Israel no beacon of democracy, diversity

By Steve Kowit

The organization Stand With Us has recently put up a billboard in Helena celebrating Israel’s diversity, a billboard that attempts to paint a happy face over the ugly reality of that nation’s ongoing human rights violations and its fear of real diversity.

But it is also meant to counter that other Helena billboard campaign which urges the United States to stop giving Israel billions of dollars each year in military aid, a campaign to which, as a Jewish American advocate of human rights, I have been proud to contribute.

Surely Israel’s most notable characteristic remains its violent intolerance of diverse cultures, ethnicities and religions, an insistence that only Jewish citizens can have full human rights in that nation. It is no secret that Jews from anywhere in the world are granted automatic citizenship rights in Israel while non-Jews are given no such rights. Is that how a genuine democracy behaves? Clearly Israel does not want a multicultural population, does not want diversity: it wants a state in which all or almost all its citizens are Jewish.

Not surprisingly, Israel privileges Jewish citizens over non-Jewish citizens in numerous other ways as well. For example, residents of Jewish towns in Israel now have the right to exclude Arab families from renting apartments or buying homes in those communities. Isn’t that precisely the sort of housing discrimination that Jews and African-Americans fought against for decades here in the U.S.? Can one name any other nation on earth that permits such blatant discrimination?

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, announced as far back as 1937 that he was in favor of “compulsory transfer,” what we now call ethnic cleansing, and that Israel could only become a viable Jewish state if no more than 20 percent of its population was non-Jewish. And based on that chilling ideology pre-state Israel confiscated 78 percent of the Palestinian homeland in 1948 through military aggression against a civilian population, dispossessing three-quarters of a million people from their land and forcing them to flee to refugee camps and lives of desperate poverty. The numerous massacres and acts of intimidation that forced those people to flee for their lives are by now thoroughly documented.

But 78 percent of another people’s land apparently wasn’t enough, so Israel has been illegally gobbling up the West Bank since 1967, despite the fact that the constant confiscation of Palestinian and Bedouin lands by the Israeli state is a continual violation of international law. Right now the Israeli Knesset is finalizing the Prawer-Begin bill which will force 40,000 Palestinian Bedouins off their land in the southern Naqab (Negev) and destroy about 30 villages where those people live.

Progressive Jewish organizations such as Rabbis for Human Rights and Jewish Voice for Peace have joined with other human rights organizations in supporting the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing and the International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in condemning the compulsory transfer of Palestinians, Israel’s continual flouting of international law, and its pervasive violations of human rights. Nonetheless, Israel continues to build illegal settlements in the West Bank, and East Jerusalem continues to be “Judaized,” its Christian and Moslem inhabitants being forcibly removed and their homes given to Jewish settlers.

Few Americans know that Israeli Arab towns receive a pittance of what Jewish communities receive for schools and infrastructure, welfare and social services, or that Palestinian Israeli citizens who have married spouses living in the West Bank or Gaza are not allowed to bring their spouses to live with them in Israel. Does a country that practices such brutal forms of discrimination deserve U.S. tax dollars?

Just in the past few weeks the European Union itself has joined the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, announcing it will no longer fund or support Israeli business enterprises operating in the illegally occupied territories, businesses that profit from the 46-year occupation of Palestinian land. And every nation in the world except Israel, including even the United States, accepts that the West Bank and Gaza are occupied lands. It’s only Israel that claims those lands are “disputed,” a term that implies that Israel, ever expansionist, wants to claim ownership of that territory too.

Surely the United States should not be complicit in these outrageous crimes and human rights violations. Which is why Jews of conscience in Israel, the United States and around the world have for the past several years actively joined forces with others who believe in cultural diversity and social justice to demand that the United States stop giving billions of American tax dollars each year to a country that is anything but the enlightened liberal democracy it pretends to be.

