Despite the hysteria of the past week, Israeli democracy is in perfect health. Well, for the Jewish citizens of the country anyway. Avigdor Lieberman’s push to investigate leftist NGO’s is a political trick which lacks significant power to change the situation on the ground. Lieberman’s trick was designed to cast the Israeli left as reactionary and quick to cry wolf. It largely achieved its goals. The incredible mobilization to ’save Israeli democracy’ reinforces the notion that democracy for Jews is in perfect health. The left was attacked, people took to the streets and the system worked. If Lieberman’s desire to investigate leftist NGO’s reaches the next level in the parliament, concerned Jewish citizens will surly take the proper recourse under Israeli law.
Democracy for non-Jews in Israel is another story all together. Palestinian, Bedouin and Druze citizens face institutionalized discrimination in all sectors of life from education to building permits. This everyday denial of rights does not spark nearly the same reaction in the general public. In fact , it is seldom discussed on the nightly news and hardly ever do twenty thousand people march through Tel Aviv in support of minority rights. It is only when Jews are threatened does the population respond with calls that Israeli democracy is under attack.
Hours after the democracy march in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, Israel began destroying the Bedouin village of al-Arakib for the 9th time. The village is home to Israeli citizens many of whom have served in the army. The citizens are Bedouins and their village, which has been in the same place for the last eighty years, was targeted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) for destruction in order to make way for a forest. Through the selective enforcement of law and the denial of justice to the villagers, Israel has given itself the necessary permits to destroy the village time after time. In other words, had the residents of al-Arakib been Jewish citizens of Israel, the village would not have been destroyed.
It is reckless to judge the health of Israeli democracy by analyzing the democratic rights of the Jewish population. A democracy should be judged by how it treats its minority. Far from the parliamentary investigation committee which causes twenty thousand to march, the events that took place in al-Arakib represent a real threat to Israeli democracy. With the collapse of the Labor party and the with the current aggressive right wing government, the Israeli left should transform its feelings of perceived persecution and begin to fight against the real persecution of Israel’s minorities. Can we imagine, twenty thousand people marching in Tel Aviv tonight in favor of the democratic rights of the people in al-Arakib? Sadly, the answer is no and there is the problem of Israeli understandings of democracy in the Jewish state.
MK Ahmed Tibi once told me that Israel is ‘democratic to Jews and Jewish to everyone else.” In order to save Israeli democracy this statement must become irrelevant. The Israeli left has an opportunity to one up Lieberman’s political tricks and focus on the democratic rights of the non-Jewish minority in Israel. If this happens an honest discussion of the health of Israeli democracy will begin. Perhaps then the foundations of Israel’s democracy will begin a process of repair and Israel will then really become the Middle East’s only democracy.
In August 2010, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah presented “intercepted Israeli reconnaissance footage” and “the recorded confessions of Israeli spies” at news conference in Beirut to support his claim that Israel was responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The aerial footage, taken by Israeli unmanned drones, showed the same route taken by Hariri’s motorcade on the day of the assassination, suggesting that the ex-PM was being pursued.
Nasrallah’s revelations were compelling but, unfortunately, they were ignored by the western media except for the Christian Scientist Monitor which compiled the information in an article titled “Is Hezbollah right that Israel assassinated Lebanon’s Rafik Hariri?”
Here’s an excerpt from the CSM:
“Israel has the capability to carry out this type of operation, such as Hariri’s assassination and the other assassinations that targeted Lebanon during the past few years,” said Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, adding that Israel’s motive was to cast the blame on its enemies, Syria and Hezbollah. (“Is Hezbollah right that Israel assassinated Lebanon’s Rafik Hariri?”, Christian Scientist Monitor)
Nasrallah’s damning evidence is especially important now that the prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has issued his draft indictments. (On Monday) For now, the contents are being kept secret, but it’s widely expected that members of Hezbollah will be charged in Hariri’s murder. Nasrallah has warned that he won’t allow members of his militia to be arrested, so if warrants are issued, fighting will surely break out. Already, many schools in Beirut have been closed and Lebanese security forces have been put on high alert.
