On May 8th, Israelis marked the 46th anniversary of Jerusalem Day. For those of you unfamiliar with the holiday, this annual love fest features angry mobs of Israelis of all ages, marching through the streets of the Old City in celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem. I have often wondered if part of the reason they are so angry is because, deep down inside, they know Jerusalem is nowhere near united.
Some of the fun-filled activities to partake in on Jerusalem Day include: blocking the entrances to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; bullying Palestinian shops in The Old City into closing; canceling the Muslim call to prayer; and running hog wild through the holiest of cities shrieking lovely epithets like, “Die Arab Die!” and random facts like "Mohammed is dead." How's that for unity?
Need more hate in your parades? Join the storming of the Damascus Gate and be sure to wear your most offensive t-shirt. May I recommend the one featuring a picture of the dome from The Dome of the Rock being demolished by a Caterpillar bulldozer? It's a fashion risk, but also an incitement must.
Stephen Hawking (L) visits Israel in 2006 (Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images), and Israeli revelers entering the Old City on Jerusalem day. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP / Getty Images)
Jerusalem Day 2013 was a feel-good romp that ended with several Palestinians arrested, a gaggle of protestors beaten down, and one Mufti randomly detained for six hours. Is this a snapshot of what the future holds for Palestinians living in an “undivided” Jerusalem? A life of inequality where their shops are arbitrarily closed so bigots can frolic, where prayer calls and church bells are silenced on a whim, and where the omnipresent Israeli Army provides cover for the thugs who harass them? It sounds like paradise. Why wouldn’t the world want that instead of a mixed city where all can worship and buy useless tchotchkes freely?
I love a good museum fight. Symbolic kulturkampf (like the squabble over whether the Simon Wiesenthal Center was building its Museum of Tolerance on a Muslim graveyard) draws all the ire and bile of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but without, you know, actual artillery shells. This round of hostilities was ignited by Washington's journalism-themed Newseum, which included, in its list of “journalists who died or were killed while reporting the news,” Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, two Palestinians with Hamas affiliations killed by an Israeli Army airstrike during last November’s hostilities.
The usual suspects (right-wing blogger Jennifer Rubin, Adam Kredo of the neo-conservative Washington Free Beacon, the Anti-Defamation League) hollered angrily that the Newseum is honoring terrorists. Today, Newseum announced it will "re-evaluate their inclusion" on its list of journalists. So are al-Kumi and Salama heroic journalists, or scurrilous terrorists? The truth is, they are sort of both. Those outraged over Newseum’s decision are using “terrorist” sloppily, muddying the waters of international law and morality.
Journalists from different agencys run after an Israeli air strike on an office of Hamas television channel Al-Aqsa in Gaza City on November 18, 2012. (Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)
Critics of the museum confuse two basic claims about the Palestinian journalists: first, that they were propaganda agents for Hamas, helping propping up a savage band of thugs, and second, that they were materially aiding a terrorist operation, and thus participating in hostilities as combatants. Anyone who doubts the first point is welcome to watch this video from their employer, Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, in which Mickey Mouse menaces the Zionists with death. Hateful filth. And so it’s good that, as Tablet’s Adam Chandler noted back in November, the United States Treasury considers Al-Aqsa TV a “terrorist financing organization,” and has frozen its funds. Which means, technically, that Al-Aqsa TV’s employees are terrorists.
Technically, sure, but not in any way that’s relevant to the question of whether they deserved to be taken out by an IDF airstrike. That, according to the rules of law (as Human Rights Watch explains) depends on whether they were actually participating in hostilities. Anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist journalists remain civilians until they aid an ongoing attack. During World War II, for instance, Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl (who makes Al-Aqsa look like PBS), as vile as she was, was not fair game. For that, you don’t need to be a member, in the words of Israeli Army Spokesperson Avital Leibovich, of “legitimate media outlets.” You just need not to be a soldier. And no one on the right has supplied any evidence that al-Kumi and Salama were terrorists in the sense of actually being combatants.
On April 29, at Blair House, Arab League ministers led by Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani reiterated their commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative, including a (by now, familiar) proposed finesse, that the 1967 border might be adjusted with land swaps to accommodate the large settlement blocs. Three days later, on May 1 (and again on May 3), Israeli aircraft attacked an apparent cache of Hezbollah-bound Iranian weapons near Damascus, attacks embattled President Assad called an act of war demanding retaliation, and which the same Arab League ministers, no friends of Assad, roundly condemned.
