The following paragraph from the interview below, translated by Sol Salbe, is still particularly striking and relevant to the position prestend by the Israeli government and its supporters abroad.
“I cannot live with the fact that our sharpshooters are killing people. I cannot live with the way we continually wail that we are the victim, and do not examine our own morality. It’s important to realise that appalling as suicide bombings are, aerial bombardment kills more. While we feel the pain of our 900 dead, we tend to forget that we have murdered 3000 Palestinian civilians. We are the violent ones; we are the cheats. Our very foundations have been undermined by our adulation of force, and all this is called a democracy. There cannot be democracy when we rule over three million people who have no voice. We simply have to get out of there. We do not even try to understand that what the Palestinians want is sovereignty and human rights.”
Sol Salbe: Like The Germans We Don’t Want To Know
Translation by Sol Salbe (2004)
INTRODUCTION: Former Meretz Leader Shulamit Aloni has established a reputation for her critique of modern Israeli society. She has also been described as the Grand old Lady of the Israeli peace movement. Recently she surprised quite a few people in endorsing Yossi Beilin for the leader of Yahad. Beilin had been far less critical of the immorality of the Occupation than she has. Nevertheless she offered her name as a supporter in this election and the new party formed out of the old Meretz (and Shahar (Dawn) a group of mainly ex-Labour Party members around Beilin.
While Aloni is an avowed non-believer (something that get her into hot water during her time as Education Minister in Rabin’s government) she sound more and more like Biblical prophet. In many respects her comments about “gross insensitivity” and “moral degeneration” echo the words of some of the Jewish prophets in a modern context.
This interview was given to Attila Somfelvi of Ynet – the Web site associated with Yediot Acharonot Israel’s largest circulating daily. Even though it’s long it’s exceptionally readable. – Sol Salbe
Recently, in front of hundreds of supporters of Yossi Beilin, who had just been elected head of Yahad, Shulamit Aloni – “Oum Meretz” [The Meretz Mother (in Arabic)] – settled accounts with everyone: stylishly, sharply and in her own inimitable style. No one escaped her acerbic tongue. They all copped it: the government, apathetic Israeli society, the army and even her left-wing colleagues who have fallen asleep at the wheel. “Stop being politically correct!” she lashed out. “It’s time to tell the truth to the people, straight to their faces!”
Now following the election of Beilin, whom she supported, Aloni has given an exclusive interview to Ynet, explaining why she endorsed him (“he’s been consistent on the issue of peace”) but why she does not believe that the Left could recover anytime soon (“populists”). She warns against the disintegration of Israeli society (“gross insensitivity”), and rules out any comeback in politics (“I don’t miss it”) and states: “I am beginning to understand why a whole nation (the Germans) was able to say: ‘We did not know.””
What do you mean when you say that you understand the Germans?
These days you meet people around the country who say: “I don’t want to know, I have given up reading the papers.” Do you know how many people are unwilling to read Gideon Levy and Amira Hass [Haaretz reporters in the Occupied Territories] because they simply don’t want to know what is happening there? They do not deny the accuracy of these two journalists’ articles, but they simply don’t want to know.
We have always angrily and justly rejected the Germans’ claim that they “did not know”. They simply didn’t want to know. They worshipped the Fuehrer and their army. We also have people who do not know and do not want to know. What they know is that they must display their patriotism. And what is more patriotic than a war? So now we have the national flag and coat of arms in every classroom and we teach the students the anthem. There is even a fool [religious Likud MK Leah Ness] who proposed to write “In God We Trust ” on our currency. Had she known that the Nazi army’s belt carried the message: “God with us”, she wouldn’t have associated the Jews’ God with money. But a patriotic hysteria is pervading here and people just keep quiet.
You do raise quite a complex concept with that comparison
Our society is being undermined by gross insensitivity and by adulation of force. I am disturbed by our moral disintegration. I am disturbed by the arrogant and light-hearted way in which we kill and murder Palestinians. I am disturbed that when 400 olive trees were uprooted in the Territories, no one was held to account. I cannot find any peace of mind anymore when I see this Wall that we are building. We are pillaging the land and destroying the way of life of people who have lived in the same place for centuries. When Arik Sharon’s mates had their land expropriated, they received huge compensation. Yet we are busy destroying greenhouses, plantations and the vital infrastructures of three million people, and then pretend that we are the victims.
