Friday, April 29, 2011
Four years ago, I engaged in an inexact but illuminating exercise to get at the immensity of the Holocaust. Using the approximate start date of June 22, 1941, the beginning of Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union—when the Einsatzgruppen began their mass shootings of whole communities—I calculated that an average of over 29,000 Jews were murdered each week until the war ended on May 8, 1945. This was over 4,000 per day; in other words, the European Jewish population of 11 million suffered the equivalent of more than one and a third 9/11 size catastrophes everyday for three years and ten months. (The Jews of the world have still not quite recovered to equal the pre-Holocaust population of 18 million.)
The height of this slaughter occurred during the summer of 1944, with the gassing of 12,000 Hungarian Jews per day (over 300,000 in total) in Auschwitz. This occurred despite the Herculean efforts of two escapees from Auschwitz, Rudolph Vrba and Fred Wetzler, who reported in great detail on the death camp's operations and the fact that the Jews of Hungary were the Nazis' next target. But their efforts ultimately saved about 120,000 Jews, making this (in effect) the most successful rescue of the war.
This entire incredible tale is depicted in an hour-long documentary telecast this week on the US Public Broadcasting System (PBS). In the words of the program's transcript:
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
Let there be no mistake. Birthright Unplugged clearly indicates below that it wishes to help undermine Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, referring explicitly to ending "apartheid" in Israel and "to implement the right of return for Palestinian refugees." It has no connection to such organizations as Meretz USA, the Geneva Initiative, J Street, and the New Israel Fund that promote reforms and international agreements that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution and work for equal citizenship rights for all current citizens of Israel.
This is how their misdirected email to me begins:
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
The campaign to boycott Israel has won a victory by persuading the University of Johannesburg to end its scientific collaboration with Ben Gurion University (BGU). In Britain, the campaign has made headway among some trade union activists but no university anywhere has considered actually refusing to work with people based at Israeli institutions. Such a policy would break anti-racist law in Britain and violate the norm that the work of scholars is what counts, not their national origin.
South African support is priceless for the boycotters because they make their case worldwide by saying that a boycott of Israel would be similar to the ANC’s boycott of apartheid. Heroes of the anti-apartheid movement back the campaign and anti-Zionist Jews try to indemnify it against the whiff of anti-Semitism that lingers around it. ...
.... UJ scholars should be able to recognise an apartheid institution. The Rand Afrikaans University, from which it is descended, was set up as an apartheid project. ...
Israeli universities are not part of a racist project; they are autonomous academic institutions like others across the democratic world.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
During a Passover Seder, we Jews tip our cups of wine and let drops spill. This symbolizes, and more importantly acknowledges and mourns, the suffering of the Egyptians under the yoke of the ten plagues God inflicted on them.
I always found this remarkably touching and meaningful. The ancient Egyptians were said to have enslaved the Hebrews, whose liberation we are celebrating. While the
Sadly, as with so many religious traditions, this ritual has now lost its meaning for too many of us. For some it is mere rote, a ritual performed because it is part of the Seder, but stripped of its meaning.Torah isn’t specific about the social dynamics in the era of Ramses II, one gets a very strong impression that the Pharaoh was not the only enslaver, but that much of Egyptian society held us in bondage. Nonetheless, we express sorrow for their suffering.
Look, for instance at the contemptible words of Noah Pollak, the Executive Director of the ultra-right wing, fanatically anti-peace organization, the Emergency Committee for Israel. He could not contain his glee at the murder of Italian International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist Vittorio Arrigoni. Among other comments, he sneers “My condolences to the anti-Israel crazies mourning their ISM friend. We who do not work with terrorists will never understand your pain.”
This is not about the ISM, whose politics I also disagree with (though far less so than I do with Pollak’s hate). This is about simple human decency. A man was murdered – in fact murdered, at least based on the information we have now, by terrorists not like Hamas, but much more like al-Qaeda (those differences are very important) – and that is a tragedy. Most people would agree with that, most Jews would agree, even those who might vehemently object to Arrigoni’s politics. Pollak is virtually dancing in the streets.