At the same time, the Obama administration has been working behind the scenes to influence key members in Lebanon’s government to support the US-Israeli position. In fact, Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry summoned US Ambassador Maura Connelly to explain why she had met with Lebanese lawmaker Nicolas Fattouch over the weekend. It appears as though the US is meddling in the country’s internal affairs in an effort to discredit Hezbollah. Connelly has not yet explained what she was up to.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is supposed to be an “independent” investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nasrallah has dismissed the STL as an “American and Israeli project” designed to label Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. The STL has culled all information that does not comply with its primary objectives. Thus, the fact that more than 100 people in Lebanon have been arrested in the last year “on charges of collaborating with the Mossad… including one who said his Israeli handlers instructed him to delude the late prime minister into thinking Hezbollah was out to kill him (Hariri) and so allow the agent to alter the route Hariri’s motorcade would take that fateful February day”, or that Lebanon’s “telecommunications network had been infiltrated by Israel, compromising all its communications” (“The Hariri Assassination: All Eyes on Lebanon”, Ranni Amiri, CounterPunch) will undoubtedly be omitted from the investigation’s final report.
Here’s more from Ranni Amiri’s article:
“According to the Lebanese daily As-Safir, Qazzi confessed to installing computer programs and planting electronic chips in Alfa transmitters. These could then be used by Israeli intelligence to monitor communications, locate and target individuals for assassination, and potentially deploy viruses capable of erasing recorded information in the contact lines. Qazzi’s collaboration with Israel reportedly dates back 14 years. (Note–Charbel Qazzi was head of transmission and broadcasting at Alfa, one of Lebanon ‘s two state-owned mobile service providers.” (“The Hariri Assassination: The Role Of Israel?” Rannie Amiri, CounterPunch)
So, the question arises: Who had the communications systems, aerial drones and explosives capable of killing Hariri? Who knew the route of his motorcade? Who had the motive?
And why is Israel’s chief of staff, General Gabi Ashkenazi, making predictions that the political situation in Lebanon will progressively deteriorate following the STL’s indictments? Here’s a clip from the political theatrics website:
“The Israeli Chief of Staff told the Knesset’s Foreign Committee that “with lots of wishes and a little bit of information” the situation in Lebanon will probably deteriorate following the issuance of an indictment by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)…
Although the date of issuing the indictment has not been set yet, Ashkenazi predicted it will be in September and insinuated that it will implicate Hezbollah. The Israeli general’s comments were seen as momentous particularly that he made them in front of a committee involved in Israel’s strategic policies.” (“Merlin” Ashkenazi Wishfully Predicts Deterioration In Lebanon In September”, politicaltheatrics.net)
So, why is Ashkenazi speculating on the STL indictments way back in July 2010, and why would he bring it up at a meeting devoted to “Israel’s strategic policies”? Does this explain why there are reports of increased military activity on Israel’s northern border? Is there a broader strategy to use the indictments to resume hostilities between Israel and Lebanon?
And why is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton so deeply involved in the activities of a so called “independent” tribunal? Clinton put the kibosh on a Syria-Saudi team that was trying to find a resolution between the rival factions in Lebanon’s ruling body. Why? And why did she preemptively torpedo the S-S negotiations and tell “Saudi King Abdullah and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri that the U.S. would reject any settlement at the expense of the UN tribunal.” Saad Hariri has reluctantly acquiesced to Clinton’s demands, but what does that mean? Should we assume that Clinton cares more about finding out who killed Rafik Hariri than his own son?
The loose ends and unanswered questions abound. The case that’s being made by the STL may seem convincing, but there is an equally cogent narrative that supports Hezbollah’s position. Here’s how British politician George Galloway summed it up in a speech in Edmonton in November 2010:
“I believe, and I don’t know anybody who is objective in this matter who does not believe, that Hezbollah are absolutely innocent of this crime, and it is time that the tribunal looked to the people who benefited from this crime…..in Israel.
“Any law student here knows, the first thing you do when confronted with a crime is ask the question, cui bono, who benefited?
“Did Syria benefit from the killing of the Sunni leader in Lebanon? Syria lost everything.
“Did Hezbollah benefit? Would Hezbollah benefit from destroying forever the respect and admiration that the Sunni Muslim population, not just in Lebanon but throughout the Arab and Muslim world, had towards them? No! They would lose everything.
“But Israel gained everything from this crime. It deepened the schism between Sunni and Shia in Lebanon. It deepened the schism between Sunni and Shia throughout the Muslim world. They plunged Lebanon into absolute chaos, and may do so again in the next few days and months.
“If this tribunal issues this indictment and anyone seeks to implement it, there will be war in Lebanon and there will be war almost certainly between Israel and Lebanon, and all of us will be dragged into it one way or another.” (“Galloway unedited: ‘Special Tribunal for Lebanon’ should have asked ‘who benefited?’”, rabble.ca)
Is that the goal, another war in Lebanon to create the “New Middle East” that Bush and Condi used to opine about? It’s too soon to say, but it’s not looking good.
