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November 4, 2013

For Palestinian citizens, 1956 massacre is not a distant memory

If Israel was able to inflict fatalities in 2000 just as it did in Kafr Qasim in 1956, with no accountability to the victims and affected families, how can Arabs feel safe about their rights as citizens?

By Amjad Iraqi

This week, Palestinian citizens of Israel marked the 57th anniversary of the Kafr Qasim massacre, when an Israeli paramilitary unit shot dead 49 Arabs (almost half of whom were children) as they returned from their farms, unaware of the new military curfew that had been imposed on their village. The perpetrators served meager jail sentences, with several officers promoted upon their return to the security forces.

Although there has never been an incident as grave as the 1956 massacre, the legacies of Kafr Qasim are far from being a distant memory for the Palestinian community in Israel. This past month, Palestinians also marked the 13th anniversary of the October 2000 killings, when Israeli police shot 13 Palestinian citizens during protests against escalating military violence in the Occupied Territories. Despite years of vigorous advocacy and a landmark government commission issuing extensive recommendations, not a single police officer was brought to court. One of the killers even got a promotion in the security forces several years later.

The October 2000 events, and many other episodes before that, are shocking echoes of the violence and absence of accountability that were seen in 1956. Though Palestinians citizens are no longer under military rule, the mechanisms that allowed those two incidents to occur remain the same. The state continues to believe that Arab citizens remain a collective danger to the state, that Arabs who protest in the Israeli public sphere are a threat, and that Arabs must be kept in their place – as a marginalized fragment of Israeli society.

This mentality is consistently seen in the state’s responses to countless exercises of Arab rights. In the months after the Kafr Qasim massacre in 1956, Palestinians across Israel held large demonstrations in anger at the brutal deaths and in protest of the discriminatory policies that were growing in the nascent Israeli state. My grandfather, who lived in Tira at the time, told me how he watched the town’s demonstration from the roof of his home: as the peaceful marchers approached the military roadblocks, police opened fire at the crowds to disperse the protest. Other villages faced the same response.

Fifty-seven years later, in 2013, I watched as Israeli police violently broke up Arab demonstrations against the Prawer Plan with clubs, tear gas and stun grenades and arbitrarily arrested dozens of Palestinian participants. The police gave them only one hour to protest and argued that the demonstrators were trying to block major junctions. What they did not explain was why a social justice protest organized by Jewish citizens in Tel Aviv that same week, which blocked the Ayalon highway, was allowed to continue late into the night without hindrance.

The differences in the state’s treatment of Jews and Arabs are widespread and well known, but there are still many Israelis who do not comprehend the impact of this pervasive and historic discrimination. By allowing these forms of mistreatment to continue, Palestinian citizens are being told to accept their inferior status: that we are not allowed to enter the public sphere, that we should fear for our freedom of expression, and that we will not find justice for any actions taken against us. While many Palestinians overcome those threats and assert their presence nonetheless, many more remain fearful of the unpredictable consequences. If the state can inflict fatalities in 2000 just as it did in 1956, with no accountability to the victims and families it is affecting, how can Arabs feel safe about their rights as citizens?

These fears continue to exist as Israel enacts more discriminatory laws, attacks minority civil and political rights and implements policies like the Prawer Plan that further entrench Arabs’ status as second-class citizens. None of these even begin to mention Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories, where Palestinian life is repressed by direct and structural violence on a daily basis. Regardless of whether they are on this side of the Green Line or the other, Israel’s goal of restricting the space and freedoms of Palestinians is enforced by the racist belief that non-Jews are an inherent problem to its survival. Remembering Kafr Qasim is therefore not just a commemoration of the lives lost in 1956, but a reminder that the attitudes that permitted such events to occur have not changed.

Amjad Iraqi works at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The views in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of Adalah. The author thanks Fady Khoury for his assistance.

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Max Blumenthal responds to latest critique of his book, in the ‘Forward’



Max Blumenthal



November 2, 2013

A Response to JJ Goldberg of the Forward

Picking up where Eric Alterman left off, and defending his thousands of words of error-laden invective, JJ Goldberg of the Jewish Daily Forward has turned out an indignant non-review (see the latest Alterman flubs here) of my book that reveals its chapter titles but fails to discuss their contents. Goldberg warps the responses of Alterman’s many critics, failing to provide links, and concludes with a distorted account of an exchange I had with Ian Lustick, mangling my quotes to falsely to suggest I had demanded the mass departure of Jewish Israelis from historic Palestine. Goldberg might have once been a sharpshooter in the Israeli Border Police, but in his attempt to reinforce Alterman’s attacks, he badly misses the mark.

Echoing Alterman, Goldberg expresses outrage with the titles of the chapters in Goliath but makes no attempt to present what I actually wrote in them or why they are titled as they are. For instance, he bemoans the name of my chapter, “This Belongs To The White Man,” but does not mention that the title was merely a reference to the notorious statement by former Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who said the following about non-Jewish African asylum seekers in Israel: “Most of those people arriving here are Muslims, who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.”

