Umm al-Nasr, Gaza Strip: Everybody in Gaza fears another war. After the 2014 conflict, which killed 2250 Palestinians and 70 Israelis, little has changed on the ground for the territory’s 2 million residents.
A local psychiatrist, Khaled Dahlan, recently told me in Gaza that Palestinians had multi-generational trauma, having been dispossessed and attacked for decades. “We have had so many conflicts” in the last 70 years, he said.
The World Health Organisation estimates that at least 20 per cent of the population has severe mental illness.
Daniel Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel under former US president Barack Obama, recently warned that “the next war in Gaza is coming”.
Israel’s military Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Gadi Eisenkot, explained in late March that his country reacts “disproportionately” to rocket fire from the strip. “The reality in Gaza is volatile,” he said.
Eisenkot warned that the Hamas authority in Gaza was “continuing to dig [tunnels] underground and to build their abilities and defensive capabilities”. Israel claims Hamas has new heavy rockets with which to attack Israeli border towns.
Israel’s State Comptroller released a report on the 2014 war that found the Israeli government was uninterested in avoiding a military conflict. “There was no realistic diplomatic alternative concerning the Gaza Strip,” it stated.
Hamas recently elected a new leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, who reportedly opposes reconciliation with Israel. He served 22 years in an Israeli jail before being released in a prisoner swap in 2011. Tensions rose again after the alleged Israeli assassination in late March of a senior Hamas militant in Gaza.
Yet Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in late 2016 that his country would help rebuild Gaza – if Hamas disarmed.
“We will be the first to invest in a port, an airport and industrial areas”, he told a Palestinian newspaper in October. Israel’s Transport Minister Israel Katz proposes building an island near Gaza to service its people – but Israel would control its air, sea and land borders.
Hani Muqbel, head of the Hamas Youth Department, told me in Gaza that his group’s philosophy was different to Islamic State’s or al-Qaeda’s. “They’re destroying the image of Islam,” he said. In contrast, Hamas had built a “national liberation movement”.
He acknowledged the current difficulties in Gaza but blamed the “Israeli occupation, siege and the [rival Fatah-run] Palestinian Authority [in the West Bank]”.
Muqbel said that Hamas did not want another war but that its issue with Israel “wasn’t between Jews and Muslims. It’s not a religious war, it’s about land.”
He demanded that Western powers stop claiming Hamas “wanted to kill Jews because they’re Jews. We do not.”
The Israeli media largely ignores Gaza and Israelis are not legally allowed to visit. Yet former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo recently said that the occupation was the country’s only “existential threat“.
An editorial in the liberal newspaper Haaretz urged the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “immediately consider other ways of halting the deterioration in Gaza – first and foremost by alleviating the wretchedness of life there”.
The Israeli human rights group Gisha recently found that Israel had massively reduced the ability of Gazans to leave in the last months, dropping 40 per cent compared to last year’s average. In February, only 7301 people went through the Erez checkpoint, which connects Gaza to Israel and the occupied West Bank. It was the lowest number since the end of the 2014 war.
Countless Gazans haven’t left for years. Many told me that it was impossible to plan anything major in life, such as marriage or travel, with certainty because applications to leave Gaza were routinely rejected by Israel with no reason given. Often they were ignored entirely.
The effect of the wars and isolation has been dramatic on the domestic lives of men and women. The last years have seen an explosion of Western aid organisations in Gaza working with local NGOs on furthering women’s rights in a male-dominated society. Many women said that these courses gave them awareness of their legal and social rights along with the ability to resist and leave a violent marriage.
The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women recently released a draft resolution that highlighted the status of Palestinian women. It expressed “deep concern” about the “ongoing illegal Israeli occupation and all of its manifestations”, including “incidents of domestic violence and declining health, education and living standards, including the rising incidence of trauma and the decline in psychological well-being”, especially for girls and women in Gaza.
A lawyer with the Gaza-based NGO Aisha Association for Woman and Child Protection, Asma Abulehia, said that she met six to seven women every day who faced domestic abuse or economic uncertainty. However, many women couldn’t leave their houses to seek help, trapped by an abusive husband or family.
“The Israeli occupation is the main reason for these problems,” she told me. “The bad economic situation has worsened social problems, along with ignorance of Islam and unfair laws against women in Gaza.”
Due to the suffocating 10-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, support for Hamas has decreased. Many people long for a return of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority that governs Palestinians in the West Bank, though they aren’t convinced it would make much difference to their daily lives. Many said they wanted to leave and build a life elsewhere.
This month, Human Rights Watch released a new report, Unwilling or Unable, detailing Israeli restrictions on human rights workers entering Gaza to document breaches of human rights and international humanitarian law. It accused Israel of severely curtailing the ability of Israelis, Palestinians and internationals to enter or leave Gaza and dismissed its reasons for doing so.
Human Rights Watch asked the International Criminal Court, currently investigating possible war crimes committed in Palestine including Gaza, to determine the “credibility” of Israeli domestic investigations and its restrictions of human rights workers in and out of Gaza.
In a 2015 report the United Nations voiced fears that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020. It stated that the 2014 war had “effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid”.
“Hamas doesn’t care for the people,” Abulehia said. “They deny violence against women and drug abuse [of the opioid Tramadol] even exists.”
Abulehia said violence against women was worsening, though there were no reliable government figures. The Safe House, funded by the Hamas government and run by women in a secure location, is the Gaza Strip’s only women’s shelter, where up to 50 people can sleep overnight. The average stay is three months.
Many women I met at the Aisha office faced troubling options. Nineteen-year-old Noura al-Reefy married her husband three years ago and wanted a divorce. Her father-in-law sexually harassed her and her husband did nothing.
“He wanted to see my husband and me have sex in front of him and me naked without my hijab,” she told me. During multiple visits to Gaza, I’d never heard such graphic accounts of abuse from a woman.
Reefy had attempted suicide twice. She hadn’t finished high school but planned to complete her education after divorce. She was forced to marry her cousin “but it was a bad idea from the start. I wish it was easier for women to get divorced here..”
Buthaina Sobh, head of the Wefaq Society for Women and Child Care, told me in conservative Rafah, in the south of the territory, that sexual harassment at work, at home and on the streets was commonplace.
“In our society,” she said, “women can’t demand sexual pleasure, they’re considered a slut. Only men can. However, intellectual women now recognise that women have sexual desires and can ask for it privately.”
Sobh said the constant Israeli attacks made Palestinians “used to suffering”. She was pessimistic that women’s lives could change substantively until the siege was lifted.
Training facilities for women are still rare but slowly growing. In the conservative, Bedouin area of Umm al-Nasr in the strip’s north, I visited a multi-storey centre where women learnt tailoring and toymaking for local consumption. A showroom displayed the work for sale. Carpentry classes for women were initially resisted by traditionalist men in the village, but now the teaching of skills in a territory with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world – at least 43 per cent – is being welcomed. The Hamas authority backs the centre and wants similar facilities established throughout the strip.
The centre also runs English courses and exercise classes. Working for the Italian NGO Vento Di Terra, project manager Sara Alafifi said that before the 2014 war many people thought that exercise for women was a waste of time but now healthy bodies were seen as a sensible way to manage stress.
There are alternatives. A group of Israeli and Palestinian economists recently released two studies with the World Bank that outlined a blueprint for economic development in the West Bank, Jordan Valley and Gaza. At the launch in Jerusalem, former Israeli ambassador to South Africa Ilan Baruch was blunt.
“There has been a deliberate Israeli policy to create deficiency,” he said. “The international community has to get involved – not as a donor, but to exert pressure.”
The constant threat of war against Gaza makes normality impossible. Hypertension, deep anxiety, increasing domestic violence and insomnia are ubiquitous amongst the population.
