Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Is War Subject to Law?

Is war really subject to law? Or are any and all military acts committed during a war exempt from law? This is the question that is raised by a recently files law suit.

According to Ynet:
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who lost three daughters when the IDF fired shells at his home during Operation Cast Lead, will file on Sunday a massive damages claim against the State of Israel.
"I didn't want to file the lawsuit, and until now I didn't want to discuss it," he told Yedioth Ahronoth in a phone interview from Toronto, Canada, where he immigrated following the tragedy. "I tried to take every step t
hat would allow me to close this with love and goodwill, but they didn't leave me a choice. According to the law, the statute of limitations will apply to this case within a few weeks – but there is no statute of limitations on the blood of my daughters. It will stay with me forever. It's a catastrophe that's impossible to forget."
Abuelaish, a Palestinian gynecologist, has worked in Israeli hospitals for nearly two decades. On January 16, 2009, in the height of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF fired two shells into the window of his home, killing three of his daugters: 20-year-old Bessan, 15-year-old Mayar and 14-year-old Aya. His 17-year-old niece Nour was also killed in the attack, and his 18-year-old daughter Shada and other family members were injured. The Israeli public heard the horrifying incident in a live broadcast, as Abuelaish was preparing at that moment for a phone interview with an Israeli television channel.
Abuelaish instructed his lawyer to avoid a lawsuit and reach a settlement with the security forces, which would include recognition and compensation. But no such settlement was reached: The Defense Ministry's legal adviser, Ahaz Ben-Ari, announced this week that Abuelaish does not deserve compensation.
(Read the full article here. This story is also covered by the Toronto Star .)
Dr. Abueliash is, of course, now best known for his extraordinary commitment to peace and co-existence despite the loss of his daughters. He is the author of the book "I Shall Not Hate", and a frequent speaker on the subject of Israel/Palestine. For a while he was the darling of liberal Jewish circles in Toronto, and spoke at a number of Jewish venues, including a SRO crowd of about 5000 at Toronto's Beth Tzdedek synagogue.
Abueliash's house was most likely hit by Israeli shells by mistake. (The alternative assumes much worse about the Israeli soldiers who fired and who gave the orders.) There were no snipers, and no "enemy combatants" in the immediate vicinity.
The question is: is an army responsible for mistakes it makes during war time - especially mistakes that kill innocent civilians. The Israeli position is "No".
“Despite the severe outcome, from a legal standpoint our stance is that the operation during which Dr. Abuelaish’s family members were hurt (sic) was an operation of war,” the Israeli defense ministry’s legal adviser Ahaz Ben-Ari, said recently, according to Israeli media reports. “Therefore the state of Israel does not carry the responsibility for the damage it caused.”
If that is true, then the Geneva conventions, drafted after WWII, largely to avoid the horrific killing of civilians that occurred during that war, turn out to be largely useless. And that would be a tragedy - dare I say, even greater than the deaths of Dr. Abueliash's daughters. That is why he is suing, and that is why we should all wish him success in his suite.

You can hear a CBC Radio interview with Dr. Abuelaish about this story here. (The story starts at about 2 minutes into the podcast.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Which Side Are You On?

The video above is from a demonstration last week in the Tel-Aviv suburb of Bat-Yam. It is provided by Arutz Sheva, the radio and TV outlet of the Israeli settler movement.

The T-shirts seen in the video and shown to the right, read "Jews, Lets Win" on the front, and "Jewish Bat-Yam" on the back.

Signs seen in the video, and shown below, read "Jewish Girls for the Jewish Nation".

So, the only question is ... the one posed by the video below.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas in the Holy Land
A Tale of Two Cities

The mayor of Nazareth Ilit, a Jewish majority suburb of Nazareth, banned Christmas trees from public spaces in his town. About 15% of the population of Nazereth Ilit are Arabs: most of them Christians. There is also a significant number of Christian immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the town. The mayor turned down a request by Christian leaders in the town to allow them to erect a Christmas tree in a square in an Arab neighbourhood.

"Let them go to Lower Nazareth," said mayor Gaspo. "This is a Jewish City. All its symbols are Jewish. Arabs constitute only 15%. There is no reason to turn this into an Arab town." The city government of Nazereth Ilit does put up massive displays of Menorahs at Hannukah time. (See full story - in Hebrew - at the Maariv web site.)

The city of Haifa, however, not only allowed a Christmas tree in a public square it commissioned and paid for it itself. In light of the devastating Carmel forest fire just outside Haifa, the tree is made from 5000 recycled plastic bottles. (See photo above.) About 14% of Haifa's population are Christians: about two thirds immigrants from the FSU and the rest Arabs.

And ...

