Monthly Archives: August 2010

Eden Abergil, The Product Of A Blindfolded Society

Eden Abergil, a typical product of Israel society

Eden Abergil during "the most beautiful time" of her life

Is there anything shocking about the Facebook photos showing the Israeli female soldier Eden Abergil posing in mocking positions next to bound and blindfolded Palestinian men? While her conduct was abominable, I did not find it especially distinct from the documented behavior of Israeli soldiers and Border Police in the Occupied Territories.

Below is a photo I took in Hebron in June before soldiers demanded that I stop shooting (I will release video from Hebron as soon as I get the chance). Scenes like these can be witnessed on any given day in the West Bank. Not only do they show the dehumanization that the Palestinian Morlocks are subjected to on an hourly basis, they depict the world where Abergil spent what she called “the most beautiful time of [her] life.” It is easy to see how young Israelis (or anyone) would be sapped of their humanity in such an environment.

In July, I waited inside the cafeteria of Israel’s Guantanamo-like Ofer Prison after watching Ibrahim Amira, a leader of the Ni’ilin popular committee, be sentenced by a kangaroo court to six months in prison for the trumped-up charge of “incitement” (he was accused of paying kids to throw rocks at the Israeli soldiers who invade their village at least every week, as if they needed encouragement). While I stood at the counter to order a coffee, I watched four female jailers gather around a laptop to check their Facebook pages. I wondered what their status updates looked like. If they wrote anything relating to their work, would their Facebook pages look different than Abergil’s? Of course not. Just take a trip to Eyal Niv’s blog and look at some of the photos other young Israelis are posting.

I took this photo in Hebron in June before soldiers ordered me to stop shooting. A Palestinian man was being held next to the Hebron mosque.

I took this photo in Hebron in June before soldiers ordered me to stop shooting. A Palestinian man was being near the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron.

You don’t have to go to the West Bank or into an Israeli prison to recognize that Abergil is a typical product of Israel’s comprehensively militarized society. Just watch the documentary, “To See When I’m Smiling.” In the film, which tells the soul-crushing stories of four young women conscripted into the Israeli Army, one of the characters recounts posing for a photo beside a dead Palestinian man who had an erection. She was smiling from ear to ear in the photo. However, at the end of the film, when she is compelled to look at the picture for the first time in two years, she does not recognize the monster who bears her image. Her contorted facial expression seems to ask, “Who was I?”

“To See When I’m Smiling” was produced by Breaking The Silence, a human rights group formed by ex-Israeli soldiers who collect testimonies from their peers. Incidentally, Breaking The Silence has published a 132-page booklet of testimonies by female soldiers (PDF here) who participated in acts at least as hideous as those depicted on Abergil’s Facebook page.

Here is Testimony 63, by a female sergeant from the Nahal Unit who served in Mevo Dotan:

I recall once, this was after we moved to Mevo Dotan, to the base there, some Palestinian was sitting on a chair and I passed by several times. Once I thought: Okay, why is he sitting here for an hour? I feel like spitting at him, at this Arab. And they tell me: Go one, spit at him. I don’t recall whether anyone did this before I did, but I remember spitting at him and feeling really, like at first I felt, wow, good for me, I just spat at some terrorist, that’s how I’d call them. And then I recall that afterwards I felt some thing here was not right.

Why?

Not too human. I mean, it sounds cool and all, but no, it’s not right.

You thought about later, or during the act?

Later. At the time you felt real cool.

Even when everyone was watching, you felt real cool.

Yes, and then sometimes you get to thinking, especially say on Holocaust Memorial Day, suddenly you’re thinking, hey, these thing were done to us, it’s a human being after all. Eventually as things turned out he was no terrorist anyway, it was a kid who’d hung around too long near the base, so he was caught or something.

A child?

An adolescent.

Slaps?

Yes.

Blindfolded and all?

Yes. I think that at some point no one even stood watch over him.

The female sergeant recalled the Holocaust when she reflected on her actions. If you are raised in a Jewish home, it is difficult not to see the ravages of the occupation in the light of the Holocaust, regardless of whether you know that the Israeli army’s violence bears little comparison to the exterminationism of the Nazis. Just as when I watched “To See When I’m Smiling,” Abergil’s photos made me think of Costa Gavras’ haunting Holocaust film, “Music Box.” If you have seen it, you will understand my reference. If not, rent it.

I also thought of the first stanza of “Vision,” a poem by the Palestinian writer Muhammad al-Qaisi. The poem reminded me not only of the Abergil’s public unmasking, but also of the many Israelis who told me about their experiences in the army as though they were describing some morally debased person they had never met:

I see the faces change their complexion

peel off their outer skin

I see the faces divested

of makeup and masks

and I see an empty stage

the spectators denying their own images

in the third act.

