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Thanks to Netflix, viewers outside of Israel can catch a glimpse of a compelling 2012 Israeli film that premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. A “triumph of low-budget filmmaking,” as Variety calls it, Room 514 is a cinéma-vérité-style meditation on psychology, morality, identity and politics. Set in two locations—an IDF interrogation room and a city bus, and with such a small personnel footprint that even the one required extra is the director himself—the film follows the attempt by Anna (Asia Naifeld), an IDF soldier three weeks shy of being released from her military service, to extract a confession from a soldier accused of beating a Palestinian man.

Written and directed by Sharon Bar-Ziv (an actor in the 1987 Israeli hit film Late Summer Blues), Room 514 raises sticky questions about the incendiary admixture of law, politics, gender, security and justice in the project of Israel’s West Bank occupation. The erotic undertones of military machinations are never far from the surface as viewers are treated to sexually-charged interrogation sequences, and extended sex scenes between Anna and her commander—where else, but in that same interrogation room.

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Asia Naifeld plays an investigating army officer in "Room 514," a critically acclaimed Israeli film newly released on Netflix. (credit: publicity still)

As her commander tries to warn her away from pursuing the case (“This is bigger than drugs, than bribes, even bigger than arms. It’s politics,” he tells her), and her Russian mother incessantly calls her on her cell phone anxious about impending household bills, Anna’s determination hardens.

“I'm critiquing the way the American Jewish community operates because I think we're hurting ourselves, and Israel, through our isolation from Palestinians. As Jews and Zionists, I want us to do better."
--Peter Beinart in a new article discussed in Haaretz+.

  • Israeli forces demolish Jericho home, assault residents - Israeli soldiers destroyed a house and cattle farm belonging to Deifallah Rashayda and Jihad Rashayda, leaving 12 family members homeless in the Jericho village of Fasayil. Five women were hospitalized after soldiers assaulted them with their rifle butts. (Maan)
  • World's literary stars sign Israeli petition against destruction of Palestinian villages - Nobel laureates in literature and other prominent writers sign petition by David Grossman against destruction of villages in southern Hebron hills. (Haaretz)
  • Israel pledges to demolish synagogue, yeshiva at West Bank settlement - State promises court to tear down buildings by next March after finding land is owned by Palestinians, purchase deeds were forged. (Haaretz+)
  • Roadside bomb targets IDF patrol on Gaza border - Attack near Kibbutz Nahal Oz causes no casualties or damage. IDF Spokesman said it was the "second incident of this type in three days." (Israel Hayom)
  • Israel closes Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron for Jewish new year - Israeli authorities will close the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron to Palestinian worshipers during the Jewish new year, a Palestinian official said Monday. (Maan)
  • Hamdallah to start international trip seeking financial support - Caretaker Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah will begin an international tour this week to secure financial support for the Palestinian Authority. He seeks $500 million to cover the PA's budget deficit. (Maan)
  • Jordan condemns forming new prayer plaza at Western Wall - According to Jordanian news agency Petra, Jordan condemned Minister Naftali Bennett's initiative to construct a new prayer area south of the Western Wall for the Women of the Wall. (Ynet)

For the full News from Israel.

Why So Silent?

AIPAC’s Position (Or Lack of One) on Syria

Last week, Politico ran a story on the silence of Jewish pro-Israel lobby groups regarding U.S. intervention into Syria, with a focus on AIPAC. It’s a fair question to ask: AIPAC’s mandate is the strengthening of the U.S.-Israel relationship, it is one of Washington’s most powerful lobbies, and the Syrian civil war does affect American and Israeli interests in the region.

One might, then, expect it to take a public position on the biggest issue of the day, U.S. strikes against the regime’s military assets. And after President Obama announced he was going to Congress for authorization for the attack, observers began wondering—with some claiming more confidently—that AIPAC would become much more active. Apparently White House officials even fear what AIPAC will do. If Obama is seen as not enforcing his red line over Syria, how, one hinted, would this “800-pound gorilla in the room” view the Administration’s Iran policy.

Then-Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in 2008 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Then-Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in 2008 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

I wouldn’t expect AIPAC to play a prominent role in the debate over Syria, though, because (1) there’s so much uncertainty around President Obama’s Syria policy; (2) Syria is simply not one of its priorities; and (3) there is concern over being tarred with a position of supporting American wars in Israeli interests.

