"It is these facts on the ground, not the guidelines, which threaten to make a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible.”
--Former EU leaders - including former Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos, who is considered relatively close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - wrote a letter saying settlements harm peace and calling on the EU to stand firm on new guidelines forbidding any EU money to institutions or people linked to activities in the W. Bank, Golan Heights, or E. Jerusalem.
- Former EU leaders to Ashton: Stand firm on settlement guidelines - Letter signed by 15 former EU leaders counters attempts by Israel and U.S. to scrap or delay the move to stop cooperating with firms in the settlements. (Haaretz+)
- Ex-Shin Bet chief warns of 'next Yigal Amir' - Carmi Gillon criticizes authorities' handling of 'price tag' perpetrators, says any progress in peace talks will bring forth terrorist acts. (Ynet)
- To tweet or not to tweet? The IDF answers the question - Internal documents from the IDF Spokesman’s Office, obtained by Haaretz, reveal the thinking behind the army’s social media strategy. (Haaretz+)
- Watch: Bricks thrown at police near Jerusalem - Officers attacked by mob while trying to restore order after brawl erupts in Palestinian village. (Ynet)
- 'Homeland' Israel shoot moved to Morocco - The show's American producers, concerned over situation in Syria, contacted their Israeli counterparts Sunday to inform them of decision. Israeli production companies estimate a loss of hundreds of thousands of shekels over the location change. (Israel Hayom)
- Vacation in Israel: Only for the rich? - Hotels.com survey ranks Israel sixth in world in average price of hotel room, NIS 798 – more expensive than Switzerland, Norway, US, Italy, France, Holland. (Ynet)
- Did Netanyahu propose resettling Gazans in Sinai? Egyptian newspaper set to release tapes in which Egypt's Hosni Mubarak reportedly says Israeli PM offered him to resettle Gaza residents in Sinai but rejected proposal. (Ynet)
- Egyptian army destroyed 152 smuggling tunnels to Gaza since July - A spokesman said that the Egyptian army has clamped down on tunnels on the Egypt-Gaza border following Hamas' support for Sinai jihadists. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Iran says willing to build trust with US on nuclear issue - FM Zarif tells Lebanese network he hopes WMD disarmament plan has lifted threat of military strike on Syria, urges Washington to present 'genuine desire for peace and stop using language of threats.' (Ynet)
Last week a prominent multi-national Dutch engineering firm, Royal HaskoningDHV, announced that it would end its involvement in a project to install a wastewater treatment plant in East Jerusalem. This is a unique and interesting case in the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It could well be a harbinger of the future of the occupation.
This case is interesting because it involves Israelis with good intentions; Palestinians who have no choice but to cooperate with Israel; and Europeans who have lost the ability to define their position regarding conflict. Alongside these actors are the usual suspects: Israelis whose priority is to strengthen the settlements; Europeans who want to make a profit out of providing aid to the Third World; and Palestinians who are struggling to liberate Palestine. And this case is unique, because most disputes over Jerusalem are of a win-lose nature, with the Israelis winning and the Palestinians losing. In this case it seems that Israel is losing, while the Palestinians are losing on one level but perhaps winning on another. But it is still too early to determine whether this incident indicates a serious change in the delicate balance of the relationship between Europe, Israel and Palestine.
“There is no doubt some Palestinian news outlets incite against Israel and the Jews, but it is clear this is not an official policy of the PA."
--Tel-Aviv District Court Judge Dalia Gannot completely rejects the testimony of the founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch, Itamar Marcus, making minced meat out of his claims.
