Saturday, March 27

Pesach - Festival of Freedom with a Touch of Hypocrisy

Pesach (Passover) is the Festival of Freedom commemorating the Israelites escape from their Egyptian taskmasters to freedom from slavery. This has been observed for thousands of years by Jewish People all over the world.

The question I always ask every year is not "why is this night (Pesach) different from all other nights?" but rather "why is it the same as all other nights?" It is the same as all other nights as nothing has changed. The freedom of another people who have similar aspirations as Israelis concerning personal freedom and the desire for an independent state has been denied to them.

On the one hand, PM Netanyahu pays lip service to a two-state solution to please the world while on the other hand there is no freezing of settlements and it is business as usual. East Jerusalem which is disputed territory is only recognized by Israel as part of its territory. In practice this means building more homes for Jews and further demolitions of Palestinian homes as well as further expulsions.

While the observant and the less observant will be sitting and reading the Haggadah at the Pesach Seder (meal) celebrating the freedom from slavery, no thought will be given to those close to slavery in Israel.

The Palestinians are denied their own state partly because of the folly of their own leadership. The Palestinian leadership in the occupied West Bank also lacks the vision of pragmatism to help their people to achieve an independent state. Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank believes in rebuilding infrastructures to prepare for a Palestinian state, but he lacks the power base to achieve it. This problem is also compounded by Hamas-ruled Gaza where the situation towards recognizing Israel's right to exist is not part of Hamas ideology or desire. The hateful Hamas rhetoric towards Israel continues as well as the threats and the sporadic firing of Qassam rockets into Israel.

Israel cannot be absolved from its responsibility towards the achievement of a two state solution. The right wing coalition is doing all in its power to maintain the occupation by building new settlements in the occupied territories ensuring that the two states for two peoples will never be achieved. It is obvious that by continuous building in occupied Palestinian proves this. There is no pragmatism on either the Palestinian or Israeli side for a two state solution. The result will be further tension, frustration, violence and hate between the two sides who share a common destiny in the Middle East.

Amos Oz, the famous Israeli writer said in an interview a few years ago, that "both sides are right" in this tragic conflict. This is what makes it so complicated. However, Israel’s desire to colonize the Palestinians by encouraging Jewish settlement in the territories occupied in the 1967 June War proves that Israel has no desire to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines. This means that the Palestinians will remain under Israeli domination as second class citizens in an apartheid-style bilateral state. Surely we have a touch of hypocrisy here! If we celebrate Pesach as a festival of freedom, in the same mode we should respect the freedom of others. Even if all the faults of the Palestinian leadership would disappear, Israel does not intend to end the occupation because of the building of new settlements on occupied lands as well as the expansion of existing settlements under the guise of "natural growth".

Another problem is the status of the foreign worker. Caregivers from the Philippines, contracted Thai workers in agriculture and the building trade are also part of a revolving door policy of the Ministry of the Interior led by God's messenger Eli Yishai of the Shas Party. He has made racist remarks against these foreign workers (probably he had a vision from God to justify his racist attitude toward them).

Many of these workers, especially those who tend to our elderly have a miserable deal and are open to exploitation by their employers. The stranger (ger) amongst us is not treated fairly as he should. This goes against the Torah, but who cares? Deny him/her his freedom, exploit him/her in the hope he goes back from where he comes and does not contaminate the Jewish People. Eli Yishai, the Interior Minister from the racist religious ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, is a xenophobe no less than his compatriots are.

Pesach has become a meaningless exercise whose message is what is Kosher for Pesach and what is not according to the rules of many rabbis whose love of humanity beyond the Jewish pale is questionable. The competition between the state rabbinate and the ultra-Orthodox (Badatz) is despicable and tragic if not ridiculous. The freedom of choice for secular Jews who do not believe in observing Pesach is somewhat limited.

