Monday, March 16, 2009

Thank you, Rachel Corrie.

Rachel CorrieImage by ISM-NC via Flickr

Today is the 6th memorial day for Rachel Corrie, an American non-violence activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in the town of Rafah in Gaza, March 16 2008. (thanks to Nina for the reminder)

The story, in short: Rachel came to Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement, like many other young americans and people of other nationalities. Many of them, btw, are jewish.

She was killed when she tried to prevent a bulldozer from demolishing a house. Personally, I believe the story of the driver who said he was not able to see her. Usually the Israeli army has people standing outside to direct the bulldozers, but at that specific event they were afraid of Palestinian snipers and thus did not do that.

I once met her parents. Very kind and good people. I hope that they find some comfort in the support they get from around the globe (and from many Israelis too, as they assured me).

Stories like this happen all the time. Only last week another American citizen was critically wounded by Israeli fire.

What do I do about it? I ask questions, attend a play (maybe), and mainly, support Lora (who's Lora? read or pick at the end).

Let's start with the questions, I'm good at it. Billy Bragg wrote a beautiful tune with plenty of questions. One of them is: Is Rachel more important than 100 Palestinian kids we never hear of?

Bradley Burston made me think again about responsibility (English and Hebrew). The army is there to protect population. If it were an Israeli citizen, most certainly a soldier would have had to go out and make sure everybody is safe. Why was this not the case here? As Chava Alberstein asks, "The love of the homeland is a natural thing, but why should the love stop halt at the border?"

The play My Name is Rachel Corrie plays today and on the 29th in Pittburgh. The play also made some noise when the director of the original theater in NYC canceled the production a few weeks before it was scheduled to air. No reason for the censorship was given. However, shortly after it found a new home.

Last and most important is a new journey of a brave American. This time I talk about my good friend Lora, who is so many things. She is so compassionate to want go to Gaza, so brave to actually do it, and so smart to be able to go in (the Israeli governmeht still puts Gaza under blockade. Somehow Lora was able to break in.)

You can read her fascinating updates here and can follow her twits.
And most importantly, you can donate here. All money goes to rebuilding Gaza.

Thanks to all of you, to Lora, and to Rachel; love, and non-violent energy!

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Monday, March 9, 2009

The Aftermath of the War

1. Israel did not achieve any of its declared goals.

- The Hammas only got stronger and more popular.
- The attacks on southern Israel increased since Israel broke the cease fire.
- Gilad Shalit is not home.

Israel had three goals - and it failed miserably on all three. No wonder everyone in Israel still supports this war. This is the simplest way to resolve the cognitive dissonance of how we became so stupid and violent. I still think that truth and learning from mistakes make a better policy, but they certainly are underrated.


2. Taking my mom out for lunch.

The Israeli support for the failed war reminds me of going out for lunch with mom. Usually it is much fun, but occasionally we order some really crappy dishes. My mom always insist that we finish these too - since we already ordered them, we should at least “enjoy” them. Israel seems to be following the same logic.
As for me, I'd rather not order the same dish again.
And again.


3. Exporting the successful line of Lebanon wars

I don't know about you, but this reminds me too much of the recent Lebanon war (or the one of 1996). They annoy us, we retaliate, we kill too many civilians and stop, and then they annoy us again. Only that this time everything was much bigger. Like a classic Hollywood sequel.


4. Closed Zone

Speaking of Lebanon, and speaking of a sequel, Yoni Goodman, the director of animation for the Academy Award-nominated film, "Waltz with Bashir", crated a short movie about Gaza:


5. Something small I do not get.

And here is something that surprises me. How can people support the war in Gaza and at the same time admire Waltz with Bashir? How come they do not see the parallels? The tallest wall in the Israel is not the one on Palestinian lands, but the one that blocks our actions from our thoughts and emotions.


6. You and Me and The Next War / Chanoch Levin

When we take a walk, we are three,
You, me and the next war.
When we go to sleep, we are three,
You, me and the next war.

