Friday, July 31, 2009

The Foreign Ministry Releases Its Version of the Gaza Op

The Israel foreign ministry has released a hundred and fifty page defense of the IDF's "Operation Cast Lead".

You can read about it here.

But I can tell you basically what it says in a few lines about any accusation, 'X'.

1. We didn't do X.

2. If we did X, it was legal.

3. If we did X, and it wasn't legal, then we are investigating those cases.

4. In any event, we will try not to do X again, if we can.

Just take your favorite war crimes – use of human shields, white phosphorus – and substitute it for 'X'.

I am not exactly sure of Israel's strategy, if it has one. It has now made its definitive case before the Goldstone Commission publishes its report, thus giving Goldstone ample time to examine the Israeli report. If Goldstone makes extensive mention of the report, then Israel will not be able to say that Goldstone ignored its side of the story. Of course, there will be those who say that this is not enough (a replay of the ICC verdict on the so-called security fence, where Israel only made its case in writing, which gave American Judge Thomas Burgenthal enough of a rope to partially exonerate Israel.)

This story "broke" yesterday. Since then I haven't seen it in any of the world media outlets. Ynet and Haaretz and Jerusalem Post. C'est tout.

Compare that with the sensational and instantaneous effect of the Breaking the Silence testimonies two week ago.

Ah, but as we Israelis like to say, the world is against us. Interesting that Israel can lose the hasbara war outside Israel to a small organization of IDF veterans.

That must drive the Israeli government nuts.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reflections on the Ninth of Av, 2009/5769


Gaza scene, January 2009


My eyes shall flow without cease

Without respite

Until the Lord looks down

And beholds from heaven

(Lamentations 3:49, JPS trans.)  

1. On the Hurban of Gaza

For three weeks we rained bombs and fired artillery shells on an helpless civilian population. We punished them for their rocket fire, which was their punishment for our siege, which was our punishment for their election results, which was their punishment for Fatah's corruption, and so the story goes one. What should we have done? We should have negotiated – a cease fire, a prisoner exchange, a withdrawal from Gaza. We should have talked with them. Instead, we treated them like flies, whose lord we were. And so we bombed, killed, and maimed, using them as human shields, raining down phosphorus as weapons, finishing only when we were forced to stop. At the end of the nightmare, in additional to the tens of thousands of lives ruined, there were over 1400 Palestinians dead, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis dead, mostly soldiers.

The death and destruction should have been unbearable for all decent human beings. But with deep sadness I can only say that relatively few in my country of Israel were disturbed. "They started it." "They deserved it" "What would you have done?" As if what Israel did was the last resort.

Every Ninth of Av as long as I live will remember the latest in the Jewish catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people – when our hearts were Cast into Lead.


2. On the Hurban of Jerusalem and al-Quds

For thirty-five years I have lived in Jerusalem, the so-called "United Jerusalem." I have seen it grow into a sprawling and overbuilt megalopolis where the building never stops. Part of the development is based on developer's greed; part is based on Israel's never-ending struggle to de-Arabicize Jerusalem (which now includes banning the Arabic word for Jerusalem from street signs). So rightwing Jewish groups join hands with Jewish bingo moguls and government officials to buy up, legally and fictitiously, parts of East Jerusalem, or when that fails, to get tracts of land zoned for "archaeological parks" run by rightwing settler groups, despite the intervention of the High Court.

Jews should be allowed to live anywhere in East Jerusalem, we are told, and Arabs should be allowed to live nowhere in West Jerusalem.

Not a day goes by without more revelations, for which one can read the Ir Amim website here. The idea is clear – to surround the Old City with as many Jews as possible – and to convince the Israelis that East Jerusalem, including Arab East Jerusalem, is part of the Jewish state.

Let us not forget that according to the UN and the world, the State of Israel is not sovereign over West Jerusalem, and let us hope that, speedily in our days, Jerusalem will be internationalized. Till then you will see the continual sprawl and growth that has choked the city, destroyed its center, and, together with the inflated prices of real estate due to absentee owners, sent many of its educated young people into exile.


3. On the Hurban of the Jews.

"The Jews, as a majority in their state, will be judged by how they treat their own minorities." Well, judging from the present situation, I give my state a D-. Consider the plight of foreign workers. They are imported to Israel, work often under horrible conditions, and then expelled. If they marry Israelis they may or may not become citizens; it is up to the decision of the Minister of Interior. But even if they don't, then they and their children born on Israeli soil, are liable to be deported. Now the press, politicians, and an impressive list of intellectuals and religious leaders (with only one orthodox rabbi, of course, Rabbi David Rosen) are trying to avert the decree of deporting the children, who have known no other homeland besides Israel.

What other country deports children in this way? And why Israel? Because, you see, it has no real process of naturalization for non-Jews. I would like to know what other state besides Israel does not have a process for naturalizing eventually children of foreign workers born on their soil. Even Germany now has one,and think of all the foreign workers there.

"Do not afflict the stranger for you were a stranger in the Land of Egypt." Well, how quickly we have become hard-hearted Pharaohs. And don't think for a moment we are going to stop importing new foreign workers. And what will be with their children? For a cry of decency, read Haaretz's editorial here

And here's another minority, this one much smaller – asylum seekers from problem areas in Africa. Israel cannot turn them away, but it can make life miserable for them and subject to unfair restrictions and discrimination. And why? Because we are Jews and we have our hands full taking care of our own. And don't throw the "boat people" at me, either. Because you do a mitzvah years ago – a mitzvah that any civilized country would do – you never have to act like a mentsh again? From Haaretz's editorial here:

The Interior Ministry's newly created Immigration Authority is a vital mechanism. To this day Israel has not drawn up an immigration policy, because anyone who isn't a new immigrant under the Law of Return is seen as a temporary visitor whom the state has no interest in naturalizing. The entrance of hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, only some of whom have left, has brought the state to its senses.

It is regrettable that the authority's first step was to round up a few hundred asylum seekers from Africa in south Tel Aviv, in what appeared to be a senseless demonstration of ostentatious bullying. Most of the detainees had been brought into Israel by the army at the Egyptian border. They met the representatives of the United Nations refugee agency and have been granted temporary protection due to the danger and persecution they were subjected to in their countries of origin, such as Eritrea and Sudan.

These detainees are protected from deportation, so one must assume the Immigration Authority intended to intimidate and deter other asylum seekers from coming to Israel, in addition to enforcing the problematic procedure forbidding them from living and staying in the area between Gedera and Hadera. Instead of engaging in intelligence activity to find people staying in Israel illegally, the authority's inspectors chose the easy route and filled the prisons with fugitives from disaster and massacre areas.

It is no credit to the Jewish state that only around 400 asylum seekers who entered its gates have been recognized as refugees by the Interior Ministry. The status of refugee entitles its holder to rights, mainly medical insurance and a work permit. The authorities' slow handling of the refugees' applications for this status is immoral in a country that was established by refugees. So is incarcerating asylum seekers in Ketziot Prison for months. The Immigration Authority was not set up to persecute the persecuted

I will discuss the Palestinian Israeli minority in another post.

On my way to shul I heard A. B. Yehoshua say, once more, that one can only be a Jew in the full sense of the term in the State of Israel. I once believed that.

But this Tisha B'Av, when we read about destruction and exile, I ask the question that was the title of Akiva Ernst Simon's last book: "Are We Still Jews"? And to Buli Yehoshua I ask, how can one still be Jewish and live in Israel 2009 – unless one lives in constant despair and depression?  

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Dutch Government Has No Intention of Cutting Funding for Breaking the Silence

Question: What are the words for "Foreign Ministry spin" in Hebrew?

Answer: "Barak Ravid"


Dutch officials deny Israeli complaints over funding of leftist group

By Cnaan Liphshiz, Haaretz Correspondent

Diplomats from the Netherlands denied reports that they had received complaints from Israel over Dutch funding for a controversial Israeli human rights group. But Israeli officials insisted the complaints were made, as reported on Sunday by Haaretz.

Meanwhile, Holland's biggest pro-Zionist body said the organization in question, Breaking the Silence, "could deserve funding" from the Dutch government.

The article in Haaretz said that Israel has asked the Netherlands for clarifications about financial aid given to the human rights group Breaking the Silence, which recently released a collection of anonymous accusations of alleged human rights abuses by Israeli soldiers in Gaza.

The Volkskrant, one of Holland's largest papers, published a reaction by the Dutch foreign ministry which said no such complaint has been made, and that there was no reason to stop the subsidy.

According to a close colleague of the minister in The Hague, the subsidy is in line with the human rights policy of Maxime Verhagen, the paper reported, adding the Israeli embassy in Hague was made aware of this position.

The Israeli embassy in Hague was not available for a comment, but an Israeli diplomat said the complaint was conveyed as reported. "Maybe the two countries have a different definition of the concept of complaint," he added.

Haaretz reported that Breaking the Silence received 19,995 euros from the Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv, and that had this figure been higher by five euros, then it would require approval from the foreign ministry in Hague, headed by Verhagen, who is seen as a staunch supporter of Israel.

But the Volkskrant quotes Dutch diplomats as saying the organization received 24,000 euros. Ronny Naftaniel, the head of Holland's largest pro-Zionist group, says this is a pivotal issue.

"It is not right for the organization to receive funding without the public knowing about it," he said. But Naftaniel, a long-time supporter of Arab-Israeli coexistence and of the two-state solution, said he had no objection to the Dutch funding of Breaking the Silence as a principle.

"This organization could deserve funding from the Netherlands," Naftaniel told Haaretz. "Human rights organizations like this and like B'Tselem play an important role in Israeli society and can be of importance in making Israelis think critically about Israel."