Throughout her career as an artist, 36-year-old Zoya Cherkassky has not lacked for public interest, critical acclaim, or financial compensation. Her pieces have been shown in premier Israeli art galleries for over a decade. Her work is continually covered in the mainstream media. And her sketches fetch anywhere from $5,000 to five or six times that amount.

A four-year stint in Berlin allowed Cherkassky to challenge herself artistically, and prove that she was a big fish in any bowl, small or large. But in 2009, she returned to Israel, wanting to work with the raw human materials that she knows best. Since her return, she has embraced traditional painting techniques, taking her easel out into the street and capturing everyday people in their natural elements.

In recent years, Cherkassky's work has focussed on the experiences of Jews who, like herself, immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990's. The piercing portraits of embarrassing Russian-Israeli culture clashes have earned her widespread notoriety on the social media circuit.

The News From Israel

Shin Bet Foils Hamas Terror Attack on Jerusalem Mall

"Sandwiched between two Arab civil wars, expecting nothing from the peace talks, quietly legalizing discrimination against its minorities—Israel's year of superficial calm."
Don Futterman
sums up a less than positive year in Israel ahead of Rosh Hashana.

  • Sharp rise in settlement building starts - Despite government's efforts to increase construction in bid to reduce housing prices, slowdown in building starts ongoing since 2011. While first half of 2013 sees 6% drop in number of building starts in Israel, construction in Judea and Samaria up 141%. (Ynet)
  • Dozens of Palestinians protest against Hebron settler house - People gathered outside of a property belonging to the al-Rajabi family and demanded that settlers leave the premises. The Israeli high court is due to hold a session on Monday to decide the fate of the property, which has been disputed for years. (Maan)
  • Bill equalizing labor rights for (Israeli women working in) West Bank handed back to military - Netanyahu delays cabinet vote on controversial Struck Law to give the IDF a chance to issue an order equalizing the rights of women working over the Green Line to those inside Israel proper. (Haaretz+ and Israel Hayom)
  • Netanyahu: Law discriminating against women in West Bank to be amended - According to PM, controversial bill initiated by MK Struck to amend law that discriminates against women beyond Green Line will take effect by October, either by army order or by applying Israeli law on territories. (Ynet)
  • Israeli forces reopen Hebron road after 12 years - The al-Harayeq gate south of Hebron will be open 24 hours a day as of Sunday. In July, Israel opened the road for eight hours daily, ending a 12-year closure that began during the Second Intifada. (Maan)
  • Lapid meets Palestinian finance minister - Finance Minister Yair Lapid met in his office with his counterpart in the Palestinian Authority, Shukri Bashara. The two discussed different options to expand the economic cooperation between the two entities. (Ynet)
  • Shin Bet foils Hamas terror attack on Jerusalem mall - Five operatives from East Jerusalem planned to plant bomb during the upcoming Jewish High Holy Days. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)

For the full News from Israel.

Syria Speech

Kerry: Sending a Message to Whom?

Secretary Kerry's trenchant, rallying speech laid out the case, but he and President Obama surely know that attacking Assad in ways constrained by their corresponding principles of action—"no boots on the ground," "limited in scope," or, as former ambassador Ivo Daalder put it on the PBS Newshour, "a punitive strike ... to send a message to the regime that this kind of behavior is unacceptable"—is something like trying to stabilize the picture on an old TV set by smacking it. What good it does bears no relationship to how good it feels.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement about the use of chemical weapons in Syria at the State Department on August 26. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Anticipating Kerry's speech, I checked in again last night with my friend Charles Glass in London, a reporter who knows Syria and Lebanon as intimately as any American. A graduate of American University of Beirut, he's covered the region for 40 years; he was once held hostage by Hezbollah, accompanied the invasion of Iraq, and reported from Aleppo last year. He was preparing to fly to Damascus as we spoke. 

And I came away from our conversation believing what Kerry surely understands, that there are essentially two strategic choices for the U.S., the first diplomatic, the second, significant armed intervention. Neither presumes that a limited military action is a "message," unless, that is, the intended recipient is not Assad, but Lindsay Graham.

A story about Hebron made it to international news outlets again this week: a group of Israeli soldiers from the Givati Infrantry Brigade were filmed dancing at a Palestinian wedding. One soldier was carried around on the shoulders of various wedding attendees. Why were they there? Most likely, they were simply on patrol, heard familiar music, and "asked" to come in and dance. Because no Palestinian says "no" to a soldier in Hebron. It's pretty much impossible.

