Tag Archives: +972 blog

Women, a child, arms and a man in Nabi Saleh.

Palestinians scuffle with an Israeli soldier as they try to prevent him from detaining a boy during a protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. Reuters

Palestinians scuffle with an Israeli soldier as they try to prevent him from detaining a boy during a protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. Reuters

When camera images “go viral” it speaks to their resonance with their publics, and their power to command the attention of viewers. They also declaim loudly about the situations they depict, echoing resoundingly the events framed by the lenses through which we see them at a distance. Such are the images of the attempted arrest by an Israeli soldier of 12-year-old Mohammad Tamimi near the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh on Friday August 28th 2015. Attempted, because women from Mohammed’s family struggled with the soldier to prevent the arrest.

The images did not go viral because it is unusual for Israeli soldiers to arrest Palestinian children. According to a UN report on human rights in the Palestinian occupied territories, “on average, around 700 children are detained and prosecuted per year, most commonly on charges of throwing stones,” which could have been Mohammad’s fate. Nor is it especially unusual to see still and moving images of these arrests. In one example about which I wrote in July 2013, Israeli soldiers from the Givati Brigade stationed in Hebron detained Wadi’ Maswadeh, aged five years and nine months, after he allegedly threw a stone at an Israeli car. Wadi’s arrest was documented on video by Palestinian field researchers for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

It was also not unusual that there were images of a demonstration at Nabi Saleh. The village is now famous for its weekly demonstrations in which its residents protest the confiscation of their land and the appropriation of the spring (owned by the Tamimi family) by the nearby Israeli settlement, Halamish, in 2009. As the villagers march towards the spring, the protests generally become violent, as Israeli forces block them. Palestinians throw stones and Israeli forces break up the march with skunk water, teargas and live fire, as a result of which two of Mohammed’s relatives, Mustafa (in 2011) and Rushdi (2012), were killed. Events are recorded regularly, appearing on the Nabi Saleh Solidarity blog, local Bilal Tamimi’s YouTube channel and Israeli artist David Reeb’s YouTube channel. Both David and Balil were arrested without ground on Friday August 21st, then released by the court.

The difference between David’s and Bilal’s videos filmed last Friday indicate why some of the images went viral. In David’s video we see the “routine”: beginning with marching and chanting, the road blocked by Israeli troops who fire teargas, then other rounds, Palestinian youths using slingshots for stones and to return the still smoking teargas canisters. There is a shot of a lone soldier running at full pelt after a youth in a blue shirt, then as one of the youths is bound and detained by four other soldiers, we hear some shouts and women shrieking out of sight of the camera. Nothing exceptional here to go viral.

Bilal’s short video begins as the running solder changes direction to capture Mohammad in a choke hold and force him to the ground, fends off a young woman activist (he calls her “leftist trash”) who pulls at Mohammed’s right arm (the left one is broken and in plaster), and calls for back up. A little over a minute later, Mohammad’s sister Ahed arrives, tugging determinedly at his arm as she yells in English to leave her little brother alone, shortly followed by his mother Nariman and another Palestinian woman, and a small crowd of locals, activists, and cameras. The three women grab hold of the soldier, smacking him on the head, pulling of his net balaclava. The soldier fends them off with his hands and keeps hold of Mohammed until, some 2 minutes after he grabbed the boy, the soldier’s commander arrives, pushes one woman in the face, and then has the soldier let Mohammad go. As he is helped away by another soldier, his parting gift for the people left around the boy is a stun grenade. According to the +972 blog, both Ahed and Nariman were hurt in the tussle, needing hospital treatment, which went unreported in the Israeli press, at first, until a subsequent report by Amira Hass.

Perhaps, though, the video images of the event, including this shorter video clip that appears on the Ramallah City Facebook page and has had more than 2.2 million views, would not be so arresting without the still images. The shaky, hand-held filming and the confusion of voices in the videos certainly have a raw documentary power, but they do not quite hold the viewers to the intensity of the event. There are several stills which can be seen in this report by Ha’aretz that reflects the army’s version of events and this dismissive one by the right-wing Daily Mail. I will focus on just one image.

