Monday was Women of the Wall's 25th anniversary. The sight was astounding: reportedly some 700 women came to show their support and pray at the Kotel, Jerusalem's Western Wall. The massive turnout was the result of a huge organizing effort. Many women flew in to be a part of the "International Mission to Support Pluralism in Israel," a long weekend that included seminars, meetings with Knesset members, and a gala.The prayer service on Monday was their main event.
Israeli police officers block ultra-Orthodox protestors from reaching the Women of the Wall while they hold a prayer service at the Western Wall on May 10, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)
Towards the back of the wall's plaza, the group was surrounded by some 50 police officers in formation, presumably to prevent skirmishes with the other hundreds of ultra-Orthodox women and girls who came to protest. It was loud—you could tell there were cantors in the WoW crowd; some even had earpieces to centralize the group's singing, piercingly feminine against the single, microphoned male voice coming from the other side of the gender partition. Yet what was striking was not what came out of these dedicated women's mouths, but what came out of the mouths of the 18-year-old ultra-Orthodox girls I spoke to. One refrain was repeated: "They desecrate, we sanctify." Talking to these girls, I couldn't help but think that the Kotel would look and sound very different were this not the only place ultra-Orthodox teenagers interacted with a Judaism not their own.
I arrived at the Kotel a quarter of an hour late, and when I finally got inside the arm-linked formation (the police had thought I was ultra-Orthodox and gave me a hard time), I found myself next to three praying 18-year-olds. Not wanting to presume, I asked them if they were with the Women of the Wall. I hit a nerve. No, they said, they were there to protest. When I asked why, one of them answered me with the logic of a Biblical literalist: "How would Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses our sage] pray?" she asked. "Like that," she said, pointing to one of the women wearing a prayer shawl, "or like us?"
This past weekend, my 5-year-old boy and I made blueberry muffins from scratch. When it came time to add the baking powder, my son asked what it was. I explained that it made the batter rise, so our treats would be soft and fluffy. He then asked why I didn’t dump in the whole box, so we could make giant, extra-spongy muffins.
It is a simple, linear view of how things work—if a measured amount of something is good, an all-out amount of it must be better.
This is also the world view held by many of those pushing for new sanctions against Iran even as its engagement in negotiations on its nuclear program turn serious and substantive. Sanctions have compelled Iran’s mullahs to the table, they argue, so why won’t more now make them even more pliable?
Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran (L), signs of the guest book of the United Nations Secretary General on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2013 in New York City. (Andrew Burton / Getty Images)
Open Zion will be closing at the end of the year. In order to explain, I need to start at the beginning.
For most of my professional career, I didn’t write much about Israel. Partly, it’s because I didn’t know what I thought. Partly, it’s because I didn’t want to know what I thought. Most of all, it’s because I didn’t want to lose my community.
In my house growing up, losing your community was a sore subject. Jewish South Africa, especially before my parents left, was a womb. Imagine Jewish America in the post-war years, shrunk in size and with barely any on or off ramps into the society at large. To this day, when I meet South African Jews of my parents’ generation, they often start the conversation by placing me. They tell me who my uncles or cousins or grandparents are, and in what ways I resemble them. For my father, it was suffocating. For my mother, her hatred of apartheid aside, it was Eden. In Cape Town, Shabbat dinner was a boisterous succession of relatives and friends—eating, arguing, playing cards, watching the sun descend from the mountains to the sea-—from mid-afternoon until long past midnight. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, it was four Beinarts huddled around a small table in the freezing cold. My mother spent my childhood mourning Jewish South Africa, and warning us not to become atomized, deracinated Americans, severed from family and tribe.
Peter Beinart speaking at a Center for American Progress event in 2009. (Center for American Progress / Flickr)
"From our point of view, the possibility of holding a national referendum is real and and the work of persuasion must start from now."
--Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer on just-launched Peace Now campaign to persuade Israelis to support a two-state solution. (See video.)
