Tag Archives: pillar of cloud


After the dreadful episode of the Israeli war on Gaza this summer, it’s easy to forget that it took place less than two years after the previous “round” of the long war which is Israel’s continuing politicide of the Palestinian people. But yes, two years ago, on November 14th 2012, Israel launched an assault on Gaza. Before the “steadfast cliff” of July-August 2014, there was the “pillar of cloud” of November 2012.  To commemorate the start of that war I have chosen this clip, a Social TV report of a small demonstration on the evening of the first day of the war, outside the apartment building of then Defense Minister Ehud Barak. In the clip, protesters ask how come that yet again a war had been launched on Gaza. They are talking wearily about the “cast lead” of 2008-9. The offenses against Gaza  repeat themselves terribly every few years.


A Stony Field, An Olive Grove, An Iron Dome: Researching Peace in Israel/Palestine at a Time of War

[Click title above for video]

While researching images of peace produced and performed by Israeli activists, I found myself in a pastoral olive grove in Jayyous, in a stony field by Umm el-Arayes, then under an Iron Dome in Tel Aviv as another round of explosive violence erupted between Israel and Gaza. What peace was to be found in these sites? And which war was being fought?

This presentation is a reading that draws on my blogs (http://israelipeaceimages.com) and field notes from my research semester in Israel, fall 2012. It is not an academic analysis of my research material, but a personal reflection on some of my experiences and encounters. This presentation speaks to my motivation for and some of the challenges of undertaking such research. At some points I use ‘we’ to refer to Jewish Israelis, reflecting my own identification within my research context. The visual material you see includes my photographs, along with stills and video footage that activists groups circulate on social media, and other illustrative material.


The reading takes place across several scenes:

Scene 1 – Pillar of Cloud, Pillar of Defense (Israel-Gaza War, November 2012)

Scene 2 – Iron Dome (Israeli missile defence system)

Scene 3 – Composing peace as a picture (Combatants for Peace demonstration by Beit Jala, West Bank)

Scene 4 – The Stony Field: Partnering in Justice (Ta’ayush activity at Umm el-Arayes, South Hebron Hills, and clip from Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer)

Scene 5 – Pastoral Peace: Olive harvesting in Jayyous (West Bank)

Scene 6 – Café in Tel Aviv (activist interview)

Scene 7 – This war here, that war there (clips from Waltz with Bashir and Towards a Common Archive: Video Testimonies of Zionist Fighters in 1948)

Scene 8 – What peace? (Imagination)

Protest Theatre of the Occupation

Earlier in the week, as the “pillar of cloud” war raged in Gaza and southern Israel, Combatants for Peace had planned a demonstration for Friday afternoon calling for a ceasefire. This bi-national Israeli-Palestinian organization opposed to violence and dedicated to achieving a peaceful resolution of the conflict had no trouble switching the emphasis of the demonstration (after the ceasefire was agreed on late on Wednesday) to the acute need for direct and immediate negotiations to address the conflict. But the demonstration could have happened on any other Friday afternoon of the year. The world’s attention has been directed in the past couple of weeks to one area of Palestine striving for independence, the enclave of Gaza, but there has been no let-up in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Combatants for Peace demonstration in Izbat Tabib, 23.11.12

In the last few months Combatants for Peace has been supporting the struggle of a small, isolated Palestinian village, Izbat Tabib, that is close to the Palestinian town Kalkilya and the large Israeli settlement, Alfei Menasheh. Izbat Tabib is in Area C of the West Bank, the area constituting about 60% of the West Bank that according to the Oslo agreements of 1993 remains under full Israeli civil and military control until a later agreement. It’s nearly 20 years later since then, and Israeli rule is increasingly permanent and restrictive. For Izbat Tabib that has meant losing about 45% of its land to the building of the Separation Wall in 2011 and demolition orders, issued by the military government, for most of the homes and the village school that also serves as a community centre.