Palestinians try to prevent Israeli soldier from detaining a boy during a protest in the West Bank village Nabi Saleh, August 28, 2015. Reuters

Palestinians try to prevent Israeli soldier from detaining a boy during a protest in the West Bank village Nabi Saleh, August 28, 2015. Reuters

There are four faces in the frame. The soldier’s is central, Mohammad’s below him, his sister Ahed to the left and his mother the other woman closely bracketing the soldier. It is a scene of struggle, an image of power relations. There is a Zionist literary and cinematic trope of being “the few against the many.” The soldier is besieged and outnumbered, his hand bitten, his neck and shoulder pulled in different directions. The soldier also seems vulnerable, having emerged for the chase without a helmet or body armor. Yet, the trope doesn’t work in this context. He is the one with the rifle. The soldier’s father told Israeli army radio that while his son had been attacked, he was subject to a provocation, perhaps planned in advance, and was proud of the restraint he’d shown. No question for him, then, of who was really in control. Mohammad’s father Bassam tells a different story: fearing the consequences if the Palestinian youths ran to the soldier who might then start shooting, setting off a bloody chain of events, he shouted for the commander to come over.

The photograph evokes most clearly all a scene of women and a girl defending their child and relative, pinned in fear and pain under the armed man. The adult women are marked by their traditional dress that leaves only their faces and hands exposed. Ahed appears unthreatening in her pink T shirt with its Tweety Pie cartoon, her bite that of a child without the strength to combat a grown man. The pulling in different direction symbolizes the pulls between different laws, reminiscent of Sophocles’ play Antigone. The soldier claims possession of the boy according to the law of the father, of the state, and the occupation. If the boy threw a stone, he has become a weapon, and the state brooks no infringement of its monopoly on the use of force. The boy is subjected to force, to violence. The women claim the boy, Mohammad, son and brother, according to the law of familial bonds. Their hands, arms (and Ahed’s teeth) weigh against the force of the armed man. And according to the same law of human bonds, Mohammad’s mother judges the soldier to be a child too, a victim of policies that he ought to question. On this occasion the struggle between the law of the father state and the law of the family ended well relatively for the sons. To say the incident ended peacefully would be untrue, but at least it ended without any mothers keening for the dead sons.

Advertisements

Images of fake peace and of co-resistance

A Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli activist confront Israeli soldiers during a weekly demonstration against the Israeli occupation and Separation Wall in the West Bank village of Al Ma’sara, April 5, 2013. The Wall, if built as planned, would cut off the village from its agricultural lands. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

In this piece linked below, Activestills photographer Ryan Rodrick Beiler expresses a key idea and purpose of this blog and my research. There are images of peace and images of peace. He criticizes a “PR” image of peace, an image of peace that is and will remain an unfulfilled wish, forever deferred, because, sadly, there will (from the Israeli-Jewish perspective) never be enough people of good will on the other (Palestinian) side. The image of the boys that the article talks about is an image that Netanyahu could endorse, an image of coexistence in which nothing needs to change except “perception” or “attitudes”. If only “they” didn’t hate us it would all be fine, and we would live in “peace” and they wouldn’t mind that we dispossessed them and occupied them. But as it is, “there is no partner for peace,” so instead we will continue to like these images of coexistence and say it’s a shame that they don’t like them.

The recent talk about the photograph in the Jewish Daily Forward, following Rihanna’s tweeting it, characterizes the photo as a fake, because it is staged photo of two Jewish Israeli boys. However, as the photographer Ricki Rosen said “t was a symbolic illustration,… It was never supposed to be a documentary photo.” She’s right that it isn’t a “fake” and in that sense it’s no more fake than another similar photo by Debbi Cooper that’s touted as being a “real” one in a follow-up piece. That photo does picture a Palestinian and Jewish Israeli boy, but it’s also staged in that the boys were not already friends. As the photographer reportedly said “it was always aspirational, rather than a reflection of the situation between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground” at the time of the first intifada.

In his piece Beiler also calls Rosen’s picture a fake. But he seems to mean something different to the discussion in Forward  when he says that the photo was a “more-perfect-than-intended allegory” of the Oslo process and its more recent iterations. His point is less that th ephot is fake than that peace process is itself a fake. As he says, ” images like this endure and proliferate — because people in the West cling to the idea that if we all just came together as human beings, we could solve this thing. The problem with that fantasy is that it ignores the structures of Israeli oppression, in which one side holds virtually all of the power.” Instead, Beiler produces and advocates for other images of peace, images of just peace, in which occupation is overcome in Jewish-Arab partnership. This peace is hard work, sometimes dangerous work, work that puts activists at odds with people from their own communities, but it is peace.

Replace fake co-existence photos with real images of co-resistance | +972 Magazine.

When a child becomes a stone: the severity of ‘security’

Poster showing 'Aharanovitch is brave when facing children’. theatrical protest, June 27th 2013. Photo: Guy Butavia.

