Thursday, January 27, 2011

When Settlers Kill Palestinians

This morning (EST) the news item came down that a settler had shot dead a Palestinian who had gone to work in his fields. By evening, the news item had changed: an Israeli police investigation, based on a security video and further questioning of the Palestinians who changed their story, found that the Palestinian was part of a group that had thrown rocks at the settler, who then shot back "in self-defense" after he first shot in the air. The settlers and the rightwing started to crow about how another "blood libel" had been disproved. See here

Perhaps. But let's change the story a bit. A settler is shot to death by a Palestinian gunman in Area A , which is under Palestinian sovereignty. Palestinian police investigating the event find that the settler had thrown rocks at the Palestinian, who defended himself and shot the settler – out of self-defense. Case is closed; the Palestinian shooter suffers no serious consequences.

Would the settler's family be satisfied that a proper investigation had been carried out? Would they accept the word of the Palestinian police that justice had been done?

Of course they wouldn't, and neither would the Israeli government. Because, as everybody knows, the Palestinian police have no jurisdiction over Israelis who are in Area A. Neither can they investigate, nor can Palestinian judges try Israelis. When a Palestinian kills an Israeli the Israeli security forces investigates and tries his case. When an Israeli kills a Palestinian, the Israeli police investigates and an Israeli court tries the case. In the above scenario, Israel would simply send it troops and apprehend or kill the wanted Palestinian.

That is the fundamental inequity in all these stories. Only one side has the power; only one side controls the narrative; only one side investigates, tries, convicts, and sentences the other. When Israelis are injured, they have at their disposal police, army, and other security forces. When Palestinians are injured they have at their disposal the same police, army, and security forces , i.e., the Israeli one.

Small wonder that Lt. Col. Omri Burberg, who was convicted for ordering a subordinate to shoot rubber bullets at a bound Palestinian protester in Ni'ilin, was "punished" today with the equivalent of a faint slap on the wrist, not even a potch on the tush. He will not be discharged from the army; he will not go to jail; he will not even be barred from promotion in the future (after a year or ).



US Urges Freedom and Democracy in Egypt – As Long as It is Good for Israel

"Is it good for the Jews?" has been asked by Jews whenever they learned of a significant event outside their neighborhood. In the last few decades the question has been transformed into, "Is it good for Israel?" It doesn't bother me so much when Israelis and their supporters ask the question. But when the United States government sees everything through the prism of "Is it good for Israel?" then you know that something is deeply askew.

In the last few days, Representative Ilana Ros-Lehtinen, who is not herself Israeli or Jewish, has objected to the US "paying one fifth of the bills for the UN's anti- Israel activities, including the UN Human Rights Council, a rogues' gallery dominated by human rights violators who use it to ignore real abuses and instead attack democratic Israel relentlessly." (from the Jerusalem Post) . In other words, if the UN does something Israel doesn't like, we stop payment.

But the most extraordinary statement came from State Department spokesperson, P. J. Crowley. In an interview with Shihab Rattansi, when questioned why the US doesn't take a stronger line with Mubarak, who is cracking down on protesters, Crowley says:

We respect what Egypt contributes to the region. It is a stabilizing force, it has made its own peace with Israel and is pursuing normal relations with Israel. We think that's important. We think that's a model the region should adopt, broadly speaking. At the same time we recognize that Egypt, Tunisia, other countries, do need to reform.

According to Crowley, Egypt's virtues seems to a) it is a stabilizing force and b) it's good for Israel.

So despite the fact that the US wants democracy and liberalism in the Arab world, it wants it if the Arabs elect governments congenial with its – oops, I mean, Israel's – interests.

There is a strong parallel between Washington's "tough talk" on Arab democracy and its "harsh criticism" of Israeli settlements. Clinton and Obama will make a few speeches, offer some carrots for change, but will never come down hard on its client states. Remember that the US gives 1.3 billion dollars of aid to Egypt and more billions of dollars of aid to Israel. They may not be happy with their respective governments, but they aren't going to unduly ruffle any feathers, even though the US taxpayers have a stake in the outcome. As long as the opposition in Egypt is Islamist the US may be able to get away with its double game.

But when the US supports protests in Iran and only gives lip service to the protests in in Egypt, even though both sets of protesters are protesting authoritarian regimes, the US earns itself the contempt of the protesters, and of the Arab world.

And of decent folks everywhere.

h/t to a few friends who follow these things more carefully that I do, especially Helena Cobban, who has an important analysis here

And an important interview with Egypt-expert Joel Beinin that explains US's interests in Egypt, see here

Monday, January 24, 2011

Abu Ala’s Generous Offer – and Tzipi Livni’s Refusal to Make a Counter-Offer

The leaks of the Palestine Papers, now being published by Al-Jazeera and the Guardian, are important on many levels and for many reasons. But after reading some of the documents, what strikes me most is the tone of condescension in the Israeli negotiators, up to Tzipi Livni – condescension, sarcasm, and the feeling of having all the time in the world. (Livni opens a meeting in which the Palestinians present their detailed proposal for Jerusalem by saying, "Based on what I have heard in the trilateral meeting with Condoleeza Rice, I believe that your offer will not be exciting.") Part of this may be to the inexperience of the Israeli negotiators, who have changed repeatedly since 2000 (well, not so repeatedly; there were virtually no negotiations when Sharon was Prime Minister.) On the Palestinian side you have men like Saeb Erekat and Ahmad Qurei, who have been involved with negotations with Israelis since the 1980's, at least. But most of it stems from the fact that Israel thinks it holds all the cards and knows that it is under no pressure to give an inch. Abu Ala' in effect gave Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert Yerushalayim on a silver platter. And according to these documents, anyway, the Israelis did not even make a counter-offer.

What also strikes me is the complete absence of Israeli give-and-take at all. In any serious negotiation, there is some sort of give-and-take that brings on an agreement. But in this negotiation, there is no Israeli give, partly because of the imbalance of power and partly because the two sides are not negotiating over the same thing. For the Israelis, Jerusalem and the surrounding settlements, as defined by Israel are not negotiable. Period. What they seem to be willing to negotiate is a handful of Arabs living within East Jerusalem having citizenship in the Palestinian state. But from a territorial view, what determines Israel's starting point is "facts on the ground". The only border Israel is willing to consider is the "border" that it has consistently moved over the last forty three years. The Palestinians, on the other hand, and like the rest of the world, still refer to the 1967 border. The Israeli negotiators consistently refuse to allow even negotiations on the basis of the pre-1967 border. It simply does not exist in their head. What the Israelis want to do is to be "creative", to have a "new approach," not to rely on any international law, to create a "soft language".

The same is true of the general negotiations over borders. In fact, the Israelis explicitly say that they don't want to think of this negotiation as a give and take. Here is an excerpt from 12 March, 2008, the first meeting on territory.

Udi Dekel:     We don't see the 1967 border as a reference, first because we don't even know exactly where the line is.

Saeb Arekat:      We have all the maps that were signed by you.

UD:     But that wasn't exactly the line on the ground.

SA:      If not the 1967 line, then what is your reference?

UD:     We said already, the situation on the ground.

SA:      The wall?

UD:     The security fence is not a border.  Unfortunately, it is needed for security.  Every week we intercept 3 to 4 suicide bombers.  As we've said before, the fence is not a border and can be moved like we did with Lebanon. [ Comment by Jerry: This standard Israeli line was belied by the government lawyers' testimony before the Supreme Court in the Bil'in case, where they said that Israel would indeed claim the area up to the fence in subsequent negotiations.].

Nizar Farsakh:      What is your frame of reference?

UD:     We're talking about blocs of settlements—not far in the West Bank, but close to the area we are talking about—are to be part of Israel. In Oslo we used the West Bank outline map.

DT:      It is the West Bank outline map, in which under our law Israeli military law is applied.

SA:      This is your law.  In our law, the line is 1967.

DT:      Based on which maps?  There is no…

SA:      This is the standard we've worked from, from Oslo to Taba… we are not going to discuss any other line.  If we're going to waste time this is something else.

UD:     This is your opinion, but not our opinion.  It is very difficult to locate the exact line of the situation that existed on 4 June 1967.  It's not the same line.  But for us, the baseline we use is the outline of the West Bank.  It may be close, but it's not the same line.  You mentioned the NML—you can't say this is "occupied".

SA:      It doesn't belong to you either.  The Jordan army was there at least in some places, but the Israeli army was not anywhere (in the NML).