- Palestinians clash with Israeli forces as hundreds of Jews pray at Joseph's Tomb - Palestinian stone-throwers target Israeli troops as some 1,400 Jewish worshippers enter West Bank holy site under tight security; live fire erupts, one Palestinian hurt. (Haaretz)
- Israeli minister enters Al-Aqsa compound under guard - Israeli housing minister Uri Ariel visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Wednesday under Israeli police protection. Ariel, who is a member of the far-right Jewish Home party, headed a tour group of some 100 right-wing religious students and Rabbis. (Maan+PHOTOS)
- End to the status quo - Phenomenon: Jews go to the Temple Mount and pray - The Police forbids Jews from praying in order to prevent riots, but religious organizations are encouraging groups to go up to the Temple Mount and pray in hiding. The number has increased quickly and reached hundreds of people a day. The decision not to allow Jews to pray at the Temple Mount was made October 1, 1967 by the government cabinet. (Maariv, p. 1/NRG Hebrew)
- Israeli forces demolish property in West Bank village - Two Israeli bulldozers demolished commercial and industrial property early Thursday, including a commercial complex in Bartaa al-Sharqiya in the northern West Bank district of Jenin. (Maan)
- Witnesses: Israeli forces bulldoze land south of Qalqiliya - Israeli civil administration crews arrived with bulldozers and razed land belonging to Jalud village and also uprooted olive trees. Locals say Israeli authorities plan to confiscate the land to expand the illegal Alfe Menashe settlement. (Maan)
- Israeli forces demolish houses, barns in East Jerusalem village - “Families were surprised with Israeli military vehicles storming a tract of land where ten Palestinian households live in steel structures and use ten other structures as barns. The soldiers started to empty the structures and demolish them,” said Abu Mousa As-Saedi, one of the owners. (Maan)
- Jerusalem digs ditch to separate Jewish, Palestinian neighborhoods - Ditch necessary to deter violence and crime, Jewish residents and city officials say; Critics maintain separation will only further alienation and neglect. (Haaretz+)
Last week I argued that Syria wasn’t a priority for AIPAC, but that if the Obama Administration asked it to lobby Congress to authorize strikes against Syria it probably would. But I contended that “providing information and talking points to members of Congress at the request of the president on an issue it either doesn’t feel strongly opposed to or even agrees with isn’t the same as fighting over a policy it views as a priority.”
I was wrong. Turns out AIPAC decided to lobby hard for a Congressional yes, and to be very public about it. In its own forceful words, “The civilized world cannot tolerate the use of these barbaric weapons” because “[t]his is a critical moment when America must also send a forceful message of resolve to Iran and Hezbollah.” It is a “momentous vote,” a “critical decision” that if not enacted could “greatly endanger our country’s security and interests and those of our regional allies.”
President Barack Obama shakes hands with board members after addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Many questions have been asked and conclusions drawn about this episode. The most interesting and important are: Why is AIPAC lobbying so publicly? What will the effects be on that organization after the dust settles? And what does this say about the current and future state of Jewish advocacy on Middle East issues?
Here’s a thing that doesn’t often happen: I find myself agreeing with, and grateful to, Naftali Bennett.
Among the portfolios held by Bennett in Israel’s government is that of the Ministry of the Economy, and in that capacity, he’s ordered a broad campaign to investigate the exploitation of migrant workers. Already, the results are shocking: The ministry reported on Wednesday that 90 percent of businesses investigated have been found to be in violation of their workers’ legal rights:
The suspicions included failure to pay minimum wage, failure to pay overtime compensation, delaying payment, excessive work hours and failure to provide vacation time. Fifty inspectors took part in the sweep.
"We are doing right by exploited workers [working] under substandard conditions,” said Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. “We will continue to be on the ground. We will not allow [businesses] to treat the law as just some sort of recommendation.”
People pass by campaign posters of chairman of the far-right Habayit Hayehudi party Naftali Bennett ahead of the national elections on January 16, 2013 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Ilia Yefimovich / Getty Images)
Moreover, Haaretz reports, the ministry has been responding directly to workers’ complaints (though it’s not clear if these complaints have come from Israelis, foreigners, or both), opening more than 1,700 investigations so far this year, 60 percent of them in response to information from laborers. “Close to 5,000 workers have been questioned in enforcement activities since the beginning of the year, including 700 foreign workers.”
In between composing High Holiday sermons and rehearsing the liturgy, 1300 Jewish clergy from all denominations have pressed their pens into the service of public policy this week, issuing a letter to the U.S. Congress requesting immediate action on immigration reform. The letter states, “From Abraham’s journey to Canaan, to our Exodus from Egypt, to today, we are a people that has over millennia continuously been expelled, been rejected, been freed, and been welcomed.”
Among the specific policies the letter recommends are that the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. be “brought out of the shadows” and be provided reasonable pathways to citizenship, that family reunification be enabled, that border security measures be developed to accord with “American humanitarian values,” and that “safe, welcoming and humane avenues for refugees and asylum seekers” be created.
“During this Jewish High Holy Day period, we assess individually and as a community our strengths and shortcomings and commit ourselves to doing better in the future. It is in this spirit that we write urging Congress to address the shortcomings of the past and strive to do better in swiftly passing comprehensive immigration reform....”
It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since the Oslo Accords were signed on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993 and even harder to grasp that 40 years have passed since the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973.
Today, Israel’s two adversaries of 1973 are both rent by bitter internal conflicts. Syria is engulfed in a bloody civil war that began as a popular uprising against a dictator. It has been marked by horrific loss of life and ghastly atrocities which now threaten to drag the United States into the conflict. Egypt has been torn apart by a military takeover which removed a failed but democratically-elected government.