I cannot live with the fact that our sharpshooters are killing people. I cannot live with the way we continually wail that we are the victim, and do not examine our own morality. It’s important to realise that appalling as suicide bombings are, aerial bombardment kills more. While we feel the pain of our 900 dead, we tend to forget that we have murdered 3000 Palestinian civilians. We are the violent ones; we are the cheats. Our very foundations have been undermined by our adulation of force, and all this is called a democracy. There cannot be democracy when we rule over three million people who have no voice. We simply have to get out of there. We do not even try to understand that what the Palestinians want is sovereignty and human rights.
This gross insensitivity that you keep talking about, where does it come from?
There’s an absolute moral thoughtlessness that stems from the powers that be. When General [Amos] Yadlin, the head of military colleges, writes an article stating that it is moral to kill women and children while carrying out a targeted liquidation, and a moral luminary like Professor Asa Kasher endorses his view, then you have a problem. Israeli Arabs get detained at the international airport and their luggage is taken apart. There are instructions for more and more Left activists to be held up on their way abroad to force them to remain silent. Why? What is happening to us? But people remain silent as not to get into trouble.
Things happen here that drive you mad. Why was there no inquiry following the death of the American protester Rachel Corrie, who was run over? Why didn’t the government condemn it? Why was there no inquiry when journalists were shot, which made it OK to murder left, right and centre? The army uses sharpshooters who practise by shooting Arabs. The moral disintegration of our society is the direct consequence of what is happening in the Territories. We are responsible for the shedding of Jewish blood.
What does that mean? Is somebody making sure that Jewish blood gets shed as well?
In Yediot Acharonot, Nahum Barnea wrote the other day that Sharon had told him (and it wasn’t only Sharon) that Jewish blood is the most efficient cement for maintaining a national consensus. When terrorism is on the wane, then people feel free to ask questions, critics can be heard and the spirit of defiance grows. There’s no mileage in non-existent terrorism. I ask you, wasn’t it obvious that there would be a response to our savage operations in the Gaza Strip? Everyone knew that there would be a response. Who then is responsible for the Jewish blood that is shed? We are. We with all our might continue to hit more and more. They use terrorism and we do the same, only harder. Our strategy is the strategy of force and not of reconciliation. Had we chosen the path of reconciliation we would not have stuffed up [former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister] Abu Mazen during his period in office. These days, everyone agrees that the government and army were wrong in tripping him up. But in our country we treat the army as sacred as if it were a value in and by itself that unites us and is our raison d’etre. There are many who think that it is not the state which has its army, but the army which has its state.
How is this expressed?
We have just bought extremely sophisticated planes that cost umpteen billion dollars. Who needed them? We could have spent this money on health and relieving poverty. We are in peace with Egypt and Jordan. Syria is seeking peace and is no longer a factor. Iraq is not a threat and Iran is the problem of the whole world. But [Iranian-born Defence Minster] Shaul Mofaz has already jumped up and threatened the Iranians, in Persian, that he would bomb their nuclear reactor. What’s he getting excited about? For the past 37 years our Jewish paranoia has been stoked by brainwashing. We get told that they want to exterminate us. Who are “they”? We are at peace with Egypt and Jordan and these two countries do not threaten us anymore. So who is going to throw us into the sea, the Palestinians? But this is the kind of paranoia that is being fostered here. The present war is not a war of survival, but a colonial war.
When you say that everyone remains silent, do you include the Israeli Left?
Yes. It was wrong for members of the Left to lash out against the refuseniks. In a morally degenerated state that forces women to give birth by the roadside, we ought to be praising our
refuseniks instead of attacking them. But everyone wants to be careful because everyone wants to show how patriotic they are. I regard myself as very patriotic, but a true patriot is one who voices disapproval of our moral degeneration. I am told that we need to be populists; we have to be popular, grovel to the masses in order to attract them. It’s easy to sway the mob There’s a tendency around the world to frown upon nationalism, but in our country we nail it to our mastheads. It’s a sin committed by all the political parties. The Left is so besotted with returning to power that it is willing to adapt the Right’s agenda to get there.