The Point Of No Credibility: Jeffrey Goldberg Echoes Pastor Hagee

Since publishing his long piece about the likelihood of a preemptive Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, “The Point Of No Return,” Jeffrey Goldberg has been accused by foreign policy writers from Hillary and Flynt Leverett to Stephen Walt to Tony Karon of using his access to top Israeli officials to promote Israeli military aggression. That was transparently obvious to me after reading his piece.

But what struck me as even more striking was the extent to which Goldberg’s writing reminded me of the screeds of rapture-ready Christian Zionist fanatic Pastor John Hagee, who has lusted for an Israeli attack on Iran for years and has used his access to figures like Netanyahu to sell his flock on the war. Indeed, Goldberg and Hagee have shared many of the same high-level Israeli sources and appeared to accept their dire predictions at face value; both Goldberg and Hagee predicted an Israeli strike on Iran by the spring (Hagee issued his brilliant prophecy in 2006); and both accepted and appeared to promote the Israeli view that Iran poses a grave threat not just to Israel, but to all of Western civilization.

Is there any significant distinction between Goldberg’s analysis and Hagee’s? And are either reliable? Compare Goldberg’s latest piece with statements made by Hagee in an interview by conservative activist Robert Bluey and you be the judge:

Israel will attack by the spring…

Jeffrey Goldberg, 9/10: What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran.

Pastor John Hagee, 3/16/06: Israel will engage Iran before the end of May!

Bibi told me some frightening things in a special meeting…

Goldberg, 9/10: I have been exploring the possibility that such a strike will eventually occur for more than seven years, since my first visit to Tehran, where I attempted to understand both the Iranian desire for nuclear weapons and the regime’s theologically motivated desire to see the Jewish state purged from the Middle East, and especially since March of 2009, when I had an extended discussion about the Iranian nuclear program with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hagee, 3/16/06: Several years ago, former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sat in my office and told me that when he was Prime Minister he gave to America’s intelligence community photographic proof that Russian scientist were helping the Iranians develop medium range missiles that had the ability to reach Europe and Jerusalem.

Iran is a threat to “to western civilization…”

Goldberg, 9/10: In our conversation before his swearing in, Netanyahu would not frame the issue in terms of nuclear parity… Instead, he framed the Iranian program as a threat not only to Israel but to all of Western civilization.

Hagee, 3/16/06: Iran is a threat to western civilization … not just to Israel. Iran with nuclear weapons will be the world’s worst nightmare.

Boogie Ya’alon is a reliable source…

Goldberg, 4/09 (from his first account of his interview w/Netanyahu): One of [Netanyahu’s] chief security advisers, Moshe Ya’alon, told me that a nuclear Iran could mean the end of American influence in the Middle East. “This is an existential threat for Israel, but it will be a blow for American interests, especially on the energy front. Who will dominate the oil in the region—Washington or Tehran?”

Hagee, 3/16/06: Former IDF Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya’alon, expressed confidence [in an interview with me] that Israel’s anti-missile systems could protect the country, whether missiles are fired directly from Iran, by the Hizbullah launchers amassed along Israel’s northern border or through Kassam rockets being amassed within Judea and Samaria. “Israel is able to strike at Iran in a number of ways, not just through air strikes,” Ya’alon added.

In The Wasteland of Democracy, Israel Destroys Al-Arakib…Again

“The Negev affords me the pleasure of watching a wasteland develop into the most fruitful portion of Israel by a totally Jewish act of creation.” –David Ben Gurion, Memoirs

In the middle of the night on August 10, residents of the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Arakib sent a panicked text message to Israeli activists in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israeli police helicopters were buzzing overhead, surveying the scene ahead of what was likely to be a new round of demolitions. Three activists staying in the village had been nabbed during a night raid. Having already witnessed the razing of their homes twice in the past two weeks, the residents of Al-Arakib expected the third round of demolitions to arrive tonight, on the eve of Ramadan. During Ramadan, when the villagers fasted all day, the police and Israeli Land Adminstration reasoned they would be too weakened to rebuild — it was prime time for destruction.

I arrived in Al-Arakib at 3 AM with a handful of Jerusalem-based activists. A local couple hauled out mattresses and blankets and poured us small cups of coffee. “I’ve had enough of sleeping,” the man grumbled as he reclined next to his wife. He seemed grateful to have company. I laid down and stared at the desert sky, listening to the man describe in a lulled tone the experience of watching his neighbors’ homes crumple under the teeth of bulldozers again and again. As he trailed off, I heard a low droning sound in the distance. Were they here already? I looked around at the others. No one to register the slightest sign of concern. Finally, I slipped into a light slumber.

