NABLUS — Israeli authorities on Friday prevented a group of British volunteers from entering the West Bank, a peace group due to host the delegation said.
Israeli officers stopped a delegation of 12 Scottish Youth Initiative volunteers on the Jordanian border with the West Bank. The volunteers were interrogated for seven hours before Israeli officials denied them entry, the HAYAT Center for Civil Society Development said.
The group was due to participate in a one-week youth exchange program between the West Bank city of Nablus and its twin city Dundee.
The visit was organized by the Nablus-Dundee twinning association, which expressed its deep disappointment.
The HAYAT center, due to host the group, also condemned the Israeli decision.
The center said the young Brits were scheduled to visit local associations, the An-Najah University, Balata refugee camp and the municipality’s youth and sport department.
Various activities had been organized for the visitors, including tree-planting, football matches with the Balata camp team and volunteering in local schools, the center added.
Ein Il Hilwe is a Bedouin community located in the north of the Jordan Valley and is one of many Palestinian communities doomed to suffer de-development under the strict policies of Area C. The village consists of around 130 people and is strategically located next to one of the few natural springs in the Jordan Valley that has not been confiscated by the Israeli government. The village itself is located off of the main highway in the Jordan Valley, at the foot of surrounding hills. Taken out of context of the Israeli occupation, Ein Il Hilwe seems to would be a picturesque manifestation of simplicity and tranquility. Unfortunately for the residents of the community, the occupation is omnipresent and unlikely to retreat soon; Ein Il Hilwe is surrounded by five illegal Israeli settlements that often come and harass the villagers. Like many other villages in Palestine, the effects of the occupation are perhaps most strongly felt my the children of the community.
Children from Ein Il Hilwe, as well as those from surrounding Bedouin communities, used to travel to school in the village in Tayasir, a trek of over 13km that required taking a bus and passing through an Israeli checkpoint. Too often, however, children would face harassment from the soldiers manning the checkpoint. Some were even forced by the soldiers to abandon the bus and walk the 13 km to and from school. Understandably, the brutal treatment from Israeli soldiers forced many of the children to drop out of school. To combat the falling retention rate and to support the existence of the Ein Il Hilwe community, the Save the Jordan Valley Campaign constructed a simple tent school last November. The school can hold 35 children, though many have classes outside, sitting on small plastic chairs where volunteer teachers instruct Arabic, English, Math, Chemistry and Religion, though classes include students of all ages and levels. Unfortunately, because the tent school in Ein Il Hilwe was illegally constructed (according to the draconian rules imposed by the defunct Oslo Accords), it is not recognized by the Palestinian Ministry of Education and therefore receives no funding from the state. The the tent and the play area, as well as the cost of transportation for teachers and all school supplies were all provided by developmental organizations. Indeed, the success of the school is entirely dependent on charity.
On Saturday, I attended a advocacy function in Ein Il Hilwe organized by the Save the Jordan Valley Campaign and Ma’an Development Center, during which volunteers helped extend the current play area for the children and met with the leaders of the community. Volunteers were meant to construct a second tent classroom for the community which would have allowed an additional 65 children to attend school, but on Friday, February 25, military jeeps arrived in the town and threatened to demolish both the tent and the existing play area.
Unfortunately, the situation in Ein Il Hilwe is not isolated. Communities throughout Palestine and particularly in the Jordan Valley are subject to the same horrifying circumstances. Area C – meaning full Israeli administrative and military control – extends to over 95% of the Jordan Valley. Most devastating about Area C is the inability of Palestinians to construct, leaving Palestinian communities in a constant state of, at best, stagnation and, at worst, de-development. Between 2000 and 2007, only 6% of Palestinian building permit requests were approved; 91 permits were granted to Palestinians while 18,472 Jewish units were built during the same period. For every building permit that Israel approves for Palestinians, it issues 55 demolition orders.
The students of Ein Il Hilwe are not alone in their suffering either. The Ka’abneh village is another Bedouin community that is surrounded by settlements. Like Ein Il Hilwe, a school was constructed for the community illegally, providing education to 66 students. Over the last three years, the Ka’abneh school has been issued six demolition orders, the most recent in October 2010 for a small bathroom. Likewise, the Jiftlik School faced a similar fate before 2005. Like their compatriots in Ein Il Hilwe, students from Jiftlik were forced to travel to nearby Beit Hassan to go to school. After the construction of the Hamra checkpoint, many from Jiftlik dropped out of school due to high transportation costs and harassment from Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint. The village decided to build a tent school, similar to the one in Ein Il Hilwe, but Israel demolished the school seven times between 2003 and 2008.