Naftaniel added that Breaking the Silence's anonymous report rested heavily on hearsay. "The Israeli army behaves much better than most countries in combat conditions, but criticism is needed to prevent this from being taken for granted," he concluded

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Silencing “Breaking the Silence” I – Lieberman Continues Down the Slippery Slope

Avigdor Lieberman's Foreign Ministry is trying to silence the IDF veterans group, "Breaking the Silence." For five years the group has been publishing testimonies of IDF war crimes and inappropriate behavior towards Palestinian civilians without government interference. The last few years it has received money from several sources, including the New Israel Fund, the European Union, and the governments of Great Britian, Holland and Spain. In this it is no different from other human rights groups that receive money from European governments and human rights foundations. B'Tselem, for example, has received money from the Norwegian foreign ministry. "Breaking the Silence" used the money from the Dutch consulate to finance its booklet of Gaza testimonies, which you can download here. As you will see, the booklet acknowledges the support of BtS's donors.

When Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman read of this, he had a fit. So he instructed the Israeli Ambassador to the Netherlands to demand that the Dutch Foreign Ministry cut off funding for BtS. Haaretz Barak Ravid, whose job in Haaretz, as my readers know, is to front for "informed sources" in the Foreign Ministry, wrote about it today here.

Lieberman's reason?

According to a senior Israeli official: "A friendly government cannot fund opposition bodies. We are not a third world country."

"Breaking the Silence" is not an opposition body, but rather an ngo made up of Israeli veterans that publish IDF soldiers' testimonies. It has no ties to any opposition party. It is no more political than B'Tselem.

And Israel is a third-world country as of today, if not much earlier, because this is what dictatorial third-world countries do: attempt to block the funding of its ngos.

Now, there is indeed a legitimate debate whether Israeli human rights ngos should be funded by foreign governments, whether such funding hurts or helps its message. That is very different from the government heavy-handedly trying to cut off its funding by trying to strong-arm the governments, a tactic that the Israeli foreign minister may have learnt in his native Russia.

But can we expect anything less from an ultra-right wing foreign minister whose party's platform calls for the banning of political parties and the suppression of free speech in Israel?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The First of Av –BtS Testimony 50

Here is another testimony about rules of engagement, or lack thereof, in the Gaza campaign. The BtS booklet can be downloaded here.

Testimony 50 -- Rules of Engagement

... I can tell you about a specific case, where a man passed by our house: our instructions were to take down anyone going by, a lookout. There was a case of a man speaking on his cell phone while he held a white flag. Again, you should realize we kept receiving these specific alerts down to the details of a man on a motorcycle arriving at this or that trail at a certain speed. There were alerts about people with explosive charges and white flags. There was a case of a man speaking on a cell phone close to our house and he also held something white. I didn't see him. I was further back inside the house. I know for certain that this guy was shot in the leg. In hindsight, i cannot prove or verify this, but I heard he died. He was not removed by us and I cannot prove it.

He was not removed?

He limped along and got out of our sight.

But there are rules of engagement, aren't there?

When we hold an outpost on normal security duty, there are rules of engagement. But when we got in there, the feeling was you're going to war and such and such numbers of casualties are expected in the battalion. While we were outside, at the beginning of the operation, there was this atmosphere, something really strong, everyone's eyes shining. It felt like being in a movie, I didn't anticipate what we'd get into. I was expecting combat. We had aerial photos and were told that here's an explosive charge, there's a tunnel. What rules of engagement? We were under the impression we were going into battle, not some outpost routine procedure. While we began to enter we realized this is not what we had expected. You said you heard this from someone else, it felt very much like maneuvers meaning there was all this spectacular fire, a Lau missile here and there, all sorts of things.

In your official briefing by the battalion commander before you went out, what were you told?

We were told soldiers were to be secured by fire-power. The soldiers were made to understand that their lives were the most important, and that there was no way our soldiers would get killed for the sake of leaving civilians the benefit of the doubt. We were allowed to fire in order to spare our lives.

Even when it comes to the individual soldier?

Yes. and that means very aggressive entry. Fire power. it means that as we go in, if people are outdoors, the soldiers shoot them. again, these are cases where I wasn't present myself so i don't want to discuss them. But yes, there were cases of people, civilians who were killed by our own fire.

Light arms? Also.

Did you talk about it? Telling civilians apart from terrorists, and by which criteria? What are incriminating signs?

There is no suspect arrest procedure in wartime. There's exercise of judgment. People were not instructed to shoot at everyone they see but they were told that from a certain distance when they approach a house, no matter who it is – even an old woman – take them down.

What distance are we talking about here?

That depends. Could be a situation where a guy is 40 meters away, entering an area that is out of your sight, where you can't do a thing, as he reaches a house.

There were no official definitions as to who is considered innocent?

The definitions were that an armed person must be shot dead, anyone talking on a cell phone – that's incriminating. People walking around with white rags were not to be shot. But if they would approach a house then deterrent fire was to be shot overhead or beside them, and then just shoot.

Was this clarified? Say the battalion goes in, lots of fire, civilians getting killed as well in other cases, weren't things made clearer?

There was not much friction with the civilian population and I don't recall a clarification to the point of actual rules of engagement.

But because this was left up to the judgment of the individual soldier, wouldn't a commander say that if such and such happens, exercise discretion because there are civilians here.

There was a bit 'do whatever you want' but those were the definitions... Not specific definitions but exercise of judgment. No clarifying beyond that into something resembling ordered procedures.

No one asked about this?

The atmosphere wasn't right to start looking for that. The soldiers were eager and not exactly looking for limits. it wasn't crucial.

Did they feel safe? If you're afraid, you shoot at anything. Was it like this?

The atmosphere was not one of fear but rather people too eager to shoot other people.

Did you see other cases of non-combatant population, such as the one with the cell phone and the white flag, people who...

Again, I can't say whether he died or whether he was passing on information. It's a case that shows how lax the rules of engagement were.

What incriminates a person? People walking towards you from a certain distance? A cell phone that might be used to report things? Someone with a notebook, binoculars?

Binoculars is the same as a cell phone. So what do you do?

Same thing. Exercise your own judgment, and the definition is straight fire. When the guy was shot in the leg, it's because he was holding a white flag, but the atmosphere was not such as to believe that anyone carrying a white flag is all right, because there were alerts.

But you said, for example, that people walking along holding white flags were clearly not to be shot?

Yes. But white flag and cell phone, you notice that. If he really approaches the house, you shoot him.

If they raise their hands up in the air, is that like a white flag? Yes.

You're saying you saw civilians...

No, don't confuse this. There was hardly any encounter with the civilian population. in general, the city was a ghost town. Once in a while you saw a person, during ceasefires when people walked around.

And then?

We held our fire for a few hours. The Red Crescent came around, picked up bodies. They passed by us too, under the house, i mean closer than they were meant to be.

Do you recall the distance which had to be kept from the house? 20-30 meters, something like that.

Wounded were evacuated only during humanitarian ceasefires? Technically yes, but there was not much evacuation of wounded but mostly there was of fatalites.

Prominent Israeli Intellectuals, Writers, Artists, Entertainers: Investigate Gaza Op Now

Today's Haaretz featured a front-page petition, signed by well-known Israeli writers, artists, entertainers, and intellectuals on the center-left side of the political spectrum, calling for an independent investigation into the IDF's conduct of the Gaza Operation. The signatories are not the sort of people you see supporting the anarchists in Bil'in, or the Free Gaza boats; they are what anybody would call mainstream Zionist left. The call for an investigation is tied to the release of the soldiers' testimonies by the IDF veteran's group, "Breaking the Silence", whose booklet can be read here.

I hope the petition helps stop the delegitimization and the demonization of the "Breaking the Silence" publication by the IDF and certain Jewish organizations abroad. I also hope it helps break the silence of those who are not willing to read, much less come to grips, with the testimonies. Those who claim that the testimonies are inauthentic or fabricated should realize that the signatories below – who know a little about Israel and its army – disagree.

The petition in Hebrew can be read here. If you are Israeli, you can add your name to the petition. An article by Tal Rabinovsky summarizing the petition and naming a few of the more prominent writers appears in Ynet English here. But, for the record, I am transliterating the Hebrew names. (I apologize in advance for getting the transliteration wrong.)

Gal Uchovsky, Shulamit Aloni, Rona Blair, Orna Banai, Assaf Gavron, Professor Dafna Golan, Yonatan Gefen, David Grossman, Nurit Gertz, Yael Dayan, Ruth Dayan, Rami Heuberger, Ariel Hirschfeld, Prof. Alon Harel, Natan Zach, Prof. Shimon Sandbank, Prof. Naomi Hazan, Amir Lev, Haggai Levy, Ronit Matalon, Sami Michael, Prof. Avishai Margalit, Amos Oz, Ari Folman, Eytan Fox, Yehoshua Kenaz, Orli Kastel Blum, Yehudit Katzir, Yehudit Karp, Yossi Sarid


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How the Landgrab System Works

Akiva Eldar writes in today's Haaretz that the government is considering creating a sewage treatment system near Ofra that would serve Palestinian villages and Jewish settlements.

Now isn't that a heartwarming story? The Occupier is finally taking care of the occupied.

Not quite. This is a textbook case of how the Occupier steals land, then builds a settlement on it, then pollutes the villages next to the settlement, then steals more land to build on it a sewage treatment facility. Here's how it works.

Step One. The settlement of Ofra is built illegally on Palestinian public and private land. ("Haaretz reports in that 179 of the 600 buildings in Ofra are considered illegal by the Israeli administration, a somewhat surprising statistic since the infrastructure was provided by the government, which also provided preferential mortgages.")