- Hamas appoints English-language spokeswoman - Isra Al-Mudallal, 23, will help improve Palestinian public diplomacy. She hoped to speak to Israelis, but Hamas was quick to remind her of ban on Israeli media. (Haaretz+, Ynet and Maan)
- Arab MK: Jewish prayer on Temple Mount will lead to Intifada - Knesset's Interior Committee holds discussion regarding making possible Jewish prayer on Temple Mount. Arab MKs slam idea. Verbal clashes between Arab MKs and rightwing MKs ensue. (Ynet, Maan, Haaretz+ and NRG Hebrew with video and photos)
- NGO films soldiers training near West Bank cemetery - Training in Palestinian villages approved by military advocate-general, though soldiers cautioned not to put local population at risk. (Haaretz+ + video)
- Jerusalem man succumbs to 4-year-old wounds from clashes with Israeli forces - Rami Bajis Zalabani, 27, died Monday evening from the wounds he sustained when IDF forces shot him in the chest with a rubber-coated steel bullet four years ago. (Maan)
- Israeli authorities halt work on 2 Palestinian houses in Idhna - Israeli forces ordered the owners of the two buildings to stop construction on their own houses in the city west of Hebron near the Green Line. (Maan)
- Israeli bulldozers uproot 25 olive trees west of Salfit - Israeli bulldozers on Monday razed Palestinian lands west of Salfit and uprooted 25 olive trees in order to to pave the way for the expansion of Bruchin settlement. (Maan)
- Witnesses: Israeli forces fire tear gas at Hebron schools - Israeli military forces fired tear gas and sound bombs at two elementary schools in Hebron on Monday. Dozens of students suffered from gas inhalation. (Maan)
In an article published today on Bloomberg, Jeffrey Goldberg reports U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's view that sanctions and Israeli pressure have combined to bring Iran to the negotiating table on the nuclear issue. Goldberg also records Hagel's assertion that sanctions “have done tremendous economic damage,” as well as his belief that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn't “intentionally trying to derail negotiations.” Absent from this conversation is any discussion of how the talks are actually going; of paramount importance, apparently, is the role that economic violence and Israeli belligerence have played in bringing them about. Hagel discharges the piece's brief discussion of the Iranians' willingness to sit down with a brief aside: “Whether the Iranians will carry forth on that, we'll see.”
Meanwhile, Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency quotes President Hassan Rouhani as saying that “The government is not optimistic about the Westerners and the current negotiations,” only a day after Ayatollah Ali Khameini denounced the U.S. as a “smiling enemy.” What does it mean for a figure such as Hagel to praise the talks while his opposite numbers are busy expressing their skepticism?
Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, speaks during the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly September 24, 2013 at U.N. headquarters in New York. (Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images)
Discussing the reality of Israel's military occupation has long been —and still is—a taboo among the Jewish American population. But Avner Gvaryahu, Jewish diaspora coordinator for Breaking the Silence, says this is slowly changing.
“I've been touring the U.S. since 2006, and I can see the attitudes towards us have changed,” notes Gvaryahu. In a sign of the changing times, the NGO was invited to speak this year at the Harvard Hillel, which formerly rejected them. “It’s a difficult conversation to have, but there’s an eagerness among the younger Jewish generations to talk about what's really happening on the ground,” said Gvaryahu.
The son of arrested Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) local leader Reda Khaled sits in a bedroom after it was searched by the Israeli army in the Alain Palestinian refugee camp in the northern city of Nablus in the Israeli occupied West Bank, on May 21, 2012. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP / GettyImages)
Established by veteran IDF combatants in 2004, Breaking the Silence collects and publishes testimonies from soldiers who have served in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. More than 700 testimonies have been gathered so far; over a hundred of them collated into a book, Our Harsh Logic, published in English in 2012.
Over the last week, the Jewish press has been abuzz with coverage of the decision by the Montreal Jewish Federation-sponsored Le Mood (French-English wordplay on the Hebrew term Limmud) festival to disinvite two speakers. Aaron Lakoff and Sarah Woolf were scheduled to discuss Jewish radicalism and early Jewish labor movements, respectively, but it was their other affiliations that raised hackles among the conference organizers.
