Monday, August 23, 2010

Comment on "The Attack on Advanced Zionism"

Efraim Perlmutter added a worthy comment to my blog title: Not "Post-Zionism", say "Advanced-Zionism" . I added a comment to his comment, and thought it appropriate to highlight both comments for anyone to read.
Efraim wrote:

In theory universities are supposed to be places of open debate and an interchange of ideas. When a faculty is all of one opinion, it is usually an indication that the place has become one of mutual reinforcement of the same ideas. This is not particularly unusual in universities where professors, being flawed human beings, have been known to prefer like-minded colleagues around them, which may make their professional experience much more self-satisfying but it does harm to the idea of the interchange of different ideas. It is probably not such a bad idea, in those cases where departments have become intellectually uniform, for a university administration to come along and stir the mix and it is most likely those with different ideas who will first notice the situation.

Efraim Perlmutter
August 22, 2010
I wrote back:

Thanks for your comments. There is much justification to what you write when observed through the eye of a monocle attempting to assess a particular occurrence within a limited range of view. The occurrence may or may not need adjustment, all according to the investigation. But when observing a much broader range of attacks on a wider spectrum of public life, it becomes clear that the motivation has moved over from the investigative to the political. Of course, there is nothing wrong with political motivation in and of itself. By the same token, my own political motivation is a clear abhorrence of a process that leads to a concerted attack on the openness of democratic principles and leads to a variety of legislative proposals that are meant to inhibit alternative political thought and action (in conjunction with legislative proposals of a prejudicial racial nature). This is a process that has increasingly exemplified our public and legislative life of this past year (with previous years being worthy preludes).


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Not "Post-Zionism", say "Advanced-Zionism"

As it turns out I am not an NGO nor am I a college professor. I have only rarely attended commemorations of the Nakba (What's that? Google it.), and there are no foreign money sources that help pay my bills at the end of the month. What a relief. Were I any one of those abominations, I would be in a mess of troubles. Why, you ask??.........because I'd be waiting for the sound of boots and a knock on my door.

As an Israeli Jew, and a Zionist too, I think we need to know more about the history and troubles of our area than our Zionist theology allowed us years ago. I think that in order to better understand ourselves we need also to understand our neighbors. Chronicles of a conflict are blurred when related only through one pair of eyes. National maturity brings with it the ability to investigate more closely the creation of national myths. Research and analysis into the annals of our past can help us better understand both the rights and the wrongs of our difficult climb to renewed nationhood, and perhaps even better help us adjust from the weariness and the necessities of the climb to the stability and strength of achievement. Research and analysis into our Zionist narrative strengthens for me the inescapable need of our people to have ventured on the road to national independence in the Land of Israel, and nowhere else. But it also enlightens me to the injuries and suffering of others along the way. Having reached my destination, research allows me to analyze and determine which of the injuries can I alleviate today, what can or cannot be redressed while continuing to develop my own national character. In the jargon of today's Israeli milieu, this research and analysis is often referred to as "Post-Zionism". I refer to it as "Advanced Zionism".

Proponents of "Advanced Zionism" are today under a massive attack by right wing organizations wedded to either "Messianic Zionism" or the more modest "All-Is-Mine Zionism", sometimes known by me as "Narcissistic Zionism".

NGOs who support causes championed by "Advanced Zionism" are under great public attack, with a smear campaign designed to portray them us unpatriotic traitors aiming knowingly for the destruction of Israel as the Jewish Homeland. Universities are being threatened by financial boycotts for harboring too many professors in social science departments with leanings towards "Advanced Zionism".

So what??.......there are always fringe groups, almost-fascist groups and wholly fascist groups who tend to be a royal pain to our national behind, but also tend to remain fringe groups. These are groups who don't debate an issue. They portray opponents as traitors, fifth-columnists, quislings and Judas's. So what?.........Well, today they are coming out of the fringes onto center-stage. They reach the ears and the power of Knesset members and Ministers within the government coalition. They have been instigators of proposed legislation in the Knesset to limit the foreign financial support of "leftist" NGO's. They have brought one University president to accede (unwillingly) to a demand to check the syllabi of his social science departments. They have been supported by the Minister of Education who announced his own investigation into the power of "Advanced Zionism" within Israeli education. This is all within a background of supported proposed legislation by coalition parties………from the illegality to commemorate the Nakba (which is when I will begin commemorating….), to the proposed loyalty oaths, to the proposed prison term for boycotting goods from the conquered territories, to more and more, and we're just beginning……………..beginning to set aside democratic principles of public protest and debate and progressing into the realm of a jingoistic/xenophobic nationalism planted firmly in the roots of "Messianic and Narcissistic Zionism". Woe to "Advanced Zionism"…… Vei-Is-Mir to Zionism, period.

