Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lova Eliav - Israeli Hero - Dies at 88

Arieh (Lova) Eliav died in Tel Aviv today after a long illness. He was 88.

Eliav was one of my heroes when I first moved to Israel in 1974. In the pre-state days he had commanded Haganah ships bringing illegal Jewish immigrants to Palestine. In 1956 he spearhead the evacuation of the Jews of Port Said from Egypt to Israel. Throughout the 1950s and early 60s he worked on immigrant absorption. He was the prime mover in the development of the Lakhish region of Israel, including the city of Kiryat Gat and 15 surrounding kibbutzim and moshavim.

In 1965 he was elected to the Knesset for the Labour Party. Eventually he became a deputy minister (twice) and Secretary General of the Labour Party. But by 1973 he had quit Labour because he disagreed with Labour's policies regarding both the occupied territories and internal social policy

In late 1967, just after the six day war, when he resigned as Deputy Minister of Commerce and Industry, he told then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol

"Our future, for better of for worse, will be determined in the West Bank and in Gaza, and I don't know anything about them. I am not an expert on Arabs or the Middle East. Until today, I've only met Arabs through the sights of a gun."

Eshkol then asked, "So what is it that you want?" to which Eliav replied "what I want to do now is to tour the territories, explore and begin to understand the issue and the problems. And now I am announcing my resignation."

Eliav toured refugee camps for six months, meeting with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and in Gaza. Once a month, he would file a report with Eshkol.

After six months, Eliav asked to establish a national authority for the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. Eliav approached Golda Meir with the proposal, but she replied that it was more important to focus on "our own needy people."

Eliav was re-appointed as a Deputy Minister this time of Immigrant Absorption from 1968 to 1969. He served as Secretary General of the Labour Party from 1969 to 1971. He was re-elected to the Knesset in 1973, but left the Labour Party shortly afterwards, siting its policies in the occupied territories that allowed for Israel settlements, its refusal to negotiate with the PLO, and its abandonment of social democratic ideals within Israel.

Eliav went on sit as a member of Knesset for Ratz, Yaad, and Shelli - all small parties of the Israeli left in the 1970s and 80s. I worked for and voted for all these parties, and it was in this capacity that I got to know Eliav personally.

The single thing that impressed me the most about him - more than his integrity, foresight, political analysis or practical skills - was that once a week, 52 weeks a year, he volunteered as an orderly in an understaffed Tel-Aviv hospital. He felt that he had to do that to keep himself grounded, and so that "if all this politics is slow in producing results, at the end of the week I still know I have contributed." He had been doing that for over 10 years when I met him, and as far as I know he continued for many years after.

In 1988 Eliav helped found Nitzana, an educational community in the Western Negev, and he continued to serve on its board until 2008.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Support Humanitarian "Ship-In" to Gaza:
Urge Israeli Govt to Let Ships Land

Pictured above is the MV Rachel Corrie at dock in Ireland in April. It is one of ten ships currently on there way to Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid.

I am reproducing below an email which I recieved from Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center re the aid flotilla to Gaza, and its likely interception by the Israeli navy.

At the very bottom I have added some suggested Action Items for Canadian readers.

* * *

This weekend, 10 small ships bearing humanitarian civilian supplies for the people of Gaza are on the verge of reaching the coast of Gaza.

According to Israeli news reports, half the Israeli Navy has been deployed to intercept these ships instead of letting them proceed to deliver food, medical supplies such as wheelchairs, and materials for reconstructing homes that were destroyed during the Israeli government's attack on Gaza a year ago.

The ships are being sent because the Israeli government has imposed a blockade on many civilian goods from entering Gaza. The ships are intended as a nonviolent way of breaking through the blockade.

In Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights has urged the government to allow the ships to pass and to end its blockade of civilian goods from entering Gaza. The Shalom Center joins in this plea and invites our readers and members to join in it as well by writing or calling Secretary of State Clinton, the Israeli Embassy to the United States, and the Israeli consulates near where they live.

This nonviolent approach to achieving political change is both profoundly ethical and profoundly practical. It echoes, for example, the work of the civil rights movement in the United States in the early 1960s. Sit-ins, freedom rides, freedom schools, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party all operated on the principle of carrying into practice in the present the vision that its activists had for the future. ^

Their vision was that restaurants, buses, and schools should be open to all, and that the Democratic Party in Mississippi should reflect the voting rights of all citizens of Mississippi, black and white.

What civil rights activists faced was racially segregated society and culture. They did not begin by petitioning Congress for new laws; they did not attack segregationists or segregated institutions. Instead, they embodied the future that they hoped for -- in the present when they were living.

Since they hoped to achieve integrated restaurants, they went in integrated groups to the restaurants. That left the burden of response on the owners and officials. They could arrest sit-in activists; they could even kill them; or they could let the restaurants become integrated.

Over time, so many Americans were moved and drawn by these nonviolent protests that they joined the demonstrations, and insisted that Congress change the laws.

These ten ships approaching the coast of Gaza are doing the same thing. They want the blockade of civilian goods to end; so they are ending it by bringing humanitarian supplies.

