Monthly Archives: December 2010

All “are equal in the eyes of the law?” Al-Arakib activist hit with 7 month jail sentence for…operating garage without license

Commenting on the conviction today of former president Moshe Katsav for rape, the current Israeli President Shimon Peres declared, “There are no two states of Israel, just one state. There are no two kinds of citizens here; citizens of only one kind exist in Israel — and all are equal in the eyes of the law.”

above: el-Okbi attempts to return to his family’s rightfully owned land near al-Arakib; his tribe was ethnically cleansed from the area in 1951

As Israelis celebrated the conviction of Katsav, the “eyes of the law” also focused in on a Bedouin activist named Nuri el-Okbi who heads the Association for Protection of the Rights Bedouins in Israel and who has tried to stop the ethnic cleansing of Al-Arakib, which has been marked as the site for the Jewish National Fund and GOD TV’s Forest of Hate. In a municipal courtroom in Ramle, el-Okbi was sentenced to seven months in prison and a 40,000 NIS fine by a Ramle municipal court judge. His crime? He operated a garage without a license (that was constantly denied to him by the municipality). The judge who sentenced him declared that lenient treatment of el-Okbi “would constitute a negative message to the public, and especially to the Bedouins.” In other words, the harsh sentence was directly not just at el-Okbi, but at all Bedouins living inside Israel — it was a collective punishment.

El-Okbi, who is 68 years old, collapsed upon the reading of his verdict and is now handcuffed to a hospital bed.

Israeli Teachers: “Racism…is growing among young people in Israel. We are witnesses to this growing racism in education”

Were those kids at Yad Vashem who called elderly Palestinian women “sluts” and “whores” just a few “bad apples?” Or were they just a slice of the racist Jewish Israeli majority that agrees with a rabbinical ruling forbidding renting to Arabs and prohibiting Arab-Jewish relationships? Israel’s public high school teachers would know best.

Today, a group of young teachers sent a petition to Education Minister Gideon Saar calling on him to “speak out clearly against expressions of racism that are present everywhere.” The petitioners declared: “We can not remain silent in light of the increasing presence within the walls of schoolhouses of expressions of racism wherever it is directed — against Arabs, immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia, homosexuals and migrant workers. We see ourselves as educators who must issue a warning. A series of studies and surveys reflect the everyday reality that we all experience in encounters with our students: the prevalence of racism and cruelty is growing among young people in Israel. We are witnesses to this growing racism in education.”

You teach the youth about Theodore Herzl. And you said he was a very great man. So you can’t blame the youth…

According to a report in Yedioth which has only been published in Hebrew, the educators blame state-funded rabbis, Knesset members and mayors for “offensive and racist formulations” which are “giving legitimacy to these expressions” by Israeli students, “a phenomenon that makes the educators’ attempts to deal with racism even more difficult.”

Miriam Darmoni, a teacher training specialist who signed the petition, said: “These are idealistic young teachers who see their job as a mission, but they are helpless in the face of rising racism among the youth… The increase in racism in recent years may cause damage to Israeli society, especially when it seems that there is a legitimacy among the general public.”

“The views that students present in the classroom are a reflection of what they hear at home,” said Assaf Matzkin, an Israeli high school teacher. “Instead of expressing permissive liberal opinions, the students have become more nationalistic in recent years.”

The Minister of Education Gideon Saar is among the Israeli officials who are legitimizing the racism that has become so prevalent among the youth. Saar has endorsed recommendations by the proto-fascist student group Im Tirtzu to criminalize professors who support the academic boycott of the Occupation, and has cut the budget for civic education (classes that promote democratic values) in favor of a “Jewish studies” curriculum that incorporates religious texts, Theodore Herzl’s Altneuland, and anything that promotes “the Jewish people’s connection to the Land of Israel.” (This is otherwise known as religio-nationalist indoctrination). Saar has even summoned school principals like Ram Cohen to appear before the Knesset education committee to explain why they told their students to reject the Occupation.

The teachers who petitioned Saar must know they are on their own — against their government, their society, and their students.

Never again? Elderly Palestinian women called “whores” on Yad Vashem tour, while racism explodes across Israel (Updated)

The only image of a Palestinian inside Yad Vashem depicts the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem sig heiling Nazi troops

The only image of a Palestinian inside Yad Vashem depicts the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem sig heiling Nazi troops

Update: A cross-posting of this piece at Mondoweiss of triggered a few extremely insightful comments. I have posted three of them below the fold; they are worth reading. And The Hasbara Buster has alerted me to another disturbing incident of Israeli racism, this time against five Arab renters who were driven from their apartment in Tel Aviv — one of them had served in the IDF. Read about it here.