When we smile at a moment of love
The next war smiles with us.
When we wait at the maternity ward,
The next war waits with us.

When they knock on the door, we are three,
You, me and the next war.
and when all this is over, we still are three,
You, the next war and the photograph.
Thanks to for the translation.

כשאנחנו מטיילים, אז אנחנו שלושה -
את ואני והמלחמה הבאה.
כשאנחנו ישנים, אז אנחנו שלושה -
את ואני והמלחמה הבאה.

את ואני והמלחמה הבאה,
המלחמה הבאה עלינו לטובה.
את ואני והמלחמה הבאה,
שתביא מנוחה נכונה.

כשאנחנו מחייכים ברגע אהבה,
מחייכת איתנו המלחמה הבאה.
כשאנחנו מחכים בחדר הלידה,
מחכה איתנו המלחמה הבאה.

את ואני והמלחמה הבאה,
המלחמה הבאה עלינו לטובה.
את ואני והמלחמה הבאה,
שתמציא מנוחה נכונה.

כשדופקים על הדלת, אז אנחנו שלושה -
את ואני והמלחמה הבאה.
וכשכול זה כבר נגמר שוב אנחנו שלושה -
המלחמה הבאה, את והתמונה.

את ואני והמלחמה הבאה,
המלחמה הבאה עלינו לטובה.
את ואני והמלחמה הבאה,
שתמציא מנוחה נכונה.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

My tent in the middle of the highway and the lies of the settlements

Tailgate Party!Image by DrewOtt via Flickr

Tailgating is a weird thing to do. It must be fun, but I just don’t get it. I prefer my party to be... well... more than 3 feet from my neighbor’s party. Perhaps I can also imagine a location nicer than a parking lot.

Israel has its own version of tailgating. It doesn’t have a fancy name (in general, barbecue is called Alla-Aish - and has nothing to do with the Arabic Alla or Aish. Actually, it literally means “on the fire”.) Anyhow, Alla-Aish often involves barbecuing on a traffic island by a highway.

Below - Alla-Aish from '69 and a more recent one.

I never got that either.

But sometime I enjoy imagining the following scenario. What would have happened if I had decided to build my home in the middle of the busiest highway in Israel? (for the Israeli reader, I usually think of the Halacha exit on Ayalon).
My day dreaming usually ends fairly quickly, realizing that I will soon find myself glued to a wheel of a track rotating at 65 mph.
But sometimes I think that perhaps the army will decide to protect me, build a wall around me, send hundreds of troops to make sure that violators do not disturb my privacy, and in general, making me feel very welcomed there, in my tent in the middle of the highway.

I often think that the settlers have the very same dream, only that no-one ever wakes them up.

In this post I do not argue whether Israel has the right over the west bank (for security, religious, historic, imperialist, or megalomanic reasons). Even if Israel has the right over the West Bank, I argue that the settlements are the dumbest thing ever (and pretty evil too).

The main highway in Israel, Ayalon highway, most certainly belongs to Israel. It is in the middle of Tel Aviv. Still, this does not give me the right to build my home there, since I put myself and my surrounding at risk. It is simply not reasonable. The biggest success of the settlements, in my view, is that somehow they were able to avoid the public discourse. In the Israeli public opinion, holding the occupied territories and building there settlements are the same thing. However, it is pretty simple to see that settlements impose nothing but risks, to everyone. Their existence kills people and kills the chance for peace.

Instead of giving the numbers or telling the stories, let me just share three videos with you. Kids, don’t try this at home. Actually, kids, don’t watch it. But grownups, you must watch these. It is our obligation as thinking people to know what is going on there. Not knowing lost its legitimacy after 1945.
The first is a story of a settler in Hebron.

The second is about Palestinians who try to harvest their olive trees, as instructed by the Israeli court and army. A story from the Israeli media.

The third goes back to the first family. This time a Palestinian kid tries to return home. Notice what the soldiers do, and how old the jewish terrorists are. I will probably not send my kids to their school.