For years, many of us have urged Palestinians to turn to nonviolent action. Now they and their supporters are doing this. And they are doing it not by boycotting or divesting from Israel but by a positive rather than a negative action -- affirming the simple justice of allowing Palestinians in Gaza to receive what human beings need. I hope that many Americans, many Jews among them, will respond as Northern whites responded to the sit-in movement 50 years ago.

Below you can find three items: the English translation of the letter sent today by Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel to Defense Minister Ehud Barak; a letter of mine to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to the Israeli Embassy; and the telephone, fax, and e-mail addresses of Secretary Clinton, the Israeli embassy to the United States, and consulates around the country.

I encourage you to draw on Rabbi Ascherman's and my letters as you like, to phone, e-mail, or fax your own comments to Secretary Clinton and the Israeli government -- -- urging them to welcome, rather than attacking, these ships bearing humanitarian supplies. (If you are Jewish, I encourage you to say so; if you are a rabbi, please say so.

I know that many of us will be turning to this Memorial Day weekend for pleasure and relaxation. Yet Memorial Day reminds us of soldiers killed in many wars. Let us take this moment to support a nonviolent action that attempts to meet the needs of human beings without killing or destruction. ^

There is a Yom Kippur prayer that implores God to move from the Divine throne of strict judgment to the Divine throne of merciful compassion. At this moment it is the government of Israel that we must ask to move from judgmental rigidity -- not only to merciful compassion, but also to a sense of decent justice.

Shalom, salaam, peace!

This is the English translation of the letter sent today by Rabbis For Human Rights to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

To Defense Minister Ehud Barak,

Rabbis For Human Rights believes that, instead of viewing humanitarian aid as a provocation, Israel ought to let the Gaza flotilla reach the Gaza port, along with the cargo and those on board, after a thorough but quick inspection.

Rabbis For Human Rights supports the people of conscience from around the world who have sent humanitarian aid to Gaza. We also welcome Israeli government's announcement that it will allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. We are hopeful that, after years of the blockade that has caused great suffering to the Gaza's civilian population, violated international law and prevented Gazans from rebuilding their lives after the Gaza War, Israel will carry out the Jewish tradition's demand that, even when a town is under siege, a side must be left open. (Mishna Tora; Hilchot Malakhi 6:7)

However, Israeli statements hedging on what will be allowed in and denying that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, along with the list of goods denied in recent years, whose only connection with security is that they allow the civilian population to exist, causes doubt as to Israel's true intentions.

RHR also calls on those responsible for the flotilla to change their decision, and to agree to the request of Gilad Shalit's father to take a package and letter to his son.

B'Vrakha (In Blessing),
Rabbi Arik Ascherman
Executive Director
This is my [Rabbi Waskow's] to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to the Israeli Embassy

Dear Ambassador/ Dear Secretary,

As a rabbi, I am deeply committed to the physical safety and the moral and ethical legitimacy of Israel. Both would be enhanced by welcoming, rather than halting and arresting, the ships bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza -- and by ending the Israeli government's blockade of civilian goods.

Ten ships, over 700 international passengers, and some 5,000 tons of reconstruction materials, representingover 50 countries, are represented on this Flotilla, including parliamentarians, medical professionals, and peace activists. These individuals have every right - indeed,. Obligation -- to sail into Gaza's sea port and deliver the much needed humanitarian, medical, and construction materials necessary for Palestinians in Gaza to rebuild their lives.

Media sources report that Israeli naval forces are allegedly in training to prepare to interdict the Flotilla and prevent the arrival of the ships at "any price". According to news reports, about half of the Israeli naval forces will participate in an operation to prepare to seize the boats in the flotilla and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will supervise the operation.

Israel has stopped at least three Free Gaza sailings since January 2009, including one ship which almost sunk after being deliberately rammed by an Israeli vessel and another ship which Israel intercepted in international waters and arrested all of its passengers. Another ship was forced to turn back after the Israeli Navy threatened to shoot the civilian passengers on board.

I am writing to ask you to do everything possible to prevent Israel from using military force to launch an attack or naval blockade on the Flotilla and it's peaceful, unarmed, international citizens. Please do the right thing and stand with the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza by calling on Israel to ensure that all threats to attack the Freedom Flotilla are withdrawn and its safe passage is guaranteed. I remain hopeful that you will take to heart your role in this and will do everything in your power to ensure their safety.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Below is relevant contact information:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Phone (Office of Public Affairs): 202/647-5171.

Embassy of Israel to US
Phone: (202) 364-5500
Fax: (202)364-5429

Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta
1100 Spring St. N.W. Suite
440 Atlanta, Georgia 30309
Phone: (404) 487-6500
Fax: (404) 487-6555

Consulate General of Israel in Boston
Phone: (617) 535-0200
Fax: (617) 535-0255

Consulate General of Israel in Chicago
Phone: 312-297-4800
Fax: 312-297-4855

Consulate of Israel to the Southwest
Phone: (713) 627-3780; (713) 622 4924
Fax: (713) 627-0149

Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles
Phone: (323)852-5500
Fax: (323)852-5555

Consulate General of Israel in Miami
Phone: 305-925-9400
Fax: 305-925-9455

Consulate General of Israel in New York
Phone: (212) 499-5400; (212) 499-5000

Consulate General of Israel in San Francisco
Phone: 415 - 844-7500; (415) 844-7510
Fax: 415-844-7555

Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia
Phone: 215-977-7600
Fax: 215-977-7611
* * *
Canadians may wish to write to the Israeli Embassy In Ottawa:
Embassy of Israel
50 O'Connor Street
Ottawa, ON K1P 6L2
(613) 567-6450

Or, you may wish to take advantage of Prime Ministers Netanyahu's upcomimg visit with Prime Minister Harper, to write the P.M. and urge him to urge Netanyahu to let the ships pass.

