Israeli responses to Arab protests

Uri Avnery has written, in his weekly article, that [sarcasm alert here] “JERUSALEM IS abuzz with brilliant new ideas. The brightest minds of our political establishment are grappling with the problems created by the ongoing Arab revolution that is reshaping the landscape around us”.

The Avnery article continues: “Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has announced that he is going to ask the US for a grant of another 20 billion dollars for more state-of-the-art fighter planes, missile boats, a submarine, troop carriers and so on. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had his picture taken surrounded by female soldiers – like Muammar Qaddafi in the good old days – looking beyond the Jordan River and announcing that the Israeli army would never ever leave the Jordan valley. According to him, this occupied strip of land is Israel’s vital ‘security border’. This slogan is as old as the occupation itself. It was part of the celebrated Allon Plan, which was designed to surround the West Bank with Israeli territory. Incidentally, the father of the plan, Yigal Allon, was also a leader of the Kibbutz movement, and the Jordan valley looked to him like an ideal area for new Kibbutzim – it is flat, well watered and was sparsely populated. However, times have changed. When Allon was a legendary commander in the 1948 war, he did not even dream of missiles. Today, missiles launched from beyond the Jordan can easily reach my home in Tel Aviv. When Netanyahu declares that we need the Jordan valley in order to stop the Arabs from smuggling missiles into the West Bank, he is, well, a little bit behind the times. When the politicians bravely face the new world, the army dares not lag behind. This week, several division commanders announced that they were preparing for Tahrir-style ‘non-violent mass uprisings’ in the West Bank. Troops are trained, riot control means are stocked. Our glorious army is being prepared for yet another colonial police job … In the meantime, a dozen top politicians, from Avigdor Lieberman down, have been dusting off moribund plans for ‘interim agreements’ – old merchandise sitting sadly on the shelves, with no buyers in sight”.

Can Israel build bridges to possible new “progressive, multi-party” Arab societies?, Avnery asks … and answers: “I believe we can. But the absolute, unalterable precondition is that we make peace with the Palestinian people. [Yet] It is the unshakable – and self-fulfilling – conviction of the entire Israeli establishment that this is impossible. They are quite right – as long as they are in charge, it is indeed impossible. But with another leadership, will things be different? … A peace agreement – signed by the PLO, ratified in a popular referendum, accepted by Hamas – will radically change the attitude of the Arab peoples in general towards Israel. This is not simply a matter of form – it goes deep into the bedrock of national consciousness. Not one of the ongoing uprisings in the various Arab countries is anti-Israeli by nature. Nowhere do the Arab masses cry out for war. Indeed, the idea of war contradicts their basic aspirations: social progress, freedom, a standard of living which allows a life in dignity. However, as long as the occupation of Palestinian territory goes on, the Arab masses will reject conciliation with Israel … Therefore, Israel will crop up in every free election campaign in the Arab countries, and every party will feel obliged to condemn Israel. ONE ARGUMENT against peace, endlessly repeated by our official propaganda, is that Hamas will never accept it. The specter of Islamist movements in other countries winning democratic elections – as Hamas did in Palestine – is painted on the wall as a mortal danger. It may be worthwhile remembering that Hamas was effectively created by Israel in the first place. During the first decades of the occupation, the military governors forbade any kind of Palestinian political activity, even by those who were advocating peace with Israel. Activists were sent to prison. There was only one exception: Islamists. Not only was it impossible to prevent them from assembling in the mosques – the only public space left open – but the military governors were told to encourage Islamist organizations, as a counterforce to the PLO, which was considered the main enemy … On the outbreak of the first intifada, the Islamist movement constituted itself as Hamas (“Islamic Resistance Movement”) and took up the fight”.

Now, Avnery asks, “Will Hamas accept peace? It has declared as much in a roundabout way: if the Palestinian Authority makes peace, they have declared, and if the peace agreement is ratified by a Palestinian referendum, Hamas will accept it as an expression of the people’s will”.

This Avnery article is an interesting compliment to remarks made by former Mossad Director [he served three terms] Efraim (Ephraim) Halevy to members of the Foreign Press Association at a briefing at the Foreign Press Association last Thursday.

Halevy was presenting the results of a study — entitled “Future Borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority” — done by the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies, which he heads, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Federmann School for Public Policy and Government.

Halevy — who told the journalists: “I was an intelligence officer for 48 years — noted that the study is an academic effort which will be sent to “both addresses” (Israeli and Palestinian?), and which was conducted entirely independently of any developments within the current Israeli government (which he said at another point was “weak”), although Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has announced that he plans to present, soon, some kind of “long-term” but “interim” solution.

Halevy said that the study concluded that the most viable solution would be “no solution” to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Paradoxically, he said, the participants agreed that an “agreed-upon international border”, meaning a peace treaty (or a part of one) was not possible, though it was desirable, because “We believe that the penalty or price that would be paid for keeping a no-solution situation is so high and so prohibitive … that both sides would prefer any other solution”.