The photo below is of a Hannukah Menorah in Toronto's Dundas Square, in the heart of the downtown shopping district. Toronto is about 5% Jewish, and this menorah is but one of several put up in public, government owned locations.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Democracy in Action
55 in Favour, 41 Against - Bill Fails

The U.S. Senate killed the "Dream Act" that would have opened a door to citizenship to numerous "illegal aliens". The vote was 55 in favour and 41 against. Yet the bill failed!

And they call this democracy, in the the "greatest democracy in the world".

See the full story in the NY Times.

For Refuge Rights ... in Canada

The Canadian government has proposed a draconian anti-refugee bill - bill C49.

I am proud to say that my synagogue has joined the call of many Canadian groups in opposing this bill. Below is the text of a letter that sent to the Prime Minister.
December 13, 2010

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister,

We are members of the Social Justice Advocacy Committee of Congregation Darchei Noam - a large Jewish community in Toronto, committed to social justice and the belief that all people, regardless of citizenship, are created in God's image and deserve fair treatment. We are disturbed by many of the provisions of your government's proposed new immigration bill, C-49.

In particular, we see it in large part as victimizing many refugee claimants - assuming in advance that their refugee claims are bogus. Many of the measures proposed are simply punitive and arbitrary. These include:
  • Declaration of refugee claimants as “irregular” by ministerial fiat, without due process or right of review
  • Holding such refugee claimants in detention for a minimum of one year
  • Denying such refugee claimants access to health services
  • Denying monthly detention reviews that would limit migrants in jail a
  • chance to gain freedom only once every 6 months after the first year.
  • Denying the right of appeal to a rejected refugee claim.
  • Providing the Minister with full discretionary authority to revoke a person’s refugee status after it has been granted by the refugee determination process
  • Postponing a claimant’s application for permanent residence for five years after the claimant has gained refugee status
  • Barring people from reuniting with their families for at least five years (more typically ten years) after gaining refugee status
  • Preventing refugee migrants from leaving Canada for five years after gaining refugee status.
As Jews we are particularly sensitive to unjust and arbitrary immigration and refugee policies. We have not forgotten the shameful 1939 decision by the Canadian government to deny the landing of the refugee ship, St Louis. Many of its nine hundred Jewish refugees were sent back to their deaths in Europe. Passage of Bill C-49 will no doubt result in the suffering of future refugees as well, and the needless harassment and suffering of others who do make it through the process.

We recognize that human smuggling is a problem, and that some refugee claims are bogus. But Bill C-49's approach is simply wrong. By targeting refugee claimants who arrive in Canada by roundabout means, it ignores the fact that often the most threatened refugees are precisely those that do not have the ability to obtain all the necessary travel documents. In addition, by putting so much discretion in the hands of the Minister, the bill allows for political considerations to come into play in an arena where justice demands that unpopular decisions must sometimes be made.

We urge the government to withdraw Bill C-49.

Yours truly,

Nathan Gilbert
On behalf of Congregation Darchei Noam’sSocial Justice Advocacy Committee


Hon. Jason Kenney MP, Minister of Immigration
Hon. Vic Toews MP, Minister of Justice
Justin Trudeau, MP, Immigration Critic (Liberal)
Olivia Chow, MP, Immigration Critic (NDP)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Good News, Bad News on the Racist Rabbi Front

The good news re the call of the Racist Rabbis for Israelis to not rent or sell property to non-Jews (see my previous post on this) is that several more significant Israeli and Jewish opinion makers have come out against it. This includes the generally right wing Jerusalem Post, Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, and leading "Lithuanian" Haredi Rabbis.
The bad news is that the original forty signatories have now grown to about 300. Almost all of these are of the "National Religious" or more accurately the "Chardal" (Haredi/National Religious) background.
And though some of Israel's Zionist rabbis have declined to sign, they have mostly done so while still tacitly agreeing with the gist of the call. Thus Rabbi Haim Druckman, influential head of the Bnai Akiva Yeshivas said he objects to all-inclusive statements against non-Jews. But at the same time, he expressed his identification with "the national struggle, seeking to preserve Israel as the Jewish state", and said he was aware of the struggle in Safed (where the call originated) "against the hostile elements seeking to damage its Jewish character."
And more bad news is that the state and government authorities have signaled that they are unlikely to act against these rabbis. Justice Minister Neeman has called for a larger role for religious law in the law of the state, and views this issue as within the purview of religious law. The state attorney general has merely said he would have his staff "look into it".
And since the authorities are doing nothing, and secular public opinion means nothing to them, and since the rabbis are convinced they have God on their side, their numbers continue to grow and their statements get more extreme. Yesterday, according to Ynet, the chief municipal Rabbi if Rosh Ha-ayin called for Jewish owned stores to not hire Arabs.
So we have it: a growing body of religious leaders, most on the government payroll, calling for out and out, in your face, unabashed and unashamed discrimination against non-Jews, and nobody in power doing anything about it. This is new level in the degeneration of Israeli society, and a very ominous one in my opinion. Anyone who cares about Jews, Israel, Israeli Arabs, or peace and justice in the middle east should do whatever they can to fight this trend.
You can read more about this issue at The Jerusalem Post, The Forward, and 972. It is worth reading and pondering.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Pot Calls The Kettle Black

Forty municipal Rabbis in Israel have signed an open letter calling on Israeli Jews to refuse to sell or rent property to non-Jews including and especially Arab citizens of Israel.