Two hours later I was torn from my sleep. “They’re here!” someone shouted in Hebrew. I leapt from my mattress and scrambled up a dune until I reached the center of the village. A phalanx of one hundred riot cops had assembled in a tight formation. They were bristling with assault weapons and centurion shields. Flanked by bulldozers, the police quickly ringed the activists and journalists, who numbered about two dozen, and began forcibly pushing them away from the site of the demolitions. Their intention seemed to be to prevent any brave souls from standing between the bulldozers and the homes they sought to destroy. Dispatched by a faceless network of clerks and engineers in air-conditioned offices to do the dirty work of the state, the police performed their duty with cold efficiency.

As the bulldozers trundled around the village, tearing tarps from plywood pylons, crushing tin roofs, and dragging the shattered structures into hulking piles, the villagers watched with resignation. Seated on her bed in the naked desert, a girl wiped a few tears from her eyes, grimacing at the sight before her. On a nearby hill, a man quizzed his daughter on surahs from the Quran before sending her to collect mattresses from beneath the dusty waste of what used to be their sleeping quarters. An old woman stood impassively by a flock of birds perched on the collapsed remains of her house. Dispossession and homelessness have become nearly mundane in Al-Arakib.

The villagers remain devoted to the nomadic Bedouin tradition. (Why else would they resist with such tenacity the Israeli government’s plan to resettle them in one of the Indian reservation-style “development communities” the state has created for them?) However, they have established a permanent presence in the areas around their village that pre-dates the foundation of Israel. Al-Arakib’s cemetery, for example, contains the graves dating back to the end of the 19th century. Yet the Bedouins’ historical claim to the Negev has not convinced the state that they deserve legal recognition. Nor have their attempts to demonstrate their loyalty by serving as front-line combat soldiers in the Israeli Army. In the eyes of the state, the Arabs of the Negev are at best quasi-human.

In 1953, the first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben Gurion (original name: David Gryn) moved to Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the Negev. A self-described messianist who rejected the existence of God while simultaneously describing the Torah as his political guidebook, Ben Gurion saw the Negev as a blank slate for realizing his revolutionary fever dreams. In his memoirs, he fantasized about evacuating Tel Aviv and settling five million Jews in small settlements throughout the Negev. Just as he disdained the cosmopolitan spirit of Tel Aviv’s urbanists, Ben Gurion was disgusted by the sight of the open desert, describing it as “a criminal waste.” In the place of sand dunes, he imagined a Jewish replica of Northern Europe.

“When I look out of my window and see a tree standing [in the Negev],” Ben Gurion wrote, “that tree gives me a greater sense of beauty and personal delight than all the vast forests I have seen in Switzerland or Scandinavia… Not only because I helped to grow them but because they constitute a gift of man to Nature, and a gift of the Jews to the cradle of their culture.”

With the ethnocentric Ashkenazi outlook of Labor Zionism, Ben Gurion held deep contempt for non-European cultures. He denigrated the Jews who had immigrated to Israel from Arab countries as “savage” and as “a primitive community” that reveres pimps and thieves. But he at least acknowledged their existence in Israeli society. In his writings about the Negev, Ben Gurion did not once mention the presence of the tens of thousands of Arab Beduoins whose villages abutted his kibbutz. To him, their culture was void; they lived in a “wasteland.” They were obstacles to his utopian vision, not human beings.

Today the Israeli government remains committed to fulfilling Ben Gurion’s fantasies even though the Israeli public has completely turned its back on the Negev. “It seems that the fantasies grow stronger especially when the Jews do not move to live in the desert,” the Israeli blogger Eyal Niv wrote. “The more the Jews back away from the desert, the more their leaders toughen the force, frequency, and cruelty of the expulsion of its other residents.”

In the areas in and around Al-Arakib, just 5 km north of the city of Beersheva, the Jewish National Fund is in the process of planting the “Ambassador Forest.” The forest will cover the land inhabited for over 100 years by the residents of Al-Arakib and prevent them from ever returning. The “Blueprint Negev” plan of the Jewish National Fund, an organization that claims to be acting “on behalf of Jewish people everywhere,” can only be realized through harsh military force, the razing of villages, and ultimately, ethnic cleansing. The meting out of these practices against citizens of Israel should raise serious questions about the country’s claim to uphold democratic values.