Poster showing ‘Aharanovitch is brave when facing children’. theatrical protest, June 27th 2013. Photo: Guy Butavia.

Last week my blog, ‘The Silliness of ‘Security’ and Puppets for Peace’, poked fun at  Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch for banning the 19th annual Palestinian children’s theatre festival by closing temporarily the El Hakawati theatre in East Jerusalem, where it was to be held. The minister’s repressive order exposed the ridiculousness of Israel’s security doctrine, showing how empty Israeli government claims are about acting in self-defence. A theatrical protest against the closure used the slogan ‘Aharanovitch is brave when facing children’.

Wadi Maswadeh being led to detention. No photographer credited.

Wadi Maswadeh being led to detention. No photographer credited.

There is a direct connection between his preventing the staging of children’s theatre for Palestinian children and the real-life drama that was documented earlier this week on video by Palestinian field researchers for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Israeli soldiers from the Givati Brigade stationed in Hebron detained Wadi’ Maswadeh, aged five years and nine months, after he allegedly threw a stone at an Israeli car. The soldiers remained impervious to Wadi’s tears and the pleas of onlookers not to arrest such a young child, who was crying as he was placed in an army jeep and while the soldiers waited in his home for his father to return. For a couple of hours, the boy suffered much distress, until the soldiers handed him over to the Palestinian police (who then released him), but only after his father was bound and blindfolded en route to the Palestinian police. The seven Givati boys were also brave when confronted with a child well below the age of legal criminal responsibility, which is twelve.

Hebron map. Source: Peace Now website.

Hebron map. Source: Peace Now website.

The ‘security’ that the Israeli soldiers in Hebron serve is certainly not the security of its Palestinian residents, nor of the State of Israel; it is the security of the several hundred Israeli settlers in the H2 area of Hebron. H2 was established by the 1997 ‘Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron’, a follow up to the Oslo II interim agreement in 1995. Under the terms of the complex agreement, Israeli military forces redeployed from much of the city, designated H1, but maintained military control of H2, then home to some 30,000 Palestinians, as well as much of the city’s commercial life, along with the handful of buildings in which the settlers live. Not surprisingly, there has been constant tension and periodic violence between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinian residents. Israeli security measures on behalf of the settlers, which severely restrict freedom of movement and entail  excessive use of force, in addition to lack of law enforcement in response to settler violence, have made life unbearable for the Palestinians, many of whom have abandoned the area. Hence, the videos documenting Wadi’ Maswadeh’s detention show almost deserted streets, while the solders’ behaviour partly explains why the area is so empty.

The latest incident is thus yet one more in a long series of events, by no means the most atrocious. Commenting on the detention, Mairav Zonshein remarked that:

what is most shocking about this incident – besides the very fact that soldiers detain a five-year old child, shocking and horrible in and of itself – is how calm everything is. There was no violence exerted by the soldiers … the soldiers, don’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with the scene they are actively engaged in; it doesn’t occur to them to question the actions.

Ami Kaufman, also writing on the +972 blog, adds that:

One has to be in an extreme state of apathy toward that child in order to treat him like that. And apathy like that can only be the product of racism.

We might expect racism to prompt hatred towards the Palestinians and Wadi’. Yet, calm and apathy prevail. How should we explain the absence of empathy or sympathy? Why do the brave Givati boys not treat Wadi’ as a child? American Jewish philosopher Judith Butler provides an answer in her book Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? Framed through Israeli security discourse, Wadi’ is not a child, but an extension of a stone, of a weapon. Operating on the principle of ‘defence without limits’ to protect Jewish Israelis and the settlers, the Palestinians are permitted no resistance to occupation, all of which is treated as offensive. The soldiers did not see Wadi’ as a vulnerable child because they have already made a prior distinction between people whose lives are deemed precarious and in need of security, and those whose lives do not count because they are instruments of war. On the same day that the story from Hebron broke, the Jewish News Service reported that:

Figures released by Hatzalah [Rescue] Yehudah and Shomron, a volunteer emergency medical response organization in Israel [sic], show that there were 5,635 attacks in the first half of 2013 against Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem, and the greater Jerusalem region.

According to the framing of Israeli security discourse and occupation, it is the lives of the occupiers that are precarious, not the occupied. The settlers must be protected from all attacks, including stone throwing, and in pursuit of that goal, the lives of the Palestinians are made as precarious as possible. Former Israeli military Hebron commander Noam Tivon said as much:

Let there be no mistake about it. I am not from the UN. I am from the Israeli Defense Force. I did not come here to seek people to drink tea with, but first of all to ensure the security of the Jewish settlers.