A Note On the New Incarnation of the Third Reich

Rachel Corrie verdict exposes Israeli military mindset

By Chris McGreal, Tuesday 28 August 2012

Corrie’s parents have not received justice, but their quest reveals the lie of the IDF’s claim to be the world’s ‘most moral army’

Rachel Corrie’s family – father Craig, mother Cindy and sister Sarah Corrie Simpson – at the Haifa district court where a judge ruled that Israel did not intentionally kill the pro-Palestinian activist in 2003. Photograph: Oliver Weiken/EPA

Reporters covering Israel are routinely confronted with the question: why not call Hamas a terrorist organisation? It’s a fair point. How else to describe blowing up families on buses but terrorism?

But the difficulty lies in what then to call the Israeli army when it, too, at particular times and places, has used indiscriminate killing and terror as a means of breaking Palestinian civilians. One of those places was Rafah, in the southern tip of the Gaza strip, where Rachel Corrie was crushed by a military bulldozer nine years ago as she tried to stop the Israeli army going about its routine destruction of Palestinian homes.

An Israeli judge on Tuesday perpetuated the fiction that Corrie’s death was a terrible accident and upheld the results of the military’s own investigation, widely regarded as such a whitewash that even the US ambassador to Israel described it as neither thorough nor credible. Corrie’s parents may have failed in their attempt to see some justice for their daughter, but in their struggle they forced a court case that established that her death was not arbitrary but one of a pattern of killings as the Israeli army pursued a daily routine of attacks intended to terrorise the Palestinian population of southern Gaza into submission.

The case laid bare the state of the collective Israeli military mind, which cast the definition of enemies so widely that children walking down the street were legitimate targets if they crossed a red line that was invisible to everyone but the soldiers looking at it on their maps. The military gave itself a blanket protection by declaring southern Gaza a war zone, even though it was heavily populated by ordinary Palestinians, and set rules of engagement so broad that just about anyone was a target.

With that went virtual impunity for Israeli troops no matter who they killed or in what circumstances – an impunity reinforced by Tuesday’s verdict in Haifa.

The Israeli military commander in southern Gaza at the time was Colonel Pinhas “Pinky” Zuaretz. A few weeks after Corrie’s death, I (as the Guardian’s correspondent in Israel) spoke to him about how it was that so many children were shot by Israeli soldiers at times when there was no combat. His explanation was chilling.

At that point, three years into the second intifada, more than 400 children had been killed by the Israeli army. Nearly half were in Rafah and neighbouring Khan Yunis. One in four were under the age of 12.

I focussed on the deaths of six children in a 10-week period, all in circumstances far from combat. The dead included a 12-year-old girl, Haneen Abu Sitta, killed in Rafah as she walked home from school near a security fence around one of the fortified Jewish settlements in Gaza at the time. The army made up an explanation by falsely claiming Haneen was killed during a gun battle between Israeli forces and Palestinians.

Zuaretz conceded to me that there was no battle and that the girl was shot by a soldier who had no business opening fire. It was the same with the killings of some of the other children. The colonel was fleetingly remorseful.

“Every name of a child here, it makes me feel bad because it’s the fault of my soldiers. I need to learn and see the mistakes of my troops,” he said. But Zuaretz was not going to do anything about it; and by the end of the interview, he was casting the killings as an unfortunate part of the struggle for Israel’s very survival.

“I remember the Holocaust. We have a choice, to fight the terrorists or to face being consumed by the flames again,” he said.

In court, Zuaretz said the whole of southern Gaza was a combat zone and anyone who entered parts of it had made themselves a target. But those parts included houses where Palestinians built walls within walls in their homes to protect themselves from Israeli bullets.

In that context, covering up the truth about the killings of innocents, including Corrie, became an important part of the survival strategy because of the damage the truth could do to the military’s standing, not only in the rest of the world but also among Israelis.

The death of Khalil al-Mughrabi two years before Corrie died was telling. The 11-year-old boy was playing football when he was shot dead in Rafah by an Israeli soldier. The respected Israeli human rights organisations, B’Tselem, wrote to the army demanding an investigation. Several months later, the judge advocate general’s office wrote back saying that Khalil was killed by soldiers who had acted with “restraint and control” to disperse a riot in the area.