As mentioned earlier, I am not an NGO nor am I a college professor. I have only rarely attended commemorations of the Nakba, and there are no foreign money sources that help pay my bills at the end of the month. What a relief. I show up at one place or another in the cause of "Advanced Zionism", talk a bit to people, write a few words read by the very few, and never get in the News. So I'm not worried. No one has come to knock on my door………yet.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

How I lost $1,000 in Sheich-Jerach

Every Friday this past year, a group of young and energetic activists have held a protest demonstration on the corner of a dismally rundown public garden and playground in the Sheich-Jerach neighborhood of EastJerusalem. The police don’t let the demonstrators approach the contested homes of evicted Arabs, and the public garden has become a weekly institution for protest. The trip from my northern haven is long, and I’ve never really been a sign-toting-yelling demonstrator. But Sheich-Jerach is different, somehow, and I come every so often.

But first a brief background. Why the protest? What’s it all about?

In 1948 Jews who were living in East Jerusalem fled westward as Arabs from West Jerusalem fled eastward. Arab homes in West Jerusalem were, in one way or another, legally occupied by Jews. Jewish homes in East Jerusalem were legally occupied by Arabs.

In 1967, as a result of the Six-Day-War, Israel occupied and then completely annexed East Jerusalem To West Jerusalem (including a many-fold area of villages around East Jerusalem), and thus to the State of Israel.

As a result of differing legal mechanisms used by Israel and Jordan to populate the deserted homes of those who fled, our legal minds decided that we (Israelis) have every right to repossess homes in East Jerusalem which belonged to Jews prior to 1948 by evicting Arab families living in those homes. Likewise our legal minds decided that Arabs from East Jerusalem who are now legal residents of Israel (albeit annexed against their will) cannot repossess homes they owned in West Jerusalem or any other part of Israel.

Sheich Jerach is a neighborhood of East Jerusalem where a number of Arab families have recently been evicted from their homes, and more families are in line for eviction. Of course, there is no compensation or alternative housing connected with the evictions……..only the legal decisions of our very legal minds which makes it all wonderfully legal.

Oh yes…….and who bought the rights for these homes in Sheich Jerach from the original Jewish owners of 62 years ago? Organizations of extreme right-wing Jewish settlers who openly claim their program of driving Arabs out of East Jerusalem and repopulating it with Jews……..because it is our God given command to do so. Amen. Of course, still, under no circumstance can a resident Israeli Palestinian from East Jerusalem repossess his home from West Jerusalem. Legal logic ??!!

War is awful. It uprooted and relocated both Arab and Jewish families. Both suffered and needed to start anew. War is miserably cruel. Coming 62 years later to repossess from only one side of the human trauma is unjust, unequal, and totally immoral. Leave people in their homes, or at least do an equal repossession for both sides. No….. please, stop this repossession and eviction bull—it, bury the past as best as possible and leave everyone in their homes. That’s what the protests and demonstrations in Sheich Jerach are all about. Actually, quite simple. (Well, not so simple. This is also part of the battle between those of us who want a mutual understanding between the State of Israel and a State of Palestine, and those who are insistent on our God-given rights to all of the Promised Land, come hell or high water, at least up to the dwindling waters of the Jordan.)

One Friday last month I came much too early for the protest. Instead I drove down to the lost homes of the evicted Arab families (police barricades hadn’t yet arrived). On the sidewalk beside their lost homes were sitting members of the evicted families. Also a few young “internationals” who came to hear their story.