To drink tea with Palestinians would be a step towards acknowledging that their lives matter too, and that they too deserve security and workable living conditions. But the occupation in general and H2 could not be sustained if the brave Givati boys and the rest of the occupation forces recognised that Palestinian lives are as grievable as Israeli lives, and that Wadi’s tears and fear should be felt as keenly as those of their own younger siblings.

The Silliness of ‘Security’ and Puppets for Peace

Theatrical protest against closure of El Hakawati theatre. Photo: Guy Butavia.

Theatrical protest against closure of El Hakawati theatre. Photo: Guy Butavia.

For most Jewish Israelis, ‘peace’ means ‘security’. According to this mainstream ‘securitatist’ orientation (as Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling put it in his 2001 book The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military) ‘peace’ means that Israel will be secure when both the state and its citizens will not be subject to attack by their enemies. Any image or notion of peace connotes security, as peace entails the end of hostilities. The Israeli sense of ‘peace-as-security’ also refers to security guarantees and arrangements, in the form of territorial boundaries that provide strategic depth or advantage (such as the Jordan River), or the demilitarization of the proposed Palestinian state.

Yet, the very meaning and purpose of peace is undermined and obstructed by ‘peace-as-security’ as pursued in Israeli policy. Israeli political scientist Galia Golan argued this point in her paper, ‘Transformations of Conflict: Breakthroughs and Failures in Israeli Peace Efforts’, which she presented to the 29th Annual Association for Israel Studies Conference, June 24-26, 2013, at UCLA. In light of an underlying assumption that the other side, ‘the Arabs’ will never make peace with Israel because they do not accept Israel’s legitimacy, Israeli leaders have aimed not for peace but for ‘security’ in the sense of the optimal conditions for fighting the next war. ‘Peace-as-security’ is not peace at all, but an obstacle and alternative to peace. Successive Israeli governments distrust all but the most dramatic of Arab moves to peace, such as President Sadat’s visit to Israel in 1977. When there are peace negotiations, or, (as at present under US secretary of state John Kerry’s guidance) negotiations about negotiations, Israeli diplomats stick to the self-defeating ‘security first’ formula. As a result, Israelis get neither peace nor long-term security.

Prioritization of ‘security’ also turns into a doctrine whereby every political position of Israeli governments in the context of the conflict with Palestinians is framed in terms of ‘security’. The separation barrier is the most obvious current example of security as a doctrine. For Israel governments, the Israeli Supreme Court, and most of the Jewish Israeli public, the barrier is the ‘security fence’ which prevents terror attacks on Israeli citizens. For Palestinians, and Israeli peace activists such as Combatants for Peace (who offer educational tours of areas around the barrier), it is both a means to dispossess Palestinians of the land on which the wall is built and part of a whole network of walls, fences, gates, checkpoints and travel permits that separates them from each other, their land, and vital economic and civil services. In this and similar cases, Israeli ‘security’ concerns appear cynical, undermining the governments’ case that Israeli anxieties about security are genuine, rather than veiled efforts to perpetuate occupation.

Puppets4All Facebook page

Puppets4All Facebook page

Sometimes, however, it’s not a question of cynicism but outright silliness. Two weeks ago, on June 22nd, the 19th annual Palestinian children’s theatre festival was due to open in the El Hakawati theatre in East Jerusalem. But (as reported by Amira Hass in Ha’aretz), the director of the theatre, Mohammed Halayka, was summoned for questioning by what he said was the Shin Bet security service. Then the Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch issued an order closing the theatre for eight days beginning on the scheduled first day of the festival, on the grounds that the event would be held ‘under the auspices of or sponsored by the Palestinian Authority’, which would contravene an Israeli law passed as part of the Oslo peace process. The law is designed to rebut Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed unilaterally following the 1967 war. It’s a matter of sovereignty, not security.

Riki blich , actress -Israel Pupprts4all# — with Riki blich.

Riki blich , actress -Israel
Pupprts4all# — with Riki blich.