UD:     This is our line. We have proof that the area was split and we consider it part of Israel

NF:      This was a gentlemen's agreement that was not signed whereby the farmers from each side cultivate up to the middle of the NML, but then a dispute erupted in 1964 whereby this arrangement was dismissed.

UD:     We do not agree.

NF:      OK, then we agree to disagree.

Khalid Elgindy:      There are two practical problems with your approach.  How can we start from realities on the ground when the situation on the ground keeps changing, even as we speak. Second, how can we identify which areas in Israel would be swapped in exchange for what is being taken in the West Bank if we don't have a reference line?

UD:     We are not speaking in the same dimension.  We are not speaking about "giving" and "taking"… we are taking about realities.  Our goal is to create a better situation for Palestinians, as well as for Israelis.


UD:     We didn't take anything from you.  No Palestinian state existed before.  When you say 1967, it's not something we can recognize. First, it's not a border.  Second, we don't know exactly where it is.  So we have to forget those things.  It doesn't help to talk about what we "take" or "give".  Also, percentages don't help.  But if we agree on a border then we can move forward

NF:      We're disagreeing over approach.  I still fail to see how this is so.  Yes, the exact 1967 line is hard to know but there are ways to deal with this. With Jordan you had that problem because of the vague definition of the boundary in Wadi Araba (where it said the middle of the wadi) and you split the difference between your interpretation and the Jordanian one.  We can deal with any discrepancies between your interpretation and ours.  But need some sort of starting point.

KE:      The entire international community does not accept Israeli sovereignty in any of the territory occupied in 1967. You are asking us to accept what the whole world is refusing to accept.  This is not logical.

UD:     The international community is not relevant here. We are not agreeing with them; we are agreeing with you on the border between us.  And there  wasn't a border.  All the maps we agreed upon are based on that line ["WB outline"].

KE:      But even your line is based on the 1967 line.  If we compare your line to 1967 line we'll find that it coincides everywhere except the Latrun NML and Jerusalem.  You mentioned UNSC Res. 242, which itself means the 1967 line.

UD:     You know the wording of 242 so… Maybe we can start by identifying differences between our West Bank outline and what you call 1967.

SA:      We have maps and you have maps, but if you want an international commission to judge where the line is, this is a waste of time.

UD:     We want to reach an agreement between us.  We don't need the international community to tell us what to do.

SA:      We cannot take the line you created.

UD:     It's not created, it is used in our agreements with you in Oslo.  It's based on this line ["WB outline"]

NF:      The Interim Agreement has no line. It just shows Areas A and B.

UD:     But the percentage of the areas are calculated according to that line.

NF:      That still does not mean that we accept that line.  [Jerry's Comment: In fact, the Israeli line could not have been accepted by the PA because that would have ipso facto meant reinquishing claims to East Jerusalem. So an Israeli line that was given status as an interim line, much to the detriment of the Palestinians, was now being claimed as the base line on which negotations for final borders would be made.] I can draw 100 different lines and still get the same areas; that is not a standard.

UD:     Let's check the line you have and what we have.  If it's 90% the same, we can work on the rest… 

SA:      but we used this line in Camp David and Taba, so why restart the discussion?

UD:     I'm trying to change the language between us, to create a soft language between us.  We don't want to fight over symbols; we'd like to create a new approach.  If we use symbols, it will be very difficult for you, and for us.  We'd like to have a new approach—not looking at maps signed by Moshe Dayan and Jordanians in the 1950s.

SA:      We also want to be creative and have an open mind to make an agreement acceptable.  But you cannot impose on me facts on the ground that you created and say this is the starting point.  These facts on the ground caused lots of problems for us.  We want to be creative


h/t to Matt Duss for pointing me to this document.

Friday, January 21, 2011

When Self-Abuse Becomes “Delegitimization”

In a recent, and soon to be much-quoted article in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha offer their typically dismal prognosis for an Israel-Palestine just peace. Their bottom line, literally, is "It won't get better anytime soon."

I agree with their analysis up to a point. But one point with which I don't agree is contained in the following paragraph:

In this setting, temptation has grown to increase international pressure on Israel and heighten its discomfort. If it is delegitimization Israelis fear, then it must be delegitimization that will make them budge. Faced with the prospect of isolation, Israel might be persuaded to end its occupation. But pressure is a double-edged sword requiring skillful handling, especially when exercised on a people convinced by the calamities of their own history of the inveterate hostility of much of the outside world. Those who wield it often only confirm in Israeli eyes how unreliable their avowed friendship was in the first place. One should not be surprised if the Israeli people, their sense of vulnerability enhanced, opt to hunker down rather than reach out.

This paragraph assumes that there is a tactic or a strategy to increase international pressure on Israel in order to move it towards what the "delegitimizers" view is a just peace. Or to put it bluntly, supporters of the Palestinians have not been able to achieve their goals through the armed struggle, or through appeal to international law, or the UN. Now is the time to move against Israel and isolate it through a campaign of "delegitimization". Malley and Agha point out is that this may actually have a reverse effect; the Israelis will hunker down and will be less amenable to concessions and to reach out.

This, I submit, is precisely the way Israel views "delegitimization," and I am surprised that Malley and Agha, hardly apologists for Israel, accept the Israeli (and pro-Israeli American) narrative at this point. For there is no such campaign.

Neither the human rights organizations inside and outside Israel, or for that matter, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel, seek to delegitimize it in order to make it more amenable to a just peace deal with the Palestinians. In fact, "peace" is generally absent from those organizations' vocabulary.

It's not about peace; it's certainly not about "delegitimization"; it's about calling attention to the bad behavior of a state and calling that state to conform its behavior to international norms. And such appeals happen all the time. Iran's human rights violations have elicited international criticism and even sanctions. The stated goals of this criticism and these sanctions have been to get Iran to behave as a state should behave. Similar international criticism has been made of Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia – the list is long. Were the point of the international criticism of Israel's human rights record to put pressure on Israel to make concessions, then that pressure would be expected to recede when progress is made on the peace front. But, again, it's not about peace; it's about sanctioning those states that misbehave and cause people under its control to suffer.

What the human rights NGOs do is publicize Israeli wrongdoing. They bring to the world's attention the deeds of the principal Israeli self-delegitimizers today: the Israeli Government, the Israeli Defense Forces, the Pro-Israeli lobby, the settlers, and everybody who is involved with the ongoing injustice against the Palestinians.

When these organizations shine a light on Israel's dirty secrets, the result in Israel is not the phenomenon of Israelis hunkering down. I assure Messrs Malley and Agha, the hunkerers will always hunker, light or no light. The result instead is to split Israeli society into three uneven groups: those who always think that "the goyyim (except the Christian Zionists) are against us" no matter what; those who think that the criticism is justified; and those who are forced for the first time to look at themselves in the world's mirror, and who do not know how to react – but who feel very, very uncomfortable about the situation.

To write otherwise about Israel is to sell Israeli society short. Israelis are hyper-sensitive to world criticism; they want and need the goyyim to love them; it is a validation of the Jewish state. When an Elvis Costello cancels his appearance in Tel Aviv, it makes front page news and is talked about for weeks. That, I think, is one of the virtues of Israeli society; it still cares about the world. And when the world treats it as a pariah state, it asks questions about itself – and debates about the wisdom of its policies.

Israel, for the first sixty three years of its existence, has made remarkable achievements as a society, but those achievements have often come at the expense of the Palestinians, even those who are Israeli citizens. Without the spotlight of the world on them, consecutive Israeli governments created a Jewish state on the destruction of Palestine, through forced land sales, destruction of villages, legal and foundational discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens. For the first twenty years after 1967 it did the same on the West Bank with more destructiveness and greater impunity. Even with two intifadas, the situation has gotten worse.

What is left for those who care about justice to do except to witness and to publicize? Justice may not be a value that trumps all other values, but it is a value that is in need of no other values for its own validation. I don't believe that the consequences for calling Israel to account will be as dire as Malley and Agha make it out to be; I think Israeli society is better than that. But until Israel learns that there is a price for its bad behavior, there is no hope for it to change it.

At the moment, what Israel calls "delegitimization" and what I call "publicizing Israel's self-abuse" is the only hope for teaching an errant state a lesson that it has yet to learn.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Two IDF’s

Here's an imaginary dialogue (well, not so imaginary…Yossi Gurvitz actually had some of it) between a serious reporter and the IDF Spokesperson's Office.

-- What, according to the IDF, caused the death of Jawahir Abu Rahmah from Bil'in?

-- The matter is still under investigation.

-- Wait a minute; today is January 20. Yesterday it was reported that the investigation was completed and that she died of poor medical treatment at a Ramallah hospital.

