Tag Archives: Moriel Rothman

As the threat to Susiya grows, so does the need for action.

This is an emergency! Stand with Susiya.

The Leftern Wall

[Graphic put together by Rabbis for Human Rights]

Between July 20th, the end of Ramadan, and August 3rd, the date on which the Israeli Supreme Court will hear Susiya’s case against demolition, there are expected to be a number of demolitions in the village of Susiya.

This is hideous news.

We cannot allow ourselves to be made drowsy or apathetic. Yes, Susiya has been under threat of demolition since 2012. Yes, there have been times when the call to action has been framed as urgent, and in the end, nothing happened (thank God and citizen-activists). Yes, the issue of Susiya, for those who follow this blog or the work of many other human rights NGOs and activists, is not a new one.

And yet: The essence of the story is that residents of a village are threatened with the their homes and medical clinics and playgrounds being demolished simply because…

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The Qana Moment: When the Israeli government falls off its Protective Edge

When the Israeli government and military began Operation Protective Edge, they must have known that the moment would come. I’ll call it the Qana moment after the incident on April 18, 1996, during Operation Grapes of Wrath, a round of the war between Israel (with its proxy, the South Lebanon Army) and Lebanon (in the form of Hezbollah). Then, as now with the hostilities between Israel and Gaza, an undercurrent of violence flared up into open warfare, with each side blaming the other for starting it. Then, as now, Israeli authorities accused their opponents of using civilians as human shields.

UNIFIL Peacekeepers (Qana 1996) Remove Artillery Attack Victim Remains

UNIFIL Peacekeepers (Qana 1996) Remove Artillery Attack Victim Remains

Then, as now, Israeli authorities called on civilians to leave the area in which they were going to attack, and hundreds of thousands did flee. Some 800 of them took refuge in a UN compound, nearby from which Hezbollah fighters fired rockets and mortar rounds towards Israeli military positions. In the response, Israeli artillery shells struck the compound, killing 106 and injuring many more. International outrage did not immediately halt the military campaign, although on the same day the UN Security Council passed resolution 1052 calling for an immediate ceasefire, which was not reached until ten days later. A subsequent UN investigation concluded that it was extremely unlikely that the Israeli shells had hit the compound by accident, and in its rejection of the report the Israeli government continued to claim that it had not intended to hit the compound.

The Qana moment is not an isolated incident in Israel’s asymmetrical wars against non-state foes, when “by accident” a horrific number of civilians are killed by Israeli munitions. In the last round of the Israel-Gaza war in 2012, the moment was the Al-Dalu family killing on 18 November, in which twelve people died in an attack on a home.

Palestinian men gather around a crater caused by an Israeli air strike on the al-Dalu family's home in Gaza City on November 18, 2012. (AFP Photo / Marco Longari)

Palestinian men gather around a crater caused by an Israeli air strike on the al-Dalu family’s home in Gaza City on November 18, 2012. (AFP Photo / Marco Longari)

In Cast Lead, in 2009, it was the shelling on January 6 of the al-Fakhura school in which hundreds of people were sheltering, killing more than 40 of them. The story is always the same. The Israeli authorities say that they were targeting a source of fire or some armed people or installation, and that the civilians were too close to the target, or there was some technical error. As Moriel Rothman-Zecher put it on his Leftern Wall blog, the Israeli authorities’ intention matters less than the consequences of their action. The killing of civilians is not an incidental by-product of this sort of asymmetrical warfare: it is an inevitable element of it, just as the deaths of Israeli soldiers, some by “friendly-fire,” are inevitable when the air war becomes a ground war. When Israeli authorities wage war in this way, it simply means that they intend to hit their targets. That is a military, not a moral, stance.

The Qana moment may already have happened in this bout of hostilities, Protective Edge. It might have been the bombing of the Abu Jameh family home on July 20th, killing 25, apparently without warning. As I write, details are emerging of another deadly strike that is eerily similar to the al-Fakhura incident: an UNWRA school in Beit Hanoun in which people had sought shelter but were apparently trying to evacuate, was hit by shells, killing about 10-15 and injuring many more.

The Qana moments don’t stop the violence (or bring the Western governments that support Israel’s “right to self-defense to withdraw their public support), nor does media attention to them address the whole range of death and destruction. At this point, unlike in the actual Qana moment, the UN Security Council has not resolved that there be an immediate ceasefire, although the UN human rights council has formed a commission to look into possible Israeli war crimes. The Israeli response has been dismissive, with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni saying “get lost” and Prime Minister Netanyahu calling it a travesty, given Hamas’ war crimes. In all probability, when the UN completes its report, the Israeli government will reject it, just as they after Grapes of Wrath, and for the same reasons. And when civilians are killed again in the next operation, and the one after that, and so on, they will repeat the same talking points as civilians die.