It is a sad day for us all when Judaism becomes the monopoly of right wing rabbis who are part of the establishment that believes in maintaining the occupation and opposes any movement towards a rapprochement with our Palestinian neighbours. If these rabbis are the watch dogs of Jewish observance in Israel I am proud to be an atheist,

Saturday, March 20

Freezing of Settlements and Peace


The right wing government of Israel has done it at last! When Vice-President Joe Biden came to Israel, he was given a mandate to restart the faltering peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Unfortunately this was not to be as Eli Yishai, leader and Minister of the Interior, of the right wing, racist,” Messengers of God" Shas Party issued a statement about building 1600 units in Ramat Shlomo for Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.

Apart from the bad timing of this announcement during Biden's visit, it also illustrated to the world that Israel has no intention of freezing settlements and it is business as usual. In practice, this means further encroachment on Palestinian lands which will form the basis of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. This will result in the end of the two state solution, as if this process has not been started already. A one state solution with Israel ruling over the Palestinians having enclaves of illegal settlements will ensure the total demise of the two-state solution. It will also spell the end of the aspirations of the Palestinians who wish to have their own state. Instead, the Palestinians will become second class citizens in a unilateral state with their basic human rights being further eroded. Israel will become an apartheid-like state run by a right wing government which will also be the death knell to democracy.

Remember Netanyahu’s famous speech at Bar Ilan University last year? He stated that he accepts the two state solution. We all know that he stated this half heartedly as a sop to the US. We also know that it is against the basic ideology of the Likud and its right wing coalition partners. Netanyahu knows that this would never occur - not while he is prime minister!

As the truth of Israel's intent leaked bluntly during Biden's visit, Netanyahu appeared red-faced and apologetic. He denied knowledge of these building intentions. This is rather strange! A prime minister giving permission for building on disputed territory is not aware of his directives. Surely this does not make sense! Now the art of misguided deception begins, and with it, the denial of intentions as usual.

Netanyahu is playing a game in the hope that he can please his right to extreme right wing partners in government by continuing to build illegal settlements in the disputed West Bank and East Jerusalem. At the same time he tries to please the Obama Administration by making the right clucking noises on the two-state solution which is incompatible with his right wing coalition world view. Israel accuses the Palestinian leadership of saying one thing to the US and Israel while it conveys a different message to its own people. Surely the Netanyahu Government is no different!

This policy is doomed to failure and the whole thing leaked out creating a severe dent in Israel's credibility to the US as well as fomenting a crisis in Israel's special relationship with the US. This of course is denied and viewed as a difference of opinion.

This turned out to be a field day for President Mahmoud Abbas and he has climbed the band wagon to make Israel cede to Palestinian demands on freezing settlements and raising all the issues that have been a cause of disagreement between Israel and the Palestinians since Israel's establishment. It will also strengthen the hand of Hamas on the West Bank who will gloat over this rift in US-Israel relations. It will consolidate the already existing Palestinian view that Israel is not interested in moving towards a final peace settlement. Even the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is being undermined by the Israeli Government.

The Netanyahu Government has erred and this is not to Israel's credit. The incident will not blow over as rapidly as Netanyahu would like despite his apologies and pleading of ignorance of the Ramat Shlomo building project for ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The whole exercise not only damages Israel's relations with the US, but also sets the moribund peace negotiations back at least to the pre-Oslo Accord days of September 1993.

The folly of appeasing Israel's extreme right wing partners will exact a heavy price. Israel needs the US. Without US support, Israel's future will be placed in jeopardy. The choice is Israel’s and Israel's choice alone. If the Netanyahu Government does not heed the wake up call which means it must cease pandering to the right wing and its religious zealot's desires to maintain the occupation and expanding existing illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian lands.

Another tactic used by the Netanyahu Government is to place great emphasis on the Iranian threat and its danger to the world. It is done as a digression to get the US off Israel's back over the illegal settlement issue.

The alternative will result in the alienation of Israel from the world community with a severe dent in Israel's relations with the US Israel's only true friend.

