Tag Archives: occupation

Akiva Orr: Juliano Mer Khamis was killed for “Alice in Wonderland” (Updated)

Juliano Mer Khamis with the cast of Alice in Wonderland, his final production at Jenin Freedom Theater

Juliano Mer Khamis with the cast of Alice in Wonderland, his final production at Jenin Freedom Theater

Update: Some have accused me on Twitter and elsewhere of being “irresponsible” for posting this. I assume they can’t read headlines, because I printed it as Aki Orr’s personal opinion — not mine. And if anyone is entitled to his opinion, it is Aki. He has seen and done more than all of them combined.

Adam at Mondoweiss reminded me about Udi Aloni’s excellent review of  Juliano’s production of “Alice.” Read it here.

After the killing of Juliano Mer Khamis, I asked my friend Akiva Orr (watch my interview with him here) to write something about the actor. As an activist and writer since the early 1950′s, Akiva got to know Juliano and his mother, Arna. Akiva attended Juliano’s funeral yesterday in Kibbutz Ramot Menashe, then wrote me the following:

Sad news

Yesterday the Israeli-Arab actor-director Juliano Mer-Khamis was shot dead by a hooded assassin near his Freedom Theatre in Jenin.

Juliano Mer-Khamis’s funeral took place today in Kibbutz Ramot Menashe some 10 feet from his mother’s grave (which he designed).

I knew his mother very well.

Arna (1930-1995) was a genuine humanist who could not remain quiet when she saw someone being wronged

It outraged her and she reacted vehemently.

It was a guts response, not a rational response.

Jules took after her but had the added complication that his Dad was a christian Arab  (once the leader of the CP in Nazareth) whereas Arna was a secular Jew whose father founded the medical corps in the IDF was a world authority on Malaria, hated Ben-Gurion, and expelled her after marrying an Arab.

Jules had a cultural ID complex which he exploited through art. He was an excellent actor.  He acted out his life.

About  800 people attended the funeral, two third Arabs one third Jews.

I met many old friends there.

Nowadays we are too old to meet in demos so we meet in funerals.

An Arab youth choir sang and many people said a few words.

Udi Adiv (who did 12 years in prison for trying [unsuccessfully] to set up a Jewish-Arab Israeli armed struggle group against Israel in 1971) told me he was in constant contact with Jules.

Jules complained about the the arch conservative leadership of the Jenin refugee camp and planned to move to Jenin town, which is more enlightened.

The older generation leadership (50% of the camp inmates are under 20) was worried that the youth followed Juliano and his “Freedom Theater”.

He preached freedom not only from Israel, but also from Muslim tradition.

Many young girls, who rebel against the subservient role of women in the Palestinian society, were ardent actresses.

The oldies didn’t like the fact that girls appear on stage, have roles, and act together with boys.

The theatre is located inside the camp.

There were two attempts to burn it down.

The latest play Jules staged was “Alice in wonderland”

Most theatres in the West Bank refused to show it because the major role of a clever girl outraged all oldies in the West Bank.

No newspaper in the West Bank mentioned the Alice play.

It seems this was too much for the oldies.

So Jules paid with his life for staging “Alice in wonderland” in Palestine.

He died for the cause of “women’s liberation” … which goes much beyond “Palestine liberation.”

Too much for some people.

MAY ALICE FORGIVE THE FOLLIES OF THE FOOLS

Remembering Juliano Mer Khamis

Juliano Mer Khamis was killed yesterday by a gunman in Jenin. I met him on a number of occasions. He exuded a unique charisma that was bound up with unpredictable rage and spontaneous joy. Gideon Levy has done justice to his legacy in a short but powerful obituary.