The group of about 100 Palestinians of Izbat Tabib and Israelis from the Tel Aviv area marched the short distance from the school to the junction with the main road. Protesting  the occupation in general and the demolitions in particular we chanted slogans in Arabic, Hebrew and English: “No, no to war; yes, yes to peace,” “One, two, three, four, occupation no more; five, six, seven, eight, end the killing, end the hate,” “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” We held placards, mostly in Hebrew, on which were written slogans such as “There is a partner,” “it won’t end until we talk,” and “yes to dialogue, no to violence.” But other than passing traffic and the rain clouds quickly crossing the windy sky, nobody was listening or watching.

Combatants for Peace demonstration, Izbat Tabib, 23.11.12

And then our audience arrived. Hesitantly at first, they kept their distance. Then they must have called some friends, and a small group of military vehicles and soldiers came and stood close by. The Tel Aviv – Tulkarem group of Combatants for Peace use theatre as one of their approaches to non-violent resistance to occupation, and have previously performed for the villagers. Today, the improvised performance was for the soldiers. At first a couple of the demonstrators took up stances showing the soldiers how we saw them, how they held their guns, how they watched us. They turned to show us what they were doing, and then more demonstrators became actors, moving and standing in ways that showed the soldiers how we thought they saw us. A rainbow joined in. Then we all crammed in together to show that we could all be that close, without fear, without hatred, without any need for the red sign that warns Israelis it is dangerous to enter a Palestinian village.

Demonstrators acting the roles of the watching soldiers

The audience didn’t seem very appreciative. They came over-dressed, with far too many military accessories. Some seem to have got bored and left early in their armoured vehicle. One guy kept his distance throughout, staying with his vehicle on the other side of the road. Perhaps they were wondering why they had to be there and when they could go home. Maybe we should have brought snacks for them. We didn’t have a programme for them to take as reminder of the event. And really, they didn’t need to be there. Really, the Israeli military doesn’t need to be in the West Bank at all. They don’t need to come and demolish homes and schools, to build a Separation Wall on Palestinian land. We can get along fine without an audience, performing for each other the roles that neighbours play for each other. We’ve been playing a theatre of cruelty for too long, a theatre of domination and oppression, a theatre of fear and hatred. Combatants for Peace are writing a script for a new play and are ready in the wings to perform it. They just need a bigger troupe of actors and a larger audience.

Demonstrators acting as demonstrators

Ceasefire on social media (part two)

Sadat and Begin image by Peace Factory on facebook

Parents Circle image on Crack in Wall facebook page

Peace Factory image on facebook

There is thunder in Tel Aviv as I write this piece, but not the thunder of war, only of the heavens. The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza that began at 9 pm last night is still just about holding (there is a report on twitter already of a Palestinian shot and injured by Israeli troops as he approached the security fence), and the stormy weather can become news again. In my last post, I called for a ceasefire on social media, for an end to the exchange of hostile, hateful imagery of Israelis and Palestinians targeted at each other on facebook and twitter. From what I see on blogs, tweets and sites that I follow, that has to a large extent happened for now, in the wake of the military ceasefire. The Palestinians have more mourning and rebuilding to do than Israelis, among whom there is some disappointment that the army didn’t reinvade Gaza to end the missile threat once and for all. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is far from over, whether on the ground or on social media, and so the demonization of the Other as hateful by nature, and thus undeserving of peace, will go on too.

Social media during the war have not only been the terrain of hostile electronic propagandizing, the waging of war through hateful images. Social media have also been a field for peace-making, not only for explicit calls for a ceasefire, but also for images of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. One of the Israeli-Palestinian groups that called for an immediate ceasefire is The Parents Circle – Family Forum (PCFF, also called Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace). It is a joint Palestinian Israeli grassroots organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict. Through their facebook page titled A Crack in the Wall, PCFF kept up their strategy of seeking peace through reconciliation. They recirculated their slogan “it won’t stop until we talk” (in Hebrew this rhymes as: ze lo y’gamer im lo n’daber) and asked visitors to use it as their cover picture. While the electronic propagandists were circulating photographs of casualties on “their” side, PCFF posted pictures that juxtaposed the suffering and destruction on both sides, underlined with the message that:

“The Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum shares in the grief of the bereaved families, who join a long line of victims of the conflict. We hope and wish the injured on both sides a speedy recovery.”

