Saturday, July 17, 2010

Returning to MY BLOG

Hello to all
I've been away from this Blogsite for a few years. Nevertheless, I've continued sending letters with some opinions and thoughts to an extended e-mail list. A few friends have vigorously prodded me to return to the Blogsite and enter all of my previous letters to date. I have hesitatingly succumbed and will see how long I can hold out in a blog (which simply feels so much less personal than e-mail). For better or worse,I've inserted some past letters with their original e-mail date.

Why Do I Bother ??

Why am I so concerned? Why spend time writing and corresponding on issues regarding Palestinians and Israeli Arabs?

I receive many comments deploring the awful behavior of “some” of our Israeli settlers towards their Palestinian neighbors. Many responses lead me to believe that most of us humanistic Zionist Jews see this as a very small side-show which doesn’t really depict the general behavior towards the Palestinian Arabs by our Israeli people nor by our government and its policies. This is not so. The deplorable behavior of “some” of the settlers in the West Bank is supported either openly or tacitly by the overall great majority of West Bank settlers. The deplorable behavior is supported by large segments of our people, our Knesset and our coalition government. The deplorable behavior is an important element in the larger picture of the policies directed by those of our politicians and political parties who are creating the face of the future Israel.

Regardless of what we may be saying in the newspapers or in the U.N. or to foreign dignitaries, on ground zero we are pursuing policies meant to make life highly uncomfortable for Arabs in Israel and highly untenable for Palestinians. These are policies meant to arrive at a minimum of Arabs within the confines of the future Greater Israel.

I am woefully troubled on many levels.

These are policies which are extending forever the enmity and violence between Jew and Arab. They promise a continuation of more and more killing. Killing promises a continuation of more and more enmity and violence. Enmity and violence promise a continuation of more killing. Killing promises a continuation of more and…………..

These are policies meant to scuttle the Two-State possibility (whether as separate States or as a Federation) and ensure the creation of Greater Israel between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. While present policies attempt to encourage Arabs to leave the confines of what will be Greater Israel, it is recognized that only a small minority will actually do so. In the course of that creation, we shall become some kind of bi-national entity with an eventual (near future) minority of Jews within what was the dream of a Jewish Homeland. The demographic answer by those engineering the Greater Israel policies is the reliance on most Arabs being residents without full citizenship rights, thereby anchoring us Jews as the Lords of the Land and perpetuating our large majority in the government. Laws leading to that effect are already being formulized and passed by our present government. These formulations would, for example, essentially require an oath of loyalty to Judaism of any Arab wanting to be a citizen in the land of his birth. These formulations would, for example, constrict radically the ability of human rights organizations to work within the confines of our country. These formulations are not the ranting of the “periphery”. They are being formulated today within the walls of our largely right-wing Knesset and with the support of most ministers in our largely right-wing coalition government. The process is in the works. We will move so much further from being a democratic society.

The changing face of Israel will no doubt have a long-term resounding affect on the Jews of the Diaspora. Time takes its toll and we forget that it was not the horror of the Holocaust that minimized overt anti-Semitism in our Western World. It was the new respect given to David against Goliath after our war of Independence and furthered even more after the 1956 Sinai Campaign. Since then Israel has fairly well remained the bulwark of world respect for the Chosen People. We buttressed that respect by creating a fairly democratic society within our highly complicated and non-democratic region. But events also take their toll and we are becoming so less David and so less democratic. Jews in the Diaspora, as in the past, won’t admit to seeing it coming, but the changing face of Israel will have its unfortunate affect on the changing security of world Jewry.

My grandchildren. I fear for their future. Certainly I fear for their safety in a national environment that lives from one war to the next with constant violent episodes filling the space in-between. But more than anything, I fear for the kind of Israel and the kind of Judaism that they will be growing into. “v’ahavta le’rei-acha kamocha” will be a very segregated phrase. “ki metziyon teitzei Tora” and “or lagoyim” will be empty phrases reminding us, perhaps, of another kind of Judaism belonging to those ancient prophets of ours who saw humility and humanity as a basis for Jewish nationhood. Power is important in our complicated region, but loosing our head over power also looses our soul. I want my grandchildren to grow into a powerful country, a humanistic society and a people with a soul. I write what I write, I say what I say, I go where I go because I’m looking for a way to preserve and rejuvenate that soul.

What can be done?
1. Speak up!! Where ? anywhere, everywhere.
2. Don’t be apathetic or lazy……find ways to be active.
3. O.K., not every day…once a week??…..once a month ??