Pollak is neither typical of Israelis nor Jews, but the lack of empathy is not confined to radical anti-peace extremists like him.
We might think about the Israeli attitude toward the Gaza Strip. Let’s forget for a moment about international law, the Goldstone Report and all of that. Let’s dispense with dueling narratives and just look at it from an Israeli viewpoint.
Rockets fly out of Gaza, which has always been more radical, and much poorer, than the West Bank. Hamas, a group considered by Israel and many others a terrorist outfit, controls the Strip. We would say, this is intolerable. If this was happening in America, they’d be launching full scale attacks. We must act to protect ourselves.
OK, but what are the boundaries? Do basic ethics not compel the minimal use of force necessary, and the maximal care to try to avoid harming civilians?
But that isn’t what’s happened. Israel has besieged Gaza, driving an already impoverished populace much deeper into that poverty. It has destroyed thousands of homes and civilian buildings, while its closure of the Strip has prevented rebuilding materials from coming in. And it started years ago when Israel moved to declare Gaza a hostile entity so that it had legal justification for a much broader range of actions.
Food insecurity in Gaza is at 52%, unemployment at nearly 40%. These areamong the highest figures in the world. The aquifer that is Gaza’s only fresh water supply is badly polluted. Over 90% of the water extracted from the aquifer and supplied through the network is brackish and does not meet World Health Organization standards for drinking water. And after the killing of hundreds of non-combatants in Operation Cast Lead, there have been at least 34 such non-combatant deaths by Israeli fire in Gaza since then.
Despite all of this, Hamas, according to Israeli intelligence, is more powerfulthan ever militarily. So civilians are suffering and Israel is not even benefiting in terms of security.
Where is our compassion? Where are the drops of wine, not just at our tables but in our politics and in the policies of our governments, Israeli and American?
Many will ask “what about Palestinian compassion? Are they weeping over dead Israelis?” Though I’ve heard from plenty of Palestinians, other Arabs, and pro-Palestinian activists about their horror and outrage at the murders, despite the victims being settlers, sure, it’s true; everyone on all sides could use more empathy for the other.
Indeed, the remarkable thing to me about the Seder tradition of spilling the wine is precisely that it is the oppressed expressing sorrow for the pain of the oppressor. And in that case, it was not the Hebrews who caused the pain, but God himself. Indeed, God went out of his way to make sure that he ran through all ten of his plagues, hardening the Pharaoh’s heart when he might have freed his slaves before getting to taste all of God’s planned scourges.
That’s not a very pretty image of God, but it also has a lesson for mere humans. God may exact his price, his vengeance, or, in a kinder interpretation, act in ways that may seem cruel to us but are just beyond our understanding. But people are not to revel in such things; they are to mourn them, even when they happen to the enemy.
It is much harder for the less powerful party to do such things, yet that is exactly what Jewish tradition directs in this ritual. And, while empathy over the long term surely requires an exchange, where both parties are expressing that empathy for the other, the more powerful one is in a much better position to start.
Israel is more than capable of pursuing security without the massive devastation it has inflicted on the people of Gaza. It is more than strong enough to move purposefully toward ending its occupation and finding peace with the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as well with Syria and the rest of the Arab world by stopping the expansion of settlements and cutting out the excuse that Palestinians won’t talk to them while they keep building. It is more than stable enough to overcome the constant fear mongering of its current leaders as well as the fanatical right-wingers, and fearful others in the Jewish diaspora.
On this Passover, as it has been for many years, Israeli Jews celebrate the biblical liberation of the Hebrews while closing the West Bank completely, reinforcing not just Israeli but Jewish captivity of another people who are held under military rule with no rights.
We show compassion for the ancient Egyptian enslavers by spilling our wine in their memory. But if that compassion for the long-dead victims of God’s wrath is to hold any meaning, surely it must mean that no effort be spared to find a way to stop our own denial of freedom to the people of the Palestinian Territories
Monday, April 18, 2011
Friday, April 15, 2011
|Otto Geismar (Germany, 1927)|
The "Chacham" - the Wise, Inquisitive Child: What does she ask? "The Israeli-Arab conflict seems to be a complex, dynamic, multi-dimensional issue, filled with political, religious, cultural, historic and military aspects, both local/regional and global in nature. How can I possibly learn enough to know everything there is to know?"