After the Israeli Police completed their third demolition of Al-Arakib, the villagers collected the remains of their homes and, with the assistance of a few international and Jewish Israeli activists, began rebuilding again. Without any recourse from the state or its courts, they have no other option but to start over from scratch. And they have nowhere else to go.

When The ADL Gave White Nationalism A Free Pass, Did “Pro-Israel” Politics Play A Role?

A t-shirt sold by Richard Quinn's Southern Partisan Magazine

A t-shirt sold by Richard Quinn's Southern Partisan Magazine

With the Cordoba House controversy, the mainstream press has suddenly discovered that the Anti-Defamation League is more than willing to give sanction to bigotry. But the ADL has a long history of allowing cynical political calculations to trump its professed concerns about racism.

In a virtually unknown and unreported event in 1999, the ADL pointedly refused to condemn Richard Quinn, a leading white nationalist publisher who had come under fire for his history of promoting racist screeds before taking a job as a consultant for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. Though the ADL initially expressed concern about Quinn’s role on the McCain campaign, it backed off for reasons that appeared to relate to the calculated “pro-Israel” line of Quinn’s magazine.

The episode began after John McCain’s surprising victory in the 1999 New Hampshire Republican primary. Controversy ensued when the New Republic’s Benjamin Soskis revealed that McCain had hired the longtime editor of Southern Partisan Magazine, Richard Quinn, as a consultant. Quinn came under fire from Soskis and many others for editing a neo-Confederate magazine that promoted white nationalist themes. For his part, Quinn had authored an editorial in his publication denouncing Martin Luther King Day as “vitriolic and profane;” attacked Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist” and a “bad egg;” and wrote the following about the KKK’s former Imperial Wizard-cum-Louisiana GOP gubernatorial candidate: “What better way to reject politics as usual than to elect a maverick like David Duke? What better way to tweak the nose of the establishment?”

As the bad press piled up, and reporters discovered gems like the ad in Southern Partisan for a t-shirt emblazoned with a Republican elephant logo that read, “Lincoln’s Worst Nightmare!” Quinn began to work his contacts. Finally, his friend  Sam Tennenbaum, who served at the time on the ADL’s advisory board, intervened in his defense, ensuring that the ADL did not condemn the Southern Partisan or disturb the McCain campaign about employing an avowed neo-Confederate.

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Forgotten 1963 Survey: Majority Of Israeli Jewish Youth Could Support Genocide Against Arabs

In my recent post about the “summer camp of destruction,” I cited figures from Israeli social psychologist Daniel Bar-Tal’s survey on the political attitudes of Jewish Israeli high school students. In polling conducted in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, Bar-Tal found that a majority of Israeli high schoolers favored at least some form of apartheid, and that the desire for apartheid among religious nationalist youth was nearly universal. The disturbing findings have been generally read as a reflection of Israel’s comprehensive shift to the hard right since the collapse of the so-called peace process (see Bar-Tal’s polling on Israeli attitudes toward territorial concessions here). But there is considerable evidence that a majority of Jewish Israeli youth had been been successfully conditioned to consent to indiscriminate violence against Arabs well before the most recent phase of radicalization, and years before the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza even began.

Akiva Orr was a founder of the leftist group Matzpen, the first organized Israeli group to renounce Zionism and urge a joint struggle with Palestinians against the occupation. Orr has been a swimming champion in Mandate Palestine, a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence, a neighbor of David Ben Gurion, and a leader of the movement to free Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu (who is finishing out a grueling prison sentence for violating the onerous terms of his release). His unique perspective makes him one of the most valuable but under-acknowledged analysts of Israeli society from its earliest days.

In his excellent collection of essays, “Israel: Politics, Myths, and Identity Crises,” Orr explored in detail the political attitudes of the generation born in independent Israel immediately after 1948. He identified the first curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education as a key factor in the radicalization of this generation of youth. Orr wrote, “Already in the early 1950’s special lessons on ‘Jewish consciousness’ were introduced into all schools to inculcate Jewish identity into the minds of the very young. These lessons present Jewish history as a unique — and inexplicable — martyrology… The motto is: ‘Masada will never fall again.'”

Orr described a document that exposed the consequences of indoctrinating the young and impressionable: A 1963 poll published by the Israeli psychologist G. Tamarin entitled, “A Pilot Study in Chauvinism: The Influence of Ethnico-Religious Prejudices on Moral Judgment.” Tamarin’s research compiled responses by over 1000 Jewish Israeli schoolchildren of ages 8 to 14 to two texts. (The children represented a broad range of social groups and classes spanning the whole of Israeli society — only Arab students were exempted). The first part of the first text presented to the children read:

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