The Arab residents of Hebron call their city al-Khalil. Khalil in Arabic means friend, and Khalil al-Allah is the friend of God. In the case of Hebron, they mean a particular friend: Abraham, known in the Bible as "Abraham my friend." The Hebrew name Hebron, also used in English, comes from the root HBR, which also means friend. I have been walking the streets of this city for three and a half years, since I was discharged from the IDF, guiding tours for Breaking the Silence. It is a fascinating city, beautiful and filthy, which manages to epitomize all of the complexities of the occupation in one place.

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Israeli soldiers point their guns at Palestinian stones throwers during a clashes on August 27,2013 in the city center of the West Bank town of Hebron. Hazem Bader / AFP/ Getty Images

Last Thursday, I was sitting on a barstool on stage at Azure in Ramallah telling jokes to a gaggle of my local comrades who had come to enjoy an evening of stand-up comedy. If that show had been scheduled for this week, it never would have happened. On Broadway we say, “The show must go on," but in Palestine when you have four dead—including one at the hands of your own leadership—there is nothing to laugh about and the show most certainly would have been cancelled.

At the crack of dawn on Monday, Israeli operatives entered Qalandia Refugee Camp to arrest an alleged enemy of the state. I don’t know what they were expecting, but they were met with what most Israeli incursions into the camps encounter: a barrage of stones, Molotov cocktails, and anything else that can be thrown, slung, or shot. When all was said and done, three Palestinian lay dead, including a U.N. worker who witnesses swear was caught in the crossfire on his way to work. Those who lost their lives were Yunis Jahjouh, 23; Jihad Aslan, 21; and Robin Zayed, 34.

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Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian youth in the West Bank's Qalandiya refugee camp on August 26, 2013. Israeli security forces shot dead three Palestinians and wounded 19 others in a clash in the Qalandiya refugee camp, Palestinian hospital officials told AFP. (Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images)

Robin Zayed, a father of four, was the UNRWA worker who got gunned down. I have never met a Palestinian named Robin, and I am desperate to know the story behind his name, but he is gone now and there are more important questions to ask. Why did the Israelis choose to enter the camps on the same day as talks were scheduled? How many of us would walk through live gunfire to get to work? It seems like a perfectly good reason to call in sick or take a personal day to save your own life. How many are forced to live like this daily? You can't call in sick every day.

Chemical Tel Aviv

On Shopping for Gas Masks on a Wednesday

Tel Aviv is known locally as "the Bubble," and, sometimes, the “state of Tel Aviv.” I prefer “republic of Tel Aviv,” but aesthetics aside, it is a small city that resembles Greenwich Village on steroids, and entirely differentiated from the rest of the country in the same way that New York is not quite “Real America” (to borrow a phrase).
 
I moved here last summer from New York, the city that makes all others feel like glorified small towns. But Tel Aviv is one great town, so the comedown wasn’t at all unpleasant. The downtown area of Tel Aviv is remarkably large for a city of only 400,000 and even for a metropolitan area of about 3 million (which, admittedly, is about half the population of the country.) Tel Aviv is deeply impressive for its sophistication, culture, arts scene, hipster penetration levels, outrageous prices, gorgeous beaches and boulevards, and for the sheer availability of things.

Photo of the author's desk in Tel Aviv on August 30 2013 shows a box on the right containing a gas mask.

Photo of the author's desk in Tel Aviv on August 30 2013 shows a box on the right containing a gas mask. Credit: Gabriel Sassoon

Much of the time, Tel Aviv feels about as distant from the Arab-Israeli conflict as Berkeley, where I have lived, and Sydney, where I am from. Usually the bombs do not fall here, and there is a surreality to it when they do. Last November’s rockets from Gaza, and the bus bombing around the corner from where I live, were shocking, to be sure, but almost immediately became lost in the activity of a city that epitomizes the Zionist ideal of Jewish normalization. It is easy to forget you are in Israel, let alone the Middle East.

Tel Aviv's residents are broadly supportive of the peace process with the Palestinians. People here tend to share the belief that two states for two peoples is the only viable vision for maintaining both the state’s Jewishness and its democracy. I am of this cultural and political milieu, even if I am not from it.

Now here’s a head-scratcher.

