Friday, August 31, 2012

Palestinians Just Wanna Have Fun

For two days earlier this month, Israel allowed 300,000 Palestinians entry into Israel. Did anything bad happen? On the contrary, just a bit of happiness. So why exactly is Israel so bent on enforcing separation?  You can read about the surrealism in Haaretz, here and here and below, read some further analysis at 972mag, and read what a more typical "day at the beach" is like here.

A day at the beach

Ask any prisoner what he dreamt about behind bars, and he’ll answer: the sea. Now they were here, thousands of the trapped, rejoicing in their freedom.

At first it seemed like a fantasy, a summer daydream, but there they were: thousands of Palestinians frolicking on Tel Aviv’s beaches.

I thought perhaps I was hallucinating: An Israeli lifeguard was yelling through the megaphone in Arabic, fearing for the safety of the bathers from Jenin and advising them to drink lots of water. Municipal inspectors in their orange shirts were sweeping the beach, probably the first time in history that Jews have cleaned up after Arabs.

It was a sea of Arabs on the seashore of the first Hebrew city, with nary a Border Policeman, riot policeman, Shin Bet agent or special forces troops in sight.
There were teens who asked where the Galilee was, and could they reach it on foot − they wanted to see their ancestral village, long since destroyed.

The elderly among them couldn’t believe their eyes: There were public faucets with freely flowing water. Middle-aged men who had built Israel, renovated its homes and cleaned its streets were returning to it after they hadn’t been here for decades. Women looked in wonder at the first bikini they’d ever seen, while any number of kids were seeing the sea for the first time, even though they live only an hour’s drive away.

Ask any prisoner what he dreamt about behind bars, and he’ll answer: the sea. Now they were here, thousands of the trapped, rejoicing in their freedom. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a happy-looking beach.

It was hard to believe my eyes; I was excited to the point of tears. I wandered along the beaches for hours, meeting Palestinians who were happier than I’d seen them in years. Families from Jenin to Hebron, who set up their tents, grilled meat, ran freely along the shore, went into the choppy water with their clothes on and never stopped taking pictures, so they’d have a memento. It was some human spectacle.

To make sure this wasn’t some sort of summer delusion, I contacted the coordinator of government activity in the territories to ascertain what this was all about. The COGAT spokesman said that in honor of the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr, Israel had issued 130,000 entrance permits to residents of the territories. I didn’t believe him, and asked him to check again; maybe that was a typo. Nope, no typo.

Quietly, presumably to avoid confronting the yelps of the right, the gates of heaven were opened to tens of thousands of Palestinians as they hadn’t been opened for years. That may have been a red flag flying over the lifeguards’ hut, but a white flag of hope ‏(forgive the flowery words‏) was flying for a moment on the shore at Charles Clore Park.

So what Ilana Hammerman and the brave, determined women of the Civil Disobedience group have been doing for a while, with the State of Israel condemning them and even trying to prosecute them, the occupation regime did itself on this holiday. You have to give those officials a lot of credit, even if it was just a temporary gesture.

Israelis who came to the beach also couldn’t believe their eyes: there they were, Palestinians as real people. Not illegal laborers and not terrorists. They were just people who were enjoying the waves as they hit their bodies, the kabob fresh off the grill, building castles in the sand, the ice pop on the beach while sweating in the hot sun, just like them. Their bodies were white; only their forearms were tanned − that’s how people look when they come to the beach for the first time in their lives.

And guess what? This rare spectacle went on for several days this week, and nothing happened, other than the momentary happiness of these people. They left their cities and villages in the morning, gripping the entry permits that Israel had deigned to give them, and after a couple of hours they were in Tel Aviv. And the sky did not fall in.

It’s true that they didn’t dare approach the city’s northern beaches; apparently someone told them that those were permitted “only to Jews.” But still, it was like the End of Days.

So has the future arrived? The sign at the beach exit says “see you again.” Will we see them again? One of them, a resident of Akraba, near Nablus, asked me, “Why only once a year? Can’t it be twice?”

Tomorrow they will return to their depressing reality, to their lives of occupation and unemployment behind the roadblocks, and nothing will remain of their day at the Tel Aviv beach except a sweet, fading dream.