My friend Jen Marlowe helped create this video about Juliano’s work with the Jenin Freedom Theater. Watching it is all anyone needs to do to understand how much of a void his murder has created:

Juliano’s documentary, “Arna’s Children,” is the best film I have seen about the occupation. There is really no other film that approaches its emotional impact or captures the way in which the trasher of the occupation methodically destroys the lives of everyone in its path — and how those in its way resist it no matter what. So here it is, a testament to the genius of Juliano, the courage of his mother, who founded the Jenin Freedom Theater in 1988, and the humanity of the children of Jenin:

Juliano was born to a Jewish Israeli woman, Arna Mer, who dedicated the last years of her life to challenging the occupation, protesting at checkpoints and traveling to and from the Jenin refugee camp, even while in the terminal stages of breast cancer. His father was a Palestinian Christian bureaucrat, Saliba Khamis, who met Arna in the Israeli Communist Party, which was for decades the only party in Israel that promoted co-existence between Arabs and Jews. Mer and Khamis named their son after Salvatore Giuliano, a strikingly handsome, swaggering Italian bandit who led a small band of landless peasants against powerful oligarchs, earning himself a reputation as “the Italian Robin Hood” and eventual media stardom.

After making Arna’s Children and appearing in films like Amos Gitai’s “Kippur” (not the best Gitai film but still worth watching), Juliano set out to revive his mother’s Jenin Freedom Theater. The theater had been in ruins since the Israeli army destroyed it while reducing Jenin to a post-apocalyptic moonscape of destruction. Once the Second Intifada was crushed, the camp was transformed into a laboratory for Tony Blair and General Keith Dayton’s cynical security plan. Now Jenin was ringed by electrified fences, a virtual prison inhabited by thousands of children with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Juliano’s return to Jenin was a rebuke to the promise of former Israel Labor Minister Shlomo Benizri to “convert the life of Palestinians into hell,” as he restored a creative outlet for a generation the occupation had sought to demoralize and destroy. In turn, he brought young Israelis (including Palestinian Israelis) and international activists over the Green Line to help him build the theater, promoting a model of co-existence based on solidarity with the Palestinian grassroots.

With assistance from Zacharia Zubbeidi, a former leader of the armed insurgency during the Second Intifada, the theater allowed young people from the camp to take aim not only at the occupation, but at the internal problems plaguing Palestinian society. The next Intifada would consist of theater, music, poetry — the struggle of a dispossessed, dehumanized generation asserting itself through culture. That was Juliano’s vision.

Through their work in the theatre, young Jenin residents challenged traditions and entrenched social mores like corporal punishment and the relegation of young women to secondary social roles. “For me freedom is the occupation ending and the army leaving,” a young boy who participates in the theater said. “But it’s also playing snooker and not having anybody hit me.”

Juliano’s final play, a production of “Alice in Wonderland,” was filled with themes and symbols that explicitly challenged patriarchal authority. I wish I had traveled to Jenin with Matan Cohen when he invited me to see the play; the reviews I heard from those who attended it were glowing.

Was Juliano’s murder motivated by religious extremism? For now no one knows. The theater has been attacked with molotov cocktails and Juliano has been denounced as a Zionist agent by militant elements. He knew the risks of his work and was committed enough to risk paying the ultimate price.

“At the end, there’s a feeling that the spirit [of freedom] is already here, it’s already seeded,” he said during an interview in Jenin. “And I don’t believe that someone or anyone can stop it.”

Watching Miral: An unflinching but flawed look at Israel’s occupation

I saw Julian Schnabel’s film “Miral” a few months ago at a private screening but did not write about it at the time. The film had been billed to me as a “game changer” that would finally present a sympathetic portrayal of the Palestinian struggle, but I was not very excited or impressed by what I saw. Considering how jaded I have become about potential “game changers” (why hasn’t the game changed yet?) and how many films I have seen about and by Palestinians, I might not be the best person to evaluate the film as a vehicle for educating the American public. After spending nearly two months reflecting on the Miral, I concluded that despite its many flaws, it represents a valuable and timely contribution.