In their express call for a ceasefire, PCFF expressed concern for the civilians on both sides, pointing out that “anger and frustration only fuel the already existing fire of fear and hatred.”  The families hope to “serve as a bridge beyond hatred and fear by declaring their willingness to work together towards reconciliation between peoples despite their deep loss.”

Another constant stream of images of people refusing to see each other as enemies came through the “Israel-Loves-Iran” facebook page, along with its various offshoots, “Palestine-Loves-Israel” and “Israel-Loves-Palestine.” Following their typical format, there were lots of photographs of Israelis, Palestinians and others bearing the words: “Please stop the war.” They also marked the anniversary of President Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 with a photograph of him meeting Prime Minister Begin, and a series of superimposed statements they made about war and peace.

The images of Israelis and Palestinians recognizing each other’s grief, pain, aspirations and hopes, acknowledging that the other wants peace, independence and security as much as one’s own side, were not those most visible amid the explosive flashes of the war. They may seem naïve, kitschy, obvious. Doesn’t everyone prefer peace to war? Isn’t the problem far more complex than a simple demand to ceasefire and live in peace can address? True, peace-making isn’t simple, and it’s proved elusive between Israel and Palestine in spite of the hope raised by the 1993 Oslo agreements. But to make peace we have to picture it, and we have to see, to imagine those we call our enemies as people who deserve peace as much as we do. See the peace you want there to be.

Ceasefire on social media (part one)

Golda Meir saying on Arabs’ lack of love for children

Anti-Semitic images posted by GYBO on 19 November

Lior Arditi’s cartoon of “Israel in the jungle”

It is wearying, dispiriting, often sickening to be immersed in social media these days, as the Gaza “pillar of cloud” war is waged through it. There is nothing new in the media being used as weapons of war, the display of blooded bodies of dead babies as justifications for the righteousness of our way and the demonization of the evil enemy. As the state of Israel and the armed groups in Gaza battle each other, unevenly and unsymmetrically, with rockets, shells, bombs and missiles through the sky, each is also fighting and mobilizing its supporters to capture as much as possible of that vague territory called “world public opinion.” Or maybe that’s not the best analogy, as much of this propagandizing impacts only those already allied to one side – the tweets you follow and your facebook friends. Anshel Pfeffer, writing in the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, refers to Israel’s “electronic propaganda (hasbara) army” acting as a “virtual ‘Iron Dome’,” responding rapidly to criticism of Israeli military attacks on Gaza, yet only persuading the persuaded.

I have friends and family who have been mobilized into the Israelis state’s electronic army, who share facebook postings from the Israeli military and other sources, while I also follow the sites of Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere, as well as Israeli and Israeli/Palestinian peace groups who forward reports and postings from Palestinian sources. The latter are vital for getting a fuller picture of what’s going while in Israel, since the mainstream media here are also mobilized for the war effort, as the Israeli Keshev organization for democratic media points out in its Hebrew blog.

Yet, along with the stream of disturbing, painful reports about the terrifying sounds of Israel’s ongoing aerial attack on Gaza, civilian casualties, destroyed homes and public infrastructure – of a whole, trapped society hostage to violence –  there is also a flow of angry hatred that leaves little room for the negotiation and dialogue needed to stop the violence. It’s understandable that Palestinians – and Israelis – subject to attack respond with hate and disgust themselves. Fear, violence, and grief nurture hate. But much of the condemnation, hatred and racist demonization directed against Israelis and Palestinians in this electronic propaganda war is promoted and circulated by “victims by proxy,” identification with the pain of others, but only those who are “the same side.”