I’m worried about my grandchildren. I know you worry about yours.
True, we may only cause a small crack, but in our lifetime we have seen small cracks suddenly collapse an entire structure. Ours is not to measure the crack, but to be in it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Chickens Next Door

Incredibly, I only learned today (thank you Haaretz Newspaper) about the inequality between chickens in the Galilee.

A few kilometers from my Kibbutz, Gesher Haziv, and situated right on top of the mountain range bordering Lebanon, is the Arab Beduin village of Aramshe. We have a long history of good relations with Aramshe, though mainly by way of men from the village coming to work in Gesher Haziv. But a veteran member of ours (deceased) was also proclaimed by the village council of Aramshe as their Honarary Muchtar (Headman), after being involved in many years of municipal aid to the village.

As part of a national desire to spread our population from the center of the country to the north and also help people stay in the north (e.g. Galilee), our Ministry of Agriculture has been subsidizing chicken farmers in our area for a goodly number of years (details of which are irrelevant at the moment). Aramshe has not been included in the list of Moshavim and Kibbutzim who receive these government subsidies. Why are they not on the list ?? Well….actually….because they are not on the list. Therefore they aren’t on the list, as are no other Arab agricultural villages on the list, and that’s the reason they aren’t on the list. (Get it !!?? That’s the answer villagers were receiving for a number of years.) Evidently, in 2008 an NGO, the Adala Legal Center for Arabs, filed a petition complaining discrimination and demanding equality. Well, what do you know!! Our State answered that the discriminatory criteria are certainly improper and unworthy, promised to change criteria, and increase the subsidies to include Arab villages in the area. It’s never too late to right a continuing wrong. But promises and reality don’t necessarily converge. Two and a half years later (and a change of governments) the chicken farmers of Aramshe are still waiting.

OK. Our Aramshe chicken farmers live in a village which wasn’t privileged enough to be on the list of chicken subsidized villages. But wait…..Ya’ara is one of our neighboring moshavim, Ya’ara is an interesting phenomenon. It was founded in 1950 on the ruins of the Arab village El-Samania which was destroyed in 1948. It was then populated by North African Jews together with displaced Arab Beduins from other points in the Galilee, the first such mixed village (perhaps the only one in the Galil, but I’m not sure). Well, luckily Ya’ara is on the chicken subsidy list. Unluckily, only Jewish chickens in Ya’ara receive subsidies. Arab chickens receive “bubkes”. Why? Ya’ara is on the list. Can discrimination be so blatant in my own back yard ??

We take pride in our democracy. It remains one of our main PR claims towards the Western World. And, yes, our Israeli Arabs can vote, but they are not equal. They are discriminated in land property rights, in job opportunities, in government budgets for education and infrastructure, and in a variety of ways little known to most of us, like chicken subsidies. Israeli Arabs are 20% of our country. The discrimination is producing a time bomb whose fuse will shorten with time.

But maybe I’m wrong. People are equal. It’s the chickens who aren’t.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I had never been to the town of Bil’in. For more than 5 years Bil’in has been in the news. When we began building the Fence-Wall around the West Bank our army left about 1,700 dunams of agricultural land belonging to the town’s farmers on the Israeli side of the fence. We engineered similar “annexations” to a long list of Palestinian towns, but Bil’in became a central focus in the protest battle and the legal battle for the return of land. Palestinians from the town and its surroundings came every Friday after prayers to confront and attempt to disrupt the building of the Fence. A few Israelis (very few) and a few “internationals” would join the local protesters. Young people from the town would throw stones at the soldiers, Soldiers would shoot back with rubber bullets, tear-gas and stun grenades. Many protesters were seriously injured by the rubber bullets and by direct hits by grenades. During the last couple of years, rubber bullets were banned, grenades continued. Last year a local youth was killed by the direct hit of a grenade. A couple of months ago, a young woman from overseas lost her eye to a grenade. Meanwhile the legal battle continued, and in 2007 our High Court ordered the army to move the fence. In a landmark decision the Court rebuked our army for falsely using “defense calculations” as an excuse for the location of the Fence, while in reality it located the fence with a desire to give settlements on our Israeli side more land for expansion. It took our army three years and a number of additional court rebukes to at last, in 2010, begin to move the Fence. In it’s new location 700 dunams were returned to the farmers, but 1,000 still remain on our Israeli side. The Friday protests and the legal battles, therefore, continue.

I came to Bil’in out of some kind of desire to join in supportive solidarity with the town, their protest and their legal battle. Support needs to be based on more than talking and writing. It needs a minimum of participation. But also I came to see, to observe, to feel and to comment.