Aharonovitch’s move also exposes the silliness of the security doctrine. There have been several Israeli as well as Palestinian protests against the theatre closure, including a petition signed by many Israeli actors, playwrights and directors (as reported by Haggai Matar on the +972 blog). On Thursday, June 27th, a theatrical protest was held, a carnival of colour, masks, music, movement, and a wonderful spoken word poetry performance by Moriel Rothman. Perhaps the best response, however, has come in the form of a Facebook page ‘Puppets4All’, on which many Israeli and other performers have posted pictures of themselves and a puppet or two with a sign reading ‘I too am a security threat’. All of which leaves Minister Aharonovitch looking not only like a version of scrooge (children’s theatre? – bah humbug!) but also like a ‘total muppet’. If Israel’s security doctrine sees danger in these puppets, then that only proves that the danger is in the eye of the beholder. It’s well passed time for Israel’s leaders – and publics – to see that actual peace is the best – the only – security.

When Peace Became a Dirty Word: John Kerry and the Peddling of Pseudo-Peace

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to their meeting in Jerusalem on May 23, 2013. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to their meeting in Jerusalem on May 23, 2013. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Peace is generally thought to be a good thing, conjuring up positive, pastoral images of lions lying down with lambs, swords being beaten into ploughshares, and each person sitting unafraid under their vine and fig tree. Yet, this near-universal and enduring admiration of peace has been perverted in Israel/Palestine, not because of any honest, outspoken preference for war but because ‘peace’ has been contaminated by pseudo-peace. A key trigger for my project on Israeli peace images was a report in Ha’aretz on June 10th 2004 that some 40 Israeli and Palestinian media and public relations professionals would be meeting in Jordan ‘to try and find a way to promote the brand name of peace,’ and ‘to create a ‘local and international campaign to promote the image of peace’. The campaign was initiated by the director of the Peres Center for Peace, Ron Pundak, who was one of the negotiators of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. He acknowledged that the ‘image of the peace brand …. has been worn down over the past few years,’ but hoped that the public relations experts could achieve what the diplomats had been unable to do, namely ‘to define certain concepts, such as coexistence, in a way that will be acceptable to both sides’. As it happens, the peace branding campaign never got off the ground, because the Israelis and Palestinians participating in it could not agree on a concept of peace to promote. But what had tarnished the image of peace, and how has it been corroded even further since 2004?

The most obvious answer is that by 2004 the Oslo process had lost all credibility, in the wake of the failed Camp David talks between Israeli Prime Minister Barak and Palestinian President Arafat in 2000 and the violence of the Second Intifada. That answer suggests that the image of peace has been eroded because the promise of peace has not been fulfilled, and raised expectations have been dashed. Yet, equally significant in the context of 2004 was the international Quartet’s April 2003 road map for peace, which offered nothing that had not already been proposed under Oslo (It did, however, cover the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the positions they reoccupied inside the Palestinian areas during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002). Ironically, it is pursuit of the pseudo peace of the ‘peace process’ that has tarnished the image of peace among the very people in Israel (and Palestine) that do the most to build peace.

When I visited Israel in the summer of 2009, an academic colleague who has been active in anti-occupation groups and refused reserve military duty in the Palestinian Occupied Territories put it this way – that only a charlatan still speaks about peace. Retroactively, he considered the organization he co-founded, The Twenty First Year, and other groups to the ‘left’ of Peace Now during the first intifada such as End the Occupation, to have been directed against the occupation rather than for peace. Yet, one of our common protest chants at the time was ‘Peace – Yes! Occupation – No’, while the most concrete notion of peace we had in mind was of two states for two peoples, a proposal that was then radical if not unthinkable in Israeli political culture. It seemed clear to us in 1988 that ending the occupation and bringing peace implied each other. However, in June 2009, the charlatan-in-chief, Prime Minister Netanyahu, publicly and cynically endorsed the ‘two state solution’, while his government did as much as it could to ensure that such peace could not be achieved (such as expanding settlements).

It is not surprising, then, that currently Israeli and Palestinian peace-builders often do not identify as peace activists. In her book Struggling for a Just Peace: Israeli and Palestinian Activism in the Second Intifada, Maia Carter Hallward noted an accentuation of this trend between 2004-5 and 2008 among activists in Ta’ayush, Machsom Watch, Rabbis for Human Rights, and other groups (151, 158). For the mainstream Jewish Israeli public disillusion with ‘peace’ deepened because Israeli’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 was taken to be a step towards peace taken by Israel to which Hamas responded with Qassam rockets. So much, then, for the formula of ‘territories in return for peace’. But for the activist peace camp, following the Israeli withdrawal Gaza was still under occupation, now out of reach for nearly all Israelis and West Bank Palestinians, and in effect under siege. Hallward considers it crucial as a researcher to focus on ‘peace work rather than peace words’ (54), noting how the latter has become so discredited that is has become a dirty word among activists (164).   