With hawkish Israeli commentators demanding another war with Hamas, and advocating the assassination of its leaders within days of any conflict commencing, prospects will only improve if the international community can put concerted effort into finding a new direction.
Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based independent journalist and author.
The following article by Allison Kaplan Sommer appears in Israeli newspaper Haaretz today (PDF here: bds-ties-could-put-israel-based-australian-journalist-in-hot-water-israel-news-haaretz-com):
Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein’s ability to live and work in Israel has been thrown into question due to his support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
The Government Press Office, which issued Loewenstein a press card last March, confirmed to Haaretz that his status as an accredited journalist is “currently under review by the GPO.” GPO director Nitzan Chen said that “As a rule, without a GPO card, and in the absence of a GPO recommendation to the Interior Ministry, a foreign correspondent cannot remain in Israel.”
Doubt was cast on the journalist’s credentials in the aftermath of a question he posed to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid at a press conference for foreign correspondents on December 12.
Loewenstein identified himself as a freelance journalist writing for the Guardian, Newsweek and other outlets and challenged Lapid’s statement that Palestinians were to blame for the stalled peace process.
“You talked before about the idea that since Oslo, Israel has done little or nothing wrong but the truth is that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the occupation, there are now 600,00 to 800,000 settlers, all of whom are regarded by international law as illegal,” he said. He then asked, “Is there not a deluded idea here that many Israeli politicians, including yourself, continue to believe that one can talk to the world about democracy, freedom and human rights while denying those things to millions of Palestinians and will there not come a time soon where you and other politicians will be treated like South African politicians during apartheid?”
Lapid shot back that Loewenstein’s question was a “perfect example” of the belief that “we live in a post-truth, post-facts era” and that Loewenstein’s statements were “presumptions, not facts.”
Saying that Israel has accepted and the Palestinians have rejected the two-state solution, Lapid asserted that “the problem is that the Palestinians are encouraged by the Guardian and others saying we don’t need to do anything in order to work for our future because the international community will call Israel an apartheid country. Israel is not an apartheid country, it is a law-abiding democracy.”
The Loewenstein-Lapid exchange caught the eye of right-wing media watchdog and advocacy group, Honest Reporting, whose managing editor Simon Plosker said he was “surprised” to see Loewenstein participating in the event as a journalist. The organization’s blog subsequently published a post “exposing” Loewenstein. It charged that the man who describes himself on his website as a “Middle East based, Australian independent freelance journalist, author, documentarian and blogger” is in fact “a prominent anti-Israel activist in his native Australia and a public supporter of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement.”
The post linked and quoted a 2014 statement of support of BDS by Loewenstein, arguing that such views, stated publicly, as well as his other past activities, should disqualify him from possessing either a GPO card or membership in the Foreign Press Association. Honest Reporting also emailed the Prime Minister’s Office, which runs the GPO, challenging the decision made last March to grant Loewenstein press credentials that allow him to live and work in Israel for a year.
A few days later, a Jerusalem Post article reported that Loewenstein soon “may be forced” to leave the country. The Post article quoted Chen as saying, “We are leaning toward recommending that his work permit not be renewed due to suspected BDS activity. We are checking the incident because unfortunately, the journalist did not give enough information to our staff.”
Loewenstein vehemently disputes Chen’s charge that he provided insufficient information during his application process. He claims that when he obtained a GPO press card as a freelancer last March, he fully met the GPO criteria.
“It was a completely transparent process,” he says. “All of my work is online, I didn’t hide anything. I’m a freelance journalist, and all my work is available publicly.” Loewenstein’s articles (including two pieces in Haaretz) are listed and linked on his website.
“Attempts by far-right, extreme lobby groups to delegitimize me are deeply disappointing,” said Loewenstein, adding that they “reflect the increasingly restrictive space for critical voices in Israel and Palestine.”
He has heard nothing from the Government Press Office directly regarding clarification of his application or future status, and says he doesn’t know whether he will be informed of his fate before he attempts to renew his credentials in March, or if they will attempt to take them away earlier.
The press card he received in March essentially qualifies foreign journalists for a B-1 work visa. According to the GPO website, in order to obtain credentials, journalists must prove that their “main profession was in the news media” in the year preceding their application and that they “work for an approved media organization.”
Freelancers, the GPO rules say, “must prove that they arrived in Israel at the request of the media organization, for the performance of services in the field of news media for a period of at least one year and an express and binding work order/contract requesting these services” must be presented to the office.
Loewenstein says the charge that he cannot legitimately call himself a journalist worthy of GPO accreditation is absurd. “I am a journalist, I have been a freelance journalist for over 10 years. I work around the world,” he says.
He is rallying forces behind him to back his case to remain in Israel. A recent statement by the London-based Centre for Investigative Journalism supported Loewenstein, saying that the group was “deeply concerned with media reports from Israel that Antony Loewenstein’s work visa and freelance press credentials will not be renewed when they expire in March next year. In a democracy, critical voices are essential and should be encouraged, it is unacceptable that he may be forced to leave Israel because of his past statements. This is a free speech issue and we remind the Israeli government and its supporters that free speech is a cornerstone of any democracy; threatening to remove it is a slippery slope towards authoritarianism.”
A letter on his behalf from the Australian Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) union was sent to the Australian ambassador in Israel, the Israeli ambassador in Australia, and the GPO. Loewenstein said he approached the Australian embassy himself, but reported that he was told by an official there that Australia couldn’t interfere in internal Israeli affairs and would not assist him.
Plosker of Honest Reporting insists that his group’s campaign is not intended to quell free speech in the press and is unrelated to the exchange at the Lapid press conference. He contends that his organization has no issue with “journalists asking difficult questions of Israeli politicians.” It does, however “bother us that a known BDS activist was able to have access to press conferences as a member of the FPA and an accredited journalist with a GPO card.”
He differentiated between Loewenstein from “genuine journalists” who write critically about Israel for foreign outlets like the Guardian and suggested that the GPO’s requirements need to be reexamined.
“We wouldn’t want to see genuine journalists thrown out of the country … but we draw the line at BDS activism. That – BDS – isn’t aimed against government policies, that is something aimed against the state itself.” The BDS movement, he said, represents “an ultimate desire to see the end of Israel.” As such, he said “Israel authorities are under no obligation to actively assist” Loewenstein by giving him “what is effectively a work permit, giving him special access to official events, briefings, field tours.”
Plosker said he regretted the fact that the GPO’s public statement allowed Loewenstein to paint himself as a “martyr” and that it would have been preferable for them to remain quiet until March, and then refuse to renew his credentials.
Meanwhile, the Guardian was rapped by the far-left advocacy website Mondoweiss for “cowardly” distancing itself from Loewenstein. The newspaper’s Head of International News Jamie Wilson told Honest Reporting that “Loewenstein was contracted to write comment pieces for Guardian Australia and remains an occasional comment contributor” but that he ‘is not a news correspondent for the Guardian in Israel’.” Honest Reporting also claimed that it was informed that “Loewenstein has now been told to in future make sure he does not reference The Guardian at press conferences unless he is working on a direct commission.”
Loewenstein responded that he had never claimed to be a Guardian correspondent, but pointed out: “I’ve been a regular contributor to the Guardian since 2013, including as a columnist between 2013 and 2016, and have written more than 90 news and opinion pieces for them from Australia, Haiti, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Papua New Guinea and many other locations.”
When asked whether he regretted asking the question at the Lapid press conference that triggered the backlash, Loewenstein said. “I don’t regret asking the question, but I am disappointed with the response. It is deeply revealing about present-day Israel that increasingly discourages dissent … Real democracies don’t just tolerate dissent, they encourage it.”