There’s a lot of talk about Yair Lapid believing that Israel’s position in peace negotiations will be weakened if members of his party attend a Rosh Hashanah event with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As such, even though five Yesh Atid parliamentarians had already RSVP’ed “yes” to Abbas’s little do, Lapid has instructed them to make their apologies. A spokeswoman with Yesh Atid explained the Finance Minister’s decision thus:

When there are direct negotiations between the two sides, we don’t think it is right for coalition MKs to bypass the official talks. We should let the diplomatic process continue via acceptable procedures.

Yesh Atid Chairman

Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, gives a speech during the celebration of their suggested 19 mandates on January 22, 2013 in Tel Aviv. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty)

But here’s the thing: Three members of Yesh Atid actually met with Palestinian Authority officials just two weeks ago, and it wasn’t at a party. Indeed, Maariv reported on August 18 that MK Yifat Kariv and two other people from Yesh Atid met with PA officials in Budapest in order to (in Kariv’s words) “support the peace process”:

Coup Blues

How the Power of Protest Died in Egypt

Ever since July 3, when Egypt's military overthrew the country's first democratically-elected president in an increasingly bloody coup, I've had an uneasy feeling about the future of the revolution that started in 2011. Last Sunday, the military expanded its crackdown to opposition beyond the Muslim Brotherhood and seasoned revolutionaries turned tools of the repression. As the breadth of the counterrevolution became clear, my unease turned to despair.

I was in Cairo during the constitutional crisis last December and again during the second anniversary of the revolution in January and February. At that time, the streets were still the center of politics, Mohamed Morsi was president and Hosni Mubarak was in jail. Now, much like 2010, Morsi is in jail, Mubarak isn’t, and the military suppresses politics coming from the street. This time, many leading progressives enthusiastically supported the military administration and, alongside the political and social opposition, returned the generals to power.

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A supporter of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak carries a portrait of him and Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, outside the police academy ahead of his trial on August, 25, 2013 in Cairo. Engy Imad / AFP/ Getty Images

Although front and center in the protests raging against Morsi's neglect of the spiraling economic crisis and increasingly autocratic style earlier this year, leading revolutionaries were careful to not allow the military to use the opportunity to take center stage. However, the recent change in strategy—to take to the streets and cheer the generals—could have been, perhaps unbeknownst to them, the death knell of Egypt's developing struggle for people power.

When Hezbollah made its fateful decision to intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war, it was only a matter of time before the war would follow them back home and ignite a fire in Lebanon. This month three car bombs went off in Lebanon, killing scores and injuring hundreds.

The first bomb, which exploded in Dahiyeh, Hezbollah's stronghold in southern Beirut, killed 27 and injured many more. No-one claimed responsibility for the blast, but few Lebanese doubted that it was a message from supporters of the Al-Qaeda-like wing of the anti-Assad Syrian rebels. A few days later, two car bombs exploded outside of mosques in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, a Salafi stronghold. The twin blasts killed 47 people and injured hundreds. Many Lebanese Salafis in the north are Sunni supporters of the Syrian rebels.

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A Lebanese TV reporter puts on make-up as she stands amid vehicles that were damaged in a bombing outside Al-Taqwa mosque on August 24, 2013 in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. STR /AFP / Getty Images

Hezbollah went to war in Syria only to encounter, among other foes, Al Qaeda. Salafist-Jihadists apparently brought the war home to them as well. This series of tit-for-tat bombings has created the most violent and volatile dynamic in Lebanon since the end of the civil war. The Syrian war, predictably enough, followed Hezbollah right back to its home territory.There was, by the way, a muted but palpable sense of Schadenfreude in Israel at seeing Hezbollah and Al Qaeda go to war in Lebanon.

A new ad campaign on public transit in Vancouver has created a conflict triangle among Palestine-issue activists, the organized Jewish community, and Vancouver’s transit authority. The ad depicts four maps of Israel/Palestine accompanied by the text “Disappearing Palestine: 5 million Palestinians are classified as refugees by the U.N.” The four maps, visible here, start in 1946 and conclude in 2012, and illustrate the changing balance of Israeli-Palestinian control before Israel’s founding, under the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, in 1967, and today.

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A screenshot of the 'Disappearing Palestine' maps as seen on the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign website.

In a press release issued by the Palestine Awareness Coalition, Martha Roth of Independent Jewish Voices explains that the ads are intended to “make the Canadian public aware of Israel’s steady absorption of Palestinian territory from 1946 to the present day and the constant oppression that accompanies that occupation.”