The Palestinians of the Jordan Valley are under constant attack. Not only does Israel use guns, but also bulldozers and lawyers to force Palestinians to leave their land. In 1967 320,000 Palestinians lived in the Jordan Valley. Today, that number has been reduced 82.5% to a mere 56,000. Poverty rates soar to 60%, worse than most areas in Gaza. Perhaps most tragic is that students in the Jordan Valley are actively refused their legal right to education by the Israeli occupation. Harassment by soldiers and settlers alike as well as the inhumanely routine practice of school demolition denies Palestinian children the right to learn.
Article 50 of the 4th Geneva Convention requires the occupying force – in this case Israel – to ‘facilitate the proper working’ of schools in the occupied territory. Harassing students, destroying schools and implementing policies undermining Palestinian education is a clear violation of this and any other international laws – including the Convention of the Rights of Children and the Convention against Discrimination in Education. More importantly, the damage done to schools and students today is greatly limiting and handicapping the future generations of Palestine.
Photos by Chris, 2010
* Chris is currently living in the West Bank and working at a community development NGO.
On a recent visit to Ramallah, I heard a fascinating tale about two entrepreneurial brothers and how they are trying to evade prosecution for aiding Israeli apartheid.
Doron Livnat is the director of Riwal, a Dutch company that supplied cranes used in building the 650-kilometre wall that snakes through the West Bank. In October last year, Riwal’s headquarters in Dordrect, The Netherlands, were raided by the country’s national crime squad, investigating a complaint into the firm’s activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The probe has led to a hasty corporate makeover, with Riwal changing the name of its Israeli subsidiary to Rom. Rik Maaskant, a spokesman for Riwal, told me there is “no relationship whatsoever” between the two firms now. Yet there are several coincidences indicating that his assurance should be treated skeptically:
1. Under a 2003 international crimes law, any Dutch citizen can be prosecuted for violating human rights anywhere in the world. Doron Livnat has dual Dutch and Israeli nationality. Should we be surprised, then, that his brother Adi, who does not have Dutch citizenship, has been placed in charge of Rom?
2. Both firms continue to have an almost identical logo: it is oval-shaped with the name of the firm marked in yellow against a dark blue background. The only discernible difference between the logos of each firm is that the name Riwal is featured in one and Rom in the other.
3. Riwal has a reputation for being economical with the truth. It even supplied false information to a government minister in the past.
The involvement of Riwal in the wall’s construction first came to light in 2006 when a Dutch TV documentary was broadcast, showing that its cranes were being used in Hizma, a village on the wall’s route. After Bert Koenders, a member of parliament with the Dutch Labor party, protested at Riwal’s activities, the then foreign minister Ben Bot said he did not have “any indication” that the Dordrecht-based company was assisting the project. Bot stated that the cranes in question were owned by a firm called Lima. It soon transpired, however, that Bot had been misled by Riwal’s management. Although he described Lima as Israeli, it was in fact Dutch-owned and had been authorised to use the brand name Riwal.
By all accounts, Bot was furious at being deceived. Despite making his displeasure known in Dordrecht, Riwal cranes remained a visible fixture at various spots along the wall. In the summer of 2007, for example, Riwal-branded machinery was found next to the village of Al-Khader, near Bethlehem.
The case against Riwal was brought by Al Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, which had gathered photographic evidence of how cranes and other equipment supplied by the company were used in the construction of the wall. According to Al Haq, the building of the wall may have involved the crimes of apartheid and persecution. Both offenses are covered by the Dutch international crimes act.
“The building of the wall potentially entails committing the crime of apartheid,” said Salma Karmy, a representative of Al Haq. “It results in the commission of inhuman acts in the context of a regime aimed at the domination of one racial group over another. We’re saying that the Dutch company Riwal was an accessory to this and other crimes. The crimes were primarily committed by the Israeli government but Riwal helped knowingly.”
It will be interesting to see how the case progresses, not least because there could be repercussions for the overall Dutch relationship with Israel. While the judicial system in the Netherlands is nominally impervious to political meddling, the relatively new Dutch government would doubtlessly prefer that the investigation is dropped. Uri Rosenthal, the foreign minister, is regarded by Israel as one of its most reliable supporters in Europe. At the beginning of March, he upbraided the United Nations Human Rights Council for approving too many resolutions critical of Israel.
Doron Livnat, meanwhile, is a prominent figure in two of the key groups belonging to the pro-Israel lobby in the Netherlands. He is a board member for the Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) and president of a team advising Collective Action Israel (known by its Dutch acronym CIA).