Step Two. The illegal settlement of Ofra illegally seizes Palestinian private land to put up an illegal sewage treatment facility. Before then, Ofra's sewage was polluting the neigboring village of Ein Yabrud.

Step Three. A resident of Ein Yabrud and the human rights organization Yesh Din petition the High Court to remove the sewage treatment plant.

Step Four. The government issues a demolition order, does not carry out the demolition order, and at the same time, announces its intention of exploring the possibility of expropriating the private land for a facility that would serve Jews and Palestinians together. (It seems that the High Court has ruled that if private land is expropriated for public works, then the Palestinians have to benefit.)

Step Five. For the facility to serve the Palestinian village of Ein Yabrud, a highly-expensive pumping facility needs to be built (on Palestinian land?). Nothing like that has ever been built on the West Bank, and the chances of its being built are near zero.

According to the government announcement:

"After the legal picture was clarified and a demolition order was issued for the facility, an order was given to suspend state funds to the plant, and it has not received a permit to connect it to the power supply. The sewage treatment plant was initiated by the Shomron Union for Ecology and the Environment Ministry, after the settlement's sewage polluted the environment and endangered groundwater sources," the announcement says.

So…either the illegal settlement will connect its illegal sewage treatment plant illegally to the power supply. Or the illegal settlement will illegally pollute the neighboring village of Ein Yabrud.

And that, Rivkele, is how the corrupt system works.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Last Joke Before the “Nine Days”of Av

Tonight is the First Day of Av, which initiates a nine-day semi-mourning period that culminates in the Ninth of Av. During that period, merriment is not allowed. So here is my last joke before the period's onset.

A Jew walks into a bar with a parrot on his head

"What can I get for you?" asks the bartender.

The parrot says, "Awk! We are going to remove all the illegal outposts"

The bartender says, "Yeah, I know, you say that every time you come in here. But what can I get for you?"

The parrot says, "Awk! We are going to remove all the illegal outposts"

The bartender says, "Look you said that yesterday and the day before yesterday and the day before that. What can I get for you?"

The parrot says, "Awk! But this time we are going to remove all of them in one day."

The bartender bursts out in uncontrollable laughter, doubles over and drops dead.

The parrot looks down at the Jew and says, "Now can I have a gin and tonic?"

Yoel Marcus has a "scoop" in this morning's Haaretz that Ehud Barak has a plan to remove all the illegal outposts in one day. (Read about it here if you have nothing better to do, like staring at the ceiling.) There was a military exercise last week, apparently, along these lines. Meanwhile, the army admits that secrecy is going to be difficult, since many of the soldiers are either settlers or have relatives there. And now the settlement rabbi Dov Lior has permitted using the telephone on the Sabbath to warn people of the impending evacuations.

Since there is no way that the IDF can evacuate one or two outposts, much less thirty-two, and since these outposts are usually just extensions of the mother colonies, and since every time an outpost is evacuated it pops-up again, wouldn't it be better for the government to just say to the Americans, "We can't really do this." Well, it would if politicians were honest. But it seems that the real purpose of floating these trial balloons is to give some of the Israel-advocates ammunition to slow down the administration's push.

The real bosses of the West Bank, those who decide what outposts stay and what outposts go, are the Council of Settlements in Judaea and Samaria. I heard Pinhas Wallerstein on the radio a few minutes ago. He is not going to go gently into the dark night. He basically nixed the whole thing.

So does this mean that the story is what we call here "Israbluff"? Not necessarily. A huge operation, even if unsuccessful, would convince the Americans that Israel is trying to do its bit. That reminds me of all those times Arafat "clamped down" on Hamas to show the Americans that he was making a good faith effort to control terrorism. There is something commendable about the effort. But it can't succeed.

And maybe it shouldn't succeed. Yesterday an outpost was removed and settlers went on the rampage against Palestinians, burning olive trees and throwing rocks at the Palestinians and the IDF. The IDF's response was to close Palestinians roads "for their own protection".

The beauty of the demand to remove the outposts, like the demand to freeze settlements (or the demand of Arafat to clamp down on Hamas) is that it is unrealizable. You demand something that you know you cannot get. Then when Israel fails to meet that demand (because it can't) you use that as an opportunity to move in yourself.

I hope that is what is behind Obama's thinking.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rabbis for Human Rights Launch Gaza Website

After the initial IDF campaign to delegitimize the IDF soldier Gaza testimonies, some of the Israeli human rights groups are speaking out in support of the group behind the controversy, "Breaking the Silence." B'Tselem published its support here, pointing out that the soldiers testimonies were similar to the testimonies taken from Palestinians. Rabbis for Human Rights have launched a Hebrew website with testimonies and calling for an independent investigation. The latter is particularly well-done (yes, I am indeed jealous), and even if you don't read Hebrew you should look at it here

In the meantime, I tried to access the website that Stand With Us announced with such fanfare the other day, the soldiers' testimonies that said that the Gaza operation was all hunky-dory, etc. Only problem is that the website has been down for some time. When I accessed the site that was in my cache from the other day, I saw – lo and behold – most of the testimonies had nothing to do with Gaza! Some were three years old!

So this is my thinking: somebody in the Stand With Us organization got caught with his or her pants down when the BtS testimonies came out. They rushed to do damage control by putting up mostly old testimonies. Now their site is down while they are trying to get new testimonies.

Why didn't they ask me? I could have given them testimonies from soldiers who did not experience what the BtS soldier testimonies experienced. The vast majority of the soldiers serving in the IDF see no moral dilemmas arising, or if they do, they say that it is not of Israel's making. Just like the Vietnam Vets against the War inspired a counter-organization, so too Breaking the Silence. And what is wrong with hearing those guys' testimonies.

The problem with the loonies of the left and the right is that the former say that everything Israel does is wrong and the latter say that nothing Israel does is wrong. Now what serious person is going to believe that? That is what is so arresting about the BtS Soldiers Testimonies. Most of them don't just say that what the IDF is wrong; many of them see a certain complexity. But obviously, if these soldiers went to Breaking the Silence, they had something on their mind that they wanted to say.

And that's the main difference between the Breaking the Silence testimonies and the other group's testimonies (when they get their act together and post them.) The latter is a reaction to the former, but the former is a reaction of the Gaza Operation. People are asking why it took six months for BtS to publish testimonies. They should be asking why Soldiers Speak Out took six months and a few days ((whenever they get their act together))

It's not as if people didn't know about the IDF war crimes in real time.

Another day, another testimony. No testimonies on Shabbat, because no mourning is allowed.



In primary searches for weapons, we go in and then suddenly a guy opens a cupboard, sees china and begins to throw it all on the floor. There are such cases, people who did this sort of thing. it's the kind of guys who talk about having to really show it to the Arabs, that they have less of a regard for family belongings. Little things, but not as extreme as burning things or throwing stuff out the windows. Little things.


Did this stop?


It stopped and then began again. Writing on the walls.


What would be written there?


"How long yet?" or stuff about the platoon, or "We'll show those terrorists."


What causes this, do you think? After all, it wasn't just one soldier in every battalion.


Writing on walls doesn't stem from hating Arabs that much, but from the fact that you're a soldier – you write


But you're still inside someone's home.


That's right. You need to think about that in order not to do it. But you don't feel it. Take for example the house we were in – it was abandoned and you go about it as if you own it. You break floor tiles to make sand bags, you break stuff to prepare an outpost. it becomes. You don't think about this at all. You don't consider this a home of a family that will be back.


Did you use their belongings? Are there rules for entering such a house?


There's a general instruction not to touch the family's gear, not to sit on their sofas and so on. But one disregards this. You're in a house and you enter without a sleeping bag, at most you have a warmer shirt and neck warmer, and it's cold at night. So you use mattresses and blankets that are there.


Where do you think this all originates? You find it wrong to smash china, but you talked about people eager to do this, or to leave inscriptions on the walls. What do you think motivates this?


it's the heat of operation, as well as racism. Those who smashed stuff did it because it belonged to Arabs, as well as because of the general army atmosphere. You're in your own shit and writing on a wall doesn't seem so terrible to you. if I was the guy who came back to his own house and saw the wall with the writing, I would be a lot more upset about the fact that my whole orchard was gone. This was an operational need – to raze the area and prevent infiltration of Qassam launching crews. in the midst of all of this, the other stuff doesn't look that bad.



Was there a lot of destruction around? What was destroyed?


Mainly orchards. Houses – some were demolished by D-9s, like the part in (the film) Waltz with Bashir where the tank moves backwards and crashes into a house? Same thing happened to 'our' house with a D-9 bulldozer. It made a hole in the first floor, and you also saw results of the previous shelling.


The D-9s were working around the clock? Yes, nearly.


What did they raze?


First of all, the orchards. then houses too, nearby, to open routes, to prevent shelter in the whole immediate area of the house we were in. The D-9 clears a path for the heavy ApCs, a path that did not exist before. there were orchards and hothouses there once. next to our house, at the edge of the neighborhood,


The bulldozer created an earth mound so that when you came out, you couldn't be fired at from the distant houses. They actually kept changing the terrain.



Friday, July 17, 2009

The Breaking the Silence Testimonies Booklet is Available for Downloading

Breaking the Silence has posted the booklet of soldier testimonies in English here

Here is also the link

Do yourself a favor – go to any one of the websites that have comment sections, where the BtS testimonies are discussed, and just leave the link in the comment section. I have seen many people over the last day try to discredit the testimonies with arguments taken from the IDF's hysterical reactions – without having read the booklet.

You may not agree with the testimonies. But do yourself a favor and read them. If you want to read the testimonies that have been quickly engineered by the ultra right wing Stand With Israel organization, read them, too.

And look at some of the videos on the BtS site when you get a chance.