Israel sells weapons to some of the most repressive nations on earth, a policy that has existed for decades. Itay Mack, a Jerusalem-based human rights lawyer and activist, tells Haaretz about his campaign to bring more transparency to the process. The Jewish state’s relationship with South Sudan is particularly murky. Mack explains:
According to reports of international organizations and human rights activists, Israel has violated the embargo and sold arms during the civil war. There are reports that the security forces are armed with Galil and Tavor rifles. We know about South Sudan forces who are trained by Israelis, both there and in Israel, and about a defense mission from South Sudan that visited Israel about half a year ago. We know that Israel built and is operating a surveillance system in South Sudan and is cooperating with the local secret service.
I find this appalling. It recalls Chile during the Pinochet period. Chile was a democracy and didn’t have a secret service when the coup took place, and according to reports Israel trained and prepared the Chilean secret service, which conducted the most brutal torture. Again we see ties with an organization in a country that commits crimes against its citizens.
Read the whole interview but this section is especially relevant:
Since 2008, Israeli military exports have soared, from $3 billion to somewhere between $7 billion and $8 billion.
Yes, that’s the average since Operation Cast Lead, in Gaza.
Israel, then, can sell battle-proven weapons.
Yes. There are some who maintain that Israel carries out certain operations in order to test weapons. That’s my opinion, too, though there is no proof for it. If I’m asked how I have the gall to think that Israel is conducting weapons tests in the territories, I reply that the allegation is not that Israel initiates wars to test weapons, but that the industries ‘hitch a ride’ on them and profit – it’s the arms exporters who market the weapons as battle-proven. That’s what they tell people at the international fairs. I heard it with my own ears: “It’s Cast Lead battle-proven,” “It’s Defensive Shield battle-proven.”
The leap in sales after Cast Lead was also due to the cynicism of the international community, which first condemned the operation and then came here to learn how Israel conducted it. [Maj. Gen. (res.)] Yoav Galant, who was then the head of Southern Command [and now housing minister] made an amazing remark in this connection: “They came to see how we turn blood into money.”
Every such war is utilized for a massive introduction of new technologies. In the West Bank, too, in the regular areas of demonstrations – Bil’in, Kadoum, Qalandiyah – we constantly see new or upgraded weapons and means of crowd dispersal. The military industries also exploit Israel’s activity in the territories, especially in the Gaza Strip, to promote sales.
How, for example?
There were reports about the use of the Tamuz missile [a long-range anti-personnel and antitank weapon] against Syrian positions. Complete technological specifications were made available. Reporters noted that such information is usually censored. But a few months later, a report noted that Israel was going to display the Tamuz at the Paris Air Show. Sometimes the information is in the background of an article about Israeli and Palestinian casualties – they report on what types of shells were used – and there are also articles that are pure promotion.
Does the Defense Ministry “sell” marketing content to journalists?
The Defense Ministry makes information available to journalists, who are happy to get it and aren’t aware of the damage. Something else I’ve noticed concerns the humanitarian missions. It’s a bit like Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine.” They send [people out on] a mission, and suddenly there are foreign reports about arms deals. That was the case in the Philippines, for example [after the monsoons in 2013].
African migrants face countless struggles in Israel, from racism to discrimination to outright hatred. I’ve been reporting (for the Guardian and The National) on some of their lives when they leave the Jewish state and end up in South Sudan and across Africa.
Israel houses many African migrants in the Holot detention centre in the Negev Desert. A recent Haaretz editorial outlined the inhumanity of the situation:
The Population and Immigration Authority has begun over the past few days to inform asylum seekers held at the Holot detention facility that if they refuse to leave the country within two weeks for Uganda or Rwanda, they will be incarcerated at Saharonim Prison for an indeterminate period. This step marks the beginning of the Interior Ministry’s new deportation program, which brings to new heights the ongoing cruelty to asylum seekers, while breaking international law and principles set down by High Court of Justice rulings.
According to the new deportation policy, Israel forces asylum seekers – to whom group protection applies and therefore they may not be deported, based on the principle of non-refoulement – to leave to third countries (Rwanda or Uganda), in which their basic rights, including guarantees of their safety and liberty, are not insured.
A report by human rights organisations published in March revealed that there is real concern for the welfare and safety of the approximately 9,000 asylum seekers who have left Israel so far under the “voluntary departure” program. According to the report, some of those who have “left voluntarily” have had to return to the lawless regions they had fled, where they have been imprisoned and tortured.
In one of the hearings of the High Court – which twice struck down amendments to the law on illegal entry to Israel, rejecting the principle that a person can be incarcerated without due process – the state denied the claim that the intent behind the detention facilities was to break the spirit of the asylum seekers so they would leave the country.
The new deportation plan lets the cat out of the bag. The state intends to exert unlimited pressure on the asylum seekers to send them on their way, without caring what happens to them and flouting international law, Israel’s Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, and refugee treaties to which Israel is a signatory.
The threat to lock up asylum seekers who Israel wants to deport at Saharonim Prison for an undetermined period not only constitutes abuse, both morally and legally, of a helpless population; it also spits in the face of the High Court and callously ignores its rulings.
About six weeks ago, the Be’er Sheva District Court denied a petition by human rights groups against the deportation and incarceration of asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country. Judge Eliahu Bitan ruled that the petition was premature because no one had yet been incarcerated. In light of the increasing pressure on asylum seekers and the state’s determination to adhere to its illegal policy, the courts could be the last barrier to a fundamental breach of the rule of law, human rights and democracy.
But even before it comes to that, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein can stop the persecution and abuse of the asylum seekers.
I recently interviewed an African migrant, via email, and the full transcript of our conversation appears below. His story is repeated thousands of times across Israel:
– Please tell me briefly your personal story and how you ended up in Holot, how long you’ve been there etc?
My name is Adil Aldao, I am from Sudan, Darfur. I have been in Israel since 2010. I came to Israel through Sinai. It took me three weeks to get into Israel. Upon my arrival into Israel through the Egyptian border, an Israeli soldier caught me and held me in Saharonim prison (a place where newcomers or newly interned are held for different period of time from one month up to two years). After a month in Saharonim I was dumped into a poor neighbourhood, in Tel Aviv, like the rest of asylum seeker here with no proper documents. I got a visa but wasn’t allowed to work and had no help from the government. I used to sleep at Levinski Park in South Tel Aviv in the middle of winter for four months, where I had to work black jobs to afford some money for renting. During this time I bear the hardship of finding food for survival and work for money for rental.
Years I was living in Tel Aviv before I got summoned to the concentration camp Holot where I am staying now and it’s been the hardest time in my life experience. In those years some Knesset members alongside South Tel Aviv citizens revolt against us (African refugees) in massive, racist demonstrations. During this year African asylum seeker have faced so many verbal and physical attacks. One of the common verbal insults was from the MP Miri Regev which refer to African refugees as a cancer and infiltrators from the former minister of interior. There are so many discriminatory attacks we have heard such as black nasty, murderers, work immigrations, or even physical attack on the streets.
In the beginning of 2014 I was sent to Holot for indefinite period of time and I am staying in Holot for over a year.
– Why did you leave Sudan?
I left Sudan because of the genocide in Darfur which left over 4,000 dead and millions including me fleeing the tragedy to save their lives.
In 2003, my village, Golo, was destroyed by the government supported Janjaweed militia because it was a Fur Tribe village (it has since been attacked many more times. Whenever people move back to the village it is attacked. The last attack was January 2015, here is what I wrote about the situation of my family). I had to move to the neighbouring villages to save my life. A few times after they attacked the village where I was I had to move to Nyala city to try to save my life from the new attacks. A few months after, the militia attacked the Nyala city and I had to move to Khartoum to escape the violence against my tribe. When I was in Khartoum, I was studying and working in the market at the same time. Darfuri in Khartoum were the target of the government and they arrested me in 2008 because of my ethnicity. They brought me to an unknown place and they tied me up and then hit me in a really violent way. They beat me for three days and they asked me over and over why I helped the anti-government rebels in the Justice and Equality Movement. I told my attackers truthfully that I was not helping the JEM. They took everything I had on me. After 3 days, my cousin paid 3000 Sudanese Pounds for my release. But I knew I was susceptible to get arrested again because of my ethnicity. In 2010, the government ordered me to join the army of Sudanese forces to fight in Darfur, Nubba Mountain or the Blue Nile against my own peole; I refused to do. Because of this, I was not able to continue to study anymore, I couldn’t find work, and I was suscepted. The government considered me as a rebel so my life was in danger and that’s the reasons why I fled my own country in 2010.
