Tag Archives: settlements

The Provocation: Ta’ayush and the Picnic

taayush.soldier hitting“Whose provocation?” asks the Ta’ayush activist who has recorded on video an Israeli soldier striking one of her fellow activists. Rightly, she says the provocation came from the soldiers who had come only to see what was happening, not even to serve a “closed military area” order, not even to make the Palestinian farmer stop ploughing the field next to the olive grove, not even to tell the other Palestinians, Italian volunteers and Israeli activists to get lost. So, in that sense, the blows dealt by the soldier to another activist filming him were unprovoked. He seems to have worked himself up into aggression by his own monologue about the “traitors” who were accompanying Palestinians from the town of Bani Naim to work on their land under the noses of the settlers of Pnei Hever. The local relations of occupation between the two places have been rehearsed many times before but of course the settlement has an army on its side in this uneven conflict. On this occasion, and following reports of the incident in Ha’aretz and other news outlets, even the Israeli army deemed that the soldier, Alon Segev, had used excessive force and discharged him from reserve duty. His blows were unprovoked.

Yet, in another – and good – sense, Ta’ayush were being provocative. I was with the Ta’ayush activists in the South Hebron Hills that day, August 10th 2018, but I was elsewhere, accompanying a shepherd, when this incident occurred. When after a short hike I joined the group near Pnei Hever the activist who had been hit was just being driven off to an emergency room as he was feeling unwell. Then I found this provocative scene. While the guy on the tractor got on with his ploughing, Israelis, internationals and Palestinians sheltered from the hot sun under a tree. Hot, sweet tea and coffee were served, some snacks were passed around. Various conversations murmured on in different languages, in a blend of Hebrew and Arabic about the spring connected to a cave whose water used to feed the fields we were in but is now within the fence of the settlement, about politics and peace, about Catalan and linguistics, about how the Israeli matriculation exam in Arabic doesn’t enable students to speak Arabic. By the time the ploughing was done and the picnic was packed up, I had given my address to two of the Palestinians, one who is already studying a PhD in the UK and the other who is about to come to study.

picnic at bani naim

Picnic at Bani Naim, 10 August 2018

So why is this picnic provocative? Because the co-resistance to Occupation by Israeli Jews, non-citizen Palestinians and internationals defies the accepted logic of separation between “Jews” and “Palestinians” that underlies the conflict. This relaxed togetherness and well-practiced partnership resist all the opposing practices of dispossession, estrangement, demonization and denial that fuel enmity and convince Israeli Jews that “there is no partner for peace” and they must always “live by the sword.” The picnic provokes further because it shows that peace is not made by living behind secure borders and in isolation from each other, but by confronting injustice together.

That evening I participated in another provocation, a demonstration in Tel Aviv by Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel against the new Nationality Law that enshrines already-existing inequality by asserting the rights of the Jews in Israel above all others. The law is itself a provocation against democracy, but much of the Israeli press chose to focus on the “provocation” of the display of Palestinian flags by some of the demonstrators (against the wishes of the organizers). A provocation to show that there is a Palestinian as well as a Jewish nationality in this land between the river and the sea. A provocation to gather and march together in the sultry humidity of a summer night, to protest the racism of ethno-religious superiority in a territory in which two peoples dwell. I preferred the hum of conversations under the tree to the long speeches at the demonstration, but in their own way each was a provocation to resist oppression and struggle for just peace.

anti nationality law demo

“Jews and Arabs together”. Anti-Nationality Law demonstration. Tel Aviv, 10 August 2018

A Palestinian farmer and volunteers were denied access to harvest on part of his land by a routine “closed military zone” order while settlers were allowed by the army to pray on it.

 

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.

Too Late for Two States? A Stale Debate Makes News

Palestinian street scene (Israel Channel 2 news, screenshot)

Palestinian street scene (Israel Channel 2 news, screenshot)

Estimated cost of removing settlements (Israel Channel 2 news, screenshot)

Estimated cost of removing settlements (Israel Channel 2 news, screenshot)

I’m not a fan of Israel’s Channel 2 news, but I watch it online precisely for the reasons that I dislike it. Its broadcasts exemplify wonderfully Israel’s ‘extreme centre’, the mainstream, consensual  prejudices, defensiveness and self-righteousness of Israel’s ‘white tribe’, its Jewish, Ashkenazi, middle class. It is (not coincidentally) the channel on which Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid used to host a talk show, and then the ‘Friday Studio’ news magazine programme. That honour is now held by Danny Kushmaro, who this week (31 May 2013) filed his own extended report: ‘Two States: Have We Missed the Opportunity?’ As one of his interviewees, academic and former politician Meron Benvenisti, pointed out, the significance of the report is that it raises the question of whether a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is possible, and explains to the viewers that this is a stale (literally ‘mouldy’) debate.

It is indeed a stale debate for Benvenisti, who made the case as long ago as 1984 in his West Bank Data Project report that the Israeli settlement project in the Palestinian Occupied Territories is irreversible and that there could be no divided sovereignty between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. However, for Kushmaro this is newsworthy. He framed his recorded report from the studio by presenting  as obstacles to the two state solution the presence of 350,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, along with the lack of political leadership on both sides,.