Israeli PM Ehud Barak (C) helping Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat enter door to Laurel Cabin after joking about who should go in first during peace talks hosted by Pres. Bill Clinton at Camp David. (Cynthia Johnson / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images)
The leaders of both Egypt and Syria failed for decades to address the needs of their people. GDP per capita in both countries in 2011, before the upheavals substantially wrecked their economies, had still not caught up to where Israel’s GDP per capita was in 1973. Meanwhile, Israel’s economic power and prosperity has surged more than tenfold in the past 40 years.
"This thing is being handled like some moonlighting gig."
--Speaking at a conference, Yossi Beilin slams Israel's handling of the peace talks.
- Absentee Property Law in East Jerusalem - Israeli court may suspend law used to take over Palestinian land in Jerusalem - Judges worry that such a ruling would have far-reaching consequences, if applied to every case since 1967; Justice Elyakim Rubinstein calls idea a 'Pandora's box' that could cause legal and practical chaos. (Haaretz+)
- The tankist who kept the dog tags of an Egyptian soldiers asks to return them to his family - For years Shlomo Ohion repressed the memories from the Egyptian front. But following the POW exchange deal, his conscience tormented him. "I don't know what happened to the owner of the dog tags (military ID), if he was killed by our forces, became a POW, or escaped and my conscience tormented me. It may be the only keepsake that is left for his family." The tag reads: Army sergeant Mohammad Rashad Abd al-Wahab #3122313, Platoon 8. (Maariv, p. 8/NRG Hebrew+PHOTOS)
- Document: NSA shares Americans' data with Israel - Secret document provided to the Guardian by Snowden indicates US government handed over to Israel intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens; also suggests Jewish state 'third most aggressive intelligence service against US.' (Ynet and Israel Hayom)
- Israel's highest academic society: 108 professors, but not a single Arab - The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities selects its members from among scholars at the peak of their career, usually when they’ve passed 60 years old; academy official says: 'Regrettably, the number of Arab scientists... is too small'. (Haaretz+)
- Palestinians demonstrate at Al-Jazeera offices - Police prevent break-in following Arafat insult on television talk show. (Ynet)
- Jerusalem court convicts Hamas 'charity' workers - Three Israelis helped boost terror group's popularity among capital's Muslim population through various educational, welfare activities. (Ynet and Israel Hayom)
The weeks leading up to the Jewish High Holidays have seen a surge of opinion pieces all pointing out the same (admittedly parochial, yet to some, very important) problem. Abigail Pogrebin puts it best over at Tablet, in a piece titled “High Holiday Services Are Boring. Here’s How We Can Fix Them.” In her characteristically frank and funny way, she not only accurately diagnoses the boredom plaguing many American Jews, but also offers sound suggestions as to how both rabbis and congregants can start alleviating it.
Abigail focuses on Reform and Conservative Jews, many of whom check out during services because they don’t understand what’s being recited or how it connects to their lives, having not been “raised with rigorous Jewish instruction.” She recommends that congregants study the relevant texts in advance, noting parenthetically that “the Orthodox clearly operate in a separate sphere, often immersed from the womb in text.” Yet, as someone who grew up in the Modern Orthodox world, was fortunate enough to get that rigorous Jewish instruction, and has always been deeply immersed in Jewish texts, I still think High Holiday services are a slog. Which makes me suspect this isn’t only—or even primarily—a Reform and Conservative problem. Orthodox Jews get bored on Yom Kippur, too.
A fourteenth-century Mahzor containing High Holiday prayers from the Jewish community of Montpellier, France. (Pascal Guyot / AFP / Getty Images)
That suspicion is borne out by a recent Forward article published under the headline “Rabbis Declare War on Chit-Chat in Synagogue.” Apparently, chatter in Orthodox synagogues has reached such alarming levels that some have gone so far as to take out newspaper ads aimed at cajoling or threatening congregants into silence. For these Jews, the problem is not that they haven’t prepped the texts in advance or don’t know what the words in the mahzor mean. Take it from someone who’s been through the system: Orthodox students spend long hours every September not just parsing the prayers, but also teasing out their biblical allusions and rabbinic resonances, and becoming familiar with the historical contexts in which they were written. And yet, when it comes time to recite these prayers in synagogue, they still get fidgety. All of which raises the question: If you did enjoy a rigorous Jewish education and still find yourself getting bored on Yom Kippur, what can you do to keep yourself from yawning?