This week, a group of elderly Palestinian women were escorted to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance musuem to learn about the Jewish genocide in Europe. At the entrance of the museum, they were surrounded by a group of Jewish Israeli youth who recognized them as Arabs. “Sharmouta!” the young Israelis shouted at them again and again, using the Arabic slang term for whores, or sluts.

The Palestinians had been invited to attend a tour arranged by the Israeli Bereaved Families Forum, an organization founded by an Israeli whose son was killed in combat by Palestinians. They were joined by a group of Jewish Israeli women who, like them, had lost family members to violence related to the conflict. Presumably, both parties went on the tour in good faith, hoping to gain insight into the suffering of women on the other side of the conflict.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian members (who unlike the Israelis live under occupation and almost certainly had to obtain special permits just to go to Yad Vashem) learned an unusual lesson of the Holocaust: A society that places the Holocaust at the center of its historical narrative — that stops traffic for two minutes each year on the national holiday known as Yom Ha’Shoah — could also raise up a generation of little fascists goose-stepping into the future full of irrational hatred.

“In Palestinian culture, older women are most honored and they could not believe their ears,” said Sami Abu Awwad, a Palestinian coordinator of the tour. “We never talk like this to older women. The Palestinians, who were all grandmothers, were very shocked and offended.”

The report on this outburst of Jewish Israeli racism comes from the Israeli news website Walla! For some reason, I could not find reporting on it anywhere in English.

Perhaps the story was lost in the flood of reports about the anti-Arab racism that poured through the streets of Israel this week. Besides the publication of a series of rabbinical letters forbidding renting to Arabs and condemning relationships between Jews and Arabs, a school principal in Jaffa prohibited Palestinian-Israeli students from speaking Arabic to one another. In Bat Yam, a mostly Russian suburb just south of Jaffa, Jewish residents demonstrated against the presence their Arab neighbors. “Any Jewish woman who goes with an Arab should be killed; any Jew who sells his home to an Arab should be killed,” one protester reportedly shouted. And in Tel Aviv, locals rallied for the expulsion of foreign workers.

The Jerusalem Post reported:

On Saturday, three teenage girls born to African migrant parents were attacked and severely beaten by a mob of teenagers while walking to their homes in the Hatikva neighborhood.

That same night, someone tried to torch an apartment in Ashdod housing seven Sudanese citizens. The assailants set a blazing tire outside the front door of the apartment, and five of the seven residents were lightly hurt by smoke inhalation before they managed to break the burglar bars and flee through a window.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a gang of Jewish youths was arrested after staging several random attacks on young Palestinian men with weapons including tear gas, which would be hard to acquire from anywhere except the army. Ynet reported:

The gang of teens was allegedly headed by a 14-year-old boy, and used a girl their age to seduce Arab youths.

The girl would then lead the young men to a meeting point in the city’s Independence Park, where they were allegedly brutally attacked by the teens with stones, glass bottles and tear gas. Police suspect the girl took part in three of the assaults.

Daniel Bar-Tal, a renowned Israeli political psychologist who has conducted some of the most comprehensive surveys of Israeli attitudes since Operation Cast Lead, found that the racist, authoritarian trends that are increasingly pronounced in Israeli society are products of a “psycho-social infrastructure” dedicated to promoting “a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering.”

This infrastructure is comprised of institutions like the Zionist education system, the Israeli Defense Forces, and even Yad Vashem, which explicitly links the Palestinian national struggle to Nazism.

Indeed, the only image of a Palestinian in all of Yad Vashem (at least that I am aware of) is of the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, who was forced by the British to flee to Germany, where he became a (not very successful) Nazi collaborator. In recent years, the Mufti has become a key fixture of Israeli propaganda efforts against the Palestinians. As such, a photo is featured prominently on a wall in Yad Vashem depicting him sig heiling a group of Nazi troops. However, there is no mention anywhere in Yad Vashem of the 9000 Palestinian Arabs the British recruited to fight the Nazis, or of the 233,000 North African volunteers who fought and died while battling the Nazis in the French Liberation Army (and whose heroic efforts were dramatized in the excellent film, “Days of Glory”).