– What are the conditions like inside Holot? How do you interact with other African refugees and guards?
The conditions are intolerable because the main reason they built it is to kill people spiritually and torture us mentally. Many have mental disorder as a result of it.
In term of food we have a big problem. What they provide lacks basic nutrition and does not suffice. Furthermore we are not allowed to bring anything from the outside. As a matter of fact we smuggle food in order to survive and if they find out anything that was smuggled in, immediately they confiscate it, and who was caught smuggling or have smuggled staff will meet punishment by transferring him to another prison which is more closed.
There is no medical service. Imagine over 2,000 inmate are now held in Holot but we don’t have even an ambulance for emergency. At 10.00 pm we all locked up in our sections. So if there is any accident we just have to wait till the morning. And the new law says if anyone is in difficult condition of sickness the authorities have the right to release them to avoid their responsibility. However, even if the patient in critical condition gets released he ain’t got money for the treatment and this sounds to me like they are sending people to die away from Holot. Holot is just a ghetto, the only different is that they don’t kill us directly; they kill us spiritually or send people to die anywhere by so called “voluntary return”.
Education; no education in Holot, we have imagery classes without teachers. There are no programs that could benefit us in the future.
Holot was built to make our life miserable to leave, but there is one fact they don’t understand; my life and my family’s lives are in danger, the thing is that if I return back to Sudan our family is endangered and will face indefinite jail. We don’t have so much interaction with authority of Holot, because they are here to make your life hard or unbearable so that you can leave the country. One example I experienced one day was when I went to the immigration offices to take permission to go out, they refused to give permission even for one day. I told them ‘this is my right’ you set it yourself; their response was you have no right here in Israel but to leave where you came from. This is a kind of humiliation.
– Why do you think Israel locks up so many African refugees in Holot?
Israel is using Holot as a method to force people to leave while they can’t be deported to their home country such as people from Darfur.
– How do you think the Israeli population views African refugees and why?
The government has created a bad image of African refugees as bad, murder, thieves, diseases, nasty and so on. Most Israelis are brain washed by what they hear from the media. Few of them understand the issue of refugees but they are powerless to help.
– What is your ideal situation, would you like to live in Israel? If so, what would kind of work would you be doing?
I came to Israel asking for help but Israel didn’t help me. Instead of treading me as human being with dignity and basic rights I have been treated as a criminal. If it depends on me I wouldn’t stay in Israel, not even for one day. The only reason I am here is the current humanitarian situation in Darfur and risk of being killed or tortured if I return. My ideal situation is I am buried in Holot, my future is buried in Holot, my freedom is buried in Holot, and my dignity has been taken away from me in my own country and where I find myself today. My brain is frozen from the mental torture, the uncertainty of my future, when and how the situation would favour me. From imprisonment in Israel or death in Darfur. My legs are paralysed in researching life and dignity. I have no idea what to do.
– Do you fear being sent back to Sudan or somewhere else in Africa?
If there is country in Africa or anywhere else to safeguard me with legal documents, a country that guarantees not to deport me, a country that would protect me with no fear at all, I will go. I fear of being sent to where my life is in danger like Rwanda/Uganda where there is no clear agreement of accepting refugees.
– What do you think of Israel itself due to your situation?
From the history of Jews and in the honour of hHolocaust survivors, Israel shouldn’t treat refugees this way. Migrants, refugees and a different culture are not a threat to any nation. Israel is morally obligated to welcome strangers; Israel is morally obligated to show compassion to genocide survivors. According to my current situation and the international convention, Israel is not following the Refugee Convention and it is brutally violating refugees’ rights.
– Do you know Africans who have been in Israel and now live in South Sudan?
I know some people have left but I am not in contact with them as they are not in stable situations in Rwanda Uganda, or South Sudan and most of them made their ways to other countries.
My following story appears on US website Mondoweiss:
“Europe will forever be tainted”, wrote Haaretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer in the wake of the terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo magazine and the kosher supermarket in Paris. “It will always be the continent of expulsion, blood libels, numerus clausus, ghettos and the Final Solution.”
It was an ominous warning to European Jewry that it “may be too late” to save them from discrimination, hatred and violence. “Freedom of speech is shrinking in Europe”, Pfeffer concluded, “hemmed in on all sides by libel laws, political correctness, financial pressure and religious intimidation.” Jews would inevitably flee, he argued, if “freedom and tolerance” didn’t survive across Europe; instinctively Jews knew the history of pogroms, expulsions and death camps and never felt safe away from Israel.
This is the debate that never goes away. It’s a discussion that lurks under the surface of almost all arguments on the future of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Terror in France has unpicked a scab that never heals, unleashing insecurity over what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century and where to live it. Growing numbers of French Jews are moving to Israel, claiming they feel safer there than in their birth country, happy that they can openly wear a kippah [skullcap] and comforted with an army to protect them. There’s little comment about what that military actually does to the Palestinians, occupying and brutalising them daily.
It was a highly selective argument forcefully made recently by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling French Jews that they were only secure under his nation’s protection, though he was slammed for shamelessly appropriating a tragedy for political gain. Israel even pressured one of the Jewish victim’s families to be buried there.
Too much of the discussion in the last weeks has revolved around a clash of civilisations narrative, with refined Europe, Israel and the west on the one side and barbaric extremism of the Muslim fanatic on the other. This is a gross insult to the truth. Moroccan-Dutch writer Abdelkader Benali explains that the reason so many European Muslims are disenfranchised, and a tiny minority are attracted to violent jihad, is because “Muslims are every bit as European as the Roma, gays, intellectuals, farmers and factory workers. We have been in Europe for centuries and politicians and the press must stop acting as if we arrived yesterday. We are here to stay.” Both Said and Cherif Kouachi, the Charlie Hebdo killers, had a long history of radicalisation against France, the US and Jews.
Increasing numbers of Muslims have argued that Islam itself needs to become far more capable of both tolerating and accepting blasphemy in a non-violent way and acknowledging that virulent antisemitism, not simply in response to Israeli violence in Gaza or the West Bank, is a rising problem. Not all anti-Jewish hatred is about Israeli crimes in Palestine (though it is one of many causes). The Jews of France have felt increasingly targeted for the act of being Jewish. Historical anti-Semitism was always about targeting the “otherness” of Jews, playing on stereotypes that today finds an expression in Islamist attacks on Jewish centres of learning. Muslims also face deep discrimination for their faith, practices and alleged association with terrorism. In fact, separatist groups are the largest majority of perpetrators of political violence in Europe, not Islamist jihadis. For example, in 2013 there were 152 terror attacks across Europe and only two were “religiously motivated”, according to Europol.
Israel is hardly a good model of tolerance and plurality; there’s a reason European boycotts are surging, more young Israelis are refusing to serve in an occupying military and prominent Zionist groups decry intermarriage as treason. It’s a delusion to believe that Jews are either safer in Israel than in Europe or more able to live peaceful lives. The narrative pushed by Netanyahu that all Jews of the world should move to Israel – 90% of his election funding comes from American Jews, proving that a Jewish diaspora remains an essential support base for maintaining Israeli policies – cynically expands the belief that Jews are the eternal victim (despite now having a country with nuclear weapons). Islam is framed as the enemy, an image recently tweeted by the Israeli embassy in Ireland.