-- No, the investigation has not been completed yet.

-- So you deny that she died of an honour killing, leukemia, or atropine in big doses?

-- We are still investigating.

-- But all the media have reported these causes of death, based on IDF statements.

-- They are not coming out of this office.

-- But are IDF soldiers allowed to speak with the press?

-- With prior clearance.

-- When will the investigation be completed?


For further comment on the IDF contradictions, please read Noam Sheizaf's post here.

Yesterday, a reader left this comment on my post:

I want you to ask yourself honestly what the IDF should do in these situations. They could tell the truth and say, "We don't know, we're looking into it," but then by the time they reach their conclusions, the PR battle is lost (and you're well aware that the PR battle is very much a real part of the battle). Granted, it could be that this poor woman died from tear gas inhalation. It could also be that she's the next Muhammad al-Dura, Jenin, or number of civilian casualties during Cast Lead. The unfortunate reality is "bari ve-shema, bari adif" - the media will gravitate toward the firm story, and by the time the IDF achieves any sort of certainty, they've lost, even IF the story was entirely fabricated.

I kept in the mistaken references to Muhammad al-Dura (whose death by the IDF, initially admitted to by the IDF, has not been disproved), Jenin (where initial reports of a massacre, because men had been rounded up and detained elsewhere, were later denied by the Palestinian Authority), and the number of civilian casualties in Gaza (which is only disputed because of the question who constitutes a civilian), because these are the myths circulated by the hasbaritas in order to cast doubt on Palestinian credibility. But the point he raises is a telling one: what is the IDF to do in order to get out a counter-narrative?

The IDF's answer apparently is: talk out of different sides of their mouth. The IDF Spokesperson's office is the "good cop"; no comment until the investigation is completed. The IDF Central Command CO Avi Mizrahi is the "bad cop" – have " background conversations with willing bloggers and media in order to raise doubts and tell whoppers in an effort to create the illusion of "counter-narratives".

The good cop has deniability; the bad cop has no responsibility. It's a neat system.

If the real issue here is not the death of a woman by tear gas, but a PR battle, then it doesn't really matter what happened; what matters is how it makes the IDF look. Let's say that Abu Rahmah died of tear gas inhalation. For Israel to admit this would not only be a PR nightmare; it would involve having to make decisions at the operational level. So at all costs it is important to win the battle.

The difficulty is that when you are caught in a web of lies, the only people who take the IDF seriously are the hasbaritas , if indeed they take it seriously at all.

Perhaps the most deeply disturbed of the hasbaritas is Elder of Ziyon, who, following the lead of Fresnozionism, theorizes that Abu Rahmeh was treated with atropine (how do they know?) because she was suffering from "organophosphate poisoning", which was brought on by…the improper storage of banned pesticides in her home! Of course, there are contradictions between this "theory" and what Mizrahi leaked to the media (which EofZ mislabels, "the latest report") – Mizrahi said that she inhaled tear gas and was mistreated with atropine, whereas ElderofZiyon leaves the tear gas out of his "narrative," since he would be hard-pressed how to explain the tear-gas inhalation and the fertilizer poisoning at the same time – and at the time of the demonstration, where it was tweeted that she was taken to the hospital after inhaling tear gas.

But does any of this matter to ElderofZiyon and his ilk? They aren't there to report what seems reasonable; they are there to win the PR battle. So if it means lying, inventing, casting doubt – it doesn't matter.

If this and much worse is what is necessary to keep a Jewish state afloat – what moral person is prepared to support it? And how much self-delegitimization are Israel and its supporters willing to inflict?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

IDF Spokesperson: We Made It All Up …Don’t We Always?

Well, the IDF has now changed its story for the third time about the death of Jawahir Abu Rahmah. Here are the three, all right, four versions. (Five, if you count the one about asthma)

Version One: Abu Rahmah died of an honor killing. Not confirmed. She wasn't even at the demonstration. Reported by hasbaritas after an IDF "press conference." No tear-gas inhalation.

Version Two: Abu Rahmah died of leukemia. She wasn't even at the demonstration. No tear-gas inhalation

Version Three: Abu Rahmah died of health complications, coupled with poor treatment at the Palestinian hospital. She wasn't even at the demonstration. Certainly no tear-gas inhalation.

Version Four – the current one - Abu Rahmah died after inhaling tear gas and after being given the wrong treatment at a Ramallah hospital. She actually was close enough at the demonstration to inhale tear gas and be rushed to a hospital for it. Why? The IDF doesn't say. No other illness, no leukemia, no contributory conditions.

And the evidence for this all? Nada. Hearsay. Ye old crapola.

What the IDF did was gather the Palestinian testimony that was published in the Israeli press – much of it couldn't be denied – and then concocted its own version of the events based on undisclosed sources.

Nu, meila -- what will the old hasbarita, Elder of Ziyon, say – now that the IDF has contradicted itself and released a report based on unreleased testimony?

Apparently, the shame and pathetic nature of it have caught up with him. I doubt he will be endorsing the latest version. He has some shred of intelligence. In fact, isn't it interesting that he has let this one quietly go.

For those of you who missed it – compare what the IDF says now with the IDF initial statement, taken from Muqata:

IDF: We have reason to believe that the death 2 days ago was because of another reason than what the Palestinians are claiming (tear gas inhalation).

Facts: Abu Rahma's documented lab work is dated on Friday at 2:45 PM.
Her admission time to the ER in the same Ramallah hospital was 3:20 PM.

Hospital Lab work is usually done after you arrive at the hospital, not before you arrive.

There is no hospital ER admission report, no ER summary report, and no hospital records of this woman. [Jerry's comment: now the nonexistent hospital records demonstrate maltreatment]

The official PA Ramallah Hospital's death certificate for Abu Rahma states as the cause of death as follows (this is word for word):

Cause of death "Inhaling gas of an Israeli solider according to the family" [Jerry's comment:
Now it is claimed that they misdiagnosed the gas.]

That is the entire medical basis for the family's allegations.

We know this woman visited the same hospital 10 days ago and many other times in the past month. When we looked at the medication she was taking – it was for cancer. [Jerry's comment Well, look what dropped out of the final report]

We have never heard of anyone dying from inhaling tear gas (5 years of experience with this particular tear gas). There were hundreds of other rioters in the same open air location, in broad daylight and yet she was the only one "allegedly" affected by the gas. [Jerry's comment People are treated for tear gas every week at Bil'in, and CS tear gas has claimed lives]

Palestinians claim she has been participating in the riots for the past 5 years as her brother is the head leader of the weekly Bil'in riots. [Jerry's Comment: Palestinians did not claim she participated, only that she inhaled tear gas.]

However, there are no photos of this woman participating at this riot or ANY riot over the past 5 years, and these riots occur on a weekly basis and are heavily photographed and documented. [Jerry's comment Anybody at Bil'in knows that you can be outside your house and choking from tear gas.]

We always see photos of rioters – yet this time, no photos appeared of this woman.

We believe there are many unsolved questions – and our assumptions are:

1. Abu Rahma wasn't even at the riot [Jerry's comment: Now this is known to be false; she was in the vicinity of the demonstration, inhaled tear gas, and collapsed.)
2. Abu Rahma died at her home [Jerry's comment: Now we are supposed to believe that she died at the hospital.]
3. Abu Rahma was chronically ill [Jerry's comment…oh, it's not even worth commenting about."]

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jewish Self-Interest and Jewish Morality

Jeffrey Goldberg believes that the Jewish settlement in Sheikh Jarrah is "not necessarily" in the best Jewish self-interest. Why not? Because peace is important, and without a Palestinian East Jerusalem, there will be no Palestinian state, and hence, no possibility of peace. Israel will either cease to be a Jewish state (through the absorption of Arabs), or it will cease to be democratic. "It will not survive if it becomes a pariah state, and, in this unfortunate world in which we must exist, Israel is in danger of becoming an outcast among nations."

For Goldberg, the ultimate and overriding moral injunction is to preserve the state of Israel. All other considerations, if they obtain at all in this "unfortunate world in which we must exist," are secondary. If the Judaization of East Jerusalem conformed to Jewish self-interest – didn't Jewish self-interest dictate the Judaization of the Arab neighborhoods of West Jerusalem? -- Goldberg would apparently see no problem. After all, "Jerusalem is Judaism's holiest city" and "Jews have a right to live wherever they want in the Land of Israel". As for the Shepherd Hotel, "in and of itself, it is not a morally profound issue"

It was bought legally by Jewish buyers years ago; it did not house Palestinians, and it is associated with the former Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who was an actual bona fide Nazi, so its disappearance does not cause me sorrow. The world's focus on Sheikh Jarrah is, of course, disproportionate in the larger scheme of thing.