It is hard to imagine a juxtaposition capturing so vividly Israel's way forward in "the region." Benjamin Netanyahu's government did not exactly reject the Qatar initiative and even dispatched Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to explore things with Secretary Kerry. But the attacks in Damascus seem a truer, or at least more urgent, expression of popular attitudes the government derives its mandate from. Israelis have always seen the logic of current military preemption more clearly than that of eventual diplomatic engagement. This won't change.
In this image taken from video obtained from the Ugarit News, smoke and fire fill the the skyline over Damascus, Syria, early Sunday, May 5, 2013 after an Israeli airstrike. (Ugarit News via AP video)
One former intelligence head—a man who, fearing a general regional war, has been outspoken in his opposition to attacks on Iranian nuclear installations and even advocated negotiations with Hamas—told me in Washington last week that if Iran grows its military footprint in Syria (elements of the Revolutionary Guard are already there), then all Israelis would be united behind the IAF attacking Iranian forces there. "We simply cannot tolerate Iranians on our borders," he said. And what of the Arab Peace Initiative? "The original Saudi Plan made no mention of Palestinian refugees," he added gravely. Hameivin yavin.
Stephen Hawking’s announcement that he is joining the Palestinian academic boycott on Israel is both hypocritical and counterproductive. By spurning the invitation to President Shimon Peres’s presidential conference for this spurious reason, this widely-respected scientist has sacrificed his credibility on the altar of Palestinian extremism and anti-Zionism. This is a man who has traveled to Iran and China with no compunction. This is a man who has not repudiated the United Kingdom or the United States for the controversial moves they have made in the fight against Islamist terrorism. And yet, he cannot visit liberal democratic Israel, to attend a conference convened by its left-leaning, peace-seeking President.
Boy, it is quite a coincidence. If we lived in a world in which some progressives boycotted Iran, and others boycotted China, and others boycotted Israel, perhaps Israel would take Hawking’s criticism more to heart. But the trendy selectivity of the pile-on is not credible. When, again and again, Israel is the first and only country fashionable intellectuals decide to boycott, we have to take former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s advice and challenge the “accuser” not the “accused.”
British physicist Stephen Hawking attends the 2010 World Science Festival opening night gala performance at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 in New York. (Evan Agostini / AP Photo)
Hawking’s decision gives the totalitarian anti-Zionists a victory they do not deserve. Like it or not, it puts him in league with the obstructionists, the extremists, the exterminationists. Boycotting a country is the equivalent of a blunt, lethal machete not a delicate scalpel. It rejects the country itself, not some of its controversial policies, saying that its actions are so heinous—so much worse than other countries you choose not to boycott—that you cannot interact with anyone there, with any aspect of civil society, even its critics.
"This is a theater of the absurd. The Netanyahu government has frozen construction for Jews and is handing out state land to Palestinians as a present."
--Settler official tells Maariv about government's plans to permit construction of new Palestinian city.
- Turkey: Israel to compensate only those who drop lawsuits - Deputy PM Arinc confirms reconciliation agreement will obligate families of Marmara raid victims to drop lawsuits against IDF officers. Families' rep: Inappropriate to talk compensation prior to removal of Gaza blockade, Turkish daily Zamaan reported. (Ynet)
- Palestinian Teachers denied access to school near Yatta - Israeli troops on Sunday morning stopped the teaching staff of a Palestinian school in Jinba south of Hebron in the southern West Bank - near the illegal Israeli outpost Mitzpe Yair. (Maan)
- Israeli settlers split over local IDF commander's West Bank policies - The Yesha Council representing West Bank municipalities is at odds with grassroots settler groups over whether or not to work with the head of the IDF Central Command, who some feel lack sensitivity to terror victims and give easy hand to Palestinian protesters. (Haaretz+)
- Abbas slams settler attacks, Al-Aqsa violations - President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday condemned settler attacks on Palestinians and violations at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. "We cannot stand idly by and allow such atrocities to continue," he said. (Maan)
- Israeli police, municipal staff deliver demolition orders in Silwan - Israeli police escorted staff of the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem on Sunday who hung demolition warrants on doors of four Palestinian families' homes in the Silwan neighborhood of (E.) Jerusalem. (Maan)
- Israeli interrogator accused of torture: Suspects must believe anything goes - Army major known as Capt. George, accused by Lebanese terrorist Mustafa Dirani of torture and rape, told Channel 2 News on Friday that terror suspects have to believe there are no boundaries to interrogation tactics. (Haaretz+)
- Israel detains ex-prisoner freed in Shalit deal - Israeli forces took Tahrir Sati al-Qinna, 35, and her brother Saddam, 25, to an unknown location after raiding their village, Kafr Qalil, south of Nablus. (Maan)
- Gaza ministry: Collaborator campaign a success - A recent Hamas campaign to target collaborators with Israel was a success, noting that Israeli intelligence activities had decreased along the northern Gaza border. All collaborators who handed themselves in during a month long amnesty were enjoying the guarantees promised at the start of the campaign, the government said. (Maan)
For the full News from Israel.