Miral’s plot focuses on Hind Husseini, daughter of Palestinian aristocracy and founder of the Dar El-Tifel orphanage, which originally housed the children of the victims of the Deir Yassin massacre. Thus Schnabel depicts the Nakba, a first in a major American film, however, he does it with minimal context and explanation. Why did Israel evict 750,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes and their land? The answer explains the roots of the conflict, yet the history remains unknown to most in the West.

Next, viewers are introduced to Miral, whose mother was so traumatized by the events of 1948 and by the sexual abuse visited on her by her father that she committed suicide. Miral’s character, played in mediocre fashion by Frieda Pinto, who could not seem to drop her Hindi accent (her performance reminded me of Kevin Costner’s Midwestern-accented Robin Hood), is based on Rula Jebreal, the author of the novel “Miral.” As the wife of Schnabel, Jebreal apparently convinced him to turn her book into a film. As in the movie, Rula was sent by her widowed father to live and study at Dar El-Tifel. There she was schooled along with dozens of girls (including the writer Susan Abulhawa) to be the cream of Palestinian society, and to educate the left-behinds in the refugee camps.

Having moved through the Nakba and the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967 — and there viewers see a rare acknowledgment of Palestinian terrorism as a tactic employed in the grand tradition of anti-colonial resistance — the film culminates with the War of the Stones, known in the West as the First Intifada. “Intifada means stand up straight,” Miral tells one of her classmates as riots spread from Gaza to the West Bank. I thought this line was a touch corny, but then again, when has a mass Western audience seen the Intifada depicted as anything other than a Jew-hating terror fest?

It is during this section that Schabel shows his strengths. Though he tends to sacrifice narrative depth for powerful imagery (“Basquiat” felt like a two hour long music video), Schnabel’s fixation on aesthetics resulted in Miral’s most subversive scenes. As Miral becomes increasingly involved with PLO activists, she is immediately swept up by thrasher of the Israeli occupation. Schnabel unflinchingly depicts her torture at the hands of a Amazon-like female Shabak agent, something that has happened to hundreds if not thousands of young Palestinian women in Israeli prisons. And he recreates scenes of Israeli home demolition that were so true to life I had flashbacks to Al-Arakib, where I watched Israeli bulldozers level an entire village while a phalanx of soldiers forced its Bedouin residents away from their crumbling homes.

The brief but vivid depictions of common Israelis prompted flashbacks of daily life in Israel, from the pinched lipped Jewish redneck on the Jerusalem city bus who blurts out racial slurs at the nearest available Arab; to the smug Israeli general who corrects Miral when she identifies herself as Palestinian, informing her that she is in fact an “Israeli Arab;” to the free spirited Tel Avivian youths who are more than happy to party with an attractive Palestinian girl like Miral — and who pat themselves on the back for doing so — but would do nothing to help her struggle for their liberation. During the time I spent inside Israel, I met all of these characters again and again.

Unfortunately, for all of Miral’s strengths, the film completely collapses in its final minutes as viewers are introduced to the Oslo Accords. Schnabel presents the US-brokered effort as a sincere attempt at peace and not the Trojan Horse for permanent occupation that Israel’s subsequent actions exposed it to be. It is disappointing that Schnabel chose to portray the peace process as some sort of panacea, with Yitzhak Rabin appearing on screen before cheering throngs to declare that “we are making peace,” when it has only enabled Israel to deepen its occupation and create more facts on the ground with the stamp of Western approval. Anyone who has taken a cursory glance at the Palestine Papers would have a hard time disputing that the peace process is a sham. I know American moviegoers yearn for moral clarity and golden sunsets, but Schnabel should have avoided propagandizing in favor of a discredited political process — or any “solution,” for that matter. The stories he and Jebreal presented of Palestinian women living under occupation and apartheid were powerful enough to stand on their own.