Instead, Israeli writer Orly Noy explains, it’s easier to “promote a worldview in which there is no national conflict, no occupation, no Palestinian people and no blatant disregard for human rights. There are only Jews and Muslims. Turns out we look a lot better fighting a religious war than we do running an occupation.” Free speech is constantly under threat in Israel with a vocal and active far-right, Jewish fundamentalist movement.
Hypocrisy over free speech principles defines this debate. Muslims are accused of having no sense of humour over depictions of the Prophet Mohammed and yet Israel and its backers routinely try to censor images critical of the Jewish state.
France, with its historical and ongoing record of colonial adventures in Africa and the Middle East, claims to believe in free speech but wants to silence those with whom it disagrees. The Charlie Hebdo massacre should enlighten us to the real power of satire and how it affects those with and without power. Is it a false comparison to say that if you can insult the prophet Muhammad, you should be able to poke fun at the Holocaust? Does British journalist Mehdi Hasan have a point when he says that “Muslims are expected to have thicker skins than their Christian and Jewish brethren”?
British political parties such as the UK Independence Party have mainstreamed anti-Muslim rhetoric of the type once experienced by Jews. “The cold truth is that organised suspicion and denigration of Islam is the new antisemitism”, argues historian John Keane. Islamophobia is a scourge despite the term being dismissed by the French prime minister.
So what are Jews to do from Australia to Europe to America? In a recent survey, a majority of British Jews said they couldn’t imagine a long-term future in England, concerned with rising anti-Semitism. This Jewish feeling of insecurity is real and can’t be easily dismissed. British police have recently stepped up patrolling Jewish communities and soldiers in Belgium are guarding Jewish sites. The threat exists.
The answer isn’t more state surveillance, as proposed by Australia, Britain, France and the US, nor mass emigration. The facts speak to a vibrant Jewish diaspora that has the right, in light of the 20th century, to settle and be safe wherever they want. Fleeing to Israel isn’t the answer. It would be a “blatant capitulation to terror”, suggested Israeli reporter Chemi Shalev.
Israel has framed itself since its inception as a “light unto the nations”. “There is no demographic or practical existence for the Jewish people without a Jewish state”, Netanyahu proclaimed in 2010. But the vast bulk of global Jewry feels secure in their own multicultural country with full rights and responsibilities, a transformation from 100 years ago when Jews were often ghettoised.
Living in Israel isn’t the solution to antisemitism, though many like the concept of a Jewish state despite its racial exclusivity. Modern Jewish identity isn’t about cowering in fear but should be about building decent communities that accept the diversity of human existence.
Last Friday I gave the following speech at Sydney’s Lebanese Muslim Association forum on terrorism, Gaza, ISIS and Western governments spreading fear and anger towards the Islamic faith. Labor MP Tony Burke and Liberal MP Craig Laundy both pledged to bring harmony to the community and yet both their parties have flamed bigotry. Government surveillance is clearly mostly targeted towards Muslims and honest politicians would acknowledge it.
Here’s my speech:
– Thanks to Andrew Bolt and the Murdoch press for mentioning tonight’s event this week; it’s clearly a threat to public order to be critical of Israel and the “war on terror”.
– It’s a shame there are no women on this panel discussing the effects of war, terrorism and the Middle East from the group that often suffers the most from counter-terrorism policies as well as Zionist and Muslim extremism.
– We must resist fear without question.
– We must resist the narrative being sold to us about Palestine and Israel, so-called Western “humanitarian intervention” and government spin over the supposed terrorist threat.
– We must resist the pressure placed on vulnerable communities to accept collective guilt for the actions of a few. I believe the Muslim leadership needs to more vigorously refuse to co-operate so closely with governments and intelligence bodies that aim to bring mass surveillance on the Muslim and wider communities.
– A recent report in the US, through documents leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, found that the NSA and FBI have been secretly monitoring for years thousands of Muslims with no connection to terrorism at all, along with a handful of potential extremists. Some of the most prominent Muslim spokespeople in the US are now suing the US government for being caught in an unaccountable system with no chance to defend themselves.
– Another recent report, from another NSA whistle-blower, revealed that the Obama administration has placed over 680,000 people on its secretive Terrorist Screening Database with more than 40% of these individuals having no connection to terrorism.
– With our closeness to the US, there’s every reason to believe the Muslim community in Australia is equally under suspicion. The Muslim response should not be acquiescence with the state, the AFP or ASIO but demands to know the evidence explaining why collective guilt has become the defacto policy from Canberra. It is unacceptable and does not make us safer.
– Let’s speak out against the barbarity of ISIS and Al-Qaeda and understand why this hatred is brewing in our midst. It’s because of failings in education, language, parenthood, attention, imams, government actions, Western foreign policy hypocrisy and atrocities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Libya and beyond. We have a responsibility to challenge fundamentalism and understand its roots to reduce it.
– I speak to you as an atheist, Jewish, Australian, proud of my heritage but ashamed of Israeli actions. A few years ago my friend Peter Slezak and I founded Independent Australian Jewish Voices to highlight the growth in Jewish dissent over the Middle East. Not all Jews are Zionists and increasingly across the world young Jews are speaking out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and wars in Gaza. Not in our name.
– Jews who speak out against Israel are often demonised, harassed and threatened. But recent actions in Gaza, the brutality, death and destruction, have unleashed a growth in Jewish dissent around the world.
– Anti-Semitism must never be tolerated. It must be challenged and crushed. This conflict isn’t about Jews versus Arabs. It’s about Zionism colonising Arab lands. Remember that many Jews are proudly Jewish and proudly anti-Zionist.
– 500 South African Jews, from a traditionally strongly Zionist community, recently signed a public letter that read in part: “Just as we resist anti-Semitism, we refuse to dehumanise Palestinians in order to make their deaths lighter on our collective conscience. We sign this statement in order to affirm their humanity and our own. We distance ourselves from South African Jewish organizations whose blind support for Israel’s disproportionate actions moves us further from a just resolution to the conflict.”
– This is the kind of humane Judaism of which I can be proud.
– One of the finest Israeli, Jewish journalists, Gideon Levy, explained this week what is at stake and why we must stay vigilant and outspoken: “A wave of animosity is washing over world public opinion. In contrast to the complacent, blind, smug Israeli public opinion, people abroad saw the pictures in Gaza and were aghast. No conscientious person could have remained unaffected. The shock was translated into hatred toward the state that did all that, and in extreme cases the hatred also awakened anti-Semitism from its lair. Yes, there is anti-Semitism in the world, even in the 21st century, and Israel has fuelled it. Israel provided it with abundant excuses for hatred. But not every anti-Israeli sentiment is anti-Semitism. The opposite is true – most of the criticism of Israel is still substantive and moral. Anti-Semitism, racist as any national hatred, popped up on the sidelines of this criticism – and Israel is indirectly responsible for its appearance.”
– The media frames this issue as between two equal sides fighting over land and autonomy. The press says it’s “complicated”, that only certain perspectives should be heard, namely Zionist lobbyists and the occasional Palestinian or Arab. This is a lie. For too long, spokespeople from the Jewish establishment claim that their community speaks in one voice over Israel. They say they’re against terrorism and want peace. But what about state terrorism, unleashed by Israel and Australia and the US in Iraq and Afghanistan? Their dangerous tendency to conflate anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism leads to public skepticism over their cause.
– In reality, this conflict is about occupation of Palestinian land, since 1948, and the legitimate rights of both Jews and Arabs to live in peace in Palestine. I have seen the reality of this situation with my own eyes in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and found warmth, resistance, hardship, destruction of neighbourhoods and a desire for peace. But there cannot be a true and sustainable peace without justice, the Palestinian Right of Return and an end to the decades-long occupation.