To this child we would say: Realize first that, as in any conflict, different participants tell different stories. Historical narratives agree on some points, but vary widely on others. So please do read, and go to lectures and discussion groups, and seek out individuals involved in the conflict to collect their oral histories.
But don't forget that a true understanding of the conflict stems not from amassing a series of "facts", but from the art of weaving: Integrating and synthesizing all the different, often contradictory, perspectives into a reasonable understanding of "the situation".
And accept the fact that this task of weaving is an ongoing one, that there will always be new information and points-of-view to synthesize. And be humble, because you will never know "everything".
The "Rasha" - The Wicked (or, perhaps, Alienated) Child: What does he ask? "The Israeli-Arab conflict seems way too complicated and way too many miles away for me to care. Besides, those people over there seem hopeless. All they do is fight. Why do you bother?"
READ MORE ON THE MERETZ USA WEBSITE!
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Breaking down barriers in the South Hebron Hills by Michael Omer-Man*
West Bank/Jaffa - On an otherwise serene Saturday morning in late March, in the southern Hebron Hills, over 30 activists – mostly Jews – non-violently confronted a platoon of Israeli soldiers guarding the hilltop settlement of Ma'on. In an act of solidarity and civil disobedience protesting discriminatory policies often used to deny Palestinians access to their lands, 16 members of the group were arrested by the army.
Calmly speaking through a megaphone as the activists were being led away, one young member of the group, a former soldier herself, challenged the soldiers to "think about the different sets of laws that Palestinians and settlers live under the next time they swear [their oath] to protect Israeli democracy."
Many Israelis – 62 per cent – think that Israel should do more to achieve peace, according to a Brookings [Institution] poll from late last year, and a majority back a two-state solution. Yet, very few Jewish Israelis have
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Table of Contents
Thursday, April 07, 2011
Those who knew Juliano Mer-Khamis, the Nazareth-born actor and director who was shot in Jenin on Monday, will have to be the ones to write about him....
.... He was born Palestinian and Jewish, Jewish and Palestinian. ... Juliano embodied the potential of a shared life (ta'ayush in Arabic ) while striving for equality. The son of a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father, he was born to two cultures, and chose to live in both. ...
My guess is that Juliano wasn't entertaining illusions; sustaining blows from all sides, the potential of ta'ayush shrank. Ta'ayush is the sane vision, but the chance that it will be realized is increasingly slim. ...
While a single bi-national state is clearly an idealistic (even noble) notion,
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
The Green Line between Israel and the West Bank/Gaza constitutes the geographic basis for a viable Israeli-Palestinian two-state compromise; four decades of Israeli settlement expansion are destroying that basis. Israel's Occupation and settlement policies compromise Israel's character as a democratic Jewish-majority state, while undermining relations between Israel and the future Palestinian state. These policies isolate Israel diplomatically in ways that are likely to have long-term security consequences. For these and other reasons, Meretz USA is promoting a boycott of wines grown and produced in West Bank settlements. Buy wines from Israel, don't buy wines from the settlements; they are not the same.
The following table lists wines made in West Bank settlements and sold in the U.S. Please boycott these wines. If you know of any other wines that are produced in West Bank settlements and sold in the U.S., e-mail us as firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add them to the boycott list.
Click on this PDF document-- Wine boycott.pdf --or go to our website for this list of wines we suggest you not buy.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
The following piece by Bernard Avishai (the Canadian-American-Israeli political economist, author and blogger) is both insightful and pithy:
|Avishai (photo by Amy Thompson)|
Richard Goldstone is a good man in need of a good editor. His report would never have attracted so much lightening had it not started off the way it did, trying to chronicle the terrible events of the Gaza operation, along with all the preliminary allegations of war crimes, before getting to context, testimony, caveats, and definitions (see especially pp. 10-26). By the time you got through the first section, you either had to be furious with Israel or with him.