Twelve years ago, David Harris-Gershon's young wife, Jamie, was having lunch at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Frank Sinatra cafeteria when a remote-controlled bomb exploded near her table, killing two of their friends. Harris-Gershon was at home when an acquaintance called to inform him that Jamie had been “lightly injured.” Panicked, the young American careened in a taxi to Hadassah Hospital and discovered that “lightly injured” meant, in Jamie's case, a familiar face that had been rendered unrecognizable. She had second- and third-degree burns over 30 percent of her body, and internal injuries that required emergency surgery, followed by more surgeries for skin grafts.
This is the central event in Harris-Gershon's memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? It is a story about how a great personal trauma can lead to a journey that upends long-held beliefs and ideas. The terrific thing about this book is that the author manages to tell his story without sentimentality, grandiose pronouncements, or false humility. He pulls the reader in with his unpretentious, laconic style, and with his refusal to shy away from acknowledging his own flaws.
David Harris-Gershon (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
The first half of the book deals with the physical wounds that heal and the psychic wounds that do not. It is also about two normative American Jews who grew up in a liberal suburban milieu, met at a university Hillel event, married and, in a search of a deeper understanding of their identities, came to Jerusalem to study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. The second half is about the author's search for reconciliation and psychic healing, culminating in a meeting in the East Jerusalem home of the family of the man who had planted the bomb that nearly killed his wife.
The New York Times reported on Monday that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has pressured the European Union to lift sanctions against Israeli products and institutions originating in West Bank settlements. Although Kerry’s intentions are good, his strategy is not. If the E.U. succumbs to U.S. pressure, it will undermine the peace process and the prospects for creating a Palestinian state.
Unlike other biased actors (such as the United Nations Human Rights Council) who criticize Israel almost exclusively, the E.U. has shown itself to be a balanced actor in the region. In 2008, Israel and the E.U. announced an upgrade in relations by institutionalizing annual meetings between senior leaders and further integrating Israeli products into the European market. This agreement was signed during intense negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and the envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East Tony Blair on June 19, 2011 in Jerusalem. (Moshe Milner / GPO via Getty Images) (Handout)
Nevertheless, the E.U. also differentiates between legitimate Israeli actions to protect its citizens and more problematic Israeli behavior that damages the prospects for peace. Therefore, after years of condemning Israeli settlement building in the West Bank—an act considered by many to be in violation of international law—the E.U. finally decided to actively oppose these efforts with tangible consequences. Brussels took a bold risk when announcing that they would boycott Israeli commodities from the Occupied Territories even as America argued that Europe should not be so harsh against Israel. But bold steps like these from the international community are necessary to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
On Monday night I attended the yearly gathering of Israel’s Media Watch (IMW), an organization whose primeval website declares that they do “systematic research and surveillance of media and exposition of political and cultural media bias.” The event was held at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, a room that was made for 60 but held maybe 25. Of the guests, almost all were in their 60s. One gentleman came in with a walker. And yet, the fact that the room wasn't even half-full and that the audience was retired didn’t seem to bother anyone. Because it was a night for self-congratulation—a celebration of the IMW for its successes—no matter who showed up.
IMW is 18 years old, and it’s chaired by a man named Eli Pollak, a professor and specialist of molecular dynamics at the Weizmann Institute whose long list of extra-curriculars includes the positions of founder and chairman of Knesset Watch, board member of Professors for a Strong Israel, and contributing expert to the Ariel Center for Policy Research. It was at the latter where, in 1998, he co-wrote a paper with settler blogger, power-house activist, and vice-chairman of IMW Yisrael Medad, called “Israeli Media: Reporting News or Setting the Agenda?” It’s a piece of work that seems to have carried him through his career. The trouble is, Pollak himself clearly has an agenda. Reading through his weekly Jerusalem Post columns, also co-written with Medad, to say that there is unsubtle intent to push the media rightward would be a gross understatement.
A screen capture of the Israel's Media Watch website on September 11, 2013.
Pollak and Medad have bemoaned the “left-wing domination of the media” for years. They have argued for better internal hasbara, making the claim that Israel could excel in journalism if only it were to spotlight cultural stars like 28-year-old pianist Boris Giltberg instead of focusing on uber-famous Daniel Barenboim—a man who, after many years of refusing, famously broke the unofficial ban on playing Wagner in Israel. More recently, they attacked Israel's center-right Yedioth Aharonot and its well-known columnist Nahum Barnea for not defending Netanyahu when he agreed to a prisoner release. The column included the encouraging line: “One would hope that the Israeli public…treats Yediot just as it treated Haaretz—with disdain and reduced readership.” Even more telling: they’ve been on the inside of a battle to get the blatantly racist, Caroline Glick-run satire show Latma (“slap in the face” in Arabic) on Israeli public television. This is a show that breeds Islamophobia, paints its Obama character in black, and is hasbara-intensive all at once. Pollak and Medad call it a “groundbreaking Zionist initiative.”
