Friday, July 18, 2014

Walking between the drops while it’s raining death in Gaza

Last Sunday, the Ma’ariv daily did report “At least 15 children killed in the bombing of a mosque and a residential building at Gaza’s Tufah Neighborhood.” It appeared even on the front page, but on the very bottom - and in much smaller characters than the very warlike banner headline on the top - referring the reader to a news item on p.6, where it was more cautiously worded; the killing of 15 children was not presented as a fact, but as something which “the Palestinians assert.” The whole gave the impression of a compromise achieved after a power struggle between news editors.
Three days later, with the killing of the four boys playing soccer on the Gaza beach, there was no room for the ambiguity of “the Palestinians claim that…”. They were killed some two hundred meters from where the representatives of the international media are staying, and TV cameras sent the footage of the small blood-stained around the globe in real time.

And so, the four boys from the beach made it to the Israeli banner headlines. Unnamed diplomatic sources in Jerusalem  bewailed that the mishap of killing the boys on the beach had undone the international credit which Israel amassed due to Hamas rejecting the Egyptian ceasefire proposal. It was probably because of the dead boys that Netanyahu felt obliged to accept the UN proposal for a five-hour humanitarian pause in the bombing of Gaza.

We have decided to go to central Tel Aviv during that pause, reasoning (correctly, as it turned out) that it minimized the risk of being caught by the air raid siren while inside a bus.  In the  bus we encountered the irritated passenger. About forty years old, nothing special about him, he was seated in a back seat, quietly reading his paper.Suddenly he got up, flung the paper violently halfway across the bus and burst out shouting, addressing no one in particular: “The cheek of these Hamas bastards! Making demands in exchange for agreeing to a ceasefire! Actually m aking demands! The release of prisoners, the opening of border crossings, the works! Damn them all to Hell!  And Netanyahu is sending people to Cairo to negotiate with them? What a disgrace! No concessions, I say, no concessions to damn terrorists! Just send in the tanks and smash them all to pulp, crush them, crush them!”

A family visit to Y., an old man who is more mainstream than us – though still rather leftish as compared with the general Israeli spectrum – did degenerate into political debate. “You want to go to this reading of testimonies of soldiers from Gaza? What the hell for? Do you think it will change anybody’s mind?” “No, probably it will not affect anyone who is not convinced already. People nowadays close themselves off to facts which don’t fit the opinion they already have”. “So why are you doing it? Just to provoke people?” “It is not we who are doing it, Breaking the Silence are organizing it. Soldiers’ testimonies are their thing”. “Nonsense! What is the use of that? Nothing!”. “Sometimes  there are things which need to be said, whatever the outcome”. “That’s total nonsense”. We parted on less than cordial terms.

In a small shop with a sign reading “Operation Protective Edge – 50% discount” the radio was blaring into the sidewalk. A small crowd gathered to hear the news bulletin. The news reader informed us in a rather shaky voice that “Aside from the four children killed yesterday, there were also four killed in bombings today – three on the roof of a residential building and a three-year old in the bombing of another house”.  Later on, we found that the three had been playing on the roof as their parents did not realize that the humanitarian pause was already over. 

Two hours until the reading of the testimonies. We met R., an old friend and fellow activist, at our accustomed place, Garcia’s Café on the tree-lined Massarik Square. Chatted with her trying to ban the war from our mind.

Walking along King George Street we passed two religious women with hand-painted placards. One read “Let’s all cry out as loud as we can: How long is it going to last?”. The other one  had “Our Lord God, oh please send us the Messiah right now!” Then turning to Habimah Square, where several hundred people already gathered for the reading of the testimonies.

Just as we came, the testimony of a soldier who had taken part in the 2009 invasion of Gaza was being read. “We were on the roof of a house. We saw somebody walk towards us in the darkness, a light wobbling in his hand. We wanted to fire a warning shot to make him stop, but this would have given away our position. Finally he came very close, close enough that if he were a suicide bomber he could have blown us up. Standing orders were to take no chances, so we opened fire and killed him. We examined the body and found he was an old man, unarmed, no threat whatsoever.”

“How many testimonies like this would come out of the present round?” wondered R. From a bit off, the extreme-right counter-demonstrators were shouting “Death to the Arabs! A Jew has a soul, an Arab is a bastard!”. The Breaking the Silence had taken care to install powerful loudspeakers, and the reading of the testimonies proceeded.  The police did their job (more or less) and there were only minor scuffles.

The siren did sound when we were waiting for the bus on the way back, again on King Geroge Street. A long, long wailing sound, longer then usual. We run into the nearby shop. It was quite big, we could get deep in, far away from the glass of the front display window. Several minutes and we could hear the dull explosion which means interception in the air, different from the heavier sound of ground impact. (How quickly does one gain that expertise!). Since we were in the shop anyway, we bought a small jar of Yemenite hot sauce.

“Did you see how hysterical some of these people were, how they started crying out in panic when the siren started? Don’t they know that the chance of anything actually getting through  the Iron Dome and falling exactly on their heads is astronomically small? It is the people in Gaza who need to seriously worry. Not us.” “Don’t contempt these Tel Aviv people. The danger now might be small, but they get the taste of a less and less secure future. Israel is now less safe than it was twenty years ago. How safe will it be twenty years from now? Especially if the American Empire goes the way of the late British Empire?” “So, what political conclusions will the people of Israel draw from that?” “Each according to his or her taste. We say Israel should make peace and get integrated in the region before it is too late. If it’s not too late already. But others will say we have to dig in and increase the Israeli military power and give not an inch”. “So, what shall we do?”. “As for me, I will come to the demo on Saturday night and pick up the sign ‘Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies’. At least the specific Jews and the specific Arabs in the demo mean it, completely”.

And now – the ground invasion in Gaza. R., was late last night awakened by what she thought was a missile, but turned out to be the sound of a helicopter - and she knew right away that there were Israeli casualties being transported to the nearby hospital. One dead and three wounded up to now. The dead soldier was identified as the 20-year old Sergeant Ethan Barak, killed in the north Gaza Strip when his jeep was hit by a Hams anti-tank missile (or by “friendly fire”). His former school principal spoke on the radio and said what a swell guy Ethan Barak had been, and how greatly he was loved by schoolmates, and how highly motivated he had been to join a combat unit in the army, a dream which he duly fulfilled. “I know all this sounds like a cliché” apologized the principal. Indeed, that is how it sounded.