A key trope of the demonization of the Other – Palestinian or Israeli – is to figure “them” as full of hatred, not “us.”  Palestinian blogger Ali Abunimah titled a blog that I’ve been following in which he posted a video report of a demonstration against the war in Tel Aviv organized by Hadash, as well as right-wing counter demonstration, on November 14th, as: “’May your children die, you dogs’: As Gaza burns, Israelis bay for blood in streets of Tel Aviv.” He focused on the right-wing messages of hate – to Israeli leftists as much as to Palestinians – at this event, not the often repeated slogan chanted at this and other Hadash demonstrations; “Israelis and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” Ali Abunimah is right that “much of the Israeli Jewish population stands behind Israel’s attack on Gaza, believing the government propaganda that Palestinians are firing rockets at Israel unprovoked while Israel seeks peace and quiet.” I and the other Israeli demonstrators there don’t speak for a consensus, even if we outnumbered the right on this occasion. And the world should be aware that such murderous speech circulates freely in Israeli culture and politics. But amplifying the message of racist hate at the expense of the voices calling not only for a cease fire but a negotiated end to the whole conflict misses an opportunity – however slight – to bring an end to the killing and injury.

On facebook I’ve been following the page of Gaza Youth Breaks Out. On Monday most of their posts were simply the names of the Palestinian casualties in Gaza – names that seldom appear in the Israeli press – as well as reports about where and whom Israeli air strikes were actually hitting. But they also posted an unattributed image, containing a stereotypical anti-Semitic image, to draw attention to the huge disparity between Israeli and Palestinian casualties.  It’s a fair point to make, given that the Israeli media directs attention only to Israeli casualties. Tens of comments on GYBO’s facebook page objected to the anti-Semitic imagery while expressing sympathy with Palestinian plight, as well as pointing to the damage such racist imagery does to the Palestinian cause. But the picture is till up there.

Such imagery and discourse does circulate in the Arab and Muslim world, providing plenty of ammunition for the Israeli electronic army’s charge that Hamas and the Palestinians are driven by racist hatred, being by nature implacable enemies of Israel and Jews. An image and saying of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir circulating among the Israeli electronic army illustrates clearly the sense of moral superiority that accrues from considering the other to be hateful and oneself peaceful. It goes further than to say that the main obstacle to peace is “Arab” (Meir notoriously refused to acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian people) hatred. It dehumanizes all Arabs by implying that they don’t love their children the way “we” do, an absurd and foul generalization.

Another example of racist dehumanization in the Israeli electronic army’s arsenal is to figure Israel as the civilized human living in a dangerous jungle. While the cartoon by Lior Arditi uses Disneyesque figures rather than depicting Arabs as frightening wild beasts, and unwittingly lends support to the argument that Zionism is colonialism by picturing the Israeli in a pith helmet (as Arditi later realised), it’s racist connotation that justifies killing the “Arab animals” is clear.

Lost in this exchange of hostile, hateful imagery is the capacity to feel the pain of others, of those on the “other side.” Without empathy for suffering across the lines of hostility, without the capacity to imagine our foes as deserving peace, we are condemned to continue to justify our own hate, anger and violence by projecting all that ill-feeling onto the other side. Without dwelling on the grounds and contexts for the levels of hatred, fear and mistrust that do exist, we trap ourselves in a cage with an enemy we believe to be hateful by nature. So, along with a ceasefire of rockets and bombs between the actual (but asymmetrical) armed forces, we also need a ceasefire of the exchange of hostile imagery. No more warfare, no more image-fare.

Composing peace as a picture

Combatants for Peace rally in Beit Jala

Peace-making is an art, an art that demands much skill, patience, a deep, empathetic understanding of the human material of which is peace is made, and willingness to try and fail many times before succeeding. The bi-national Israeli-Palestinian group Combatants for Peace practiced its art of peace-making in its rally against the “Pillar of Cloud” war on Saturday evening, 17thNovember 2012. The movement was started jointly in 2005 by Palestinians and

Israeli contingent marching to Beit Jala

Israelis, who have taken an active part in the cycle of violence; Israelis as soldiers in the Israeli army and Palestinians as part of the armed struggle for Palestinian freedom. Not only have members of the group renounced violence in favour of dialogue and reconciliation, but they have also committed to working together, as former enemies, to achieve an end to the occupation and independence for Palestine alongside Israel.