A tour guide, representing the Jewish settlers, was standing outside the contested homes with an American couple who were interested in the story of Sheich Jerach for something they were doing. He was explaining to them in English how wonderful and justified is the mission of the settlers by taking over these homes. Needless to say, a fierce argument broke out between him and some members of the evicted Arab families. One or two of the young “internationals” joined in. eventually, so did I.

The settler’s representative used two (worn-out) arguments regarding the legality and the justification for taking over the homes of the Palestinian families:

1. International law allows us to repossess in East Jerusalem while not allowing Arabs to repossess in West Jerusalem.

2. There was no Palestinian People in 1948, and no mention of Palestinians as late as 1964. (It was here that he offered $1000 to anyone who could show a Palestinian People mentioned before 1964.)

The use of International Law by this guide was certainly intriguing if not so ironic. Aside from his utter misuse of the actual laws, it showed a magnificent use of our Jewish “chutzpa” while belonging to a community which has joyfully disregarded countless international laws, starting from the very formal annexation of East Jerusalem into the State of Israel, all the way to settling Israelis on private lands of conquered territories, and so many infringements in-between.

His second argument is where I decided to go home $1000 richer.

History is a problematic teacher. The rebirth of modern Jewish nationalism (called Zionism) and the advent of modern Arab (and specifically Palestinian) nationalism have completely dissimilar roots. Though both were nurtured by opportunities developed in the immediate years of pre-and-post World War 1, the forces driving them were totally different. Our Zionist nationalism was driven mainly by the dismally worsening plight of Eastern European Jewry during the later part of the 19th century. Pan-Arab nationalism began as a rebuke to the dying Ottoman Empire. It was then ripped apart by the Ottoman defeat of World War 1 and the forcible replacement of the Pan-Arab dream by the division of the empire into a number of national States via self-serving decisions made by England and France, then ratified by the League of Nations. Till then Palestine was a region, not a national locality, but already in 1920 the Arab Elite of Palestine had to decide between its previous dream of Pan-Arab nationalism, calling for a Greater Syria (encompassing the areas of today’s Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan), or acquiescing to the completely new national borders drawn up by Britain and France. An important section of the Palestinian elite decided in 1920 that the correct direction would be to work with the British mandate and thereby assert their right to Palestinian self-determination. This was their cross-over point between Pan-Arab nationalism and Palestinian nationalism. Vocal nationalism and greater public (Palestinian) support grew gradually from then, 1920, not 1964. From then on our “conflict” was one of two very differently managed national movements confronting their future.

I corrected our settler’s representative. Unfortunately, heated arguments (and some curses) ensued as a result between him and members of the evicted families and a couple of “internationals”. Our settler’s rep took his guests and drove off. It was then I remembered that he failed to award my answers with the promised $1000.

I sat on a small plastic stool next to the worn and torn old sofa where some members of the evicted Hanun family were sitting. Above our heads was a makeshift canopy that protected some of us from the hot sun. We talked. Others came. We talked some more. Soon the weekly Friday demonstration will begin in the public park, beyond the police barricades which had meanwhile sprung up on all sides of the disputed neighborhood.

(for a short related videoclip:  )

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Two Fireflies Glowing in our Dark

This week I met Dahlia. Dahlia's job is very special. Her job has made Dahlia extra special.

In our complicated and oft-times messed-up world of conquerors and conquered, Israelis and Palestinians, we sometimes run into bright fireflies that glow in the dark . These are the fireflies who give me hope that a small crack can eventually bring down the wall of violent enmity between Israeli and Palestinian. Dahlia is one such firefly.

