Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Promised Land's Unfulfilled Promises

It truly is a miracle that Israel exists. If you think of the events, the ingredients that came together to make it happen it is a phenomenon without precedent – a nation of what had been for centuries a powerless (in the collective) people.

But after creation – the paradox. The state is now in essence an unsinkable battleship. It’s as if a genie had said, “yes, I will give you your state but there will be a price. Just as you once were the eternal wanderers as individuals, so now you will be eternally under siege as a collective, though you may have any weapon you want and in any quantity. In the creation, you will gain the land, but the price is the Palestinians eternally chained to you, who will cause you to be the very thing you fled for centuries…you must become what you reviled. You will have power but you are condemned to use it oppressively.”

Can’t you almost hear it being said – what will it gain (a people) if they should gain (a land) but lose (their) immortal soul?
So Israel has a future – it exists and will exist – but at the cost of always wearing and using the iron boot? A home, but only as a prison warden, an eternal dictator to others? A home, but at the cost of always sounding the alarm? But the alarm…wasn’t that always near to Jews throughout history? And as the world moves toward multi-culturalism, Israel must by definition be exclusive and rejecting, a move backward in national development. Please tell me it is. Don’t break this heart that believes if only one thing has been learned by our species it is that all can be brothers and sisters!

So I take the opposite tack from Helen Thomas. I ask is price is too high? Come be my neighbor along with so many Jews who have full freedom to worship or not, to wear the attire they wish, to speak the language they want in a country that, though it will always have its troglodytes, also has an overwhelming majority who do not wish their neighbors ill and, most important, a young generation of all cultural backgrounds that is fiery in its defense of multi-culturalism.

If you say no then I see only one way off the battleship and that is to make the country essential to those around it, a vital dynamo for the region. But this can’t happen without risk and that risk requires backing off from being the nation that pre-empts, the nation that decides for other countries what they may or may not be allowed to have, the nation that must guide the legislators of a powerful nation to keep funds and arms flowing to it.

The state exists. The helpless are no longer. But the meek, the trusting, those who were abused and killed for being that way…now become those who are first to defy, first to slap the face of the other, first to make demands, first to strike? It is the most cruel of sentences.

Is that the fulfilled promise of the promised land?

Hat tip to Clif for this comment, posted on the South Jerusalem blog in response to an odd guest post that labelled Helen Thomas as a divisive "proto-Palin", only without the looks or, presumably, the marksmanship. It's worth noting that Thomas's octogenarian sisters have risen to her defence, and spun her notorious comments to mean that she wants Israeli settlers to get out of the West Bank and go back to whence they came - Germany, Poland, America, etc. Hmmmm. Her 100-year-old brother did not weigh in on the issue. Thomas is increasingly doddery at 89 and definitely "misspoke"; consequently she went down mouth first.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Black Hats en masse swarm Jerusalem

Here's an advert for a cable channel which shows how the secular Tel Aviv bubble-bubbas view their ultra-Orthodox brethren. The integration of schools seems to be a tough issue for the insular black hat sects and leads to insoluble problems in some school districts inside Jerusalem.

Update from AP: of the largest protests in Jerusalem's history [was] a stark reminder of the ultra-Orthodox minority's refusal to accept the authority of the state.

Also, the throngs of devout Jews showed to which extent the ultra-Orthodox live by their own rules, some of them archaic, while wielding disproportionate power in the modern state of Israel.

Parents of European, or Ashkenazi, descent at a girls' school in the West Bank settlement of Emanuel don't want their daughters to study with schoolgirls of Mideast and North African descent, known as Sephardim.

The Ashkenazi parents insist they aren't racist, but want to keep the classrooms segregated, as they have been for years, arguing that the families of the Sephardi girls aren't religious enough.

Israel's Supreme Court rejected that argument, and ruled that the 43 sets of parents who have defied the integration efforts by keeping their daughters from school were to be jailed on Thursday for two weeks.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said about 100,000 people converged in downtown Jerusalem in support of the Ashkenazi parents. An additional 20,000 demonstrated in the central city of Bnei Brak. He said 10,000 police were deployed.