Goldberg does not say whether the removal of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah is a "morally profound" issue; perhaps, he thinks that it is.

What is wrong with all this? In the end, Goldberg opposes the de-Arabification of East Jerusalem. What difference does it make how he reasons? Isn't he getting enough flak from his rightwing readers for his liberal-hawkish Zionist perspective. Shouldn't I be giving him a break?

No, I shouldn't, for two reasons. First, Goldberg's account is factually incorrect and tendentious. Second, it lacks what is lacking in almost all the liberal hawkish/neocon writing on Israel: holding Israel to a reasonable moral standard besides that of the Mafia.

First, the facts: Goldberg surely cannot be unaware that almost all of the "sales" of Arab property to Jews in East Jerusalem are at best legally and morally questionable, and at worst, bogus. Some properties have either been purchased by the state, often with secret funding funneled through groups like Ateret Kohanim, with the express purpose of Judaizing East Jerusalem and ridding it of its Arab heritage. This has been described in numerous books and articles (see, for example, Separate and Unequal: The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem, pp. 216-218; the Ir Amim website should also be consulted.) Some of these sales have been judged bogus even by the Israeli Supreme Court. Most of the properties were transferred to Jewish owners on the basis of the Absentee Property Law of 1950, by which the state was allowed to take property of Arabs who left for, among other places, Jordan. In some cases, we have the absurd situation where property owners living in East Jerusalem, occupied by Jordan in 1948 and then by Israel in 1967, may have their title to ownership disputed because they "fled" to Jordan (i.e., East Jerusalem) in 1948. But even when this is not the case, the use of the Absentee Property Law is morally outrageous, even according to those liberal Zionists who justified its use in 1948. And how does the theft work? Settler groups try to find Arab homes whose owners are no longer there, have them registered with the custodian for absentee property, and then receive them from the government. This cooperation between settlers and government began in the late 80s and has continued ever since; since Nir Barkat was elected mayor of Jerusalem, it has become a national disgrace.

The Judaization of East Jerusalem is not the story of conventional real estate transactions in an open city; rather, it is the story of government-sponsored ethnic cleansing of occupied territory in an attempt to erase the historical and physical presence of Arabs in East Jerusalem – sixty-three years after the government did the same thing in the Arab neighborhoods of West Jerusalem.

Goldberg also must be aware that the Jewish ownership of both the Sheikh Jarrah properties and the Shepherd Hotel is disputed. In the former case, the owners have Ottoman documents that they claim show that the land was rented to, and not purchased by the Sephardic committee. But even if the Sephardic committee was the owner before 1948, it is morally outrageous to evict Arab families who were not allowed to return to their homes in W. Jerusalem, and who were sold these homes by the Jordanian authorities over forty years ago. They have now become refugees twice – both times because of the state of Israel not allowing them to return to their homes. If it is just to transfer the Sheikh Jarrah homes to rightwing Jewish extremists on the grounds that it was owned by Jews in 1948, why is it not just to transfer homes in Talbieh, Baka, and Katamon, to their original Arab owners? The injustice cries to high heaven, which is why leading intellectuals and people of conscience find their way to the weekly Sheikh Jarrah protests.

And what of the Shepherd Hotel? Because nobody actually turned Palestinian residents into the streets, and because over sixty years ago it was associated with the Mufti of Jerusalem, Goldberg finds nothing morally problematic in a secret purchase by an American Jewish gambling mogul in order to eliminate the Arab presence in Jerusalem, and then tearing it down to put up Jewish apartments. (When was the last time Jewish property was torn down in Jerusalem in order to build housing for Palestinian residents of the city? When was the last time that any such housing was built?) He doesn't care that the hotel is claimed by the descendants of El-Husseini family and was questionably transferred – without any documentation, apparently -- to the custodian for absentee property? He doesn't care that another landmark of Arab Jerusalem is deliberately erased. He doesn't care that the final word on justice in Occupied Jerusalem (maybe not "occupied" according to Goldberg, but according to the rest of the world) is given to the Supreme Court of the Occupier, which can only judge according to laws that favor Jewish claims. None of these moral outrages bother him – what interests him is only Jewish self-interest.

Jewish self-interest will no doubt allow Jewish tourists to sleep in the five star Palace Hotel now being renovated in West Jerusalem (after being seized by the Israelis in 1948), despite the fact that it was built and owned by the Mufti.

In Jerusalem, Palestinians have suffered undeniable injustices for over sixty years, beginning with their expulsion from their homes in 1948, the subsequent theft of property and annexation (unrecognized by the world to this day), and ending with the annexation and Judaization of East Jerusalem, a process that only has accelerated in recent years. None of this matters to Israel supporters, unless it reduces the chance for peace.

Is Israel's conduct in East Jerusalemt bad, or merely bad for peace?

It is indeed bad for peace, but more importantly, it is just bad..

That's called Jewish morality, or just morality.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Israeli Supreme Court as a Broken Reed for Israeli “Democracy”

In the Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz claimed that the Israeli Supreme Court "has played a far greater role in controlling the Israeli military than any other court in history has ever played in the conduct of military affairs, including the United States." Dershowitz provided what he considered to be examples of how the Supreme Court has bent over backwards to protect human rights, even during wartime situations. But these examples were refuted easily and effectively by Norman Finkelstein in Beyond Chutzpah. Finkelstein utilized the findings of Israeli human rights organizations, press reports, and books by Israeli scholars such as The Justice of Occupation by David Kretzmer. All these sources showed that at best, members of the Israeli Supreme Court have had some good intentions. But the court rarely protects the rights of various minorities, especially Palestinians, and when it does, it is routinely ignored by the IDF military (on torture, targeted assassination, and the use of human shields) and the government (the wall near Bil'in, evicting illegal Jewish squatters, etc.) While its rhetoric of rights gets it in trouble with chauvinistic center, it is smart enough to know how far it can go with the Israeli public – which is not very far.

One of the best op-eds on the subject appeared today in Haaretz by Meirav Michaeli. It is worth reprinting in its entirety for two reasons: first, it shows the impotence of a Supreme Court who (like Prof. Dershowitz), talks big and doesn't deliver; and second, because Haaretz itself was the subject of an attack today by – whom else – the ultranationalist from Russia, Yvette (Avigdor) Lieberman. Lieberman attacked not only the usual suspects on the left, the human rights NGO's, but also the Likud politicians who still believe in the Jabotinskian vision of a liberal democracy – and who oppose setting up a parliamentary committee to investigate human rights NGOS. See here

The true defenders of human rights in Israel are not the courts but the human rights NGOs – which is why they are being persecuted by the rightwing government and Knesset. The rightwingers know that they speak the truth – or at least they have never discovered anything to the contrary. So because they can't attack the credibility of the NGOs, they make a big show of going after their foreign funding. Oops, excuse me – it is not so much the foreign funding that bothers them (after all, who funds the rightwing human rights violators?) but the fact that they are funded, together with human rights groups in places like Egypt, Saudia, and Iran, by European governments.

And that offends Israelis. They don't mind acting like Egypt, Saudia and Iran. They just don't want to be on the same list with such countries.

Since there is no good reason for going after the human rights NGOs except chauvinistic pride, bad reasons had to be invented, such as the "transparency" of their funding. Of course these groups are completely transparent about their sources of funding – much more than the rightwing groups whose private donors receive tax exemptions for donations to settlements considered by the US to be illegal. Here's another reason -- foreign government funding can influence the public discourse in ways that serve the European Union's own interests, uh, like improving Israel's human rights record? Why is it that we don't hear the same criticism when the EU funds such NGOs in Egypt or Iran? Or when the West funded human rights groups in Iraq or the former Soviet Union? Some of my readers may remember when South America governments that repressed human rights spent tons of money trying to influence the political climate for them in Washington, DC.

Israel doesn't want to outlaw the human rights NGOs (well, some Israeli MKs do, but they are a minority.) So they figure that if they harass them, they will go away. That's not going to happen; as long as the NGOs have credibility in the world, then they will be successful. If Israel passes a law banning government funding for human rights NGOs – which is the situation in Egypt – the NGOs will find legal ways to circumvent the law – which is the situation in Egypt.

In the meantime, the grand Israeli campaign of Self-Deligitimation continues. And don't think that the broken reed of the Israeli Supreme Court will be able to stop Israel's downward slide.