Last week saw the end of yet another international effort to ‘revive the peace process’ that further eroded the image of peace. Unable to bring the Palestinian Authority and Israeli government any closer than they had been before, US Secretary of State John Kerry ended a spell of intensive diplomatic toing and froing with an announcement that the two sides needed to think about their positions and a plan to boost the Palestinian private economy (meaning the West Bank economy), so as to reduce the PA’s dependency on the foreign aid that actually supports the status quo. Under such circumstances, I can only agree with Noam Sheizaf of the +972 blog that:

what this moment calls for, more than anything else, is some honesty. Kerry would have done his own cause justice if he simply stated that there is no peace process, nor has there been one in recent times, and that the current trends on the ground are likely to continue in the foreseeable future.

The peace process is a pseudo peace, a ‘peace’ in which there can be endless negotiations  while at the same time occupation continues, settlements expand, a permit system and checkpoints obstruct Palestinian movement, the separation wall is completed, Palestinians can be imprisoned without trial, and the Palestinian economy is subordinated to the Israeli one. There is ‘peace’ and there is just peace, and the peace that Kerry has been peddling is the snake oil of the charlatan.

Troublers of Israel point to the Trouble with Israel

"I'll give you one in the head," threatens the soldier who lost his composure (Screen shot).

“I’ll give you one in the head,” threatens the soldier who lost his composure (Screen shot).

Umm Al Amad 27.4.2013, IOF no need to add a word!

Almost every week, photographs and video of weekly activity by Ta’ayush in the southern West Bank circulate on social media. Ta’ayush is an Israeli-Palestinian grassroots partnership to end the occupation through non-violent direct action, currently focused on Israeli activists from Jerusalem working with Palestinian farmers in the especially troubled South Hebron Hills area. The videos and pictures generally circulate among fellow activists and supporters, rarely making the mainstream news in Israel. Typically, they show some sort of confrontation between on one side activists and farmers trying to access and work on their land, by ploughing a field or shepherding a flock, and on the other side Israeli soldiers, police, and settlers who prevent them from doing so, sometimes violently. More than 300 videos documenting such routine acts of denial of access to land, often accompanied by arrests and violence, are located on a Ta’ayush activist’s YouTube Channel, guybo111, which has attracted more than 400,000 views. The videos document the routine of Israeli Occupation, the creeping annexation of Area C of the West Bank, including small acts of dispossession and coercion. As routine, the videos and events they show in raw footage, accompanied by minimal textual explanation, are rarely considered newsworthy. Sometimes someone bleeds, but it doesn’t lead in mainstream Israeli media.

 

This week, however, a video of one such event was picked up, by both the Y-net service of Israel’s mainstream newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, and the on-line news service of Walla!, a main Israeli web portal. Whereas the activist video carried (in English) the heading: “Umm Al Amad 27.4.2013, IOF no need to add a word!” the Y-net (in Hebrew) article is titled “’Arab lover’: Soldier documented yelling at Leftist Activists,” and in English, “Watch: IDF soldier lashes out at activists.” The headline of the article on Walla! is: “Soldier threatened: ‘I’ll give you one in the head, you’re worse than the Arabs’.” For activist circulation, the video needs no explanation or translation, the location being given by its Arabic name rather than the nearby illegal outpost settlement, Otniel, and the Israeli army labelled as Israeli Occupation Forces. The text that accompanies the video on the +972 blog, which opposes the occupation is committed to human rights and freedom of information provide more explanation

:

Israeli Ta’ayush activists who were accompanying Palestinian shepherds in the southern West Bank village Umm al Amad on Saturday were confronted by a soldier who lost his cool, to say the least.

According to Guy, the Israeli activist who filmed the video below, this is private Palestinian land (the Otniel settlement is nearby) that the IDF and settlers routinely try and keep the Palestinian residents out of. In the video below, the soldier can be seen first approaching the Palestinian shepherd, screaming in his face in Arabic: “You better watch it!” Then Guy tells the soldier not to scream at him and to leave him alone, to which the soldier turns to Guy, screaming: “Get out of here you Israel haters, I’ll kick the crap out of you. You are worse than the Arabs.”

He then turned to one of the female Israeli activists and said: “Shut up, Israel hater who goes to bed with Arabs.”

