Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How the Occupation Works, No. 35498

Yesterday the High Court ruled that Highway 443 has to be open to Palestinians. Read about it here and here.

I have written about Highway 443 before. This is the highway that connects Jerusalem through Modiin to the Ben-Shemen Interchange and the Jerusalem-Tel-Aviv road. It is built on expropriated Palestinian land, and Palestinians are not allowed to use it. Some people call it the most famous "apartheid road", but that's an insult to apartheid. I prefer the Hebrew term "hafradah," separation, which speaks of the complete separation of Israelis from Palestinians, unlike apartheid, which separated them in certain spaces.

Why haven't the Israelis let the Palestinians use the road? Oh, they will tell you that the reason is security, and there have been attacks on Israeli vehicles. After all, steal land, keep people under occupation, and, surprise, the neighbors get restless. Of course, if the issue were security, then security measures would be taken so that people of all sorts use the road. But it has never really been about security, has it, I mean, the Zionist enterprise. It has always been about control of the land.

So this is how it works: To expropriate land for a road, you need a reason that shows that the expropriation will be to the general benefit of the people whose property is being used. So you go to the court and say that those people will use the road. Then you build the road and – always for reasons of security – you deny those people the right to use the road. In the case of Highway 443, you actually make it almost impossible for people's villages to connect to the road, or to villages on the other side of the road. And all in the name of the convenience of the new road – for the Occupiers. Modiin is within the 47 armistice line, but settlements in the Modiin Illit block are not. The road, in any event, goes over the armistice line.

Yesterday, the High Court ruled that the Highway has to be opened to Palestinians in a few months. That is a good decision, but trust me, it will not be implemented. The Court's decisions are routinely ignored or circumvented, either through legislation, military decision, or whatever. And that is how the system of occupation works. The Court's decision will be trumpeted by liberal hawks like Alan Dershowitz to show the world what a grand judiciary system Israel has; on the ground, it will mean nothing.

This is not to say that the effort to open the road is wasted. On the contrary, a great Yasher Koah/congratulations to those NGOSs that brought the case to the High Court. Their actions may not effect change now, but at least some Israelis and Palestinians will be able to tell their children and grandchildren that in the dark night of injustice they lit some candles.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Never Again

Many groups are observing the one-year anniversary of the Gaza "Cast Lead" campaign, which is part of the many-year war against Gaza, with no end in sight. Gaza remains under a cruel and barbaric siege. Of the commemorative articles I have read, this piece, written by Israeli lawyer activist Michael Sfard, and translated by the indefatigable Sol Salbe, captures what I think. For all the bad things that Israel had done, and continues to do, the Gaza campaign was different. Last year, as the campaign raged, Richard Silverstein and I circulated among Jews a petition condemning the Israeli conduct of the war, based entirely on press reports. Since then, those press reports have been confirmed by human rights agencies, and most recently, by the Goldstone mission. Israelis, of course, reject these reports as biased, as examples of "lawfare".

For the average Israeli, none of the Gazans human rights were violated, primarily because in order for that to happen, the Gazans would have to be human.

Last year, in playwright Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children, characters debated what to tell a child who is asking about pictures of dead Gazan babies she sees on the television.

Tell her, tell her about the army, tell her to be proud of the army. Tell her about the family of dead girls, tell her their names why not, tell her the whole world knows why shouldn't she know? tell her there's dead babies, did she see babies? tell her she's got nothing to be ashamed of. Tell her they did it to themselves. Tell her they want their children killed to make people sorry for them, tell her I'm not sorry for them, tell her not to be sorry for them, tell her we're the ones to be sorry for, tell her they can't talk suffering to us. Tell her we're the iron fist now, tell her it's the fog of war, tell her we won't stop killing them till we're safe, tell her I laughed when I saw the dead policemen, tell her they're animals living in rubble now, tell her I wouldn't care if we wiped them out, the world would hate us is the only thing, tell her I don't care if the world hates us, tell her we're better haters, tell her we're chosen people, tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? tell her all I feel is happy it's not her.