Today’s Breaking the Silence Testimony

I promised a testimony a day until Tisha B'Av. Today is about vandalism, not looting. There has been ample testimony of vandalism. I blogged about it in real time (see some of the posts on my Top Magnes Zionist posts). The only people who don't believe these testimonies are those in denial. These are the sort of people who would defend the IDF Spokesperson no matter what he says, and no matter how many time he changes the story.

Testimony 35 Vandalism

... He (one of the soldiers) was in the room. I was in the position, and looked through the window, sitting. He opened a child's bag. The family was not there, they had run away. He took out notebooks and text books and ripped them. One guy smashed cupboards for kicks, out of boredom. there were guys arguing with the platoon commander before we left the house a week later, over why he wouldn't let them smash the picture hanging there. they think he was being petty with them. It should be noted that the deputy company commander at the debriefing yelled at them that they're dealing with non essential issues and we've got a humanitarian issue here.

Do you recall anything else related to vandalism?

The deputy company commander's staff wrote "death to Arabs" on their wall.

You said earlier they wondered why they weren't being allowed to smash another picture, too.

This "too" is due to an atmosphere of... After getting out of there, i heard about the letter that reservists wrote (to the Palestinian family that lived in the house they occupied), saying they were sorry. i thought it was a different world, because of the atmosphere on the ground. i didn't regard this house either as a house that I should respect and leave neat behind me. For example, once I shat on the roof because i had nowhere else to do it. Leaving this house clean was just not the first thing on my mind. There was simply this atmosphere. But about stealing: the company commander, apparently under orders of the battalion commander, held a shame parade to check if stuff was stolen. How did he do it? He didn't tell the commanders to check each individual soldier. He said: "You (soldiers) pair up, everyone checks his mate for stuff taken. then you don't have to yell out if you find anything, just come to me discretely, or to the platoon commander and sort it out." Obviously either this company commander is a total idiot or he just didn't want such stuff to be found out.

So there was a shame parade where everyone checked his buddy?

It was bullshit. And I'm sure there was looting. I can't tell you anything more specific.


Shabbat Shalom



Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem – Against Haredim

Cooler heads have prevailed, and the Haredi mother who allegedly starved her youngest child, has been released from police detention and sent into "house arrest." Her arrest set off big Haredi riots against police, burning trash, smashing things, etc.

I tend to distrust news reports about Haredim the same way I distrust news reports about Palestinians; both are hated sectors in Israeli society (though the haredim that participate in the state are much more privileged.) The woman's cause has been taken up by the non-Zionist Edah Haredit (though not officially) and anti-Zionist Neturei Karta (a group that exists, in Israel, mostly on paper; I doubt that there are more than a couple of hundred "card-carrying" members. ) Some of the more active protesters have come from the Toledot Aharon hasidim; I can't remember which branch.

Why is this happening now? It is an interesting combination of many factors. First, there is the ultra-Haredi distrust of the secular state, its social service agencies, and its law enforcement; second, the omnipresent feelings of victimization; third, the resentment over the secular mayor's decision to keep a parking garage open on the Sabbath (and their subsequent failure to stop it); fourth, the failure over stopping the Gay Rights parade; fifth, the confidence that you can get away with rioting against Jewish police; sixth, the belief that the arrest is bogus because the child has cancer (denied by the hospital) and the mother was taking care of her child.

Oh, and seventh, it's vacation time for yeshiva bachurim, and it's hot outside. Those of us who have lived in Jerusalem for a long time and remember the Shabbat wars over the road to Ramot, Bar-Ilan street, the archeological digs, etc, will recall that protests of this sort are a summer activity.

Today's Haaretz editorialized against the municipality's decision not to collect trash from the Haredi neighborhoods. They called it "collective punishment," and they were right. Of course, with a ex-Kadimah mayor, collective punishment comes easy.

I have been hearing from my modern orthodox/religious Zionist friends, Haredi-bashers, that they are particularly offended that the anti-Zionist Neture Karta has been involved. I have heard more than one person saying, "Why do we let those guys stay here anyway? Let's ship them to Gaza or Iran, where they consort with the enemies of Israel." (Of course, it is a tradition in this country to kick out people who were living here before the Zionists came.)

But seriously, the whole episode raises questions about the level of "inter-vtribal" hate and intolerance. A liberal society cannot tolerate rioting, but a smart society can try to figure out how to negotiate so that it doesn't come to that. Being right doesn't mean being smart.

No more protests until…tomorrow, when the parking garage opens. Let's keep our fingers crossed that nothing else major happens until the 1st of Elul, when the vacation is over.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Now They’re Shooting at the Messenger-Shooters

When the message of Israeli war crimes in Gaza was delivered yesterday in the form of a 110-page booklet of IDF soldiers' testimonies, the knee-jerk response of the rightwing government and the IDF was to 'shoot the messenger', the IDF veterans group, Breaking the Silence. But now sensible folks are beginning to weigh in. Amos Harel, who has close knowledge and ties with the military, wrote a good piece this morning here.

A new wave of damning testimonies by Israel Defense Forces soldiers who took part in the recent fighting in Gaza has unleashed a knee-jerk reaction from the already sensitive Israeli public. (Leading the charge was Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who on Wednesday demanded that all criticism in military matters be directed at him, not the soldiers.)

The testimonies were released by "Breaking the Silence," an organization of former soldiers who use personal experiences to illustrate what they perceive to be the folly of Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories. Once again, the organization has been singled out for rebuke. …

The nay-sayers should simmer down. The men behind the testimonies are soldiers, that is certain. Three of them met with Haaretz, at the paper's request. While there is no definite way of vouching for the credibility of their reports, it is safe to say that they did fight in Gaza and that they provided enough authentic detail to prove that they are not imposters.

The refusal to disclose their identities, especially for those witnesses still completing their mandatory military service, stems from a fear of possible retribution, both from their commanders and from their peers.

Telling their stories to outside organizations, in particular the media, is seen as tattling. It was enough for these soldiers to hear from graduates of a pre-army prep course about the onslaught they faced after previous Cast Lead testimonies - vehemently denied in the Military Advocate General's subsequent report - to understand that their fears are not unfounded. It will be interesting to hear the full version of events once these soldiers are discharged.

On the flip side, Breaking the Silence, founded in 2004 by veterans of the second intifada, has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a "human rights organization." Any organization whose website includes the claim by members to expose the "corruption which permeates the military system" is not a neutral observer.

The organization has a clear agenda: to expose the consequences of IDF troops serving in the West Bank and Gaza. This seems more of interest to its members than seeking justice for specific injustices. The fact that the material was published just six months after the end of the conflict will diminish its impact in the eyes of a public supportive of their troops.

But this does not mean that the documented evidence, some of which was videotaped, is fabricated. It goes without saying, however, that the vague contextual descriptions hamper the possibility that the IDF could use such testimonies in a criminal investigation.

Harel is not a supporter of BtS, and he does not share BtS's skepticism that the IDF is incapable, in a long-term occupation, of acting as a professional army with moral standards. Well and good. But he knows better than to dismiss the testimonies as false, fabricated, or of no value.

And Nahman Shai, former IDF spokesperson and now a Kadima member has called for forming an independent commission which would include both internal and external investigators, to investigate the claims of Breaking the Silence. Such a committee would be able to examine the testimonies and determine their veracity. Read it here

It may be that Shai is just grandstanding, especially since he knows that neither the IDF nor the government will hearken to his call. (Opposition members of parliament do that all the time.) But the fact remains he criticized explicitly the IDF reaction to the report (I heard him on the radio – the IDF radio station – with Ilan Dayyan this morning, where he said that the report should be taken seriously.)

White Phosphorus Use In Gazan Inhabited Areas Confirmed by Israeli Soldiers

The illegal use of white phosophorus weapons by the IDF in Operation Cast Lead has now been confirmed in one of the soliders' testimonies, published yesterday. Of course, people have know about it for the last six months. But the lesson to be learned from the story is how the IDF uses a forbidden weapon and lies about it when discovered.

Let's recall the timeline here:

January 5. The Times of London reports use of white phosphorus by IDF.

January 6. IDF Spokesperson contacted by HRW first claims that its use is to mark targets, and then denies all use.

January 8. The Times publishes photographs of white phosphorus munitions.

January 13. IDF Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi tells a Knesset committee: "The IDF…does not use white phosphorus."

January 13. The IRC says that white phosphorus can be used to create a smokescreen or illuminate a target.

January 17. Mark Regev, Israeli government spokesperson, says that Israel has been cleared by the IRC. IRC denies this.

January 19. Ashkenazi announces IDF commision of inquiry to determine whether white phosophorus has been used.

April 22. "The probe, conducted by artillery officer Col. Shai Alkalai, revealed that white phosphorus weapons were used strictly in open fields and not in urban centers. The weapon was also not used against terrorists, but for marking and ranging when the forces targeted Kassam rocket cells operating in open areas. The IDF said it knew of only one case when white phosphorus was used for its burning capacity. That incident also took place in an open field, to burn away shrubbery and uncover tunnel openings" Jerusalem Post article, April 22.

And now, the soldier's testimony:

July 15: "... another case we had in our designated area was some house that according to intelligence information was said to be booby-trapped, that it contained a tunnel and the like. in other words, it was said to be highly dangerous. Troops did not enter it because it could be mined and if there were tunnels then there was the risk of soldiers being kidnapped etc. So several shells were fired at it and no explosions were heard on the scale that would have indicated that it did contain whatever it was suspected to contain. Then some order arrived to ignite it. The way to do that was to actually fire phosphorus shells from above. What the phosphorus does is to let out an umbrella of fire over the target and naturally that ignites the whole house. Finally we also saw all kinds of secondary blasts going, and two Qassam rockets flew out of there towards Israel, probably aimed and charged. There were lots of other things there and more secondary blasts, but that was the only time in our own area when phosphorus was used. But in this case there was definitely use of phosphorus ammunition." Soldier Testimony 42.

