Monthly Archives: April 2012

In a fear society, where some facts are crimes

Tel Aviv University was built on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Sheikh Muwannis. The university’s faculty lounge is the village mukhtar’s former home. At the corner of Arlosoroff and Ibn Gvirol streets, where the Century Tower skyscraper stands, a Palestinian village named Sommeil used to exist.

When activists from the Israeli group Zochrot set out into the heart of Tel Aviv’s “Independence Day” festivities to educate revelers about these facts, they were accused of engaging in criminal activities.

As soon as the activists attempted to exit an office building to place small placards on Ibn Gvirol Street memorializing Palestinian villages destroyed during the Nakba, riot police surrounded them with metal gates, blocking them inside. The police informed them that they would be arrested if they attempted to interact with the crowds celebrating Israel’s birth. “We will not allow you to enter the celebrations with your pictures or your fliers,” a cop told Zochrot’s Eitan Bronstein. “We will not allow this form of protest. It might disturb the peace so we won’t allow it.” Another police officer told Bronstein his placards represented “inciting material.”

Though the police repression can hardly be excused, there is some reason to believe the Zochrot activists could have been subjected to harsh violence if they had been allowed to proceed with their action. While caged behind the metal gates, passersby surrounded the activists and held forth. “You’re lucky the police is here. You should thank them,” said a bald, beefy man who had to be led away.

Another hulking character who identified himself as a member of Unit 51 from the Israeli army’s Golani Brigade paratrooper corps barked at the activists, “The only thing you are is a bunch of traitors. Every day people here are fighting… This is unbelievable. You are traitors and if we had the chance we would shoot you one by one. One by one we would shoot you…”

The demonstration concluded with police violently arresting three participants including one man for the crime of reading aloud the names of destroyed Palestinian villages.

Lia Tarachansky of the Real News Network filmed the melee. Her footage is below:

The repression of Zochrot’s educational action was the street level manifestation of the campaign the Israeli government has waged to mute discussion of the Nakba and punish those who violate the code of silence. Last year, the government passed a law that allows the denial of state funding to NGO’s that participate in Nakba commemorations. In 2009, it banned the use of the term “Nakba” in school textbooks. Limor Livnat, a right-wing Knesset member who co-sponsored the so-called Nakba Law and banned textbooks using the word during her term as Israel’s Education Minister, declared that merely allowing students to learn about the mass expulsion of Palestinians during 1947 and 1948 would encourage them to work against the Jewish state.

The images of brawny riot cops — literal thought police — roughing up the small band of Zochrot members for publicly reading “inciting” facts recalled a passage from a widely publicized book about the importance of promoting democracy around the globe. “If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm,” the book read, “then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society.”

The book is called “The Case For Democracy.” One of its authors, Natan Sharansky, was a former Soviet dissident who currently heads the Jewish Agency, a key arm of Israel’s settlement enterprise. The other author is Ron Dermer, an advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu known as “Bibi’s brain.” Together, the two called for overthrowing repressive regimes around the world, inspiring former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to quote their so-called “Town Square Test,” while they actively guided Israel’s descent into authoritarianism.

How could Sharansky and Dermer fail to see the irony in their actions? As the scenes from Zochrot’s demonstration illustrated, reflection is never an option in a fear society.

Israeli mercenary firm proposes “violent action” against African refugees

The Israeli daily Maariv recently reported [in Hebrew] that BTS, a mercenary firm run by a former Israeli army colonel and veteran bodyguard, Beni Tal, proposed to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai a plan to violently expel thousands of African migrant workers and refugees living near Tel Aviv’s central bus station.

According to Maariv, Tal told Tel Aviv municipal representatives he would gather intelligence on the African migrant population before sending in hundreds of security guards to cuff them and ship them away on buses or trucks. “This should be a very violent action,” Tal said.

“I have never seen a place so violent, not even in the roughest parts of New York,” Tal remarked. “So we need to bring in guys who are not afraid of anything, put people on trucks, and within six months return the bus station to its residents… This population [Africans] is very problematic.”

Though the Tel Aviv municipality ultimately rejected Tal’s proposal, Maariv reported that a municipal official brought the plan up in a meeting of the Israeli Knesset’s Special Committee regarding Foreign Workers. The representative claimed he raised Tal’s proposal merely to highlight the supposed severity of the situation in southern Tel Aviv.

I have spent countless hours in Tel Aviv’s central bus station and in the surrounding Neve Shaanan neighborhood, where much of the city’s migrant worker population lives. The only people who have ever threatened me there were plainclothes agents from Israel’s Oz Unit, which routinely accosts and arrests migrants around the bus station, and who once stopped me by the bus station to demand proof I was in the country legally.

The neighborhood may be impoverished and overcrowded, but it is hardly dangerous by urban American standards. When a Maariv reporter confronted Tal with the fact that crime in Neve Shaanan was no higher than anywhere else in the city, he protested that the statistics were false, but was unable to produce evidence to support his point.

Some migrants from Africa have arrived in Israel to occupy the menial jobs that Palestinians performed before they were tucked behind a separation wall and Gaza was completely besieged. They are the glue that holds Tel Aviv together, washing dishes, cooking food, cleaning bathrooms, and changing children’s diapers so the city’s Jewish residents can enjoy the First World, Eurocentric lifestyle they have come to expect. Others arrived from Africa fleeing war and civil strife. By some estimates, 60 percent of Sudanese migrants are eligible for asylum status.