– Shamefully, successive Australian governments have indulged Israeli actions for too long. As a result, Canberra is now a fringe player on the world stage, unable to even acknowledge that East Jerusalem is “occupied”. The rise of Israeli fascism, endorsed by the Israeli government, is largely ignored in the West.
– But there is hope. The last ten years have seen an explosion of new media that allows a stunning diversity of views. During the recent Gaza conflict, we all consumed tweets, Facebook posts, blogs and mainstream news from countless sources inside Gaza. Some were Gazans, able to communicate their plight online to the world, and others were brave professional reporters, such as Jon Snow from Britain’s Channel 4, who were unafraid to document the horrors unleashed by Israel on the people of Gaza.
– In Australia Palestinian writers and commentators are occasionally heard though far too rarely. There is still timidity. Here’s an example. I was recently asked to appear on a popular current affairs TV show to debate a Zionist lobbyist. The lobbyist refused to show up alongside me so the TV producer cut the segment. Without a strong pro-Israel voice it was deemed impossible to have the story. How many times is a pro-Israel voice appearing alone on our TV screens? Regularly. A robust discussion over Israel and Palestine is healthy and necessary within the Jewish community but just featuring a Jewish dissident, on my own, was clearly a bridge too far. Why not have a Jew and Palestinian discuss the issues calmly and passionately?
– The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is surging in popularity. From public moves against Sodastream for operating a factory in the occupied territories to European countries selling stakes in Israeli banks that bankroll the occupation. I strongly support BDS and encourage its growth in Australia. I hope the Muslim community more fully embraces this non-violent tactic, by lobbying politicians, businesses and the media to force Israel and its financial and intellectual backers to pay a price for flouting international law.
– Of course Israel isn’t the only guilty party in the Middle East. One of the most pernicious actors is the US-backed Saudi Arabia, spreading poisonous Wahabism across the world. Extremism lives in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Palestine, Egypt, Yemen and Iran. Do not be afraid to confront the radicals in our own communities, those who preach death, beheadings and violent jihad.
– We must resist with purpose.
Stinging Gideon Levy in Haaretz:
Israel is today the most dangerous place in the world for Jews. Since its establishment, more Jews were hurt in wars and terror attacks that took place in Israel than anywhere else. The war in Gaza took this one step backward – it endangered world Jews as well, as no other war has before it. The Jewish home, the national refuge, not only doesn’t provide refuge, but even threatens Jews everywhere else. When you tote up the results of the war, include that too in the loss column.
A wave of animosity is washing over world public opinion. In contrast to the complacent, blind, smug Israeli public opinion, people abroad saw the pictures in Gaza and were aghast. No conscientious person could have remained unaffected. The shock was translated into hatred toward the state that did all that, and in extreme cases the hatred also awakened anti-Semitism from its lair. Yes, there is anti-Semitism in the world, even in the 21st century, and Israel has fueled it. Israel provided it with abundant excuses for hatred.
But not every anti-Israeli sentiment is anti-Semitism. The opposite is true – most of the criticism of Israel is still substantive and moral. Anti-Semitism, racist as any national hatred, popped up on the sidelines of this criticism – and Israel is indirectly responsible for its appearance.
But Israel and the Diaspora Jewish establishment automatically tag any criticism as anti-Semitic. It’s an old trick – the burden of guilt is shifted from those who perpetrated the Gaza horrors to those who are tainted with so-called anti-Semitism. It’s not us, it’s you, anti-Semitic world. No matter what Israel does, the whole world is against it.
This is nonsense, of course. Just as not every policeman who gives a Jewish driver a traffic ticket is an anti-Semite, as the Jewish organizations try to put it, and not every robbery of a rabbi is a hate crime, so not every criticism of Israel is motivated by hatred of Jews.
These organizations have become the lightning rods of the criticism of Israel and they have brought it on themselves. This is the price of their blind support of Israel, their noisy propaganda campaigns in Israel’s name, their turning of every Jewish community center into a PR agency for Israel, and their unanimous support for everything Israel does. We’re all one people, they say. In that case, if every Jew who dares to censure Israel, even when it’s involved in brutal conduct, is a self-hating Jew – then everyone bears responsibility.
Quite a few Jews abroad sent me frightened messages during the war, pleading me to stop writing my articles, cease my criticism, because the anti-Semites use them. I replied to all of them that all my articles together haven’t affected Israel’s status as much as one news report from Gaza. I also know many who still harbor sympathy for Israel precisely because of the remnants here of a free society, one that allows criticism.
In any case, the address for the Jews’ fear should be the State of Israel. Many Jews now feel afraid. Part of the fear may be exaggerated, part of it is justified. It seems to me that being a Muslim in Europe is still harder than being a Jew. But in Paris, Jews don’t dare wear a kippa, in Belgium a woman wasn’t allowed into a store because she was Jewish and a French journalist who visited Algiers last week told me that the hatred for Israel and the Jews in France has reached an all-time high.
The address for all the complaints is Israel, because Israel is the one to blame for Gaza.
Whoever is afraid for the Jews’ fate, whoever is shocked by the anti-Semitic incidents, should have thought about it before taking Israel to another runaway war. The world isn’t always against Israel. Suffice it to remember Israel’s status during the Oslo period, when the entire world cheered it, including parts of the Arab world. This world will be happy to embrace Israel again, if this country only changes its bullying, domineering behavior.
Gevalt, anti-Semitism? Maybe. But Israel is supplying the fuse.
Gideon Levy in Haaretz:
The goal of Operation Protective Edge is to restore the calm; the means: killing civilians. The slogan of the Mafia has become official Israeli policy. Israel sincerely believes that if it kills hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, quiet will reign. It is pointless to destroy the weapons stores of Hamas, which has already proved capable of rearmament. Bringing down the Hamas government is an unrealistic (and illegitimate) goal, one that Israel does not want: It is aware that the alternative could be much worse. That leaves only one possible purpose for the military operation: death to Arabs, accompanied by the cheering of the masses.
The Israel Defense Forces already has a “map of pain,” a diabolical invention that has replaced the no less diabolical “bank of targets,” and that map is spreading at a sickening pace. Watch Al Jazeera English, a balanced and professional television channel (unlike its Arabic sister station), and see the extent of its success. You won’t see it in Israel’s “open” broadcast studios, which as usual are only open to the Israeli victim, but on Al Jazeera you will see the whole truth, and perhaps you will even be shocked.
The bodies in Gaza are piling up, the desperate, constantly updated tabulation of mass killing that Israel boasts of, which already numbers dozens of civilians, including 24 children as of noon on Saturday; hundreds of people injured, in addition to horror and destruction. One school and one hospital have already been bombed. The aim is to strike homes, and no amount of justification can help: It’s a war crime, even if the IDF calls them “command-and-control centers” or “conference rooms.” Granted, there are strikes that are much more brutal than Israel’s, but in this war, which is nothing other than mutual attacks on civilians — the elephant against the fly — there aren’t even any refugees. In contrast to Syria and Iraq, in the Gaza Strip the inhabitants do not have the luxury of fleeing for their lives. In a cage, there’s nowhere to run.
Since the first Lebanon war, more than 30 years ago, the killing of Arabs has become Israel’s primary strategic instrument. The IDF doesn’t wage war against armies, and its main target is civilian populations. Arabs are born only to kill and to be killed, as everyone knows. They have no other goal in life, and Israel kills them.
One must, of course, be outraged by the modus operandi of Hamas: Not only does it aim its rockets at civilian population centers in Israel, not only does it position itself within population centers — it may not have an alternative, given the crowded conditions in the Strip — but it also leaves the Gazan civilian population vulnerable to Israel’s brutal attacks, without seeing to a single siren, shelter or protected space. That is criminal. But the barrages of the Israel Air Force are no less criminal, on account of both the result and the intent: There isn’t a single residential building in the Gaza Strip that is not home to dozens of women and children; the IDF cannot, therefore, claim that it does not mean to hurt innocent civilians. If the recent demolition of the home of a terrorist in the West Bank still stirred a weak protest, now dozens of homes are being destroyed, together with their occupants.