Twenty-four Palestinians were also killed in the initial stage of the ground invasion. Among them, it was noted in passing, a five-month old baby,  killed when his family home was hit by tank fire. A baby who will remain nameless.
The occupation is killing all of us

Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 8:00 pm
Habima Square, Tel Aviv

It is forbidden to shoot at civilian populations. It is forbidden and still it happens. Both sides do it. Hamas shoots on the population of Israel. The IDF shoots at the population of Gaza.

Two equal sides? Far from it. The State of Israel has enormous military and economic strength. With massive financial assistance from the United States, the State of Israel built the "Iron Dome" system, a great technological achievement  which protects us. Therefore, the missile attacks on Israeli cities are mostly a nuisance. The air raid alarms are irritating, a bit disruptive to the routine of life, sometimes frightening – but not much more.

Gazans have no Iron Dome, no protection whatsoever against the death which falls down on them from the air and the sea and the land. The State of Israel is pounding Gaza, killing and killing and killing. True - The State of Israel has no premeditated purpose of killing innocent civilians, women and men and the elderly and children playing football on the beach. There is no premeditated purpose – but there is a reality. The killing of unarmed civilians in Gaza is going on, day by day and hour by hour. More than two hundred Palestinians have been killed. A large part of them were unarmed civilians, dozens of them were children. And it goes on.

"Why are they shooting at us?" Wondered righteously the outgoing President of Israel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. "Why did they not make of Gaza a flourishing Singapore?". But Shimon Peres forgot to mention that the city state of Singapore, whose population and size are comparable to those of the Gaza Strip, has one of the largest ports in the world. There is no one to block thousands of ships from all over world sailing in and out of that port, maintain the flow of trade on which the wealth of Singapore is built. The minuscule port of Gaza is closed and blockaded. The Israeli Navy is ever vigilant to prevent even the smallest vessels from reaching it, and shoots at Gazan fishing boats which venture  more than a few kilometers from shore.

Gaza is a big prison for its residents, nearly two millions of them. The State of Israel and its neighbor Egypt – with whom relationship has tightened considerably since General Sisi seized power - cooperate in imposing the siege on Gaza and holding its population effectively  incarcerated, unable to come and go to the outside world. Gazas live on a seashore. They can swim and play on the beach (on days where lethal shots  don’t come at them out of the sea). But they can’t get on a boat and sail into the sea, nor on a plane flying to any destination anywhere in the world. Also the land crossings are almost completely closed. For years, millions of people are locked up in the little, narrow and extremely crowded piece of land called the Gaza Strip.

"We imposed a siege on them because they are shooting at us," say the leaders of Israel. (By the way, the siege on Gaza began long before Hamas took power there). "We shoot because you impose a siege on us. We will not agree to a cease-fire which does not include the lifting of the siege," say Gaza residents this week (not all of them  Hamas members).

There is no point to a ceasefire which would simply restore the situation that existed two weeks ago. The situation of two weeks ago was unbearable - a situation of a tight siege over the Gaza Strip, causing suffering and economic suffocation and extreme poverty for the majority of its inhabitants. The siege of Gaza has spawned several rounds of conflict. Continuation of the siege is a sure recipe for another round in a year or two.

Only the lifting of the siege on Gaza, enabling its residents to come and go by land and sea and air, export and import goods  and develop their economy, can open up for them a hope for the future. Only the lifting of the siege can give a chance for peace and quiet on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.

On Saturday night Gush Shalom will join with peace and human rights  organizations in a protest against the cruel and unnecessary war called "Operation Protective Edge".  Last week, an earlier demonstration on the same location was attacked by extreme right thugs. Organizers of the current protest have taken precautions to make sure this is not repeated - and of course, what happened will not deter us from expressing our position on an issue vital to our future.

As we were informed, demonstration marshals and stewards will be present on the spot, and anyone intending to come should follow their instructions regarding location, conduct of the demonstration and its dispersal, and refrain from taking any violent action from our side.

Transportation from Jerusalem: Parking lot, Liberty Bell Park Registration: Connie 052-6375033

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On the third day

10 am, Thursday July 10

Air raid siren again a bit before 8.00 am this morning. It has already become a routine – rushing out of our fourth-floor apartment, running two floors down, crouching in the second floor staircase along with our neighbors, hearing the dull thuds from above, chatting a bit and then back home to a more or less normal life.

It is not really frightening. So far, the Iron Dome system had intercepted virtually all the missiles shot at populated areas, and no Israeli had been killed. Palestinians shooting missiles out of Gaza and running up the sirens in half of Israel, all the way to Metropolitan Tel Aviv and much further to its north, are in effect engaged in psychological warfare. A convoluted way of reminding uncaring Israelis that they exist and that they have an unsolved problem. Better this way than suicide bombers and exploding buses…

It would be very different to be living in Gaza right now. Early this morning Seffi Rechelvsky set out on Facebook the score as it stood then:

Killed: Palestine – 53, Israel – 0
Wounded: Palestine – 465, Israel – 0

That score did not include a five year old boy killed this morning, he was still alive when this score was made. An Israeli radio broadcast did mention his death two hours ago, but neglected to give his name or any further details.

To be fair, with 400 tonnes of bombs dropped on Gaza in 48 hours, according to the IAF, there could have been many more killed and wounded.  An average of 9 tonnes of explosives to kill one child is not really cost-effective. But then, Netanyahu is well aware that a high Palestinian body count would work against him, and might arouse a now sluggish International Community to say “Enough is enough”.  

The AFP report from Gaza this morning mentions a hit on a coffee shop in the city of Khan Younis, in which six men were killed and at least 15 other people wounded. Were some of the men sitting in this coffee shop specifically targeted by the Israeli security services, or was it just “collateral damage”? We will probably never know. And what about two further strikes on two houses in Khan Younis which killed three women and four children? That was almost certainly not intended. Speakers for the government and the army reiterate again and again that unarmed civilians are not deliberately targeted. But intentionally or not, they are dead all the same.

For what did they die? Defense Minister Ya’alon defined the war aims succinctly at the outset: “To make Hamas accept a cease fire on our terms”. For example, they are not to demand that Israel respect the terms of the 2011 prisoner exchange deal, and that those unilaterally re-imprisoned be set free. Nor are they to make any demand that General Sissi of Egypt, who has very cordial relations with Israel and is implacably hostile to Hamas, will open the Rafah Border Crossing and ease the Strip’s economic suffocation. How many more people will die before Ya’alon gets a satisfactory cease fire offer from Gaza? Probably many.

A particularly nasty right-winger who yesterday commented on the Gush Shalom Facebook page wrote: “We should repeat what we did in 1948, just throw the Arabs out and get rid of them”. I wrote him back “The grandchildren of the people which we expelled from Jaffa in 1948 are now shooting at us out of Gaza”.