Will the election of Yossi Beilin as head of Yahad, in reality the Left, change anything?
I can’t see any changes for the moment. I am out of politics and one shouldn’t offer advice without accepting responsibility. I supported Yossi because he has been consistent in his struggle for peace. I do not believe that we can renew and rebuild Israeli society on the basis of liberty, justice and peace without first making peace. It’s our worst, most festering wound.
Do you think the Left can find a new track?
I am not a believer. I do not believe anymore. I only hope that the dynamics [of the situation] will push it forward. But those dynamics will only arise when [Beilin’s opponent in the ballot] Ran Cohen), Beilin and [Knesset member] Chaim Oron and the whole gang wake up. In recent times the only Meretz voices heard were those of [left-wingers] Zahava Gal-on and Roman Bronfman. But their voices were those of individuals, not of a party. I want everyone to wake up, to relate to the groups that are fighting for peace, to speak out, to attend meetings, to criticise the government. It’s time we set up political stalls in the streets. One has to be daring and not be constrained by political correctness. We have to tell the truth; to state that our struggle with the Palestinians is a colonial struggle. We have to declare that what we are doing in the Territories is terrible. We have to admit that we too bombed the British people when they occupied us. We must show that we are taking money for the poor and investing it in the Territories. The minute there’s an outcry on this subject, when there’s criticism of resources being wasted, that’s when the country will begin to change.
If it were up to me, I would take the residents of [poor development towns] Dimona and Yeroham to the Territories and show them the settlers’ nice houses surrounded by greenery with matching green roofs . Let them see the destruction [of the Palestinian infrastructure], the settlers-only roads and that monstrous fence. Let them see, so that they would never be able to say that they didn’t know. When they see it and remember that they haven’t been paid their wages for months, they may stop voting for the Likud.
Do you see yourself making a comeback in politics?
I do not see myself coming back. I raise my voice, I lecture and I write articles. But I am not coming back. I don’t miss politics. The fact that Sharon and Peres are still at it at their age does not obligate me to do likewise. Spain has got a 44-year-old Prime Minster. Tony Blair wasn’t quite fifty when he came into power. It’s about time we let the new generation develop. Let’s not cut them down. Remember what they did to Mitzna.
Who is an appropriate leader: Barak, Netanyahu?
Ehud Barak was a real disaster and I hope they never let him set foot in politics ever again. He failed because he was always up to tricks. Barak totally misunderstood people’s attitude. When the throngs shouted “anyone but Shas”, he did not comprehend what they were seeking. As a result we have the growth of the [secularist but redneck] Shinui. He brought disaster upon disaster on us. He never implemented the agreements [with the Palestinians] that the Israeli government had signed. He even poked fun at Netanyahu who
had given [back] Hebron and boasted that in his time in office he had given nothing to the Palestinians. As for Netanyahu, I do not subscribe to his economic policy but at least Netanyahu is a man of action. Barak had nothing but words.
17 January 2014
Dear Ms Bishop,
The Australian Jewish Democratic Society views with considerable concern the change in Australia’s stance regarding the Occupied Territories and the status of illegal settlements there as reported in the interview with you in The Times of Israel 10 January 2014.
The AJDS continues to support UN resolutions and interpretations of international law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 49, paragraph 6, states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
The policies of Occupation enacted by Israel have caused the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, expulsion of hundreds of thousands more, and the imposition of a brutal control regime, resulting in ongoing limits on freedom of movement, as well as the theft of land, water, and other resources. It continues to feed Palestinian acts of revenge. For Australia to refrain from any criticism in the UN, or to cast doubt on the agreement in the international community that the occupation is illegal, and cruel, is a highly irresponsible and damaging act by this country.
In addition, for you to be pictured in a photo opportunity with Minister Lieberman is also highly negligent given Lieberman’s blatantly racist agenda, which supports the expulsion of Palestinians. Lieberman is no friend of democracy for Jewish Israelis either and is viewed with great suspicion by many Jews, particularly in the US and Israel. Your action also gives a green light to extremist elements in Israel and their supporters in the Australian Jewish community.