Ignoring the hard facts presented in Goliath, Goldberg has spent the years since Israel elected the most right-wing government in its history projecting his political wishful thinking onto the country’s pro-settler leadership, imagining everyone from Benjamin Netanyahu to Shaul Mofaz (check out this howler) as potential peacemakers, which is not unlike describing Rob Ford as the political future of Canada.

Goldberg has labored to sustain his trance-like optimism in the face of the reality of record settlement construction as well as other harsh realities. After the Egyptian military staged its coup, an act that has led the U.S. to cut military aid, Goldberg warned that any reduction in military aid to Egypt would “kill Mideast peace hopes,” writing that “America’s billion-dollar-plus annual aid package to Egypt does not exist for Egypt’s benefit, but for Israel’s.” Apart from this strange formulation, as though Egypt only exists for the U.S. as a function of his notion of what its policy should be toward Israel, he completely neglected to mention the U.S. at all, as though the U.S. has no independent interests or principles of our own at stake.

To clarify Goldberg’s distortions for readers of The Forward: Goldberg claims I did not “tell[] of the thousands of rockets bombarding Negev towns for years”  before Operation Cast Lead. However, I wrote on the first page of my book that “Hamas’s armed wing…fired dozens of rockets” in November 2008.

Similarly, Goldberg claims I did not “mention the hundreds of Israelis killed by…suicide bombers.” In fact, I devoted an entire chapter of the book to Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a remarkable Israeli academic whose daughter, Smadar, was killed by a suicide bomber. I discuss at length her and her husband’s experience after their daughter’s murder and how they became two of their society’s more outspoken opponents of the Israeli occupation. I go on to detail Israeli society’s response to suicide bombings during the Second Intifada in my chapter, “The Big Quiet,” explaining how it influenced the rise of hafrada, or Israel’s policy  of  demographic separation.

Goldberg further takes issue with an exchange between Ian Lustick and me during an October 17 discussion of Goliath at the University of Pennsylvania. But, not providing the link to the video, he produced a badly mangled version of my remarks.

Here is the context to the exchange in question: Lustick had remarked that Israeli society could increasingly be described as “fascistic,” suggesting that Israel had possibly crossed a moral Rubicon, then asked me to take on the role of God and decide whether to destroy “Gomorrah,” even though there were some “good” people living inside it – people like the Israeli dissidents, critics and reformers I profile extensively in Goliath.

My response proposed a direction for preserving the presence of Jewish Israelis in a future Israel-Palestine while stripping away the violent, inhumane mechanisms of demographic engineering, endless dispossession and the walls that have pitted Israeli Jews against the Arab world. My prescription was essentially a rejection of Ehud Barak’s explicitly colonial view of Israel as a Europeanized “villa in the jungle.”

Philip Weiss of the website transcribed parts of my answer and summarized the rest. Here is the relevant part of transcript, which Goldberg omitted. (The full exchange arrives around 38:00 in the video):

“As for the Jewish Israelis… These are Israelis who are attracted to Europe, who do not feel that they are part of the Arab world. And it’s that attraction to Europe, that manifestation of Herzl’s famous quote, that the Jewish state will be ‘a rampart of civilization against barbarism,’ which has led to the present crisis and the failure of Zionism. Because there is absolutely no way for Jewish people in Israel/Palestine to become indigenized under the present order, and that’s really what has to happen. You have to be willing to be a part of the Arab world, because you’re living in the Arab world. If you don’t, then you have to maintain this system and continue to harden the present system.”

My meaning is plain: That the walls must come down — the separation wall, the legal walls of ethnic discrimination, and the psychological walls — as a basis for true peace.

Goldberg claimed without evidence that “Lustick appear[ed] stunned,” when Lustick nodded in acknowledgement of my answer and did not express any perceptible displeasure; nor did he state any to me. In fact, what I said was intended to support what Lustick wrote in his recent essay on the “Two State Illusion” for the New York Times, Lustick offered a remarkably similar vision of an alternative future allowing Israeli Jews to  live in peace in the Middle East; in which ultra-Orthodox Jews and Mizrahi Jews of Arab descent – groups routinely derided by liberal Zionists like Goldberg as retrograde and politically burdensome — could emerge as their society’s bridge builders, forging practical alliances with Palestinians:

“In such a radically new environment, secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab. Masses of downtrodden and exploited Muslim and Arab refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself could see democracy, not Islam, as the solution for translating what they have (numbers) into what they want (rights and resources). Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater Land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or a regional formula more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.”

I mentioned in my reply to Lustick that his question related to a debate that was raging among many of my leftist friends and acquaintances in Tel Aviv. As I detail in the final chapter of Goliath, “The Exodus Party,” a number of my human rights-minded Israel friends have chosen to exercise the secondary, “emergency” passports that provide multitudes of Ashkenazi Jewish Israelis with EU citizenship, and they have moved to places like Berlin and London. Then there are others, like the Israeli journalist Haggai Matar, who are seeking means of assimilating themselves into the wider culture of the Middle East.