 Midnight, between Thursday and Friday

Ventured out in the late afternoon for a mixture of political and private business. The streets look superficially the same, the radio reported a sharp decline in the number of people going to cafes and shopping malls, this is not so evident in the street. Adopting a new way of walking – preferable to go through residential areas, where if the siren sounds you can run into a nearby building, better avoid parks for the time being. Also wait with going to the sea shore, too wide and exposed.

Meeting an old friend. He tells of what happened this morning: “When the alarm sounded I saw the young Arab who tends our building’s garden stand hesitating. I called to him ‘Quick, quick, come into the basement with us, it is dangerous out there'. Several other neighbors from the other flats also called him and after a moment he came with us down into the musty old basement. Just for a few minutes, then we all emerged and he went back to the garden”.

(…) “Did you see how the Germans crushed the Brazilians in the semi-final? The Brazilian fans were crying real tears, it was terrible to see”.
- “How can you think of soccer in times like these?”
- “Exactly since all this mess started, I became addicted to the World Cup broadcasts.  It is like an alternative universe, where wars are fought on a green field for ninety minutes and nobody gets killed and in the end the winners and the losers shake hands”.
- “Professor Zimmermann thinks that sport is really a good way of sublimating national aggression and diverting it into harmless channels. It helped the European avoid wars since 1945".

(…) Eating at a fast-food stall bearing the sticker “Our Father, Our King, please take care of Our Soldiers”, three of us get into debate with other customers, a very outspokenly religious young couple. The woman takes the lead: “You are completely wrong. We don’t need peace with the Arabs. We just need peace among ourselves, for all Jews to be united. Then will come the Redemption”.
- “What do you mean, the Redemption?
- “All these missiles are just a test which God set to test our faith. If we all unanimously declare that this is our Promised Land and it is ours because God promised it, then we have passed the test and God will deliver us from all enemies”.
- “You have very much trust in this God of yours. Are you sure he exists at all?
- “Of course He exists! Look at the Earth, the stars, everything! Somebody created it all, there is a Director who directs everything in the world!”
- “I look at the shape the world is in. If it has a director then he is incompetent. He should be fired and a better person found for the job”.

(…) An open TV blaring into the street the ongoing war news and commentary. - “We should have no illusions, there is no real solution. Hamas has a big stock  of rockets hidden underground. They are well organized and can replace losses. There is no way to achieve a permanent victory, either with air attacks or by a short-term ground operation. The only way to really overcome them is to conquer and permanently rule all of the Strip, and that would involve paying a stupendous prize – the conquering, the mopping up and the permanent holding on to it. I am not sure that the Israeli society is willing or able to pay the prize.”
- Moderator: “Is it possible that Israeli society prefers just to have a military operation in Gaza every two or three years rather than pay the price of permanent conquest?”

I asked the shopkeeper who was that. He shrugged: “I don’t know. One of these ex-generals, I did not catch his name”. I would have liked to ask the ex-general if he had ever considered the option of making peace with the Palestinians, but I had not been invited to the TV studio.

- “What shall we do if we come home and find it got a hit?”
- “Why, we should demand of the government to give us a place to stay. They had started all this mess”.

The house stood solid, no missile had landed anywhere around. At the computer a lot of stupid and nasty comments had accumulated by mail and Facebook, but also some supportive messages and news of several good initiatives for action in the weekend.

Looking at the latest news. The war seems to have escalated a notch or two in this afternoon. The Palestinians used the tactic of shooting dozens of rockets at once,  saturating the Iron Dome defenses. Two rockets slipped through in Be’er Sheba and one in Ashdod. There was reported an enormous fireball, but fortunately still no killed Israelis. The Iluz Family, nine of them in all, were highly commended by the police for having followed instructions and got to shelter just on time and getting away with their lives though their house is completely destroyed.

No such luck to the eight-year-old Abdul Rahman Khattab, killed in an airstrike on his home at al-Hakar area in Deir al-Balah, and the four-year-old girl Yasmin Muhammad al-Mutawwaq who succumbed to wounds sustained in an earlier  airstrike, and eight members of the al-Hajj family killed at their home in Khan Younis.

Many more names could be found by glancing at the reports available on the Palestinian news websites - which I have done a minute ago and which very few Israeli citizens would dream of doing. Netanyahu would answer that it was all the fault of Hamas which was “using them as human shields”. Netanyahu announced this evening that Operation Protective Edge
is proceeding well on schedule and further stages are to be expected.

Suha Hamad, a 25-year old mother, died while saving her  children during an Israeli air raid on the family home. She brought three of them to their grandmother's room, the safest in the house. When she went back for the fourth - a four-month-old baby - she was hit by shrapnel and killed on the spot. Had she been an Israeli mother, this would have been classic headline material for the Israeli mass-circulation papers. But she was a Palestinian, so very few Israelis will ever hear of her.

At least ninety Palestinians had been killed since the operation started, possibly by this hour the number  already passed the hundred number. Which means that the kill rate  had doubled on the third day compared with the earlier two. And on the fourth day?


Tomorrow there will be a demonstration on the mountain overlooking Military Prison 6 in Atlit, in solidarity with Uriel Ferera. He had refused to serve in an army of occupation and already four times is sent to prison and out and in again, and the army seems determined to continue this game.

We have already for several months known about Uriel Ferera and greatly appreciated his struggle. Sami and Nader Rahal have caught us by surprise.
They are two brothers, military doctors who happen to be Muslim Bedouin citizens of Israel, and who had served long enough in the IDF to become officers.

On hearing of seven members of a Khan Yuneis family – adults and children - being killed in the bombing of their house on the first day, the two brothers went away from the army. From their home they informed the military authorities that they consider the IDF to be an immoral army.

The authorities informed the press that they regard the Rahal brothers’ act with grave displeasure, since that is not at all the way soldiers are supposed to act – all the more officers, and all the more in time of emergency. As far as it goes, this is entirely true. Soldiers are supposed to be obedient cogs in the machine, that is how armies are supposed to work.  

Photo: "Gaza Youth Breaking Out"

"Stop shooting! Stop shooting!" - photo Combatants for Peace

Video: a protest against the war in Gaza, Tel Aviv, July 9, 2014
Photographer: Israel Futerman

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Macabre prophecies coming true

 "Together against racism", "Together in pain, together in hope", 
"Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies" (photo: Avigail Shaham)

Pardes Hanna. A nice sleepy town with a bit over 30,000 inhabitants, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Saturday night, several activists who live in Pardes Hanna went off to participate in a demonstration against racism in Haifa, but on that evening racism burst into their own hometown.