For the Palestinians, he said, “saying that after all these efforts there is no solution, might well mean the end of existence of the Palestinian Authority (PA)”. And, he added, “even if a Palestinian State is declared, but it’s not operative, this would be political bankruptcy”.

“Israel can live longer with no solution”, Halevy said, “but the penalty the Palestinians will pay is much greater … They can’t live with no solution … and for us [Israel], the existence of the PA is a major interest”.

What is needed is not an “end of conflict” (a term used by previous Israeli governments from Ehud Barak to Ehud Olmert), Halevy noted, but rather an “agreement on co-existence”. While the initial reaction might be, “Oh no, we don’t want this”, Halevy said, “at the end of the day, if you have to choose between bad and worse”, this might be the better option.

This would be better, he said, because [a] the time frame would be less, therefore the chances for implementation would be greater (“you cannot make a commitment for somebody else in the future to implement”); and also because [b] the opposition is much less on both sides, because “we wouldn’t be signing off in the end of the conflict, and in Israel we’ll continue to live the kind of live we have today — in terms of economy, education, and style of life”. For the Palestinians, he said, such an agreement on co-existence would also have a virtue: “maybe we really don’t want a referendum because we can’t guarantee the results”, while for Hamas in particular, he said, “they have been asking for a while for a temporary solution, and they, as spoilers, would give the Palestinians the necessary consensus” to support this “agreement on co-existence”.

Halevy said, in answer to a journalist’s question, that yes, he did see such an agreement as a step along the way to a permanent solution and not an end in itself, as the Palestinians fear it would be. He added that ultimately borders would not have the same significance that they have today – but, he said “it will take generations, and much education”.

In any ase, he said there is now “growing unrest in the West Bank — in terms of conflict between Jewish and Arab populations — and a whole list of possible developments that could be negative for Palestinians in the West Bank that would make the whole solution fall apart, and would cause the loss of the benefits if sitting around in cafés in Ramallah and Nablus”. However, he said, he saw “no great appetite to go back to [Intifada-style] violence in the West Bank”.

He noted that he had recently written in Yediot Ahronot that “Israel is a threat-prone society … but fear is not a policy”.

And, he said, “we’ll know in a couple of weeks what the consequences will be in the West Bank and Gaza” of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere. “I do not feel there will be a copy-cat phenomenon”, but “I do feel there are pressures on the PA to do something, and to do it quick”.

The result of the uprisings, he said, is that “the timetable is much shorter now, and if by September nothing happens, it’s too late”. He indicated later that he was referring to the end-date of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s two year program for the establishment of institutions of a Palestinian State (not, he said, to the possible, or probable, moves in the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly to secure full UN membership for such a Palestinian State).

He said, however, that he didn’t think it’s going to happen, but he did say that by the end of the year we’ll be in a new situation”.

“We don’t have time to mess around”, Halevy added, because the net result is that the uprisings in North Africa have “accelerated the pace of events”.

It was earlier predicted that 2011 would be critical, Halevy said, and “I think yes, 2011 is a critical year”.

Questions about the Flotilla from Uri Avnery

Here is the list of questions that Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery asks, in his weekly article sent around by email, concerning Israel and the the Freedom Flotilla that was intercepted at sea on 30 May (the MV Rachel Corrie stopped a week later), as the ships were in international water in the Eastern Mediterranean, but headed toward Gaza:

“1. What is the real aim of the Gaza Strip blockade?

2. If the aim is to prevent the flow of arms into the Strip, why are only 100 products allowed in (as compared to the more than 12 thousand products in an average Israeli supermarket)?

3. Why is it forbidden to bring in chocolate, toys, writing material, many kinds of fruits and vegetables (and why cinnamon but not coriander)?

4. What is the connection between the decision to forbid the import of construction materials for the replacement or repair of the thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged during the Cast Lead operation and the argument that they may serve Hamas for building bunkers – when more than enough materials for this purpose are brought into the Strip through the tunnels?

5. Is the real aim of the blockade to turn the lives of the 1.5 million human beings in the Strip into hell, in the hope of inducing them to overthrow the Hamas regime?

6. Since this has not happened, but – on the contrary – Hamas has become stronger during the three years of the blockade, did the government ever entertain second thoughts on this matter?

7. Has the blockade been imposed in the hope of freeing the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit?

8. If so, has the blockade contributed anything to the realization of this aim, or has it been counter-productive?

9. Why does the Israeli government refuse to exchange Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, when Hamas agrees to such a deal?

10. Is it true that the US government has imposed a veto on the exchange of prisoners, on the grounds that it would strengthen Hamas?

11. Has there been any discussion in our government about fulfilling its undertaking in the Oslo agreement – to enable and encourage the development of the Gaza port – in a way that would prevent the passage of arms?

12. Why does the Israeli government declare again and again that the territorial waters of the Gaza strip are part of Israel’s own territorial waters, and that ships entering them “infringe on Israeli sovereignty”, contrary to the fact that the Gaza Strip was never annexed to Israel and that Israel officially announced in 2006 that it had “separated” itself from it?