This has been a great week for Israeli feminism.
Today’s confrontation at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which saw thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting the pluralistic prayer group Women of the Wall, made headlines in publications ranging from Haaretz to the New York Times—and rightly so. This was a watershed moment for both feminism and religious pluralism in Israel, because for the first time in 24 years Israeli police decided to protect—instead of arrest—the nearly 500 Women of the Wall members who had come to the Kotel to pray wearing tallit and tefillin in the women’s section.
The police’s about-face came on the heels of a landmark April 25 Jerusalem District Court ruling, upheld by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, which stated that the group should be allowed to pray as they see fit in the women’s section. Why? Because the women’s prayers cannot rightly be considered a provocation—even if the ultra-Orthodox choose to see it as such. Which, of course, they did: no less than Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Shas party’s revered spiritual leader, urged thousands of ultra-Orthodox seminary girls to flood the women’s section in order to prevent Women of the Wall from praying as they had planned. Meanwhile, men of all ages threw rocks, water bottles, garbage, chairs, and (incongruously) candy, as well as loud jeers and catcalls, over the gender-segregating barricade into the women’s section. But, as you can see in the video below, the women sang and prayed and smiled and cried tears of joy, undaunted—thanks to the new legitimacy and legal protection granted them by the recent court ruling.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If Women of the Wall’s victory constitutes Exhibit A for this week’s upswing in feminist success, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s new bill, which seeks to criminalize gender-based discrimination, is surely Exhibit B. Backed by Attorney-General Weinstein this Wednesday, the bill aims to make sure women are no longer excluded from public spaces, denied equal access to public services, or forcibly separated from men on buses, in cemeteries, on radio stations, and the like. Because there’s been a disturbing spike in gender segregation and discrimination in the past two years, this bill marks a vitally important and long overdue change; it seems the tide may finally be turning.
At the crux of the ongoing controversy over Google’s decision to recognize “Palestine” on its google.ps landing page is an emphatic refusal by some in Israel (and abroad) to accept empirical reality. That reality is pretty uncomplicated. Most of the world today recognizes the Palestinians as a people. Most countries have voted at the U.N. to recognize Palestine as a theoretical state that must one day come into being in areas currently controlled by Israel. No nation on earth endorses Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem; Israeli actions to further entrench the occupation continue to provoke global condemnation.
A Palestinian man points at the word 'Palestine' on the Palestinian homepage of Google's search engine in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 3, 2013. (Said Khatib / AFP / Getty Images)
The ruling Likud party may be split tactically, but it is unified ideologically, on the issue of peace and the two-state solution. At its most “pro-peace” end is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recognizes the need for a “deal” with the Palestinians involving territorial concessions, but who can barely utter the words “two-state solution.” Netanyahu is clear, too, that the need for a deal derives solely from Israel’s interest in avoiding becoming a bi-national state, not from Palestinian legitimate claims to self-determination or attachments to the land. And while Netanyahu refuses to draw or even describe the map that he imagines will be the foundation of this deal, he is working assiduously to impose a new map on the ground—one that will make a viable Palestinian state impossible.
At the other end of the spectrum is Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin. As the source of the official condemnations of Google, Elkin has couched his criticism of the company in seemingly pro-peace terms. This is the same Elkin, however, who openly opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state and who calls for Israel to put the two-state solution to rest, once and for all, by annexing the entire West Bank.