"I sat with the family in the McDonalds at the Big shopping mall and suddenly they arrived. Fifty or sixty people, aged 15 to 30, waving Israeli national flags and singing the anthem and shouting 'Death to the Arabs! Death to the Arabs!'. They run shouting and flag-waving in front of the shops which have Arab employees and Arab shoppers, at every shop entrance shouting 'Death to the Arabs! A Jew has a soul, an Arab is a bastard! Hanin Zoabi is a whore! '. They stopped every car which had Arabs in it, knocked on its windows and made killing gestures to those inside. A police patrol car went after them. We asked the police why they did not stop them, the police told us they did not have the manpower for it."

Yasmine Halevi, who was that night at the demonstration in Haifa, told: "On Sunday morning at nine o'clock I got an sms message: How about organizing  a protest about the mini-pogrom yesterday at the Big? Honestly, I felt weak in the knees. Just at the start of a new week, amid tons of work and deadlines to meet and a dirty kitchen and laundry, and while transporting children to summer camp and passing just at the signs of that same Big mall. Protest, exactly now? Why, who has the time and energy, and anyway I was quite frightened.  But I could not let go, I realized if I did not do it nobody will.

After two phone calls to people whose opinion I value, I did it in the simple way which is possible nowadays: set up an Event on Facebook. Let come who will, I told myself, just let them be no less than a hundred, because I was really frightened. Without a megaphone, no handbills, the most a-political text I could manage. But soon I was surprised. The event started picking up momentum, I got positive comments, supporting and even joyful.

Six thirty pm. We stayed at the entrance, more and more came and joined us. I expected 150 people but we were several hundreds. Opposite us there began to pile up the mass of the local hooligans, exclusively male with their flags and anthem and shouting and hand gestures, confined by the police. On our side there were some familiar faces and less familiar. Some of them had hardly ever been in a demonstration, perhaps some only in the Social Protest of summer of 2011. Individuals who tend to stay away from groups, political camps and shibboleths. But more and more of them came, with their signs and children. They understood what we are facing. This community, where I am living several years, moved me deeply today. Even if people here are not always politically coherent, they know what we are facing. They know when is the time to come out and stand our ground and say: You are not going to conduct any manhunts here!"

Pardes Hanna is a microcosm of the state and society and country which is fast spinning out of control. Just a bit more than two months have passed since the final collapse of the mediation efforts led by Secretary State John Kerry. There were commentators who wrote at that time that the situation cannot remain static, that if we don’t move forward to peace we would fall down into an abyss of violence and bloodshed, that the atmosphere was very volatile. Probably even those commentators themselves were surprised at how much and how quickly their prophecies came true.

A day before yesterday, on Sunday this week, the Israel Police Headquarters announced  the apprehension of six young Jewish Israelis, charged with  having kidnapped the Palestinian boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir and burning him to death. But in order to “counter-balance” the police simultaneously also announced the arrest of an Arab taxi driver, charged with having stabbed to death a young Jewish woman, two months ago, Shelly Dadon, who boarded his taxi. Maybe someone thought that balancing the horrors against each other will help lower the flames and emotional turmoil of riots and counter-riots and revenge for revenge for revenge. It did not exactly work out this way.

And today, a stronger anodyne is used: all-out war in Gaza.  The Israeli Defense Forces announced the launching of “Operation Protective Edge”, the  youngest sibling of “Cast Lead” in 2009 and “Pillar of Defence” in 2012 and various other operations in and around Gaza. PM Netanyahu announced sternly that “The gloves are off”. With Israeli combat planes flying non-stop bombing missions over Gaza, and Palestinian rockets launched into Israel, and tens of thousands of ground troops mobilized and poised to invade. Perhaps the tensions and passions of Jewish and Arab civilians would be swept under the carpet – there to fester untended until the next outbreak.

Just as I wrote the above, the air-raid sirens sounded over the metropolitan Tel Aviv area. One rocker, successfully intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome system made us run for safety to the staircase. There will probably be more in the coming days.

To be fair, Netanyahu had been far from trigger-happy, as far as Gaza was concerned. Under another PM (for example the “dovish” Olmert) this operation might have been underway a week ago already.  In the past days, Netanyahu had undertaken a conspicuous policy of “restraint”, which caused him to be accused of “weakness” and led to an open rift between him and his longtime partner, the hardliner Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Netanyahu had been willing to reach a ceasefire with Hamas, under Egyptian mediation, and for some days it looked like something might be worked out. But he was completely unwilling to relax in any way the siege of Gaza, which had been increasingly suffocating what is left of its economy. Gaza’s Rafah Border Crossing to Egypt was supposed to open after the Palestinian Unity Government came into being (in fact, that was the main reason why Hamas made that deal in the first place) but Egypt’s General Sisi  - implacably hostile to Hamas and on excellent terms with Netanyahu – reneged on his part and kept Rafah closed. And so Hamas did not agree on a ceasefire, holding out for an end to the siege – and Netanyahu responded by reducing the area, where Gazan fishermen may venture, from six miles to three tightening the rope around Gaza’s neck another notch. And the cross-border exchanges escalated day by day and night by night, and here we are in a war which nobody really wanted. It can be said that both the Government of Israel and the Hamas leadership played brinkmanship, and we all fell in.

At the worst possible timing, Ha’aretz newspaper on this very day launched its long-prepared “Ha’aretz Israel Conference on Peace”, inviting various VIP’s to come and speak about the possibilities and prospects of achieving peace in this troubled country and region. Unsurprisingly, many of the speeches reported from there were far from offering real hope.

In fact, when the Ha’aretz editors initiated this event half a year ago, they had expected Kerry to keep his timetable and achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by the April 29 deadline. In that case, the conference in July would have provided the newborn agreement with public backing from inside the Israeli society. As things are, Ha’aretz still placed prominently at the top of its front page a specially-commissioned article from the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Obama repeated all the nice words and catch-phrases which he made at his speech in Jerusalem, a year and a half ago – again reiterating an American commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians and to the two-state solution. Some activists which I know did not bother to read it through. The operative sentences were tucked in towards the end: “We remain determined to work with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President  Abbas. When the political will exists to recommit to serious negotiations, the United States will be there, ready to do our part”.

Thousands of years ago, a prophet living in this country sounded a stern warning to those putting their trust in a super-power of that time:” Now, behold, thou dost trust upon this broken reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it; so is Pharaoh, king of Egypt unto all that trust in him.”

With little to expect of the world’s powers, the Tel-Aviv based Coalition of Women for Peace took an initiative for action within hours of the Army announcing its Gaza operation.

Stop the Killing, End the Occupation! 

We will not remain quiet as the bombs are falling!