Retired generals and commentators on active duty compete to make the most monstrous proposal: “If we kill their families, that will frighten them,” explained Maj.Gen. (res.) Oren Shachor, without batting an eyelid. “We must create a situation such that when they come out of their burrows, they won’t recognize Gaza,” others said. Shamelessly, without question — until the next Goldstone investigation.
A war with no goal is among the most despicable of wars; the deliberate targeting of civilians is among the most atrocious of means. Terror now reigns in Israel as well, but it’s unlikely there is a single Israeli who can imagine what it’s like for Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants, whose already miserable lives are now totally horrific. The Gaza Strip is not a “hornet’s nest,” it is a province of human desperation. Hamas is not an army, far from it, despite all the fear tactics: If it really did build such a sophisticated network of tunnels there, as is claimed, then why doesn’t it build Tel Aviv’s light rail network, already?
The 1,000-sortie and 1,000 tons of explosives marks have almost been reached, and Israel is waiting for the “victory picture” that has already been achieved: Death to Arabs.
In 2013, I released with my co-editor Ahmed Moor the edited collection, After Zionism. It featured many prominent views on the viability and necessity of a one-state solution in Israel and Palestine.
Now a new study of Palestinians, via Haaretz, reveals the growing belief amongst Palestinians in Palestine that a state treating all its citizens with equal respect under the law is desirable. Sadly, there’s no evidence that the majority of Israelis feel the same way:
By more than a 2-1 margin, Palestinians oppose the two-state solution, favoring instead the goal of a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea,” according to a recent poll by the centrist Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
At the same time, though, the poll found that a large majority of Palestinians favored the tactic of “popular resistance” – such as demonstrations and strikes – over violence to achieve their goals, Globes reported Sunday.
Interestingly, Gazans were more moderate when it came to tactics, but more hardline about the goal.
The survey also found that West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas was a much more popular leader than Gazan leader Ismail Haniyeh – both in the West Bank (28.1 percent to 6.9 percent) and in the Gaza Strip (32.4 percent to 11.7 percent).
The poll, which questioned a relatively large sample of 1,200 respondents, was taken June 15-17 – following the abductions of three Israeli teenagers, the formation of the Fatah-Hamas unity government, and the collapse of the Kerry peace talks. However, it was conducted just before West Bank protests arose against Abbas for his cooperation with Israel’s search for the kidnapped boys and crackdown on Hamas.
Asked what political goal they favored over the next five years, 60.3 percent replied “action to return historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, to our hands,” while 27.3 percent answered “end[ing] the occupation of the West Bank in order to reach a two-state solution.”
Another 10.1 percent said the goal should be a “one-state solution, for the entire region, from the river to the sea, in which Jews and Arabs enjoy equal rights.”
If a Palestinian leadership were to reach agreement with Israel on a two-state deal, 64 percent said Palestinians should still continue to press on for a Palestinian state encompassing the territories and Israel, while 31.6 percent said they would accept a two-state solution.
On the question of tactics, again, the trend was toward moderation, with 70 percent of Gazans and 56 percent of West Bankers saying Hamas should observe a cease-fire with Israel. Asked if Hamas should go along with Abbas’ demand that the unity government publicly renounce violence, 57 percent of Gazans agreed, while West Bankers were split evenly.
Popular resistance won the support of 73 percent Palestinians in Gaza and 62 percent of those in the West Bank.
After US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent comment about “apartheid” one day potentially appearing in Israeli controlled Palestine, the reality today is that apartheid already exists.
Two pieces from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
At a G-20 conference in Cannes in November 2011, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy termed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar” and said he “can’t stand” the Israeli leader. U.S. President Barack Obama responded, “You’re tired of him; what about me? I have to deal with him every day.” These rare quotes, revealing truths that are usually kept from the public due to the rules of diplomacy and political correctness, came to light only because the two presidents didn’t realize that the microphones were still on.
Now, it is John Kerry’s turn. In contrast to Sarkozy and Obama, the U.S. secretary of state was caught revealing truths not about people, but about fundamental issues. During a meeting of the Trilateral Commission last week, Kerry was recorded as saying, “A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.” He also warned that a stalemate in the peace process could lead to renewed violence in the territories, while hinting that progress might be possible under a different government: If “there is a change of government or a change of heart, something will happen,” he said.
Kerry’s frank statements weren’t the sort that diplomatic ears are accustomed to hearing, and he was therefore subjected to a wave of political and personal attacks for having made them. He was even forced to publicly express regret for having used the word “apartheid,” saying, “If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word.”
It’s no accident that Kerry was forced to retract the term “apartheid” in particular. There’s good reason for the sensitivity over comparisons of Israel with apartheid-era South Africa: Aspects of apartheid already exist in Israel, and they are liable to expand if the two-state solution collapses. But instead of working to alter the country’s destructive direction, groups and individuals that call themselves “pro-Israel” are trying to obscure the grim reality by denying the “apartheid” label.
Kerry’s “off-the-record” remarks essentially described reality: Israel cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state without a two-state solution, a unitary state would be an apartheid state, a stalemate in the peace process is liable to lead to another intifada and a change in the composition of Israel’s government, and/or the person heading it, is liable to change the picture. The troubling snapshot of reality that Kerry presented must be altered by implementing a two-state solution. For unlike an audio recording, the tragedy that is gradually taking shape here won’t be possible to rewind or erase.
Is Israel at risk of becoming an apartheid state, as John Kerry said on Friday, or not, as he said on Tuesday? Who knows? Given his feeble performance as U.S. secretary of state and his disgraceful apology, maybe it no longer matters what Kerry thinks or says. Given the aggressiveness of the Jewish lobby and the weakness of the Obama administration, which capitulates to every “pro-Israel” whim, Israel doesn’t need enemies with friends like these. Look what happened to its genuine friend, who was only trying to warn it from itself.
What a miserable secretary of state, up to his neck in denial. And how unfriendly to Israel he is to retract his frank, genuine and friendly warning merely for fear of the lobby. Now millions of ignorant Americans, viewers of Fox News and its ilk, know that Israel is in no risk of becoming an apartheid state. They believe the power of Hamas and the sophistication of Qassam rocket pose an existential danger to Israel .
But Kerry’s vacillations do not change the reality that shrieks from every wall. From every West Bank Palestinian village, from every reservoir and power grid that is for Jews only; apartheid screams from every demolished tent encampment and every verdict of the military court; from every nighttime arrest, every checkpoint, every eviction order and every settlement home. No, Israel is not an apartheid state, but for nearly 50 years an apartheid regime has ruled its occupied territories. Those who want to continue to live a lie, to repress and to deny are invited to visit Hebron. No honest, decent person could return without admitting the existence of apartheid. Those who fear that politically incorrect word have only to walk for a few minutes down Shuhada Street, with its segregated road and sidewalks, and their fear of using the forbidden word will vanish without a trace.
The history of the conflict is filled with forbidden words. Once upon a time, it was forbidden to say “Palestinians” was forbidden, after that came the prohibitions against saying “occupation,” “war crime,” “colonialism” or “binational state.” Now “apartheid” is prohibited.
The forbidden words paralyze debate. Did you let the word “apartheid” slip out? The truth is no longer important. But no political correctness or bowdlerization, however sanctimonious, can conceal reality forever. And the reality is an occupation regime of apartheid.