Now Goldstone says in the lead of his Washington Post op-ed piece what everybody will remember, but which he does not really go on to prove, that to have known then what is known now would have meant a materially different report, hence, a different reaction to the Gaza operation.
Monday, April 04, 2011
We boarded the ship at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, and held our discussions in the conference room on the 11th floor (see first photo), near the workout room and the chimney. The ship set sail from the
Saturday, April 02, 2011
Quite frankly, the Goldstone Report on the Israeli devastation of the Gaza Strip and Hamas rocket firing during what was called Operation Cast Lead has been a fiasco of politicization from day one.
Back in November of 2009, I wrote a piece looking at some of the basic flaws with the Report, but also why it was so very important. Now, Richard Goldstone himself has written an op-ed in the Washington Post that seems to be a retreat from the Report he was the lead author of and that only serves to stir up the hornets’ nest even further.
The politicization has come from both sides, left and right. This is reflected in the responses to the report. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that in light of Goldstone’s op-ed the entire report should be scrapped. On the other side, Adam Horowitz, who recently co-edited a book on the Goldstone Report, says the UN report
which prompted Goldstone’s op-ed only proves that the issue needs to be brought before the International Criminal Court.
For me, the whole episode, from start to finish, simply shows the naiveté of the concept that somehow human rights and international law can be applied objectively and not subjected to political influences.
I had problems with all of this from the beginning. Israel’s constant framing of so many criticisms as anti-Semitism or at least anti-Israel bias has turned into a cry of wolf that only its passionate devotees treat with credibility these days. But when it comes to the UN Human Rights Council, the accusation not only has merit, but is absolutely spot-on.
The UNHRC has only one country, Israel, under permanent review, and as of 2010, almost half its resolutions had to do with Israel. Its rapporteur on the issue is charged only with reviewing Israeli human rights violations, not Palestinian ones. The mere fact that an international human rights body includes among its members such states as China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Thailand, and until just a few weeks ago, Libya (and the inclusion of the US, responsible for so many human rights violations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Guantanamo Bay, which executes developmentally disabled people, and so many other stains on its human rights record that are ongoing hardly helps) already calls its legitimacy into question. Its record on Israel should have necessitated that another body be overseeing the volatile investigation into Operation Cast Lead.
The fact that Goldstone himself had to refuse the assignment unless the mandate for it was expanded to include all actors, not only Israel, not only reinforces the issue of anti-Israel bias at the UNHRC, but also the fact that these are not legal/criminal investigations, but political ones.
Then the report came out, and an endless barrage of comments ensued. Most of those comments came from so-called “pro-Israel” pundits, mostly those who are not defending Israel, but rather its occupation and other policies which are leading to Israel’s demise. And most of those comments dealt not at all with the substance of the Goldstone Report, but rather with the bias of the UNHRC, and trumped-up charges of hatred of Israel and even of Jews against the group that assembled that report. The most scathing attacks — in keeping with a strategy of targeting alleged “traitors to the tribe” that we’ve seen manifested again recently in Israel’s Orwellian investigation of J Street and the ADL’s unwarrantedattacks on Jewish Voice for Peace — were reserved for Goldstone himself. The South African jurist and self-proclaimed Zionist was mercilessly pelted with all sorts of scurrilous claims.
And now we have Goldstone’s latest contribution to the circus.
There’s an irony to all of this. The Goldstone Report was not a document of verdict of any kind. It raised questions and recommended investigation. Yet the left interpreted it as an indictment of Israel and Israel and its supporters reacted just the same. Now Goldstone’s words are being defined as much more of a retreat than they are.
Goldstone has maintained from the beginning, quite accurately, that the chief recommendation of his report was for the parties involved to investigate these allegations themselves. He also bemoaned from the beginning that Israel refused to cooperate with the investigation and that if they had, the results may well have been different. In his op-ed, he reiterates these very valid points.