Sarah Woolf had helped launch an initiative called Renounce Birthright, which seeks to “Educate young Jews about the connections between Birthright trips and the ongoing colonization and occupation of Palestine.” Lakoff has been a member of the Jewish, anti-Zionist group Not in Our Name, which supports Israel Apartheid Week on Canadian campuses.
In a press release, Federation CJA (Combined Jewish Appeal) explained its decision:
Participants check out a Le Mood schedule. (Jonathan Woods / Courtesy of Le Mood)
Federation CJA has exercised our right, as any organization would be expected to do, to draw the line at funding and providing a platform, whether directly or indirectly, to those who deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State.
Was this a blatant act of censorship and injustice, or a decision around which reasonable people could disagree? First, more background.
“I really don't feel like I'm in an enemy country, everyone is helping me and caring for me."
—Syrian mother who gave birth yesterday to the first Syrian baby born in Israel because she was more scared for the well-being of her child than of going to the enemy state.
- Israel's military advocate: IDF training inside Palestinian villages is legal - Yesh Din files complaint against Israeli military training inside W. Bank villages, after numerous incidents, such as a recent training exercise of how to break into a home, done inside the home of a Hebronite family while they were inside. IDF's Military Advocate General: legality of training is anchored in principles of 'belligerent occupation.' (Haaretz+)
- Syrian baby born in Israeli hospital - Baby boy is the first born in an Israeli hospital to Syrians fleeing the civil war in their home country. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Israeli Artillery Corps drone crashes in Gaza Strip - IDF says Skylark-1 spy drone suffered malfunction. Palestinian militants told Maan they shot down the drone. (Haaretz+, Ynet and Maan)
- Jerusalem mayor and secularists clash over city council portfolios - Hitorerut B'Yerushalayim, the largest secular faction on the city council, is demanding the finance portfolio, which Barkat has already given to a right-wing faction. (Haaretz+)
- Israeli standardized test scores improve, but gap between rich and poor pupils grows - Among middle-class students, Arabs outscore Jews. (Haaretz+)
- Paula Abdul: Israel visit is 'most magnificent trip' ever - Former 'American Idol' and 'The X-Factor' judge is on her first trip to Israel, where she is connecting to her Jewish roots and planning on holding a belated Bat Mitzvah. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Montreal Jewish festival cancels panels by anti-Birthright activist - In disinviting Sarah Woolf, Le Mood organizers cite right to deny platform to those who deny Israel's right to exist as Jewish state. (Haaretz+)
- Report: NSA spied on Israeli military targets - New York Times review based on Snowden documents shows how National Security Agency tracked 'high priority Israeli military targets', including drone aircraft and Black Sparrow missile system. (Ynet)
- Senior Hezbollah officials: Assad will not respond to Israeli strike - "The Israeli attack will not affect the battle and will not push Assad to respond," said senior Hezbollah officials. A senior European diplomat told the paper that the target for the Israeli attack was to harm the peace conference in Geneva. (Ynet)
- Kerry in Cairo: U.S. won't allow attacks on its Arab partners - Warning to Iran? Secretary of State specifically mentions Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt as allies. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Morsi from jail: Our troubles serve Israeli interests - Al-Watan releases first photos allegedly documenting ousted President Mohamed Morsi in jail. Article reveals three transcripts of conversations held by Morsi with prominent figures. (Ynet)
Releasing convicted murderers from prison won't bring peace. This is assuming their convictions were wrought from hard evidence or admission of guilt, not from intimidation, torture or some other form of a forced confession. If someone chose violent resistance to military occupation over non-violent resistance, however positively or negatively people in different circles may view the act, the person must suffer the consequences of his or her actions. Life in prison is a punishment that I believe fits the crime of murder, especially of civilians (I don’t support the death penalty, but that’s another story).
