Monday, March 28, 2011

Last Friday: No Way Out

Last Friday, at the initiative of Peace Now, the Israeli left held a unity conference in Tel-Aviv: representatives from various streams, or rivulets, Labor, Meretz, Solidarity, and various civil rights NGOs, came together to hear the usual suspects.

How do you make your case to Israeli voters when the right has appropriated your most important issue, endorsement of a Palestinian state, but doesn't really mean it? Should people advancing democratic standards form a single party or simply assume that all parties and factions will cooperate once elected to the Knesset? (After all, as Erel Margalit, the gifted venture capitalist going after the leadership of the Labor Party knows, the Labor brand is worth more than the whole party apparatus, much like the AT&T brand was worth more than the company.)

Should a democratic alliance create a platform that might appeal also to young Israeli Arabs, or should the alliance continue to call itself "Zionist," whatever that means, in the hope that the left will thus be able to appeal to the "center," whatever that means? Are you really betraying Zionism by creating a party Arabs would join? Come to think of it, could the "left" in Israel ever win a majority again without Arabs any more than Democrats could win without Jews and African-Americans?

I was set to go to the conference. I had answers. Besides, my young friend Assaf Sharon, a leader of Solidarity, was going to be on a panel and I was set to support his answers. It was not meant to be.

FRIDAY WAS THE day of the Jerusalem marathon. I left my flat at 7:15 in the morning only to discover that my entire neighborhood was cordoned off: no roads in, no detours. Now, I am from Boston. I understand what it means to disrupt traffic for the sake of runners. I also checked the list of streets that were going to be closed, found that one key road was not on the list, and had made plans to take a detour so that I could get to Tel Aviv in plenty of time. Instead, I found no way out.

I drove around for about a half an hour going from one roadblock to another. At each one, I found a callow, slightly clueless, and finally unpleasant police officer, telling me that there was no exit and that I should have known there would not be––in any case, that I was to back up and do what I was told. I told each one that he or she had better learn how to address citizens whose lives were being confounded by foolish orders. They shrugged. I threatened to take their names. They were not amused.

It crossed my mind that this is what closure feels like for Palestinians, but I quickly came to my senses: that would be like saying a moment of dizziness after eating was like having diabetes. Still, I was a little stunned to realize how quickly it would be possible for the police to impose its presence on Jerusalem, and how futile it would be to rail at the young cop at the corner for a policy he or she has no opinion about. How much this would be like yelling at the young woman at a call center for the failure of your software.

Nor was this the end of just any week. Netanyahu's Knesset had just passed two pieces of legislation, the first making it illegal to refer to the time of the War of Independence as the Naqba, although a fifth of Israeli citizens are Arab and about 400 Arab villages has been effaced; the second, a statute legalizing acceptance committees in small communities, empowered to reject residents who are not sufficiently like most in the community--a law clearly aimed to get around the Supreme Court's rejection of old Jewish National Fund regulations prohibiting sale of land or property to non-Jews (i.e., Arabs).

All of this in a country that lacks what Americans think of as constitutional protections. And a terrorist bomb had gone off in the city's Central Bus Station. The software, clearly, is not working.

IN THE MIDDLE of my gloom I got a cheerful, disbelieving call from Assaf. His neighborhood was blocked off, too. Kafka would be taking notes. Perhaps he should just punt the panel? "Sure," I said. Instead of going to Tel Aviv, perhaps a coffee later? "Sure," he said. But I did not hear back from him. Assaf, with his peculiar relentlessness, went instead to Silwan, where the police had been clashing with young Arab demonstrators over the continuing imposition of settlers on their community. I found out later that some other callow, slightly clueless, and finally unpleasant officers put him in the emergency ward of Hadassah Hospital.

It seems that Assaf took his camera to Silwan. Shortly after he got there, he began recording videos of police firing rounds of tear gas into crowds of Jerusalem Arab youth. There was virtually no press there, and he assumed the police would be restrained, or more restrained, knowing that the recordings would make them accountable for their actions. This has always been Solidarity's way of working: in the absence of a court protecting constitutional rights, appeal to the court of international public opinion.

The police were not amused. They roughed him up and put him under arrest. Then they started shoving him into the squad car. When Assaf looked at the back seat, there were grenades on it. He asked the arresting officers to move them. Do what you are told, was the response. Assaf said he would not sit on grenades. At which point an officer took out a canister of pepper spray and caught Assaf square in the nose and mouth. (You can watch his arrest on YouTube and decide for yourself if Assaf remotely posed a security risk that justified force, let alone extreme force.)