After Friday prayers were over and the mosque’s muezzin silenced the town’s loudspeaker, the procession began. About 150 marchers, mostly local Palestinians, perhaps 30 or so “internationals” (summer vacation, I was told), and about ten Israelis (half of them belonging to the Israeli branch of “Anarchists Against the Wall”). The procession left the center of town and reached its western edge. From here there will be another kilometer or so to the Fence. On Fridays our army announces this area to be a “closed military area for the day”, making it illegal for anyone to enter. Any protest gathering becomes illegal and accounts for what follows.

Our procession left the edge of town towards the Fence. Half way there I stopped. From here on, I thought, I’ll watch and photograph (with 100-X zoom) from afar. I had no intention of entering the “battle zone”. I saw the procession reach the Fence. I heard the discharges of grenades. I saw the entire procession beginning to run back in my direction. They reached me and I kept filming them running past me. Suddenly I was left in the rear of the fleeing crowd. I didn’t imagine they would be pursued this far.

My lungs have seen better days. One lung still has a bit of oomph to it. The other won’t ever again see a decent day. I can walk on a flat stretch of ground. Downhill is pretty good also. But uphill my pace is somewhere between a turtle and a snail, with a bunch of long pauses in-between.

Tear-gas affects eyes and breathing….. Eyes smart, sting terribly and have a problem staying open. Breathing becomes difficult. You gasp for air, choke, stop breathing and perhaps collapse…….not appetizing for people with defective lungs. But I had no previous plans of being even close to the line of fire. I had stopped following the line of protesters on a rise half-way between the edge of town and the fence.

I turned around and looked in the direction of the fleeing procession. It was uphill, all uphill. I began my turtle pace upwards. My goal was reaching the edge of the village, that invisible border considered legal for congregating protestors. Suddenly I heard more bursting discharges. Two smoke grenades fell ahead of me and a few others to my right. A breeze was blowing from my right and in front of me was a cloud of smoke. In the field to my left I saw vague outlines of running soldiers. I took a number of slow steps forward through the slightly transparent cloud of tear-gas. Ahead of me I saw a foreign photographer (with gas mask) filming my slow advance. My eyes were smarting and I needed to close them while taking quick peek-a-boos making sure I was still aimed in the right direction, uphill. My breathing became difficult and I was choking. I knew what I needed to try. I paused inside the gas-cloud and took out my Large-Half-Onion.

Earlier in the day I had given a ride to a young woman (graduate of Jewish Reform School Leo Beck in Haifa). She too, unaffiliated to any organization, wanted to participate in sympathy with the town’s grievance about the Fence. On our way to Bil’in she handed me a half an onion and told me she heard this should help breathing when attacked by tear-gas grenades. I had experienced previous encounters with tear-gas grenades……….in the army during some training exercise…….and in our Israeli town of Um-El-Fachem when extremist settlers from the West Bank came to march thru the Israeli Arab town in a provocative gesture meant to show them who owns their land. These were not pleasant tear-gas experiences. But in neither case do I remember hearing about the benefits of the onion.

I paused inside the gas-cloud and took out my Large-Half-Onion. I pressed the onion to my nose and mouth and breathed….and breathed….not easy……but much better. I continued my snail pace through the cloud of smoke, didn’t rush (I can’t), stopped for a number of pauses, and continued pressing my dear onion for my dear breath. Slowly but surely, my onion brought me safely beyond that cloud of gas. I could now rest and swallow some cleaner air.

I think throwing stones at soldiers by the Fence is counter-productive. So, too, is the use of tear-gas and stun grenades by the soldiers. Neither we Israelis nor the Palestinians have learned the use of power through passive means. Both are entrenched in the belief that good results come through the proper abuse of violence. I think both are wrong. The Palestinian youths throwing stones would be more effective in the Israeli public eye and media if they lay down their stones, lay down their bodies next to the Fence (gas masks in hand), and stayed there day in and day out, not Only On Friday. We (few) Israelis would be more effective if we held our protest on our side of the Bil’in Fence with public rallies and demonstrations which bring many more Israelis than the few who are willing to find the round-about long route and army checkpoints in order to reach Bil’in through the West Bank. Our Army would look much better both to us and through the eye of the foreign camera if it knew better restraint and understanding for the plight of the local farmers. Our Government would be a better one if it showed more Jewish Humanity to the “stranger living in our midst”, and/or to the one living next door. Theft of private (occupied) lands (and with no compensation), even when proclaimed legal by government decree, is still theft.