Indeed, much of his piece simply reflects things he has been saying all along, from before the investigation started, while he was engaged in it and after the report came out.
That said, he does say some things that seem, at best, puzzling. Chief among these is his flat statement that the UN committee following up on his report “…indicate[s] that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.” In fact, the committee’s report says nothing of the kind. As Horowitz points out: “This endorsement of the Israeli investigation is directly contradicted by the expert’s report he appears to be referencing.”
Horowitz goes on to quote from the committee’s report:
“The Committee does not have sufficient information to establish the current status of the on-going criminal investigations into the killings of Ateya and Ahmad Samouni, the attack on the Wa’el al-Samouni house and the shooting of Iyad Samouni. This is of considerable concern: reportedly 24 civilians were killed and 19 were injured in the related incidents on 4 and 5 January 2009. Furthermore, the events may relate both to the actions and decisions of soldiers on the ground and of senior officers located in a war room, as well as to broader issues implicating the rules of engagement and the use of drones. There are also reports indicating that the MAG’s decision to investigate was opposed by the then Head of the IDF Southern Command. Media reports further inform that a senior officer, who was questioned “under caution” and had his promotion put on hold, told investigators that he was not warned that civilians were at the location. However, some of those civilians had been ordered there by IDF soldiers from that same officer’s’ unit and air force officers reportedly informed him of the possible presence of civilians. Despite allegedly being made aware of this information, the officer apparently approved air strikes that killed 21 people and injured 19 gathered in the al-Samouni house. Media sources also report that the incident has been described as a legitimate interpretation of drone photographs portrayed on a screen and that the special command investigation, initiated ten months after the incidents, did not conclude that there had been anything out of the ordinary in the strike. As of 24 October 2010, according to media reports, no decision had been made as to whether or not the officer would stand trial. The same officer who assertedly called in the strike reportedly insisted that ambulances not enter the sector under his control, fearing attempts to kidnap soldiers.”
Horowitz is right in saying that is hardly an indication that there was no policy of targeting civilians.
There were reasons many thought there was such a policy. One was a comment made by an Israeli official, Dov Weisglass in 2006 regarding the siege on Gaza generally, not Cast Lead: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger… The hunger pangs are supposed to encourage the Palestinians to force Hamas to change its attitude towards Israel or force Hamas out of government.” This indicates a strategy of collective punishment as a means to induce the population to rise up against their rulers.
Was this still in place at the end of 2008? Consider the words of Matan Vilnai, the Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Olmert government in February 2008: “The more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah[note: “Shoah” is the Hebrew word referring to the Holocaust] because we will use all our might to defend ourselves… We’re getting close to using our full strength. Until now, we’ve used a small percentage of the army’s power because of the nature of the territory.”
Other statements by Israeli military and political leaders during Cast Lead indicate that Israel unilaterally decided to expand the definition of legitimate targets, basing their decision on the fact that the civilian infrastructure in Gaza was controlled by a recognized terrorist organization. From B’Tselem’s “Guidelines for Investigation Into Operation Cast Lead”:
On 30 December 2008, following an attack on buildings in the Gaza city government complex, the IDF Spokesperson stated that the air force had attacked three buildings in the complex, “in which the government’s activity is concentrated, and which support financing, planning, and carrying out terrorist acts.” The announcement continued: “Attacking this strategic governmental objective was executed following the prolonged firing of the Hamas terror organization at Israeli territory, and in the framework of IDF activity to strike at the governmental infrastructure and the military wing.” Two days later, on 1 January, following the attack on the building of the Legislative Council and the Ministry of Justice, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office issued a similar announcement: “Attacks on strategic governmental objectives, which are part of Hamas’ government apparatus, is a direct response to the prolonged firing of the Hamas terror organization at communities in southern Israel.”
As opposed to other announcements made by the IDF Spokesperson regarding various bombing and shelling throughout the operation, the above announcements did not claim that the buildings served any military purposes, such as munitions storage or cover for armed Palestinians. This disparity indicates that the reason for striking these targets was not related to the purposes for which they were being used.