But first to another firefly. I had not seen Buma for a couple of years though we had kept contact by email. Buma is an outrageous zealot and a crackpot lunatic in the eyes of many Israelis. But to others (yes, me too) he is a mild-mannered, sloppily-dressed, blubbery teddy-bear of a Saint, an Angel, who shows the way to bring down that wall of enmity through small gentle cracks. I first met Buma a number of years back when I joined a small group of Israelis standing by olive growers of Kafr Salaam near Shchem (Nablus) , in defense against our Jewish settlers from Alon-Moreh and the violent young people from the nearby and totally illegal Skally Farm. I'm told Buma had been a fairly successful businessman. In 1995 his son was killed in Lebanon by a roadside mine. His life totally changed. His message to himself was "while I mourn my son, Arab and Palestinian neighbors are also mourning their sons". He became a peace activist. No, he's never raised a banner, nor does he much attend protest marches and gatherings. He doesn't quite talk politics, nor label himself a "leftist" (so what if he really is!). He's in the business of Israelis helping Palestinians. He mostly shuns bureaucracy and organizations, yet spends his time organizing small groups of Israelis to help defend Palestinian farmers; is in constant contact with police and army regarding complaints and permits; helps organize and bring Palestinian families through the bureaucracy and transport problems of getting to hospital treatments in Israel; runs around late at night to restaurants getting donations of food for the families staying with their children in the hospitals; and so many other ongoing projects. He also manages to get involved with some special projects, like a caravan of food and clothing to children and families in Gaza immediately after their many homes were demolished by us in our last large excursion there…..all thru negotiation for permits and coordination with our army and bureaucracy.

(Wait, this will all tie into Dahlia, the working firefly….)
This summer Buma organized weekly fun-trips for Palestinian children hospitalized in Israel. Along with their parents, they boarded buses taking them to a variety of places where Buma was able to get their visits subsidized or donated…..Our "Safari" zoo in Ramat Gan, bowling (!!) in Holon, a children's theater group in Jaffa, a beach-front in Tel-Aviv. At the Safari I drove something like a long golf-cart with a bunch of children who had never seen an elephant or monkey. So many of the children, and even some of their parents had never seen the waters of the Mediterranean. If we don't lower the wall of enmity, it'll be another long time before they see such prosaic wonders again.

Most of us Israelis don't realize the amount of energy and bureaucracy involved in getting Palestinian children and their accompanying parent to hospitals in Israel: bureaucracy, persuasion, permits, contact with hospital, transportation inside the West Bank, roadblocks, suspicious soldiers and their officers, more roadblocks, finding Israeli volunteers to bring children and parents from the West Bank border roadblock to the Hospital in Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv or Haifa, and back.

Buma is immersed in the problems of getting permits and finding Israeli volunteers for transport to and from the hospitals (along with a group of other unrelenting volunteers). Last year , about 140,000 permits brought Palestinians from the West Bank into Israeli hospitals for daily or long-term treatments. The Israeli bureaucracy allocates only one job placement, i.e. one person, to authorize permits to West Bank patients. That person evidently had to investigate, o.k. doctor reports, sign, and end up giving out over 500 permits for each working day of the year. That person has greatly expanded the number of permits given each year.

That person is Dahlia. I met her last Friday. She came along with a busload of Palestinian children (with parents) from the cancer ward at Haddassa hospital in Jerusalem to the "Safari" zoo in Ramat Gan and from there to other new adventures with the children. She came along as a volunteer with those who received permits through her. She and five others of us came as drivers of elongated golf-carts, slowly winding our way through the zoo with a bunch of exited, ecstatic and overjoyed children and parents sitting behind us. This is part of what Dahlia does on those off-days when she's not giving out permits. From Buma I learn that often he or other drivers (bringing children from the West Bank to hospitals) get hassled at roadblocks for taking Palestinians "over the border". A phone call to Dahlia has her immediately online with soldier or officer at the roadblock, being listened to and gates are opened.

Buma and Dahlia are two small fireflies glowing in our dark and complicated situation.. I repeat: These are the fireflies who give me hope that a small crack can eventually bring down the wall of violent enmity between Israeli and Palestinian. I have faith in small cracks within unstable walls. But, as I've written before: Our job is not to measure the crack, but to be in it.

Netanyahu's Delay Tactics for Direct Talks

Response to an American Jewish Zionist friend who truly cares:

The Issue: Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

My friend S. wrote me:

“……… I maintain a harder position on the interaction between the government of Israel and the PA. I don't think Israel should make any concessions, not an inch of anything, outside the framework of direct negotiations. I think Barak (Obama not Ehud) is playing into Abu Mazen's hands by negotiating for him. Abu Mazen has just today said he sees no point in direct negotiations at this time…….. I don't believe that Netanyahu should take one step outside the framework of direct negotiations. It is clear from outcomes of past negoiations that something must also change about the conditions of those negotiations so that they are more fruitful, but my feeling is that there must be direct negotiations. So much for my two agorot.”