But the judge advocate general’s office made the mistake of attaching a copy of its own confidential investigation, which came to a very different conclusion: that the riot had been much earlier in the day and the soldiers who shot the child should not have opened fire. In the report, the chief military prosecutor, Colonel Einat Ron, then spelled out alternative false scenarios that should be offered to B’Tselem. The official account was a lie and the army knew it.

The message to ordinary soldiers was clear: you have a free hand because the military will protect you to protect itself. It is that immunity from accountability that was the road to Corrie’s death.

She wasn’t the only foreign victim at about that time. In the following months, Israeli soldiers shot dead James Miller, a British television documentary journalist, and Tom Hurndall, a British photographer and pro-Palestinian activist. In November 2002, an Israeli sniper had killed a British United Nations worker, Iain Hook, in Jenin in the West Bank.

British inquests returned verdicts of unlawful killings in all three deaths, but Israel rejected calls for the soldiers who killed Miller and Hook to be held to account. The Israeli military initially whitewashed Hurndall’s killing but after an outcry led by his parents, and British government pressure, the sniper who shot him was sentenced to eight years in prison for manslaughter.

That sentence apparently did nothing to erode a military mindset that sees only enemies.

Three years after Corrie’s death, an Israeli army officer who emptied the magazine of his automatic rifle into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl, Iman al-Hams, and then said he would have done the same even if she had been three years old was cleared by a military court.

Iman was shot and wounded after crossing the invisible red line around an Israeli military base in Rafah, but she was never any closer than 100 yards. The officer then left the base in order to “confirm the kill” by pumping the wounded girl full of bullets. An Israeli military investigation concluded he had acted properly.

Tuesday’s court verdict in Haifa will have done nothing to end that climate of impunity. Nor anything that would have us believe that Israel’s repeated proclamation that it has the “most moral army in the world” is any more true than its explanation of so many Palestinian deaths.

Link to article

Here’s my review of Miko Peled’s wonderful new memoir. Below that are links to several fascinating political essays, one of them by Miko Peled.

Review of The General’s Son, by Steve Kowit in the San Diego UT

The author of this engaging and important memoir is a sixth-degree black belt who runs a thriving karate school in Coronado. He is also the son of one of Israel’s most notable generals and political dissidents, Matti Peled, a war hero who shocked Israel several decades ago by becoming a vocal peace advocate and a professor of Arabic literature at Tel Aviv University.

The author’s mother seems to have been no less a remarkable figure: In 1948, after several hundred thousand Palestinian civilians had been forced to flee, never to be permitted to return, she refused to follow the example of her compatriots and expropriate the abandoned home of a dispossessed family. She is quoted many years later as explaining: “That I should take the home of a family that may be living in a refugee camp? The home of another mother…. I refused…. And to see the Israelis driving away with loot, beautiful rugs and furniture, I was ashamed for them. I don’t know how they could do it.”

Even as a young man, the author, a proud Israeli patriot, encounters a number of disquieting realities. Shortly after he is drafted in 1980, the members of his elite commando unit are instructed by their commanding officer to walk up and down the streets of Ramallah in the West Bank and “if anyone so much as looked at us, we were to… ‘break every bone in their body.’” At another point, the author recalls an Israeli naval commando casually describing how his unit would torture and drown Gaza fishermen “to teach the Arabs who was boss.”

But the author’s real journey of awakening comes after his beloved 13-year-old niece, Smadar, is killed by a suicide bomber on a Tel Aviv street. Smadar’s father, Miko’s brother-in law, begins devoting himself to the Bereaved Families Forum, an organization of Jewish and Palestinian parents who have lost children to the conflict, while Nurit, Smadar’s mother and Miko’s sister, begins speaking and writing about the need to stop the bloodbath — for which work, in 2001, she was awarded the Sacharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament.

Not long after Smadar’s tragic death, Miko, who had already moved with his wife, Gila, to the United States, finds himself at a Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group in San Diego, and among Palestinians for the first time in his life. There, to his astonishment, he finds Jewish and Palestinian-Americans laughing together and treating each other as friends and equals. From the Palestinians in the group, he tells us, “I heard stories of displacement and ruthlessness I had never imagined possible.”