JVP’s Rebecca Vilkomerson debates for BDS at J Street’s annual convention

JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS yesterday at J Street's annual convention

JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS yesterday at J Street's annual convention

Today at J Street’s annual convention, my friend and one-time debate partner Rebecca Vilkomerson, who is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, made the case for BDS against liberal Zionist opponents Ken Bob of Ameinu and writer Bernard Avishai. I was not at the conference, in part because I am speaking at Rutgers’ Palestine Awareness Week later today. But I have heard that the session was packed; according to Vilkomerson, a sizable portion of the room was with her.

Because it wasn’t videotaped, I have reproduced the full text of Rebecca’s opening remarks below. Note that she identified BDS as a Palestinian-led movement that forms the international backbone of the Palestinian non-violent strategy and is “part and parcel of the Arab Spring sweeping the region.” Building on these points, Vilkomerson questioned why there were no Palestinian members on the panel (the BDS movement’s mastermind, Omar Barghouti, has been mysteriously denied a visa to enter the US to promote his book about the boycott). In the end, however, she was grateful to J Street for simply hosting the discussion while the rest of the Jewish establishment — including Ameinu — demonizes BDS proponents and tries to change the subject.

Remarks to Jstreet BDS Panel

February 28, 2011

Rebecca Vilkomerson.

I just want to take a moment in appreciation of J Street for including this discussion at the conference.  It is the most important conversation, in my mind, that we can have at this moment, and I thank you for having it.

I want to take a moment to make sure we all are clear about what BDS is.  BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It’s a Palestinian led, globally active, non-violent movement in support of equality and freedom for the Palestinian people.

Continue reading

News from Chelm: Knesset discusses ways to pressure performers not to cancel concerts in Israel

Today in Knesset, Ronit Tirosh of Kadima (the opposition party that almost never opposes racist and anti-democratic legislation, and often sponsors it) convened a discussion in the Commitee on Education, Culture and Sport about compelling reluctant pop stars to perform in Israel. The legislators were joined by Shuki Weiss, a big time Israeli concert promoter who has lost thousands from last minute cancellations by artists like Elvis Costello. “The state must intervene,” Weiss said, according to Achbar Ha’ir, an Israeli arts and culture publication (I am summarizing the Hebrew article).

So what sort of intervention did the committee propose? First, Tirosh raised the idea of compensating promoters like Weiss for their losses with some form of state supervision or insurance. This is wonderful idea, but only if you are pro-BDS. One of the key argument against BDS hinges on the specious idea that the boycott targets innocent Israeli citizens. Why should we punish Israelis for their government? anti-BDS people argue, assuming that somehow the people didn’t elect their government and don’t participate in maintaining the Occupation. But if the Israeli government doles out money to wealthy promoters to cover their losses (while the Finance and Housing Ministries bilk, exploit and evict tens of thousands of working class Jewish families — and you won’t hear about their plight from the Z Word or other hasbarist blogs) the cultural boycott becomes a direct means of targeting the state.

The only other idea that Tirosh and the committee could come up with was to do hasbara, or officially sanctioned propaganda, on Facebook and social media sites to encourage artists to make good on their plans to perform in Israel. This seems to be Israel’s answer to all its problems, as though commercials filled with bikini-clad girls on Tel Aviv beaches can distract from or paper over the crimes those same girls commit while in IDF uniform.

Of course, if Israel wanted to improve its international reputation, it could give unlimited permits to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to attend concerts in Israel. Why are illegal Jewish settlers from Hashmonaim able to see Macy Gray perform in Tel Aviv while my friend Said Amireh, a 19-year-old from the Palestinian who lives a few hundred meters away in Nilin, imprisoned behind a giant wall, can not? The answer is that the state is built on a foundation of discrimination. Because it does not intend to change, it must prepare for worldwide castigation.

Weiss went on to predict that things will get worse for Israel, especially in the age of social media-inspired revolutions in the Arab world like the one in Egypt. On this point, he is completely correct. The Dizengoff Command Band’s semi-satirical hit from Israeli in 1970, “The Whole World is Against Us,” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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.”