The deadly repetition of inevitable civilian casualties might perhaps be slowed if not halted by an Israeli public opinion that is as appalled by them as much as public opinion is elsewhere. But unless Israelis are seeking out alternative news to that provided by their mainstream media, they will see and hear little about the Palestinian casualties. Surely if Israeli authorities were as confident in the “righteousness of our way” as they claim to be, as in the new President Reuven Rivlin’s swearing in speech, then there would be no problem for the Israeli public to be fully aware of each “justified” death, each “justified” injury, each “justified” destruction of homes, and hospitals, and mosques. As a way of bringing the public’s attention to that for which they bear responsibility but do not hear, Israeli human rights groups B’tselem tried to pay for a spot on Israeli public radio in which the names of some of the dead Palestinian are read out. But the Israeli Broadcasting Authority rejected the group’s appeal to place the spot, so instead it can be found on social media, out of sight and mind of most of the Israeli public and its sphere of ethical responsibility.

“Every person has a name” goes the Hebrew song that is used on memorial days for soldiers and the Holocaust. And indeed, everyone does have a name, and the taking of that name cannot be excused by talking points. The cost of the Qana moments is horrendous, but they have the power to remind all of us of our ethical responsibility.

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.

Open Letter to Natan Blanc, an Israeli conscientious objector

Poster for Yesh Gvul solidarity protest for Natan Blanc

Poster for Yesh Bgvul solidarity protest for Natan Blanc

Natan Blanc

Natan Blanc

Dear Natan,
I am sorry that I cannot be with you in solidarity today on the hill opposite Atlit prison, taking part in the protest against your detention. I am far away in the Unites States, on a wintry, snowy day in Indiana, though rain or shine, I would much rather be spending my day with other activists on the buses organised by the refuser-group, Yesh Gvul, bringing you some moral support as you serve your fifth spell in military jail no. 6. Outside jail, the 20 days of this sentence, in addition to the previous four sentences since November 19, 2012, would slip by quickly. Inside, the time and boredom must weigh heavily on you. It takes a great deal of fortitude to be willing to serve one sentence after another, to persist in your refusal to serve in the Israeli armed forces. We have been privileged to read recently the intimate account by another conscientious objector, Moriel Rothman, of his spell in military jail. From afar, I can only admire your determination and commend the sacrifice you are willing to make for the sake of justice and peace.

I don’t know how much it helps you as you serve your sentence to imagine the people in Israel and beyond who want to give you their strength in support of your ethical stance. But in any case, let me say a little about myself. Some 18 years ago, as a (by then not so new) immigrant, I was inducted into the Israeli armed forces but refused to get on a bus taking us for basic training in the Occupied Territories. I, however, was lucky enough not to have to test my mettle for more than an hour, when an officer prompted me to come up with a personal problem so that I could stay at Tel Hashomer (the induction base) for another week. The same officer then released me until another induction date a few months later, and by the time that day came around I had found my first academic position in the UK and left Israel. It was hard enough to stand my ground for an hour in the car park in the face of various threats and cajolements: I don’t know what it feels like to persist and endure for more than 70 days.

Unlike myself, who grew up in Britain, for most of my teens in the warm environment of a Zionist youth movement, Habonim-Dror, you have had to find your way through the intensive socialization of the Israeli education system on the value and benefits of military service. More than that, you must have to contend with a huge amount of peer pressure, to toe the line, to do your duty to “defend” your country, to prove yourself as a man, to turn yourself into a “full” Israeli citizen, to take on your share of the burden that so many voices today clamor to share equally. In your refusal declaration, you show how clearly you see the blindness, denial, and even outright hypocrisy in all these statements about duty, defense and nationalism. As you say:

It is clear that the Netanyahu Government … is not interested in finding a solution to the existing situation, but rather in preserving it. From their point of view, there is nothing wrong with our initiating a “Cast Lead 2″ operation every three or four years … and we will prepare the ground for a new generation full of hatred on both sides. As … citizens and human beings, [we] have a moral duty to refuse to participate in this cynical game.

Somehow in your 19 year old wisdom you have already learned to see through the ingrained militarism of Israeli culture and society. You already practise the principles of New Profile, the feminist anti-militarism organisation that opposes the occupation, advocates the right of conscientious objection to military service, and supports you and other refusers practically. In their charter, they write that:

we refuse to go on raising our children to see enlistment as a supreme and overriding value. We want a fundamentally changed education system, for a truly democratic civic education, teaching the practice of peace and conflict resolution, rather than training children to enlist and accept warfare.

So, you do not see military service as a value, but instead have taken on another burden, another duty, an ethical duty to refuse to participate in the ongoing oppression and violence of the occupation.
But I do not share equally with you the burden of that duty. Nor when I was 19 could I see as clearly as you do now. No doubt at some point you will be – have been – called a coward. But you are braver than your conformist accusers. You will be told that you are naïve, a lover of your enemies. Yet, you are wiser than your detractors, the purveyors of hate. You will be told that you are a shirker, yet you have taken on a greater burden than any of those cogs in the machines of war and occupation. Thank you for your service.