You can send your comments by e-mail to or write or fax the Prime Minister’s office at:

Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
K1A 0A2

Fax: 613-941-6900

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Free Passes For War Criminals?

Nathan Englander is one of my favorite authors. His 1999 collection of short storied "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges", blew me away. I re-read the stories several times. and gave copies of the books away as presents. His 2007 novel "The Ministry of Special Cases", while not as good as his short stories, in my opinion, is still one of the better novels I have read in a while. His unique, quirky style is a sort of Jewish Magical Realism. His works are always steeped in a both a deep sense of irony and a deep sense of humanity. And they all have a strong Jewish angle.

So I was excited to learn that Englander had published a new short story in the recent issue of the New Yorker (May 17.) I found it on the internet, printed it out, and read it on the bus coming home from work.

And I was deeply disturbed. Angry even.

[SPOILER ALERT !! - at this point you should go read the story on the New Yorker web site, as I am about to reveal a few plot details.]

What is this story about? Is it really only about Professor Tendler, and the Gezers. If so, OK. People suffered terribly in the holocaust and some came out twisted, and we can understand that, and even forgive them a few excesses now and then. Can we forgive them cold blooded murder, in the immediate aftermath of the holocaust? Maybe even that. Can we forgive them killing enemy soldiers: people who could just as easily have been taken prisoner. Well not so much, but it was in the middle of a war and it was a long time ago, and the survivors did suffer terrible personal trauma in "The War."

But I sense that this story is a metaphor. And its publication date, just a year and a bit after Israel's most brutal war - the 2008/2009 "Cast Lead" war on Gaza -  when the issue of possible Israeli war crimes is in the public debate, is not, I think, a coincidence.

Now I am not a literary critic, but am I wrong in thinking that Englander is saying - "The Holocaust made us do it! And because the holocaust was so heinous and has so traumatized us we are all miskenim (poor souls), and should be forgiven our sins - all our excessive violence and brutality in war, even up to the murder of innocent children."

This just pisses me off. Yes the holocaust was terrible. And yes it has scarred the Jewish people, and affected the State of Israel negatively. (If you want to read a a poignant cris de coeur in this regard, I recommend Avraham Burg's "The Holocaust is Over. We Must Rise From Its Ashes.") But, as Burg says, we need to get over it, not wallow in it.

And while we might understand and maybe even forgive holocaust survivors their personal sins, does that really give a free pass to their children, and grandchildren, not to mention the sons and daughters of immigrants from Morocco or Iraq, whose connection to the holocaust is much more tenuous.

Englander calls his story "Free Fruit for War Widows", but it seems to me he is really asking for a free pass for recent excessive violence of the IDF.

Our am I mis-reading him? I hope so.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


I just came across this neat blog - JEWDAYO.

Every day it publishes a piece about the some significant Jew, whose birth, death of other significant event happened on that day. For instance, did you know that in the last week:
Sunday: On May 16, 1990, Sammy Davis Jr died.
Monday: On May 17, 2004, Gail and Betsy Leondar-Wright were the first same sex couple to be married in Massachusetts
Tuesday: On May 18 1869, Rachelle Yarros, the first woman admitted to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Boston (1890), was born.
Wednesday: On May 19, 1952, Joey Ramone was born.
Thursday: On May 20, 2002, Stephen J Gould died.
Friday: On May 21, 1980, Ida Kaminska, the great Yiddish actress, died.
The full entry for today, Saturday May 22, is produced below. See accompanying photo above.
Jewdayo is a day late in celebrating the 85th birthday (May 21, 1925) of Frank Kameny, the co-founder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC and a pioneering gay rights activist — but we’re right on time in marking the birth of Harvey Milk on this date in 1930.
Milk became the first openly gay man elected to public office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was born in Woodmere, New York to Lithuanian Jewish parents; his grandfather was a department store owner who helped found the first synagogue in that town. Milk was a hard-driving community organizer and coalition-builder, described by his campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg, as “imagin[ing]a righteous world inside his head and then . . . set[ting] about to create it for real, for all of us.”
He began his service on the Board by sponsoring a bill that outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which received national attention when it passed. Milk became an icon of the rising gay and lesbian movements when he was shot dead in 1978 by Dan White, a disturbed city supervisor whose acquittal on murder charges (he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter) sparked rioting in the city. In 2009 Harvey Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.

If a bullet should go through my head, let that bullet go through every closet door.” — Harvey Milk
Looks like a web site I might visit often. So I have added it to the list of recommended links to the right.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Elvis has left ...

In case you didn't hear about it already, Elvis Costello, part time Canadian and full time musical sensation, has cancelled two gigs he had planned for Israel this summer. He has cancelled these to express solidarity with "suffering innocents" (i.e. Palestinians.) You can read the bare facts, Costello's explanation and the condemnations of his "boycott" from the usual suspects, here at the CBC.

