now. Nor must there always be a need for a Jewish nation-state in order to realize Jewish self-determination.

While Gans defends some of the special considerations that the Jewish state gives to its Jewish citizens, for example, in the sphere of immigration, he sharply restricts these special considerations and declares them in principle undesirable as permanent policies. Most of the time he picks apart the classic arguments used by liberal Zionists to defend Zionist policies of preference and discrimination. Those passages are, of course, my favorite parts of the book.

One final word: on the back cover there are two blurbs, one by American Jewish political thinker, Michael Walzer, and the other by Israeli philosopher, Avishai Margalit, both liberal Zionists. Margalit praises Gans' fairness; Walzer, Gans' meticulous presention of the arguments. Neither endorse the positions taken by the author, and I think that this is significant. It is a pleasure to read a book where, agree with the thesis or not, one can admire the intelligence and the moral sensitivity of the author.

Criticisms will follow.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sane People in Sodom

I spent my Shabbat troubled by the fact that I hadn't heard people speak up against Israel's intentions to destroy the house of the Palestinian tractor-driver from last week. Oh, sure, the usual suspects on the left (guilty as charged) will raise their voices sooner or later, but I wanted people who were a bit more mainstream than the human-rights advocates to weigh in. And I wanted the arguments to be moral ones.

My wife told me that the voices would emerge, that people were waiting a bit for the lynch mood to die down. She is usually right, so let's hope so.

In the meantime, here are some voices that qualify for the "Sane People in Sodom" award, not the "Righteous People in Sodom" award. Their arguments are not moral ones, but if they can save the family's house from the mob, I will give them two cheers.

On Friday Haaretz had a "carefully balanced" editorial whose bottom line was: "Politicians, stop acting like a mob." You can read it here. The crumbs the editorial threw to the mob was painful, such as criticizing the perpetrators' family for suggesting that the whole thing was an accident, as if any of that is relevant. The editorial is not what I would have written, but If it helps save the house…

Then there was a well-meaning piece by Haggai Efrati in NRG Judaism (in Hebrew here). Efrati is a member of an organization, if it still exists, called "Realistic Religious Zionism," which is moderate on the issue of the territories and whose members have more moral qualms than your average Israeli religious Jew. The article blasts rabbis who rush to declare in the name of Jewish law that it is a mitzvah to destroy the houses of the famlies of perpetrators, or wipe out the villages, etc. In my opinion, the article illustrates well the confusion of "Realistic Religious Zionism." Instead of attacking the rabbis as moral monsters, they basically attack them for speaking out on matters over which they have no special expertise. That is an argument that resonates well with the modern orthodox community, which loves to bash its rabbis when they interfere with their autonomy, and I am sympathetic to it. Not what I would have written, but if it helps save the house….

I certainly don't count among the righteous people folks like Amnon Straschnov, retired chief military judge advocate who argues in today's Haaretz that legally Israel has the right to tear down homes, only that practically it is a bad idea. See here. When he writes,

House demolition, both as a punitive gesture aimed at the perpetrators of acts of terror, as well as for military needs and deterrence, are based on extremely firm legal foundations, such as regulation (1)119 of the defense regulations in times of emergency, 1945, and the Fourth Geneva Convention

that's the sort of bullshit argument that one expects of lawyer, a fortiori military lawyers. Note the qualifier "extremely" in the phrase "extremely firm legal foundations," (mistranslated in the English version as "fairly") Anybody familiar with the Fourth Geneva Convention knows that this is wrong. Wikipedia says it best:

The use of house demolition under international law is today governed by the Fourth Geneva Convention, enacted in 1949, which protects non-combatants in occupied territories. Article 53 provides that "Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons ... is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."[11]

Israeli use of house demolitions has been particularly controversial. However, Israel, which is a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention, asserts that the terms of the Convention are not applicable to the Palestinian territories on the grounds that the territories do not constitute a state which is a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention.[12][13][14] This position is rejected by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, which notes that "it is a basic principle of human rights law that international human rights treaties are applicable in all areas in which states parties exercise effective control, regardless of whether or not they exercise sovereignty in that area."[1]

So much for the "extremely firm legal foundations" that may allow Strachnov to sleep at night and to write an article to salve his guilty conscience. It's certainly not what I would have written.

But if it helps save the house….


Friday, July 4, 2008

Revenge By Any Other Name

The rampage of the Arab tractor-drive this week in Jerusalem, which killed several people and wounded many more, is rightly condemned. Yes, it is important to try to understand motives, and yes, it is important to think rationally on how to prevent the reoccurence of such events. But understanding is not excusing, much less justifying. You can say the same thing for the rampage of the student at Virginia Tech last year, which killed more people. Even if a person is driven to do something by mental illness, or by some sort of exculpating factor, the harming of innocents is to be condemned. The motives are not relevant. Death by Caterpillar is death.

But no less condemnable are the acts of revenge contemplated by Israeli officials against innocents, either the tractor-driver's family (destroying their house) or his neighborhood (revoking their residency.) In fact, they are arguably more barbaric because they are premeditated actions of a state, illegal by international law, and immoral by any morality save that of the mafia.

What is chilling about the contemplated acts of revenge by Israel politicians like Barak, Netanyahu, Oimert, Ramon, is that they are just that – revenge. Nobody is even trying to argue that destroying or sealing up the family's house is punishment or deterrence. Nobody holds the family or the neighborhood responsible (are we back in the Bible?), and since 2005, the IDF has explicitly said that blowing up houses is not an effective deterrent.

So the only reason for hurting Palestinian innocents, according to the Israeli government, is the same reason that the truck-driver presumably had for hurting Israeli innocents (which could easily have included Palestinians) – revenge. We know even less about the truck-driver's motives than those of Barak, Netanyahu, and Ramon.

Just read the following statement from the Haaretz article today

Ramon also told Army Radio that he felt, as opposed to the prime minister and his fellow ministers, that demolishing the home of the terrorist's family would not prevent the next terror attack. However, he said that the house should be demolished anyway, if the law allows it.

"I doubt that demolishing the house will achieve what it aims to achieve, though if possible, the house must be razed. The laws must be made to fit the policy and we mustn't give up," Ramon said. "What we are permitted to do, we must do as soon as possible."

What Ramon seems to be saying is that because Israel legally can demolish the house, it should demolish the house, despite there being no purpose in destroying the house. We've got a much bigger tractor than that guy did, and it is legally registered.

The Arab perpetrator drives a tractor; our perpetrators run the government. I can't see any other difference.

And please don't argue that one is under occupation and the others aren't. That gets to the understanding part, not the justifying part. Not for me, anyway. Please check your Fanon at the door of this blog.

P.S. Of course, if punishing innocents were an effective deterrent, it would still be patently immoral, wouldn't it. If you don't think so, please re-read Kant.