“Come here,” a young boy beckoned to me in Arabic. I followed him to a pile of rubble at the foot of the wall—the concrete separation barrier, 14-feet tall here, that divides the West Bank from Israel, which Israelis can cross freely but most Palestinians can't. The boy picked up a jagged stone, placed it into a makeshift slingshot and started whipping it around, making it gain momentum. He launched the stone towards the two Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers guarding the nearby checkpoint.
Palestinians youth throw a stone towards Israeli forces at the Qalandia checkpoint, in the Israeli occupied West Bank, on November 21, 2012. (Issam Rimawi/APA, via Landov)
The stones can cause serious injuries and even death, particularly when thrown at cars and causing accidents. But, this time, as is usually the case, they missed the mark. Instead of hitting the soldiers, the stone ricocheted off of the Wall. The soldiers immediately responded by firing teargas canisters and chasing the children—mostly young Palestinian boys, colloquially known as shabaab, or youth—away with a billowing cloud of noxious chemical fumes at the mercy of the wind.
The occasion last Friday was Palestinian Children’s Day—a day to commemorate the enormous youth population of Palestine, and acknowledge the struggle of Palestinian children under Israeli occupation. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), children under the age of 18 make up almost half of the population ofthe West Bank and Gaza. Statistically, 20 percent of them—and 40 percent of the males—will be arrested, detained and likely imprisoned. For some, this process has already begun: as of January 1, 2013 there were 193 Palestinian children in prison with 26 under the age of 16. “They will arrest them for anything, even just standing there,” Ahmad Qareen of the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan told me.
"The patient thought I was Yemenite and asked me to treat him instead of the (Arab) medic that was with me."
-- Muawiya Kabaha shares stories from being an Arab-Israeli paramedic who rescues Jews.
- Medical staff that treated Palestinian who later died 'didn't know he had been shot' - Palestinian was mortally wounded by IDF gunfire when trying to illegally cross into Israel in January, but the soldiers told their commanders and the medics they had only fired in the air and 'there was no way' he was shot. (Haaretz+)
- IDF chief in Poland: We will never again stand unready to defend ourselves - Benny Gantz makes a speech to thousands of youths marching at Auschwitz-Birkenau in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Haaretz)
- U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to visit Israel in April - The defense secretary's first visit to Israel since taking office, expected to take place April 21-23, is meant to bolster the allies' cooperation in the Middle East. (Haaretz)
- New York's Yeshiva University engulfed in controversy over Jimmy Carter peace award - America’s preeminent Modern Orthodox academic institution distances itself from 'student-initiated' award as critics call for financial pressure to cancel ceremony. (Haaretz)
- Open letter calls for female Israelis to join committee for drafting ultra-Orthodox to IDF - Deborah Forum: Issue has 'far-reaching political, social, economic and social implications' for Israeli society. (Haaretz+)
- Hackers target Haaretz's Hebrew website in cyber attack - Efforts by hackers to disrupt Israeli web traffic causes only minor problems, far short from their stated goal to 'wipe Israel off the map of the Internet.' (Haaretz+)
- Gaza rights group denounces Hamas police for cutting youths' hair - The Palestinian Center for Human Rights says Hamas police have arrested, beaten and cut the hair of youths it deems 'unbecoming.' (Haaretz+)
In a statement marking the occasion of Margaret Thatcher's passing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "She was a great leader, a steadfast friend of Israel and the Jewish people." The statement is true on both counts. Thatcher was renown for her closeness to the British Jews of her North London parliamentary district, staunchly backed Soviet Jewry, and even took in an Austrian Jewish refugee of the Nazi takeover of Europe. She was indeed a "steadfast friend of Israel," having staked out an early position by criticizing the U.K.'s reluctance to ship weapons to Israel in its 1973 war against regional Arab powers.
But remarking on Thatcher's steadfastness in her friendship toward the Jewish State highlights what has become an absurd debate in 21st century America about what it means to be a friend to Israel. Contra Israel's right-leaning supporters, being Israel's friend does not mean never criticizing Israel; it does not mean never trying to push Israel into policy changes that you think might be beneficial for the region, the world, and even the Jewish State itself; and it does not mean subverting one's own state interests to those of Israel, especially its right-wing government of the moment. Thatcher was not one to sugar-coat her objections, and this held true of Israeli actions she perceived as unhelpful just as it did of her broader disdain for Communism. Thatcher, if she was Prime Minister today, might well have the same hostility for Netanyahu that she had for his Likud forebear, Menachem Begin.