A BDS Debate at Princeton, with J Street, JVP, and me (this Wednesday)

PanelDiscussionPosterHoriz

This Wednesday (December 15) I will debate/discuss the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign with Jewish Voices for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkormerson and J Street U Director Daniel May at Princeton University. Princeton’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter recently attempted to pressure the school into offering an alternative in the cafeteria to Sabra Hummus, an Israeli product made by the Strauss Group, which has sponsored the IDF’s Givati Brigade (see heartwarming Givati t-shirts here). They failed to get the votes they needed, (I don’t know why more students didn’t vote for an alternative solely on health grounds, since Sabra contains the carcinogenic, extremely unhealthy preservative sodium benzoate), but in my opinion the SJP kids won by forcing the community to debate the occupation and discriminatory nature of the Israeli state. The debate I will participate in on the 15th represents, in my opinion, the role BDS has played in fostering a more open discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Though Daniel May disagrees with the BDS approach and will argue against it, he and J Street have also played a crucial part in creating space for open and honest debate about the conflict. Unfortunately, I learned yesterday that Whig Clio, Princeton’s debating society, could not convince any high profile “pro-Israel” figures to join the panel. The rumor is that no one they asked wanted to face me in a debate about the I-P conflict. I have no idea if this is true, and wonder why it would be, but whether it is or not, the fact that BDS opponents have resorted to empty terms like “delegitimization” in place of substantive arguments is evidence of how thin their case has become. You would think that this would be a debate they would be eager to engage in. But what can they say when Israeli quasi-governmental groups are partnering with anti-Semites to demolish villages inhabited by Israeli citizens? Not much, apparently.

How To Kill Goyim And Influence People: Leading Israeli Rabbis Defend Manual for For Killing Non-Jews

When I went into the Jewish religious book emporium, Pomeranz, in central Jerusalem to inquire about the availability of a book called Torat Ha’Melech, or the King’s Torah, a commotion immediately ensued. “Are you sure you want it?” the owner, M. Pomeranz, asked me half-jokingly. “The Shabak [Israel's internal security service] is going to want a word with you if you do.” As customers stopped browsing and began to stare in my direction, Pomeranz pointed to a security camera affixed to a wall. “See that?” he told me. “It goes straight to the Shabak!”

As soon as it was published late last year,Torat Ha’Melech sparked a national uproar. The controversy began when an Israeli tabloid panned the book’s contents as “230 pages on the laws concerning the killing of non-Jews, a kind of guidebook for anyone who ponders the question of if and when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew.” According to the book’s author, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, “Non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and should be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” “If we kill a gentile who has has violated one of the seven commandments… there is nothing wrong with the murder,” Shapira insisted. Citing Jewish law as his source (or at least a very selective interpretation of it) he declared: “There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”

In January, Shapira was briefly detained by the Israeli police, while two leading rabbis who endorsed the book, Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef, were summoned to interrogations by the Shabak. However, the rabbis refused to appear at the interrogations, essentially thumbing their noses at the state and its laws. And the government did nothing. The episode raised grave questions about the willingness of the Israeli government to confront the ferociously racist swathe of the country’s rabbinate. “Something like this has never happened before, even though it seems as if everything possible has already happened,” Israeli commentator Yossi Sarid remarked with astonishment. “Two rabbis [were] summoned to a police investigation, and announc[ed] that they will not go. Even settlers are kind enough to turn up.”

In response to the rabbis’ public rebuke of the state’s legal system, the Israeli Attorney General and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kept silent. Indeed, since the publication of Torat Ha’Melech, Netanyahu has strenuously avoided criticizing its contents or the author’s leading supporters. Like so many prime ministers before him, he has been cowed into submission by Israel’s religious nationalist community. But Netanyahu appears to be particularly impotent. His weakness stems from the fact that the religious nationalist right figures prominently in his governing coalition and comprises a substantial portion of his political base. For Netanyahu, a confrontation with the rabid rabbis could amount to political suicide, or could force him into an alliance with centrist forces who do not share his commitment to the settlement enterprise in the West Bank.