13. Why has the Attorney General’s office declared that the peace activists captured on the high seas, who had no intention whatsoever of entering Israel, had “tried to enter Israel illegally”, and brought them before a judge for the extension of their arrest under the law that concerns “illegal entry into Israel”?

14. Who is responsible for these contradictory legal claims, when the Israeli government argues one minute that Israel has “separated itself from the Gaza Strip” and that the “occupaton there has come to an end” – and the next minute claims sovereignty over the coastal waters of the Strip?

Continue reading Questions about the Flotilla from Uri Avnery

Watch news photographers do their job in yesterday's demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem!

With thanks to Joseph Dana for his post on his blog here, it is possible to see the Youtube video by Yisrael Putermam of yesterday’s demonstration of Israelis supporting not only evicted Palestinians but also democracy, freedom of expression, and other human rights in Sheikh Jarrah:

In the information posted on the Youtube site alongside the video, Puterman wrote:
“This week the demonstration was even bigger than those of previous weeks. 350 demonstrators, amongst them former minister and Knesset Chair Avraham Burg, former minister Yossi Sarid, MK Muhamad Barak’e and former MK Uri Avneri, gathered in a park near the neighborhood to protest the racist evictions taking place there in spite of intensifying police oppression of the struggle (see last week’s report). Two demonstrators offered the police officer in charge, Avi Cohen, a big bouquet of flowers, thanking him for helping the struggle gain nationwide attention by arresting about 20 activists every week. Cohen refused to accept the flowers and they were left at his feet. After about an hour of demonstrating in a tense atmosphere, demonstrators started marching towards the neighborhood. Border and Riot policemen stopped the march, while still allowing settlers and visitors of the Shimon Hat’sadik Tomb through. After a quarter of an hour police attacked the demonstration, arresting about 15 people and beating on others. The demonstration continued for another two and half hours, with police occasionally beating people and shoving them back, but attempting to avoid too many more arrests. The day ended with 22 arrested. During the demonstration it became apparent that settlers were attacking Palestinians inside the neighborhood, and two residents required medial care. At the same time police raided Palestinian homes and arrested people who participated in the demonstration and then went home. The demonstrators’ protests outside against the police’s siding with the violent settlers were met with yet more police brutality”.

Uri Avnery on the Israeli Army

Taking for inspiration one of the many “incidents” (though they are much more than that) which have been reported at a dizzing pace — even we have touched on them here — Uri Avnery wrote in his column this week: “NOT EVERY day, and not even every decade, does the Supreme Court rebuke the Military Advocate General. The last time this happened was 20 years ago, when the Advocate General refused to issue a proper indictment against an officer who ordered his men to break the arms and legs of a bound Palestinian. The officer argued that he considered this to be his duty, after the Minister of Defense, Yitzhak Rabin, had called for ‘breaking their bones’. Well, this week it happened again. The Supreme Court made a decision that was tantamount to a slap in the face of the army’s current chief legal officer, Brigadier Avichai Mendelblit.
The incident in question took place in Ni’alin, a village which has been robbed of a great part of its land by the Separation Fence. Like their neighbors in Bilin, the villagers demonstrate every week against the Fence. Generally, the army’s reactions in Ni’alin are even more violent than in Bilin. Four protesters have already been killed there.
In this particular incident, Lieutenant Colonel Omri Borberg took a Palestinian demonstrator, who was sitting on the ground, handcuffed and blindfolded, and suggested to one of his soldiers ‘let’s go aside and give him a rubber’. He ordered the soldier to shoot a rubber bullet, point blank. For those who do not know: ‘rubber bullets’ are steel bullets coated with rubber. From a distance, they cause painful injuries. At short range, they can be fatal. Officially, soldiers are allowed to use them at a minimum range of 40 meters. Without hesitating, the soldier shot the prisoner in the foot, although this was a ‘manifestly illegal order’, which a soldier is obliged by army law to disobey. According to the classic definition of Judge Binyamin Halevy in the 1957 Kafr Kassem massacre case, the ‘black flag of illegality’ is waving over such orders. The prisoner, Ashraf Abu-Rakhma, was hit and fell on the ground. Veterans of the Ni’alin and Bilin demonstrations know that such and similar incidents happen all the time. But the Abu-Rakhma case was special for one reason: it was documented by a young local woman from a balcony near the crime scene with one of the cameras provided to villagers by B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organization. Thus the Lt. Col. committed an unforgivable sin: he was photographed in the act. Generally, when peace activists disclose such misdeeds, the army spokesman reaches into his bag of lies and comes up with some mendacious statement or other (‘Attacked the soldier’, ‘Tried to grab his weapon’, ‘Resisted arrest’). But even a talented spokesman has difficulties denying something that is clearly seen on film…

Continue reading Uri Avnery on the Israeli Army