Mike Whitney can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bedouin village of El Araqib in the Negev desert was destroyed by Israeli forces early Sunday morning.
This is ninth time in the past six months that the Jewish National Fund and the Israeli military have destroyed the village, and it will certainly not be the last. Israel has for decades been attempting to “urbanize” the Bedouin, taking them from their land, with a final plan of Judaizing their indigenous area.
More than 150,000 Bedouin, the indigenous inhabitants of the Negev region, live in informal shanty towns, or “unrecognized villages,” in the south of Israel. They account for around 12% of the Palestinian population of the country, and yet discriminatory land and planning policies have made it virtually impossible for Bedouin to build legally where they live.[i]
The unrecognized villages do not appear on Israeli maps, there are no road signs to mark them, and their locations do not appear on the Israeli ID cards the residents carry. Residents do not have state education or health services and because the government does not recognize the villages, they are off the water and electricity grids as well.
What’s more, Israel implements forced evictions, home demolitions, and other actions to prevent the nomadic, indigenous people from continuing their historical way of life.
The Israel Land Authority and particularly the Jewish National Fund are at the heart of the demolitions. The ILA is the branch of the Israel government responsible for managing the 93% of the land in Israel which the country considers public domain, though much of the land is actually unrecognized Arab villages and land.
In recent months the JNF and the Israel Land Authority (ILA) have been working to “encourage” the remaining nomadic Bedouin communities to settle in cities and stay off the land. The encouragement has come in the form of regular demolitions of Bedouin villages.
This philosophy towards the Bedouin has been policy for years. In 1963, Moshe Dayan, the famed Israeli military leader and politician, shared the country’s then unofficial plan for the Bedouin with the news daily Haaretz: “We should transform the Bedouins into an urban proletariat. Indeed, this will be a radical move, which means that the Bedouin would not live on his land with his herds, but would become an urban person.”
“His children would be accustomed to a father who wears trousers, does not carry a Shabaria [the traditional Bedouin knife] and does not search for vermin in public. This would be a revolution, but it may be fixed within two generations. Without coercion but with governmental direction, this phenomenon of the Bedouins will disappear,” Dayan told Haaretz in an interview on 31 July 1963.
Since the late 1960s, the government of Israel has carried out an urbanization policy of resettling the Bedouin community of the Negev in towns. “This policy was problematic from its inception, firstly because the entire process was imposed from the outside. The Bedouin had no share in decision-making and were not participants in shaping the program or designing the new communities. The stiff price of the failure of this policy, unfortunately, is being paid mainly by the new towns’ Bedouin residents themselves,” according to Ismael Abu-Sa’ad, of Ben Gurion University of the Negev. [ii]
Israeli authorities have demolished thousands of Bedouin homes in unrecognized villages since the 1970s, many of them comprising no more than tents or shacks. In 2010 alone Israeli officials demolished hundreds of Bedouin structures. The government’s goal is that people will move from rural areas to new Bedouin cities.
One such city is Rahat, located in the Negev and founded in 1972. The city currently has a population around 52,000, but numbers are growing as the Jewish National Fund, the Israeli Land Administration, and the government increase harsh treatment of the villagers nearby.
The ILA has a history of uprooting olive trees in Palestinian villages and is trying to plant forests as part of a plan to “green” the Negev desert, while making the nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouin impossible and pushing them to cities like Rahat, where employment is low and their traditional way of life impossible.
The JNF also has plans for the area, with a “major initiative to revitalize Israel’s southern region is called Blueprint Negev – a name that describes the far-reaching and visionary plan to increase the area’s population and improve living conditions for all of its inhabitants,” the group’s website says.
Their plan to “improve living conditions for all” seems to exclude the Bedouin community. While the JNF acknowledges that there are currently 160,000 Bedouin residing in the Negev, half of those in villages unrecognized by Israel, the group claims on its website that Bedouin’s “nomadic existence ceased in the 1950s.”
In November 2005, the Israeli government adopted the “Negev 2015” plan, a $3.6 billion 10-year scheme aimed at increasing the Jewish population of the Negev by 200,000 by developing upscale residential neighborhoods, fast transportation networks for commuters, high tech establishments, and better educational facilities[iii], for recognized residents only of course.