I am not a big fan of the boycotts, sanctions, and divestments (BDS) campaign. I don't think they are effective, and I think the message is to often not clear. (Are the boycotters against the occupation, against a Jewish State in any form, against Jews? It often gets conflated.)

But, I might have to rethink that position in light of this report from the Promised Land Blog, by Israeli journalist and blogger Noam Sheizaf.

Elvis Costello, who cancelled his shows in Israel for political reasons, is extremely unpopular here these days. I’ve read several articles condemning him for this decision, and not one supporting him. Culture Minister Limor Livnat declared that “Costello is not worthy of performing here,” and many people commented that they would never listen to him again.

But check this out: while claiming that a more honest and effective move by Costello would have been to come here and express his opinions publicly, many commentators and writers also argued that Israel should end the occupation ASAP, or it stands the risk of facing many more such incidents.

Furthermore, Costello’s decision has been the talk of the day for many people – I also had a ticket for his Tel Aviv gig – and even when people hated him, they had to think about the political issues and about their consequences, and especially on where they stand. Just like after Gil Scott-Heron had decided not to come here, in the past couple of days I saw friends who never discuss politics going into long debates on Facebook because of Costello. For a country that is in a constant state of denial regarding the occupation, this is no small thing.

Seems maybe some boycotts can be effective sometimes.

In any case, if the organized Canadian Jewish community starts to call for a boycott of Costello popular CTV show "Spectacle", I for one will make a point of tuning in.

The Shondes

I liked the music, I liked the picture, and I liked the name of the band - "The Shondes." (Though I would have spelled it Shandas.)

You can read all about them at the Forward, or just click below to hear a sample of their music.

Listen to The Shondes’ “Make It Beautiful”

Listen to The Shondes’ “My Dear One”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Serious Woman

The above photo is was labelled
"Members of the Mount Zion Sisterhood, St. Paul, Minn., kindle the Sabbath candles."
in the article in the Forward where I found it.

The dresses look circa 1955, and the context of the article also puts it in the 1950s.

But isn't that a Minnesota Vikings helmet that the woman at the left has on? And didn't the Vikings not play their first game until 1961! Prophesy perhaps !

Thoughts of Jerusalem Day

Yesterday was Yom Yerushalayim - Jerusalem Day. This is the day set by the Israeli law - and picked up by most Diaspora Jewish organizations - to mark the conquest of East Jerusalem by Israel in the 1967, and its subsequent annexation to Israel (an annexation recognized by no other country in the world.) I wore black to mark the day.

The following article appeared in yesterday's Maariv. The translation is from Coteret.

Shachar-Mario Mordechai, Maariv, May 12 2010 [Hebrew original here ]

On Iyar 28, 5727 (June 7, 1967), the third day of the Six-Day War, IDF troops entered the Old City of Jerusalem. Within less than a year the Knesset established Iyar 28th as Jerusalem Day. After some three decades, while Binyamin Netanyahu was serving his first term as the prime minister of Israel, the Knesset conferred legal standing on that day: It established that this day would commemorate the connection between the city and the Jewish people and that, as such, it was incumbent upon us to celebrate it as a national holiday.

I am a Jew, and I do not forget Jerusalem (nor do I forget my right hand, and certainly not my left), and I recognize the undeniable connection between my people and the holy city. However, it is beyond me why I am obliged to celebrate (or lament) Jerusalem specifically in the context of 1967. I won’t, as Elie Wiesel put it, say that Jerusalem is above politics, since everything that is connected to Jerusalem — and perhaps to every issue in our world — is political. And it is not inconceivable that any day chosen to celebrate Jerusalem Day should be imbued with political significance (even our distant neighbours to the east, the Iranians, celebrate Jerusalem Day — though it is a shame that they do not do so in the tradition of Cyrus). But in my opinion it is more than a tad unfair to mark Jerusalem Day — by law — in keeping with the whims of former MK Hanan Porat and the signature of Binyamin Netanyahu.

Where does that legislation put me? I, like many others in Israel today, believe that 1967 sowed the destructive seeds that have the potential capacity to derail Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. I believe that the occupation of another people undermines Israel’s security, its standing among the nations, its character as a just society, the Zionist vision of a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel (and not the entire Land of Israel), and that it also undermines our hold on Jerusalem.

In order to maintain Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state and in order to have Israel be — even if only partially so — a just society, there is no choice but to disengage from East Jerusalem. When I say East Jerusalem, my intention is a disengagement from the Shuafat refugee camp, Abu Dis, Sur Baher, el-Azariyeh. Certainly not from the Old City. Not from the holy basin. The Old City will be administered jointly so as to ensure that religious freedoms are not infringed upon and so that we will be able to visit the Western Wall whenever we want. And when I say joint administration I am not contradicting the words of the Prophet Micha, who said: “But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the House of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it…for the Law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

That is why I am hard put to celebrate Jerusalem Day on Iyar 28th. Why am I denied the right to celebrate wholeheartedly my connection — as a Jew and an Israeli — to the city? Why Iyar 28th? Why shouldn’t Jerusalem Day be established immediately after the mourning period leading up to Tisha B’Av, so as to commemorate the emergence from mourning over the city’s destruction to celebration over its rebuilding? And when I say rebuilding I am not referring to Sheikh Jarrah. Just as we make the impossible transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day, why shouldn’t we celebrate Jerusalem Day immediately after Tisha B’Av? I know that Binyamin Netanyahu won’t pick up the gauntlet. But you there, you MKs who are worried about the fate of Jerusalem and the fate of Israel, can anyone hear me?!