Documents released by the British archives reveal Thatcher as a hard-nosed opponent of Israel's West Bank settlement project. Just weeks after taking the premiership in May 1979, she hosted Begin, the Israeli leader who'd formed the country's first right-wing government in 1977, at No. 10 Downing Street. The meeting was reportedly tense: Thatcher's foreign minister railed against the settlements. Thatcher, as many world leaders then did and today do, believed that settlements imperiled a potential deal that could end the Mideast conflict. But Begin was not convinced: Thatcher "commented after Mr. Begin's call that it was clear from the discussion that Mr. Begin had no comprehension of the broader aspects of security and that there was no basis on which he could be persuaded to change his narrow concept of it," said official notes from the meeting. "She was apprehensive that Mr. Begin's attitude could kill the whole process of the search for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East."
Thatcher's view of Begin became more clear in a meeting with her French counterpart later that year. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing of France said he found Begin's "approach fanatical and unrealistic," since-released British documents revealed. Thatcher said she "agreed entirely with what President Giscard had said about Mr. Begin." She'd "never had a more difficult man to deal with," she told Giscard. (This, of course, will remind of Barack Obama's griping to then-French President Nicholas Sarkozy about having to deal with Netanyahu.) What's more, Thatcher was explicit with Giscard that she viewed Begin's policies in the West Bank with disdain: she
called them "unrealistic" and said, "All efforts to convince Mr. Begin that his West Bank policy was absurd, and that there should not be Israeli settlements on the West Bank, had failed to move him." Begin, she recalled, responded "that Judea and Samaria"—the settlers and Israeli right's name for the West Bank—"had been Jewish in biblical times and that they should therefore be so today." In 1981, just after Israel had seized a huge swath of land near the West Bank city of Nablus for settlements, Thatcher responded in parliamentary questioning that the incident "illustrates the importance of trying to secure an agreement on this long-standing problem."
The headline of an April 5 article in Open Zion proclaimed: "Sympathy—Not a Useful Metric." In the article, columnist Emily L. Hauser questioned the relevance of recent Gallup and Pew polls showing widespread American sympathy for Israel.
As a regular participant in AIPAC’s annual lobbying days on Capitol Hill, I know that the opposite is the case. Last month about twelve thousand of us spent a day meeting with our legislators. AIPAC’s ability to mobilize activists to actually show up and do something is one of its greatest strengths. J Street, let alone Jewish Voice for Peace, cannot match AIPAC in terms of numbers.
People arrive to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington on March 3, 2013. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
The widespread American sympathy for Israel over the Palestinians (64 percent versus 12 percent, according to Gallup) means that we citizen lobbyists will often have won before we even walk through the door. The legislator or staffer we will meet is probably going to be part of that majority.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at a Passover Seder with hundreds of other people on a kibbutz not far from Haifa. As I looked at the faces of those around me in this year’s recounting of the exodus from bondage to liberation, I couldn’t help but think about the many ways in which we were reading the same Passover story, yet understanding it in massively different ways. As a critical educator, I spend a lot of time thinking about how people think about things.
My family, like many others, spills a drop of wine for every one of the ten plagues that were visited upon the Egyptians. It is a small way in which we temper the joyful feeling of liberation with the memory that the Egyptians, another group of human beings, suffered in the wake of the ride to freedom.
A man reads a prayer while holding greens dipped in salt water in advance of a Passover seder service. The Passover liturgy recited at the seder meal similarly demands that you experience the Exodus as if you yourself escaped from Egypt - not your great grandfather or your Orthodox Uncle Max - and you owe the Almighty undying gratitude as your personal liberator. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
As we reached that point in this year’s Seder, I noticed that only a few other people in the room were spilling wine to symbolize our sorrow at any spilled blood, even that of enemies. At that moment, I found myself thinking forward to the upcoming Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), which Palestinians call the Nakba (Catastrophe).
"Our accumulated experience should teach us a lesson that is the opposite of 'A nation that will dwell alone and not reckon with the nations.'"
--Haaretz Editorial today gives examples of the Holocaust’s lessons for Israeli diplomacy.