These are only few examples. If you want to watch more, I recommend these two channels: (operated by Breaking the Silence)
and (operated by B'Tselem)

Above all, the settlements are the main obstacle to the two states solution. As one of the settlers told reported Bob Simon on CBS’s 60 minutes: "I think that settlements prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the land of Israel. This is the goal. And this is the reality."
I am sure most of you already watched the excellent CBS report, but in case you missed it, here it is:

The following two maps were taken from Peace Now and demonstrate the dimension of this phenomena. On the left - the west bank (in blue -settlements; in brown - Palesitinan territories). On the right - the road blocks. Notice that almost all of them (actually, all of them but 35) are not between Palestine and Israel, and are a direct outcome of the wish to protect settlements. These are the same roadblocks that prevent kids from going to school, farmers from working their lands, and pregnant women from reaching the hospitals on time.

Even if we assume that peace cannot be reached, a conclusion I object, Israel has no right or reason to maintain the settlements. This is an immoral sin and imposes a risk to everyone in the region.

To start realizing the effect of the settlements and road blocks, I recommend a movie by Avi Mograbi, and one blog by a member of Machsom Watch. Thanks, Nina, for finding this blog. This blog traveled from Israel to Indonesia and back for me to find it. A person could have never completed that journey.

The Blog - Hebrew and English.
The movie: Avenge but One of My Two Eyes, by Avi Mograbi.

The "funny" thing is that official Israeli report recognizes that 75% of the settlements have illegal building procedures, and still the state of Israel lies openly:
Israel's actions relating to the use and allocation of land under its administration are all taken with strict regard to the rules and norms of international law...Although the Hague Regulations, in Article 52, permit the administering authority to requisition private property for reasons of military necessity, Israel does not requisition private land for the establishment of settlements, even where there is military justification.“

Gentleman, we have created a monster.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Unseen Descrimination

Airport Security PlaymobilImage by nedrichards via Flickr

All foreigners that have entered the US at one point or another over the last 8 years have their own horror stories to tell. The long lines, the disbelief of the immigration officers, the pitying looks of our fellow American travelers, and the feeling of helplessness, knowing that I can do nothing at this point, and the more I express my frustration the slimmer my chances are to eventually enter the States. Criminals until proven otherwise.

I am used to telling my wife that this is nothing. It is the price we pay for being foreigners. That as soon as we pass immigration, no-one can tell between us and a 10 generation American.
But imagine life like that, not only in airports in immigration lines, but always, anywhere, in your own country, where you are host, not the guest.

This post is about everyday lives of Arab Israelis. It will be short, and personal, and no blame or guilt. Only much sorrow. Just to fill in some of you - Israel has about 80% (or 6 million) Jews, and about 20% (or 1.5 million) Arabs. Usually they are called either Arab Israelis or Palestinian Israelis. 90% of them are Muslim, most others are Christians, and few other sects and religions. They are citizens of Israel, not of Palestine.
De jure, they are equal citizens. De facto, they are way below that.

It all started when I was invited to teach this summer a class at Haifa University. Like most other Universities, Haifa U is pretty progressive. Actually, it is one of the most diverse and culturally-integrated universities, with a large Arab minority. A couple of days ago I received the forms I have to fill. They ask for copies of my academic certificates (of course), and... my military service certificate.

Excuse me? Why? They also ask for my rank and recruitment and release dates from the army. EXCUSE ME???

All Jews in Israel must serve in the army (3 years for boys, 2 years for girls). Arabs are not allowed to serve, and are not being offered a civil-service alternative.
The forms I received from Haifa U have no obvious discrimination. Nowhere I was asked to state my religion or nationality. Still, by nature they are discriminatory. Only jews can bring these certificates. Arab citizens are reminded, every minute of their time, that they are second class citizens.

Btw, these details are needed since my military service counts towards my seniority. I am not sure how being in the Israeli army prepares me for my job as a university professor, but apparently this is another mean to pay jews more than arabs who hold corresponding jobs.

Needless to say, after asking the good people in New Profile, I refuse to give these details, and will return the forms next week without them.