Likewise, wreath-laying at Ariel Sharon’s grave appears to be the endorsement of politics and methods that were completely rejected by 400,000 Israelis during protests against the Lebanon War—Sharon’s war, which also resulted in the devastating Sabra and Shatila massacres. Sharon also led the incitement which resulted in the killing of Yitzhak Rabin. Your activity does not represent “balance” in foreign policy, but a blatant support of rejectionist politics.
It gives the message instead that you do not support the current round of activity being undertaken by the Obama administration, which the Administration itself has said may be the final opportunity to achieve a two-state solution.
The Australian Jewish Democratic Society has been established for over 30 years, and represents an important voice in the Jewish community. It has taken positions in the past such as the need for the recognition of the PLO and the need for direct negotiations. These views were strongly opposed by other organisations in the Jewish community, yet they came to be Israeli government policy. Thus while often critical of Israeli politics, we have regarded our advocacy over the decades as working in the interests of a peaceful life peace for Israelis and Palestinians and indeed, our views are reflective of substantial sections of Israeli society.
It is time for Australia to speak plainly to Israel about the urgent need to end the settlements, eliminate settler violence and set in place an internationally-supported process that results in withdrawal from the territories and a final resolution of the conflict.
Dr Larry Stillman Dr Jordy Silverstein
For the Executive
Australian Jewish Democratic Society”
The proposal by the Coalition as reported in the media to block funding to individual academics and institutions who support or propose Boycott Divestment or Sanctions (BDS) is a draconian attack on academic freedom and independence.
Debates within the Palestinian, Jewish, and general communities in Australia, in other countries, and Israel/Palestine itself demonstrate that there is no unanimous view about what BDS actually constitutes. Locally politicized accusations or claims of antisemitism can be abused to stifle legitimate research, teaching, publication, or commentary on the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
Furthermore, the threat of holding back funding because of a person’s support for BDS as defined by politicians could in the future be extended to restrict other forms of engagement by universities on issues of public interest. It is only through rigorous peer review and the relative independence of the Australian Research Council that funding decisions should be made.
Politicians should not have a right to a crude and populist veto.
Such moves have to be opposed.
Alan Freedman’s argument (AJN letter 10/5/2013) in favour of excluding the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) from the Jewish Community Council of Victoria owes more to the politics of the Global BDS movement than to the mainstream views of our community. Like the Global BDS movement, he and others with similar views, are only interested in demonizing their opposition, engaging in a campaign of exclusion and spreading propaganda. It is not surprising that the tactics of the hard left and hard right have much in common.
The AJDS campaign to encourage people to avoid buying goods manufactured in Israeli settlements on the West Bank has clearly upset some in our community, but there are many people who adopted this position well before the AJDS campaign and there is significant support for not buying settlement products in Israel itself. The AJDS position is not a cultural, economic or academic exclusion of Israel and it has neither supported those sorts of tactics nor noisy protests outside chocolate shops.
Putting aside the legitimacy of the AJDS campaign in a pluralistic and diverse community, Mr Freedman displays a lack of sound judgement if he believes that disaffiliating the AJDS would do other than reflect very badly on the reputation and standing of the Jewish community in the wider Australian community.
Readers may need help to understand the remark “you may go down the path of Maurice Ashkenasy QC” as this alludes to a significant episode in the history of the Melbourne and Australian Jewish community. Robin, now in his 70s, sees the current politics of the JCCV as dominated by intolerant tendencies similar to that displayed during the Cold War when there was a major split in the Jewish community. Robin’s father Norman Rothfield who died at the age of 98 in 2010, was active in the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism, which was founded in 1942. The council was active in alerting the general community and government of the dangers of anti-Semitism and post-war infiltration by former Nazis. Despite this work, in the anti-communist atmosphere of the Menzies period Maurice Ashkenasy QC led a campaign to expel the Jewish Council from the (then) Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies in 1952, even though Norman also had a senior role in the latter organisation. However, Norman and his wife Evelyn continued to be supporters of various causes including progressive Zionism. To quote Norman’s obituary in the Age, “He understood early that Israel could not live in peace if the Palestinians did not have their own state, and in 1974 established the journal Paths to Peace, which campaigned vigorously for a negotiated settlement to the Middle East conflict. In 1984, in response to a feeling that the Jewish community was not satisfactorily dealing with the Palestinian issue and in keeping with his progressive views, he became a founding member of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, and was active in it almost to his last day.” Robin’s brother David was also active in Peace Now when serving in the Israeli Army. For Norman’s obituary see The Age [LS]
Jewish Community Council of Victoria
Following your move to have the issue of disaffiliation of the AJDS from the JCCV considered at the JCCV June plenum, I have compiled the attached note on the Jewish Left and the Jewish Community’s tendency to intolerance. I hope that the note will contribute to a better understanding of the relevant issues.