Wednesday, July 9th at 18:00
Habima Square, Tel Aviv
(Note: this time and place replace those originally published here)  

 In the past month, Israel raided several thousand homes, and arrested over 600 Palestinians, including women and children. 

Also in the last few weeks, everyday forms of racism and violence, by the state and its officials, have escalated exponentially. 

Thousands of hate-filled Israeli citizens poured into the streets, seeking revenge, destruction and violence. 

Ongoing occupation, daily oppression, house demolitions, destruction of lives. The Israeli government is relentless - demolishing in Hebron, expropriating lands in the Naqab/Negev, brutally suppressing popular protests, attacking Gaza. 

Once again, Israel launched yet another irresponsible and unnecessary military 'operation,' at the expense of the residents of the south, who, together with Gazans, deserve to live in dignity, without constant and daily threats. 

Bombardments and casualties lead nowhere, except for further bombings, rockets and blood. Stop militarism, end the occupation!

Coalition of Women for Peace
3 Yegia Kapayim Street, Tel-Aviv-Jaffa

Gaza today (photo AFP)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Politics of madness

"An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." 

It is becoming clear that the government, army and security services assumed from the start that the three boys were no longer alive.  Probably, it was no surprise for them that there did not come any claim of responsibility, and no proposal of negotiating their release. The soldiers who conducted the searches on the ground were instructed to turn every stone, quite literally, and also to empty water holes and search their bottoms. The soldiers were sent to look for dead bodies, not for hostages. But on the media were imposed gag orders, preventing them from publishing information pointing to the death of the boys. The Israeli public was called to take part in mass prayers and rallies on city squares with the call "Bring back our boys" and one gets the impression that also the three families going from hope to despair were not informed to the full.

To whom was it worthwhile and why? It is not difficult to guess. Long before Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel took their fateful ride, Binyamin Netanyahu already marked as a primary target the Palestinian Reconciliation Agreement. He was determined to drive a wedge and break up at any price the "Technocrat Government" created jointly by Fatah and Hamas. From the first day the government of Israel declared Hamas to be responsible for the kidnapping - a clear proof, if it exists, has not been published until this moment.

Under cover of the great outcry "Bring Back Our Sons" the army started a widespread detention campaign, which had no direct connection with the kidnapping. Operation Brother's Keeper was mainly directed against "the civilian infrastructure" of Hamas - starting with the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislature down to grassroots activists of Hamas-linked educational institutions and charity associations. It was clear that the people detained knew nothing about the kidnapping, and nobody expected them to know. But, as was noted with satisfaction by knowledgeable commentators such as Alex Fishman of Yediot Achronot, the kidnapping created "a rare window of opportunity" in which the world kept silent about a massive detention campaign which under different circumstances would have caused a wave of international protest. Nor was there much ado about the killing of several Palestinians, among them boys of the same age as the Israelis which the army supposedly was searching for.
And Netanyahu made the propaganda most out of the "moral high ground" of searching for innocent kids, kidnapped on the way home from school.  It was pushed to the background that the school happened to be in a settlement and that the three students were hitchhiking in the heart of an occupied territory.
It came eve to sending the three mothers to The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, followed by a chorus of  protest in the Israeli media against the "hypocrisy and cynicism" of the Council members  closing their ears to the mothers' heartfelt outcry. Indeed, the UN Human Rights Council is an easy and convenient target of criticism. It is not staffed by Human Rights activists but by official representatives of governments - some of which are themselves responsible for severe violations of human rights and all of which have many political and economic interests and hidden agendas. Hypocrisy and cynicism there are in plenty, but what could compare with the cynicism of giving mothers false hope.

When the three bodies were discovered after 18 days, the gates of hate were opened wide. It was not the mothers, or the families that opened them. Exactly they did not demand anything but that those who killed their sons would be caught and punished. But there were enough others who were blowing on the flames of hatred, starting with the Prime Minister himself who used a famous poetry quote "Satan himself has not created a fitting revenge for the blood of a small child." Like most of those who quote this, Netanyahu forgot the other words of Bialik's poem: "Cursed be the one who cries 'take revenge' ."

In the cabinet resolution it was stated "they were murdered by human beasts", and this was quoted in banner headlines. From the official speech at the mass funeral on the following day the media quoted the words: "we sanctify life, while our neighbors sanctify death." In the night in between, between human beasts and life sanctifiers, another Palestinian youth was killed by army fire at the Jenin Refugee Camp, but his death was only marginally reported.

"A whole nation and thousands of years of history demand revenge" proclaimed Rabbi Noam Pearl, general secretary of the National Religious Bney Akiva Youth Movement. He demanded the formation of "a corpse of avengers, which will not stop at the mark of 300 Phillistine foreskins," referring to one of the most barbaric acts which the Bible attributes to King David. The words of Rabbi Pearl aroused many protests,  also inside the traditionally right-leaning Bney Akiva movement itself, and several of its branches broke away, altogether. Still, the inflammatory calls for revenge spread with a speed which would not have been possible before the creation of electronic social networks. In the "revenge page" created on Facebook there were numerous selfie photos: soldiers pointing the gun at the viewer with the words "let the army smash", and girls carrying the sign "to hate Arabs is not racism but a moral principle".

From Facebook it was but a short distance to the streets of Jerusalem where hundreds were rampaging and shouting "Death to the Arabs!" and "Revenge! Revenge!" and were running all across the city, searching for Arabs to beat up. The police announced that it had mobilized large forces on Jaffa Street and the Machaneh Yehuda Market taking, credit for succeeding in preventing Arab passers-by being killed. But at 4am on the same night two unknown persons came to the Shuafat Neighborhood in East Jerusalem and found there a 16 year old boy named Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was studying to become an electrician and who was on his way to the neighborhood mosque because of Ramadan. These unknowns dragged the boy into a car and  later on that morning his burnt body was found in a West Jerusalem park.

The authorities of the State of Israel, which were so clear and decisive about the responsibility of Hamas in the case of the previous kidnapping and murder showed themselves very hesitant in this case. Was it the act of people who were influenced by those very strong calls for revenge, looking for a Palestinian 16 year old boy? That certainly sounds plausible. But from the police came an alternative - i.e. that Mohammed Abu Khdeir was maybe a homosexual murdered by Palestinians and that just by coincidence this happened exactly on the night of the mob attacks on the streets of Jerusalem.

Israeli politicians and columnists who refer to this murder are taking very good care to note that the circumstances of the murder and the identity of the perpetrators are still unknown and that one should patiently wait for the results of the police investigation. But it would be difficult to expect the inhabitants of Shuafat to also show such patience. In the last days the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem burst out in demonstrations and riots whose like was not seen there even in the days of the first and second Intifada, and during the boy's funeral 35 people were wounded from police fire.  A voice of compassion came from the bereaved  Fraenkel family: “There is no difference between blood and blood, There is no justification, no forgiveness and no atonement for any murder.”