The naysayers can find countless differences between the apartheid of Pretoria and that of Jerusalem. Pretoria’s was openly racist and anchored in law; Jerusalem’s is denied and repressed, hidden beneath a heavy cloak of propaganda and messianic religious faith. But the result is the same. Some South Africans who lived under the system of segregation say that their apartheid was worse. I know South Africans who say that the version in the territories is worse. But neither group can find a significant difference at the root: When two nations share the same piece of land and one has full rights while the other has no rights, that is apartheid. If it looks like apartheid, walks like apartheid and quacks like apartheid, it’s apartheid.
Israel is an incipient apartheid state, just as Kerry I said on Friday. Kerry II, on Tuesday, merely tried to blur and hide the truth for fear of the lobby. But apartheid is in our future. If there won’t be two states, there will be only one. If there won’t be a democratic, egalitarian state, a state of all its citizens, then there will be an apartheid state. There is no other option. With its actions, Israel is saying a firm “no” to the two-state solution. With its fear of a non-Jewish state, Israel is saying no to a democratic, binational state. Where does that leave us? With an apartheid state. As Naomi Shemer said in her optimistic song “Mahar” (“Tomorrow”): If not today, then tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then the day after.
Brilliantly strong Gideon Levy in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
Saddam Hussein has already been executed, and so has Osama bin Laden. But all is not lost for the enlightened West. There is a new devil, and his name is Vladimir Putin. He hates gay people, so the leaders of the enlightenment did not go to Sochi. Now he is occupying land, so sanctions and boycotts will be imposed upon him. The West is screaming bloody murder from wall to wall: How dare he annex territory in Crimea?
The United States is the superpower responsible for the greatest amount of bloodshed since World War II, and the blood of its victims cries out from the soil of Korea and Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. For years, Washington meddled in Latin America’s internal affairs as though those affairs were its own, installing and overthrowing regimes willy-nilly.
Moreover, the number of people in American prisons, and their proportion of the population, is the highest in the world, and that includes China and Russia. Since 1977, 1,246 people, some of whom were innocent of the charges against them, have been executed in the United States. Eight U.S. states limit speech against homosexuality in ways that are remarkably similar to the anti-gay law Putin enacted. It is this superpower that, with its allies and vassal states, is raising an outcry against the new devil.
They cry out against the occupation of the Crimean peninsula as if it were the most awful occupation on earth. They will punish Russia for it, perhaps even fight a world war for the liberation of Sebastopol. America can occupy Iraq — the war on terror and the weapons of mass destruction justify that, as everybody knows — but Russia may not invade Crimea. That is a violation of international law. Even a referendum is a violation of that law — which the West observes so meticulously, as everybody knows.
But of course, the truth is as far from the world of this sanctimonious double standard as east is from west. The annexation of Crimea may be problematic, but it is less problematic than the occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel. It is more democratic than Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s land-swap proposal; at least Russia asked the inhabitants under which sovereign power they wished to live, something it has never occurred to Lieberman to do.
Russia’s reasons for the annexation of Crimea are also more convincing than the de facto annexation of the Israeli occupied territories. The Russians and the Israelis use the same terminology of ancestral rights and historical connection. The Israelis add reasons from the Bible, and mix in issues like sanctity and messianic belief. “Crimea and Sevastopol are returning to … their home shores, to their home port, to Russia!” said Putin; in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks about “the rock of our existence.” But while most of the inhabitants of Crimea are Russian, most inhabitants of the territories are Palestinian — such a minor, insignificant difference.
Russia is also more honest than Israel: It states its intention of annexing the territory. Israel, which for all intents and purposes annexed its territories long ago, has never dared admit it.
The Israeli occupation does not cry out to the world — not for sanctions and certainly not for threats of war — as the occupation of Crimea does. Netanyahu is not the devil, either in the eyes of the Americans or the Europeans, and Israel’s violations of international law are almost never mentioned. The Israeli occupation, which is more cruel than that of Crimea, is not recognized, and the West does not do a thing to truly bring it to a halt. The United States and Europe even provide it with funding and arms.
This is not to say that Russia does not deserve to be criticized. The legacy of the Soviet Union is horrific, and democracy in Russia is far from real, what with Putin declaring war on the media and on free expression and with the disgraceful Pussy Riot affair; there is rising corruption and, with it, the rule of the oligarchs. Putin does not speak as nobly as U.S. President Barack Obama, but then Guantanamo is run by America, not Russia.
For all the pompous Western talk of justice and international law, it’s actually the Western devil who wears Prada, all the while doing far more than Russia to undermine those vaunted values.
At a West Bank University, in a class on the writings of Michel Foucault, one student said that every time she goes through checkpoints, she presents her identity card to the soldiers upside down. She makes use of the little space she can to make the sovereign decision not to be the automaton that the soldier, and the system, expect her to be.
Perhaps it’s an unusual example, but she is a reminder that the Israeli control of the Palestinian people always prompts reactions and creates a constant state of awareness and alertness. Even obedience is a response. Obedience and attempts to disrupt Israeli activity, as the entity that revokes their freedom and independence, are always on the minds of the Palestinian people.
The ethos of mass opposition remains a frame of reference for those who are not active, or are no longer active.
A culture of resistance is not just an empty slogan in Palestinian society; it’s assumed, and apologies must be made when one does not stick to it. Currently, it seems there are more people apologizing than resisting.
The most prominent apologizers are senior PLO and Palestinian authority bureaucrats as well as the urban middle class. In the villages, and the refugee camps, no one needs to apologize: their very existence is constant resistance.
But both the activists and the apologizers can take comfort in the fact that like in the past, at some point, a moment will come where “people can’t take it anymore,” and join in.
But what is that point? People who think in terms of struggle, and people who want to take advantage of the situation to make a name or a career for themselves, are in a race against time. At some point, the bubble of normality under occupation will burst – that’s a basic assumption that we hear all the time.
The question is whether the bubble will burst before enough of a foundation has been laid to deal with a new conflict, in the form of a grassroots uprising, against the Israeli occupation, Even the PA people feel the way of negotiation, which has been followed for 20 months, is bankrupt.
The American tendency today to artificially engineer an agreement reminds one of its insistence on holding the Camp David summit in 2000. The newspaper al-Ayyam hinted on Friday that the proposed American framework agreement does not designate East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state; it also ignores the refugees. The American effort to force an agreement (or punish the Palestinians for refusing it) could be the breaking point. That would be bad for advocates of unarmed resistance.
In recent years, various popular-resistance committees were formed, and they are trying to improve coordination among themselves. After years of isolated responses to the separation barrier in various villages and Hebron, the committees decided that the time has come to take the initiative. Blocking major roads, erecting tent encampments like Bab a-Shams and volunteering in villages, are only some of the initiatives that can be seen as preparation for more comprehensive efforts.
The boycott movement continues to spark imaginations. Its establishment in the West Bank roughly ten years ago forced the Palestinian Authority to declare a boycott on products manufactured in the West Bank. Enforcement of the boycott was spotty but now, informal organizations are considering boycotting goods from the other side of the Green Line as well.
“Boycotting 10% of Israeli goods is likely to increase Palestinian production by 10% and create tens of thousands of jobs,” said one activist. “When we call for boycott, we think not only of nationalist concerns, but also for the personal benefit of many unemployed people.”
Activists are in touch with other thinkers too: Palestinians elsewhere in the world and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are also part of the unarmed resistance. One demand that arose out of the blue in the past – to dismantle the PA – is gradually ceding to thoughts about morphing the PA from a “contractor” of the Israeli occupation into a resistance authority. That would begin, says the activist, with canceling cooperation on security, as – “the police and top officials are also under occupation.”
Also, human rights organizations are pushing to take advantage of the opportunities created when Palestine was defined a non-member observer state by the UN. Popular resistance, as discussed by the activists, would include all of these things.
One activist points out that Palestinian society is very young: roughly 50% are under 18, and 75% under 35. Activists are placing their hopes on the youth, not the older generations.