Just to be clear, Assaf might have been killed by this attack. Pepper spray causes immediate closing of the eyes, difficulty breathing, runny nose, and coughing. Its effects can last around thirty to forty-five minutes, with diminished effects lasting for hours. There have been 61 known deaths from pepper spray in the US since 1990. Assaf's throat immediately closed up. He was rushed to the hospital, though he was never released from police custody. As soon as he recovered somewhat, he was brought to police headquarters in East Jerusalem. No charges were laid.

Assaf Sharon released after assault
Assaf was released to his wife and a crowd of waiting friends around 5:30 PM. (She is pregnant with their third child.) The drumming from our demonstrations could be heard through the building, he said. The police did not know what to make of it. This afternoon I got an email from him? Could I come on Thursday morning and bear witness at the hearing of Bassam Tamimi, an activist from Nabi Saleh, who after serving three years in administrative detention is again being held without clear charges?

IT IS HARD to write about the conflict here without finding myself asking some rather broad and abstract questions, like the ones discussed at the conference Assaf (and I) found ourselves missing.

But the reality on the ground is pretty much like that roadblock in my neighborhood on Friday morning, or, much more ominous, the assault on Assaf in that car. Not terribly well educated people, implementing policies they grasp mainly in their guts; figuring out friends and enemies on-the-fly, telling you to do what you are told; telling you there is no way out.


Y. Ben-David said...

I really find this game you are playing to be fascinating. You claim to oppose "violence", yet you support demonstrations against Jews living in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. You have seen the pictures of the kids waiting in ambush with large rocks accompanied by camera crews hoping the Jews driving by will be assaulted and some sort of riot will ensue when they are forced to defend themselves. And believe me, all the "peace protestors" in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah are PRAYING for riots, its just that they want the Arabs to do the fighting and maybe dying for them. Then you all can say how terrible the IDF and the settlers are and whine to the international media and feel good about yourself.
We have had this argument before, but you know darned well that the Jews are living in those places LEGALLY, according to Israeli law. If you don't like that, you should protest the law if it is discrimatory (maybe at the Knesset) or the court ruling that allowed the Jews to move in to Sheikh Jarrah (maybe at the Supreme Court Building). However, you don't protest there, you protest at the homes. Why? BECAUSE NO ONE WOULD COME TO YOUR DEMONSTRATION IF IT WERE HELD AT THE KNESSET OR AT THE SUPREME COURT. You know the "peace-lovers" come because they want to confront the hated "bearded-kippah wearing Judean settlers" and clashes there are good to show to rich "progressives" in order to squeeze money out of them for your organizations.

One more thing about "violence"...I wonder what kind violence the secular, Marx-quoting fighters of the Haganah and Palmach used to clear out the Arabs from west Jerusalem, one of whom's homes you are living in now?
Maybe there is some good sort of violence, after all?

Anonymous said...


Michael said...


I don't know many real leftists. I am, if you have to label it, a religious Zionist. However, I do not fit the mold of what you might expect. I supported the concept of evacuating Gaza. (The execution was digraceful, but that's a separate story.) I support the idea of two states. I could see giving the Palestians most of the West Bank and land swaps to make up the rest. I can even see giving them parts of Jerusalem. (Places I wouldn't enter now w/o an armed guard.) I believe that there are decent Palestinians that want the same basic things that everyone wants.

So, that I've reviled my liberal credentials, what I want to ask you is how is this going to happen? Let's say people of good faith on both sides sit down and hammer out an agreement. Israel is a stable democracy. She has proven that once she agrees to do something, no matter how painful, she'll follow through. On the other side, who is going to reign in Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, Iran? How will our security be assured, our airport remain safe.

Do you advocate, or accept, the idea of a Jew-Free Palestine? What if, as a "democracy", they elect a majority of Hamas to their parliament?

I really want to know, who you think this could work.

Tamar Orvell said...

You report verifiable facts in a monotone voice, avoiding shrill tones that only cloud or distract. And this combination is helpful, even powerful, if a reader chooses to stay on topic and to reflect on what you report.

Potter said...

Reading about the revolutions in the neighborhood, it's getting increasingly difficult to make distinctions and exceptions for Israel's behavior. It may be that the clamping down will get worse because of the spirit in the air.

What is the difference between what is going on elsewhere close by where the state's goons suppress dissent and protest? And how deep is democracy with no protections, no "constitutional rights" and apparently wavering justice system?