Both Netanyahu’s and Elkin’s tactical approaches are shaped by a core conviction: that there is only one entitled, empowered national collective to the west of the Jordan River, and it is the Jewish people. In this imagined West Bank, anything the Palestinians “get” will be a reflection of Israeli magnanimity, not Palestinian rights. And in this imagined Jerusalem, non-Jews are at best tolerated minorities enjoying certain privileges of residency—which can be revoked virtually at the whim of Israeli officials—but denied the rights of citizens who have recognized equities in the city’s past, present, and future.
Occasionally, one sees a picture of an anti-Zionist Jewish and Palestinian protester side by side. With a smug look on their faces, as if they’ve discovered the secret that will solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, they hold two signs. In the picture accompanying Sam Bahour’s piece on the Law of Return, the Jew’s sign reads, “I’m from Austin TX. Israel would pay me to move to his land because I’m Jewish.” Next to her is a Palestinian whose sign reads, “I’m from Palestine. I cannot return to my land because I’m not Jewish.”
Without context, this may seem convincing. Once one understands the logic behind the Law of Return, though, the picture becomes much more blurred. The Law of Return was promulgated in 1951 to grant automatic Israeli citizenship to every Jew. There were two main reasons for this piece of legislation. First, it was an attempt to rectify the injustice whereby, since the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 CE, Jews have never been guaranteed the right to visit (let alone live in) their ancestral homeland. Second, it was designed to provide a safe haven for Jews, based on the reality that majority non-Jewish states have consistently failed to guarantee the safety of their Jews.
A Jewish couple in the Budapest ghetto wear their yellow stars upon their jackets. In April of 1944, a declaration ordered all Jews in Hungary to prominently wear yellow stars. (Yevgeny Khaldei/Corbis)
For Palestinians, Bahour argues, the Law of Return “is a disgrace, and a stain on the quilt of humanity,” because it applies solely to Jews and not to Palestinians ethnically cleansed in 1948. He then suggests that Diaspora Jews show solidarity with the Palestinians by ‘renouncing’ their right to citizenship. “To understand this seemingly intractable conflict, one cannot detach themselves from a historical understanding of the Middle East, in general, and of the tragedy that befell the Jews (and all of mankind) in Europe ever since WWI [sic?]. However, no tragedy, no matter how severe, should be used as a pretext to discriminate…Likewise, no democracy, in today’s world, should have the 'right' to speak for persons who are not its citizens, live thousands of miles away, and have not given their direct consent to be spoken for or 'represented.'”
When the Washington-based think-tank Freedom House released its 33rd annual global rankings of press freedom, an uproar ensued. Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick called the ranking "fraudulent." Commentary's Jonathan Tobin wrote that it was a "smear," and that "Freedom House ought to be ashamed of tarnishing its impressive brand in this manner." The more level-headed Michael Koplow piled on: "In case you are wondering why Israel and its supporters constantly decry double standards and Israel being unfairly singled out for criticism, here is Exhibit A," he wrote on Ottomans and Zionists. "The idea that Israel’s press is not completely free is ridiculous, particularly to anyone who has spent even five minutes reading Israeli newspapers or watching Israel television."
A general view shot on January 26, 2011 shows the building of Israel's leading Haaretz newspaper in Tel Aviv. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)
Why the outrage? Because Israel's press freedom status was changed from "free" to "partly free." The critics have something of a point: Israelis voraciously consume media that, for the most part, operates uninhibited. And yet there are factors in the Israeli media environment—both long-established dynamics and more recent developments—that spell trouble for press freedom. Freedom House found that the new developments merited just a one point increase. But Israel's score last year was already a 30, and countries scoring at 31 points fall into the rigid parameters of a "partly free" designation. "We rate every country according to the same set of methodology questions," Karin Karlekar, a co-author of Freedom House's report, told me. "We have categorizations that are very stark. But when you look at the actual numeral change, you sort of see that actually makes sense."