Some argue that releasing Palestinian prisoners who killed Israelis fits the Israeli government’s narrative. Those who oppose the prisoner release will say that this is what the Palestinian and U.S. negotiating teams ask of Israel, to free bloodthirsty killers in the name of peace.
A released Palestinian arrives with other freed prisoners to the Mukata Presidential Compound in the early morning hours on October 30, 2013 in Ramallah, West Bank. (Oren Ziv / Getty Images)
Besides, it’s hard to imagine 19 or more years in prison softened the views toward Israel of any of the 26 Palestinians released this week. Despite the fact that many Palestinians see them as political prisoners and even heroes, releasing people who chose to kill in order to resist the occupation will be no victory for peace.
For Palestinians, the olive tree has a special significance. Perhaps more than anything else, it symbolizes their connection with the land, rooted in centuries of Palestine’s fertile soil and tended to by generation upon generation of Palestinian farmers. The autumn, which brings with it the olive harvest, is a highly anticipated and celebrated season for Palestinian agriculture. Anyone who has ever sat at a Palestinian table for a meal knows the centrality of the crop; olives and their golden oil are omnipresent in the Palestinian kitchen. During these months, Palestinians descend on their olive groves for the annual tradition of the harvest and the collection of ripe olives.
Sadly, however, this season, so-well known for the olive harvest, is now becoming known for something else: Israeli settler violence.
A Palestinians olive grove burns after Israeli settlers set it on fire near the Palestinian village of Hawara in the West Bank following the killing of Israeli settler by a Palestinian man, on April 30, 2013. (Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images)
For several years we have been keeping a database of Israeli settler violence attacks and incidents and have collected daily data from 2004 to the present day noting thousands of incidents. We keep track of the date, time, type of attack, location and so on.
One would think a pro-Israel activist might be self-aware enough to not make baseless accusations that others are dedicated to promoting the interests of foreign countries, but one would be wrong. At a forum hosted last week by the Tower, a web magazine launched by the Israel Project (TIP), a long-time pro-Israel activist suggested just that. The remarks were first reported on the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss. I asked the reporter, Alex Kane, for a copy of his tape so I could get the full context for the comments by Josh Block, the head of the Israel Project and a former spokesman for the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Kane kindly obliged.
Flags fly at half staff outside the State Department on September 12, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
On the tape, an unnamed woman asks during the question and answer session why Israel isn't better prepared with counter-narratives to those which sometimes harshly criticize Israel. Block jumps at the opportunity to respond. In an apparent bid to demonstrate a challenge posed to Israel and its stateside supporters, Block gives a startling aside about the U.S. State Department. Here's that section of his answer in full:
I worked in the State Department for a while. There were a lot of Arabists in the State Department. Why? There's 22 members of the Arab League and each of them has a desk in the State Department. And that desk is staffed by Foreign Service Officers who make a career of representing their clients. They're like a suit at an ad agency, right? That's the client and they gotta come in and make a case for the client. So you've got an inbred kind of industry in the foreign policy establishment and in the dialogue is fomenting a perspective that is not sympathetic to Israel.
On Tuesday, October 22, Rasmieh Odeh, a Palestinian-American activist, was arrested by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at her home in Evergreen Park, Chicago. According to the FBI and DHS, she lied on her immigration documents. They say she omitted mention on her citizenship application of having served 10 years as a political prisoner in an Israeli jail. Although nearly 20 years have passed since she applied for citizenship, she is accused of immigration fraud.
Born in Lifta, a town just outside Jerusalem, in 1948, Odeh and her family fled to Ramallah when she was one month old. Like many Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war, her family of seven lived in one small tent, and later a single room, while struggling to make a living. Odeh began attending communist party meetings at the age of 12. Later, she became involved with the pan-Arab Arab National Movement (ANM), which was founded in 1958.