Based in The Hague, CIDI has consistently campaigned in favour of the apartheid wall, ignoring how it was declared illegal by the International Criminal Court in 2004. An article on the CIDI website claims that the wall has “saved countless lives from terrorist attacks”. Amsterdam-based CIA collects funds for the training of Israeli soldiers, particularly on the use of advanced technology. In February, it hosted a tour of the Netherlands for Tsahal, a band of musicians serving in the Israeli army.
Riwal, as it happens, enjoys name recognition well beyond the construction industry. Thanks to a sponsorship deal, its logo is emblazoned on jerseys worn by FC Dordrecht, a soccer team playing in the Dutch First Division. Time will tell if the Livnats’ support for Israeli apartheid proves to be an own-goal.
David Cronin’s book Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation is published by Pluto Press (www.plutobooks.com)
Remember the old joke about some sharpie who takes innocents by “selling” them the Brooklyn Bridge? By the time the poor guy finds out he was taken, the crook is long gone.
Flash forward to the present. States and cities are being told that they can fix their budgets and have money left over by leasing their infrastructure for 50, 75, or even 99 years. It sounds great, even miraculous. But we all need to slow down and do our homework, because the rule “If it sounds too good to be true, it is” still applies, and there are good reasons why state and local governments should not want any part of these deals.
The truth is that, rather than making money on just tolls and fees, private contractors make their money through big tax breaks and by squeezing state and local governments for payments for the life of the contracts.
In fact, tax breaks explain why the deals last generations. One tax break for leases that last longer than the useful life of the infrastructure allows investors to write off their investment in just over a decade. A second tax break lets private companies issue tax-free bonds to finance their deals. While tax-free bonds and tax breaks make it less expensive to finance these deals, the downside is that governments lose tax revenue. Losing tax revenue puts government budgets deeper in the red and worsens problems privatization was supposed to fix.
But that’s not all. Infrastructure privatization contracts are full of “gotcha” terms that require state or local governments to pay the private contractors. For example, now when Chicago does street repairs or closes streets for a festival, it must pay the private parking meter contractor for lost meter fares. Those payments put the contractors in a much better [position] than the government was. It gets payments, even though Chicago did not get fares when it had to close streets.
Highway contractors can be entitled to payments if there is an accident on the highway and if the police, fire, and emergency crews do not give “appropriate” notice and do not perform their emergency work in a way that is “reasonable under the circumstances”. And, given the vagueness of those standards, states and cities may end up paying just to avoid the costs of litigation.
Highway privatization contracts also often include terms that forbid building “competing” roads or mass transit. Some even require making an existing “competing” road worse. For example, the contract for SR-91 in southern California prohibited the state from repairing an adjacent public road, creating conditions that put drivers’ safety at risk. A proposed private highway around the northwest part of Denver required that local governments reduce speeds and install speed humps and barriers and narrow lanes on “competing” roads to force drivers to use the privatized road.
And worst of all, these deals put a stranglehold on democratic decision making and the public interest. For example, Virginia decided to promote carpooling to cut down on pollution, slow highway deterioration, and lessen highway and urban congestion. As a result, Virginia must reimburse the private contractor for lost revenues from carpoolers, even though not all of the people in a car would otherwise have driven individually. Chicago is not allowed to reduce the number of parking meters for the life of the contract. So when there have been changes that mean parking meters in one location are no longer appropriate, the city has had to install meters where none have ever been.
All of these contract terms put the public safety and well being last and the investors’ profits first. And, although infrastructure privatization proponents claim that the deals transfer risk from the public to the contractors, a fair reading of the contract terms shows that this is not the case. State and local governments lose control of their destinies and communities, while giving private investors power over our new dollar democracies.
These problems will persist even when the private contractor does a good job in maintaining the infrastructure and providing good public access to it. But contractors have not always done a good job in keeping their agreements.
Shortly after it took over the Indiana Toll Road, the private contractor put sand-filled barrels in turn-arounds with no notice to the state. State officials begged and pleaded for the barrels to be removed, so police and emergency crews could get to accidents and deal with other public safety problems as quickly as possible. Those pleas fell on deaf ears, while the turn-arounds remained blocked for months.
Or consider the poor people of Auckland, New Zealand. Their government had become enamored of privatization, because they had been told that the private sector always provided better service at lower cost. Mercury, the private company that bought the electrical service for Auckland decided to save costs by eliminating backup power, by not replacing parts of the system that were years past their normal life, by doing no maintenance, by having no electrical cables in reserve, and by terminating its repair crews. When they were terminated, the crews left NZ to find work elsewhere. All these decisions were made to increase company profits.