Now, some readers will dismiss this last testimony, along with the testimonies of the human rights organizations and the international media. My question to them is:

What would it take for you to believe that white phosphorus was used in inhabited areas, in cases where house demolition was considered to be a military necessity, and no other way had worked?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Shooting the Messenger

On a day when the Loonies of the Right (David Bernstein, Mark Regev, AIPAC) went after Human Rights Watch (for good rebuttals, see here and here and here), some of the same Loonies and others (like the NGOMonitor) went after Breaking the Silence for releasing the Soldier Testimonies from Gaza.

What were some of the criticisms? That the testimonies were not representative, that they were made anonymously, that some of the accusations were based on hearsay, and, finally, that if BtS had wanted to stop the practices, then it would have simply given the names, rank and serial numbers of each interviewee (including the ones who broke IDF policy by talking to BtS), to the IDF. And the most moral army in the world would have investigated each story.

All the above misses the point. BtS did not issue a human rights report. It issued a collection of testimonies. Are they representative? How the hell does anybody know? BtS certainly did not make that claim in the booklet. Did the interviewees include hearsay evidence? Of course, they did; they spoke honestly about what they knew, what they didn't knew, and what they heard. Clearly any intelligent reader will treat each claim with the respect and skepticism it deserves.

What the IDF apologists are doing is deliberately looking through the booklet and saying, "Ha! This is something that was not directly witnessed." They carefully omit anything that doesn't serve their cause.

That is the difference between them and BtS. I read the interviews, and the thing that struck me the most was – these were real soldiers talking about their experiences. Some of them defend what they did, and some of what they did was defensible. It's all in the booklet.

One of the testimonies, as I reported here yesterday, was about the use of white phosphorus. Remember, the IDF initially denied all use of white phosphorus. Then it retreated, when clear evidence was provided, to making two claims: a) all white phosphorus use was legal; b) any use that may not have been legal would be investigated.

Now, here is one testimony that nobody claims is "representative." We are not talking about defecating in the living room of Gazan houses. All you need is one soldier witnessing one use of white phosphorus in a inhabited area, and you have prima facie evidence of a serious war crime.

And this brings me to my final point. The little big brouhaha in Israel (actually, the big big brouhaha today was the haredim demonstrating in Jerusalem) was over BtS's going to the goyim outside Israel with its reports. If the ex-soldiers who head BtS were really interested in reforming the IDF, they would have gone to the IDF. Hence, all that interested them was blackening IDF's name.

Well, I am not a member of BtS, and I DO NOT SPEAK for the organization. But I do know something about its history.

BtS was founded about five years ago, during the Second Intifada. It started with a photo exhibition of IDF soldiers in Hebron. That exhibition made front page headlines. At one point, the IDF seized the pictures and said it would try the soldiers who had participated in illegal activities against the Hebronites. After the pictures were returned to the group by an embarrassed IDF, the group was invited to the Knesset to present the exhibition. They were invited to military preparatory programs to talk about their work. They were almost national heroes. And the group thought, naively, that things would change.

They didn't. The IDF's conduct only worsened.

I don't think that the IDF, under the present circumstances, can be seriously reformed. The problem is not with the IDF; it is with Israeli society that tolerates the IDF's "secrets and lies". The IDF will always find a way to make its war crimes kosher. They even have Asa Kasher as their in-house ethicist. Only when they are caught on tape do they change their story. On the other hand, I don't view the IDF folks as inherently evil. I think that they just don't get what it means for an army to act morally. As I said earlier today, if they simply dropped the "most moral army" claim, if they recognized the failings, that would be a first step. But they are in deep denial.

BtS's audience is the public and not even the entire public, but the moral public. Their real audience are the moral people, on the left and on the right, inside and outside Israel, who will begin the discussion about how to bring about change to Israeli society. That will not be easy.

Still, consider the following: the group collected more testimonies this time around than ever before. They may not have credibility with the Hasbarah types and the apologists for "the most moral army in the world."

But they clearly have credibility with a growing number of soldiers who were deeply troubled by what they witnessed and what they heard, including the IDF spokesperson's lies. (See Testimony 1). And these soldiers know that BtS will let them tell their story, in their words, and will present that story to Israel and to the world.



The Breaking the Silence Gaza Testimonies: The Use of “Johnnies” as Human Shields

Dear Readers:

In the Jewish calendar, we have entered a semi-mourning period known as the Three Weeks, between the 17th of Tammuz, when the wall of Jerusalem was breached the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, until the 9th of Av, the day of the destruction of the First Temple. I think it appropriate that during this period, I shall bring one testimony of the IDF soldiers a day.

The reaction of the IDF has been confused and angry to Breaking the Silence's booklet. Of course, they have attacked the messenger, rather than the message. But they have not spoken with one voice. For example, in Amos Harel's article in Haaretz this morning here, the reactions to the prohibited use of Palestinians as human shields by the Golani brigade were as follows:

    There were no human shields in Golani (I just heard this on the radio.)

    There may have been, but they actually volunteered so that their houses would not be destroyed.

    The officers were acting in what they thought were according to the spirit of the law.

    Some officers don't yet get the meaning of the prohibition of human shields.

In the case of the Palestinians who were given sledgehammers to break down the walls (see below), the IDF again said that the Palestinians volunteered to do it themselves, so as to minimize the damage.

Haaretz published a long artice in Hebrew with a video of the testimony here. Even if you don't know Hebrew, it is worth watching – and it sounds very authentic. (Note what follows is not a direct translation of what is on Haaretz)


It was the first week of the war, fighting was intense, there were explosive charges to expose, tunnels in open spaces and armed men inside houses. Combat was slow and basically a very small area was occupied. Every unit, every force had a small designated area of responsibility several dozen houses only, which they had to take over, and that took a whole week. That is combat and it took a whole week. They really moved slowly. Close in on each house. The method used has a new name now — no longer 'neighbor procedure.' Now people are called 'Johnnie.' They're Palestinian civilians, and they're called Johnnies and there were civilians there who stayed in spite of the flyers the army distributed before it went in. Most people did leave, but some civilians stayed to watch over the houses. Perhaps they had nowhere else to go. Later we saw people there who could not walk, some simply stayed to keep watch. To every house we close in on, we send the neighbor in, 'the Johnnie,' and if there are armed men inside, we start, like working the 'pressure cooker' in the West Bank.

Every unit is familiar with a different kind of 'pressure cooker' practice. What do you mean by it?

I'm not sure either about the 'pressure cooker' procedures there, they could be different. Essentially the point was to get them out alive, go in, to catch the armed men. There weren't many encounters. Just a few. In one case, our men tried to get them to come out, then they opened fire, fired some anti-tank missiles at the house and at some point brought in a D-9, bulldozer, and combat helicopters. There were three armed men inside. The helicopters fired anti-tank missiles and again the neighbor was sent in. At first he told them that nothing had happened to them yet, they were still in there. Again helicopters were summoned and fired, I don't know at what stage of escalation (in the use of force). The neighbor was sent in once again. He said that two were dead and one was still alive, so a D-9 was brought in and started demolishing the house over him until the neighbor went in, the last armed man came out and was caught and passed on to the Shabak... The commanders tell what they saw and make sure we know how things work on the inside. They also talked about things that bothered them. They said that civilians were used to a greater extent than just sending them into houses. For example, some of them were made to smash walls with 5 kilo sledgehammers. There was a wall around a yard where the force didn't want to use the gate, it needed an alternative opening for fear of booby-traps or any other device. So the "Johnnies" themselves were required to bang open another hole with a sledgehammer. Talking of such things, by the way, there was a story published by Amira Hass in Haaretz daily newspaper, about Jebalya where a guy tells exactly the same thing. It's the guy who was sent. I saw him afterwards, the guy who was made to go into that house three times. He also told us about being given sledgehammers to break walls.

So you say that, from your own experience, there's truth in these publications.

Yes. It was ludicrous to read it and then hear the response of the army spokesperson that the matter was investigated and there are no testimonies on the ground and that the Israeli army is a moral army. It raises doubts about the army spokesperson's responses in general when you know for a fact that these things actually did take place... Sometimes the force would enter while placing rifle barrels on a civilian's shoulder, advancing into a house and using him as a human shield. Commanders said these were the instructions and we had to do it... Anyway, at the concluding debriefing, he (the unit commander) said he didn't know about these things, and the guys, commanders who had been there the first week, said they saw civilians being assigned to break walls and enter with rifle barrels on their shoulders. He said he didn't know this and would look into it. I think nothing substantial had been done about it, I'm also in touch with one of the officers there at present and I don't know if an investigation was made and nothing was found or that nothing was cleared up. Several weeks later, the story came out in the paper about these exact incidents, where they were given sledgehammers to break walls, in our area, this I can say with certainty.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

IDF Veterans Group Publishes Soldiers' Testimonies of Israeli War Crimes From Gaza Operation (Part I)

I have just finished reading "Soldiers' Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead," Gaza 2009, a 110- page booklet that will be making news today and in the days to come. It is a remarkable, devastating document. Not because of any gruesome descriptions of atrocities. The testimonies are, thank God, relatively tame in that regard. And everything was reported in real time.

What makes the material so chilling is the dry and almost mundane description of the killing of innocents and destruction of property by Israeli soldiers who could be my sons and sons-in-law.

I will try to make the booklet available on this site as soon as I able.(There are certain copyright issues.) Videos of the testimonies will be posted on Youtube later in the week. Look for the article by Amos Harel in Haaretz here . The story has been picked up by BBC News, Reuters, Miami Herald, Financial Times, ABC Online. It should hit other US papers soon.