Michael said...

You've got to be kidding me Potter.

First of all you need to distinguish between the "Palestinians" and the Arab Israelis. Israeli Arabs have rights and liberties the "neighbors" are only dreaming of. Is it perfectly equal? No, but neither is it in any other democracy. The odds the any of the "neighbors" will get anything closely resembling what Israeli Arabs have are quite low since Islamists will most likely end up calling most, if not all, the shots.

As for Palestinians. Well you've got two groups there. The Gazans are pretty much in the same boat as the "neighbors", except they actually voted for their theocratic, fascist dictators.

The West Bank Palestinians are in a position where they can go either way. They have it completely in their hands to have liberty and freedom, or they could end up like the Gazans, or worse.

Israel's "behavior" is purely in response to Palestinian actions. Read Bernard's NYT's magazine piece from February to see just how possible it is. Settlements are a pure red-herring (aggravated by Obama's incompetence) any agreement in the next few months would make any building going on now look minuscule.

Potter said...

Michael. I read the article and came away from it with something different but.....

It's pretty bad if you have to look at your neighbor's decades long tyrannies to pat yourself on the back about how good (comparatively) it is in Israel with it's decades long occupation and increasing security state. Then what do you do when your boogie men (the Islamists) don't turn out to be quite the threats needed to keep the excuses going about occupation and settlements which are hardly "red herrings" but a cause of outrage and support (power) for those groups you fear: Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran?

Michael said...

increasing security state.

This, of course, is false. Just in the last two years more than half of the checkpoints in the WB have been removed. Gaza has no IDF or checkpoints anymore and you see where that got us.

Then what do you do when your boogie men (the Islamists) don't turn out to be quite the threats needed to keep the excuses going about occupation.

I have to wonder want planet you're living on. Every single experience Israel has was your "boogie men" have turned out worse than expected. And believe the people on the WB have much more to loose from your "boogie men" than does Israel. Just look at the poor slobs in Gaza. They "elected" Hamas to make the "trains run on time" and got a combination of Hitler, Mussolini and your worst Ayatolla nightmare.

And btw today they may be Israel's "boogie men" tomorrow they'll be yours. Because, you see, Islamists' grievances have nothing, zero, to do with the Palestinians. Get yourself an education about radical Islam before you make such inane statements like the settlements are "a cause" of the "outrage" of these people. Nothing, but nothing, could be further from the truth. (Have you been watching the news lately?) Unless, of course, you consider, Tel Aviv, London, and New York to be settlements. ROTFL!!!!!

Michael said...

Sorry about all the typos. Really sloppy. :(

Potter said...

Assad has just been reminding ( pleading to) his people how he has protected them ( and needs to continue to do so) from Israeli expansionism.

But I think Henry Siegman says it best about how phony arguments like Michael's are:

Michael said...

Assad is a lunatic.

What an idiotic article. The entire thing is built on the straw-man lie that Israel has not made peace with the Palestinians because the Arab countries have no democracy.

That's just false. The lack of Arab democracy has not prevented Israel starting with Olso and continuing through today from offering land for peace.


Potter said...

Well the Palestinians ALSO started with Oslo, not only the Israeli's. If you are grading me, then maybe I can grade you a failing mark for understanding Oslo and why it failed.

Why Oslo Failed

Only those happy to give up altogether would not be willing to learn from that experience. (I hope this is not too shrill- I will quit.)

Michael said...

Though Baskin has a strong leftist bias, which is evident throughout his analysis, the piece hits on some valid points from which we definitely need to learn for the future.

I just have to point out the most glaring example of his bias. He states:

The Oslo process was marked from the outset with outrageous violence beginning with a Jewish terrorist who massacred Muslim prayers in the Ibrahimia Mosque in Hebron to many acts of fundamentalist Islamic suicide bombers who murdered Israelis indiscriminately.

This is false and grossly misleading. Goldstein's terror attack took place 3 years into Olso. There were well over 20 terror attacks perpetrated by Palestinians killing dozens, prior to Goldstein. Nor were there any terror attacks by Israelis after Goldstein. Yet Baskin makes it seem as if there were a constant tit for tat BEGINNING with Goldstein.

So one must add to the list of lessons learned that we have to be ware of people rewriting history to fit their agenda. Candy coating Palestinian terror does nothing to help change Palestinian attitude toward peace.

There are many other examples, but this should suffice to show that a piece like this from Baskin must be carefully scrutinized for accuracy.

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