A general view of the abandoned Palestinian village of Lifta, near Jerusalem on February 10, 2012. (Ahmad Gharabali / AFP / Getty Images)
At 20, Odeh went to study at the American University of Beirut where she studied political economy. She returned to the West Bank in 1969 and was arrested by Israeli forces for her alleged involvement in the bombing of a West Jerusalem supermarket. Israeli authorities say the bombing was carried out by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Number of the day:
--The percentage of Jewish Israelis who think a peace agreement will come out of the present talks.
- Palestinian killed by IDF fire in Qabatiya - Palestinians report large IDF forces entered village near Jenin overnight; subsequent clashes left young man dead. (Ynet and Haaretz and Maan)
- Army calls off protection of settlement following violent assault on soldier, driver - A Palestinian driver was beaten with a club and a soldier was attacked with pepper spray by masked men at the entrance to the settlement of Bat Ayin. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Israeli forces 'seal entrance to West Bank village' - Israeli forces on Thursday morning set up a checkpoint at the entrance of Beit Ummar village north of Hebron and fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians and fired live bullets into the area. (Maan)
- Israeli forces hand out demolition orders in Hebron - On Thursday handed out three stop-work notices for houses and agricultural properties in the Wadi Aziz area in Idna village west of Hebron. Three days ago, the Israeli forces handed notifications and stop-work orders for properties belonging to the Idna association for cooperation and livestock development. (Maan)
- Tension between IDF and rabbis over the integration of women - A program by the IDF Personnel Directorate chief will help women in the army, but make it difficult to recruit ultra-Orthodox. Among the steps: require religious soldiers to listen to women singing and require officers command female soldiers. (Maariv/NRG Hebrew)
- Likud MK: Bennett agreed to prisoner release, then backtracked - Hanegbi says he can't recall another senior minister agreeing to cabinet understandings only to later dismiss them, making Israel looking insincere in its decision-making • Labor MK calls for urgent meeting over Habayit Hayehudi conduct. (Israel Hayom)
- Poll: Habayit Hayehudi dips for first time since elections - Naftali Bennett's ploy over the Palestinian prisoner release rebounded, while Yesh Atid may have stopped the rot. (Globes)
On a Tuesday in Amman some three months ago, Secretary of State John Kerry invited Palestinian and Israeli “senior negotiating teams to Washington to formally resume direct final status negotiations.” Then, it seemed like a breakthrough: Israelis and Palestinians finally sitting down, committing to nine months of negotiations dotted with prisoner releases to maintain trust. At the time, Netanyahu called the talks “vital” and a “strategic interest."
Some were hopeful that this was a step toward peace. But what we didn’t know then was that Israel’s seat at the negotiating table came with a dangerous proviso, a deal struck between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and far-right coalition partner Naftali Bennett: it was agreed that settlement expansion would be the price for each prisoner release. In other words, built into the negotiations nominally aimed at two states was a condition that made two states less likely. It has become distinctly clear that the Israeli right’s singular goal is to make a two-state framework impossible.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Villa Taverna, the US Ambassador's residency in Rome, on October 23, 2013. (CLAUDIO PERI / AFP / Getty Images)
On Wednesday, the prisoners-for-settlements deal went into action again. Not long after 26 Palestinian prisoners were released, the Israeli government announced the construction of approximately 5,000 new units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Imagine a series of attacks on shops and businesses in your city. Every night, a gang of hooligans breaks windows, damages goods and sets fire to a different store.
Now imagine that this same gang only targets businesses owned by a specific group of people – say, a chain of local stores owned and operated by blacks or Jews. The attacks go on for years and only worsen with time. If the store owner happens to be there, he or she is beaten and left bleeding at the front door.
A Palestinian woman holds onto one of 80 olive trees destroyed overnight in the northern West Bank village of Qarut on October 19, 2013. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP / Getty Images)
In the United States and Europe these kind of acts would be deemed “hate crimes.” In Israel, the targeting of, say, Jewish-owned businesses would be decried as an act of “terror” by politicians and the press. If the problem persists, it might even become an internationally-recognized issue. Petitions would be signed. Ambassadors would be called to explain. Communities would mobilize.
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.