Yesterday evening those who still try to keep their sanity in the madness around gathered for a rally on Habima Square in Tel-Aviv. Thousands of people turned up, and carried the signs "There is no consolation in revenge!" and "No to revenge! Yes to a political solution!" and "Political solution - a deathblow to terrorism!" and "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind" with a picture of Mahatma Gandhi. They chanted: "We will not let extremists run our lives!" / "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!" / "Government lies will not bring security!" / "All government ministers are part of the incitement!" / "Government of settlers and tycoons has no solution!" and "This is not an extremist minority, it is a racist government!" Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now called for silence in order to let speeches of Knesset Members be heard, of Meretz and the Labour Party and the Hadash Communists, and also Amra Mitzna of Tzipi Livni's party, on whom hacklers called to withdraw from the government coaltion.

We went home with the feeling that not everything is lost, but also with anxiety about the increasing escalation on the Gaza Strip border.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Arab Knesset Member you love to hate

On the front page of "Israel Today", commonly known as "The Bibinews", there appeared yesterday a big red headline: "The Disgraceful MK Zoabi." On the second page there was a black headline proclaiming: "Zoabi’s place is in prison." And below the title there was very extensive a collection of quotations from Knesset Members and ministers and army officers and many more: "There is no limit to her cruelty and cynicism" / "She does not deserve to be an MK" / "Not only the kidnappers are terrorists, Zoabi is a terrorist too" / "Her harsh words are wild incitement and encouragement to terrorism" / "She is not worthy to be in the Knesset, put her on trial"/ "Remove her immunity and expel her to Gaza". And so and on, a page and a half in small crowded characters.

Tucked in a corner among all the outpouring of abuse were the words which MK Haneen Zoabi  said in a morning radio program, and which raised such a fuss: "I'm not surprised at the abduction. People are living under occupation, that is not  normal living. They are forced to use such measures until Israel would  understand the suffering of people living under occupation”. 

This had happened before, and more than once or twice. Ever since the State of Israel was established, it has been happening at regular intervals. Repeatedly the surprising discovery is made that the State of Israel has Arab citizens, that those citizens have the right to vote in Knesset  elections, and they do elect parliamentarians to represent them in the Knesset.  And what a surprise, the Arab Knesset Members who represent the Arab citizens are not  Zionists, no do their cars bear the bumper sticker "Long Live the IDF”.

Every few years, usually at a moment of one national crisis or another, still another storm of controversy bursts out when a statement by an Arab Knesset Member evokes an emotional outburst, and loud demands are made to expel the offending Member from the Knesset, or from the country, or altogether from the land of the living. Each generation in the history of Israel there was the one specific Arab MK which you loved to hate. Haneen Zoabi is the first woman to be placed into this slot, and the outburst of hatred against her includes a significant element of male chauvinism. 

The first such case was in 1949, the first year of Israel's existence and of the Knesset parliamentary activity. The Arab Communist Knesset Member Tawfik Toubi  dared to voice in the Knesset a criticism of the destruction caused by Israeli soldiers during house searches at Arab villages in the Galilee. He was met by an outburst of angry shouts, some calling out: "You should say thank you that you are allowed to sit in the Knesset give”. His demand for an investigation was rejected by an overwhelming Knesset majority. 

Following this incident, the poet Nathan Alterman published on Novemeber 18,1949  a poem entitled "The Rebuke to Tawfik Toubi ", included in his regular  column in the Davar newspaper.  The poet and thinker Alterman was an influential public figure life during the British Mandate and the early years of Israel. He was not a left-winger as the term is nowadays understood in Israel. In fact, in his last years of his life he was a founding member of the Greater Israel movement. But he was a decent person. 

"The Rebuke to Tawfik Toubi "

By Nathan Alterman (1949)

So, who is Tawfik Toubi ? 
He is a Knesset Member
He is an Arab Communist. 
By right and not as a favor  
Does he sit in Parliament 

Like all other members, 
He too sits there
By virtue of the law
It is time 
We remember that, fellows
He owes no great debt
Of gratitude for special favor 
He is there by law  
By right
By fundamental principle  

No! There is no call
For Parliament
To wave at him
Time and again
The threat of divorce 

By no means should Parliament
Say: You may speak
Because of my generosity…
Out of my goodness…
Because I give you leave…
This should never be said
Even in private 

The time has come to decide:
Like all other delegates
Toubi is here by right!
And if we mean it seriously
There is no need
To present to him 
Every two days
The bill of what he owes 

Such is the nature 
Of Democracy:
Her servants 
Owe gratitude to no person

And to the main issue:
The army is conducting searches 
Not a week passes 
Without a new sweep

Any reasonable person knows
Such an affair 
Is not a polite ceremony
Consisting solely
Of bows and scrapes 

Of course our reporters
Are not called to be there
As to a photo opportunity –
Though I imagine
Had they been invited
They would not have returned
Empty handed 

One thing is clear:
When a member gets up
With a bit different view 
Of these searches
It is no less important
Then the glowing communiqués
Published in our press

In his mouth were facts
Not yet disproven
An investigation he demanded
So what is the way out?
No!... A very unhealthy forest 
Was the forest of hands
Springing to block investigation 
And rule all he said
A mere defamation…

 Without debate was it struck    
Right off the agenda 
Could that possibly mean  
There had been no substance?
We conduct intensive searches  
Yet find no time 
For soul-searching 

So, it was an Arab Communist
Who took it up. 
That is not a reason
To tear it all down
In derision
No! Especially when 
There is reason to suppose
This time he had done
A bit of the government’s 
Own job of investigation.

A final note

Also this week, 65 years after that session where the call for investigation was rejected out of hand, soldiers of the IDF left a great mess in Palestinian homes which were searched. The Israeli public through its media got only sanitized footage courtesy of the IDF Spokesman’s bureau, and no one even raised the issue on the Knesset floor.

Nirit Haviv, Israeli peace and human rights activist, this week visited several villages in the north-west of the West Bank, and her report included: "(...) Three nights ago, a midnight raid was held in the village of Jinsafut and a resident arrested. The father of detainee said that his son, 34, married with three small children, is making a living from a family business of porcelains and marble ware. The soldiers herded the entire family into one room, beat up the detainee in front of his small children, searched the house, poured the contents of the cupboards on the floor, broke marble tiles, poured grain sacks, and caused extensive damage. The detainee’s father worked for many years in Israel, and currently works in the settlement of Tzofim. Since the detention of his son he did not go to work and is very worried about him. An officer called the family to tell that is at Hawara. It is not yet clear id this good news or bad. The blockading of villages, arbitrary arrests, violence, damage to property – all that does not bring back the abducted boys, but certainly it increases the hostility, frustration and despair of the population. The use of such practices as has lasted for half a century, unfortunately we have learned nothing from experience". 