- Settlers spray graffiti on Bethlehem-area mosques - Settlers also slashed the tires of two cars. Residents also said Israeli soldiers had guarded the settlers who participated in the vandalism. (Haaretz+ and Maan)
- IDF soldier jailed for exposing buttocks to Palestinians in Hebron - Incident recalls similar event in 2008, also by members of the Kfir Brigade. (Haaretz+)
- Court awards damages to Bedouin who lost arm to cluster bomb - Prosecutors argued the plaintiff should have bought survey maps, never mind that the Negev firing zone was not posted. Court disagreed. (Haaretz)
- Rocket hits Shaar Hanegev on eve of Holocaust Day - Rocket explodes in open area; no injuries, damage reported. 'We're used to disruptions,' resident says. (Ynet)
- For first time, Israeli to be appointed ambassador in Turkmenistan - In last four years, the government in Ashgabat has rejected two candidates out of suspicion that they are connected to the Mossad. (Maariv, p.1, NRG Hebrew)
- Palestinian youth says kaddish for a Holocaust survivor? - New German film shows friendship that develops between a Palestinian immigrant youth and an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor in film by director Leo Beck called "Kaddish for a friend." (NRG Hebrew + VIDEO)
- Israeli government promises universal draft bill by May - Committee's mandate: To bring Arabs and Haredim into the military and workforce. (Haaretz+)
- Australian Jewish group slammed for urging boycott of West Bank settlement goods - The Australian Jewish Democratic Society recently launched an online campaign, 'Don't Buy Settlement Products'; Jewish groups may vote to bar it from leading body of Australian Jewish organizations. (Haaretz+)
A controversial panel on whether Israel is a democracy, originally scheduled to take place at the Ansche Chesed synagogue in Manhattan, took place last night at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah instead. One thing emerged clearly from the discussion: Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, the leader of Ansche Chesed who attempted to cancel the event for fear that it might touch on BDS, needn’t have worried. The bogeyman he imagined would haunt the discussion wasn’t its focus at all; in fact, “BDS” wasn’t uttered until 8:59 pm, exactly one minute before the panel was scheduled to end.
What’s more, the central question and ostensible raison d'être of the panel—can Israel be a Jewish and democratic state?—wasn’t addressed head-on until the very end, when an audience member raised it in the Q&A period. “Is there not a basic contradiction between a democracy and an ethnic definition of a state?” she asked, and was greeted by applause from an audience apparently equally hungry to hear the answer.
Israel's security fence snakes along the Green Line border with the West Bank, as it turns north-east from the Israeli red-roofed community of Bat Hefer on January 30, 2004. (David Silverman / Getty Images)
“I don’t have an answer to that question,” panelist and Americans for Peace Now board member Kathleen Peratis answered honestly. She joked that though this was the event’s central question, it was one she was hoping no one would ask. “I still want to figure out a way to maintain a Jewish majority. I don’t know how I square that with my civil liberties values. I want a Jewish state, and I want equality for Palestinians. I’m struggling with that.”
President Obama's recent speech in Jerusalem laid out a convincing case of why peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is necessary, just, and possible. But the speech contained scant reference to an issue that all sides acknowledge is the major stumbling block to a real agreement: The status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It is therefore time for some fresh thinking on the issue of settlements, and I have a proposal: Allow the settlements to remain, but at a price that will promote a peace settlement.
For the last two decades, it was assumed that a settlement would result in the dismantling of most of the more isolated settlements and the retention of a number of large settlement blocs, perhaps with land swaps to compensate the Palestinian state. However, with the ascendant power of the settlers and their supporters in Israel’s present governing coalition, it seems increasingly unlikely that the parties can arrive at this resolution.
Israeli soldiers clash with Palestinian stone throwers at the al-Arub refugee camp North of the West Bank city of Hebron on April 3, 2013. (Marco Longari / AFP / Getty Images)
The following proposal recognizes one of the central claims of the settlers: That Jews should have the right to live anywhere in the historic Land of Israel. But it simultaneously recognizes the claim of Palestinians and the Israeli peace movement that the settlement project of successive Israeli governments since the 1970s is both legally dubious and founded on the injustices of military occupation. Finally, it addresses the Palestinian demand for “the right of return” of refugees while simultaneously protecting Israel’s Jewish majority.
Every now and then an American polling institution will ask Americans to choose who they “sympathize with” more: Israelis or Palestinians? Gallup Polls conducted such a survey in February; Pew Research followed in mid-March.
In both cases, as in every poll of this type that I’ve ever seen, Israel emerges the clear winner: Gallup finds 64 percent of American adults sympathize more with Israelis, vs. 12 percent who sympathize more with Palestinians; Pew’s numbers break down as 49 percent vs. 12 percent.
A Palestinian protester argues with an Israeli soldier during a weekly demonstration against the Israeli separation barrier and the expansion of Jewish settlements, in the West Bank village of Maasarah, near Bethlehem, on March 29, 2013. (Musa al-Shaer / AFP / Getty Images)
The numbers get a little odd as one looks at them more closely, though: Gallup’s only options were “Israelis,” “Palestinians,” or “no opinion”—and yet 16 percent of respondents went out of their way to volunteer either “both” or “neither” (seven percent chose “no opinion”).