Those decisions may have lowered the company’s costs, but at a huge price, most of which it did not bear when the power cables to Auckland’s central business district failed. Banks, stock exchanges, restaurants, and all functions that depended on electricity were hard hit. Water, sewage, and all systems went down, and the power outage lasted nearly two months, because it had no repair crews or replacement components on hand.
Auckland’s businesses lost millions of dollars. Companies tried to stay open by using generators, office workers climbed stairs in skyscrapers in mid-summer, and generator noise and diesel smoke filled downtown. At one point Auckland was provided power to essential facilities through an electric cable plugged into a large ship in the harbor.
You would think that New Zealand privatization advocates would have rethought their positions after they saw the carnage created by Mercury. But that was not the case. They actually claimed that the problem was caused by not having privatized enough infrastructure. While ludicrous, given what they had experienced, that view is not unique.
Consider, then, that at this very moment, state and local governments are contemplating signing contracts that restrict their rights to inspect infrastructure paid for with public money. Consider that they are agreeing to sign away their ability to protect the public interest and are setting in motion the same sort of disaster that Auckland faced, while the federal government is offering tax breaks to promote privatization.
The lesson and warning for states and local governments who are being wooed by private contractors is to do their due diligence. Read the contracts. Demand explanations and information. Ask for evidence that the public sector cannot do what private contractors do — and at lower cost – since the public sector does not need to pay dividends to investors. Get advisors who are not beholden to the privatization industry. And use common sense.
If you had thought the miracle of infrastructure privatization sounded too good to be true, now you know it is. But if you still have a hankering to give privatization a try, well, I just might have a bridge to show you . . .
You can find more details in Crumbling Infrastructure, Crumbling Democracy: Infrastructure Privatization Contracts and Their Effects on State and Local Governance. It was first published in the Northwestern Jounral of Law and Social Policy at 6 Nw. J. L. & Soc. Pol’y 47 (2011), http://www.law.northwestern.edu/journals/njlsp/v6/n1/2/.
Zlikhah Muhtasab, 49, is one of the few Palestinians still living on Shuhada Street in the center of Hebron. The street, one of Hebron ‘s main thoroughfares, links the north and south of the city and passes by the major markets, the Old City , the Tomb of the Patriarchs and al-Haram al-Ibrahimi, and Israeli settlement compounds. Since October 2000, Israel has forbidden Palestinians to walk or drive on the street, although no valid military order for the closure has been presented. Along with other restrictions on Palestinian movement in the area, this has led to an economic collapse of the city center. Many residents have left, and the area has become a ghost town. Over the years, the army repeatedly claimed it was about to permit Palestinians to use the street again, but this has yet to occur.
Israeli settlers, however, are allowed to move freely on the street. In a testimony she gave to B’Tselem, Zlikhah related the harassment she and her 75-year-old mother have suffered since they moved, for financial reasons, to a house on the largely deserted street in 2006. In the first year, settlers regularly threw stones at the house. After Zlikhah came home one day to discover a large amount of stones within the house, she asked the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee to assist her in installing iron grating on the windows and porches of the house for protection. The grating, which gives the house a cage-like appearance, did not assist in deterring assaults, and settlers continue to throw stones at the house from time to time, even at night.
Zlikhah Muhtasab in her cage-like house. Photo: Musa Abu Hashhash, B’Tselem, 13 Feb. ’11.
Israel began to restrict Palestinian movement along the street in 1994. After the massacre carried out by Baruch Goldstein in the Tomb of the Patriarchs that year, Israel chose to impose restrictions on the Palestinians, rather than on the Israeli settlers in the city, contending that these restrictions were necessary in order to protect the settlers’ safety. At first, Israel forbade Palestinian commerce and vehicle traffic on part of the Shuhada Street , and only residents of the street were allowed to enter by vehicle. Under the Hebron Agreement, signed in January 1997, control of a large part of the city, referred to as Area H1, was transferred to the Palestinian Authority. The section of the city in which Israeli settlements had been established, termed H2, remained under Israeli control. The parties agreed that Israel would once again allow Palestinian vehicle traffic on Shuhada Street , in area H2. For several years, until the beginning of the second intifada, the forbidden section of the street was alternately opened and closed.