--The number of shekels which the right-wing Elad organization has sued left-wing organizations, including Peace Now, in libel suits. Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer calls it 'legal terrorism.'
- CIA document from 1983 indicates Israel built chemical weapons stockpile - Intel circles in Washington believe Israel amassed a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons decades ago, Foreign Policy reported Monday on its website. (JTA, Haaretz)
- Israeli army closes probe into death of Palestinian protestor - Military advocate general cites lack of evidence in 2009 death of Bassem Abu Rahmeh, whose story was documented in the Oscar-nominated film Five Broken Cameras. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Israel pays Zygier's family NIS 4 million to keep quiet - Agreement does not include an admission of responsibility for the death of Mossad agent, who committed suicide in prison. (Haaretz+ and Israel Hayom)
- Israeli rightists enter Aqsa compound under guard - Some 150 Jewish extremists entered the mosque compound via the Mughrabi gate. The rightists formed groups and performed religious rituals, including songs. Witnesses said that 80 members of Israeli intelligence entered the mosque compound. (Maan)
- PA ministry condemns Al-Aqsa violations - The ministry strongly denounced the entry of dozens of Israeli rightists to the mosque compound on Tuesday under heavy armed guard and urged the Arab League and UN to hold an emergency session. (Maan)
- PA 'structural deficiency' behind finance crisis - As Palestinian Authority’s officials complain about an imminent serious financial crisis, donor countries have responded positively delivering millions of dollars to the PA in the past few days. (Maan)
- Egypt continues fighting terrorism: 9 militants killed in Sinai - Joint military operation in Sinai carries on, as 9 militants were killed, 10 arrested Monday. Forces seize items, weapons belonging to extreme Palestinian organizations. Meanwhile, Defense Minister al-Sisi may announce his candidacy for president. (Ynet)
- Iran's Rohani says 'win-win' nuclear deal possible - Time to reach such a deal is limited, says Iranian president. (Agencies, Haaretz)
The last 10 months have seen a slow yet evident sunset of Israeli threats regarding Iran's nuclear program. The watershed moment was —somewhat unexpectedly—Prime Minister's Netanyahu's United Nations speech, when he drew Israel's red line (literally) on Iran's uranium enrichment program.
That speech came after months of speculation in the international and Israeli media on the probability and potential effect of Israel exercising a military option against Iran. In his speech Netanyahu's red line referred the 20 percent of uranium held by Iran. The Iranians are still—by virtue of this red line or because of other reasons—careful not to cross that threshold. They have been continuously converting some of their high grade material to nuclear fuel rods, thus substantially slowing down the growth of their stockpiles
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line on a graphic of a bomb while discussing Iran during an address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2012 in New York City. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)
Meanwhile, the credibility of the Israeli military threat has been eroded by a series of off-and-on-the-record quotes, originating both in Israel and the U.S., questioning the Israeli army's ability to carry out a successful and effective strike. Both Israel and Iran held elections, threats from all sides have been diluted and the situation seems relatively (a crucial word in the Middle East) stable.
This year, September 13 marks the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords. It is also Yom Kippur. On this holiest day of the Jewish calendar—a day of atonement—I hope my Jewish friends will remember my Palestinian mother.
Her story begins with an injury. In 1948, when she was four, my mother’s forearm was stripped to flesh by a tipped kettle. Cooled and dried, the wound scarred smooth as tanned leather. And in my first memory, I am a toddler kneading that taut skin, easing my colic into sleep.
It was a kind of sacrament, I now think. In gentle touches, my mother and I learned: Hurt, eventually, heralds healing. But what becomes of wounds that won’t heal?
US President Bill Clinton standing between PLO leader Yasser Arafat as he shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin. (J. David Ake / AFP / Getty Images)
That question weighs heavy on my mother’s mind this week, as she and I recall two decades of failed U.S. attempts to help end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—a conflict that has defined all but four years of my mother’s life.
She was still in her 40s when Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn. But two decades on, as she approaches her 70s, my mother is beginning to reckon with the possibility that she will live out her life in exile.
It’s OK for the American Studies Association to judge the country with a double standard. Denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state is another story.