And the conclusions after a first reading?

1. Operation Cast Lead was a "war" in which only one side actually fought and fought with little restraint. From Day One IDF troops met with little or no resistance. The Kassam rocket fire continued, of course .But there was no engagement, so what do you about rules of engagement.

So here we come to the first conclusion: According to these testimonies the IDF soldiers did not generally adhere even to the IDF Rules of Engagement. When the IDF spokespeople say that they did, they are simply lying.

In testimony after testimony, we learn that in a situation where there are frequent (false) alarms about suicide bombers, and constant fear that a civilian can be wearing a bomb strapped to her waist (which has indeed happened in the past), and where no risk to our troops is tolerated, the policy was to shoot first and not ask questions later.

So in Testimonies 13 and 14, we learn of an old man who was wandering toward a house at night with a flashlight (torch). He was in clear view of many soldiers. Nobody called out to him to stop. Permission was requested from the commanding office to open "deterrent fire," i.e., to shoot around him, and permission denied by the commander. When already the old man was close, the snipers shot him down.

"Suddenly a burst of fire is heard from upstairs, making us all jump. The old man gave such a scream as I'll never forget as long as I Iive. The commander comes downstairs, glowing, "Here's an opener for tonight." He was asked why he wouldn't confirm deterrent fire. He said, "It's nighttime, and this is a terrorist."When we said we knew the guy had nothing on him and only holding a torch, he said, "That doesn't matter. It's nighttime," etc., etc. Later someone brought it up again with the company commander when we got out, and asked him again why he didn't approve of opening deterrent fire. After all, it had been a man walking on the road…I felt uneasy about the whole thing, but knew that it wouldn't do any good to bring it up right there and confront the company commander in the middle of Gaza. Guys told him that the man was an innocent and the we must remember that there are civilian population in there as well, not just terrorists…He didn't agree and couldn't give a damn, and finally the guys felt that even if they would take this up with higher echelons, it would be ineffective. So this is where matters stayed."

Next Conclusion:

2. White phosphorus was used against international conventions.

"We walked along the sand and saw all the white phosphorus bombs I've told you about, we saw glazing on the sand. In training you learn that white phosphorus is not used, and you're taught that it's not humane. You watch films and see what it does to people who are hit, and you say, "There, we're doing it too." That's not what I expected to see. Until that moment I had thought that I had belonged to the most humane army in the world. I knew that even in the West Bank, when we go into a neighborhood, we do it quietly so that people won't see us but also in order not to disturb them, no less. And IDF soldier does not shoot for the sake of shooting nor does he apply excessive force beyond the call of the mission he is to perform. We saw the planes flying out and you see from which building the rocket is launched against Israel and you see the four houses surrounding that building collapsing as soon as the air force bombs. I don't know if it was white phosphorus or not, and I don't really care that much, but whole neighborhoods were simply razed because four houses in the area served to launch Qassam rockets….."

"What the phosphorus does is to let out an umbrella of fire over the target and naturally that ignites the whole house. Finally we saw all kinds of secondary blasts going, and two Qassam rockets flew out of there towards Israel, probably aimed and charged…. "

Third Conclusion:

3. The devastation was enormous, on an unprecedented scale in the Israeli warfare.

This was fire-power such as I had never known [The soldier had served in Gaza for years-- JH]. I can't say that when I had been in Gaza the air force wasn't used. But…there were blasts all the time. Whether distant or near, that's already semantics. But our basic feeling was that the earth was constantly shaking…Look, when we were fired as, we did not actually see the enemy with our own eyes. On the other hand, we fired back towards suspect spots. What is a suspect spot? It means you decided that it was suspect and could take out all your rage on it.

Fourth Conclusion:

4. Vandalism was unreported

Leaving this house clean was just not the first thing on my mind. This was simply this atmosphere. But about stealing: the company commander, apparently under orders of the battalion commander, held a shame parade to check if stuff was stolen. How did he do it? He didn't tell the commanders to check each individual soldier. He said "You (soldiers) pair up, everyone checks his mate for stuff taken"… Obviously either this company commander is a total idiot of he just didn't want much stuff to be found out…It was bullshit. And I'm sure there was looting. I can't tell you anything more specific.

You go in with live fire after breaking in the door, the soldiers are looking to smash television and computer screens, looking for interesting stuff in drawers, Hamas shawls and flags, knives, looking for loot. After a while we realized that there was nothing to loot, as people knew we were coming and took their stuff away with them…Even if a soldier was found out to have taken something, what could be done with him, would he be charged? At the end of the day, I realized, when you go into battle, the only thing that keeps soldiers together is trust. You have to choose your battles. If you 'rat' on someone, you'll lose their trust. Sometimes it's just not worth it…The guys would simply break stuff. Some were out to destroy and trash the whole time. They drew a disgusting drawing on the wall. They threw out sofas. They took down a picture from the wall just to shatter it. They really couldn't see why they shouldn't.

5. Gazans were used as human shields, despite being outlawed by the Israel High Court

The method used has a new name – no longer 'neighbor procedure'. Now people are called 'Johnnie' They're Palestinian civilians, and they're called Johnnies and there were civilians there who stayed in spite of the flyers the army distributed before it went in. To every house we close in on, we send the neighbor in, 'the Johnnie,' and if there are armed men inside, we start working lik the 'pressure cooker' in the West Bank.

As I write these lines, I hear the following news on Israeli Radio. "The IDF claims that Breaking the Silence is publishing anonymous testimonies whose purpose is to defame Israel in the world. The IDF doesn't respond to anonymous testimonies." Of course, they realize that they aren't going to get soldiers to use their names, because they say that they will then prosecute them.

The purpose of the booklet is first and foremost for the IDF to stop the lies.

Some of my rightwing readers will say, "Jerry, come on. It's a war, and in war you do what you have to do." Fine – but let the IDF say that. Let them say, "Look, the hell with morality; our goal was to increase deterrence, to scare the hell out of them, to punish them for what they had done, and damn the rules of war." But they want it both ways – to act ruthless and to claim that they acted as the most moral army in the world

If this publication stops the ridiculous line that the IDF is the most humane army in the world, dayyenu/it is sufficient.

For starters, let it be the most honest army in the world – if not to others, than at least to itself.

On Exploding The Myth that the Israeli "Security Barrier" Prevents Terrorism

Ask any Israeli why there have been no suicide bombings in the last few years, and the answer will be clear – the "security barrier". When there wasn't a barrier, there were suicide bombings. Now there is a barrier, and they aren't.

That reasoning is a classic example of the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy. If A comes after B, then A is a result of B.

But are they right? And how can one tell? Well, if there were no other explanations for the drop in suicide bombing, then it would stand to reason that the barrier explains the drop.

But there are other explanations: increased and better military intelligence, a strategic decision of Hamas to enter the political arena, the crackdown by Fatah in the West Bank, etc., and the gradual dying down of the Second Intifada

So…how can one begin to assess the relative weight of the "security barrier" as a factor?

Let's look at one of the main centers of killings from 1995-2005: Jerusalem.

Since 2005, when the Israeli government approved most of the current security barrier route, there have been only two major incidents in Jerusalem with fatalities, neither of them suicide bombings. The first was the killing of the eight students of Mercaz Harav Yeshiva (March 6, 2008), and the second was the bulldozer killing on July 2, 2008. Eleven people killed. (The source of all statistic here is the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website here)

From 1995 to 2005, by contrast, over 250 people died in Jerusalem in over forty incidents with fatalities.

So there you have it…the "security barrier" works, right?

The only problem with the explanation is that there is no "security barrier" surrounding Jerusalem. The entire southern flank of the city is exposed. The whole "security barrier" project has been stuck for close to two years. South Jerusalem (where I live) and Gush Ezion are not protected by a "security barrier." And yet there have been no suicide bombings there.

Amos Harel has an important piece in today's Haaretz on the unfinished security barrier. (Read it here.) How unfinished? According to the article around 40%. The fence is bogged down because of legal difficulties, Israel's unwillingness to move the route to the Green Line except when forced by the High Court, and American's displeasure.

Of course, the original route of the "security barrier" was to have annexed effectively 20% of the West Bank to Harel. That was the beginning of the "Land Grab Wall," which the High Court struck down. Harel writes:

In practice, however, the route encompasses only 4.5 percent of West Bank land. The four "fingers" in the last map (and which Israel presented at Annapolis in November 2007) were never built, not at Ariel and Kedumim (where a "fingernail" was built, a short stretch of fence east of the homes of Ariel); not at Karnei Shomron and Immanuel; not at Beit Arieh, nor south of that, at Ma'aleh Adumim. Instead, with little publicity, fences were put up to close the gaps closer to the Green Line, at Alfei Menashe instead of at Kedumim, at Elkana instead of Ariel and in the Rantis area instead of at Beit Arieh.

About 50,000 people in these settlements remain beyond the fence. West of Ma'aleh Adumim the wall built along Highway 1 blocks the gap in the barrier and leaves the city's 35,000 residents outside of the barrier, forcing them to pass through a Border Police checkpoint in order to reach Jerusalem. The fact that the "fingers" were never built also damages these people's security because the state refuses to build periphery fences around them and declare their proximity to a "special military area."

In some cases, such as the roads built around the original barrier route at the Beit Arieh enclave, hundreds of millions of shekels were wasted on unused roads that may never be completed.

Large gaps remain in the southern West Bank. Between Gilo in south Jerusalem and Gush Etzion are tens of kilometers of barrier, work on which was suspended due to two High Court petitions - one filed by residents of Beit Jala, the other by villagers from Batir, Husan and Nahalin. As a result access to Jerusalem from the direction of Bethlehem is relatively easy - for commuters and terrorists both.