Shachar-Mario Mordechai is a poet living in Tel Aviv. He is the 2010 recipient of Tel Aviv Municipality’s nationwide “Poetry By the Way” competition. His poems, translations and reviews have been published by various magazines, literary supplements and online site. His book of poems, “History of the Future,” will be published later this year by Even Hoshen Publishing House. A second book will be published by Am Oved as part of his prize for the Poety By the Way competition.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Follow The Money

Below is an article by veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery. (The original can be found on Avneri's excellent blog. Well worth following.)

I present it for three reasons.

First, it is interesting and important in its own right.

Second, I recently saw the documentary film Budrus, about the non-violent struggle of the residence of the West Bank village of Budrus to have the route of the separation wall changed so as not to destroy their cemetery and cut them off from much of their land. (Though the methods of Budrus have now been mimicked in other villages, and perhaps Budrus can claim to be the birthplace of the third - non-violent/civil - intifada, so far at least, it has been the only village to have successfully have the wall re-routed.) After the film showing I attended the director of the film took questions. One of the questions was "Why did the Israelis feel it necessary to route the wall through the middle of the villages lands, only to change the route after sufficient pressure?" Avneri's article gives a partial answer.

Third, I attended a lecture at my synagogue last week, by University of Toronto Professor of Jewish History Derek Penslar, on the history of the Jewish/Zionist response to the Arab fact in Palestine/Israel. On the whole, it was a fair and balanced presentation. (Can we still say that? Or has the phrase been ruined by Fox News?) At the end of the talk, as he brought things up to the present day, he made the rather surprising claim that the second intifada had been the death knell of both the Israeli peace movement, and of the radical settler movement. I agreed with the first part about the peace movement, but not the second claim about the settlers. But then he qualified the his claim re the settler movement. He said that the ideological messianic settlement movement had been marginalized and been replaced and co-opted by the state/military/private sector settler enterprise: that while few Israelis still supported settling everywhere in the Occupied Territories, support for settlement development and construction in limited areas was now deeply entrenched in vested interests in the Ministry of Housing, Ministry of Defense, the military itself, and in significant elements of the private sector. Avnery's piece sheds light on that phenomenon as well.

Penslar's point, illuminated by Avneri, is quite depressing on two levels.

First, can it really be true - that this life a death struggle in Israel/Palestine is more about good old fashioned greed and economic self interest than all the highfalutin issues of justice, peace, nationalism, religion, security, ethnic solidarity, tradition, loyalty, destiny, God!? (The Marxists among us will not be surprised, but I still am.) And second, powerful economic interests tend to get their way. It is easier to fight and marginalize crazed messianic ideologues than deeply entrenched, rich and powerful economic interests. This does not bode well for Israel's abandoning, or even seriously curtailing, its settlement project.

Two background things to know, before reading Avneri's article below:

  1. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been indited for taking approximately $1 million in bribes to facilitate the Holyland development project which is mentioned several times in the article. Several of Olmert's aids have also been accused in this affair.
  2. The developer of the Modiin Illit project, on the lands of the village of Bilin, also mentioned in the article, is a Canadian registered company. The Village of Bilin is currently suing this company in Quebec Superior Court for crimes against humanity and violations of the 4th Geneva conventions. The case is ongoing.

* * *

Uri Avnery

May 1, 2010

A Cloud over Jerusalem

EVERYONE HAS the right to change his or her mind. Even Danny Tirzeh.

Colonel Tirzeh was responsible for planning the wall that “envelopes” Jerusalem – the one that cuts the city off from the West Bank in order to turn it into the United Capital Of Israel For All Eternity.

And now, suddenly, Tirzeh pops up as the main opponent of the wall he himself planned. He wants to move it, so as to leave the lands of al-Walaja village on the “Israeli” side.

The Colonel has ceased acting on behalf of the Israeli army and now represents private entrepreneurs who want to build 14 thousand housing units for 45 thousand Jewish souls. All this, of course, for the greater good of Zionism, the Jewish people, Israel’s Eternal Capital, and many tens of millions of shekels.


COLONEL TIRZEH is not just anybody. He is a symbol.

For years I kept meeting him in the halls of the Supreme Court. He had become almost a fixture: the star witness, the expert and the moving spirit in scores of hearings dealing with the Separation and Annexation Wall.

He knows everything. Every kilometer of the Wall and the Fence. Every hill, every stone. He always carries with him a large bundle of maps which he lays before the judges, earnestly explaining why the Wall must pass here and not there, why the security of the state demands that the Palestinian villages be separated from their land, why leaving an olive grove in the hands of its owner would expose Israeli soldiers to mortal danger.

Generally, the judges are persuaded. After all, he is the expert. He is the man who knows. How can they take upon themselves the responsibility for changing the route of the Wall, if this could result in Jews being killed?