In response, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), Pacific Region, have issued their own press release, documenting the actions they have taken—so far unsuccessfully—to block the ads. They state that “...these ads violate TransLink’s own policies, which hold that Vancouver’s public transportation system must be a safe and welcoming environment for all racial, ethnic, religious and minority groups. The transit authority policy publicly states that, ‘No advertisement will be accepted which TransLink...considers to be of questionable taste or in any way offensive in the style, content or method of presentation.’”

The News From Israel

IDF Goes 'Gangnam Style' at Palestinian Wedding

"The soldiers exposed themselves to unnecessary danger..."
--IDF disciplines a group of soldiers serving in Hebron who crashed a Palestinian wedding party and danced with the guests to "Gangnam Style."

  • U.N. agency in tiff with Israeli government over worker's death - Israel criticizes UNRWA after it issues statement following death of its employee in Qalandia riots allegedly by IDF; relief agency claims investigation underway, man was innocent bystander; foreign ministry says soldiers fired back after being met with Moltov cocktails, feeling lives in danger. (Ynet)
  • Extracting politics from schools aim of new Education Ministry initiative - Idea for policy-directing committee of professionals far from new; its actualization among central election promises of Yesh Atid. (Haaretz+)
  • Israel backtracks on confiscating Palestinian families' East Jerusalem hotel - The state had invoked the Absentee Property Law to seize the Cliff Hotel, located some 50 meters from the Palestinian Parliament in Abu Dis, but cut off from its owners. (Haaretz+)
  • Israel rejected plan that would avoid splitting Beit Safafa, documents reveal - Recently revealed documents contradict Israel's claim that it cannot build a tunnel for a new Jerusalem road to avoid spliting an Arab village in two. (Haaretz+)
  • No. 2 in Washington embassy suspended, stays in Israel - Eran Etzion, a senior diplomat at the foreign ministry, may be denied post due to Shin Bet investigation. Colleagues left in the dark on allegations, but think it is because of leak. Spokesman: Appointment delayed due to personal reasons. (Israel Hayom)
  • Israeli fighter jets cleared to fly again, two months after crash - Decision follows findings of interim probe of July crash off Gaza coast. (Haaretz+)
  • Israel's health-care system ranked fourth in world; U.S. trails behind - U.S. is near bottom of list of 48 countries ranked by Bloomberg for the quality of their health-care systems. (Haaretz+)

For the full News from Israel.

When Israel’s Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett unveiled his new provisional platform for egalitarian prayer services near the Western Wall on Sunday, his so-called “compromise” elicited a mixed response. The pluralistic prayer group Women of the Wall, which has helmed the fight for women’s right to pray as they wish at the holy site, was furious; they called the structure a “sunbathing deck that overlooks the Western Wall from a distance ” and staged a 24-hour sit-in to protest it. The Prime Minister’s Office was embarrassed; it was forced to issue a clarificatory statement distancing itself from Bennett’s project. But others, particularly American Jewish leaders, took a rosier view. 

In the New York Times, prominent leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements were quoted as offering “cautious praise” for Bennett’s platform, provided it was meant only as an interim solution. Haaretz had Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, saying the platform may be "a gesture of good will." The suggestion seems to be that we should give Bennett the benefit of the doubt and take him at his word when he says this was “done now in order to provide every Jew with a place to pray during the holidays.” But we shouldn’t be so credulous.

To appreciate the full weirdness of Bennett’s move, remember that Israel’s entire governmental and judiciary apparatus had been churning away for months in an effort to resolve the Western Wall dispute. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had tasked Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky with devising a proposal that would satisfy both the women’s group and the ultra-Orthodox rabbis who govern the holy site. Sharansky’s proposal for a separate egalitarian prayer space won broad support from non-Orthodox Israeli and American Jews, but its relevance was soon undermined by a Jerusalem District Court ruling that affirmed women’s right to pray according to their custom at the site itself. The committee appointed to come up with short- and long-term recommendations had yet to submit its final report, but was expected to do so in a matter of days. With all this machinery already set in motion, what possessed Bennett to suddenly take matters into his own hands?

About the Editor

Author headshot

Peter Beinart

Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, is associate professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. His new book, The Crisis of Zionism, was published by Times Books in April 2012.

Open Zion's Take:

Boycotting Israel

Academics Say No To Israel

Academics Say No To Israel

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.

Bastardized Boycott?

Who Defines the ‘B’ in the BDS Movement?

Mixed Motivations

What Does the ASA Boycott Mean? They Don’t Know.

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