So where are all the suicide terrorists coming from the South? Are we supposed to believe that they get stopped on the way? By what? By the internal checkpoints that have been removed?

Israeli rightwing sources like to point to the statements of the Palestinian militant leadership that attribute the drop in suicide bombing to the security fence. You can read one such website here. Pardon me if I don't think that this is just self-serving bullshit by the Palestinian militants, who would like to pin the blame not on Israel's intelligence successes, and their difficulty to get volunteers, but on the "security barrier." It makes life easier for them and saves their credibility.

The "security barrier" makes suicide bombing difficult for them?

Don't they have a map of where the barrier hasn't been built, and probably won't be built?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mourning Amos Elon, Z”l

Last Shabbat I went to a memorial event for the journalist Amos Elon that was announced for Saturday Night, but began at 5 pm. In fact, the event ended almost an hour before Shabbat ended. The emcee began the program with "Good evening," although it was only 5, and the sun shone bright. Religious Jews add a "Shabbat addition" to their day of rest. Secular Jews – and I was one of two religious Jews out of 150 – start Saturday night early, apparently.

Perhaps the real reason why the program was announced as being held on Saturday night was so as not to get the host – the Mishkenot Sha'anim Conference Center – in trouble with the rabbinate, if they have a restaurant that has a kashrut certificate. Who knows?

Ten speakers, many of whom are heroes of the Zionist left, spoke. They included Amos Schocken, Publisher of Haaretz, the historian Idit Zertal, Shulamit Aloni (who, as his her wont, gave a long devar Torah, showing that there are still secularists who have heard of the book), Gideon Levy, B. Michael (the only speaker with a kippah, who had the crowd rolling in the aisles with an anecdote brilliantly told about Elon), Avishai Margalit, and others.

Most of the speakers, and most of the crowd, were over 65. The pain in their room was palpable – not so much over Elon's death, as over the death of an Israel that they had loved and fought for. Perhaps it never existed. They sang about peace, they marched for peace, and they saw their country sink into a perpetual moral morass that it will probably not emerge from, certainly in their lifetime. How many conflicts were resolved in the last fifty years? Perhaps Elon's choice, to live out his remaining years in a villa in Tuscany, was the only one left for these people of the old Zionist left. Their political party has crashed; The discourse in Israel is now not between left and right, but between right and righter.

Still, this was a convocation that remembered an extraordinary writer, perhaps the most famous explainer of Israel to the intelligentsia of the outside world. The mob had Abba Eban; the intellectuals had Amos Elon, whose Israelis, Founders and Sons is still worth reading.

Elon was a yekke, a German Jew. According to Margalit, he "hated" Eastern European Jews, old people, and the Orthodox. He belonged to that strand of German Jewry that produced Zionists like Buber, Simon, Weltsch; of course, he wrote the brilliant A German Requiem that chronicled the end of the German-Jewish culture. He also a generous patron of writers and authors that he admired.

Gideon Levy published his tribute from last Shabbat in Haaretz today. Read it here. He went to the Haaretz archives and read from some of his reportage. Here is one citation from Elon's pen, written in 1967, at a time when the country was gripped with nationalist hysteria:

"The political leadership continues to behave in the West Bank like someone who received a live crocodile for his birthday. It doesn't know where to put it - in the bathtub or the living room .... The time is coming when we will have to at least tell ourselves what we want and what we don't want: peace or new territories? The time has also come to make clear to ourselves what we expect from the defeated population, which will soon awaken from the psychological shock. What do we want, blind obeisance of hostile prisoners without choice, or sympathetic cooperation between free, war-weary people? They say that within six months there will be peace between the peoples of Palestine for the first time since 1918; or there could be a Vietcong movement in the large area between Jenin and Hebron. We stand now at a turning point. Temporary frameworks are giving way to permanent arrangements ... Israel has yet to clarify for itself what it wants. We have no plan. We're like a person who doesn't know where he wants to go on vacation but has already bought the plane tickets."

Does anybody even remember the Vietcong today? But here we are, forty-plus years later, and our nightmare continues. Elon predicted that at a time when the Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Goren, was asking the military brass to blow up the Mosque of Omar.

I never knew Elon, but I read with avidity his pieces in the New York Review of Books. May his memory be for a blessing -- but also,

May we learn from his and his generation's mistakes

Reading for the “Three Weeks” – How the Settlements Destroy the Soul of Israel

Veteran Haaretz reporter Amos Harel had a long article today about the settlements and their outposts. How appropriate that in this period of Jewish national mourning over the destruction of the Jerusalem and the Temple, we have articles like this one that chronicle the moral rot at the heart of Israel's settlement enterprise – an enterprise that manages to connect robbery, theft, and the destruction of lives under the name of ge'ulat karka, redeeming the land.

This is how Harel finishes the piece:

One of the most obvious things learned from every visit [to the Territories] is the extent to which things are done in a planned way, to this day. It is hard to miss the destroyed terraces in the settlement of Adam or the sight of the sewage flowing from Psagot, not far from the Binyamin regional council building, straight into the wadi that runs to the adjacent Palestinian town of El Bireh. But in those very same settlements live upstanding citizens, who would not cheat the grocer of 10 agorot and who would go out in the middle of the night to help a neighbor stuck on a dark road. In the outposts live scores of officers in the career army and the reserves, who serve in elite units and win citations for their courage. At the same time, according to the official state data, many of them have built their dream homes, a modest mobile home or a more luxurious villa, on land that has been stolen from someone else by force.

Much of Harel's piece is all-too familiar territory, but that does not make it less powerful. If you are a reader of this blog who cares about Israel and wants to see the settlement abomination stopped – do me a favor, and send this link, Harel's article, to members of your family.

If you care about Israel, Jews, or humanity, you will do all you can to stop the madness.

Here are some excerpts:

The outposts are a continuation of the settlements by other means. The sharp distinction Israel makes between them is artificial. Every outpost is established with a direct connection to a mother settlement, with the clear aim of expanding the takeover of the territory and ensuring an Israeli hold on a wider tract of land. Construction in the outposts is integrated into the overall plan of the settlement project and is carried out in parallel to the seizure of lands within and close to the settlements.

The outpost Migron is surrounded by a fence, guarded and connected to the necessary water and electricity infrastructures. Its "ascent to the land," even though it was done on private Palestinian property, and despite the fact that it was undertaken in a deceptive manner, has received backing and practical support from the state. The security establishment's declaration to the High Court of Justice this week that it would take more than a year to implement the compromise agreement, whereby the inhabitants of Migron would be moved to the adjacent settlement of Adam, shows that this backing is still in place.

The settler establishment's efforts are now aimed in other directions - building in the settlements and veteran outposts (often involving the smuggling in of parts of mobile homes, because the Civil Administration is now preventing the transport of such homes in their entirety) and taking over agricultural lands, some of which are privately owned by Palestinians. The advantage of the latter tactic is that maximum area is obtained with a tolerable monetary investment and a low profile is maintained. Dirt roads are being blazed, vineyards are being planted and the actual area of the settlements is growing, dunam by dunam.

Behind every settlement action there is a planning and thinking mind that has access to the state's database and maps, and help from sympathetic officers serving in key positions in the IDF and the Civil Administration. The story is not in the settlers' uncontrolled behavior, though there is evidence of this on some of the hilltops, but rather in conscious choices by the state to enforce very little of the law.

Palestinian lands have been swallowed up inside settlement fences, and their legal owners are being denied access to them. When the Civil Administration data on land ownership is superimposed by computer imaging onto aerial photographs of the settlements, a surprising picture emerges. Often, there are large enclaves. It is not at all difficult to identify them on the ground because in most cases private homes are not built on them. An inhabitant of a settlement is not going to want to risk having his home be on privately owned Palestinian land.

At the same time, veteran and well-established settlements are annexing, de facto, lands outside the fence. Thus, for example, vineyards have miraculously sprung up on lands owned by Palestinians around the settlement of Psagot.

Taking over the private property of someone who belongs to the neighboring people is a common phenomenon in the West Bank, even in recent years. We aren't talking here about things that happened back in 1948. It is possible, of course, to describe these moves as a necessary part of the life-and-death struggle between the two peoples, in the name of which nearly all means are justified.

It is also possible to call them old crimes that need to be dealt with, and the sooner the better. But the fact that Israel committed war crimes in 1948 and since, does not justify continuing the same crimes today. When a criminal is caught stealing a car, he can't reply that he has been stealing them for years and nobody called him on it. Is it wrong to steal somebody's land or not? That is the fundamental question. And if it is wrong, why are we still doing it?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Come On, Bibi: David Axelrod and Rahm Emmanuel Are “Self-Hating Jews”?

Has this story been denied yet? Here I am, sitting in the National Library, waiting for the 17th of Tammuz Fast to end, and this is what I read in Haaretz:

Netanyahu appears to be suffering from confusion and paranoia. He is convinced that the media are after him, that his aides are leaking information against him and that the American administration wants him out of office. Two months after his visit to Washington, he is still finding it difficult to communication normally with the White House. To appreciate the depth of his paranoia, it is enough to hear how he refers to Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama's senior aides: as "self-hating Jews."

"He thought that his speech at Bar-Ilan would become mandatory reading at schools in the United States, and when he realized that Obama gave no such order, he went back to being frustrated," one of his associates said.

"One of his associates"? With "associates" like that, who needs Haaretz?

The story, about Bibi's paranoia can be read here. It's by Barak Ravid, the guy I always pillory because he acts as a shofar for unnamed government sources, usually in the Foreign Ministry.