Thankfully this has met with some - though hardly massive - protest in Israel. At least one leading Haredi Rabbi has dissented, saying ""What if there was a similar call in Berlin against renting properties to Jews?"
President Shimon Peres, and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu have also issued statements against the Rabbis' call.
But wait! How is the forty Rabbis' call any different than the day to day practice of Israel's largest non-governmental land owner - the Jewish National Fund (JNF)? It has for years refused to lease properties to Israeli Arabs, and has spent millions of shekels defending this practice in Israeli courts. Even when it loses, it appeals and delays, delays delays.
And how is this racist call different in spirit than a new law introduced by Netanyahu's government that allows communities of under 500 families (approx 2500 people) to establish "acceptance" committees that must aprove all sales and rentals of properties within the community, in order to "preserve the demographic character of the community." This law is universally understood to have been designed to prevent Arabs in the Gallillee from moving into the many small Jewish only towns set up over the years to "Judaize" the Gallillee and prevent the expansion of Arab villages.
The hypocrisy is just dripping off of Netanayahu and Peres. If they were serious about condemning what these Rabbis are calling for, they would have them all fired. Each one of them is a State employee, serving as the salaried chief municipal Rabbi in such communities as Safed, Carmiel, Ramat Hasharon, Ashdod, and my old home town of Rehovot. Municipal Rabbis are appointed through the Prime Minister's office. After they fired these racist Rabbis, they would withdraw the "Small Community's Acceptance Committee Law." and after that they would vigorously enforce court rulings requiring the JNF to lease lands to Israeli Arabs.
But they don't and they won't. Because they don't really disagree with the Rabbis' call for separation of Jews and Arabs in housing, or for the second class status of non-Jews in the land of Israel. They just object to it bring said so openly and boldly.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Happy Hannukah

The video above is sorta funny, but also kinda sad. It stereotypes the proud Christian vs the awkward Jew. The Christian knows exactly why he celebrates Christmas and the Jew is confused about Hannukah and more than a bit embarrassed. The whole thing can be summed up by the line that Colbert gives in response to Stewart's invitation to try a bit of Hannukah: "I'll keep Jesus you can keep your potato pancake"

On the other hand two insightful and more meaningful takes on the holiday can be found. One by Doniell Hartman of the Harman Institute of Jerusalem is remarkable not only for what it says, but by the fact that it is being written by a modern Orthodox Rabbi in Israel. It is a ray of sunshine in what often seems the ghettoizing narcissism of most of the Israeli religious circles. The second, by J.J. Goldberg, reminds us of the more problematic side of Hannukah and of many more recent revolutionary movements.

Finally to lighten the mood, and get into a positive holiday mood, we have this Israeli video which declares that everyone has a unique flame in their hearts and when we unite all the flames ... well things will be really good

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Evil Turkey Offers Aid

As I write this, Israel is experiencing one of the deadliest and most destructive natural disasters in its history - massive out of control forest fires in the Carmel Mountains just to the south of Haifa. At least forty people have died in the fire so far, Kibbutz Beit Oren has been completely destroyed, 30,000 people have been evacuated from various Haifa suburbs and Druze and Arab villages on the Carmel.

Israel says it does not have enough fire fighting equipment - planes in particular - to fight the blaze. It appealed to Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, Greece and Spain to send aid. It even asked the U.S. if it could help. But, it seems, it did not ask the biggest country in the region likely to have the needed equipment and personnel. It didn't ask Turkey. After all Israel is still brogez (angry) with Turkey because the Turks forced Israel to kill nine of its citizens in the Flotilla affair.

Nevertheless, Turkey offered help, and the Israeli government had the good sense to accept it. Maybe this will help break the narrow thinking that says because the Turks oppose Israel's policies in Gaza, they are out to destroy Israel.

In the meantime lets hope the Turkish (and other countries') aid is quick to arrive, and that the fires can be controlled before doing too much more damage.

* * *

Update: Since I wrote the above, I see that the Palestinian Authority has sent fire fighters to help fight the blaze. Egypt and Jordan have also offered aid.

But (and there's always a "but" in the Middle East) lest we think that a Hannukah miracle has occurred and that out of the tragedy of this fire will come peace on earth, Islamic Jihad issued a statement against Muslim leaders "... whose hearts fill with compassion for the Zionist disaster." They continued: "There is no need to tell you how delighted we are that more than 40 cadets who tortured prisoners were killed in this fire. We never met with your compassion when Israel attacked us. Let the fire consume Israel."