Most of the demonstrators were men wearing the long beards and heavy black clothing typical among ultra-Orthodox Jews. "The Supreme Court is fascist," said one poster.

Esther Bark, 50, who has seven daughters, said the issue is keeping the girls away from the temptations of the modern world. "To suddenly put them in an open-minded place is not good for them," she said.

The enormous ultra-Orthodox rally today inside Jerusalem was prefaced with this 'warden message' from the US Embassy:
A large demonstration is likely to take place this afternoon,June 17th, in the City Center and Me'a She'arim areas of Jerusalem between 2:00pm and 5:00pm. Estimates of up to 100,000 people are expected to march from Yirmiyahu, Bar Eilan, and Shvtei Yisrael and Prophet Streets toward the Israeli National Police station at the
"Russian compound" where the demonstration will take place.the city entrance.

Impartiality in the Middle East?

This valedictory broadcast from Tim Franks, a Jewish BBC correspondent based in Jerusalem for the past several years, ponders how to maintain professional impartiality and deal with the expectations of co-religionists while reporting from one of the hottest and holiest places on the planet.

Click here to listen and read the script.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Genetic study sheds light on Jewish diaspora

Scientists have shed light on Jewish history with an in-depth genetic study, the BBC reports today. Research shows that most contemporary Jews descended from ancient residents of the Levant

The researchers analysed genetic samples from 14 Jewish communities across the world and compared them with those from 69 non-Jewish populations.

Their study, published in Nature, revealed that most Jewish populations were "genetically closer" to each other than to their non-Jewish neighbours.

It also revealed genetic ties between globally dispersed Jews and non-Jewish populations in the Middle East.

This fits with the idea that most contemporary Jews descended from ancient Hebrew and Israelite residents in the Middle Eastern region known as the Levant. It provides a trace of the Jewish diaspora.

Doron Behar from Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, Israel, led an international team of scientists in the study. He described it as a form of "genetic archaeology".

"It seems that most Jewish populations and therefore most Jewish individuals are closer to each other [at the genetic level], and closer to the Middle Eastern populations, than to their traditional host population in the diaspora," he explained.

There were exceptions to this key finding, though, as Dr Behar explained.

He said that his research revealed that Ethiopian and Indian Jewish communities were genetically closer to their neighbouring non-Jewish populations.

This may be partly because a greater degree of genetic, religious and cultural crossover took place when the Jewish communities in these areas became established.

Novel analytical techniques allowed the scientists to examine the genetic samples they took in unprecedented detail.

Dr Behar says the data from this study could aid future research into the genetic basis of diseases that are more prevalent in the Jewish population.

(map credit to Norman Einstein, creative commons)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Flotilla spoof video distributed 'in error'

Uh oh - not everyone got the joke on this clip, apparently. Once nine bullet-ridden corpses were added to the mix (as well an additional half dozen activists who remain missing in action) the international press corps in Jerusalem was less than amused.
Perhaps the skit, with its 25 year old tune, should have been relegated to Jew-Tube or Saturday Night Lifeless. The Guardian newspaper's Rachel Shabi reports on the questionable video which features the vitriolic Jerusalem Post scribe Caroline Glick in a keffiyah.

The Israeli government has been forced to apologise for circulating a spoof video mocking activists aboard the Gaza flotilla, nine of who were shot dead by Israeli forces last week.

The YouTube clip, set to the tune of the 1985 charity single We Are the World, features Israelis dressed as Arabs and activists, waving weapons while singing: "We con the world, we con the people. We'll make them all believe the IDF (Israel Defence Force) is Jack the Ripper."

It continues: "There's no people dying, so the best that we can do is create the biggest bluff of all."

The Israeli government press office distributed the video link to foreign journalists at the weekend, but within hours emailed them an apology, saying it had been an error. Press office director Danny Seaman said the video did not reflect official state opinion, but in his personal capacity he thought it was "fantastic".

Government spokesman Mark Regev said the video reflected how Israelis felt about the incident. "I called my kids in to watch it because I thought it was funny," he said. "It is what Israelis feel. But the government has nothing to do with it."