All the issues, including the noisy celebration by right wing religious Zealots of the completion of the restoration of the ancient Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem, added fuel to the fire on the prolongation of the occupation. Rioting by Palestinians occurred as a result. These riots were quelled by the army and police. It could erupt again if the right wing religious Zealots continue their provocative behaviour towards the Palestinians

DEMANDS

Stop all settlements
In East Jerusalem.

Negotiate about
Jerusalem, borders,
Settlements and refugees.

These are the demands
Of Hillary Clinton.

These are the demands
Of Israelis
Who care for their country.

Gush Shalom Ad in Haaretz - March 19, 2010

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Sunday, March 14

A Question of Pity and Bereavement

A young boy was fatally injured in Ofakim, a Negev town in the south of Israel. He was knocked over by a passing taxi driver while crossing the road with his bicycle at a pedestrian crossing. The accident was a terrible tragedy and should never have happened. He had not broken the law. The boy died in Soroka Hospital in Beersheva.

As if this was not enough, the rabbinical authorities discovered that the child's Jewishness is in doubt. He was an adopted child of Israeli Jewish parents and was brought up as Jewish. It was never a question. However the mark of Cain - his non-Jewishness - became an issue when he lost his life. It would have become an issue had he survived and reached adulthood and wished to marry a Jewish lady. Why is it that when there is a tragedy of this nature, the child's Jewishness is questioned by the rabbis and he is not recognized as Jewish and denied a Jewish burial? Is it because he was adopted and his biological parents were non-Jews?

These rabbis see themselves as God's messengers. Strange that their God has no pity and the bereaving parents had to now question the child's Jewishness to render him kosher for a Jewish burial. There was no alternative had there been no intervention by two MKs from the Kadima Party.

It is very sad that the custodians of Judaism in Israel are under the aegis of intolerant orthodox establishment rabbis. They believe that they are the messengers of Elohim and are carrying out his laws according to an intolerant Halacha, which has existed for thousands of years.

This may be fine for those who are observant; it somehow is no problem to them. Those who are not observant or are secular are very apathetic. They blindly accept the injustices metered out to those whose Jewishness is in question.

The problems arise when it comes to marriage between Jew and those who are not Jewish according to Jewish law. If somebody passes on - even though he/she has lived in Israel was accepted as a Jew, the rabbinical prying begins and if by chance the person is not Jewish, the personal tragedy to the deceased's family is further enhanced. A severe problem arises as to where the deceased can be interred. The rabbi usually refuses to officiate at the burial.

However, it seems that if a questionable Jew serves in the defense forces and risks his life for Israel, this is acceptable.

There is no separation between religion and state. The rabbis have too much power, far beyond their numbers. Somehow they have the monopoly on Halacha interpretation which is very often strict and merciless. Their God is not a merciful God but a God of vengeance and of religious dogma. Love is not part of their lexicon.

Why at the hour of spiritual need, especially in times of bereavement, does one's Jewishness become questionable as in the case of the young child who lost his life so tragically?

If establishment rabbis in Israel show lack of sensitivity towards deceased of questionable Jewish identity, their attitudes towards non-Jewish citizens of Israel does them no credit either.

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If we were to take this blind acceptance of Halacha and the secular apathy towards its consequences, we note that the result is a dislike of the non-Jew in our midst and racism which is becoming more of a problem and a self righteous attitude is becoming common place. Israel is right while the world is wrong. A right wing wind is blowing across the face of Israel which is a wind of change towards intolerance of those who are not Jewish. Its consequences are felt by the foreign worker, the Arab film producer, Scandar Copti, who produced the film, Ajami, and Israel's Arab citizens. All these people are viewed as potential enemies of Israel.

It is hardly surprising. A poll conducted by Maagar Mochot research institution and presented recently at a Tel Aviv University conference shows that 56 % of Israeli high school students believe that Israel's Arab citizens should be prohibited from being elected to the Knesset. This figure rises to 82% among religious youths. Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University School of Education aptly states:” The worldview of religious youth melds fundamentalism, nationalism and racism."