When the second intifada broke out, in October 2000, the army placed more stringent restrictions on movement on the street. Now, Palestinians are forbidden to drive along the entire length of the street, and even to walk along the section between the Avraham Avinu settlement compound and the Bet Hadassah settlement compound. The army also prohibits Palestinian traffic on adjacent streets, thereby creating a contiguous strip of land in the center of Hebron , from the Kiryat Arba settlement in the east to the Jewish cemetery in the west, in which Palestinian vehicles are completely forbidden.
As a result of these severe restrictions, 304 shops and warehouses along Shuhada Street closed down, and Palestinian municipal and governmental offices that had been on the street were relocated to Area H1. Israel also took control of the central bus station that had been on the street, turning it into an army base. In 2006, B’Tselem’s investigation revealed that most of the properties on or adjacent to Shuhada Street , including homes and businesses, had been abandoned or had been closed by military order. The army forces the few Palestinian families that continue to live on the street to enter their homes via side entrances, since they are not allowed to use the main entrances on Shuhada Street . Where side entrances are not available, the Palestinian residents have no choice but to climb on ladders leading to the roofs of the buildings.
Closed shops on Shuhada St. Photo: Tamar Gonen , B’Tselem, 2 March ’11.
Like other residents still living on the street, Zlikhah and her mother are also forced to enter and leave their home by climbing a steep flight of stairs that serves as a side entrance. As they are forbidden to walk on the main street, they must take circuitous routes and go through two checkpoints in order to reach the mosque of al-Haram al-Ibrahimi (the Tomb of the Patriarchs) or to visit relatives who live nearby. Zlikhah’s elderly mother has to walk almost a kilometer to reach her medical clinic, only 300 meters away if she could go via Shuhada Street . The cemetery in which Zlikhah’s grandfather and other relatives are buried lies right across the street, but the two have great difficulty visiting it now.
In April 2007, following reports in the Israeli media and public pressure on the issue, the Civil Administration began to issue temporary permits to some Palestinians living on the street. These permits enabled them to enter and leave their houses via the main entrance on the street. Visitors were still denied use of these entrances. The permits were valid for three months, and were extended four times. During this period, Zlikhah, her mother, and their neighbors returned to using the front entrances to their homes and to walking freely on Shuhada Street.
Zlikhah told B’Tselem of the relief she felt and how she would often go out to walk on the street, sometimes at night too, in order to realize her newly returned freedom. She noted that soldiers posted on the street fulfilled their duty to protect Palestinians who were now using the street again, and that settlers in the area were displeased with the development.
The last permit given to Zlikhah expired in August 2008. She related that when she and her neighbors applied to renew the permits again, the Civil Administration said the requests would be handled after the Jewish holidays. Then the Civil Administration dragged its feet, and repeatedly postponed renewing the permits, until the communication ceased altogether. The Palestinian residents of the street had to return to using side entrances or rooftops.
In 2005, the Hebron Municipality and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned Israel ‘s High Court of Justice to open the street to Palestinian movement. The state, in response, presented a “plan for protection of the Jewish community in Hebron ,” according to which Palestinians would be allowed to walk on the street, but the prohibition on opening shops and on vehicular traffic on the street would remain in force. Subsequently, military orders were issued restricting vehicular traffic on the street but not pedestrians.
Following this, ACRI wrote to the legal advisor for Judea and Samaria , who stated, in December 2006, that the army had prohibited Palestinians from walking along the street for six years “by mistake.” This contention was clearly a lie. In any event, the army continued to prevent Palestinian pedestrians from using the street. In response to a request ACRI made to the judge advocate general, the latter raised a new argument, whereby the army maintains that the street should remain closed “for security reasons,” without delineating the reasons. Two years ago, the army informed the media that it intended to cancel the prohibition on Palestinian movement on Shuhada Street . To this day, the prohibition remains in force.
The closing of Shuhada Street is part of the policy of separation that Israel imposes in the heart of Hebron. This policy has led to Palestinian mass abandonment of the city center and has brought with it severe, continuing breach of the human rights of Palestinians. It is, de facto, an unacceptable regime of discriminatory separation.
McClatchy, the Sacramento Bee, Darrell Steinberg and Islamophobia
In an inversion of journalistic ethics, the Sacramento Bee reported on opposition to an event before and after it took place, but didn’t cover the event itself.
It featured an entire report on accusations against a flier, but didn’t include a response from the flier’s authors.
It printed claims by powerful local figures that the flier was “an outrageous lie,” but refused to print information showing that the flier’s statements were factual.
Its headline about the allegedly offensive flier emphasized a Muslim connection, even though there was virtually no Muslim connection to the flier.