and my rejoinder:

Dear S.,

I understand you…and what can I say? are in the company of a great many who have gotten hooked onto the seemingly simple logic of our government’s stand regarding direct talks: “We want direct talks, they don’t”. Few are involved enough to look at the small print. We are in the world of politics. Abu Mazan has a number of good reasons to hesitate before getting involved with direct talks at the moment. My own estimate is that he’s making a great mistake and should get his feet wet regardless of how deep the water may be. But truth be told, the water is pretty deep and awfully murky. Netanyahu refuses to begin talks where other direct talks had ended (mainly with Barak, Clinton, or Olmert). He gives no indication regarding what he will be willing to offer. He Insists that Abu Mazan come with no preconditions, while constantly telling both the media and his coalition that he has preconditions of his own. Throughout this year of no real talks Netanyahu was handed at least two peace initiative proposals, the older Pan-Arab Saudi Arabian one, and a detailed local one by the Palestinian Authority. Both use the Clinton/Barak/Olmert plans as a basis. Both say that details are negotiable. Both accept that their plans are just a starting point for talks. Our government refuses to discuss the possibility of even discussing either plan. We give no indication of what we are willing to bring to the table of direct talks.

And from here we get to Netanyahu’s real attempt in direct talks: stall, stall, stall…..until A Two State agreement will no longer be viable. Abu Mazan is weary of falling into a well orchestrated stall tactic. Netanyahu, while insisting that any talk must begin without prior conditions from the Palestinians, often declares the non-negotiable conditions of his own:

1. East Jerusalem remains wholly in Israeli hands (though most of the annexed East Jerusalem was never part of Jerusalem).

2. After a temporary freeze (at least 3000 new homes were built during the “freeze”!), Building will continue in the West Bank, regardless of talks, because expansion must continue.

3. An Arab proclamation of Israel as “The Jewish State”, rather than as the “State of Israel, Homeland of the Jewish People” (the difference is critical here in the Middle East),

4. While Abu Mazan wants the direct talks to focus on borders and to set a time limit goal, Netanyahu insists that the talks focus first on things like infrastructure and water rights with no time limit for the talks.

With these conditions out in the open Netanyahu knows that Abu Mazan can’t easily accept beginning direct talks. Netanyahu has a firm ideological basis for creating talk-tactics that are meant to stall. The goal has always been to scuttle the possibility of a Two-State modus-vivendi. I don’t think people realize how ingrained is the belief in a “One-State” solution within the Likud (Revisionist) agenda (and also on the conservative Palestinian agenda) as the proper resolution of our local situation. Our Right wing has always believed in it, but of late there have been very important Likud persona inside and outside the Knesset who have come out openly once more in support of One-State. Theoretically, there is an inherent logic in such a solution….one that claims we can then be a Democratic Jewish State with complete individual rights and equality for Arab and Jew but with no separate National rights to Arabs. I would also be for it were we really able to be a Democratic Jewish State (or even a democratic bi-national State). But in a One-State situation we most assuredly would fairly quickly be either/neither a Jewish State or/nor a Democratic State. ( I think I’ve previously elaborated on what we would actually be and/or not be…see past letters). Inherent in this agenda are the preparations of laws that will assure a Jewish dominance in any sort of political situation that would then ensue. This past year has seen, as never before, a whole series of (racial and loyalty) laws and proposed laws, mostly from the coalition government, towards inaugurating that eventuality.

Abu Mazan should enter direct talks regardless of the danger involved by Netanyahu’s stall tactics, and maneuver these talks with the help of American and European pressure to the issues of borders, settlements, etc….and a Two-State agreement. It would of-course collapse the Netanyahu coalition government, a welcome event. It is a dangerously undemocratic government selling a perversion of Jewish values. But mainly….no talk is far worse than attempted talk……it plays into the hands of those opposed to a Two-State agreement and brings us closer to the non-viable and much more dangerous One-State option.

(At this writing, a couple weeks after receiving S.’s letter [I’m evidently a slow responder], there are indications that Abu Mazan will enter direct talks. We’ll keep an hopeful ear and eye out to see what develops. Who knows…….)