There are exceptions. At Bil’in village, the court was convinced that the Fence could be moved a few hundred meters without causing the security of the state to collapse and heaps of Jewish bodies to litter the landscape.

So the Supreme Court accepted the plea of the villagers and decided to move the Fence and --- nothing. The Fence has remained where it was. The government and the military just ignored the court order.

In vain did the President of the Supreme Court admonish them that her decisions “are not recommendations”. Like dozens of other court decisions concerning the settlers, this one, too, is gathering dust.

The case of Bil’in is especially conspicuous, and not only because protesters – Palestinians, Israelis and others – have been killed and injured there. It is conspicuous because the motive trying to hide behind the Fence is so striking.

Not Zionism. Not security or defense from the terrorists. Not the dreams of generations. Not the vision of Theodor Herzl, whose 150th birthday is being celebrated now.

Just money. Lots of money.

The area lying between the present Fence and the alternative path has been earmarked for the Orthodox settlement Modi’in-Illit. Giant corporations are to build many hundreds of “housing units” there, a business worth many millions.

Everywhere, the areas stolen from the Palestinians immediately turn into real estate. They pass though mysterious channels into the jaws of land sharks. The sharks then build huge housing projects and sell the “housing units” for a fortune.

HOW IS this done? The public is now receiving a lesson in the form of the Holyland affair, a lesson in installments – every day new details emerge and new suspects turn up.

On the site of an old and modest hotel by this name, a giant housing project has sprung up – a line of high-rise apartment buildings and a skyscraper. This ugly monster dominates the landscape – but the part of the project which can be seen from afar is only a fraction of the whole. The other bits have already received the blessing of all the relevant municipal and government authorities.

How? The investigation is still going on. Almost every day, new suspects are being arrested. Almost everybody who has had anything to do with the authorization of the project, up to the highest level, is suspect – ministers, senior government officials, the former mayor, members of the municipal council, and municipal officials. At present, the investigators are trying to trace the bribe money all over the world.

Holyland is located in West Jerusalem (in what before 1948 was the Arab neighborhood of Katamon).

The question naturally arising: if things are done this way in the West of the city, what is happening in the East? If those politicians and officials dare to steal and take bribes in West Jerusalem – what do they allow themselves in East Jerusalem, whose inhabitants have no representation in either the municipality or the government?


ONLY A few minutes drive separate Holyland from the village of al-Walaja.

One could write volumes about this small village, which for more than 60 years has served as a target of abuse.

Briefly: the original village was occupied and annexed to Israel in the 1948 war. The inhabitants were expelled and founded a new village on the part of their land which remained on the other side of the Green Line. The new village was occupied in the 1967 war and annexed to Jerusalem, which was annexed to Israel. According to Israeli law, the houses are illegal. The inhabitants live in their own houses, on their own land, but are officially considered illegal residents who can be evicted at any time.

Now the land sharks are ogling this succulent piece of land, which is worth a lot of money for building projects. They follow the proven Zionist routine. First of all, the Arab name of the place is replaced with a pure Hebrew one, preferably from the Bible. Much as nearby Jebel-Abu-Ghneim became Har Homa, before the eyesore monster housing project was erected there, thus al-Walaja has now become Giv’at Yael. Clearly a place called Hill of Yael must belong to the Jewish people, and it is a divine duty to build another settlement there.

So what if this necessitates the moving of the Wall? One can always find a used army officer who will justify this on security grounds.


FOR YEARS now I have been suggesting that this side of the settlement enterprise should be examined more closely.

The public debate was always about lofty ideals. The divine promise as against the human vision. Greater Israel as against the Two-State solution. Zionist values as against the value of peace. Fascism as against humanism.

And somebody was laughing all the way to the bank.

The settlements are growing rapidly all the time. All over the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements spring up like toxic mushrooms, poisoning the prospects of peace. In this matter there was never any difference between Golda Meir and Menachem Begin, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres and Binyamin Netanyahu.

Among the settlers there is a hard core of ideological zealots. But many of the builders are just clever businessmen, whose only god is Mammon. They easily make friends with the leaders of Likud and the chiefs of Labor, not to mention the Kadima crowd.

The massive settlements in East Jerusalem – those already existing and those still planned – are proceeding along the same lines as the monster on Holyland hill, and they need the same permits from the same municipal and government authorities. Jerusalem, after all, has been united. Therefore, the same dark cloud is hanging over them.

What is needed is a judicial board of inquiry to investigate all the permits issued in Jerusalem in recent years, certainly from the beginning of Ehud Olmert’s term as mayor. Olmert fought like a tiger for the establishment of Har Homa and the other large settlements in East Jerusalem. All for the sake of Zionism and Jewish rule over the Holy City. Now he is Suspect No. 1.

Everything must be investigated from the beginning. And every new project must be stopped until its propriety has been established beyond any doubt.


THESE THINGS are grave enough in themselves, and they are even more serious when they are located at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Israel-US crisis.

For the sake of the Israeli housing projects in East Jerusalem, the Netanyahu government is endangering our lifeline to the US. The extreme-right mayor declares that he doesn’t give a damn for government orders and will continue to build all over, whatever Netanyahu may or may not say. The Palestinians understandably refuse to negotiate with the Israeli government while building activities in East Jerusalem go on.