But this was really only one example out of many. Another example - a good friend of ours, a Palestinian Israeli (or Arab Israeli, they both mean more or less the same) married a German guy. He is a Palestinian descendant, since his parents come from Gaza. He was born and raised in Germany.
When they wanted to come to Israel to visit her parents, he was denied entrance. So he cannot meet his in-laws. It is a good excuse to avoid these huge family dinners, I admit, but who is the country to decide that? Just to be clear - if she were Jewish, he would have been given citizenship...


There are so many other examples, I don’t even want to begin. Somehow, everything is legal, everything adheres to “democratic” principles, with no legal discrimination. Everything is Kosher...


My uncle in-law bought an apartment in a new house. They wanted no Arabs in the building. So they defined it as an ‘observant building’ (in Hebrew it sounds even more ridiculous). Everyone in this building should observe Shabbat (or Sabbath; needless to say, my uncle in-law has no intentions of doing so). But now Arabs cannot move in there.


In general allocating property and land is tricky. How can you do that without discrimination? Easily. Much of the land in Israel does not belong to the state - it belongs to a company, the Jewish National Fund. To be clear, it is a private company, and thus can do whatever it wishes with the lands. In simple words, it can discriminate based on religious (and its charter says that its mission is to give land to Jews only). At the same time, it controls public lands, and 80% of its budget come from the Israeli government. Furthermore, one of its affiliated companies buys properties for Jews outside the green line (in the Palestinian area), even though this area was never annexed to Israel by the Israeli government... Dirty business.
The supreme court has ruled this to be illegal several times, so the JNF has to update its mechanisms. But the goal remains.
To further disguise the discrimination, the Hebrew name of the company lacks the word ‘jewish’, and it translates literally to something like “the fund for Israel”...


This approach, to maintain the discrimination of Arabs by separation, exists everywhere. In the States of Israel, Jews and Arabs do not go to the same schools, cannot marry each other, and cannot even be carried next to each other. Jews and Arabs do not see each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. In fact, I have interacted with more Arab Israelis in the States over the last 6 years than in Israel throughout my life.

Imagine if the US government will prevent inter-faith marriages, claiming that there is nothing discriminatory here, since no religion can marry no other religion. Imagine the way Jews would react here.
How come this still goes on in Israel?

I have no idea.


If you read Hebrew, you will enjoy this.


Not to mention bigger issues, such as the attempt of the Israeli parliament to disqualify Arab parties from participating in the general elections - not in spite of being a democracy, but in the name of democracy... Luckily, also here the supreme court intervened. Sometimes I feel that there are two Israel's - one for 9 supreme court judges and myself, and one for all the rest...


Meanwhile I have to return the forms to Haifa University. I just found out that Arab Israelis hold approximately 60 to 70 of the Israel’s 5,000 university faculty positions. That is about 5% of their per-capita number. At least Haifa U has the Jewish-Arab Center, whose goal is to promote Jewish-Arab cooperation.

So now what. I think I will write in the forms that my service in the occupation army did not prepare me for the roles I intend to fulfill as an educator.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Everyday Guide For Killing People

Where was Brecht correct?

General, your tank is a powerful vehicle.
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.

גנרל, הטנק שלך הוא רכב חזק,
הוא רומס את היער, הוא מוחץ מאה אנשים.
אבל יש לו חסרון אחד:
הוא זקוק לנהג.

גנרל, המפציץ שלך חזק.
הוא טס מהר מן הסופה, הוא עומס יותר מפיל.
אבל יש לו חסרון אחד:
הוא זקוק למכונאי.

גנרל, האדם שמיש מאוד.
הוא יודע לטוס, הוא יודע לרצוח.
אבל יש לו חסרון אחד:
הוא יודע לחשוב.

(Bartlett Brecht, 1938)

Where was Brecht wrong?

Yes, we can think. But Brecht may have placed too much hopes on this ability. The distance from ‘can’ to ‘do’ is far...