This is my own personal note and does not necessarily reflect the views of AJDS.
My concluding remarks to this note are as follows. Nina, you have a choice. You may accept that the AJDS has well founded concerns about the settlements and is attempting to put in place a strategy in response to these concerns. You may not agree with this strategy but you may still accept that, from the standpoint of an organization deeply concerned with the settlements and the occupation, the campaign to persuade people not to buy settlement products is totally legitimate. If you accept that the settlements are a thorn in Israel’s side as I have stated earlier, then I repeat my suggestion for you to come up with an alternative strategy.
Or you may go down the path of Maurice Ashkenasy QC and have the AJDS expelled from the JCCV. But may I suggest you first ask yourself what this strategy would achieve? If you decide on the expulsion strategy it would not surprise me because the Jewish Community has a long history of intolerance as I have attempted to document, and you would have a proud predecessor in Maurice Ashkenasy QC. But I would be deeply disappointed. The matter is in your hands.
I should be grateful if you would forward this to members of the JCCV executive.
CC: The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus
Dear Prime Minister,
The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) commends the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and Governor-General Quentin Bryce for awarding an honorary citizenship to Raoul Wallenberg, who worked as a people smuggler and helped save thousands of people from becoming victims of the Holocaust.
We look forward to the day when that spirit of recognition of the hardships faced by people who flee oppression in foreign countries influences Australian policy towards the asylum seekers who try to come to our shores, and the people smugglers who assist them. With that spirit in mind, the AJDS calls on the Prime Minister, as well as the Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor and Attorney General Mark Dreyfus to immediately close down both the offshore processing centres in Nauru and on Manus Island as well as the Australian immigration detention centres. We further call for all those asylum seekers and refugees currently detained to be released into the community (in particular the 55 people whose refugee status has been recognised but who have been unjustly given negative ASIO assessments), and for them to be given work rights and access to welfare assistance. We hope that the humanitarian ideas expressed in Wallenberg’s work can one day soon influence the policies of this government.
Jordy Silverstein on behalf of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society
8 May 2013
In March – timed to coincide with Pesach – AJDS launched a new campaign – Don’t Buy Settlement Products. This campaign consists of a website and facebook page. The website provides information about why settlements located in the West Bank and Golan Heights are harmful for Palestinians and Israelis, as well as informing readers which products to avoid buying. The facebook page regularly shares new articles through which readers can learn about what the effects of the Occupation are, and can read opinion pieces from Israelis, Palestinians and Jews around the world which offer ideas about how we can respond to what goes on.
The campaign so far has been incredibly successful. Hundreds of people have read the information provided and shared it widely.Unfortunately, the response from some sections of the Melbourne Jewish community has not been enthusiastic. You might have seen articles in the Australian Jewish News, Haaretz, or Galus Australis detailing some of the critical responses from the JCCV and the ECAJ.
At the JCCV plenum meeting held on May 6, Nina Bassat, in her President’s Report, raised the issue of the affiliation of AJDS to the JCCV. In response, the AJDS presented the statement which you find below.
The AJDS has contacted the JCCV, and has been trying to organise a meeting with them. Unfortunately the JCCV has not been able to find time to meet as yet, but we are hopeful that a meeting will be arranged as soon as possible.
AJDS statement regarding JCCV response to “Don’t Buy Settlement Products” Campaign
JCCV Plenum, May 6 2013
In her President’s Report, Nina Bassat mentions the recent campaign run by the AJDS entitled “Don’t Buy Settlement Products”. Given this, we thought it was important to provide some background to this campaign, and a brief response to the comments made. In March AJDS launched a campaign urging both Jewish and non-Jewish communities to avoid buying products made in settlements as a step toward supporting a just and lasting peace for Israel and her neighbours. This campaign is in no way associated with the global BDS movement: it is an independent campaign with different aims and intents. AJDS considers settlements an obstacle to peace, as they destroy all conceivable options for a future division of land in Israel. Settlements also create enormous hostility between Israelis and Palestinians.