While, in interviews, a half dozen Israeli journalists agreed that a designation of "partly free" didn't match their experience working in Israel, some thought that issues existed and recent developments were troubling. Barak Ravid, the diplomatic correspondent for the daily Haaretz, said he understood the one-point change, but objected to the designation. "At the end of the day, you need to find a system to measure [press freedom]," he told me. "But I just think it was too technical. I don't think that the report and the rating catches the complexity of journalists in Israel today." Not everyone held such a nuanced view: the Maariv journalist Ben-Dror Yemini, known as a maverick and antagonist of the left, called the rankings "something between embarrassing and ridiculous." He didn't know about the recent developments this year, but wrote in an e-mail, "I just know that the Israeli media is enjoying full, completely full, freedom of expression."
According to Freedom House's country report on Israel, new developments there include the rise of Israel Hayom and the financial pressures it exerts on the media market, as well as the poor financial shape of print media organizations generally; the indictment and subsequent guilty plea by journalist Uri Blau for possessing secret government documents; and "instances of politicized interference" with Israel's public broadcasting authority. Glick, Tobin and Koplow see these all as either totally wrong-headed criticisms or so minimally problematic as to be negligible. Ravid disagreed: "The change from 30 to 31 was the right message, but the result, in their categorizing, was the wrong result," he told me. "The vector that they were pointing at was true, but it doesn't mean that Israel is 'partly free.'"
Dear Church of Scotland,
I’ve read your Report on the ‘Promised Land,’ and, oh dear. I know that since its publication you’ve met with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and that as a result you’re planning a new introduction, “to set the context for the report and give clarity about some of the language used.” But from my perspective, you’ll need a great deal more than a new introduction and “clarity.”
As it happens, I was in Scotland when the report came out. As it further happens, my mother is ethnically half Scottish, and indeed, my great-great-great-(take a breath)-great-great grandfather Alexander McQueen’s Regimental Colors are lain away in the High Kirk of St. Giles in Edinburgh. He joined King George III’s army, you see, in the course of the Clearances.
A general view of Ness Bank, Church of Scotland which sits next to the River Ness as the sun sets on July 12, 2011 in Inverness, Scotland. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images)
You remember the Clearances, right? They were the brutal removal of people from their lands on largely, but not exclusively religious grounds, after the final, pitiless squashing of the Jacobite Rebellions. My mother’s ancestors had family on both sides of that fight, loyalists and Jacobites both, at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. As I’m sure you recall, that was a deeply complicated conflict, one in which faith, land ownership, and generations-old grudges played out across bloody battlefields for over a century, shadows of which can still be seen in the arguments surrounding the upcoming Scottish independence referendum today.
These stories are in my blood, alongside the facts of my own life as an American-Israeli Jew. I’m a Zionist, but I’m the kind of Zionist who’s criticized the Israeli government so vehemently that I’ve gotten death threats, so please don’t misunderstand where I stand on the conflict: I’ve advocated for two-states since the first intifada, and have done so not just because I recognize the importance of peace for my own people, but because the essential dignity and human rights of the Palestinian people demand it.
And wow, this document is not helpful.
"J-Street has become a major player in the U.S. political arena which can no longer be ignored."
--Yedioth's diplomatic affairs reporter Itamar Eichner writes about the end of the Israeli government's boycott of J-Street.
- B'Tselem: More than 50% of Palestinians killed in Israel's last Gaza operation were civilians - Israeli rights group's report finds that 35 percent of the non-combatants killed in Operation Pillar of Defense were under 18, also cites violations of international law by both Palestinian militant groups and IDF. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- UN report: Israel strangles east Jerusalem's development - Non-Jews are third of city's population, but enjoy only 7% of municipal spending, report says; 77% live below poverty line, compared to 25% of Jews. (Agencies, Ynet)
- Chinese president urges Israeli, Palestinian leaders to 'build trust' - Chinese state media says the visits this week of Abbas and Netanyahu emphasize nation's 'active involvement in Middle East affairs.' (Agencies,Haaretz)
- According to Likud officials: Erdan will be sent to Washington - Israel will likely appoint Home Front Minister Minister Gilad Erdan as Israel's ambassador to Washington in two months time. But the sources say the final decision lies with Avigdor Lieberman, the former foreign minister who is waiting for his graft trial to end so he can become the next foreign minister. (Maariv, p. 1/NRG Hebrew)
- Archaeologists call to dig at Jewish site discovered in Palestinian territory - After publication in Maariv, a delegation of senior Israeli archaeologists visited the site near Bethlehem of the rare findings from the period of the First Temple. Israel Antiquities Authority: "The subject is sensitive, we are working to have the site revealed completely." (Maariv, p. 9/NRG Hebrew)
- Renowned Islamic cleric visiting Gaza, rejects Israel's existence - Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi says,' This land has never once been Jewish. Palestine is for the Arab Islamic nation.' (Agencies, Ynet)
- American media museum honors Hamas cameramen - Washington based Newseum to add names of two cameramen, labeled terrorists, killed by IAF strike in Gaza operation, to memorial wall. (Ynet)
- Paving the way to an indivisible Jerusalem - A new highway connecting Jewish neighborhoods in northern Jerusalem is the latest addition to a network of roads making a future division of the city increasingly unlikely. (Haaretz+)
For the full News from Israel.
Stephen Hawking, one of the UK's most brilliant minds, and a man revered by much of the British population for his indefatigable ability to navigate the challenges that life has thrown at him, announced yesterday that he would not be attending the 5th Presidential Conference in Israel this coming June. His letter to the conference organizers explained that he had decided to “respect the boycott after receiving a number of emails from Palestinian academics.” Israel's ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, responded to the announcement with the following statement: “It is a great shame… Rather than caving into pressure from political extremists, active participation in such events is a far more constructive way to promote progress and peace.”
In the case of academic boycott, the stakes are incredibly high. It's one thing to refuse to buy Israeli wine; it is something else altogether to refuse to collaborate with another academic. It beguiles the notion of free thought, and the idea that academic freedom stands above political difference. At its worst, it looks like the case of Moti Cristal, the Israeli academic who was invited to speak at a National Health Service conference in Manchester, UK. His invite was later withdrawn after pressure from UNISON trade union members, who, despite UNISON's own policy of boycott of goods and services from Israeli settlements only, did not want to be lectured in conflict resolution by an Israeli. (Note that, while still deeply problematic, official guidelines set out in the Palestinian call for an organized academic boycott do not support boycott solely on the basis of nationality.)
British physicist Stephen Hawking attends the 2010 World Science Festival opening night gala performance at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 in New York. (Evan Agostini / AP Photo)
But when it comes to Stephen Hawking, surely one cannot level the criticism that he does not believe in Israel's right to exist (not least because he has travelled to the country on a number of occasions and uses Israeli technology to enable him to speak), does not support freedom of expression, or that he somehow does not have the ability to distinguish between political extremism and political protest. It would be something of an insult to his amazing mind to suggest he lacks those critical faculties. So what are we, the pro-Israel Anglo Jewish community, to make of his decision?
On Open Zion earlier this week, Dani Dayan argued that excitement over Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani’s declarations agreeing to land swaps as part of the Arab Peace Initiative was misplaced. According to Dayan, the correct Israeli response to the Arab proposal should be to dismiss the very idea of land swaps. Taking land swaps off the table would function to punish the Palestinians for their historic sins and as a mechanism that would enable the continuation of the settlement project, which Dayan deemed “rightful and “irreversible.”
First, it’s worth dismissing Dayan’s digressions into the realm of historical and political fantasy out of hand—most settlements are not “rightful” according to various national and international laws nor are they at all “irreversible,” given that the Israeli government continues to function as the primary driver sustaining them. Moreover, contrary to Dayan’s claims, this is not a new Arab demand. The Palestinian position has long been that swaps must be both “minor” and “comparable” in size. More interesting than what Dayan got wrong is what he got right: the “new” Arab position regarding land swaps was, in and of itself, not terribly exciting and the Arab Peace Initiative (API), in the way it moderated its language, already implied the notion of land swaps. What was new was the Qatari PM’s timing.
US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani after a meeting with the Arab League at Blair House in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2013. (Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images)
The API called on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, making no explicit call for modifications to that line. But it also made no mention of water allocation between Israel and Palestine, how holy sites should be managed in Jerusalem, or any number of other detail-specific questions that will be resolved in a final status agreement between Israel and Palestine. In this context, it was clear that the Initiative aimed to set skeletal parameters for regional peace and wasn’t meant to hammer out minutiae such as where and how modifications to the 1967 lines should be made—that is, which lands would be swapped.
A Likud minister once remarked—off the record, of course—that Israeli politicians can be categorized based on how they perceive Prime Minister Netanyahu's intentions toward the peace process. "There are those who suspect (or hope) he'll eventually pursue an ambitious peace plan," he said. "And those who already know there's no chance.”
This statement contains some truth. President Peres was absolutely sure, for most of his presidential term, that Netanyahu had changed and was ready for real negotiations. Peres became the great legitimizer for Netanyahu's government, both internally and abroad. But the honeymoon didn’t last. Eventually the Israeli president came to the conclusion that, not only is the PM set on postponing any advance in the political process with the Palestinians, he also may lead a military strike against Iran—one that might be uncoordinated with the U.S., which he thinks could be potentially disastrous. Tzipi Livni, on the other hand, acted the exact opposite way. She was highly critical of Netanyahu and suspicious of his true intentions in his early years. As a current coalition ally and new minister, though, Livni believes that Netanyahu is now serious in his peace process commitment.
Israeli Prime Minister and Chairman of the Likud Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press during a visit to the Begin Heritage center on January 21, 2013 in Jerusalem. (Lior Mizrahi / Getty Images)
The PM is indeed striking a different tone lately. He recently told Israeli ambassadors that an agreement with the Palestinians is needed so that Israel will not become a bi-national state. This was thoroughly wrapped in the usual "security first" rhetoric, though the former was what made headlines. It's an important step for Netanyahu. Because, as logical as it might sound, the bi-national scenario is primarily used only by the left wing in Israel. Using this argument to explain the peace process is highly irregular for a chairman of Likud, a party that maintains that the left tends to exaggerate and inflate the threats to Israel's democratic and Jewish character. Sima Kadmon, the political analyst for Yediot Aharonot, spoke to an unnamed senior Likud member. "Netanyahu never spoke like this before,” the MK told her. “He spoke like a lefty…rhetorically, he already crossed to the other side.”
Some even detect a new urgency in the Israeli PM’s approach. "We cannot be idle," the PM said to one Israeli source. "There's the Palestinian international recognition initiatives, de-legitimacy attempts; we need to act or at least be in play with good will."
My first name is one of those names that makes folks being introduced to me instantly ask, "Where are you from?" and New Jersey is not the answer they are looking for. They want to know where I'm from from. When I tell them I'm Palestinian, I'm met with such gems as, "Are you gonna blow me up?" "That's where they killed Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, right?" or the most often repeated, “Oh, I’m Jewish. Is that bad? Do you hate me?" Each time I'm accused of anti-Semitism at hello, I feel compelled to parade out not one token Jewish friend, but my entire lifetime collection, to prove my innocence. "Please meet Mrs. Palumbo, my 6th grade piano teacher. I’d also like to introduce you to Ashley and Cori, my Jewish bridesmaids and perhaps you know of my good friend, Adam Sandler. Reports of my anti-Semitism have been greatly exaggerated." The concept of hating someone due to their faith is completely foreign to me. Their shoes, yes; their faith, no. The number of people who assume that I, and all other Palestinians on earth, hate Jews is disturbing. Allow me to dispel this myth.
I, and the lion's share of Palestinians out there, can absolutely differentiate between Israeli policies and Judaism. We hold no ill will toward the latter. It's Israel's land grabs, collective punishment, invasions, and dehumanization that Palestinians have a beef with—not their Jewishness. The use of the word “yahood” (Arabic for Jew) as a synonym for the word “Israeli” by some Palestinians is not solid evidence of blind hatred either. It is similar to the way many in the Western media tend to use Muslim and Arab interchangeably, and just as inappropriate.
Palestinian youth protest against Israel's security fence during a demonstration against Israel's security fence at the West Bank Palestinian village of Khirbet Ras Atira, West Bank. (David Silverman / Photonica World / Getty Images)
Do some Palestinians hate Jews? Sadly, yes. Do some Americans hate Muslims? You betcha! Just like their American counterparts, who think all Muslims want to kill them, there are Palestinians who think all Jews want to displace them by any means necessary. They do not differentiate between the self-proclaimed Jewish State and the non-complicit members of that faith. I have encountered Palestinians who have never met a Jewish person that was not-armed and not yelling in their face. They've never seen the other side. There are also Jews who hate all Palestinians and like to post that hate online. Then there are folks who just hate everyone, including the so-called leaders in the Arab world whose ranting is beyond Palestinians' control.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.