Many establishment rabbis in Israel are in the forefront in fomenting racism towards Palestinians, foreigners and non-Jews generally.

It is indeed a very sad day when those who are at odds with the right wing occupation supporters and their rabbinical allies are today viewed as enemies of Israel. These attitudes which are rapidly becoming more common are endangering democracy.

It is not surprising under these circumstances that cases of doubt of a person's Jewishness can jeopardize his last moments of peace before being laid to rest.

In Israel a culture of peace is expected of the Palestinians while the land grabs continue. The declaration of building 1600 housing units in disputed parts of East Jerusalem was a smack in the face of vice -President Joe Biden on his supposedly friendly visit to Israel and Palestine.

Surely there is an increase in the spread of racism in Israel?

Sunday, March 7

Is Israel an Apartheid State?

Israel is not an apartheid state. I say this as an ex-South African who had lived in South Africa during the height of the apartheid years when a person's skin colour determined a person's future. A black person was considered inferior and was denied equal opportunities.

There was also "petty apartheid" - racial segregation enforced primarily in public transportation, hotels, restaurants and other public places. There was never a phenomenon of "petty apartheid". Whatever is humiliating racially cannot be considered “petty”.

Blacks were viewed as inferior to the whites and heinous legislation was introduced to ensure that remained so until eternity. Racism and prejudice are evil no matter under whatever guise.

Although Israel is not an apartheid state there are certain acts of legislation that do have some similarity especially attitudes and laws enacted towards the Palestinian population in the occupied territories. It is enough to see that roads are being built in the occupied territories for the use of Jewish settlers only. Palestinians are forbidden to use these roads. The excuse is always the all embracing one word definition - SECURITY! This is not always relevant.
This is the conclusion of a B’tzelem Report from which I quote:

Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

Under this regime, Israel has stolen hundreds of thousands of dunam of land from the Palestinians. Israel has used this land to establish dozens of settlements in the West Bank and to populate them with hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens. Israel prohibits the Palestinians as a group from entering and using these lands, and uses the settlements to justify numerous violations of the Palestinians' human rights, such as the right to housing, to earn a livelihood, and the right to freedom of movement. The drastic change that Israel has made in the map of the West Bank prevents any real possibility for the establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state as part of the Palestinians' right to self-determination.

The settlers, on the contrary, benefit from all the rights available to Israeli citizens living within the Green Line, and in some cases are even granted additional rights. The great effort that Israel has invested in the settlement enterprise - in financial, legal and bureaucratic terms – has turned the settlements into civilian enclaves in an area under military rule, with the settlers being given priority status. To perpetuate this situation, which is a priori illegal, Israel has continuously breached the rights of the Palestinians.

Particularly evident is Israel's manipulative use of legal tools in order to give the settlement enterprise an impression of legality. When Jordanian legislation served Israel's goals, Israel adhered to this legislation, arguing that international law obliges it to respect the legislation in effect prior to the occupation; in practice, this legislation was used in a cynical and biased manner. On the other hand, when this legislation interfered with Israel's plans, it was changed in a cavalier manner through military legislation and Israel established new rules to serve its interests. In so doing, Israel trampled on numerous restrictions and prohibitions established in the international conventions to which it is party, and which were intended to limit infringement of human rights and to protect populations under occupation.

The settlements are unlawful, and their presence leads to the violation of human rights. Accordingly, B'Tselem demands that the Israeli government act to vacate all the settlements. This process must take place while respecting the human rights of the settlers, including payment of compensation.

Today Israel is ruled by a right wing coalition composed of parties not devoid of racism. Eli Yishai, the Interior Minister and leader of Shas, has been instrumental in introducing bills that are bordering on racism with bigoted religious overtones. The Yisrael Beiteinu Party of Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Minister, is another party that is doing much to bring Israel closer to a quasi-apartheid society

This party is not different from the defunct Moledet Party of the late Rehavim Ze'evi, which believed in transfer of Israel's Arab population.