The clip features a group led by the Jerusalem Post's deputy managing editor Caroline Glick, wearing keffiyehs and calling themselves the Flotilla Choir. The footage is interspersed with clips from the recent Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound aid ship, the Mavi Marmara.

The clip has been praised in Israel, where the mass-circulation daily Yediot Aharonot said the singers "defended Israel better than any of the experts".

But Didi Remez, an Israeli who runs the liberal-left news analysis blog Coteret, said the clip was "repulsive" and reflected how out of touch Israeli opinion was with the rest of the world. "It shows a complete lack of understanding of how the incident is being perceived abroad," he said. Award-winning Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport said the clip demonstrated prejudice against Muslims. "It's roughly done, not very sophisticated, anti-Muslim – and childish for the government to be behind such a clip," he said.

A similar press office email was sent to foreign journalists two weeks ago, recommending a gourmet restaurant and Olympic-sized swimming pool in Gaza to highlight Israel's claim there is no humanitarian crisis there. Journalists who complained the email was in poor taste were told they had "no sense of humour".

Last week, the Israel Defence Force had to issue a retraction over an audio clip it had claimed was a conversation between Israeli naval officials and people on the Mavi Marmara, in which an activist told soldiers to "go back to Auschwitz". The clip was carried by Israeli and international press, but today the army released a "clarification/correction", explaining that it had edited the footage and that it was not clear who had made the comment.

The Israeli army also backed down last week from an earlier claim that soldiers were attacked by al-Qaida "mercenaries" aboard the Gaza flotilla. An article appearing on the IDF spokesperson's website with the headline: "Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be al-Qaida mercenaries", was later changed to "Attackers of the IDF Soldiers found without identification papers," with the information about al-Qaida removed from the main article. An army spokesperson told the Guardian there was no evidence proving such a link to the terror organisation.

Further Fallout from the Bloody Gaza Raid

Reserve officers from the Israeli navy have urged an outside probe of the botched flotilla raid, according to a report in Haaretz. Here's an excerpt:

Navy officers denounced the commando raid as having "ended in tragedy both at the military and diplomatic levels."

"We disagree with the widespread claims that this was the result of an intelligence rift," said the officers. "In addition, we do not accept claims that this was a 'public relations failure' and we think that the plan was doomed to failure from the beginning."

"First and foremost, we protest the fact that responsibility for the tragic results was immediately thrust onto the organizers of the flotilla," wrote the officers. "This demonstrates contempt for the responsibility that belongs principally to the hierarchy of commanders and those who approved the mission. This shows contempt for the values of professionalism, the purity of weapons and for human lives.

Meanwhile, Turkish media have published photos of commandos who were carried by activists to sick bay on the Mavi Marmara ferry after being beaten up shortly after they abseiled onto the upper deck of the Turkish-flagged vessel. The images had been deleted by IDF troops, but were later digitally retrieved by the flotilla organizers. This PR fiasco has added to the diplomatic fracas between Turkey and Israel, which seems to insist on red lighting any international probe of the incident. Apparently the commandos are bloodied, but unbowed. Blockade = Block Aid, according to Irene, an Israeli Arab aidworker who is beyond despair.

(photo of commando courtesy of IHH)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Shadow over the bubble

Author Margaret Atwood, a Canadian gentile, writes poignantly about "the situation" in Haaretz:

Recently I was in Israel. The Israelis I met could not have been more welcoming. I saw many impressive accomplishments and creative projects, and talked with many different people. The sun was shining, the waves waving, the flowers were in bloom. Tourists jogged along the beach at Tel Aviv as if everything was normal.

But… there was the Shadow. Why was everything trembling a little, like a mirage? Was it like that moment before a tsunami when the birds fly to the treetops and the animals head for the hills because they can feel it coming?

“Every morning I wake up in fear,” someone told me. “That’s just self-pity, to excuse what’s happening,” said someone else. Of course, fear and self-pity can both be real. But by “what’s happening,” they meant the Shadow.

I’d been told ahead of time that Israelis would try to cover up the Shadow, but instead they talked about it non-stop. Two minutes into any conversation, the Shadow would appear. It’s not called the Shadow, it’s called “the situation.” It haunts everything.