According to Peter Novick, the author of “The Holocaust in American Life,” though the Mufti played no significant part in the Holocaust, he plays a “starring role” in Yad Vashem’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. “The article on the Mufti is more than twice as long as the articles on Goebbels and Goring, longer than the articles on Himmler and Heydrich combined, longer than the article on Eichmann — of all the biographical articles, it is exceeded in length, but only slightly, by the entry for Hitler.” [Novick, p. 158]

Not only has Yad Vashem attempted through propagandistic means to link the Palestinian struggle to Nazism, it has promoted an exclusivist view of the Holocaust. In April 2009, Yad Vashem fired a docent, Itamar Shapira, because he had discussed the massacre of Palestinians in Deir Yassin with a group of students from the settlement of Efrat. “All I was trying to say is that there were people who lived here before the Holocaust survivors arrived, that they suffered a terrible trauma too, and that we shouldn’t hide the facts,” Shapira told me a month after his firing. “Yad Vashem carefully selected what facts it wanted to present, but deliberately avoided things like Deir Yassin, even though its ruins were just a thousand meters from the museum.”

Iris Rosenberg, a Yad Vashem administrator who was involved in Shapira’s firing, said of the verbal assault against Palestinian women at the museum this week: “Despite the regrettable incident at the entrance to the museum, the team’s visit to the Holocaust History Museum was conducted in a dignified manner which was significant and important.”

Tamara Rabinovitch, the Israeli leader of the Bereaved Families tour, told Walla! that her Palestinian counterparts “were very excited by the visit. Some of them approached me and told me they heard details of the Holocaust but did not know how painful it was. In two weeks we plan to visit an abandoned Arab village so that the Palestinian narrative is represented.”

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In Israel, Non-Violent Solidarity Activist Goes to Prison, Anti-Gay Terrorist Gets Community Service

Jonathan Pollak, bearing a Steve Biko t-shirt, awaits his sentence in a Tel Aviv court

Jonathan Pollak, bearing a Steve Biko t-shirt, awaits his sentence in a Tel Aviv court

On December 27, Anarchists Against the Wall co-founder Jonathan Pollak was slapped with a three month prison sentence for illegal assembly. He was convicted by an Israeli magistrate judge for his participation in a January 2008 Critical Mass bike ride through the streets of Tel Aviv in protest of Israel’s brutal military assault on the Gaza Strip. Though Pollak was offered community service, he accepted prison time because he was convinced that he had done nothing wrong.

The day before Pollak was sentenced, an Israeli judge handed down a sentence of six months of community service to Michael Naky. Naky’s crime? He helped devise and detonate a pipe bomb in order to kill as many homosexuals as possible at the 2007 Jerusalem gay pride parade.

In a single day in Israel’s kangaroo courts, a right-wing terrorist was sentenced to a few months of street cleaning while a non-violent activist dedicated to stopping the occupation was jailed under the most specious charges. And while Pollak’s sentencing was reported with great fanfare in Israel’s major papers, Naky’s passed below the radar (Yedioth devoted just six lines). The contrast in punishments represented just another symptom of a sick society unwilling to face the Molock in the mirror.

The state has made little effort to disguise the political nature of Pollak’s prosecution. He was not a ringleader of the Critical Mass protest, nor did he behave in an unusual manner. He simply rode his bike slowly, disrupting the normal flow of traffic along with dozens of demonstrators. However, the police recognized him as a prominent organizer of unarmed protests against the Israeli military repression in the West Bank, singled him out and arrested him.

I have documented Pollak’s actions at protests across the West Bank, where he spends most of his weekends, and I witnessed the respect he has earned from the residents of besieged Palestinian villages who count on him as their liaison to the outside world — a realm that the state of Israel has largely forbidden them from interacting with. Last summer, Pollak helped me gain entry into Ofer Military Prison to witness the show trials of Palestinian popular committee members who organize the unarmed protests against the Israeli segregation wall. He has done the same for numerous European diplomats, including British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who declared after a harrowing tour of the Israeli Occupation that Pollak helped arrange: “Popular resistance to the Occupation is the sole remaining possible alternative for the Palestinians to achieve their rights and avoid armed struggle.”

It is clear why the Israeli justice system acted in such a draconian fashion against Pollak: His activism is making an impact against the Occupation.

Association for Civil Rights in Israel chief legal counsel Dan Yakir described the political nature of Pollak’s prosecution succinctly when he said, “The fact that Pollak was the only one arrested, even though he behaved just like the rest of the protesters, and the fact that bicycle demonstrations are usually held without police involvement raises a strong suspicion regarding personal persecution and a severe blow for freedom of expression, just because of his opinions. A prison sentence in the wake of a protest is an extreme and exaggerated punishment.”