So really, why can’t it happen twice a year? In fact, why not every day, damn it?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Equality for Palestinians and Jews in Israel/Palestine"

Many people have been claiming for a while now that "the two state solution" re Israel/Palestine is dead. Most of these people have been cheer-leaders for a "one state solution." Two recent articles would seem to confirm that "the two state solution" is indeed on life support: kept alive only by the lack of any alternative in most peoples eyes. But the same two articles do not hold out much hope for the "one state solution" either.

Bitter Lemons, perhaps the premier online "two state solution" site is closing down after 12 years of operation. The reason seems to be fatigue and despair (or perhaps its despair and fatigue) on the part of its editors, its contributors and its financial sponsors.

Part of the despair, of course, comes from the lack of progress towards a two state solution, whose promotion was a cornerstone of Bitter Lemons' mission. According to the sign-off message from co-founder Ghassan Khatib:
... the scenery around us grows ever more dark and uncertain. Two decades after the signing of the Declaration of Principles [aka the Oslo Agreement] that many hoped would usher in the creation of a Palestinian state and independence, freedom and security, Palestinians and Israelis are barely conversational. The structures created by those agreements have atrophied, corrupted by an increasing imbalance in the Palestinian relationship with Israel. Every day, there is new word of land confiscations, arrests, demolitions, and legislative maneuvers to solidify Israel's control. Israel's political leaders are beholden to a tide of right-wing sentiment and Palestinian leaders are made to appear ever-smaller in their shrinking spheres of control.

We are now, it appears, at the lowest point in the arc of the pendulum, one that is swinging away from the two-state solution ...

But lest you think Khatib is now backing a one state solution, he continues:
... swinging away from the two-state solution into a known unknown: an apartheid Israel. How this new "one-state" option will be transformed into a solution that provides freedom and security for all remains to be seen.

And Khatib ends his note on a somewhat contradictory note, re-voicing his personal dream, just after he wrote that history was "swinging away" from it:
... I am sure of this-- ... Palestinians [will] achieve their freedom and self-determination by ending the Israeli occupation that started in 1967 and establishing an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel, thereby realizing the international consensus over the two-state solution.

In Haaretz today, liberal columnist Carlo Strenger is less equivocal about the fate of the two state solution, though no less distraught:
Nachum Barnea is considered to be one of Israel’s most influential journalists, independent in his judgment, fair and balanced in his reporting and analysis. A few days ago he wrote an outspoken column in which he comes to the conclusion that the settlement project has reached its goal: the situation on the ground is irreversible, and the two-state solution is no longer possible.

The context of the column was Barnea’s visit to Migron, an outpost currently under the spotlight of Israeli media. The Palestinian owner of the land claims he never sold it, and Israel’s High Court ruled that it must be evacuated.

But Barnea is not impressed with this ruling. Around Migron there are many other settlements that no one touches, because they are not built on private land. Barnea claims that this turns the High Court into an accomplice of the settlement project:

“The original sin was committed by the High Court. In the second decade after the six-day war, when the settlement enterprise transformed from a marginal whim to the government's primary policy in the territories, the High Court was asked to present its stance by ruling on a series of petitions. Over the years the court's judges ignored the international law, which forbids the establishment of a settlement on conquered land, and instead focused on the issue of ownership: Jews are permitted to settle anywhere in the West Bank as long as the land is not Palestinian-owned.”

Barnea rarely expresses such outspoken views. He was interviewed [see below in Hebrew] ... concluding that “Everybody knows how this will end.” When asked what he means, he answers, “There will be a bi-national west of the Jordan… the two-state solution is no longer possible.”

This was, of course, a surprise: most center-left politicians and commentators have a standard line: “Everybody knows how the Israel-Palestine conflict will end.” It is generally taken as a matter of course that they imply the two-state solution as proposed by Clinton in 2000. Barnea assumes that this received wisdom is, at this point, devoid of any realistic foundation.

As of late summer 2012, I cannot see any coherent plan to deal with reality on the ground. Only Israel’s extreme right takes a clear stance: National religious Rabbis quite simply say that Palestinians will not have political rights in the Greater Land of Israel ...