On August 18, a pantheon of Israel’s top fundamentalist rabbis flaunted their political power during an ad hoc congress they convened at Jerusalem’s Ramada Renaissance hotel. Before an audience of 250 supporters including the far-right Israeli Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari, the rabbis declared in the name of the Holy Torah that would not submit to any attempt by the government to regulate their political activities — even and especially if those activities included inciting terrorist attacks against non-Jews. As one wizened rabbi after another rose up to inveigh against the government’s investigation of Torat Ha’Melech until his voice grew hoarse, the gathering degenerated into calls for murdering not just non-Jews, but secular Jews as well.

“The obligation to sacrifice your life is above all others when fighting those who wish to destroy the authority of the Torah,” bellowed Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, head of the yeshiva in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. “It is not only true against non-Jews who are trying to destroy it but against Jewish people from any side.”

The government-funded terror academy

The disturbing philosophy expressed in Torat Ha’Melech emerged from the fevered atmosphere of a settlement called Yitzhar located in the northern West Bank near the Palestinian city of Nablus. Shapira leads the settlement’s Od Yosef Chai yeshiva, holding sway over a small army of fanatics who are eager to lash out at the Palestinians tending to their crops and livestock in the valleys below them. One of Shapira’s followers, an American immigrant named Jack Teitel, has confessed to murdering two innocent Palestinians and attempting to the kill the liberal Israeli historian Ze’ev Sternhell with a mail bomb. Teitel is suspected of many more murders, including an attack on a Tel Aviv gay community center.

Despite its apparent role as a terror training institute, Od Yosef Chai has raked in nearly fifty thousand dollars from the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs since 2007, while the Ministry of Education has pumped over 250 thousand dollars into the yeshiva’s coffers between 2006 and 2007. The yeshiva has also benefited handsomely from donations from a tax-exempt American non-profit called the Central Fund of Israel. Located inside the Marcus Brothers Textiles store in midtown Manhattan, the Central Fund transferred at least thirty thousand to Od Yosef Chai between 2007 and 2008.

Though he does not name “the enemy” in the pages of his book, Shapira’s longstanding connection to terrorist attacks against Palestinian civilians exposes the true identity of his targets. In 2006, Shapira was briefly held by Israeli police for urging his supporters to murder all Palestinians over the age of 13. Two years later, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz, he signed a rabbinical letter in support of Israeli Jews who had brutally assaulted two Arab youths on the country’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. That same year, Shapira was arrested under suspicion that he helped orchestrate a rocket attack against a Palestinian village near Nablus. Though he was released, Shapira’s name arose in connection with another act of terror, when in January, the Israeli police raided his settlement seeking the vandals who set fire to a nearby mosque. After arresting ten settlers, the Shabak held five of Shapira’s confederates under suspicion of arson.

Friends in high places

Despite his longstanding involvement in terrorism, or perhaps because of it, Shapira counts Israel’s leading fundamentalist rabbis among his supporters. His most well-known backer is Dov Lior the leader of the Shavei-Hevron yeshiva at Kiryat Arba, a radical Jewish settlement near the occupied Palestinian city of Hebron and a hotbed of Jewish terrorism. Lior has vigorously endorsed Torat Ha’Melech, calling it “very relevant, especially in this time.”

Lior’s enthusiasm for Shapira’s tract stems from his own eliminationist attitude toward non-Jews. For example, while Lior served as the IDF’s top rabbi, he instructed soldiers: “There is no such thing as civilians in wartime… A thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew’s fingernail!” Indeed, there are only a few non-Jews whose lives Lior would demand to be spared. They are captured Palestinian militants who, as he once suggested, could be used as subjects for live human medical experiments.