Naky’s lenient sentencing appeared to have been influenced by politics as well, especially when viewed in light of the state’s treatment of other right-wing terrorists. Chaim Pearlman, a fanatical settler suspected of stabbing to death three Palestinians in cold blood, was set free after a month in Shin Bet custody. And Jack Teitel, another Jewish settler convicted of randomly murdering several Palestinians and attempting to kill the Israeli left-wing intellectual Zeev Sternhell (Teitel also planned to attack the 2006 Jerusalem gay pride parade), was allowed to plead insanity and ruled unfit to stand trial.

The Israeli justice system has extended no such privileges to Palestinians like Ibrahim Amireh or Abdullah Abu Rahmeh, who rot in Israeli military prisons for resisting their dispossession through unarmed protest. And the state is leveling every legal weapon at its disposal against activists like Pollak, who declared at his sentencing hearing: “I will go to prison wholeheartedly and with my head held high. It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that ought to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza’s inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation.”

Debating BDS At Princeton (Updated)

Update: As promised, I have posted J Street U director Daniel May’s complete opening statement here. That means that virtually the entire debate is online, minus a few minutes of closing arguments and audience responses.

On December 15 I participated in a debate at Princeton University on the “ethics and efficacy” of BDS. The debate was held as a bookend to the battle over a resolution calling for adding an alternative in the campus cafeteria to Sabra Hummus, an Israeli brand produced by a company which has sponsored the IDF’s Givati and Golani brigades (the resolution was defeated). In my opinion, though the students from the Princeton Committee for Palestine who initiated the effort to sideline Sabra were not successful, they won anyway by forcing an open and honest discussion about Israeli war crimes, occupation and discrimination. And the students who voted against the alternative hummus resolution were simply stupid, not necessarily because they obstructed a campaign targeting a military unit that has been implicated in hideous crimes, but because they resigned themselves to a brand of hummus that contains the preservative known as sodium benzoate, which has been directly linked to everything from cancer to Parkinson’s to a variety of degenerative diseases.

The debate was not only an opportunity for Princeton to hear the arguments for BDS, which me and Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson introduced, but to see the supposedly “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization J Street showcase its opposition to the BDS movement, which it has labeled on its website as “a convenient mantle for thinly disguised anti-Semitism.” The group dispatched Daniel May, who serves as director of J Street’s campus wing, J Street U, to argue against BDS at Princeton. He was joined by a Princeton senior also named Daniel May, who filled in as the second debater against BDS because none of the major pro-Israel organizations invited by Princeton’s Whig-Clio debating society were able to, or were willing to, participate. (I have heard rumors from multiple sources that AIPAC has adopted an official policy of refusing to engage in public debates on BDS).

I have embedded two videos here: the first is my opening statement, and the second contains highlights of each speaker’s presentation. While Rebecca focused her arguments on rights and results (see her excellent presentation here), I tried to outline the history of how Israel engineered its “Jewish and democratic” system through force, and why it relies on increasingly horrific levels of force to ward off the encroaching threat of real democracy. Daniel May of Princeton hammered on the notion that there are much worse human rights violators in the world than Israel, and that Israel is a longstanding ally of the U.S. that “doesn’t deserve to be boycotted.” I thought he did a pretty good job of presenting his case, though of course I disagreed with him, and said so.

The presentation by Daniel May of J Street was the most significant of the evening, simply because it revealed how far J Street is willing to go to stop BDS. I have nothing personal against May. In fact, I know him and like him a lot. He is a decent, enormously talented guy. But he is also an employee of J Street and that means that he had to recite the talking points that Jeremy Ben-Ami and his inner circle had crafted for him based on their own focus groups and polling.

Tragically, May’s case — and by extension, J Street’s case — against BDS boiled down to the Bible and the Holocaust: BDS undermines the 2000-year-old dream that Jews supposedly have of “returning to Israel,” he said, and it denies the persecution Jews have suffered “everywhere they went,” especially in Europe during the Holocaust. Aside from a few token nods May made to the Palestinian popular struggle (which ironically is linked the BDS movement), his case against BDS seemed contrived to trigger the most base emotional responses from Jewish-Americans, especially those who had been subjected to sustained Zionist conditioning. What that says about J Street’s long term political strategy and the case against BDS will be the subject of a much longer piece I plan to post in the coming days. And I will be posting complete video of (J Street U director) May’s entire opening statement as well.