Traveling between Israel and the United States, the author continues to learn unpleasant truths, and by reading Israeli historians such as Ilan Pappé and Avi Schlaim, he begins to understand that the exculpatory explanations for the Palestinian mass exodus of 1948 are largely a collection of myths.

Miko and his Palestinian-American friend Nader Elbanna, a fellow Rotarian — a man who had grown up in a refugee camp in Jordan after his family had been forced to flee their home in the 1948 expulsion — begin giving talks to Rotary Clubs about the Israeli conflict and Palestinian dispossession. Eventually the two men raise enough money to buy a thousand wheelchairs, half of which they earmark for needy Israelis and the other half for needy Palestinians. By this point, the reader is not entirely surprised to learn that Israel resists permitting those 500 wheelchairs to reach a Palestinian hospital. After finally managing to deliver them, the two friends arrive at a checkpoint, where Miko is harassed and threatened with arrest and finally experiences for himself, “the humiliation thousands of Palestinians have to go through every day.”

Given the accumulation of such experiences, it should not be surprising that the author, a member of one of Israel’s most notable families, arrives at the conviction that genuine democracy for both Israelis and Palestinians is the only real solution to the conflict, and that Palestinians and Jews must “live in one state where we are completely equal in every way.”

For anyone wishing to understand the complex dynamics of one of the world’s most consequential and tragic conflicts, Miko Peled’s courageous, revelatory and compassionate memoir, “The General’s Son,” is likely to become required reading.

Steve Kowit is a well-known poet who teaches in the graduate writing program at San Diego State University.

Israel coined the term “Nakba” and is still implementing it

Ilan Pappe, The Electronic Intifada, 20 July 2012

In the July lull between the two truces of the 1948 war that involved Israel and troops sent from neighboring Arab states to try and salvage Palestine, another stage in the ethnic cleansing operation of the country was completed.

While in April 1948 the urban space of Palestine was almost completely destroyed by the Zionist forces, pockets of the rural areas and three towns, al-Lid, Ramleh and Nazareth were still safe, but not for long.

Within the ten days of the lull (known in Israeli historiography as the “ten days war”), more Palestinian land was occupied and more people uprooted. The newly-born Jewish state promised the UN mediator at the time to cease fighting and explained that the July operations were just minor cleansing of pockets of resistance.

The UN did not buy the lie, but was already then a helpless and hapless organization. Only the city of Nazareth was spared and it is not very clear why. Zionist leader and Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who was very keen to depopulate it not only from its original inhabitants but also from the tens of thousands of refugees who found shelter there since May 1948, in the very last moment was convinced by someone to leave it intact.

But everywhere else the magnitude of the ruthless depopulation began to transpire clearly — before another two months passed it would be completed with the final destruction of the Palestinians in the Galilee and the Naqab (Negev) — respectively in the far north and south of Palestine.

Read more

I Am Sorry for the Role I Played in Fallujah

Ross Caputi, Guardian UK, Dec, 2011

Caputi writes: “What we did to Fallujah cannot be undone, and I see no point in attacking the people in my former unit. What I want to attack are the lies and false beliefs. I want to destroy the prejudices that prevented us from putting ourselves in the other’s shoes and asking ourselves what we would have done if a foreign army invaded our country and laid siege to our city.”


Ethnic Cleansing of Invented People

By Miko Peled, Dec. 20, 2011

Miko Peled is the son of one of Israel’s most renowned generals. The Peled family has always been concerned with human rights and social justice. Miko is a martial arts teacher in Southern California and an unblinking critic of Israel’s murderous treatment of the Palestinian people from whom the land now called Israel was stolen. His ultimate desire is to see a genuinely democratic state for Jews, Palestinians, and everyone else:

By Miko Peled

Mostafa Tamimi from Nabi Saleh, Bahjat Zaalan and his son Ramdan from Gaza died on my fiftieth birthday and just a few days after Newt Gingrich declared them an invented people. They were murdered by the Israeli terrorist organization, the IDF, an organization that is supported and funded by the US.  One Israeli terrorist shot the invented Tamimi in the head with a tear gas canister, and another Israeli terrorist fired a rocket that murdered the invented Zaalan and his boy Ramadan.  Both terrorists were educated and trained by Israel, and armed by the US….