Don't tell her that.

Churchill's play was condemned as anti-Semitic. Frankly, I think it gave the Israelis more credit than they deserved. Because it assumed that children knew about what was transpiring in Gaza, that they would ask their parents what was going on, that their parents would be faced with the question of what to explain to them. Well, I was here during the Gaza campaign, and my unprofessional impression is that nobody asked questions, because nobody paid attention, because nobody gave a shit. I mean nobody gave a shit. If life could go on as normal in the rest of the country when Jews were in shelters in Sderot, or when the north was being rocketed during the Second Lebanese war, how many people could care about babies being blown up, even if they knew about it.

Truth cast in lead

Michael Sfard

Cast Lead was our second war of independence. In the first, we liberated ourselves from two thousand years of living under the control of others. In the second, we liberated ourselves from the ropes of Jewish heritage and morality that have been binding us for years.

A year has passed, just a year, but we can already tell that this one was different. This was not another "Rainbow", "Summer Rain" or "Days of Penitence" – the Israeli Defense Force's operations in recent years in Gaza. Perhaps the officer in charge of the code names has been replaced, or maybe we ran out of pastoral names. But at any rate, our last ferocious attack on Gaza was given a label that carried a violent connotation: "Cast Lead". In retrospect, that operation marks a crucial turning point in the Israeli society's value system.

There, in that besieged strip of land, we revealed the crystal-clear truth to ourselves, unadorned and free of shame. We once escaped the truth by sweeping it under the carpet. We employed self-deception which got more sophisticated from war to war and from military operation to military operation. But, like the man who has dropped political correctness and furiously sends his wife to the kitchen, we too have come out of the closet. This is what we are – and we are proud of it!

During Cast Lead we rained bombs for three weeks on one of the most densely populated civilian regions in the world. We pointed our weapons at clear-cut civilian targets, we made use of phosphorus, we deliberately and systematically destroyed thousands of homes and public buildings. We did it all while maintaining a tight siege that prevented civilians from escaping from the combat zone.

We did not set up temporary refugee camps for civilians. We did not arrange for a humanitarian evacuation corridor. We did not spare the hospitals, the food storage warehouses or even the UN welfare organizations. We did not express any sham regret. We did not claim that these were tragic mistakes and we even avoided taking the wounded children to hospitals in Israel.

The outcome is frightening: about 1400 killed, more than half of whom did not take part in the fighting and among whom there were 320 children and 120 women (B'Tselem figures) In three weeks we killed more Palestinians than in the whole of the first Intifada and all the violent incidents in the Occupied Territories till the beginning of the second Intifada combined, that is from 1987 to 2000.

The denizens of Gaza, whom we imprisoned earlier in a corral set up for them, discovered that the wardens had set fire to the jail and thrown the key out of the window. We did not pretend to hold ourselves up to the standards we believe in; nor did we pay lip service to them.

Government offices? No problem. They are officially legitimate targets for attack. So what if the people working there are civilians? What difference does it make that they are used to run civil life: transport, agriculture and welfare for 1.5 million human beings?

A collective liquidation of over a hundred police cadets in the middle of their graduation ceremony? Absolutely – they are Palestinians in uniform; that will do.

The firing of white phosphorus, which keeps on burning for days after it is discharged, on alleys where kids are playing? We have cast-iron stomachs; we can digest any poison easily. Our hearts are made of cold steel. We don't take pity on anyone.

Cast Lead was our second war of independence. In the first, we liberated ourselves from two thousand years of living under the control of others. In the second, we liberated ourselves from the ropes of Jewish heritage and morality that have been binding us for years. We no longer have to comply with the prohibition of killing the righteous with the wicked. We are exempted from remembering the lessons of being an occupied people without rights. The unavoidable insights of those who have been silenced have been erased and substituted with attitudes reserved for sub-humans.