A Palestinian house visited by soldiers this week

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Every child has a name

Last Wednesday, June 11, 2014, was an ordinary weekday in Israel. In the morning, the Israeli Air Force sent out an aircraft to carry out an assassination in the Gaza Strip, and the task was carried our successfully. The 33-year old Mahmud al-Awoor, from Beit Lahiya in the northern part of the Strip, was located as he rode a motorcycle. He was shot from the air and killed instantly.

The Army told the Israeli media that Awoor had been involved in firing rockets at Israel. The media took up the Army’s version without question, and published news items headed "Terror activist liquidated in the Strip”. Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulated the Air Force for this successful operation, quoting for the occasion a maxim of the old Jewish sages: "He who gets up early in order to kill you, get you up even earlier and kill him first!".

It was noted in passing that during the assassination, two other people were injured. Several media outlets mentioned briefly that one of these wounded was a child. Did anyone bother to inform the Prime Minister that there was a child involved, before he spoke of "He who gets up early..."? Perhaps nobody told him. Quite possibly, Netanyahu really did not know.

Three days later, this child died at the hospital in Gaza. Too many fragments of shrapnel had penetrated his body, and the doctors' efforts to save him failed. On the day that the child died, Saturday June14, there was already another issue, a very hot and urgent issue which absorbed the full attention of the Israeli media. Everything else was shoved aside. Though it is not sure that even without the distraction of such an urgent issue they would have truly taken an interest.

Most of the Israeli media did not bother to make any mention whatsoever of the fact that a child of seven had died in Gaza as a result of wounds caused by Israel’s Air Force. Even Ha'aretz, considered the flagship of Israeli liberalism, mentioned the child’s death only in single line, buried deeply in a long article. The child's name was not mentioned.

As far as I know, in the entire Israeli communications media, the news website Y-net was the only one to publish a complete news item on the child's death. It was also the only one to publish the child’s name. His name was Ali Abdel-Latif al-Awoor, and he was seven years old at his death. He was a nephew of the assassinated Mahmud al-Awoor. Family members told that when the uncle had gone to buy food for the family, he had taken his little nephew with him on his motorcycle at the request of the child’s father.

In much of the Israeli media, indignation was voiced at the coldness and lack of compassion exhibited by their European counterparts. The European media did not report, or made only a brief report, of the issue which already for four days occupies the Israeli media to the exclusion of everything else – i.e, the abduction of three Israeli youths on the West Bank and the apprehension about their fate. How could the Europeans be so heartless?

Today Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein made a speech in which he emphasized the enormous moral difference between us Israelis and our Palestinian neighbors:”We sanctify life, they sanctify death”.

Without saying any such sanctimonious words, of course I too greatly hope that the 16-year old Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, and the 19-year old Eyal Yifrach, will come back safeand sound to their homes and families. 


Friday, June 13, 2014

Pride and predicament

Many years ago I attended the first Gay Pride Parade held in Tel Aviv. A fellow student  at the History Department, a lesbian who "came out" about a year earlier, asked me to come and take part. The organizers were quite apprehensive. At the time, homosexual relations were still illegal in Israel, under a British law which had been abolished in the UK itself. Though the Attorney General no longer filed charges under this law, the police still often  acted violently towards homosexuals. At that first Pride Parade we were several dozen people, feeling very isolated in the huge square in front of the Town Hall. There was no overt hostility from passers-by, but certainly also no manifestations of sympathy or support.

"Tel Aviv is marching towards equality"

This morning, several decades later, again a Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv. As has been the case for quite a few years already, it was held under the very enthusiastic auspices of the Tel Aviv Municipality, which took care a week in advance to decorate the entire city with colorful Pride Flags. At the point of departure, Mayor Huldai made a festive greeting to the crowd, estimated by organizers at one hundred and twenty thousand. Participants then embarked on “a colorful parade, a rainbow carnival, a joyful and positive protest at the still remaining forms of discrimination against the Gay Community." The annual Gay Pride Parade through the streets of Tel Aviv became a prime global showcase of Israel – the democratic liberal and open Israel, stronghold of democracy in the Middle East. No wonder that a special effort was mounted to bring to Tel Aviv a record number of gay tourists, especially for the parade - about twenty-five thousand of them from all over the world.

And just at the time when the parade of joyful and positive protest moved  through the streets of Tel Aviv, a bit less joyful protest took place at the Mosques Compound in East Jerusalem (Temple Mount/Haram a-Sharif), one of the most sensitive points in our region. After the noon prayers, hundreds of worshipers marched in support of the Administrative Detainees on hunger strike in Israel's jails. This quickly developed into mass confrontations with the police. The Special Forces began firing stun grenades and rubber-coated metal bullets as well as beating protesters with batons. Some of the Palestinians barricaded themselves in the mosque, whereupon the police fired in pepper gas grenades, whose effect is particularly severe in enclosed spaces. Journalists and ambulance crews were not immune to the police shooting, either.

Today's confrontations ended with relatively moderate results - twenty-eight Palestinians injured and eight arrested. The settlers and their friends are now preparing the ground for the next outbreak. Tisha B'Av, the traditional Jewish Day of Mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple - which had stood in that location a bit more than one thousand and nine hundred years ago - some religious-nationalist-messianic groups intend to “take strong action in order to to get a Jewish grip over this Holy Place." So,  Tisha B'Av this year will probably also be a hot day in Jerusalem.

Day before the Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, a bit less prideful  event took place in the arid area of the Negev northwest of Beersheba. From the morning until noon, large police forces, Israel Land Authority personnel, and bulldozers were engaged in systematically destroying the cemetery compound at the Bedouin village of Araqib.

The Government of Israel does not recognize the existence of the village of Araqib or any property rights whatsoever which the Bedouin residents might have over this land. As far as the authorities are concerned, all of the hundreds of Bedouins who cling tooth and nail to the soil of Araqib are illegal squatters on state lands, who are to be evicted and expelled. The state has many times destroyed the village of Araqib, and each time the residents rebuild it - or at least set up some huts where their houses had stood. But until now, the forces of destruction did not touch the cemetery where residents have been buried over generations, including many who died long before a state called Israel was established.