Most leaders on Israel’s moderate right do not make clear statements. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and former Likud minister Moshe Arens are laudable exceptions: they think that Israel should annex the West Bank and give Palestinians full political rights, while maintaining its Jewish character. The problem is that they base this on a theory .. that there are only 1.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. None of Israel’s professional demographers endorses this idea...

The situation is unpalatable to say the least: Israel’s extreme right argues for theocratic apartheid, and the moderate right builds its political program on demographic illusions... The center and the left are silent for the simple reason that they do not have a coherent position. ....

I came to the conclusion that the two-state solution was dead at the end of 2011... Ever since I published this assessment, friends and readers have asked what I suggest as an alternative. Some thought that I had finally moved to the extreme left’s endorsement of the one-state solution; others thought that I had moved to the right.

Neither is the case. There are moments when reality flies into your face, and in which you realize that your political program is no longer viable, even though you do not endorse any of the alternatives.... 
So there you have it. The "two state solution" appears dead, and a just "one state solution" seems equally unrealistic. What are people concerned with ethics and security in Israel/Palestine supposed to do?

Our slogan and goal must be simply this: "Equality for Palestinians and Jews in Israel/Palestine".  This is a simple slogan and simple goal that focuses on rights and not solutions. There are a number of possible solutions that could affect this demand: one state, two states, a federation of states, a confederation, or scenarios not yet articulated.  It is also a goal that can be worked for - and at least partially achieved - in the absence of any long term agreed upon "solution." It is a goal that can be worked towards incrementally, without giving up its basic principle. It is a measure that can always be improved upon until it is fully realized. And it is yardstick that can be used to judge almost any policy or strategy or tactic proposed by any of the actors in Israel/Palestine.

When all else fails, it is wise to go back to first principles. What do we really want in Israel/Palestine? A chance for both Jews and Palestinians to have material well being, happiness, peace, security, and collective cultural autonomy as well as personal liberty; all in the land that both peoples both regard as home. If we can clearly and bravely articulate our goals, the implementation details will follow. And if they don't - for a while - at least we will be striving for something worthwhile in the interim.

Below: Nachum Barnea Interview

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Canadian Friends of Peace Now Supports United Church Motion to Boycott Settlements Products

The following letter appeared in the Canadian Jewish News.

The United Church report
In the guest voice “The United Church should not boycott Israel” (June 21), Shimon Fogel, the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), takes the United Church to task for urging a boycott of settlement products and characterizes their recent report as “marked by historical distortions” and one-sided. I have, as a historian, perused the report and find it to be fairly balanced, giving due weight to the legitimate security concerns of Israelis, as well as to the national claims of both peoples. I would congratulate our Christian friends for having produced a balanced and thoughtful document. Fogel, however, takes exception to their call for a boycott of settlement products. Again, we might congratulate the church for eschewing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which they rightly regard as an assault on the legitimacy of Israel and the democratic forces within the country. They have taken a moderate and responsible position.
Fogel acknowledges the Jewish community has a healthy diversity of opinion, presumably extending to the settlements, but then proceeds to argue that CIJA must react when the church aims to target Israelis for boycott. Fogel has thereby extended CIJA’s legitimate defence of Israel to the defence of settlements, which is still a hotly debated issue. In The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart urges us to distinguish between the democratic Israel, behind the green line, and the undemocratic Israel of the occupation and settlements, the correct target for a boycott. Likewise, Peace Now joined the settlement boycott, after the Knesset made it illegal to advocate such actions and subject to civil damages. Fogel and CIJA are out of line in extending their protection to the settlement enterprise.
Stephen Scheinberg
Co-Chair, Canadian Friends of Peace Now

Ken yirbu.

And you can personally join such a boycott. But despite the good intentions of the poster at the top of this article, settlement goods are not often clearly labelled "Produce of the West Bank." To get a more complete list take a look at Who Profits.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Mitt Romney Refused Memorial For Slain Israeli Athletes as Salt Lake Olympic Chief

Here's a story that should be covered by all the American Jewish media.  But I doubt it will be. The American Jewish establishment (as opposed to the average American Jew) is to far gone to the right to allow that.