On Y-net news, only Otniel is mentioned, the soldier is identified as a reservist, and in addition to the testimony of the activist, an army spokesperson is quoted saying:

“Leftwing activists gathered near Otniel. While security forces were trying to disperse them, a reserve unit and an activist confronted each other. Following the release of the video, the IDF will question the reservist about the incident and the proper measures will be taken. In general, this incident does not reflect the behavior expected of security forces and the issue will be clarified.”

The longer Walla! report mentions that other soldiers tried to calm the reservist who had lost control of himself, and also provides some background, explaining briefly about Ta’ayush, as well referring to a more serious violent incident a year ago in which Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner struck an activist with his rifle butt  (after which he was removed from his position). The report also quotes an unnamed senior officer in the West Bank who considers the Israeli activists to be provocateurs who stir up trouble.

 

So there was a minor incident, remarkable neither for harm done to Israeli “leftist” activists or Palestinian farmers, which raises the question of why this week’s incident became newsworthy. Perhaps it is news because something of the mask fell away from the occupation. Wrapping itself in a mantle of quasi-legality, bureaucratic procedures, and policing tactics, the occupation likes to present itself as calm, business as usual. It doesn’t like to appear as its racist, sexist self, according to which all Israelis who act in solidarity with the civil and political rights of Palestinians are traitors, and thus “worse” than Arabs (who are seen to be inherently bad), especially Israeli women, whose “disloyalty” upsets the ethno-sexist assumption that Jewish women should belong to Jewish men. In this light, the Ta’ayush  activists are provocateurs, provoking the occupation forces to show that it has no legitimacy in claims to provide “security,” and that the very premise of Jewish ownership of all the land is racist.

More than that, the Biblical Hebrew phrase used by the offending soldier “ochrei yisrael does not simply mean “enemy of Israel” but “troubler of Israel”. While it is a curse often flung at Israeli leftists, its Biblical provenance should be, well, troubling to the cursers. One such “troubler of Israel” is Achan, the Israelite stoned and burned (along with his family) for looting precious and idolatrous objects from Jericho during Joshua’s invasion of Canaan, for which the Israelites were punished by God with defeat in their first assault on Ai (Joshua 7). Those who hurl the insult of “troubler of Israel” at leftists are perhaps comfortable with the reminder that the Promised Land had to be seized violently by the Israelites under the leadership of the ethnic cleanser Joshua. Yet the troubling implication is that the current conquerors of the Promised Land are themselves guilty of looting idolatrous objects, in this case the land itself, in whose service they are prepared to commit all sorts of immoral acts, and all kinds of modern idolatries.

The prophet Elijah is also called a “troubler of Israel” by King Ahab, although Elijah then turns around the accusation, labelling Ahab’s idolatry as the trouble brought on Israel (1 Kings 18). Merely calling Ta’ayush leftists “troublers” does not make them the idolaters, the sinners, since the charge can be reversed. This is the trouble that Ta’ayush cause, walking in the ways of righteousness by lending support to the oppressed, and by doing so, provoking the ire of the idolaters of the land.

Obama’s Peace, Our Occupation

Cover of Shimon Peres' book from 1993

Cover of Shimon Peres’ book from 1993

Watching Obama's speech in Rabin square. From Peace Now facebook page.

Watching Obama’s speech in Rabin square. From Peace Now facebook page.

Despite the low expectations about President Obama’s visit to Israel and Palestine, everyone on the Israeli left seems to want to talk about his speech to Israeli students, which was also his direct address to the Israeli public rather than its politicians. Quick off the mark was Moriel Rothman in his Leftern Wall blog, who found five positive points in the otherwise biased, ‘gloop-filled’ speech, such as Obama’s call for an independent, viable Palestinian state to achieve peace, his condemnation of unpunished settler violence, and especially the phrase: ‘Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer’. Similarly, Gush Shalom praised the speech for reminding us ‘that peace is possible and necessary, that we do have a partner for peace, … and that Israel must end the occupation’. Peace Now labelled it a ‘historic speech’. Commentators in Ha’aretz were impressed too. Ari Shavit considered the 18 minutes of the speech dedicated to the pursuit of a necessary, just and possible peace to be ‘a soft admonishment’ to Israelis in what was otherwise ‘a royal visit of love’. According to Barak Ravid, the speech was ‘a combination of a warm embrace and a punch in the gut’, both identifying with Jewish Israeli self-perceptions and also trying to ‘shake their paranoia and their fears’. More critical voices on the +972 blog noted that while the speech contained some ‘niceties regarding peace … the Right proved that the occupation has no cost, that the rift with the U.S. doesn’t exist and that denying the Palestinians their freedom is sustainable policy’. Obama called settlements ‘counterproductive’ to peace, but he did not repeat his 2009call for a freeze. And he endorsed the recent Israeli expectation to be recognized as a Jewish State by the Palestinian Authority, even though about twenty percent of Israel’s population isn’t Jewish but Palestinian Arab.