Before the latest Gaza war broke out last week, Combatants were planning a remarkable event for that evening, a screening on the separation wall of Shelley Hermon’s documentary film, Within the Eye of the Storm. I blogged on another occasion about the Tel Aviv premier of that film. But to show a film about how two former fighters, bereaved by the violence of the occupation, came to be close friends on the very structure that embodies all the forces separating Israelis and Palestinians will be a deeply symbolic event. The war caused the postponement of the event, and in its place Combatants organized a joint demonstration calling for a cease fire and a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Organising such an event in short time is no easy feat. Israelis may not enter Area A of the West Bank, which is under full Palestinian Authority control, without a special permit, while the movement of Palestinians other than within the “islands” that Area A is composed of is restricted by the Israeli military. But a point was found in Beit Jala, by Bethlehem, that enabled access to the Israelis coming for the Tel and Jerusalem area as it is in Area C and which the Palestinian members of Combatants could also reach.

So, we marched separately, about 100 Israelis from where the buses dropped us off on a rural road on the outskirts of Beit Jala in the hilly countryside around Jerusalem, and about 100 Palestinians from within Beit Jala. With only a few onlookers, we Israelis (and others) chanted in Hebrew to those ancient hills: “The people demand a ceasefire,” and “War is a disaster, only peace is the solution.” But along the way, a little peace making had to be done. A couple of Palestinians saw the Israeli flag one member of the group was carrying, and signaled that it be taken down. The Israeli and Palestinian organisers had it seems agreed between themselves that an Israeli flag would be there, but not everyone present was happy with that, or knew about it. The Israeli flag is a symbol of occupation and oppression to Palestinians, not a symbol of Jewish freedom. But by the time we arrived at the meeting point, an acceptable arrangement was found: the two flags were held together. Yet, they were both dwarfed by a huge Palestinian flag being held by the youth across the road at which we met, a fabric affirmation that we were now in Palestine.

Short speeches were read out in Hebrew and Arabic, calling on both sides to cease fire, stop targeting and hurting civilians, stop the incitement, and reach immediately the same agreement that will be reached later in any case but after more casualties and pain. Then the chanting began again, the drummers got their rhythm going, and bodies began to move to it, relaxing the stiffness of two sides standing with placards, banners and flags. One Palestinian kid who was enjoying the rhythm was holding a placard with Netanyahu’s picture and the slogan “Peace refusenik”. Waltzing with Bibi. Maybe the bored Israeli soldiers standing in a line to stop us spilling over into other roads wanted to dance too. It was a Saturday night, after all.

One can’t say we all made peace with each other that day, or had a chance to make friends. The activists of Combatants in their grey tea shirts already knew each other, had worked together, consulting each other frequently to keep the event running as planned. But there we were together, Israelis and Palestinians, at a time of war when it is easiest to care only for one’s own pain and injured and dead, to use it as ground to hate the enemy, to demonize them, to believe that they don’t love their children as much as we do, or that they won’t stop until they’ve killed all of us. There we were, determined to find a place to insist together that the violence stop. But even before it stops, Combatants continue the painstaking work of making peace out of the ruins and desperation that the conflict and occupation have left. Last Saturday night, they another added another quick sketch to their portfolio. With much effort, many more helping hands, disagreements about flags and colours and exactly where to place lines, these sketches could become a tapestry of peace across those hills.