The Shadow is not the Palestinians. The Shadow is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, linked with Israeli’s own fears. The worse the Palestinians are treated in the name of those fears, the bigger the Shadow grows, and then the fears grow with them; and the justifications for the treatment multiply.

The attempts to shut down criticism are ominous, as is the language being used. Once you start calling other people by vermin names such as “vipers,” you imply their extermination. To name just one example, such labels were applied wholesale to the Tutsis months before the Rwanda massacre began. Studies have shown that ordinary people can be led to commit horrors if told they’ll be acting in self-defense, for “victory,” or to benefit mankind.

I’d never been to Israel before, except in the airport. Like a lot of people on the sidelines – not Jewish, not Israeli, not Palestinian, not Muslim – I hadn’t followed the “the situation” closely, though, also like most, I’d deplored the violence and wished for a happy ending for all.

Again like most, I’d avoided conversations on this subject because they swiftly became screaming matches. (Why was that? Faced with two undesirable choices, the brain – we’re told -- chooses one as less evil, pronounces it good, and demonizes the other.)

I did have some distant background. As “Egypt” at a Model U.N. in 1956, my high school’s delegation had presented the Palestinian case. Why was it fair that the Palestinians, innocent bystanders during the Holocaust, had lost their homes? To which the Model Israel replied, “You don’t want Israel to exist.” A mere decade after the Camps and the six million obliterated, such a statement was a talk-stopper.

Then I’d been hired to start a Nature program at a liberal Jewish summer camp. The people were smart, funny, inventive, idealistic. We went in a lot for World Peace and the Brotherhood of Man. I couldn’t fit this together with the Model U.N. Palestinian experience. Did these two realities nullify each other? Surely not, and surely the humane Jewish Brotherhood-of-Manners numerous in both the summer camp and in Israel itself would soon sort this conflict out in a fair way.

But they didn’t. And they haven’t. And it’s no longer 1956. The conversation has changed dramatically. I was recently attacked for accepting a cultural prize that such others as Atom Egoyan, Al Gore, Tom Stoppard, Goenawan Mohamad, and Yo-Yo Ma had previously received. This prize was decided upon, not by an instrument of Israeli state power as some would have it, but by a moderate committee within an independent foundation. This group was pitching real democracy, open dialogue, a two-state solution, and reconciliation. Nevertheless, I’ve now heard every possible negative thing about Israel – in effect, I’ve had an abrupt and searing immersion course in present-day politics. The whole experience was like learning about cooking by being thrown into the soup pot...

There are many groups in which Israelis and Palestinians work together on issues of common interest, and these show what a positive future might hold; but until the structural problem is fixed and Palestine has its own “legitimized” state within its internationally recognized borders, the Shadow will remain.

“We know what we have to do, to fix it,” said many Israelis. “We need to get beyond Us and Them, to We,” said a Palestinian. This is the hopeful path. For Israelis and Palestinians both, the region itself is what’s now being threatened, as the globe heats up and water vanishes. Two traumas create neither erasure nor invalidation: both are real. And a catastrophe for one would also be a catastrophe for the other.
See the entire article here

Friday, June 04, 2010

IDF colonel says remaining flotilla boats 'Sabatoged'

Guest post by Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement, filing from Cyprus.

On Tuesday, Colonel Itzik Tourgeman told the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday that two more ships are on their way to try and break the naval blockade of Gaza. The head of research in the operations division said, "The ships have not reached their target as of today because covert action was taken against them."
We had suspicions about our two boats, Challenger 1 and 2 and their mechanical problems as they sailed toward the flotilla, but we were not going to say anything unless we could prove it. Turns out we didn't have to prove it. Israeli mouthpieces did.

The Guardian ran a piece the same day, saying,

Israel gave strong indications today that its forces had secretly sabotaged some of the ships bound for Gaza as part of the freedom flotilla.

Matan Vilnai, the deputy defence minister, was asked on Israel Radio whether there had not been a smarter alternative to direct assault. He answered that "all possibilities had been considered," adding: "The fact is that there were less than the 10 ships that were due to participate in the flotilla."