It is unfortunate that while Israel is not an apartheid society and nothing in Israel's laws that even hints at racial discrimination, there are incidents in Israel that may have some resemblance to apartheid that are causes for concern.

Avigdor Lieberman is under suspicion of money laundering, bribery, corruption and defeating the ends of justice. A police enquiry into his affairs is still going on and a final decision to lay charges has not been made by the state attorney. Lieberman has uttered words bordering on racism against Palestinians and Arab people in general. He would like to transfer Israel's Arab population to so-called Palestine which is occupied by Israel. If his will were carried out, we would have a close resemblance to apartheid South Africa's Bantustan policies. Blacks in South Africa were forcibly transferred to Bantustans so that white areas would remain free of blacks.

Lieberman is no credit to Israel as Foreign Minister nor is his side kick, Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, any better. Both these people are racists judging the statements they have made in the past. The latter created an unnecessary fiasco in his humiliating treatment of the Turkish Ambassador in Israel a few months ago. The right wing government is bringing Israel closer to an apartheid-like society even though at this stage, Israel is still far from that.

The behaviour of Israeli settlers in the occupied territories is also shocking. Religious zealots have done much damage to Palestinian property and none of them has been charged in a court of law. This is similar to the way the white farmers in apartheid South Africa treated their black servants. Beatings, verbal abuse and displacement from their homes to relocation in the Bantustans were common. There is an uncanny resemblance to the treatment meted out to Palestinians under occupation. If the Israeli authorities ignore these abuses as they have been doing surely one cannot deny the similarities in the treatment of blacks in apartheid South Africa.

It is unfortunate that Israeli Arabs do not have a sense of belonging or patriotism towards Israel. Nothing has been done to create a common Israeli patriotism that allows Israel’s non-Jewish minorities to feel an integral part of Israel’s society. The reason is the emphasis on Israel’s Jewishness which does not allow the Arab community in being part of a common loyalty. Israeli Arabs cannot buy homes in Jewish settlements. Here there is a similarity to the infamous Group Areas Act of 1950 in apartheid South Africa. Blacks were never allowed to buy homes in white areas.

When Independence Day is celebrated, the Israeli Arab does not celebrate. If Israel is a true democracy then all its citizens should share a common patriotism towards it. The Israeli National Anthem, Hatikvah, does not reflect the aspirations of all its citizens.

It is true that there are no discriminatory laws against Israel’s non-Jewish minorities, in practice this is not always the case. Evictions of Arabs from their homes in East Jerusalem do occur to allow Jewish Israelis to take over and build their homes in their place. This does result in many Arab homes in East Jerusalem being demolished. Arab Palestinians, citizens of East Jerusalem need permits to live there. This is similar to the infamous pass system in apartheid South Africa. Blacks without a pass (or permit) were also evicted and even arrested for illegally living in an area reserved for whites. Here we cannot deny the similarity to apartheid South Africa. The Israeli Authorities unfortunately lack the sensitivity to treat these cases of eviction with sensitivity.

While PM Netanyahu pays lip service (under world pressure of course) to a “two state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, we are all aware that his utterances are meaningless and hypocritical. While evictions of Palestinians from their homes are taking place and encroachment of Israeli illegal settlements in the occupied territories by enlargement of existing settlements and the building of new settlements, the two-state solution will never come to fruition. Mr. Saeb Erakat, the veteran Palestinian negotiator, is well aware of this. He has stated that Israel’s right wing government’s policies are destroying the two-state solution. What is the alternative? A one-state solution could result in a total apartheid-like society. A settler oriented right wing government dominating the Palestinian People who will always remain inferior to Israel’s Jewish citizens. This would destroy Palestinian aspirations towards independence resulting in the establishment of an apartheid-like society.