It neglected to report that one of those attacking the flier had previously attempted to use his official position to prevent the event at which the flier was distributed from taking place.
And finally, the Bee’s parent company, McClatchy, one of the nation’s largest newspaper chains, then sent out the Bee’s deficient story about a flier nation-wide, also emphasizing a (largely non-existent) Muslim connection in its headline, which then appeared on newspaper websites in Florida, Texas, Idaho, Mississippi, Alaska, and elsewhere, generating anti-Muslim comments.
The event in question was part of a national speaking tour that featured an Auschwitz survivor speaking about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Called “Never Again For Anyone,” it was sponsored by a diverse array of eight national organizations and nine local ones, secular, Jewish and Muslim, who reserved a hall owned by the local Islamic Center as the venue for the event. Also speaking was Dr. Hatem Bazian, a prominent academic from UC Berkeley.
The talk was immediately opposed by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the 13-member Board of Rabbis of Greater Sacramento, who contacted the Islamic center and demanded that the center refuse to allow the event to take place.
The rabbis called it a “program of hate,” claimed that both the theme and the presence of an Auschwitz survivor speaking about the plight of Palestinians were “anti-Semitic,” stated that allowing the 86-year-old Auschwitz survivor to speak would “defile the sacred memory of millions who perished during the Holocaust” (nothing was said of the multitudes of non-Jews, including Arabs and Muslims, who died under the Nazis), and threatened that Jewish-Muslim relations would be fatally jeopardized if the Islamic Center did not renege on its agreement to allow the event to take place on its property.
The Sacramento Bee ran a news story on the rabbis’ complaints, claiming in its lead sentence that because of the proposed event, “Sacramento’s carefully cultivated interfaith bonds are being stretched to the limit,” although there is no indication that the planned talk was interfering with Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or other faith’s relations with the Muslim community.
Despite the attempt to prevent it, however, the event went forward as planned, drawing approximately 500 people. The Bee, despite choosing to cover prior complaints against it, chose not to cover it.
Four days later, however, the Bee carried another news story about the event, this time focusing on a complaint by the President Pro-Tem of the California Senate condemning a flier that was distributed at the talk.
California is in deep trouble. It is over $26 billion in debt and is facing potential bankruptcy. People have lost homes, businesses have failed, university fees have escalated. Yet, the Senate’s President Pro Tem, Darrell Steinberg, one of California’s most powerful politicians, twice took time out of his necessarily busy schedule to lodge semi-official complaints about the “Never Again” event.
Steinberg, who has worked to promote tolerance and build bridges with Muslim leaders to oppose bigotry, is devoted to Israel. In 2008 he was host of “Salute to Israel,” a celebration of Israel’s creation 60 years before, which had involved the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Christians to make room for the Jewish state.
According to the Jewish Forward, Steinberg became President Pro Tem “after intense involvement in the Jewish communal world, including stints as chairman of Sacramento’s Jewish Community Relations Council… The lobbyist for the California Jewish Public Affairs Committee, Cliff Berg, said he is looking forward to working more with an old friend.” Both organizations advocate for Israel; JPAC sponsors an annual 9-day trip to Israel for state legislators.
Steinberg was strongly opposed to the “Never Again for Anyone” event. First, although the Bee didn’t mention this, Steinberg tried to stop it, sending a letter on official Senate stationery urging the Islamic Center to revoke permission for it.
Then, after the talk had taken place (which Steinberg did not attend), he sent a second letter to the Bee and to a few individuals in the interfaith community (it’s available only on a pro-Israel website), again on official stationery. In it he condemned a flier that had been distributed at the event.
Produced by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, a cosponsor of the event, the flier included information about collaboration between Nazis and leaders of the Zionist movement (the political/military movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine that created Israel in 1948).
Steinberg was outraged. In his letter he particularly objected to the flier’s statements that “…Zionist leaders made ‘transfer agreements’ with the Nazis…. refused to observe the international boycott of Nazi Germany… and even kept silent about impending plans to deport Jews into Nazi death camps.”
Steinberg called the statements an “outrageous rewrite of history,” and claimed that “in essence, they are saying the Jews orchestrated the Holocaust,” although the flier said no such thing.
Similarly angered, according to the Bee news report, was one of the rabbis who had tried to prevent the talk, Rabbi Mona Alfi of Sacramento’s prominent Congregation B’nai Israel.
While the Bee didn’t mention this, Alfi is also the official California Senate Chaplain, a position she has held since 2008. She was appointed to this position by Steinberg, a member of B’nai Israel. (According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, two percent of Californians are affiliated with the Jewish faith.)