Read Miko Peled’s full essay

And here’s a recent essay by Miko about the bombing of Gaza: Gaza Bled as the World Watched. By Miko Peled

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

American Zionists are generally in total denial about the Nakba, the expulsion of the Palestinian people. Below is a short video of an interview with a man who had been an Israeli member of the Palmach, discussing how he and his fellow soldiers terrorized the residents of several villages  and expelled them. Note that he refuses to discuss any of the massacres or go into any detail about the people he shot and killed so that the Zionists could “inherit” the land, the terminology that has clearly been used in Israel ever since to describe this genocidal crime of dispossession. The commentary below the video link is by “Omar,” a diaspora Palestinian:

Ethnic cleansing, massacres, colonization and a great deal of racism are all revealed in this shocking video testimony of Amnon Neumann, who fought with the terrorist force (elite of the Haganah), Palmach, during the Nakba of 1948.

Neumann reveals that Moshe Dayan expelled Palestinians even as late as 1951!

Despite some moments of remorse, the former member of this terror group tells the interviewer that he refuses to talk about the massacres, in particular, because he participated in them. He also tries to portray Palestinian villages as all made of straw and mud houses! Perhaps the selective amnesia that has afflicted almost all Jewish Israelis has not spared Neumann.

Warning to Palestinian refugees watching this: it can be really difficult to listen to parts of this testimony. I had to stop the video twice … the nonchalance with which Neumann describes (in clearly sanitized language) the forced expulsion, the killings of farmers tending their grapevines, … is overwhelming.


Light One More Candle for Gaza

And here’s the link to an article about the horrors of Operation Cast Lead by Rabbis Brant Rosen and Alissa Wise. It was posted on Dec. 27, 2011

This the last day of Hanukkah and the third anniversary of Israel’s devastating military assault on Gaza. Although we are technically finished lighting candles, I’d like to suggest lighting one more tonight in commemoration of this tragic human rights outrage.

On the morning of December 27, 2008, the sixth day of Hanukkah, Israel initiated a massive military assault against Gaza it called “Operation Cast Lead.”  The name of the operation was a reference to a popular Hanukkah song written by the venerable Israeli poet Chaim Nachman Bialik:  “My teacher gave a dreidel to me/A dreidel of cast lead.”
When Israel’s military actions ended on January 18, some 1,400 Palestinians had been killed. Among the dead were hundreds of unarmed civilians, including some 300 children.
Today is the eighth day of Hannukah—and we pause today to…

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Here’s a link to a splendidly clear-eyed essay by Glen Greenwald on the US fear of democracy around the world and especially in the Middle East. It’s the best, most incisive thing I’ve seen to date on the subject. It’s datelined Jan. 2, 2012. The article begins:

End of the pro-democracy pretense

Fears of Arab democracy are finally ending the charade that the U.S. supports it; plus: more Iran fear-mongering

Media coverage of the Arab Spring somehow depicted the U.S. as sympathetic to and supportive of the democratic protesters notwithstanding the nation’s decades-long financial and military support for most of the targeted despots. That’s because a central staple of American domestic propaganda about its foreign policy is that the nation is “pro-democracy” — that’s the banner under which Americans wars are typically prettified — even though “democracy” in this regard really means “a government which serves American interests regardless of how their power is acquired,” while “despot” means “a government which defies American orders even if they’re democratically elected.”

It’s always preferable when pretenses of this sort are dropped — the ugly truth is better than pretty lies — and the events in the Arab world have forced the explicit relinquishment of this pro-democracy conceit. That’s because one of the prime aims of America’s support for Arab dictators has been to ensure that the actual views and beliefs of those nations’ populations remain suppressed, because those views are often so antithetical to the perceived national interests of the U.S. government. The last thing the U.S. government has wanted (or wants now) is actual democracy in the Arab world, in large part because democracy will enable the populations’ beliefs — driven by high levels of anti-American sentiment and opposition to Israeli actions – to be empowered rather than ignored.

Here’s the link to the full article: Glenn Greenwald: End of the Pro-Democracy Pretense