An unnamed Israeli Defence Force source who briefed the Knesset's foreign affairs and defence committee on the widely criticised armed interception of the flotilla at sea, also spoke of "grey operations" being mounted against the flotilla."

We were lucky that our two captains were superbly trained and able to offload the passengers safely.So we are going to make sure the Rachel Corrie is well protected and that Israel is put on notice that anything that happens to her, the passengers and the crew will rest with Israel. As a result of these threats, we're going to pull Rachel Corrie into a port, add more high-profile people on board, and insist that journalists from around the world also come with us.

And sabotage happens with more than deeds. It also happens with words. In today's Haaretz, Barak Ravid reported,

"A diplomatic solution seems imminent to allow the humanitarian aid vessel the Rachel Corrie to dock without incident at the Ashdod Port. According to European diplomats and senior Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem, quiet messages have been exchanged over the past few days between Israel and the group operating the ship, to allow it to dock."

This, too, is sabotage in writing. We called Haaretz and the reporter. He did not return our call.We have no intention nor would we ever have any intention of ever docking in Ashdod.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

American teen among Flotilla Dead

According to the BBC, quoting Turkish media, the peace activists slain on the flotilla by IDF commandos include a 19-year-old dual citizen, who held both American and Turkish passports. The teenager Furkan Dogan was struck by four bullets in the head and one in the chest. All nine flotilla casualties were buried in Turkey - one in the capital, and the rest around the country.

The mood of the funeral crowds echoed remarks made by the Turkish president, who said that an irreparable and deep scar had been left in Turkey's relations with Israel.
The Israelis and their botched raid in international waters were denounced repeatedly.

The bodies arrived, along with the 450 activists, in three aircraft chartered by the Turkish government at Istanbul airport in the early hours of Thursday, after several hours of delays.Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc accused Israel of "piracy" and "barbarism and oppression". Mr Arinc said his government saluted the Turkish Islamic charity, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), which played a leading role in organising the convoy - a charity Israel has accused of supporting terrorism.

What an avoidable blunder on all sides. Time for a rethink. As far as an independent investigation into the flotilla incident, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is adamant that the government conduct its own, but he might allows "foreign observers" to join the Israeli probe for "transparency". The fact that the illegal boarding occurred outside of Israel has not seemed to have registered.

Meanwhile, another blockade-busting ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, is heading towards Gaza with 15 activists on board and is expected to reach there on Saturday... presumably unless it is blocked by Israel. (One hopes the chopper gambit won't be reattempted.) One hopes that it lands in Egypt and the humanitarian goods are transported through Rafah. Watch this space!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Israeli Physicians Group Weighs in on Medical Aftermath of the Flotilla Raid

Gila Norich, from the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel is outraged by the Gaza Flotilla incident and its medical aftermath. She sent Israelity Bites this email this morning:

Waking up to Monday's events was disheartening and shocking, to say the least. Throughout the ordeal, Physicians for Human Rights- Israel has remained in constant contact with senior physicians to try and find out the status of injured and deceased victims evacuated to Israeli medical centers. Despite our efforts to help individuals from all over the world who turned to us to help locate their loved ones, it was extremely difficult on Monday and Tuesday to receive official information from Israeli hospitals. Neither PHR-Israel staff, nor affiliated physicians were allowed into hospitals to gather testimony.

As a result of the lingering uncertainty, by Monday afternoon we issued an urgent letter to the Director of Medicine of the Israeli Ministry of Health and the Director General of the Foreign Ministry asking them to set up an emergency hotline for the families of the injured and deceased. We also asked authorities to set up an emergency mechanism accessible to all the families of injured persons, especially those from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. In Monday's waning afternoon hours, we submitted together with Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Public Committee against Torture (PCATI) a Habeas Corpus petition to the High Court of Justice, demanding information about the health and whereabouts of hospitalized passengers.

As a result of our petition, a list has been provided to Adalah with the names of hospitalized Flotilla passengers. Even with this list, it's still not possible to identify all of the passengers; authorities provided names in Hebrew and did not include ID numbers or countries of origin.