Ostensibly, the point of the report is to contrast the official Israeli government policy of ‘two states for two peoples’ with its impossibility. The first point is established through a series of clips of footage in which Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Benjamin Netanyahu, Yair Lapid and Shimon Peres all state their support for the two state policy. Netanyahu does so thrice, once in English for good measure. The case that the opportunity for two states has passed (or that it never existed) is made in three interviews, the first being with Meron Benvenisti, whose skepticism about it predates its adoption by the mainstream Israeli peace camp, especially Peace Now, during the first intifada. Retired politician Yossi Sarid represents the mainstream left, telling us from his living room that ‘the State of the Land of Israel’ has defeated the ‘State of Israel’, that ‘we’ have all been defeated as the settlers are leading us to the ‘end of the Zionist dream’. While he still hopes for another ending, he fears that as far as two states go, ‘the train has already left the station’. For the politically illiterate, he adds that Netanyahu’s declared acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel was a ‘statement of political charlatanry’. Former Defence Minister Moshe Arens concurs in his interview that the settlers have won, but he has consistently opposed Palestinian statehood. Additional support for the case is made by Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, whose point in a brief interview is that while most Palestinian still support a two state solution, they no longer believe it is a practical possibility, and by leading Fatah official Abu Ala, who in a short clip says that if the two state approach has failed, there will be one state.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, himself a settler, makes a hapless case for the official government line, undermining it by pointing out that it is only a theoretical issue, a matter for Israelis to discuss among themselves, given the condition of the ‘Palestinian side’. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni sounds more convincing when she insists on her commitment to the two state solution as the only way to sustain Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, despite the difficulties and complexities. Yet, she seems to have been interviewed in the lobby of the studio, as if to indicate that her formulaic statements belong in the never-never land of no progress on peace talks, alluded to in Elkin’s interview, so long as there is ‘no partner for peace’. The issue is, she says, to get into the negotiation room, but she is not in a room herself. The most forceful arguments for the two state approach came for the studio pundits, especially Amnon Abromovich and Udi Segal, commenting after the report. The former claimed the naysayers had formed a link between extreme left and right, which is just what someone from the extreme center would say. The latter managed to make it sound as if he was arguing with him, while insisting that there is no alternative to the two state solution, that former rightists such as Olmert and Netanyahu had come to accept it, that when push comes to shove Israel will make the decision and withdraw, that it is unthinkable that a Palestinian from Nablus would become a citizen of Israel, and that those settlers living outside the settlement blocs (which contain about 75% of the settlers on about 4% of the West Bank) who do not wish to leave can stay. Whatever point Danny Kushmaro had tried to make in his report, they were having none of it. After all, how could they be considered experts if they changed their minds after 13 minutes of footage?

There is certainly much missing in the report, such as a graphic telling us what are the cost of Israeli government support for the settlements, and the additional costs of occupation, including building and maintaining the separation wall. The most significant omission is the range of debate within Israel (as well as Palestine) about alternatives to the two state solution. For example, in the summer of 2012 there was a whole issue of the political science journal Public Sphere, published by Tel Aviv University, dedicated to the question of a single state as a utopia or emerging reality. Kushmaro’s report pitted Benvenisti against the Israeli left, but there is a vibrant if small left which since the collapse of the Oslo process has been discussing with some intensity the question of what sort of political entity should replace Israel and its military occupation: a bi-national state, a federal or confederal arrangement, a unitary state of civil equality, or even no state at all. That is not a stale debate, but one worthy of its own Friday evening extended coverage.

Visually, however, the report seemed to be making another case too. Although the number of 350,000 Israeli settlers is repeated in a graph several minutes into the report, the camera favours the physical existence of the settlements as evidence of the irreversibility of the settlement project. Settlements are shown as the backdrop to Meron Benvenisti’s interview, from a viewpoint where he could show how in the area between East Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim known as E1, wherever one can see trees there is an Israeli settlement. Ze’ev Elkin also points out his own settlement and neighbouring ones during his interview from a similar vantage point, as the camera sweepingly takes possession of the land. When the figure of 42 milliard shekels (over $11 milliard) is cited as the cost of evacuating 70,000 settlers, it is displayed on screen against a background of settlements seen from afar and above. When it is suggested at the end of the report that perhaps a new solution to the conflict is needed, we see settlement building activity, to which we return, complete with heavy machinery and then a shot of a multi-storied set of dwellings built on a hillside, at the very end of the report, which concludes that with each passing day the two state solution becomes less possible. Oddly, the report only shows settlers in footage of them being removed by Israeli authorities from the Gaza settlements. Once, we see such scenes during the interview with Moshe Arens who refers to the ‘uprooting’ of those settlements as a national trauma, while patriotic music plays in the background. We see similar scenes, as well as the forced evacuation of a small hill-top settlement, when the report emphasises how difficult it would be to remove tens of thousands of settlers. Settlements appear in the report to be concrete manifestations of possession of the land, scoped from other points of visual mastery of the landscape, not places where people live.

By contrast, on the occasions when we are shown Palestinian areas of the West Bank, we see streets full of cars and people, first when we are told that the Palestinians would not accept the removal of only 70,000 settlers, but at least 150,000, and then as the backdrop to a couple of vox pop pieces in which two Palestinian men from Ramallah state that 19 years of negotiations have brought no progress and that they would prefer rights and equality under Israel (backing up Shikaki’s assessment). The other typical shot of the Palestinian areas is of graffiti-covered walls (not only the separation wall). Twice we see Arafat’s iconic face, once when the commentary says how many more settlers the Palestinians want to go (as if Arafat is the cause of such ‘intransigence’). His other appearance comes at the point in Kushmaro’s voice-over when he says that the Palestinian Authority is on the point of financial collapse. Along with Arafat’s portrait, we see shots of Palestinian flags and maps on the walls. So, it seems that the Palestinians live in crowded streets, hemmed in by walls decorated by nationalist sentiment. Empty Israeli settlements shot from afar; busy Palestinian streets filmed up close. Somehow, the camera (the shots, the editing, the soundtrack) cannot help but reiterate that whatever the political solution may be, what we see before us is alien settlement and an occupied people.

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.