Shall we endanger the future of Israel for generations, just so that land sharks can make more millions?

Do the patriots who are sharing out East Jerusalem include elected and appointed officials hoping for large bribes from the builders?

Is there a connection between the rampant corruption, of which the Holyland affair is only the tip of the iceberg, and historic national decisions?

In short, will we allow the future of the holy land be sacrificed on the unholy altar of the profits of corruption?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

As To Prove The Point

As if to prove the first point in John Mersheimer's thesis (see previous blog entry), that Israel has no intention of allowing the creation of a viable Palestinian State, Israel's Minister of Transportation today announced two major construction projects in the West Bank: the construction of a rail line from Afullah to Jerusalem and the extension of Highway 505 to the Jordan valley.

On the map above the Rail line is shown in red and the highway in blue. Together they effectively cut the northern West Bank into four parts. And lest you think Israel is planning to spend 10s of billions on new transportation infrastructure just to hand it over to a Palestinian State, the minister made his long term intentions re the West Bank clear: "the [construction] freeze is not a solution, Jews will live here for ever."

Is One State Inevitable?

Is the one state solution inevitable? John Mearsheimer believes so (though he claims to prefer the two state solution.)

You can see and hear him say so in the video above, or you can read the transcript of his lecture in The Monthly Review.

I am not sure he is right, but he is certainly expressing the view of a large and growing segment of the anti-occupation crowd. Let me summarize his argument:
  1. Israel will not allow a two state solution to happen because:
    • There are too many settlers. (He uses the number 480,000, which includes the approx 250,000 Jewish residents of East Jerusalem.)
    • The settlers are too entrenched and stubborn (He quotes polls that show that 54% of settlers believe the government has no right to remove them, 36% believe that even a popular referendum of Israeli Jews would not have the right to remove them, and that 21% of settlers have said they would use armed resistance to oppose their removal.)
    • The idea of a Greater Israel is too entrenched in the "Zionist consciousness" of Israel's leaders to have them forcefully oppose the settler lobby. (This is no doubt true for Netanyahu, but Mearsheimer also claims this was and is true for Livni, Barak, and even Rabin.)
    • Israeli popular opinion has move significantly to the right in the last decade. There is no significant peace camp, to counter the right wing settler camp.

  2. Once it become obvious that the occupied territories will remain under Israeli control for the long run, there are only three options: a democratic bi-national state, the forced expulsion of most Palestinians, or an "apartheid state" (by which he means a state where most Palestinians are denied the vote.) Israel will not willingly allow the first option, the world will not allow the second, and therefore the third option becomes inevitable - at least in the short run. (And indeed we are almost in this this position, de-facto, today.)
  3. But apartheid isn't viable in the long run - because it is unacceptable to the West, and Israel cannot survive without Western aid and trade. In particular Israel needs U.S. aid and support to counter Arab pressures and threats if it goes down the apartheid road.
  4. U.S. support will erode in the long run and in the face of an apartheid Israel, because:
    • Support of Israel is not in the U.S. national interest. (That the U.S. supports Israel today - against its one best interests - is only a result of the power of the Israel Lobby)
    • Support of an apartheid regime is even less in the U.S. national interest
    • The Israel lobby will weaken over time
  5. The Israel lobby will weaken over time because, the great mass of American Jews (who he calls the Great Ambivalent Middle) will side with "The Righteous Jews" and not the "New Afrikaaners." (See more on this below.)
  6. Without active American support Israel will be forced to grant voting rights to the Palestinians - just as South Africa did. The result is the one state solution.
The most controversial parts of Mearsheimer's argument, in my opinion, are his contentions re American Jews (will American Jews inevitably choose justice over ethnic solidarity?), the Israel Lobby (is the lobby really the only reason America supports Israel and will its demise necessarily cause a sea change in American Mid East policy?) and that Israel can be moved into a bi-national democracy just as South Africa was (Fatah is not the ANC, and perhaps more to the point, where is the Israeli de Klerk?)

It is a thought provoking piece, despite its sometimes self righteous tone, and even if you don't agree with every word, its worth the read (or the viewing.) But for those of you who won't do that, let me end by quoting directly from the end of Mearsheimer's talk:

American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories. The first two are what I call "righteous Jews" and the "new Afrikaners," which are clearly definable groups that think about Israel and where it is headed in fundamentally different ways. The third and largest group is comprised of those Jews who care a lot about Israel, but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about Greater Israel and apartheid. Let us call this group the "great ambivalent middle."

Righteous Jews have a powerful attachment to core liberal values. They believe that individual rights matter greatly and that they are universal, which means they apply equally to Jews and Palestinians. They could never support an apartheid Israel. ...

On the other side we have the new Afrikaners, who will support Israel even if it is an apartheid state. These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. ...

The key to determining whether the lobby can protect apartheid Israel over the long run is whether the great ambivalent middle sides with the new Afrikaners or the righteous Jews. The new Afrikaners have to win that fight decisively for Greater Israel to survive as a racist state.

There is no question that the present balance of power favors the new Afrikaners. When push comes to shove on issues relating to Israel, the hardliners invariably get most of those American Jews who care a lot about Israel to side with them. The righteous Jews, on the other hand, hold considerably less sway with the great ambivalent middle, at least at this point in time. This situation is due in good part to the fact that most American Jews -- especially the elders in the community -- have little understanding of how far down the apartheid road Israel has travelled and where it is ultimately headed. ...