In 2010, Israel’s Defense Ministry announced a request for 20-30 billion Israeli shekels in order to relocate its intelligence, computers and logistical units from the center of the country to the Negev.
The move would supposedly strengthen the Israeli population in the Negev and create jobs in an area the country and the JNF are working to populate.
Israel’s strategic targeting of the Bedouin must be stopped. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, indigenous peoples, that includes the Bedouin, have the right to “own, develop, control and use the lands… which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used” as well as “the right to the full recognition of their laws, traditions and customs, land-tenure systems and institutions for the development and management of resources and the right to effective measures by States to prevent any interference with, alienation of, or encroachment upon these rights.”
As Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said following the destruction of the village of El Araqib in November: “The Israeli government must stop its policy of home demolitions both in communities inside Israel, such as al-‘Araqib in the Negev, and also in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem.”
Israel must recognize that the Bedouin have a right to their traditional way of life, that they have been on the land since before the existence of the State of Israel, and that the psychological tactics of destruction and non-recognition cannot continue.
[i] “Off the Map: Land and Housing Rights Violations in Israel’s Unrecognized Bedouin Villages”; Human Rights Watch, March 2008 Volume 20, No. 5(E)
[ii] Ismael Abu Sa’ad. BEDOUIN TOWNS IN ISRAEL AT THE START OF THE 21st CENTURY: The Negev Bedouin And The Failure Of The Urban Resettlement Program” Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 2000
[iii] “Off the Map: Land and Housing Rights Violations in Israel’s Unrecognized Bedouin Villages”; Human Rights Watch, March 2008 Volume 20, No. 5(E)
Reports from Sudan claim that senior Israeli officials have been advising the secessionist Council of Ministers of the Government of the South [Sudan] on matters relating to the “final details” of the expected “independence” from Khartoum and military support. Arab diplomatic sources called a meeting held in Israel in mid-December “important” and “extraordinary”.
According to the Sudanese Centre for Press Services, the meeting put the final touches to the expected changes in international relations and attitudes following the recent referendum, which is expected to call for secession. Egypt is one country which is concerned about the conditions in the region after January 15.
It is claimed that the meeting agreed that Israel would finance a deal to provide attack helicopters for the new army in Southern Sudan, thus “completing” the arming of the South; previous support has included weapons, ammunition, rocket-propelled and anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft guns, tanks and general vehicles. The reports added that Israel is making “arrangements” to find and equip the new state’s embassies and persuade other countries to assist in this process.
Commentators have pointed out recently that Israel has played a major part in sustaining the armed rebellion in Southern Sudan since the 1950s as part of the Zionist state’s strategy to keep Arab states divided and diverted by internal disputes.
While flipping through channels on television last week, I ran across an episode of Friends, the long running hit NBC sitcom (1994-2004), which grabbed my attention. In this episode from 2004, paleontologist and professor Ross Geller proudly announces to his circle of attractive young friends that he has just earned tenure at a New York university. This glorious occasion prompts the young dinosaur expert to break out a bottle of Israeli champagne in celebration. There are actually two references to Israeli champagne (‘Israel’s finest’) in this episode, and these moments are played ostensibly for laughs. (Israel? Champagne? Whoda thunk it?)
Nevertheless, Friends made me wonder. In recent years, I’ve noticed a trend among popular television programs and motion pictures to include bizarre, seemingly random references to Israel. The references are on the surface apolitical – they do not precede a discussion of the conflicts in the Middle East, nor do they offer an overt opinion on the Palestine/Israel crisis. They’re usually brief (perhaps a single exchange), and they add nothing to the underlying story. They stand alone, frequently as the punch line to a joke. But does anyone believe that the television and motion picture industries want us to laugh at Israel? Is that really all that’s going on here?
References to Israel in Hollywood, like references to Palestine or the Arab world, always demand close scrutiny, particularly given the entertainment industry’s shameful penchant for Arab/Muslim vilification and glorification of all things Israel, to say nothing of the fervent public devotion towards Israel shared by countless Hollywood luminaries. What this means is that in Hollywood, there’s really no such a thing as an “innocent” television or movie reference to Israel, no matter how tiny or inconsequential, for Israel is not like other nations. Even a fleeting mention of Israeli champagne, or a humorous reference to the Mossad (another television favorite), warrants further analysis.
So when a character on the hit ABC sitcom According to Jim (2001-2009) reminds Jim that he once planted a tree in Israel in his honor (neither of these characters are Jewish or particularly religious, by the way), there’s nothing innocuous about this fictitious gifting of a tree. Certainly not in an era when Israeli bulldozers routinely uproot ancient Palestinian olive groves and successive Israeli governments devote their collective energies to obliterating centuries of Arab history in the Holy Land.