According to the Bee, Rabbi Alfi called the flier’s allegations that some Zionists were Nazi collaborators “a disgusting lie.”
While the Bee’s report also included statements defending the talk, it contained no statements in defense of the flier itself, the paper having made no attempt to interview the authors of the flier that was the focus of its article.
As a result, the report contained none of the extensive evidence supporting the flier’s content, thus giving readers the impression that a flier filled with objectionable falsehoods had been distributed.
Worse yet, since the Bee and McClatchy then chose to emphasize the venue of the event in their headline (“Flier at California Muslim center condemned by state senator”), despite the fact that the center had nothing to do with the flier, a headline and news story were sent around the country that served to reinforce the Islamophobic fiction that Muslims are inherently anti-Semitic, generating comments such as:
“Muslims have been successfully trading in anti-Semitism for decades, Steinberg isn’t going to put a dent in it,” “ ‘The holocaust never happened.’ Since that didn’t work, certain Muslims decided to try this disgusting piece of nonsense,” “My, my, those Muslim propaganda sites must be working overtime.”
In point of fact, however, the flier’s statements are accurate. There is detailed evidence that some Zionists collaborated with the Nazis, that Zionists sabotaged anti-Nazi boycotts, and that Zionists interfered with efforts to rescue victims of Nazi oppression.
When facts first emerged in the 1950s about Zionist-Nazi collusion, it caused considerable scandal in Israel and led to the fall of the Israeli government of the time. A number of books are dedicated to this subject and it is discussed in numerous others, almost all by Jewish and/or Israeli authors. The topic inspired novels by well-known Israeli writers Amos Elon and Neil Gordon, was the subject of a 1987 British play, and was portrayed in a 1994 Israeli docudrama. It’s surprising that Steinberg and the Board of Rabbis make no indication of ever having heard anything about this.
Popular American playwright and fervent Zionist Ben Hecht wrote the first book on the subject, “Perfidy,” relating the history of a Hungarian Zionist leader who arranged for his family and several hundred prominent Jews to escape while facilitating the movement of the rest of Hungarian Jews to Nazi concentration camps.
Hannah Arendt, in her 1960 book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report in the Banality of Evil,” writes: “To a Jew this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story.”
In “The Transfer Agreement: The Dramatic Story of the Pact between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine” (containing an afterword by ADL head Abe Foxman), pro-Israel writer Edwin Black reports that in 1933 Zionist leaders concluded a secret pact with the Third Reich that transferred 60,000 Jews and $100,000 to Palestine, Zionists promising in return that they would halt the worldwide boycott “that threatened to topple the Hitler regime in its first year.”
Author-researcher Lenni Brenner wrote of Zionist-Nazi collusion in “Zionism in the Age of Dictators,” of which the London Times stated: “Brenner is able to cite numerous cases where Zionists collaborated with anti-Semitic regimes, including Hitler’s.”
Brenner’s second book on the topic, “51 Documents, Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis,” includes a 1940 letter from underground Zionist terrorist leader Avraham Stern proposing that Jewish militias would fight on Germany’s side in exchange for Nazi help in creating an “historic Jewish state.”
In “What Price Israel,” American Council for Judaism member Alfred Lilienthal describes FDR’s efforts to set up a program to rescue refugees, only to find Zionists sabotaging it. Roosevelt explained: “The Zionist movement knows that Palestine is, and will be for some time, a remittance society. They know that they can raise vast sums for Palestine by saying to donors, ‘There is no other place this poor Jew can go.’”
When New York attorney Morris Ernst joined this refugee effort, he was shocked: “I was thrown out of parlors of friends of mine who very frankly said ‘Morris, this is treason. You are undermining the Zionist movement.’” Ernst wrote that he found a fanatical movement of men “little concerned about human blood if it is not their own.”
In “The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust,” Israeli historian Tom Segev quotes Zionist leader and future Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion: “If I knew that it was possible to save all the Jewish children of Germany by transporting them to England, but only half of them by transporting them to Palestine, I would choose the second.”
Segev writes that Ben-Gurion worried that ‘the human conscience’ might cause various countries to open their doors to Jewish refugees from Germany and saw this as a threat, warning: ‘Zionism is in danger.’”
In the Bee’s report on the controversy, Sacramento’s Rabbi Alfi is further quoted as saying “there is no comparison” between the treatment of Jews in pre-war Germany and Palestinians. Yet, in 2002 the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the Israeli military was specifically studying Nazi Warsaw Ghetto strategies for use in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
The Bee’s decision not to cover an event about which it had reported prior complaints is highly questionable.