--Jerusalem Municipality worker wrote on Facebook under picture of Palestinian children in a tent.
- Anat Kamm suing Haaretz for revealing her as paper’s source - According to suit, Kamm, who is serving three and a half years for leaking classified military documents to Haaretz journalist Uri Blau, realized that if Blau had not made the agreement with the Shin Bet, the documents could not have been used against her. (Haaretz+)
- Air France fined for kicking pro-Palestinian activist off Israel-bound flight- The woman, a 30-year-old student, was attempting to fly to Israel last April as part of the 'Welcome to Palestine' fly-in protest; French prosecutors said the incident was a clear case of discrimination. (Haaretz+)
- Shopping in Beit Hanina, E. Jerusalem - Low prices, variety of merchandise, merchants who go out of their way to give service to customers: This is how the main road in the Arab village became the popular shopping area for Jews in north Jerusalem (Yedioth 'Bonus' supplement)
- New source of tension near the 'Tolerance Museum': a park for dogs above, a Muslim cemetery below - Islamic movement angry over intention to establish dog park on top of Muslim cemetery. In Islam, dogs are considered impure. (Yedioth Jerusalem supplement, p. 32)
- Ancient site unearthed in Iraq, near biblical home of Abraham - Archaeologists say the site dates back some 4,000 years to around the time Abraham would have lived there; it's believed to be an administrative center for Ur. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Yesha settler council against 'Haaretz' - Activists demonstrated on Schoken Street in front of the newspapers offices with a big sign of a photo of Asher Palmer and his son who were killed when their car crashed after a Palestinian man, recently convicted of murder, threw a block at the car. Haaretz's Amira Hass wrote an Op-Ed supporting Palestinians' right to throw stones. (NRG Hebrew)
Secretary of State John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East this weekend for yet another round of meetings. Following on the heels of President Barack Obama's trip to the region, Kerry has embarked on a campaign of intensive shuttle diplomacy. But the State Department is at pains to stress that he is not yet presenting any new American peace initiative.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) in 2010 in Jerusalem. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images)
Kerry, who has embraced this issue with a heartening degree of enthusiasm, will undoubtedly try to elicit from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas what inducements would get them to consider a return to the negotiating table.
Apart from the fact that he's walking into a situation on the ground that is increasingly volatile—with two Palestinian teenagers recently shot and killed in violent clashes with Israeli occupation forces—there are two structural obstacles facing Kerry in talking about talks with both leaders.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I hate Hamas. They embody everything that I, as a human being, am fighting against: oppression, religious rule, and patriarchy. They empower Israel while dividing the Palestinians. When Hamas won the parliamentary elections in 2006, I cried like somebody had stabbed my cat. Palestinians had made the fatal mistake Egyptians would make seven years later when they elected Morsi. If you elect a religious party into power, you no longer have a democracy. I'm sick to death of hearing that ignorant mantra, “Hamas was democratically elected.” The operative word is “was.” Their term has been up for four years. They are no longer democratically elected; they are warlords, and the Palestinian Authority has gifted them free rein.
The Palestine I know is a place where Christians and Muslims are equal. My mother, a Muslim village girl, attended a Catholic girls’ school in Ramallah, and my refugee husband spent the Second Intifada side by side with his Christian brothers from Bethlehem. Some areas are conservative, some are not. My mom wore mini-dresses in the 1960's and I have run around our hood in tank tops my whole life. Palestine is secular. Whether Hamas likes it or not, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Charter states just that, and states that the only body allowed to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians is the PLO. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has control over every aspect of Palestinians' daily lives, from water access to the right to life. Hamas has no actual authority, yet they keep forcing new laws.
The author's mother is pictured wearing one of her mini-dresses in Palestine in 1961. (Courtesy of Maysoon Zayid)
Their latest law mandates that all classrooms in Gaza separate the boys from the girls from age nine up. At first, I thought it was a non-story. The majority of schools that I have worked with in the Territories are already gender-segregated. It is a big deal, though. The 3,500 students currently in the mixed schools Hamas seeks to ban in Gaza are predominantly Christian. This is just another one of the many laws Hamas is imposing on the trapped 1.7 million Palestinians living in Gaza. First, they banned male hairdressers doing women’s hair. I've had my hair done by many a man in the Middle East and it is a crime against fashion to deny women the right to be fabulous. Next, they decided to require female lawyers to wear headscarves. Thankfully, the female lawyers told them to go jump in a lake, so the law was not enforceable. Hamas refused to allow women to run in a marathon being held in Gaza, causing UNRWA to cancel it. They also banned the "Arab Idol" competition because anyone who has ever watched Footloose knows music is evil. Hamas claims to be fighting for freedom while invoking laws that oppress women and religious minorities. As Palestinians, we are striving for equality, not more oppression.