Which brings us to this central question: what is the point of all of these (on the surface) non-political references to Israel on television and the big screen, in stories which have nothing to do with Israel or Israelis? Are they part of a wide-ranging propaganda campaign? Do they serve a different agenda from that of the more familiar, pervasive Hollywood depictions of Heroic Israel/Israelis or Victim Israel? Or are these merely two sides to the same coin?
To understand one possible explanation for this trend, it bears mentioning that we’re dealing with a more nuanced narrative than the traditional depiction of gallant little Israel. For the “Old” Israel, just think of the 1960 movie Exodus – attractive, noble proto-Israelis triumph against all odds while battling British colonial overlords and Arab primitives. The original, cartoonish version of Israel always implied conflict, for it centers upon the myth of Israel under siege. This is Jewish David confronting the menace of the Arab/Muslim Goliath. Let’s call this the “Neocon” Israel for reasons that will be made apparent shortly. And while still ubiquitous in far-Right circles, (mostly among neoconservatives and the crowd itching for the Apocalypse), this version of Israel has taken a severe pummeling in recent years. A succession of bloody incursions (Gaza, Lebanon), the inhumane siege of Gaza, the escalation of illegal settlements on occupied land, construction of the apartheid wall, and most recently, the brutal suppression of the Gaza aid flotilla – all have chipped away at this myth of Israel as the besieged yet noble “Light unto the nations”.
No, what we’re dealing with in Friends and According to Jim is a softer vision of Israel, but more importantly, an Israel that is neither defined by nor judged on the basis of its treatment of its Palestinian subjects. This is the non-controversial version of Israel, or “Non-Con” Israel, an Israel which exports bad champagne, co-opts environmentalist sentiment (planting trees), and offers up hot young female ex-soldiers as mysterious sex symbols (as in the recent Steve Carell/ Tina Fey comedy Date Night). As for Palestine and the Palestinians – well, they’re not even an afterthought.
I’ve always believed that what apologists for Israeli misdeeds crave the most (after vindication, of course) is normalcy. Normalcy in this context is not a comprehensive peace agreement that restores the basic human rights of native Palestinians while guaranteeing the security of all the peoples of the region. Normalcy, rather, is that elusive state of affairs where all the turmoil and embarrassing headlines (and by extension, the Palestinians themselves) have simply evaporated, magically cleansed from our collective consciousness. Normalcy means an uncontroversial, run-of- the-mill Israel disconnected from Palestinians with a reputation as benign as, say, that of Norway.
Ideally, the Israel PR movement wants us to think of Israel as we might think of Italy or Greece – an ancient land steeped in history and overflowing with a wealth of natural beauty, archeological treasures, and contemporary luxuries alike, a modern marvel whose charming population stands ready to greet visitors with a smile. “Come to Israel, come stay with friends,” declared the comical old Israeli tourism campaign from some years back. Just don’t bring any Arab friends. But if you enjoy sunbathing in the south of France, why not catch some rays on the beaches of Tel Aviv? And why not drink some Israeli bubbly?
Yes, this is a softer, less confrontational Israel, yet this version remains a myth, for it requires a suspension of disbelief. This Non-Con version of Israel is more insidious and in its own way even more damaging than the Neocon Israel, for it ignores Palestinians altogether. Decades of conflict, the deliberate dispossession of an entire people, the ongoing, brutal occupation and siege, institutionalized racism within Israel itself – all are swept under the rug in favor of a sanitized vision of normalcy that lacks any context whatsoever.
Fortunately, not everyone has bought into this charade. No, Israel is not Norway, nor are Israel’s policies normal. That’s why the Israel divestment campaign and the international movement advocating a cultural and academic boycott of Israel continue to gather steam. It’s the same reason that diverse artists, from Carlos Santana to Elvis Costello, have cancelled Israeli concert appearances in recent years. Here in America, people from all walks of life (including courageous young American Jews) are slowly waking up to the realization that an Israel that practices apartheid policies cannot be like other nations.
If one cares about the world, wishing for normalcy should never serve as a substitute for working for justice or promoting basic human dignity. Here’s hoping that future television and motion picture writers remember this lesson. In the meantime, I’d suggest planting a tree in Palestine as a gift to a friend.
As for Israeli champagne, I don’t drink, but for those who do, my advice is simple:
Just say no.