Obama’s visit to Israel was a successful charm offensive, his speech being a key part of that by taking rhetorical responsibility for the state of mind of the Jewish Israeli public. He did this most clearly when he said first in Hebrew and then in English ‘You are not alone’ so long as the USA exists, a point repeated twice when he said that ‘Israel has the unshakable support of the most powerful country in the world’ and that the USA is ‘a country that you can count on as your greatest friend’. Before first making that point, he had rehearsed the Zionist narrative of Jewish exile, persecution, and longing for return to the promised land, of building the land, of resilient defence in the face of external hatred and military threats to the state’s existence and terrorism, of rebuffed offers for peace to the Arab world. No wonder, then, that for the audience in Ramallah Obama’s speech proved that he’s more Jewish than the Jews, according Amira Hass’s report. And perhaps it’s less surprising, given all this reassurance that Jewish Israeli fears are not only understood but also justified, that the applause continued to punctuate Obama’s speech when he called for justice for Palestinians too, for them to be ‘a free people in their own land’ (echoing the words of Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem, in reference to Jewish nationhood).

In advance of Obama’s delivery of the speech, we were told that its writer, Ben Rhodes, would want to convey messages that ‘that Israel can no longer rely on authoritarian leaders in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world to help guarantee its security’ and that ‘people can make a difference, even if their leaders are stuck’. Those points were made, but what matters more are the grounds of the American appeal to Jewish Israel (overlooking the non-Jewish fifth of Israel) which is based on complete American identification with Israel. The speech also hopes that the reassurance of this empathetic identification will propel Jewish Israelis to identify with what it takes to be the shared hopes of Palestinians. It offers an image of peace in which both Israelis and Palestinians are said to want the same things: ‘the ability to make their own decisions and to get an education and to get a good job, to worship God in their own way, to get married, to raise a family’. The speech asks the audience to imagine ‘a future in which Jews and Muslims and Christians can all live in peace and greater prosperity in this Holy Land’. In the final section of the speech, Obama focused on Israeli prosperity and innovation, echoing the Israeli PR image of the ‘start-up nation’. He figured Israel as the embodiment of that which people across the Middle East ‘are yearning for — education, entrepreneurship, the ability to start a business without paying a bribe, the ability to connect to the global economy’. In other words, Obama asked Jewish Israelis to identify peace with the sort of prosperity offered by neo-liberal global capitalism, the prosperity that some Israelis do enjoy, but most feel excluded from, as demonstrated by the massive social protests of the summer of 2011. Nonetheless, it is a positive image of peace that speaks to Israeli sensibilities, a continuation of the charm offensive. His host, Israeli President Shimon Peres, had tried to sell a similar image of peace at the time of the Oslo agreements, but his vision of a prosperous new Middle East has long since been tarnished by the absence of peace and the failure of negotiations.

Yet, in another key section of the speech Obama identified peace as justice, first insisting on the centrality of Israeli security to any peace agreement, then calling on Israelis to identify with Palestinians, to ‘put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes’. Briefly, Jewish Israelis were invited to see the Israeli military as a ‘foreign army’ in the Palestinian occupied territories, to see themselves as farmers barred from their land and families displaced from their homes. But only briefly, and then peace as justice gave way to peace as prosperity, and the Israeli audience saw itself mirrored again in America’s unconditional love, the favoured child of its Big (M)Other, tied by a relationship that began just ‘eleven minutes after Israeli independence’.

In this speech Obama failed to ‘create the change that you want to see’, if indeed he wanted to picture peace as justice and for Israelis to identify with Palestinians. Instead, he reinforced the prevalent Israeli view that their security takes precedence over justice for Palestinians (in the form of the ending of occupation and independent statehood). The speech reassures Jewish Israelis that they should repeat their hegemonic narrative of victimhood and persecution, according to which the question of justice pertains primarily to righting the wrong of past generations through present force and might. Seeing itself in the mirror of American power, when asked to see the world through Palestinian eyes, this Jewish Israeli narrative can see only that a Palestinian child is being beaten, not that we are beating the Palestinian child.

No justice, no peace.