Israel's racism has finally reached the High Court

The court uses strong language regarding the illegality of segregation. But, in the same breath, it enables those with power to maintain it almost unhindered.

By Merav Michaeli

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has threatened it will petition the High Court of Justice if the Knesset passes the bill that would subject applicants for residency in small communities to the discriminatory approval of admissions committees. The petition is not worth the trouble. The High Court will take a year or two to ponder the issue and then ask that a committee be established to look into how many communities use admissions committees, why people are rejected and whether the rejections were justified.

The committee will issue a report stating that admissions committees are indeed problematic, and the state cannot permit segregation and discrimination, except in cases when it is voluntary.

Then the High Court will rule specifically and unequivocally that discrimination and segregation are illegal unless someone desires such policies, in which case they should be allowed in accordance with the outlines of the committee report. So the policy will remain in place. While the High Court and the investigatory committee toil away, the admissions committees will flourish, large numbers of the public will be segregated from the "clean" population, allowing the latter group to dwell securely in communities that become increasingly similar in character to West Bank settlements. And "compatibility with social and cultural fabric" will become synonymous with voluntarism as a way of legitimizing the discrimination.

This scenario is not the product of my wild imagination. It is precisely what happened in the case of segregation of men and women on buses serving the ultra-Orthodox public, which ended last Thursday with an astonishing High Court ruling in which segregation and discrimination were condemned. "Have we returned to the days of Rosa Parks, the African-American woman who in 1955 brought about the end of racist segregation and discrimination in the buses of the United States?" the court asked. Strong words, indeed.

But, at the same time, the court left the back door open, and I am not simply speaking metaphorically. All the ultra-Orthodox women will continue to board the buses through the back door as they were conditioned to do, even through violence, over the course of the seven years that this scandalous segregation spread. During this period, the High Court of Justice weighed the issue. The investigative committee was appointed. It wrote its report. And the transportation minister pondered whether to accept its recommendations.

This approach has become customary with the court in recent years. It was true with the ruling on the appointment of a woman to the Turkel Committee investigating the Turkish flotilla incident. It was also true regarding the issue of fertility treatments for single women, and in the case of proper representation of Arabs in the Israel Lands Administration, etc. In its opinions, the court uses outstanding, strong, truly moving language regarding the illegality of segregation and equal rights. But, in the same breath, it enables those with power, the ones who are carrying out the oppression and discrimination, to continue to maintain it almost unhindered.

Two concurrent developments have brought the High Court to his point. First, it doesn't function in a vacuum. The expansion and penetration of discrimination, racism and segregation in Israeli politics and Israeli society reaches the court as well. It can be said that the dominant culture of the occupation, which has filtered down into various sectors in Israel for many years, is also filtering down to the High Court of Justice.

One can be more precise and say that the tools with which the High Court has for years legitimized the occupation now also serve its legitimization of serious injustices within Israel itself. Let's admit it. The approach involves verbose, enlightened condemnation regarding illegal acts and then giving them a legal seal of approval as a "necessary evil." This is what the High Court has done throughout the years of occupation. Aside from the issue of torture, which took the court 10 years to outlaw, everything has been legitimized: assassinations, home demolitions, sealing of homes, expulsion, expropriation, administrative detention, withholding of information and, of course, the separation fence.

The second development is part of the dangerous and fascist introversion of the Israeli political system in recent years, as expressed in attacks on the High Court. The fact that the court does not provide backing for the truly beautiful theories it expounds in its directives reflects how these attacks on the court have penetrated. If it is not afraid, the court is at least wary. That is the result of threats, legislative initiatives and ministerial acts of people like former justice minister Daniel Friedmann.

Our politicians should understand that through their dangerous acts, which corrupt and destroy anything good, they won't be able to rely on the court to save them and us from perdition.



Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saying Goodbye to the Wall – in Bil’in

American Jewish visitors to Israel have made a tradition of saying goodbye to the Western Wall. The custom was mocked by Meir Kahane, who was annoyed that so many Jews would willingly leave the Land of Israel for somewhere else. Zealots like him have been the exception rather than the rule in Jewish history. We have testimony of voluntary exodus from Biblical Times (2 ½ of the 12 tribes ended up on the other side of the Jordan; most of the Babylonian exiles did not come back) through the second Temple period, when most Jews lived outside of the Land of Israel, and even in the Middle Ages, when many pilgrims to the Land of Israel came, took in the sights, and left. Maimonides wrote in his code of Jewish law that it is better to live in the Land of Israel among idolaters than outside of it. He wrote those words after he had left the Land of Israel and had taken up residence in Fustat, Egypt.

Monday night I return to the US to teach the spring semester, so I said goodbye to the Wall. No, not the Kotel/Western Wall, I mean the Separation Barrier that Israel has built in order to separate Palestinian villages from their lands, so that Jewish settlements can expand, or in order to uproot Palestinians. Since the call went out this week for even more Israelis to get to Bil'in, where Jawahir Abu Rahmeh died last week from tear gas inhalation, I decided to make my leave-taking from the Wall there. (I could have walked 10 minutes from my home to the Haas Promenade in E. Talpiyot, from which one sees the Separation Barrier. Actually, there it is a wall, unlike the barrier in Bil'in, which is composed of two high security fences)

The real reason I went to Bil'in, aside from my natural desire to express solidarity with one of the longest-running protests on the West Bank, was to check out for myself the lay of the land. How was it that somebody like Jawahir Abu Rahmeh, who was not that close to the Security Barrier, but closer to the village – 500 meters -- somebody wrote, could be fatally hurt from CS tear gas?

I went in a bus chartered by the Sheikh Jarrah activists that left from the Liberty Bell Park (how appropriate) for the weekly demo that began at 12:30. On the bus, which was full, the leader asked how many people were going to Bil'in for the first time. Over half of the bus raised its hands. We drove on 443, the road that cuts through Palestinian lands, but on which no Palestinian can effectively drive, despite a High Court decision. After being let off by the side of the road, we walked to Beit Ur, where Arab minibuses picked us up to take us to Bil'in. Unfortunately, there was an IDF roadblock to ensure that no Israelis or internationals reach the demo. So the bus stopped before the roadblock, and we hiked for around 15-20 minutes on rocks of the terraced hills until we met up with the bus beyond the roadblock.

In Bil'in I was shown the fresh grave of Jawahir Abu Rahmeh by activist/blogger Joseph Dana, and then I entered the house of Abdullah Abu Rahmeh, still jailed in Israel despite his having served his year sentence for organizing non-violent demonstrations. Yes, non-violent – he was not charged with violence or inciting to violence; the fact that some people threw rocks was not at all a factor in his arrest and charges. That house serves as the headquarters of the Popular Committee in Bil'in. We heard in Hebrew a briefing on the history of the Security Barrier in Bil'in, how it was planned to separate the village from 50% of its agricultural land, how much of that land had been used by settlers for new real estate development, how the High Court had ordered the State to change the route over three years ago, how the Barrier's still had not been changed, how the High Court had not returned land to Bil'in where apartments had already been built, how they would still lose 30% of their land with the new route. We were also told how to react to the weapons used by the army, but, most important, we were told to stay away from the handful of young stone-throwers, and that the action was absolutely intended to be non-violent. (Although we were exhorted not to throw stones or engage in violence, there was no condemnation of the shabab who thrown stones. Indeed, who could condemn the ones I saw at Bil'in? Even if one disagreed with the tactic, it was mostly a symbolic gesture of defiance, and much less lethal than the tear gas fired against the protesters.) The IDF reported, according to Haaretz, two soldiers "slightly injured" by the rock throwers. Perhaps they were suffering from pre-existing conditions.

We then marched in protest through the village and towards the Separation Barrier. At Bil'in, there is a long road leading through agricultural lands to the Security Barrrier.

I am not sure, but it seems that the fence was less than a mile from the village. As the hundreds of protesters stretched along this road, the IDF took up positions on the other side of the fence. They then sprayed protesters who got near the fence with chemicals that stink but are not lethal. They stink up one's body and clothes for days and sometimes weeks. I was far away from the machines and the spray, but the wind blew the stench up the hill.

By the way, the spray was there to disperse people and had nothing to do with stone thowers; the stone throwers, I figure, constituted less than a tenth of a per cent of the crowd. Then, the IDF started firing tear gas canisters which, because of the wind, went up to where I was staying so I walked back with others until the effects wore off and then I went back. Those closer were whisked away by Red Crescent ambulances. Some of the time I spent on a little hill watching the action and chatting with Palestinian-American Ahmed Moor, who has been blogging about Palestine for Mondoweiss. At no time was I close enough to the action to be in danger, but, then again, I left the protest at 1:30, when it officially ended (of course, it continued for longer, but the bus was going back to Jerusalem). Things heated up a bit after I left.