"It's not about you, Abba," as my kids say, but would it be churlish of me to remind my readers that I endorsed Bibi for Prime Minister way back in November? I knew that I would be reading stories like this one. I cannot think of a better political constellation for US-Israel relations than Obama in the White House and Bibi in the Dog House. (Well, maybe Jimmy Carter in the White House.)

As for Axelrod and Emmanuel, stick with it guys. Let's hope that years of "palling around" with Chicago terrorists and PLO apologists have done the trick. In the meantime, you have a long way to go before you get to the Self-Hating-Jew club. I'll let you know when you qualify.

(Must be the fast getting to me…. )


Monday, July 6, 2009

Kuznetsov: Everybody is a Racist – Only Russians Think it Legitimate to Express It

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Oscar Hammerstein, Jr.


An American Jewish lyricist – the greatest lyricist the musical theater has ever known – set Broadway ablaze with those lyrics in 1949. An America that had fought a bloody war with the "Japs," the "slant-eyes," the "yellowskins," had yet to come to grips with their home-grown racism against the "Negroes." The lyrics were timely then, and they are timely now.

No Israeli Jew could ever begin to write anything like that. The Israeli Jewish experience teaches the opposite. So much for being a light under the gentiles.

You see, although you've got be taught to hate and fear, it is a lesson easily learned. The harder lesson is how not to hate and fear. And that lesson has to be taught over and over again, in the schools, at home, in popular culture, and in houses of worship.

As an upper middle-class American Jew growing up in the sixties and the seventies, I learned the lesson of racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance, repeatedly. Only when I grew older did I learn that others were not so fortunate. I learned about the American bigots, the Jews who talked about schwartzes, the Protestants who talked about the Jews, the whites about blacks and the blacks about white.

Of course, when I became religious, I learned of Jewish ethnic stereotypes and prejudices that were supposed to be harmless. "Polish Jews can clean, but they can't cook." "Hungarian Jews can cook, but they can't clean. And they have garish chandeliers and slipcovers on the sofas." The Sephardim – the "Franks" (pronounced by Litvaks, 'Frenks') – they were one step above the Arabs. Kurdish Jews were a half a step. When my niece, a religious Zionist Jew wanted to marry another religious Zionist Jew, her father had a fit – the boy, from a good family, was a "Frenk". End of that relationship.

And let's not forget women, or goyim, spics, Arabs, or schwartzes.

Israelis of all persuasions are not warned in the schools about bigotry. Most won't get it in the homes. And it is certainly not in their ethnically-segregated culture. Secularists hate the religious; religious hate the secularists; left hates right, and right hates left. What brings secular and modern orthodox together is hatred of Arabs, and, occasionally, haredim. But the latter is mellowing.

And there ain't no "National Brotherhood Week," either.

Apparently, things are worse in the Former Soviet Union, a hotbed of ethnicities and nationalities. Most of the Russian Jews who made aliyah at the end of the last century – close to 20% of Israel's population, apparently -- were taught very well to hate. At least, they were not taught not to hate.

You see, racism is actually learned quite easily. It is the embarrassment about racism which is hard to acquire, and which is rare commodity in Israel.

All this brings me to the series of articles by Lili Galili that is appearing in Haaretz about the Russians. I pasted it below, but read it here. The Russians have already made a great contribution to Israeli society; they are educated and cultured. But bigotry and racism doesn't appear to be a grave sin in their eyes.

Where is the shame?

Why don't Russian-speaking Jews trust Obama?


By Lily Galili


In the past two weeks, in advance of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Russia, chapters of the Bible have become hot current events items in the Russian-language media in Israel. This is not necessarily a matter of an increasing link to the Jewish sources, but rather the use of verses found relevant to eroding the American president's legitimacy.

The Torah portion "Noah" has become particularly popular, and especially his son Ham. This Ham - whose name in Russian also means a very crude person - was punished in the Bible by having his skin turn black, with all his descendants doomed to be blacks destined for a life of slavery. Another very popular text lately is a verse from Proverbs: "Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up." The first of the heralds of evil, according to the verse, is "a slave who becomes king."

Each of these chapters is important in itself, but the real sparks are created by the connection between the two: Ham the black man who is doomed to eternal slavery and brings suffering to the world when a black slave becomes king - or in this case, ascends the throne of the presidency of the United States.

The large community of Russian-speaking Jews in America is not enthusiastic about the new president either. But here there is an interesting cultural difference. While Russian speakers in Israel proudly proclaim their rejection of political correctness, their colleagues in America have actually internalized what is politically correct. They are far less preoccupied with the color of the president's skin, and focus on his Muslim background. That is considered legitimate.

The curse of Ham and the White House

Last Thursday, at peak viewing hours, Channel 9, the Russian-language Israeli television channel, devoted its weekly tradition program to the story of Noah and his sons Shem, Ham and Yefet. It should be noted that in terms of halakha (Jewish law) ,"Noah" was not the weekly Torah reading that week: The choice to discuss it of all things was deliberate and designed to create a link to current events.

David Kun, one of the channel's important anchors, moderated the program; alongside him sat Rabbi Eliyahu Essas, journalist Alexander Wiesman and famous professors from the Russian-speaking community. The lengthy broadcast began with a series of doleful pictures of slavery, of the type seen at the time on the American TV series "Roots," which was about the history of black slavery. From here the discussion turned to Ham, Noah's son, who was punished by having his skin turn black. "A slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers," said Noah regarding Ham's son Canaan - a punishment for the fact that when Noah became drunk and was rolling around naked in his tent, Ham called his older brothers instead of covering his father's nakedness.

The question that preoccupied the members of the panel who gathered in the Channel 9 studio was whether the black man can overcome this curse; it was mentioned that the curse of Ham was never revoked in the Torah. The discussion also sled to the question of whether there is genetic slavery or only a slave mentality. To illustrate that mentality, they showed the picture in which President Obama is seen talking on the phone with the Israeli prime minister, with his feet on his desk.

Although the speakers were for the most part cautious in their replies, the contexts left a bitter aftertaste of racist provocation. Obama, they said, is a direct product of the trend of political correctness that began in the U.S. in the 1960s. For some reason that didn't sound like a compliment. The impression left by the program, in the final analysis, is a direct line ostensibly connecting Ham, Kunta Kinte of "Roots" and Barack Obama. Toward the end of the discussion one of the participants even mentioned that according to King Solomon, the world will experience major shocks when a slave becomes king, "exactly the situation at which we have arrived today."

Channel 9 is not the only Russian-language media outlet that used biblical metaphors for political purposes to bash Obama. Vesty, the leading Russian-language newspaper, which is published by Yedioth Ahronoth, headlined one article about Obama "Ibn Hussein," and published a long essay dealing with the issue of "a slave who becomes king." Its author, Dov Kontorer, one of the leading columnists writing in Russian, decided that the earth really will tremble under the man Obama, who even in king's clothing will remain a slave.

Haters, not racists

The verse "a slave who becomes king" has appeared recently in the right-wing media in Hebrew as well, which expresses legitimate political views of protest against Obama. But the Russian-language media in Israel differ in their vehement style and the use of racist declarations. "The next president of the U.S. will be a lesbian Hispanic woman," said Edward Kuznetsov, the first editor of Vesty, not necessarily joking. "We are all racists, only the Russians think it's legitimate to express that without the prohibitions of political correctness. Or, as we tend to say in a paraphrase on anti-Semitism, 'we aren't racists, we simply hate blacks.'"

From her professional experience his wife, Larissa Gerstein, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, knows that the Russian-speaking community in America has internalized the rules of political correctness. Every week Gerstein conducts two hours of conversations with listeners to Radio Davidson in Russian. The broadcasts cater to a public of about 600,000 Russian speakers on the East Coast.

In the conversations, which are conducted from her home in Israel, Obama is the main subject. Not necessarily because of his skin color but because of his Islamic roots. "They curse him from morning to night," says Gerstein recalling the conversations. "It is clear to the Russians that what's important is the religion into which you were born, rather than the formal religion you have adopted. That's how it was in Soviet Russia, and that's the ingrained viewpoint. The listeners naturally speak about Hussein Obama, and the rest is clear."

In America the Russian romance with Obama died out even before it started. While about 80 percent of American Jews voted for the Democratic candidate, about 80-85 percent of the Russian-speaking Jews there voted for Republican John McCain. Now there are only signs of a further deterioration in relations - Gerstein says that many listeners attribute to Obama and his Jewish staff a conspiracy to destroy Israel.

Similar sentiments are heard from Avigdor Eskin, who speaks from Jerusalem with Russian speakers in Chicago. Eskin, who long ago returned to religion and has changed his political orientation as well, enlists the Jewish sources to analyze the situation that has been created: "A Pharaoh has arrived who does not remember Joseph," he says of Obama.

From things that have been written in Russian in America, what emerges mainly is fear of Obama the Muslim. If in Israel they are afraid that Obama's administration will undermine the special relationship with Israel, the Russian-speaking Jews in America express open fear that Obama will turn into what they call "a catalyst for a new wave of anti-Semitism." Because of Islam, because of his policy.

In advance of Obama's visit to Russia, large "babushkas" have been distributed all over Moscow: One of them bears the faces of Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, others bear those of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and former U.S. president George W. Bush. Beneath the pictures of Putin and Bush, which were published on the Internet, a Russian talkbacker who identified himself as a Jew wrote: "A dream that will not return."

Channel 9 responds

In response to a question regarding the nature of its program, Channel 9 said: "We emphasize that the moderator only asked a question regarding the validity of the curse of Ham, and did not establish any facts. The purpose of the tradition programs is to explain the viewpoint of Jewish tradition on current events of all kinds. On the program under discussion we tried to clarify whether according to Jewish tradition there could be prejudice against Obama because of the fact that he is the first black president."