In this post I address the following question: How can Israeli soldiers commit the actions they do? How can individuals belong to a people of high morality, and at the same time aim and shoot at innocent children? What do Israeli soldiers think when they prevent a pregnant woman from crossing the checkpoint, when they use illegal phosphorous bombs in civilian neighborhoods, when they fire at people for quietly protesting, or when they arrest people for speaking openly in Tel Aviv?

And what does it say about Israel as a country?

I am not talking about warfare or self-defense. I am talking about cases in which there is clear right and wrong. Wrong - to shoot someone because you have a weapon and he does not. Because you can.

Rather than pasting here horror youtube videos, here are two small examples, of soldiers shooting protesters without any reason. In the first example, soldiers shot a person who had been arrested and was lying on the ground, bound hand and foot (yes, the lieutenant colonel who did that still serves in the army, and yes, the father of the girl who took the video was arrested). In the second example soldiers shot an Israel for standing. Let me know if you want more videos, my library and nightmares are full of these.

The question of how people commit these crimes becomes even more puzzling when we remember that Israel has compulsory military service. The aggression of the Israeli soldiers cannot be explained with selection bias, since everyone serves. Young adults who vote for leftist parties and object the occupation man the checkpoints and prevent children from going to school. How do these people, my brothers, forget to think when they drive the tank?

- First, people operate out of fear. Israelis are sure that the Palestinians are a threat to Israel. They refuse to see how weak the Palestinians are, and how little threat they impose. Even I started to realize the dimensions of the fear campaign only after I had moved to the States. Btw, this is not out of evil. The politicians themselves are terrified. People are sure that every kitten is a Trojan horse. And as Naomi Klein shows, fear is a very effective way to control people.

The fear system works very well. Even once one is done with the compulsory service in the army, after three years of indoctrination, one still has to serve on reserve for about one month every year. 10% lifelong sentence.

- Second, people operate as part of the organization. People are very happy to identify with their mission. They shoot because they were given a gun and are expected to. They shoot because everybody shoots. Have you heard of the prison experiment? This was a simulated prison in Stanford’s corridors and offices, in which half of the students were randomly assigned to be the prisoners and the other half to be the guards. “The experiment quickly grew out of hand. Prisoners suffered ... sadistic and humiliating treatment from the guards.” (Wikipedia). Again, these guards were their classmates. The experiment had to be stopped earlier than planned, after only 6 days. Wikipedia: “The experiment's result has been argued to demonstrate the impressionability and obedience of people when provided with a legitimizing ideology and social and institutional support,”. We play our roles, cling to our guns and ideology. As Zimbardo, the professor who conducted the original study, testifies: “Most of the evil in the world comes about not out of evil motives, but somebody says: be a team player... When a person feels: I am not accountable, this is the role I am playing”.

Fascinating and sick. Watch the 6 minute version, the 23 minute version, or See the slides. The Israeli administration knows this, and does as much as it can to help its soldiers avoid excessive thinking... For example, "Israel's Cabinet promised legal and financial support for any officers facing trial [about the war-crimes in Gaza]" (the Associated Press). In that way, the army tells its soldiers: 'You don't need to consider whether these are war crimes - we did all the thinking for you. Furthermore, we are your defenders. You awe us'. The outcome - bigger identification with the army and its goals, rather than critical thinking.

- Third, people feel comfortable obeying to authority. Again, this removes personal responsibility. This time I will point you to the Milgram experiment. This guy asked participants to give electric shocks to others. The shocks were sufficient to turn a person into a nice little campfire. Most participants obeyed with no second thoughts. After all, they were given orders.

The good about the following youtube clip is that it is only 2 minutes long and gives the facts in order. The bad is that you can’t really see what is going on and the music is awful :)

Here is a 10 minutes replication of this study (Darren Brown)

What we awe Brecht (and everybody else)
We awe them to think.
Yes, we are responsible. Yes, we are individual human beings, capable of telling right for wrong.
No, no excuse can be given for making a pregnant woman deliver a dead baby at the checkpoint.
In Israel, people who rediscover their conscious and refuse to participate in these horrors are called refusniks.

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