In accordance with new eviction orders, which were approved in court at the end of a judicial wrangle of appeals on appeals, police and bulldozers destroyed the fence that surrounded the cemetery complex, and opened the way to break in and destroy the huts erected by the residents Araqib among the graves of their ancestors. The residents - along with volunteers who came from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem late on the previous night - were rounded up by police and concentrated in the structure of the mosque adjacent to the cemetery. In the afternoon, after the huts were destroyed along with the sheds for sheep and goats and the water tanks, residents and volunteers were ordered to vacate the enclosure in order to facilitate demolition of the minaret which was erected last year. Some of them refused to leave and police arrested eight of them - six local Bedouins, and two volunteers, Rabbi Arik Asherman and Yuval Halperin. After the detentions and the removal of the people, the  minaret was destroyed. The rest of the mosque structure was spared. At least for the time being.

Meanwhile, Israel has a new president, after a very stormy – and rather smelly - elections process. The powerful emotions aroused were inversely proportional to the actual power and authority which the President of Israel yields. One by one, candidates were forced out of the race when various skeletons which they had in the cupboard were exposed. In the aftermath we have a new president  named Reuben “Ruvi” Rivlin who has the good reputation of an honest and fair man, who sincerely cares about democratic freedoms in Israel including the rights of the Arab minority. At the same time, he is also known as a staunch supporter of the Greater Israel ideology who wholeheartedly supports the settlers, and that in former position as Knesset Speaker he had lashed out furiously against the actors who had followed the dictates of their conscience and refused to perform at the "Hall of Culture" of the Ariel settlement on the West Bank.

Which of these two sides of the man is going to be the more significant in the career of the new President? Time will tell. Perhaps the most important will be the only moment when the President of Israel wields a significant political authority – the time just after general elections when the president must decide which  Knesset Member form which party is to be entrusted with forming the new cabinet. Will that be a moment when a bitter rivalry will come to light – the rivalry between the new President Rivlin and the veteran Prime Minister Netanyahu, both (at least officially) members of the same party?

Anyway, it is hard to expect that President Rivlin, with all his declared support for democratic freedoms, would raise his voice against the institution of Administrative Detentions without trial, which has been used in Israel since its inception (in fact, Israel inherited also this from the legal system of the British Mandate). Every night, military forces raid villages and cities on the West Bank and take Palestinians to prison according to detention lists prepared by Israeli secret services. Approximately ten percent of these detainees are placed under Administrative Detention, based on an arrest warrant signed by a military officer and authorizing the placing of a person behind bars without trial or charge of any kind, other than the general statement that "the above mentioned person poses a threat to security".

 In the past, some Administrative Detainees held personal hunger strikes, and were invariably set free at the moment when the prisoner was on the verge of death – as the authorities were apprehensive of riots breaking out upon the detainee’s death. But this time it is a collective hunger strike by all Administrative Detainees, and their demand is to be released as a group - and further, that Administrative Detentions be altogether abolished, and that Palestinians be placed in Israeli jails only under the verdict of a judge, for specific offenses which had been proven in court. In the Security Services’ eyes, the Palestinians had this time gone too far. They recommend that it would be better to take a tough stance now and risk also the death of hunger strikers and the riots which would follow; even better, break the hunger strike by force feeding. This week a bill passed its first reading in the Knesset which would permit the forced feeding of hunger strikers - though doctors who would implement that action might be charged by the Medical Association with a serious violation of medical ethics and possibly they could also be liable to prosecution for violating International Law.

"A hunger strike is a weapon of the weak" wrote this morning the Yediot Aharonot columnist Yoaz Handel, who is far from being identified with the Israeli Left. "In 1909, Marion Dunlop was imprisoned after writing graffiti criticizing the King of England on the wall of the Parliament building. Marion was a feminist who wanted women to have the right to vote, and en route she also invented the right to hold a hunger strike. Her example was followed by Irish freedom fighters, by Mahatma Gandhi in India and Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union, and also by terrorists and criminals” Handel adds. “Hunger proved to be effective, regardless of religion and state. The self-imposition of death in prison has become a threat to democratic governments, and sometimes even to those that are not. In Israel, the hunger strikes of Palestinians become part of the struggle for hearts and minds. The controversies are over photos and body counts. Any footage of a shooting starts a debate on the international arena, each dead prisoner becomes a symbol for the organizations that seek to  de-legitimize Israel. (...) The security apparatus is opposed to another agreement with the hunger strikers. It would convey a problematic message. Every prisoner release entails further releases. The choices facing Israel are to force-feed them or to let them die. Both are bad choices, both will be used to condemn Israel. "

Coincidentally or not, just this week a major international campaign reached its peak, targeting the big British security company G4S, which is involved in providing logistical support to the Security Services and Prison Authority of Israel. An impressive list of public figures called upon the company to sever such ties - and should it refuse they called upon other companies to withdraw their investments from G4S. This morning the campaign reported a success in terms of both propaganda and actual results: the famous Bill Gates of Microsoft and his wife Melissa last week announced their decision to significantly reduce their investments in G4S, and after several more days of deliberation and public pressure they have decided on complete divestment of all they had put into G4S – to wit, 184 million dollars. "The choices facing Israel are to force-feed hunger strikers or to let them die. Both are bad choices, both will be used to condemn Israel" wrote Yoaz Handel. Both options will strengthen and empower public campaigns of this kind, worldwide.

While I was writing this article, a new issue came up, which at least in the Israeli media takes immediate precedence over everything else: Three boys studying at a religious seminary in the settlement of Alon Shvut on the West Bank have disappeared, apparently kidnapped when trying to hitchhike close to midnight on a dark highway. From then on, the army and security services launched a very intensive effort to find the boys, and all the Palestinian towns in the southern West Bank are undergoing a massive military invasion and house to house searches. What did happen to them? Who captured them? Is there an intention to try exchanging them for prisoners and detainees in the Israeli prison?

So far, nothing is known - but Prime Minister Netanyahu has already found the culprit: "Abu Mazen is responsible for the welfare of the boys, all this is the result of the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas." President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) noted that the boys appear to have been kidnapped from an area under exclusive Israeli security control, and that the Palestinian security personnel under Abu Mazen’s orders have been instructed to take an active part in searches. Netanyahu did not care for all that. The PR and propaganda line accusing Abbas of anything and everything which might happen on the ground was pre-determined long ago.

Shimon Peres, who will soon end his term as President of Israel, does not share in this tendency to direct an accusing finger at Abbas. Earlier this week, Peres took up the Pope’s invitation to come to the Vatican along with the Palestinian President, and take part in an interfaith prayer for peace in our region

Indeed, after everything else failed, why not pray.