Otherwise, Lior appears content to watch Palestinians perish as they did at the muzzle of Dr. Baruch Goldstein’s machine gun in 1994. Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinians and wounded 150 in a shooting spree while they prayed in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs mosque, was a compatriot and neighbor of Lior in the settlement of Kiryat Arba. At Goldstein’s funeral, Lior celebrated the massacre as an act carried out “to sanctify the holy name of God.” He then extolled Goldstein as “a righteous man.” Thanks to Lior’s efforts, a shrine to Goldstein was constructed in center of Kiryat Arba so that locals could celebrate the killer’s deeds and pass his legacy down to future generations.

Though Lior’s inflammatory statements resulted in his being barred from running for election to the Supreme Rabbinical Council, according to journalist Daniel Estrin, the rabbi remains “a respected figure among many mainstream ZIonists.” By extension, he maintains considerable influence among religious elements in the IDF. In 2008, when the IDF’s chief rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Ronski, brought a group of military intelligence officers to Hebron for a special tour, he concluded the day with a private meeting with Lior, who was allowed to revel the officers with his views on modern warfare — “no such thing as civilians in wartime.”

Besides Lior, Torat Ha’Melech has earned support from another nationally prominent fundamentalist rabbi: Yaakov Yosef. Yosef is the leader of the Hazon Yaakov Yeshiva in Jerusalem and a former member of Knesset. Perhaps more significantly, he is the son of Ovadiah Yosef, the former chief rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the Shas Party that forms a key segment of Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Yaakov Yosef has brought his influence to bear in defense of Torat Ha’Melech, insisting at the August 18 convention in Jerusalem that the book was no different than the Hagadah that all Jews read from on the holiday of Passover. The Hagadah contains passages about killing non-Jews and so does the Bible, Yosef reminded his audience. “Does anyone want to change the Bible?” he asked.

Bibi buckles

Only days before direct negotiations in Washington between Israel and the Palestinian Authority planned for early September, Yaakov Yosef’s 89-year-old father, Ovadiah delivered his weekly sermon. With characteristic vitriol, he  declared: “All these evil people should perish from this world… God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.”

The remarks have sparked an international furor and earned a stern rebuke from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “While the PLO is ready to resume negotiations in seriousness and good faith,” Erekat remarked, “a member of the Israeli government is calling for our destruction.”

Palestinian Israeli member of Knesset Jamal Zehalka subsequently demanded that the Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein put Yosef on trial for incitement. “If, heaven forbid, a Muslim spiritual leader were to make anti-Jewish comments of this sort,” Zehalka said, “he would be arrested immediately.”

Here was a perfect opportunity for Netanyahu to demonstrate sincerity about negotiations by  shedding an extremist ally in the name of securing peace. All he had to do was forcefully reject Yosef’s genocidal comments — a feat made all the easier by the White House’s condemnation of the rabbi. But the Israeli Prime Minister ducked for political cover instead, issuing a canned statement through his office. “Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef’s remarks do not reflect Netanyahu’s views,” the statement read, “nor do they reflect the position of the Israeli government.”

Thus on the eve of peace negotiations, Bibi chose political expediency over condemning the murderous oath of a coalition partner.

 

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 Battle of Nabi Saleh: Soldiers vs. Kids

When Israeli soldiers entered the embattled Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh on July 2, they were immediately confronted by over a dozen small children. While the IDF is accustomed to firing teargas canisters, percussion grenades, rubber bullets and even live .22 caliber ammunition at adolescent boys, members of the Nahal unit and Kfir infantry brigade tasked with suppressing the weekly Nabi Saleh demonstration were frustrated by the children who surrounded and taunted them. At one point, the division commander became so upset he barked into his radio, “I need backup!”

The spectacle of seven-year-old children confronting heavily armed and visibly confused soldiers offers one of the clearest perspectives of the lopsided power dynamic that animates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also highlights the reality of life for children in the Occupied Territories. They play soccer and dodgeball between phalanxes of soldiers firing lethal projectiles at their neighbors just a few meters away — everyday life is an act of resistance.