In the past, we have transgressed some of the moral imperatives, but then we made sure not to reveal that to ourselves. On this occasion, we decided that the time for pretence was over. We have told enough lies to the world and ourselves. From now on we tell the truth: the Jewish state is of the opinion that the laws of war need amending in a way that reduces the risk to combatants, even if this means an increased risk to civilians. The Jewish state believes that in this new kind of war it is permitted, indeed necessary, to bombard power stations that provide electricity to hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is permitted to destroy the food-supply infrastructure and obliterate schools and mosques. And the Jewish state will not tolerate any criticism, either from within or from without.

The new freedom to act was also applied against Israeli oppositional voices. In an unprecedented move, the Israeli Police arrested hundreds of demonstrators against the war. The IDF spokesperson, an officer in uniform, orchestrated a campaign of vilification and delegitimization against organisations that dared criticise the military's activities. The Foreign Minster laboured to dry up such organisations' sources of finance. Moral decay devoured everyone: the commanders who ordered, the fighters who carried out the orders, the lawyers who certified it legal, the academics who kept mum and the press that fanned the flames of war and was so devoted to the IDF spokesperson that it became a unit in a brigade under his command.

These processes have a price. They lead to a loss of faith in Israeli society's ability to find strength within itself to return to the values upon which it was created. They generate external pressure, international investigations, prosecutions abroad, boycotts and sanctions. All these now have a legal moral basis upon which to blossom. And we, who are so addicted the freedom of having a light finger on the trigger, do not even consider quitting the habit.

Translated by Sol Salbe. Hebrew original:,7340,L-3824763,00.html


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Garrison Keillor Goes After Christmas Songs Written by Jews and Unitarians

Garrison Keillor has written a screed called "Non Believers, Please Leave Christmas Alone." The man who has been likened to a contemporary Mark Twain has been trying for some time to get the "crotchety old geezer" thing down. In this piece he first blasts the Unitarians for changing the lyrics of Silent Night to eliminate the idea that Jesus was God. Then he goes after

…all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

One wonders whether "the rest of that dreck" includes Irving Berlin's (né Izzy Bailin) "White Christmas". That's the most popular un-Christian Christmas song recorded, and, as far as I know, one of the most popular songs ever recorded.

Heck, it has even been recorded by…Garrison Keillor. Hope they are not "trashing up the malls" with his version.

But there is a serious point here, and as a Jew who was expected to sing Christian hymns at his Episcopalian prep school (I mouthed the words "Jesus Christ" without pronouncing the name), I think I can understand where Keillor is coming from.

Mr. Keillor, Christmas went American a long time ago. It was at a time when Christmas was ubiquitous -- including crèches on government property --, as American as apple-pie. Those were not easy days for what you call "non-believers" (I was once asked by a Christian fundamentalist whether I was a "believer," and I showed her my yarmulke and said, "Sure"). We felt really left out of the party. It was a helluva lot worse for us during Easter. But there were songwriters who did what songwriters do, and they wrote songs that would appeal to the mainstream, and, for better or worse, they are now as American as apple-pie. They allowed Americans, believers and non-believers, to participate in the festivities. That was one of the gifts of the secularization of Christmas. And I am not a fan of secularization.

Mr. Keillor, what do you think about "Jingle Bell Rock" which floods the malls every year, written by Bobby Helms, hardly a Jew. Are believing Christians allowed to write schlocky and commercial Christmas songs? Probably not. So why go after the religious identity of the songwriter? Just write against the songs, and keep the anti-Semitic slurs for your friends from Lake Wobegon who share your views

Garrison Keillor can decry the secularization of Christmas – keep Christmas for the Christians -- and I will be partly sympathetic to him. I am an orthodox Jew now, and I don't like what has happened to Jewish holidays like Hannukah either.

But he will have to first take back the American Christmas from the "non-believers." And this orthodox Jew will sure as hell fight him over it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sheikh Jarrah Protest

Update at 3:20 pm, Jerusalem. Sources inform me that thirty have been arrested so far.