The press release to launch the campaign stated that: “not buying products from settlements will not work on its own, but it is one small step that we can take. When we add in the possibility of sharing knowledge about what the settlements mean and what they do, together with the capability to have these difficult conversations about what kind of Israel we want to create, we can work alongside Palestinians, Israelis, and people throughout the diasporas to create an exciting, liberating future.”
Indeed, this is one of a series of campaigns and activities that AJDS has run in relationship to Israel. At times we have focused on the problems Israelis have created, at other times on the problems Palestinians have created. This is one campaign among many and should be thought of as such.
The view that settlements are one of the obstacles to peace for Israel, while disagreeable to some in Melbourne’s Jewish community, is also one that is undoubtedly shared by a significant proportion of our community. Importantly, it is also a view that many polls have shown is shared by the majority of Israelis. Polls in January this year showed 64% of Israelis support heavy cuts to government funding to the settlements. One poll conducted by the Hebrew University in 2010 found that 60% of Israelis support “dismantling most of the settlements in the territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.” It is also the official position of the Meretz Party in Israel, and other minor parties in the Knesset.
We accept that many who consider settlements problematic may disagree with our campaign. We also note that hundreds of prominent Israelis and Diaspora Jews around the world support some kind of sanction against the settlements as a step toward achieving peace, including not engaging with settlement universities, not performing at settlement theatres, or not buying settlements products. Israelis who share these views include famous authors A. B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz, David Grossman and Aharon Appelfeld, University Professors such as Dr. Nir Gov, professor of chemical physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Nissim Calderon, Professor of Literature at Hebrew University, Danny Rabinovich, anthropologist at Tel Aviv University and Haaretz journalist, and prominent Israeli film, tv and theatre personalities Yehoshua Sobol, Yossi Pollak, and Anat Gov, Eitan Fox, Yair Garbuz, and Doron Tzabari, and former Knesset member for Avoda Avraham Burg. Outside of Israel, Frank Gehry, Daniel Barenboim, Tony Kushner, Ed Asner, Mandy Patinkin, Peter Beinart and the list goes on.
The JCCV executive responded to our campaign with statements to community media including “Whilst the JCCV recognizes that its affiliates have the right to formulate their own policies, this campaign is repugnant to the long-standing policies of the JCCV and indeed to the views of the majority of our community. The philosophical differences between the JCCV and the AJDS are such that I propose to bring for discussion to our next meeting the future of the AJDS as a JCCV affiliate.”
We are therefore forced to ask: What philosophical difference? Does JCCV have a position that settlements are acceptable, and that no affiliate organisation may speak out or campaign against them? Or is the philosophical difference with the campaigning methods of the AJDS, despite the fact that so many leaders both in Israel and the diaspora have taken the action of avoiding settlement products and institutions?
In its statement of purposes the JCCV asserts that its first purpose is “To represent the Jewish community of Victoria”. The AJDS has been a part of the Jewish community in Victoria since 1984 and has been affiliated with the JCCV since 1993.
We are saddened that the JCCV would open a conversation to consider disaffiliating a Jewish community organisation because of a difference of opinion on how to engage with Israeli politics.
JCCV affiliates may not all agree with the AJDS’ campaign, but a healthy discussion and disagreement provides the challenge we need to maintain open minds and an inclusive, resilient community.
The JCCV, as the roof body of the Jewish community in Victoria, must recognise that our community is large and complex. There are innumerable different versions of Jewishness, Judaism, and relationships to Israel contained within it. It is not the role of the JCCV, or the different affiliates, to police what is an acceptable expression of Jewishness or Zionism. The JCCV should be focused on fostering an open, inclusive and dynamic Jewish community. Disaffiliating, or sanctioning, the AJDS would be a step in the wrong direction for a diverse, and politically pluralistic Victorian Jewish community, and for Jewish communities around the world.
6 May 2013
Gideon Levy made a far-ranging presentation at Wits University in South Africa on 18 April.
It is a long presentation (1 hr, 45 mins), which includes remarks from the floor, but at almost every point in the talk, something interesting is said.