Goldberg has claimed, “Outside the far-left and anti-Israel blogosphere, ‘Goliath’ has been ignored.” But it is Goldberg who has ignored reviews by figures like Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz’s military and political correspondent, and Akiva Eldar, the Israeli journalist and author who served as chief political columnist for Haaretz for 35 years — writers who could hardly be described as “anti-Israel.” Eldar wrote that, “a significant part of [Goliath’s] strength lies in the effect that is naturally created when a foreign correspondent describes the reality of your life and surroundings. Thus, as if from a bas relief, details are raised to which the local eye has become so accustomed that it no longer notices their existence.”

I hoped to engage Goldberg in a discussion about his critiques of my book and about the future of Israel-Palestine. Unfortunately, that debate will apparently not take place. When Atlantic editor Robert Wright invited Goldberg to engage with me on the online political debating forum Bloggingheads, Goldberg declined, as Alterman did before him.


Israel’s prisoner release: From one jail to another

Monday, 4 November 2013

The jubilation over Israel’s release last week of 26 Palestinian prisoners was understandable to an extent. After all, the issue is highly emotive for a people with thousands of loved ones languishing in Israeli jails, victims of a woefully unjust judicial system.

However, that must be tempered by the fact that Israel used the prisoner release as cover to announce 5,000 new settler homes on occupied territory, while Palestinian attention was diverted with celebrations. Israeli newspaper Haaretz described this as “an effort to ‘offset’ the release of Palestinian prisoners.” Indeed, 1,500 of these illegal homes were announced immediately after the release.

The cover may have even been used by the Palestinian Authority. While it has denied Israeli claims that it knew of the settlement announcement beforehand, the fact that it is still partaking in negotiations is highly suspect. So is the fact that almost three-quarters of those released (19 out of 26) are reportedly members of the Fatah party, which is led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Given that Israel has made a habit out of announcing further settlement expansion along with previous prisoner releases, the PA can hardly claim ignorance. The last such occasion was in August, when Israel released 26 prisoners while announcing plans for more than 2,000 new settler homes.

Israel portrays these releases as painful concessions, while the United States praises them as important confidence-building measures. “The decision to release the prisoners is one of the most difficult I’ve had to make,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week. This, of course, is blatant propaganda aimed at legitimizing settlement expansion as some kind of farcical balancing act or compensatory measure.

Releasing a handful of prisoners, all of them jailed before the 1993 Oslo Accord, while announcing thousands of new settler homes is clearly of far greater benefit to Israel than to the Palestinian people. However, it also benefits the PA, if only in the short term, despite the fact that it cannot be oblivious to Israel’s manipulations in this regard.

The PA uses the prisoner issue cynically, trying to boost its dwindling domestic popularity through such small-scale releases, and appeasing its Fatah support base by ensuring that most of those freed come from its ranks. This achieves quick, easy results, but in the grand scheme of things they are mere breadcrumbs. All the while, Israel arrests Palestinians at a far greater rate than those it releases.

Meanwhile, last week a top official with the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization said the current Israeli negotiating position is the worst since before the Oslo Accord was signed 20 years ago. Yasser Abed Rabbo added that there had been “no tangible progress” in talks that resumed in July after a hiatus of nearly three years.

“They want… the borders of the state of Palestine [to] be set out according to Israeli security needs that never end, and that will undermine the possibility of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state,” said Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the PLO executive committee.

Fueling suspicions

Since the latest round of negotiations has been ongoing for months, why is the PA continuing to talk? This lends credence to suspicions that it is bowing to unreasonable conditions, and making concessions that it should not be making. Allegations that the secrecy surrounding the talks is precisely so that such concessions can be made without a public backlash are proving less and less outlandish.

After all, Israel has announced several thousand new settler homes since the talks began – the very antithesis of negotiating in good faith. The PA is simply accepting this by continuing to talk while its people’s lands are relentlessly colonized.

It is playing a dangerous and futile game. The PA cannot indefinitely make small gains to cover up much bigger losses. It also cannot forever dupe the Palestinian people into thinking that its unconditional, supine commitment to negotiations – with a party that has consistently shown its disdain for a genuine peace – is bearing fruit.

There are two further releases of 26 prisoners forthcoming. I will not be celebrating, because this will come at a price that the Palestinians cannot afford to pay, and with the shameful knowledge and acquiescence of their leaders.

Given that the occupation and colonization of Palestine is continuing unabated, releasing prisoners is not granting them freedom if they are simply moving to a larger (though ever-shrinking) jail under the same warden. The only thing worse than the denial of freedom is the illusion of it.


Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya English, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London’s City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council’s “Breakaway Award,” given to promising new journalists, “for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East.” He can be found on Twitter: @sharifnash

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