David Sheen’s devastating video documentary [above] illustrates how Israel’s draconian approach to African refugees is rooted in deeply ingrained racist attitudes and an official policy of countering demographic threats. Sheen’s report highlights how security concerns were manufactured to establish a pretext for enforcing the state’s exclusivist priorities against those condemned as “infiltrators.”

The recently passed “Prevention of Infiltration Bill,” which mandates a three year prison sentence without trial for illegal migrants, was nothing more than an amendment to the pre-existing 1954 “Prevention of Infiltration Law” enacted after the Nakba to prevent Palestinian refugees from reuniting with their family members inside the newly created state of Israel. As Israeli human rights activist Leehee Rothschild wrote, “At the end of the day, the justification for both the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law as well was the new amendment is one and the same – the maintenance of the Jewish character of the State of Israel.”

Last month, Israel began construction on what will be the world’s largest detention center. Labeled by none other than Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin as a “concentration camp where people are warehoused,” the prison will sit in the Negev Desert on the grounds of what was once Ketziot Prison, a detention camp for Palestinian detainees staffed by the Atlantic Magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg. The new super-jail is being erected for the sole purpose of containing migrants and asylum seeking refugees fleeing from Africa.

Describing the desert prison as a “humanitarian solution,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justified its construction on the grounds that African refugees threaten to “change[] the character of the state.”

This was originally published at Al Akhbar English

The arms sale that inspired Grass’s “What Must Be Said” (and a footnote on Deir Yassin)

The publication of German Nobel Prize Laureate Gunter Grass’s poem, “Was gesagt werden muss” (What Must Be Said), has triggered a predictable avalanche of outrage, from Benjamin Netanyahu’s vitriolic condemnation of the poem to accusations by the Israeli Embassy to Germany and former Israeli prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg (the two are virtually indistinguishable these days) that Grass is guilty of a “blood libel.” Last weekend, the campaign against  Grass reached its crescendo when Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai designated him “persona non grata,” thus ranking the octogenarian scribe right behind Arab babies as one of the greatest existential threats to the Jewish state.

Grass’s service at age 17 in the Nazi regime’s Waffen SS has provided an easy line of attack for those seeking to dull the impact of his poem. New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner quoted Israeli columnist Anshel Pfeffer’s claim that Grass’s service in the Nazi regime’s Waffen SS “disqualified him from criticizing the descendants of those Jews for developing a weapon of last resort that is the insurance policy against someone finishing the job his organization began.” Pfeffer, by the way, is the same writer who boldly declared almost a year ago that “Israel must stop overplaying the Holocaust card.”

Like the rest of Grass’s assailants, Pfeffer omitted the fact that Grass was forcibly conscripted into the German military in 1944 (just as Pfeffer was drafted into the IDF, an occupying army to which Bronner’s son volunteered), serving as a Panzer tank gunner during the last stages of the war. Grass may be no more of a Nazi than Pope Benedict XVI, who was conscripted against his will into the Hitler Youth, but when have Zionists ever let historical nuance get in the way of a campaign to muzzle critics of Israeli policy?

Like Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu before him, Grass stands to suffer serious damage to his legacy for daring to say what must be said. But his poem will endure simply because he has opened up a debate of unprecedented scale on the perverse special relationship between Germany and Israel. Grass wrote:

my own country,

guilty of primal and unequalled crimes,

for which time and again it must be tasked –

once again in pure commerce,

though with quick lips we declare it

reparations, wants to send

Israel another submarine –

one whose specialty is to deliver

warheads capable of ending all life

where the existence of even one

nuclear weapon remains unproven…

Here Grass referred to Germany’s sale of a Dolphin class submarine to Israel at a deep discount subsidized by German taxpayers. As I wrote at Al Akhbar English, Israel requested that Germany widen the torpedo tubes of its submarines to accomodate the launching of tactical nuclear missiles at Iran’s nuclear facilities. So Grass was essentially correct: German citizens were corralled into providing Israel with a mobile delivery platform for its massive nuclear weapons arsenal, which it maintains without any international supervision. And they were compelled to do so out of Holocaust guilt — as Reuters’ Israel correspondent Dan Williams wrote, “as part of Berlin’s commitment to shoring up a Jewish state founded in the wake of the Holocaust.”

If Grass got anything wrong, it was the difference between tactical nuclear missiles, which are designed to deliver a massive blow to a concentrated area, and the kind of nuclear bombs that killed hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tactical nuclear weapons may not be “capable of ending all life,” as Grass wrote, but they would represent the first deployment of nuclear missiles since World War II. On the other hand, as the Center for Strategic and International Studies noted in a study on the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran, “Any strike on [Iran's] Bushehr Nuclear Reactor will cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume.”

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Today is the 64th anniversary of the massacre carried out in Deir Yassin by the Stern Gang/Irgun militias led by future Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Since a theme of this post is Zionist exploitation of the Jewish genocide in Europe, here is a little known fact: According to Shimon Tzabar, a journalist, artist, and leading figure in the anti-Zionist Israeli group Matzpen, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharanoth claimed Nazi troops were present in the Palestinian village at the time. “In Deir-Yassin there were soldiers of regular foreign armies, including Nazis with swastika emblems,” Yedioth Aharanoth reporter Eliahu Amikam wrote in August 1960. “Among the corpses there were Iraqis, Syrians and Yugoslavs lying in their military uniform. Swastika ribbons were torn off their sleeves.”

This was originally published at Al Akhbar English.