Next Thursday is Rosh Chodesh Iyyar, the first day of the month Iyyar according to the Hebrew calendar, and on that day, we can expect to see faithful Jews arrested in Judaism’s most sacred space for having the temerity to pray openly and with our faith’s most holy ritual objects.
Why? Because the Jews in question will be women.
American Jewish women from Florida, wearing the Talit (prayer shawl), read the Torah during their late Bat Mitzvah in front of the Western wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. (Menahem Kahana / AFP / GettyImages)
As reported in The Forward’s Sisterhood blog:
In a March 14 letter to Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, Yossi Pariente wrote that he met with a deputy attorney general for the government of Israel to go over the rules pertaining to Women of the Wall, which include prohibitions on:
“…Wrapping yourselves in tallitot [prayer shawls], holding a minyan [prayer quorum] of women including the Kaddish [the mourners’ prayer] or Kedusha… and reading from the Torah.”
Pariente warns that, starting on the next Rosh Chodesh, which falls on April 11, Women of the Wall will be arrested and charged with breaking the law for doing any of these things.
As the results of a new survey on well-being—the OECD's "Better Life Index"—were published this week, Israel, as it sadly does too often these days, ranked relatively low. In the overall calculation of the index's 11 parameters, it landed 25th out of 36 states. In the category of happiness, however, Israel preformed very well, reaching the respectable 8th place. This reported contentment is hardly a surprise: the index's results comport with similar recent polls. In the 2012 Happy Planet Index, for instance, Israel ranked 15th out of 151 states, scoring higher than any other OECD country and impressively improving its previous marks: 67th in 2009's index and 127th in 2006's. In 2011—the year in which hundreds of thousands of distressed Israelis flooded the streets in an unprecedented wave of social protest—Israel ranked 7th in Gallup's "Happiness index," expressing an outstanding level of national content.
Uriel Sinai / Gety Images
The discrepancy between the deterioration of living conditions which Israelis experience and the self-content exhibited in the polls isn't confined to international studies. The Israel Democracy Institute's 2012 Democracy Index found that despite a growing distrust for the nation's leadership (59 percent felt that the government did not handle the country's challenges well) and a bleak sense of personal and civic helplessness (over 60 percent felt that their ability to influence government policy is minimal or non-existent), close to 80 percent of the respondents did not see Israel's overall situation as bad. The most salient poll of all—January's general elections—reflected no different tendencies. Israelis were content enough to vote for a more-of-the-same type of leadership. Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid indeed spoke of New Politics, but by no means offered anything nearing a fresh agenda.
There are many potential explanations for such a resounding cognitive gap, ranging from pointing out the distinctive ways in which different cultures measure happiness, to noting the Israeli tendency to project patriotism and self-assurance as a preventive measure against potential defamers who may use reported Israeli discontent to badmouth Israel. Here's one more: perhaps, at this point in time, confessing unhappiness seems to many Israelis—even if only on a subconscious level—like admitting that Israel has failed them. This goes beyond wondering whether Israel really is, for Jews, the safest place on Earth, or if Jews are indeed better off as citizens of the Jewish state rather than, say, as of the United States.
On Wednesday, a strange silence pervaded the normally chaotic, bustling Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The shops were not closed for Passover, Easter or any other religious holiday that has shut down the Old City during the past few days. Instead, the shopkeepers are on strike to mourn the death of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, a Palestinian prisoner who died in Israeli custody.
Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, 63, died on Tuesday at Israel’s Soroka Hospital. Although he was diagnosed with cancer in January, it was untreated; according to his lawyer, Rami Alami, he was only given painkillers and antibiotics. Palestinian officials suspect that Israeli authorities refused to treat his cancer, ultimately causing his death.
Mourners attend the funeral of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, a Palestinian prisoner who died of cancer while in Israeli detention, in the West Bank city of Hebron on April 4, 2013. (Hazem Bader / AFP / Getty Images)
An autopsy performed at the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine confirmed that his cause of death was cancer, rather than beating or torture, as suspected with Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian prisoner whom many suspected was beaten to death under Israeli custody a few months ago, sparking protest and unrest throughout the West Bank. Still, the belief that medical neglect could have precipitated his death is causing anger.
“The Israeli authorities killed him,” Jihad, a Palestinian student at Birzeit Univeristy who preferred not to give his last name, said of Hamdiyeh. “They killed him like they killed Jaradat—different, but in a way it is the same.”
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.