Only after I returned did I learn that the IDF had operated much differently last week. They had taken up positions on the road much closer to the village in an attempt to keep demonstrators from getting with hundreds of meters of the Separation Barrier. If that was indeed the case, and the IDF fired huge amounts of canisters, then there would have been a large concentration of CS tear gas close to the village. Somebody could be 500 meters away from the Separation Barrier, where the shabab was trying to tear down parts, and could be choking from the tear gas. Even this week, when the IDF was very sensitive to the interest of the international community, and toned down its reaction, many people were treated for tear gas inhalation. I just shoved a wet rag in my mouth and stayed away.

By the way, there were hundreds of Israelis and internationals, and some of my fellow bloggers from the +972 webzine, including Yossi Gurvitz, Joseph Dana, Noam Sheizaf, and Yuval Ben Ami, were there.

The writer Bernard Avishai was also there – his first time, too. He looked at me after we both had traversed the terrain and said, "These protests aren't for people of our age."

What I would do to see Gary Rosenblatt, Jeffrey Goldberg, Peter Beinhart, Leon Wieseltier, Ron Kampeas, J. J. Goldberg, etc., at such protests against the Separation Barrier within the West Bank! It took me six years of protests, forty three years of occupation, and 30 years after my aliyah to get me to Bil'in. The next generation of Jews won't wait that long

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Abu Rahmeh Story

Until new evidence emerges, it is possible – and important – to summarize what can be reasonably believed about the death of Jawahir Abu Rahmeh at the Bil'in protest last Friday. It is always interesting for partisans (and my sympathies are clear) to attempt to step back and examine critically the evidence. Jawahir Abu Rahmeh's death is a personal and familial tragedy, but the reactions to it speak volumes about where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is heading.

For more details on the evidence, see two articles by Avi Issacharof (and one with Amos Harel) here and here. What follows is based, inter alia, on their (mostly) fair reporting.

There is no serious ground for disputing that Jawahir Abu Rahmeh was at the demonstration though not as an active participant. There is no serious ground for disputing that she inhaled tear gas and was affected by it. There is no serious ground for disputing that she died after her inhalation of tear gas, and that her death was related to that inhalation. What is clear to some and not clear to others is the nature of that relation. Amos Harel and Avi Issacharof argue in today's Haaretz that because nobody else died from tear gas at the demonstration, the tear gas could not have been a decisive factor in her death. This, of course, is fallacious reasoning. Every year millions of people suffer from the flu but only a tiny fraction of those die. It is rare for people to die from flu, but people do indeed die from flu, and not only those who have other medical conditions. (Coincidentally, Haaretz ran an article today about a 15-year old boy who died from the flu "who was not known to have prior conditions." Nobody questions the cause of his death because it is in nobody's interest to question it.) It is rare for people to die from tear gas inhalation, but people do die from it, and not only those with other medical conditions. As Paul Woodward pointed out yesterday on War in Context

The U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine warns that at a concentration of 2mg per cubic meter, CS gas "is immediately dangerous to life…" The Army advises, in the event of inhalation: "remove the victim to fresh air immediately; perform artificial respiration if breathing has stopped; keep the victim warm and at rest; seek medical attention immediately."

There is also no serious ground now for disputing that Ms. Abu Rahmeh had been suffering from water in her inner ear, dizzy spells, and problems of balance several days before the demonstration, that she had gone to doctors and taken tests, including a CT scan, which did not show anything out of the ordinary. Whether this in any way contributed to her death is not known now, nor will it be known, barring exhuming the body and performing an autopsy (even then?) But nobody in or out of the IDF has given any plausible hypothesis linking these symptoms to her death, even as a contributing factor. Until medical experts do so, why would anybody assume otherwise – unless that person had an agenda.

Haaretz and others (including myself) have misdescribed the competing views on the Abu Rahmeh story has a "conflict of narratives." At the moment, however, it is not clear what the Israeli counter-narrative is, besides "Abu Rahmeh did not die from the inhalation of tear gas." What we have here is one side with an account, and the other side skeptical of the account, without having any serious evidentiary basis for a counter-account. And only one side, the Israeli side, has had to backtrack repeatedly from early questions raised.

Had the IDF acted wisely, it would have announced that it was launching its own investigation and simply conceded that Abu Rahmeh died from the tear gas, expressed regret, and said that it saw no reason to switch to another method of crowd control because this was a rare occurrence. Instead, General Mizrahi tried to poke holes in the Palestinian account, convincing nobody but the hard-core rightwing bloggers and some Jewish supporters of Israel. As many of those holes have been subsequently filled, this heavy-handed tactic has backfired. Now the story is not whether tear gas is an acceptable method of crowd control, but rather whether the IDF is acting credibly (or rationally) in its move to put out fires. The Abu Rahmeh story is much bigger now than it would have been because of the IDF's heavy-handed attempt to turn it into a war of competing narratives.

The other side of the story is the complicity of the Israeli media in all this. With the exception of Haaretz media outlets have swallowed everything that Mizrahi and the conspiracy theorists have put forth. Not their finest hour; one could describe it better as a series of "Srak Srak" moments. (That's a reference to the conspiracy theorists who deny that Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzhak Rabin.)

Unfortunately, this is yet another case of the IDF shooting tear gas at itself.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Substantive Evidence Contradicts IDF Innuendoes on Abu Rahmeh Killing

Below is the most thorough answer to date to the IDF innuendoes (By the way, I said yesterday that they were circulated by the IDF Spokesperson's Office. I don't think there has been an official statement from the IDF, merely "background discussion" by "informed sources.")

As for the reliability of the witnesses, it has been proven time and time again that Palestinian witnesses are more reliable than the IDF, which is often backtracking and changing its story. Just two days ago there was a story of a Palestinian being shot dead because he was going to stab an Israeli. You can still find the headline on the web here. But click the link, and voila, the knife has been transformed into a broken bottler here. Hey, even a broken bottle can do damage, I suppose. Only it turns out that the bottle wasn't broken, as reported here. It turns out the guy was completely unarmed, and he happened to be carrying a bottle. What does the IDF say? "Oops. My bad; a few misunderstandings…"

An officer in the Central Command said the incident seemed to have been caused by "a combination of misunderstandings stemming from the Palestinian citizen's inexplicable behavior and the high state of alert of the soldiers" and that a thorough investigation was under way….

The newly appointed commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade, Col. Nohi Mandel, is investigating the incident, whose details are not yet clear. Some soldiers said Dragma had a knife on him, although it turned out to be a glass bottle. Dragma apparently does not belong to a terror group, nor did he suffer from a psychological disorder.

In other words, first you shoot (Who believes the army's claim that the rules of engagement were observed? What? No hands are raised?) and then you cross your fingers and hope for the best. In the meantime, the IDF tries to control the story by putting out information that it later retracts. We know that there are IDF soldiers testimonies of soldiers firing at unarmed civilians, and, occasionally, one or two are caught and given slaps on the wrist. These are routinedly denied by the IDF, unless they are caught on film, or a soldier goes to testify, etc. Who besides the dead man will know about the cover-up?

Anyway, the facts don't matter to the IDF, now that the "competing narratives" are out there. But for the record, here is the statement by Jonathan Pollak of the PCC of Bil'in.

Now you know why he was arrested for riding a bicycle in an "unlawful assembly."

Substantial evidence contradicts the army's version of the events surrounding the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah
The evidence surrounding the events leading to the death of Bil'in resident Jawaher Abu Rahmah disproves completely the army spokesperson's version, to the point of putting the army in a ridiculous light. The army's version is based on claims made anonymously, without any supporting evidence – unlike the version of the Abu Rahmah family and the Popular Coordinating Committee of Bil'in, which is detailed below.

For additional information: Jonathan Pollak 054-632-7736

Since yesterday, the army has been promoting in the Israeli media a mendacious version regarding the events that led to the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah of Bil'in on Friday, 31 December 2010. According to the army's version, Jawaher was not injured by tear gas and was possibly not even present at the demonstration. The army spokesperson did not see fit to publish an official statement on the matter, instead passing the information to the media in the name of anonymous "army sources."