Yesterday morning, the Ministry of Health informed us that 54 Flotilla passengers had been admitted to Israeli hospitals Sheba, Hadassah Ein Kerem, Rambam, Beilinson, and Barzilai and that surgeries had been/were being conducted at Sheba and at Rambam Hospitals. Last night, we received word that several patients were transferred from Beilinson Hospital to the medical facilities of the Israeli Prisons Service. In addition, according to information we've received, passengers have been made to sign off on deportation orders written in Hebrew, without understanding what they are being asked to sign.

As things stands today, we have yet to receive word from health officials regarding the establishment of an emergency hotline. We know that at least 31 flotilla passengers are still hospitalized, as well as 3 Israeli soldiers. We know that representatives from certain diplomatic missions visited hospitals both on Monday and Tuesday and that information on foreign nationals from countries without diplomatic ties with Israel is being coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Since several individuals have undergone intensive care procedures, we feel it is crucial that families be able to reach their loved ones. For this reason, we've sent another urgent request to government officials demanding that families be notified of the medical status of their loved ones. In addition, yesterday we coordinated visits between lawyers and hospitalized Flotilla passengers at the Orthopedics Unit at Beilinson Hospital.

We believe that the violence and its tragic consequences necessitate an independent, international investigation. The Israeli government should publicize all documentation of the events, including materials that have been seized from passengers. Furthermore, as Israeli citizens, we call for the establishment of a National Commission of Inquiry to look into the decisions leading up to the events and for State actors take responsibility for their decisions.

Israel's decision to stop the Free Gaza Flotilla is further evidence of its ongoing control over the Gaza Strip. For the past three years, Israel has imposed a harsh and illegal blockade against the civilian population in Gaza amounting to collective punishment for political gain. This blockade includes limitations on the right to health, education, human and economic development, as well as a chronic dependence on foreign aid. These combined factors force the Gaza population to live their lives on the brink of perpetual humanitarian crisis. Through these actions, Israel violates the right of Palestinians to live in dignity, security, and freedom, and steers us further away from the possibility of a just and peaceful solution.
We look forward to providing additional updates in the coming days and appreciate your support.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Israeli spin vs eyewitnesses: conflicting accounts of the bloody raid on high seas

This map, above, shows where the IDF intercepted the flotilla and the violence unfolded. Even the staid Financial Times has branded the aggression as piracy.

The Israeli censors are not yet allowing release of the names of the activists killed, though there are at least four Turks among them, according to Turkish authorities. In its usual wrap-up propaganda blitz following an aggressive act of "self-defence" which the world sees as disproportionate, the IDF have shown a photo of weapons supposedly found aboard the Turkish ferry. One of the IDF's volunteer cyber trolls already mentioned this in a comment posted on Israelity Bites soon after the photo became available. [That's you, "at the edge"]

The Guardian newspaper interviewed a Turkish survivor who hid with her baby in the toilet of the Turkish passenger ship Mavi Marmara and after the raid was deported to Istanbul, though all her belongings and anything like cell phone or camera which might be used as evidence were first confiscated by the IDF. She said that live bullets were first fired by the Israeli troops. The BBC is highlighting inconsistencies in the version of the raid released to the public by military spokesmen inside Israel, and say that German eyewitnesses cast doubt on the veracity. With no access to hospitalized or imprisoned activists in Israel, reporters are at a disadvantage to learn independently what happened. Aboard the Mavi Marmara was an octogenarian former US Ambassador, whose wife has not been able to reach him yet.

It is worth pointing out that five of nine previous aid flotillas had been allowed into Gaza, under Olmert. The present prime minister Bibi Netanyahu, brother of a celebrated Entebbe raider, plays hardball and must long for the past era when Israel's "surgical" military wizardry was admired around the world. Apparently, another two aid ships are attempting to run the blockade.

Israelis don snorkels to show support for commandos in botched flotilla raid

Israelis wearing snorkels attend a demonstration in support of Israel following a deadly raid by Israel's navy on an aid flotilla bound for the blockaded Gaza Strip, outside the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, May 31, 2010. (Hat tip to the BBC)