This situation, however, is unsustainable over time. Once it is widely recognized that the two-state solution is dead and Greater Israel is a reality, the righteous Jews will have two choices: support apartheid or work to help create a democratic bi-national state. I believe that almost all of them will opt for the latter option, in large part because of their deep-seated commitment to liberal values, which renders any apartheid state abhorrent to them. Of course, the new Afrikaners will fiercely defend apartheid Israel, because their commitment to Israel is so unconditional that it overrides any commitment they might have to liberal values.

The critical question, however, is: what will happen to those Jews who comprise the great ambivalent middle once it is clear to them that Israel is a full-fledged apartheid state and that facts on the ground have made a two-state solution impossible? Will they side with the new Afrikaners and defend apartheid Israel, or will they ally with the righteous Jews and call for making Greater Israel a true democracy? Or will they sit silently on the sidelines?

I believe that most of the Jews in the great ambivalent middle will not defend apartheid Israel ... And once that happens, the lobby will be unable to provide cover for Israel's racist policies toward the Palestinians in the way it has in the past.

... the new Afrikaners will defend Israel on the grounds that it is not an apartheid state, and that security concerns explain why Israel has to discriminate against and oppress the Palestinians. But again, we are rapidly reaching the point where it will be hard to miss the fact that Greater Israel is becoming a full-fledged apartheid state and that those who claim otherwise are either delusional or disingenuous. ...

Furthermore, survey data shows that younger American Jews feel less attachment to Israel than their elders. This is surely due to the fact that the younger generations were born after the Holocaust and after anti-Semitism had largely been eliminated from American life. ...

There is another reason why American Jews are likely to feel less connected to Israel in the years ahead. Important changes are taking place in the demographic makeup of Israel ... Secular Jews dominated Israeli life at its founding and they still do, but their influence has been waning and is likely to decline much more in the decades ahead. ... In fact, in the 2008 mayoral election in Jerusalem, an ultra-orthodox candidate boasted, "In another 15 years there will not be a secular mayor in any city in Israel." ... about one half of Israeli school children in first grade this year are either Palestinian or ultra-orthodox. Given the high birthrates of the ultra-orthodox and the Palestinians, their percentage of the first-graders -- and ultimately the population at large -- will grow steadily with time.

... There is another dynamic at play: large numbers of Israelis have left the country to live abroad and most of them are not expected to return home. Several recent estimates suggest that between 750,000 and one million Israelis reside in other countries, and most of them are secular. On top of that, public opinion surveys indicate that many Israelis would like to move to another country. This situation is likely to get worse over time, because many secular Jews will not want to live in an apartheid state whose politics and daily life are increasingly shaped by the ultra-orthodox.

All of this is to say that Israel's secular Jewish identity... is ... eroding... That important development will make it more difficult in the years ahead for secular American Jews -- who make up the bulk of the Jewish community ... to identify closely with Israel and be willing to defend it when it becomes a full-blown apartheid state. ...

... without that protection, Israel is doomed, because public opinion in the West will turn decisively against Israel, as it turns itself into a full-fledged apartheid state.

Thus, I believe that Greater Israel will eventually become a democratic bi-national state, and the Palestinians will dominate its politics, because they will outnumber the Jews in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

What is truly remarkable about this situation is that the Israel lobby is effectively helping Israel commit national suicide.
Israel, after all, is turning itself into an apartheid state, which, as Ehud Olmert has pointed out, is not sustainable in the modern era. What makes this situation even more astonishing is that there is an alternative outcome which would be relatively easy to achieve and is clearly in Israel's best interests: the two-state solution. It is hard to understand why Israel and its American supporters are not working overtime to create a viable Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories and why instead they are moving full-speed ahead to build Greater Israel, which will be an apartheid state. It makes no sense from either a moral or a strategic perspective. Indeed, it is an exceptionally foolish policy.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

In Defense of the Two State Solution

Found on the Internet:
Israel may have been born in sin, but it is still immoral to kill bastards.
-Charles Manekin, 2004

L'Dor Va'Dor

I heard this for the first time today in shul. I was moved to tears (somewhat embarrassingly so, I might add.)

(The version they did in my shul was faster and was accompanied by two guitars, not piano, and it was less overtly shmultzy and therefore better in my opinion. But the above video clip is the best version I could find on the Internet)

The song is a riff on the verses in the Keddusha part of the Amidah prayer.

L'dor va-dor na-gid gad-le-cha,
ul-nei-tsach n'tsa-chim
k'du-sha-t'cha nak-dish,
v'shiv-cha-cha E-lo-hei-nu
mi-pi-nu lo ya-mush l'o-lam va-ed,
ki Eil me-lech ga-dol v'ka-dosh a-ta.
Barukh ata adonai, ha'El hakadosh.

From generation to generation we shall relate your greatness
and for infinite eternities
we shall proclaim Your holiness.
Your praise, our God,
shall not leave our mouth forever and ever,
for You, are a great and holy king.
Blessed are Adonai, the holy God.
Below is a more traditional version of this prayer.