The facts of the matter, which are supported by the testimony of eyewitness who were present at the demonstration, as well as by the ambulance driver who evacuated her to the hospital, contradict completely the army's version:

Soubhiya Abu Rahmah, mother of Jawaher: "I was standing beside Jawaher on the hill that is near the place where the demonstration took place, when we were injured by a cloud of tear gas. Jawaher began to feel unwell from inhaling the gas and started to move back from the place; soon after that she vomited and collapsed. We took her to the nearest road, and from there she was evacuated by ambulance to the hospital, where she remained until her death. She was not sick with cancer, nor did she have any other illness; and she was not asthmatic."

Ilham Fathi: I was on the roof of my house, which is located a few meters from where Jawaher stood. When the cloud of tear gas moved in our direction, I went downstairs in order to close the windows. While I was closing one of the windows, I saw her lose consciousness from the gas and ran over to her, together with Islam Abu Rahmah, in order to pull her away. We picked her up together and carried her to my garden. We called for help and she began to vomit and foam at the mouth. Phone: 059-5127887

Islam Abu Rahmah: "I was standing with Jawaher, her mother and my grandmother in order to watch the confrontation that was going on just in front of us, in the area of the fence. The wind moved the gas in our direction, making our eyes itch and tear up. After that she (Jawaher) began to cough and foam at the mouth. Soon after that she became weak and lay down on the ground. I succeeded in carrying her as far as the Abu Khamis home, about 40 meters in the direction of her house, but then she became terribly weak, vomited violently and foamed at the mouth. She was having difficult breathing and lost her sense of direction. We got a few women to help her by waving a paper fan over her face in order to provide some oxygen. After that she was taken to the hospital."

Saher Bisharat, the ambulance who evacuated Jawaher: "We received Jawaher near the entrance that is parallel to the fence, which is where the demonstration was taking place. She was still partially conscious, answered questions, and said that she had choked on gas. I took her straight to the hospital." (Click here to view the Red Crescent report). Phone: 059-9374348

The army has also claimed that the reports about Abu Rahmeh's injuries started to arrive only several hours after the incident, in the evening. That claim is contradicted by a tweet sent by the NGO Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), which reports the injury of Jawaher, including her name, in real time (click here to view). The tweet was sent at 2:36 pm (4:36 am on the West Coast of the United States). Wafa, the Palestinian news service, published a report that includes the injury of Jawaher Abu Rahmah shortly after the event (click here to view).

Also according to "army sources," which remain anonymous, Jawaher Abu Rahmah suffered from a serious illness, possibly leukemia; the "sources" postulate that she died from a pre-existing condition rather than tear gas inhalation. Several sources reject that claim.

Dr. Uday Abu Nahlah: "Jawaher Abu Rahmah was employed in my home on a regular basis. On Thursday she was at work as usual, healthy, only one day before her death." Phone: 059-9796827 (English and Arabic).

Jawaher had an inner ear infection, which affected her balance, for which she was recently given a CT scan. The radiologist who performed the CT scan, Dr. Hamis Al Sahfi'i, confirmed that the brain scan was normal (for the CT scan results click here). Jawaher had a minor health issue involving fluids in her inner ear. Her physicians insist that she did not suffer from any illness or from any symptoms that might, if combined with tear gas, lead to her death.

There is not, nor could there be, any indication that Abu Rahmah had cancer; in fact, she was in good health. The director of the hospital refutes the claim that she died from a pre-existing condition:

Mohammed Aida, director of the Ramallah health center where Abu Rahmah received her care: "Jawaher Abu Rahmah died from lung failure that was caused by tear gas inhalation, leading to a heart attack. She arrived at the hospital only partly conscious, and then lost consciousness completely." Click here for the hospital's official medical report.

Mohammed Khatib, a member of Bil'in's Popular Coordinating Committee: "The army is trying to evade its responsibility for Jawaher's death with lies and invented narratives that have no basis. They are spreading these lies and invented narratives via the media, which is not bothering to do basic fact checking. Our version is supported by named sources and with medical documents. In a properly functioning society, the army's version, which has been spread by anonymous sources, would not be considered worthy of publication."

Monday, January 3, 2011

More on How the IDF Spin Machine Works in the Abu Rahmeh Killing

A female protester dies at a Bil'in protest from tear gas inhalation. The IDF is not only faced with a public relations nightmare, but also with the real possibility that there will be pressure to change its mode of operations, and to use a less effective (from its standpoint) tear gas. There may even be pressure to conduct a military investigation, which the IDF certainly doesn't want. So the only thing that it can do is to attack the credibility of the woman's family and witnesses.

So this is how they do it:

With the willing help of a rightwing blogosphere, they start the rumor mill and run with the "multiple accounts" trick that is the mother's milk of conspiracy theorists and bloggers. Jawahir Abu Rahmah wasn't even at the demonstration, wrote a friend of the family in a facebook post, she was at home 500 meters away. Even if that were true so what? The gas goes everywhere, and it may be more lethal indoors. But how do we really know she even died from gas inhalation? Rumors start to fly that she was pregnant and that this was an honour killing. The IDF and the "responsible" rightwing blogosphere reports the libels as "unconfirmed" – but report them nonetheless.

And then, the insinuations begin…why won't the PA release the medical report? What is it trying to hide? (By the way, has the PA ever received a medical report from the IDF?)

But – aw, crap – the PA then releases the medical report! So now the task is to use the medical report to try to discredit the testimony. She had been treated with doses of antibiotics – maybe that means she had leukemia. Ergo, she had cancer. Ergo, she died of cancer (by a remarkable coincidence, at the very time of the protest. ) And no postmortem was conducted; only the family's word was taken for it. And the body was buried on the same day. What are the Pals trying to hide? Why can't they be like Jews, who rarely conduct postmortems and bury their dead a long time after death?

All this information is presented by the IDF twice – first as fact to a select group of rightwing bloggers who will lap up any vomit (sorry, it's a Biblical phrase) the IDF Spokesperson gives them. After all, there is a hasbara war. Then, as "questions" that the IDF will release late in the evening for the morning papers. The differences in formulation are striking. For the press they give one set of information; for the bloggers, another

Fortunately, one newspaper, Haaretz, after printing on its website Anshil Pfeffer's report of the IDF "questions" (with Michael Sfard's rebuttal) updates the article with good reporting by Avi Issacharoff. And surprise, surprise – it does turn out that Abu Rahmeh had a medical condition – she had water in her ear, balance problems, all associated with local infections, which explains the antibiotics in the medical record.To be on the safe side, a physician had her get a CT scan – the medical document appears in the print Haaretz -- and the scan is normal. She sees a physician in a Ramallah hospital who tells her not to worry, and to see him in a month.

According to a document obtained by Haaretz, Badwan prescribed a common remedy for dizziness and instructed her to bathe her ear in hot water. Samir said Badwan thought the problem was caused by water trapped in the middle ear, but nevertheless ordered a CT brain scan.

Physicians consulted for this article said Badwan probably suspected another condition.

After receiving normal results from the December 27 brain scan, Abu Rahmah saw Dr. Nasser al-Mualem at the Ramallah hospital, who according to Samir said her problem was common and told her to return in one month.

The medical documents seem to support Samir's claim that with the exception of the headaches and dizziness, his sister was in generally good health. None of the doctors consulted for this article could think of a condition or symptoms that could be fatal in the presence of tear gas.

Badwan – like my doctor, or any doctor – wanted to rule out something more serious, and so he acted like a good doctor and ordered a test. The test said things were ok. I hardly call that "suspecting another condition"; I call that "being on the safe side".

We now have a ridiculous account out there of a woman who was not at a demonstration dying of cancer (or being stabbed by her family), and then being whisked to a hospital, buried suddenly, with documents not released for (mirabile dictu) two days -- and trumpeted by the hasbara-niks as "another example of Pallywood."

Who cares about the facts when we are now are in a "battle of narratives"

And that is precisely what the IDF wanted. No investigation, for the moment.

How the IDF Plays the Mainstream Media and the Rightwing Blogosphere

Update: This just in – A JVP tweet from the Bil'in Protest establishes that before 2:36:54 pm Israel time, Jawahir Abu Rahmeh was taken by ambulance to the hospital. The tweet is as follows:

One eye injury and jawaher - sister of bassem who was killed last year at a demo -was taken to the hospital for gas inhalation.

Fri Dec 31 2010 14:36:54 (IST) via Twitter for iPhone [the actual time on the tweet is 4:36:54 Pacific Standard Time, 10 hours difference, since it was from JVP's Rebecca Vilkomerson's cell phone]

This goes a long way to refuting the IDF's sickening innuendos about the inconsistencies of time Read more about this story soon on the +972 webzine

Remember Jawahir Abu Rahmeh, who was killed three days ago by the inhalation of tear gas at the Bil'in demonstration? According to the IDF, as being reported in the Israeli media, she may not have been at the demonstration, and she may not died of tear gas. It may have all been a hoax.