Pillar of Cloud, Pillar of Defense

Gaza, November 14, 2012, AP

William West, The Israelites Passing through the Wilderness Preceded by the Pillar of Clouds, 1845

When the Israeli government and military launched its latest assault on Gaza yesterday, November 14th 2012, by killing Hamas’ military commander, Ahmed Jabari from the air, it indicated it was ready for a sustained campaign by giving it a codename. Curiously, though, its name in Hebrew, “amud anan” which refers to the biblical term “pillar of cloud”, has been translated to English as “pillar of defense.” The difference in name indicates that the Israeli authorities are hoping to win the battle over the image of this war, unlike “Operation Cast Lead” in the winter of 2008-9. “Cast lead” sounds ominous in English, though it is a phrase taken from a poem by Chaim Nachman Bialik, one of Israel’s national poets, to mark the festival of Chanukah which coincided with the war. So, the image managers of this war are avoiding using what they take to be an internal, Israeli Jewish cultural association that might be “misunderstood” abroad, and might thus contribute to international condemnation of the Israeli military action against Hamas.

Yet, the phrase “pillar of cloud” is hardly an unknown expression in English and in Western culture generally, as illustrated by William West’s painting, just as the Bible is somewhat more widely read around the world than Bialik’s poetry.  Appearing first in the story of the Children of Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea in which Pharaoh’s army pursuing them was drowned, and their long journey through Sinai, the “pillar of cloud” symbolizes divine leadership of the Israelites’ progress. “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them in the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night” (Exodus 13:21).

An Israeli military spokesperson quoted on the Gawker blog states that: “The name is not a direct, word-for-word translation. Like most translations, it is an attempt to convey the spirit of the name, rather than a simple Google Translate.” One wonders whether the spokesperson is unaware that the Bible has been translated into English for centuries, or whether the image managers belatedly realized that the brand name for the war was open to “misunderstanding” once again. Indeed, the Gawker has already interpreted the choice of Hebrew and Biblical name to mean that “Israel Names Its New War After Biblical Story About God Terrorizing Egyptians,” on the grounds that the divine pillar threw the Egyptian army into confusion so the Israelites could escape.

The codename perhaps has been (mis)translated deliberately by the Israeli military to cloud the negative connotations that the “pillar of cloud” has. But the (mis)translation follows a deeply rooted cultural logic in Jewish Israeli, Zionist collective existence. Jewish Voice for Peace also condemns the choice of codename, but on the grounds that “it is unseemly to invoke the protection afforded the Israelites wandering in the desert when Israel is the dominant military power in the region”. The Israelites had no army when they fled Egypt, afraid and unsure of their path. But surely, now that Israel has such a powerful military, as the Israeli broadcast media were quick to boast in their cheerleading of the assassination of Jabari and the allegedly precise strikes on the Fajr missile sites, today’s people of Israel do not feel dependent on divine protection and leadership?

In choosing a codename that figures Israel as in need, still, of divine protection, the military image makers express, from behind a cloud, a deep felt need for a Jewish Israeli public to continue to see itself as defenceless despite its strength. True, the image makers’ have an explicit imperative to present this war as a military operation in which Israel is forced to defend itself against an implacable enemy, Hamas, that both targets Israeli citizens and exposes its own people to the harm of Israeli retaliation. That is certainly part of the motivation behind the mis(translation), part of the propaganda campaign to erase Israeli and global awareness of repeated Israeli initiation of armed attacks on Gaza, part of the legitimation of a regular pattern of “little” wars, each of which is “successful” only in so far as it is repeated, as Hagai Matar has pointed out.

“Cloud” is (mis)translated as “defense” because it does not matter how much military power Israel has, nor how victorious its armed forces, nor how precisely its intelligence and weaponry can target its enemies, it will not be enough to fill the felt need for protection, for defense. All the military manna in heaven could not fill that hole. The pillars of smoke and fire that the Israeli military inflicts on Gaza by day and by night are a substitute, though a poor one, for divine protection and presence. The pillars of smoke and fire are clouds that instead of leading today’s Israel towards a promised land lead us to repeat, compulsively, acts of war that bring not peace but situations such as the unilateral withdrawal from and siege of Gaza that demand never-ending military “defense.”  The pillars of smoke and fire that cloud our hopeless, mournful,  traumatic and traumatizising repetition of violence condemn Israel to wander in a wilderness of war until we can see through the clouds of war that only a pillar of peace will dispel the felt need for divine protection and defense that we seek, vainly and profanely, through the force of arms.