Statements by Israeli officials, according to which Israel deems everything connected to Hamas a legitimate target, strengthen this conclusion. In an article published in the Washington Post, Major Avital Leibovich, of the IDF Spokesperson’s Office, said that the military had indeed expanded the list of its targets, in comparison with previous operations, contending that Hamas uses civilian activity to cover up its military actions. Consequently, she argued, “everything related to Hamas is a legitimate target.”
The deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, at a meeting with heads of local authorities in southern Israel said as follows: “We are striking not only terrorists and launchers, but the entire Hamas administration, and all its arms… We are striking government buildings, manufacturing plants, security branches, and so forth. We demand governmental responsibility from Hamas and we do not distinguish between the various branches. Following the operation, no Hamas building will be left standing.”
Moreover, B’Tselem investigated each and every death in Operation Cast Lead and found that of 1,396 Palestinian fatalities, 763 were not taking part in hostilities when they were killed (an additional 32 could not be classified as to whether they were taking part in hostilities or not). Of the 601 who did not fall into that group, 248 were police who were killed in police stations, and whom Israel claims were part of the Hamas armed force. Whether those police really did qualify as legitimate targets is an open question, one which absolutely cries out for an impartial determination, as it could set a dangerous precedent for others.
That leaves an awful lot to investigate regarding Israel’s policy, as well as its specific actions in Cast Lead. Is it an indictment of crime, much less proof? Absolutely not. Perhaps Israel can demonstrate that they took adequate care to ensure they were targeting combatants and minimizing civilian casualties—that is all that is required under international humanitarian law.
But it is certainly clear that a serious investigation is needed. The UN Committee of independent experts charged with following up on Goldstone explicitly complains that Israel has not adequately investigated the questions of policy raised by Cast Lead, and that the investigations that have taken place have often been opaque, casting doubt on the veracity of the results, which have seen only three cases prosecuted so far. And that, it seems to me, from an international law perspective, is the most important question.
Goldstone, in his op-ed, seems to be making a very big deal out of the fact that Israel has gone much farther than Hamas in complying with the Report’s call for investigation. True, for sure, but is that really an adequate standard? Is any Israeli really proud to say “Hey, we’ve done a lot better than Hamas?”
The Goldstone Report was taken as a declaration of Israel’s guilt of war crimes by many on the left, including some who are more sympathetic to Israel but were outraged by devastation Israel let loose on the people of Gaza. It was never that.
But neither was it some attempt to “get” Israel, as it was portrayed by supporters of Israeli militarism and occupation. The Report raised serious questions, and it did not stand alone. Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, Gisha and many other human rights organizations also raised serious issues.
The strategy of the increasingly loony and fanatical “anti-de-legitimization” crew has been to attack the messenger, rather than the substance. Yet these questions are legitimate, and should be asked even if Israel acted in perfect compliance with the law and with every caution to protect civilian lives. And they have yet to be adequately addressed.
The UN report to which Goldstone referred in his op-ed says that “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza.” It has indeed done this, much of it only after the storm Goldstone unleashed.
But those investigations have occurred, and absent any clear standard which they fall short of (and, like the situation with proportionality, which I discussed in another piece recently, there are no clearly established guidelines for what is a viable and credible investigation), I cannot agree with Adam Horowitz when he says that the matter should now move to the International Criminal Court.
But neither can the results of the Goldstone Report and the conclusions of the follow-up committee be dismissed.
In the end, these are not simple criminal investigations. The entire process is not a legal one which is held to some sort of standard of objectivity. It has been subject to political pressures from ALL DIRECTIONS from the very beginning, and every time a new twist in this saga hits the news, everyone tries to spin it to their advantage.
Until we have clearer guidelines under the law for such investigations and mechanisms to ensure that all parties are treated fairly, we have to move forward with a clear consciousness that these proceedings are much more political than legalistic.
And the best political response to all this noise around Goldstone is to push for a unified international program that will protect all civilians, Israeli and Palestinian, without discrimination. That, by the way, would probably also serve to smooth a path for broader political progress on the conflict in general.