Why are children participating in popular protests? Consider the case of Ni’ilin, a Palestinian village engaged in popular struggle against the construction of the separation wall across its privately owned land. The Israeli army is holding three members of its small popular committee — the political leadership of the village — in harsh conditions in Ofer prison. They were arrested without charges during a night raid, subjected to psychological torture by the Shabak (Israel’s General Security Service), and are being held indefinitely.

“Everyone is scared to protest now,” Saeed Amireh, a Niilin resident in his early twenties, told me. “I can participate in the demonstrations because I am single. But for those of us who have wives and children, going to jail is the worst. How can we work for our families or know what is happening with our wife if we are taken away?” Amireh had just returned from a four month stint in Ofer prison which he described as “horrible.” He is still not sure what crime he was accused of committing. “It’s bullshit,” he said. “I’m not the one doing any violence.”

During Friday’s protest in Nabi Saleh, orders could be heard blaring from soldiers’ radios to photograph some of the older (read: over 10 years old) boys participating in the protest. The photos are used to identify targets for night raids, when soldiers enter the village under cover of darkness, burst into homes and grab the young children and adolescent boys comprising the village’s shabab from their beds.

According to Lymor Goldstein, a lawyer who represents many of the Ni’ilin residents detained for joining protests, the arrested youth are immediately subjected to psychological torture by the Shabak: they are held in total darkness, fed at odd hours, threatened, and interrogated as soon as they become sufficiently scared and disoriented. “They don’t really need to beat them,” Goldstein told me during a demonstration in Niilin. “The psychological torture is so intense that almost no one can resist it.” (Goldstein confided to me that he was having trouble recalling specific names because of a rubber bullet that pierced his skull during a protest in the village of Bil’in in 2006, causing long term damage to his vision and memory. Video of the Israeli Border Police shooting Goldstein is here.)

Because grown men are particularly vulnerable to imprisonment and adolescent boys are targeted with just about any kind of violence the Israeli army wants to level against them, young children have led the Nabi Saleh demonstrations on at least three occasions. While the soldiers acted with general restraint towards the kids (Nahal is peppered with left-leaning citizen-soldiers who have been convinced they can foster “change from within” by joining a combat unit) children as young as seven have been called in for recent interrogations by the Shabak. While the Shabak called the incident a “mistake,” it is not isolated. Nora Barrows-Friedman reported last March on a 10 year old who was badly beaten during a night raid of his home by Israeli troops, then detained in a nearby settlement for 10 hours. In Nabi Saleh, a young boy was critically injured by Israeli forces in March.

On July 2, the soldiers in Nabi Saleh wound up taking their frustrations out on two Israeli activists, Yonathan Shapira and Matan Cohen, violently subduing and arresting them. Though Shapira and Cohen were baselessly accused by the IDF Spokesman’s Office of “attacking” a soldier, they were released hours after their detention.

What are Israeli soldiers doing in Nabi Saleh in the first place? The village has been besieged by its neighbors from the religious nationalist Israeli settlement of Halamish since Halamish was constructed in 1977 on land privately owned by Nabi Saleh’s residents. Recently, the settlers seized control of a fresh water spring that has belonged to Nabi Saleh since the village was built in the 19th century. In December 2009, the settlers uprooted hundreds of the village’s olive trees in an attempt to re-annex land awarded back to Nabi Saleh in an Israeli court case. Since then, farmers from Nabi Saleh have been subjected to routine attacks by settlers and prevented from working their land. The Israeli army has come down firmly on the side of Halamish, suppressing the demonstrations with disproportionate force while doing little, if anything, to prevent settler violence. But if the spirit of Nabi Saleh’s young demonstrators are any indication, the army has a long way to go before it breaks the villagers’ will.