Even more serious, its decision to publish a news report featuring attacks against a flier without also interviewing the flier’s authors violates fundamental journalistic principles. The story was published four days after the event took place; taking the time to follow professional good practices would have made sense.
However, hindsight is always clearer than decisions made under a looming deadline, and in the rush of daily journalism serious lapses sometimes occur. The real test of a newspaper’s commitment to honest, principled journalism is how it handles such lapses.
Bee editors failed this test with flying colors. From here on I speak from personal experience.
I happened to read the Bee’s flier report soon after it was published. Because I’ve studied Israel’s history extensively and own the books mentioned above (and others that mention the topic), I was aware that the flier’s statements were factual and that the undisputed complaints against it were unfounded.
I felt this information needed to be given to readers as soon as possible to correct the misimpression conveyed by the Bee’s one-sided reporting. Since op-ed columns were specifically created as a place for outside writers to convey views and information not otherwise contained in a newspaper, I took several books on the topic and went to the Bee’s offices to propose an op-ed.
From the lobby I called opinion page editor, Stuart Leavenworth, saying that I’d like to discuss a potential op-ed for the paper. He said he was in a meeting and couldn’t meet with me, but asked what I wished to address.
When I told him, he expressed skepticism and said he would not print an op-ed saying that Zionists had collaborated with Nazis.
I told him that I had books on the subject with me that I could show him. He replied that normally someone would schedule such a meeting ahead of time. I agreed and asked when we could schedule such a meeting. He said he would not schedule one. He asked me a few more questions, interrupted my answers, and then told me to submit an op-ed. He said that I must supply citations.
I wrote the article, cited seven books, and said that I would provide more extensive citations if he wished (even though I had already supplied far more references than normally required for an op-ed). I also said that I would be glad to cut the piece if it was too long and said I was very comfortable with rewriting.
He refused to publish it, providing no explanation for this decision.
I am fully aware that editors always retain the power to decide what they will and won’t publish (I’ve been an editor myself). However, since journalistic ethics required the Bee to remedy sloppy, one-sided reporting that gave readers a false impression of a controversial local event, of Muslims at a time when violence and bigotry against them is escalating, and about Israel, with which the U.S. has a unique “special relationship,” I emailed and phoned my concerns to the Bee’s chief editor and others (it has no ombudsman), but to no avail.
The newspaper’s response was disappointing but unsurprising. Editors, particularly when it comes to Israel-Palestine, are far more concerned with daily deadlines, financial necessities, and the need not to anger powerful constituencies than with moral or ethical principles.
This reality, combined with considerable ignorance on the Middle East among many journalists, and pro-Israel, anti-Muslim bias among others, means that there is virtually no effort to correct errors or remedy significant omissions in coverage having to do with Israel.
As a result, Americans are largely left in the dark about the current reality and past history of the tiny, rich nation that receives more of our tax money than any other country on earth, currently at least $8 million per day, and that is at the center of profoundly important issues concerning both the region and our own nation.
Israel and its partisans are working to make sure it stays that way. If Steinberg, Alfi, Leavenworth, the Bee, and McClatchy continue their current pattern, it doesn’t look like this is going to change anytime soon – unless enough people start to demand better.
Alison Weir is President of the Council for the National Interest and Executive Director of If Americans Knew, a nonprofit organization that provides information on Israel-Palestine. She splits her time between Sacramento and Washington DC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Thursday, February 24, 20-year-old Mohammad Gharib of al-Issawiya village near Jerusalem was driving home, bringing dinner from a restaurant in Jerusalem.
Mohammad took his youngest brother and his friend along for the ride. When they reached the intersection leading to the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, their car broke down.
“As I was trying to see what happened to the car, three settlers stopped and offered to help,” Mohammad recalled. “I thanked them and as I was speaking to them in Hebrew, they realized I was Arab. They started calling me names, then one of them pulled his gun and shot me in the knee.”
Mohammad was taken immediately to al-Maqasid hospital in Jerusalem, then moved to the Israeli hospital of Hadassah where doctors told him his knee was shattered and muscles torn.
“Doctors installed a device to make me walk,” he said, “but now I can’t leave my bed on my own”.
Mohammad said he filed a police report and told Israeli officers that he could identify the settler who shot him. He also demanded they work on his case quickly.
As of now, he is still lying in bed in pain and waiting for the police to arrest his attackers.