I haven't posted a long time because of professional and familial obligations (a.k.a. end-of-semester crunch, followed by travel back home to Israel). But I couldn't go long without some short takes before Shabbat. So here they are:

Sheikh Jarrah. Please forward to anybody you know the following letter from Dr. Amos Goldberg and Prof. David Shulman concerning the ongoing brutality of the "settlers" in the Sheikh Jarrah houses. As you recall, these are houses owned by Palestinians, who have been evicted twice by the Israelis, once from their homes in West Jerusalem and now from their homes in East Jerusalem – in order to make way for hoolingans with tzizis.

Dear friends,

    As many of you know from our recent reports, rather terrible things are happening in Jerusalem. The Israeli government is pursuing a policy of forcing Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem and handing over their properties to Jewish settlers. The guiding idea is to plant colonies of fanatical Jewish settlers in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods. Israeli courts have recently sanctioned such a move in Sheikh Jarrah, where three Palestinian families have now been evicted from their homes; another 28 homes are under a real threat. Needless to say, only Jews are allowed to reclaim property from before 1948 (in the case of Sheikh Jarrah, from Ottoman times, over a hundred years ago); Palestinians have no hope of reclaiming any of the hundreds of homes in West Jerusalem that once belonged to them.

[We recommend the following videos showing the evictions (activate by Ctrl + left click) including the excellent report by Reuters (the third below).]

Last Friday, December 11, the police violently broke up a peaceful, non-violent protest by Israeli and Palestinian activists and ordinary citizens against what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah. The police were exceptionally brutal, as described in some detail in our report. Twenty-four activists were arrested and held for 36 hours.

(See report in Haaretz

The police asked that several of them be remanded in custody until the end of the legal procedures against them (possibly a matter of weeks), and they also attempted to evict three international volunteers who had been arrested in Sheikh Jarrah. Fortunately, the court did not grant either of these requests, and all those arrested have now been released under various restraining conditions, including forbidding them to enter Sheikh Jarrah in the near future. Many will likely be charged, entirely falsely, with assaulting a policeman. We do not believe that any such charges will hold up in court—there is excellent video footage disproving them—but the ongoing harassment of key civil rights activists does exact a price.

To watch video footage from the demonstration (CTRL + left click) go to:

It is very clear that the government wishes to silence democratic protest against its policies of theft and eviction and that it is determined to use the considerable means at its disposal to achieve this goal. The only significant check on their power is pressure from abroad.

If you would like to help, please consider sending an email or fax (the latter is said to be more effective in winning attention) to one of the Israeli diplomatic representatives close to your place of residence (see list below) or to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Mr. Nir Barakat, ( Fax: 972-2-6296014) protesting Israel's policy in East Jerusalem. Even a note of a few short lines can make a difference. You might ask them: Why are discriminatory policies the norm in Jerusalem? Why are only Jews allowed to reclaim their pre-1948 property? Why is the right to protest being suppressed in Jerusalem? Is Israel still a democratic state?

In the past, such protest from abroad has been effective where all other measures failed.

For further information please write to:

Relevant websites:

Israeli Committee against House Demolitions


Rabbis for Human Rights

The Sheikh Jarrah website

With thanks to all of you for your support,

Dr. Amos Goldberg and Prof. David Shulman

Israeli diplomatic representatives:


fax: 43 1 47646555


fax: 61-2-62154555


fax: 1-613-5679878


fax: 1-416-9408555


fax: 1-514-9408555


fax: 33 1 40765555


fax: 49 30 89045309

Great Brittan

fax: 44-20-79579555



fax: 91-22-22824727

New Delhi

fax: 91-22-22824727


fax: 353-1-2309446


fax: 39-06-36198555


fax: 81-3-32640832


fax: 31-70-3760555


info@madrid.mfa.fov.ilfax: 34-91-7829555


fax: 46-8-52806555


fax: 41-31-3563555



fax: 1-202-3645607


fax: 1-305-9259455


fax: 1-404-4876555


fax: 1-312-2974855


fax: 1-617-5350255


fax: 1-215-5453986

fax: 1-713-6270149

San Francisco

fax: 1-415-8447555

Los Angeles

fax: 1-323-8525555

New York

fax: 1-212-4995515

For other embassies which are not listed here: