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'Question of Palestine' Mural Unveiled in Nablus

"Appointing Lieberman as foreign minister is like planting an explosive device in the peace process."
--Chairwoman MK Zahava Gal-On before the swearing-in ceremony Monday.

  • Israel implicated in shooting death of Palestinian bystander - A report released by Israeli human rights group B'tselem on Monday casts "grave suspicion" that a Palestinian killed in Qabatiya on Oct. 31 was shot dead with live ammunition fired by Israeli forces, despite their denials. (Maan)
  • Palestinian woman pulls knife on soldiers in West Bank - A Palestinian woman approached an IDF outpost in the Tapuach Junction in the West Bank, and pulled a knife on one of the soldiers. Soldiers subdued the woman and took her into custody for questioning. (Ynet)
  • In rare operation, Palestinian police arrest criminals in Israeli-controlled areas near Jerusalem - In unprecedented operation, Palestinian Authority forces arrest dozens of criminals in neighborhoods around Jerusalem. Since the separation barrier was built in the early 2000s, the Israel Police has stopped operating in these areas. (Haaretz+)
  • Clashes in Jerusalem as Israeli forces shut down Arafat event - Israeli forces and intelligence officers stormed a sports club in the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem and dispersed Palestinians who were commemorating the ninth anniversary of late president Yasser Arafat's death. (Maan)
  • Thousands mark Arafat's death across the West Bank - Thousands of people took to the streets across the West Bank on Monday to mark the 9th anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death. (Maan)
  • Israeli forces fire tear gas into 2 schools in Beit Ummar - Israeli forces fired tear gas canisters into a school and a kindergarten north of Hebron Monday after protestors nearby threw rocks at an Israeli patrol in the area while marking the death of Yasser Arafat nine years ago. (Maan)
  • Israel detains 2 children at Nablus checkpoint - Yaqout Mohammad Jawhar, 13, and Alaa Mustafa Hanini, 12, were detained during clashes at the checkpoint in Nablus Monday. (Maan)
  • Massive 'Question of Palestine' mural unveiled in Nablus - 25 Palestinian artists had been working on giant mural measuring about 1,000 square meters for over a month. It was unveiled in Nablus Monday. (Maan)

For the full News from Israel.

Between Lord Byron’s ecstatic Orientalism, with its colorful harems and whirling dervishes, and the more recent Western views of the Middle East, with their mostly blinkered focus on images of conflict or rapturous oil wealth, the Arab world as seen and decoded by Arab eyes still seems amazingly absent from the Occidental gallery, especially the American one. The upcoming Fotofest photography biennial, which will take place in early 2014 in Houston, will offer Americans a serious opportunity to become familiar with this important and well-established body of work by contemporary Arab photographers.

This edition of Fotofest, its fifteenth, is titled View From Inside: Contemporary Arab Video, Photography and Mixed Media Art. It brings together the largest and broadest exhibition of contemporary Arab photographic art yet seen in the United States. Founded in 1983 by the dynamic husband-wife team Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin, Fotofest has developed into one of America’s most valuable cultural exchanges. Many consider it to be the most important photo biennial.

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Khaled Hafez (Egypt): The A77A Project: on Presidents & Superheroes (still from video), 2009

If the latest research on the American Jewish community has shown us anything, it’s that very often the people in positions of power, the leaders with the soapboxes and editorial positions, do not profess views that represent an overwhelming number of the individuals they claim to represent. And so, it was with great disappointment that I learned Open Zion would be closing shop and Peter Beinart would be moving on to new journalistic opportunities.

It seems strange to feel attached to a site that has existed for only a year and a half, and yet I know that I’m not alone in feeling a nervous sense of loss.

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Peter Beinart (right) at an event for his book, "The Crisis of Zionism," held on May 12, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona (Flickr / Zocalo in Phoenix)

Part of what leaves people feeling unnerved is that there just is no other institutionalized forum for this kind of daily online discussion and debate. And especially at this time, right smack in the middle of fragile peace negotiations, losing that type of space provides a stark reminder of what kind of void it was originally created to fill. And how not even the finest Jewish publications out there, like The Forward and JTA really make it their mission to provide that kind of frankly uncomfortable discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We can click between Mondoweiss, Al Jazeera, Commentary Magazine, +972 Magazine, The Jerusalem Post  and all the others to try to piece together what perhaps is the spectrum of the debate, but there’s no real space where they all converge. And unfortunately, it’s these media bubbles that so often replicate, reinforce and reproduce our fractious politics. Open Zion was not just an interesting news source, but an experiment to break down the dichotomy between the progressive and conservative media. 

Quote of the day:

"I want to contribute to the State in a way that would have made Yitzhak and Leah Rabin proud of me."

--Yitzhak Rabin, 18, a Jordanian immigrant, wants to serve in the IDF.

  • Cabinet OKs demolishing Bedouin village, replacing with Jewish town - Unauthorized village Umm al-Hiran makes cabinet agenda even though its future is in the court's hands. Jewish community to be named Hiran. [Israel Hayom reports on the new Jewish town, but avoids mentioning the need to destroy a Bedouin village - OH. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
  • Abbas: Adamant on intention to find true cause of Arafat's death - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinian Authority is adamant in its intention to unearth the truth behind Yasser Arafat's death. (Ynet and Maan)
  • Lieberman gets green light to return as FM - Cabinet approves reinstatement of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister; swearing in ceremony set for Monday. (Agencies, Ynet)
  • Yitzhak Rabin wants to be recruited to IDF - He was born 18 years ago in Jordan to parents, who decided to name him after the murdered prime minister. Since then, little Rabin and his family moved to Israel when he was a baby, he began conversion process to Judaism and now wants to serve in the army, if he would only finally receive an Israeli ID card. (Yedioth, p. 14)
  • Concern in Jordan: "Jewish extremists operating at Al-Aqsa (Temple Mount)" - In an article in "Al-Dustour" newspaper, the Jordanian minister in charge of holy places warned: "Discussion over division of Al-Aqsa is playing with fire." (NRG Hebrew)
  • Lebanon: Israel spying on our phones - Complaint to UN to cite electronic espionage stations along border that can access any telecom network. (Haaretz+)
  • Riots in Lebanon after Nasrallah lampooned on prime-time - For first time since 2006, satirical Lebanese show pokes fun at Hezbollah chief Nasrallah, causing riots in group's strongholds. In show, Nasrallah asked if group has erred in Syria, in response: 'We joined fighting too late'. (Ynet)
  • Iranian deputy minister of industries 'shot dead' in Tehran - State news agency IRNA reports Deputy Industries Minister Safdar Rahmatabadi shot by unidentified assailant. Last month, the Telegraph reported that Iran's commander of the Cyber Warfare Headquarters was found dead in a forest outside Tehran.  (Agencies,Haaretz)
Self-Censored

The Vulnerability of American Rabbis

Over the High Holy Day season I had a rare rabbinic opportunity to be a “Jew in the pew”—not leading, speaking or organizing. This meant I could pray in different communities, be among different people, and of course hear different sermons. This year, I noted a distinct theme guiding the thoughts of rabbis: vulnerability.

Many of the sermons I heard highlighted the teachings of TED-Talk sensation Dr. Brene Brown. She teaches that our authentic selves are inherently vulnerable, that when we close ourselves off, we stifle innovation and suffer emotionally. And so the message from many of my colleagues this season was that we must embrace vulnerability to become our authentic selves.

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Rabbi Efraim Katz leads a community Passover Seder at Beth Israel synagogue on March 25, 2013 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

So here’s a little secret about any High Holy Day sermon worth its salt: as much as they may speak to you personally, the rabbis are also speaking to themselves. And what they were expressing this year was their concern that they do not feel able to serve their communities in an open and honest way; they are afraid to be vulnerable.

“Who killed Arafat?” That was the big question on November 6, when the findings of a team of Swiss forensic experts, sponsored by Al Jazeera to figure out what killed Arafat, were made public. The team found elevated levels of polonium while testing bone samples from the late Palestinian president's recently exhumed corpse. Although the Swiss scientists refused to declare their findings as conclusive evidence that Yasser Arafat was poisoned, the presence of polonium was enough to satisfy the believers. After years of conspiracy theories, proof finally existed to support the belief held by many Palestinians that their beloved Abu Ammar had been murdered.

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Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images

Polonium is a nefarious compound. It is the same substance that caused Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko to age rapidly, turn purple, and die while the world bore witness. Polonium is also at the center of a major plot line currently playing out on the daytime soap opera General Hospital. Luke Spencer, the show’s leading man since he raped Laura in 1979, was recently dying of polonium poisoning. Luke had been given the poison by his arch nemesis, Helena Cassadine. His life was saved when Dr. Robin Scorpio successfully brewed up an antidote. Arafat was not as lucky as Luke. This was the real world, not a soap opera. Arafat was never even diagnosed and died on November 11, 2004, before he could be saved by a miracle cure.

From the day he died, Arafat's wife, Suha, has dedicated her life to spending his millions and finding out who killed her sugar daddy. Like OJ looking for his ex-wife Nicole's murderer, Arafat's widow never gave up searching for the culprit. The Swiss findings finally gave Suha the ammunition she needed to go after the people she believed were responsible for killing the father of her child.

In response to the Israeli Rabbinate's monopoly on marriage in Israel, the author suggests an act of civil disobedience.

Common-law marriage is an act of protest against a corrupt system of religious marriage and divorce in Israel. Israel’s system of marriage and divorce constitutes a commercial industry that sustains itself through exclusion, discrimination and commercialization of family life. The bureaucracy at its center is a greedy arrangement that profits not only from marriages but also from the religious-status investigations, divorce proceedings, alimony hearings and custody battles under who jurisdiction it monopolizes. At its heart is a business model that keeps Jewish citizens a captive audience.

The rabbinate, which is a government-paid body, has a monopoly over family life. By criminalizing marriage they didn't authorize, they ensure their entrenched power and a healthy income. Therefore I propose that couples in Israel of all faiths, genders and statuses take back the authority over their union from an oppressive religious system and live as common-law spouses as an act of civil disobedience.

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Bride Yulia Tagil and groom Stas Granin at their alternative wedding ceremony, in Tel Aviv on July 25, 2010, in protest of the law requiring Jews to marry through the Chief Rabbinate. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)

News from Israel

Israel Denies Poisoning Arafat

Quote of the day:

"Good things are coming."

  • In wake of Swiss findings, Israel vehemently denies poisoning Arafat - Palestinian officials demanded probe into the 'killing.' Israel's energy and intelligence ministers tell Israeli radio stations that the Palestinian allegations against Israel were false and unfounded. (Haaretz and Maan)
  • Soldiers shoot (dead) Palestinian who fired flare gun at hitch-hikers - Palestinian who shot at direction of Israelis in Tapuach Junction killed by IDF unit. Police sappers searching body for explosives. No Israelis injured in incident. (MaanNRG Hebrew+VIDEO and Ynet)
  • Settlers torch 2 cars in Hebron village, spray graffiti - settlers from Kiryat Arba set fire to the vehicles in Bani Naim, which belonged to two brothers. The settlers also sprayed threatening graffiti in the village reading "Good things are coming." (Maan)
  • Israeli Islamic Movement leader convicted of inciting to violence - Court decides 2007 speech Sheikh Ra'ad Salah gave in wake of violent protests over Temple Mount excavation was incitement to violence, acquits on other charges. (Haaretz+ and Israel Hayom)
  • Even before taking office, Lieberman stirs trouble - in South Africa - Avigdor Lieberman, about to be reappointed foreign minister after skirting fraud charges, says Jews should leave South Africa for Israel. (Haaretz+)
  • As Iran eyes deal with world powers, Netanyahu warns of historic mistake - Iran, P5+1 may begin drafting a nuclear agreement on Thursday or Friday, Iranian foreign minister says. (Haaretz)

Last week, as 26 newly released Palestinian prisoners made their way home from Israeli jails, observers waited for the other shoe to drop. And drop it did: shortly after the release, the Israeli government announced the construction of 5,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The world has been conditioned to expect such brazen sabotage. As Lara Friedman has previously reported here in Open Zion, the Netanyahu administration has repeatedly timed settlement construction to coincide with the progress of an increasingly mislabeled “peace process.” In March 2010, right after the Palestinian leadership agreed to indirect talks, Israel announced the construction of 1,600 new units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo. Another 1,500 settlement units were approved in May 2011, on the eve of President Obama's major Middle East speech and Netanyahu's trip to Washington. In 2012, shortly after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reaffirmed his commitment to peace on Israeli television, the government announced 1,200 new homes in the West Bank. And now this latest bit of transparent subversion: the prisoner release was meant as a show of good faith amidst peace negotiations in Washington. Obviously, its utility in that regard has now been nullified.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with ministers after the swearing in of the new Israeli government at the Knesset on March 18, 2013 in Jerusalem. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with ministers after the swearing in of the new Israeli government at the Knesset on March 18, 2013 in Jerusalem. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)

Several explanations have been proffered for this damaging behavior. A common interpretation is that settlement construction is Netanyahu's attempt to bolster his image with his core constituency, which is solidly right wing. The latest sabotage was evidently the product of a backroom deal between Bibi and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, who would allow the prisoner release only if connected with new construction. The lead Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, clearly believes that Netanyahu is intent on consciously undermining the peace process.

It’s painful to have one’s rabbinic credentials challenged by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. But that’s exactly what’s happened to me. In truth, it’s much more hurtful to the many people I’ve been honored to serve over the years.

In recent days, I have been informed that letters I’ve written attesting to the Jewishness and personal status of congregants have been rejected by the office of the Chief Rabbinate. I’m not the only Orthodox rabbi to have his letters rejected—there are others.

The Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Amar with a group of Orthodox Jews during a tour of the historic Ohel Rachel synagogue in China. (Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images)

The Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Amar with a group of Orthodox Jews during a tour of the historic Ohel Rachel synagogue in China. (Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images)

I have chosen to go public because the issue is not about me, it’s about a Chief Rabbinate whose power has gone to its head. As Israel’s appointed rabbinate, it is accountable to no one but itself.

Nor could the Chief Rabbinate have denied letters from me or other rabbis without input from select rabbis here in America who, I believe, are whispering into the Chief Rabbinate’s ears. For me, they’ll whisper one thing, for another they will find some other reason to cast aspersions.

This is an intolerable situation. It not only undercuts the authority of local rabbis who are in the best position to attest to the religious identity of those living in their community, but wreaks havoc for constituents whom these rabbis serve.

Gazprom, the state-owned Russian natural gas extraction company, has been interested in Israel’s natural gas market for several years. But the Middle Eastern state's recent emergence as a natural gas production destination is making it an even more attractive target. Last week’s confirmation that the Israeli government is talking to Russia about the development of Israel’s gas fields indicates yet another potential opening for Gazprom. Israel has so far asserted an energy policy independent of Russian influence, but preserving that stance ultimately requires limiting Gazprom’s activities. 

The announcement of bilateral talks on natural gas is actually a response to an accusation that Russia had already attempted to extract favorable conditions from Israel—a promise to not export gas to Europe in exchange for stopping shipments of certain weapons to the Assad regime in Syria. Europe is Gazprom’s biggest customer and accounts for 40 percent of its revenues, but Russia fears Israeli natural gas could cut into that market if export routes to Turkey or Cyprus are connected to other regional pipelines. Given that the market is already shrinking due to Europe’s plateauing demand for natural gas, it is not implausible that Russian President Vladimir Puti proposed the deal to Netanyahu. The Prime Minister’s Office insists in an official statement that these conditions were never discussed. 

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The Tamar drilling natural gas production platform is seen some 25 kilometers West of the Ashkelon shore in February 2013 in Israel. (Albatross via Getty Images)

Meretz chairwoman and Member of Knesset Zehava Gal-On  made the accusation in a written question a few months ago, and her wariness is not unwarranted. In 2009, then-First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who now serves as chairman of Gazprom’s board of directors, called a Russian gas pipeline to Israel via Turkey “very promising.” The plan for Israel to be part of the Blue Stream-2 system, though, was shelved in 2010 shortly after Israeli military personnel killed nine Turks on board the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid flotilla. Putin denied that the incident factored into Russia’s decision-making, reasoning instead that Israel no longer needed the gas due to its own recent discoveries off the coast of the Mediterranean. 

A few days ago I received an attractive glossy mailer from the Jewish National Fund (JNF), celebrating the ripple effects of “Blueprint Negev.” This signature JNF campaign is working to rejuvenate and develop Israel’s southern region by investing in infrastructure, environmentally sustainable projects, and the creation of new Jewish communities, encouraging hundreds of thousands of people to move to the Negev.

But there is another, more ominous side to these efforts. The premise behind Blueprint Negev is similar to the Israeli government’s view: the development of the Negev requires the resettlement of a substantial portion of the Bedouin community, despite its historic ties to the Negev, which predate the State of Israel.

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A Bedouin boy from the Zanun family walks with a toy gun on the first day of the Eid al-Adha holiday on October 15, 2013, in their village of Wadi Naam, currently unrecognised by Israeli authorities. (Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images)

The Knesset’s Interior Committee began hearings today on the “Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev,” also known as the Prawer-Begin Plan. The plan claims it will “make it possible for their children to leap in time into the midst of the 21st century, and to build a better future for them while maintaining their culture and way of life.”

The surest way to discredit your views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to argue that Israel has paid an economic price for it.  On both the left and right, the wisdom is that Israel has been doing just fine—so fine, that Israelis have grown inured to the potential benefits of peace.

In today’s New Yorker website, I show with the help of my colleague at Dartmouth, Yusaku Horiuchi, that the conventional wisdom is spectacularly wrong.  Israelis have paid a severe economic price for the conflict since 2001—at least a full year’s GDP—while the government has forfeited between $60-70 billion in public investment. The proof requires comparing the record of Israel to “synthetic Israel,” a hybrid of similar economies to which Israel may be usefully compared.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Israeli leader's residence November 6, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Jim Hollandert-Pool / Getty Images)

Excerpt:

Italy's former prime minister constantly trivializes the Holocaust and defends Mussolini. The question is: why do Italian Jews put up with this?

MILANSilvio Berlusconi, Italy's former prime minister, who was recently convicted of tax fraud, sees himself as a victim. And not just any victim: he has compared his experience as a politician and businessman to that of European Jews under Nazism.

“My children told me that they feel like Jewish families in Germany under Hitler's regime. We really have everyone against us," Berlusconi told Bruno Vespa, Italy's most famous television news anchor. The interview appears in Vespa's new book Sale, Zucchero e Caffè (Salt, Sugar and Coffee), set to hit the bookstands on November 7, although excerpts are already circulating.

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Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak (L), Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (C) and Israeli President Shimon Peres attend a lunch held in the honour of Berlusconi at the President's Residence on February 3, 2010 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Miriam Alster, via Getty Images)

The ongoing violence in Syria has forced tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees to flee to neighboring countries. The majority has gone to Lebanon, where 45,000 Palestinians from Syria continue to live through the traumas of war and displacement. Most wish to return to Syria when violence subsides, according to humanitarian aid workers and U.N. officials in the region.

But when they get to Lebanon, their struggles—if not for their lives, then at least their livelihoods—are not over. Palestinians are forced to compete for low-skilled jobs, affordable housing and access to social services with Lebanese and other refugees living in Lebanon. Syrian refugees are also competing for work, especially in the service and construction sectors.

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Palestinians who fled violence in the Syrian refugee camp of Yarmouk are seen at the Masnaa Lebanese border crossing with Syria as people stamp their documents before entering Lebanon on December 19, 2012. (Jospeh Eid / AFP / Getty Images)

“As can be expected from such overcrowded conditions, tension has been rising since competition for work and affordable housing has become fierce in many of the areas where Palestinians live in Lebanon,” said Laura Macdissi, public information officer for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) field office in Lebanon.

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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