According to Ynet,

Did Palestinians lie about death of Jawaher Abu-Rahma? Two days after reports that an anti-fence protestor died after inhaling tear gas fired by IDF troops, the army says medical information handed over to Israel raises fundamental question marks about the story.

 According to IDF officials, Abu-Rahma may have not even participated in the protest in question

Note that the IDF does not conclude that Abu Rahma was not there. Note that the IDF does not claim that she did not die from gas inhalation. Note that the IDF has no evidence refuting the testimony of the family.

Instead, the IDF "raises question," "points out 'contradictions' in the medical data" suggests that there is on evidence that she was there, claims to have gone over (tens of thousands?) of photographs of demonstrations and not being able to find her.

According to the medical report, there was no clear cause of death, the burial was undertaken via an accelerated procedure, and no post-mortem was performed.

The information also reveals that Abu-Rahma was administered an unusual quantity of drugs, used to offer treatment against poisoning, drug overdose, or leukemia. Moreover, her family's report that she was "hurt by Israeli gas" was not corroborated by any other source.

Since the medical report has not been published, I don't know whether it actually said, "there was no clear cause of death." But it did report – and why shouldn't it – the claims of the family. And why would there be any reason to doubt them? As for no post-mortem and accelerated burial procedure – what religious Jew is unfamiliar with that. What cause was there for a post-mortem examination? As for the drug claim – that is not worth responding to. Who is making the claim? What is considered an unusual quantity of drugs? Who determines what the drug is for?

Who the hell is behind all this crap? Even an idiot can see that the IDF is using the same "methodology" that Holocaust deniers use to raise questions about the number of Jews killed, or the presence of gas chambers to kill Jews, etc. That methodology is to "raise questions," to "point out contradictions", to suggest that the evidence is not convincing, to insinuate that those who make the claims are not to be trusted.

But wait! The same IDF, which only "raises questions" for the mainstream media, has answers to the rightwing blogosphere. As reported in the Muqata at an "exclusive" briefing for bloggers

IDF: We have reason to believe that the death 2 days ago was because of another reason than what the Palestinians are claiming (tear gas inhalation).

We know this woman visited the same hospital 10 days ago and many other times in the past month. When we looked at the medication she was taking – it was for cancer.

Whoaa! Nowhere does the IDF "source" actually say that Abu Rahmeh had cancer, or that a doctor had diagnosed her for cancer, or that people with cancer cannot die from, say, being run over by a car or tear gas inhalation. I know lots of people with cancer – apparently that makes them superman.

The point is, dear reader, that the IDF is desperately trying to grab the narrative, the same way it tried to do in Gaza – and failed – and with the Mavi Marmara – and failed.

Meanwhile, only Haaretz bothered to get a response from lawyer Michael Sfard:

The lawyer representing the Abu Rahma family completely denied the IDF's claims. Lawyer Michael Sfrad said that Abu Rahma went in for testing a week ago for a routine winter illness.

"According to people I spoke with, [Abu Rahma] was at the demonstration on Friday but not at the forefront of the protesters," he said. "After she was injured by the tear gas, she was taken to the village and then transferred to an ambulance. An operational investigation cannot produce reliable findings; therefore we demand a criminal investigation by the military police."

Let's hope somebody in the IDF is listening to Sfard.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Incroyable! Israeli Protesters Who “Returned” Empty US Tear Gas Canisters Used At Bil’in to the US Ambassador – Are Being Held on Illegal Possession of Weapons!

Three months before April Fool's day, we have the first Israeli "joke" of 2011. From Joseph Dana's post at +972 here:

Israeli activists protesting the killing of Bil'in's Jawaher Abu Rahmah 'returned' spent tear gas canisters to the residence of the American ambassador to Israel late Saturday evening. Jawaher Abu Rahmah, 36, was evacuated to the Ramallah hospital on Friday after inhaling massive amounts of tear-gas during the weekly protest in Bil'in, and died of poisoning Saturday morning. The tear gas used by the Israeli forces in Bil'in is manufactured by Combined Systems Inc.; a United States company based in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. This is the first protest where empty tear gas canisters have been returned to an ambassador's home.

Approximately 25 five Israeli protesters gathered in front of the residence of U.S. Ambassador to Israel, James B. Cunningham, around 1am local time. The protesters 'returned' loads of spent tear gas canisters collected in the West Bank village of Bil'in. The demonstrators also made noise throughout the ambassador's neighborhood, informing residents of how American military aid to Israel is being used to kill unarmed and nonviolent demonstrators in the West Bank. They chanted, "one, two, three, four stop the occupation stop the war. Five, six, seven, eight end the funding (US) end the hate." This action is one of the first by Israeli activists demanding accountability of a foreign government. Instead of targeting the Israeli public, activists did a symbolic action aimed at the United States. This could signal the future of targeted BDS-style actions (Boycott, Divestment and Sanction) actions by Israeli who witness the destruction of US military aid in the West Bank.

Five demonstrators were arrested in the action and are currently being held in detention. It is unclear when they will be released and on what charges. The action in front of the ambassador's residence completed a day of protest throughout Israel and the West Bank stemming from Abu Rahmah's death. On Saturday evening,hundreds demonstrated opposite the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Protesters managed to block Kaplan street, a main artery, for over one hour. Eight people were arrested, including a former Knesset member from the left wing Meretz Party, Mossi Raz.

UPDATE: Nine activists were arrested in total last night. They are being brought before a judge right now on suspicion of possession of firearms (related to used means of crowd disperse found at the scene). The police have told the activists that they intend to extent their arrest. More updates to follow.

IDF Kills Unarmed Protester, Jawaher Abu Rahmah, May Her Memory Be For A Blessing

My blog doesn't pretend to stay up to date with events. I don't twitter, either. So for up-to-date news I send you to the indispensable coverage on the +972 magazine site, which blogs, twitters, and comments in real time, especially the excellent blogging and twittering by Joseph Dana, who is also the media coordinator for the Popular Struggle Committees.

On Friday, a big unarmed protest was planned at Bil'in. (Please visit its excellent website – you will get a good education there.) For six years there have been Friday protests, but the organizers made a special effort to draw crowds Friday, claiming that this was the last year in which the Separation Barrier – a.k.a, the Land-Grab Fence/Wall – would separate Bil'in from its lands. The Barrier there is illegal according to international law, and parts are illegal even according to the Israeli High Court, which, over three years ago, directed the state to change the route of the law – much to the consternation of the real-estate developers, builders, and owners of the apartments built on the Bil'in's land. Needless to say, the Barrier has not been moved, despite the court's ruling. This Is, after all, the Only Democracy in the Middle East.

You would think that after six years of unarmed protests, after killing 21 unarmed protesters, maiming permanently others, and wounding hundreds more – during which time not a single soldier has died or has been permanently injured – you would think that the Israel Defense Forces would learn how to allow and to control the protests. Ah, but that would assume that the purpose of the IDF and the Israeli government is to allow unarmed protests, rather than to crush the internationally embarrassing protests – in such a manner so as not to call down the wrath of the international community. So it does not gun down protesters en masse, although it has used rubber bullets, live ammunition, tear gas canisters fired from short range, etc.

In the forty-three years of occupations there have been hundreds of illegal protests by settlers. How many settlers have been killed by Israeli forces? How many settlers have been permanently maimed by Israeli forces? Of course, the IDF doesn't suppress most settler protests, since that is the task of the police – under the Israeli system of Hafradah (worse than apartheid), which provides one set of law enforcement for settlers and one for natives. But let's not be too easy on the police. Last night there was a protest in Tel Aviv where the police reportedly arrested and beat former Meretz member of the parliament, Musi Raz.

But back to Bil'in. The Abu Rahmah family saw one brother, Bassam, killed by the IDF, and now his sister, Jawaher. Another Abu Rahmah, Ashraf, made headlines when he was bound and shot at a close range with a rubber bullet by an IDF soldier, at the instruction of his commanding officer. The sentencing of the solider and his commander will be this week.

The so-called Separation Barrier has enriched real-estate developers, destroyed the lives of thousands of Palestinians, made life-hell for hundreds of thousands more – and there is no evidence that is has saved a single Israeli life. Had Israel wanted to protect its citizens living within its internationally recognized borders, it would have built the separation barrier within the Green Line. But protecting lives was never the purpose of the Separation Wall.

Destroying lives, gobbling up land, and preventing Palestinian self-determination are its real purposes