You may wish to download it to your Ipod or related device for listening while on the train/tram/automobile, or while washing up. The sound quality was affected by the air-conditioning, but please persevere. He deals with depressing internal political environment, BDS, Palestinian leadership, and almost everything else under the sun, from a critical Israeli perspective. Thanks to Ran Greenstein for the invitation to attend.
Mp3 First Part. Right click to download and save.
Mp3 Second Part. Right click to download and save.
גדעון לוי מדבר על הצורך בהתנגדות מהכיבוש.העולם לא יסכים ל4 מיליון פלסטינים חיים ללא זכויות וישראלים צריכים להבין את זה
(לחץ על תמונה)
But here is the short video clip (click on the screen shot)
Please see below the text of a letter to Brendan O’Connor MP, Minister for Immigration
cc: The Honourable Mark Dreyfus QC MP
We, the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS), are writing to you to in regard to the 56 refugees who are being detained indefinitely because they have negative security assessments by ASIO. Almost all of these people are Tamil refugees.
You carry the discretionary power to release these refugees, who currently are imprisoned indefinitely for reasons that are not being made clear to them.
Some of these refugees are currently on hunger strike at MITA in Broadmeadows: if they are not released they may die. In their statements they have stated that they would prefer death to the indefinite imprisonment which they find themselves trapped in. Their detention is evidently harmful and should be ended.
There is a significant level of community concern about the detention of asylum seekers and refugees as it violates the rights of these people under the UN Refugee Convention. Indeed, ASIO has made it clear that these refugees do not need to be detained due to their negative assessments.
As members of the Jewish community, with the communal histories we carry, we know well what it means to be refugees: to be persecuted, excluded, imprisoned. As people with that knowledge and history, we urge you to exercise your power to release all of these detainees into the community on Protection Visas.
Australian Jewish Democratic Society
Ann Fink, an Australian-Israeli dual national resident in Israeli and supporter of the AJDS had the opinion below published on Jwire in response to an attempt to brand AJDS as being outside the pale in an opinion by Philip Mendes where he states, “[AJDS] political loyalties always seem to lie with the pro-Palestinian Left rather than the Jewish community”. This piece looks similar to one that was also published as a comment on Galusaustralis.
Given Ann’s life experience and where she lives, how would he characterize her or other Israelis? As also outside the Jewish community? It seems more accurate to say that AJDS political loyalties lie with the Israeli left and a different consideration of political options for Israeli. Of course, being on the Israeli left may now be considered outside the pale in certain quarters.
Unfortunately, Ann’s full name was left off her opinion, and it is reproduced here, with her permission. [LS]
I am genuinely curious about the position of JCCV vis a vis the Jewish community of Victoria. Being of a certain age, 74 years, I am very well aware of the divisions with this community over many years. In the immediate post war years, the Bund was a strong and vociferous force in this community. Many and fierce were the arguments between the Bundists and the Zionists. No-one ever dreamed of excluding the Bundists from the Jewish community of Victoria. Their institutions, such as Kadimah and indeed the Jewish Welfare Society were the backbone of this community. Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, many of the “Anglo Jewish” community also argued fiercely against its establishment.
My husband remembers Rabbi Danglow forbidding children at St. Kilda synagogue from waving Israeli flags on Simchat Torah! Much has changed over the years. The Bundists have reconciled themselves to Zionism, as have the congregants of St. Kilda Synagogue. However where is there any law or regulation which mandates that to be a member of the Jewish community of Victoria , one must be a Zionist in the narrow sense defined by the JCCV.There are those of us who hold Israeli citizenship, pay Israeli taxes, have children and grandchildren in the IDF, AND still find our views quite compatible with those of the AJDS. There are some members of the AJDS who support BDS. There are others who don’t. Some support some sanctions, such as refusing to recognize the so called “University” of Ariel.
Many thousands of Israeli academics, including the heads of all the Universities in Israel (except Bar Ilan) and the president of The Weizmann Institute have adopted this position. Many Israelis refuse to knowingly buy goods produced in the occupied territories because it undermines Israel’s own economy by paying lower wages to Palestinian workers when the same goods were once manufactures in Israel. BDS has had no effect on the Israeli economy. Turkey has doubled the value of its imports over the last year. In a globally interconnected economic world, it is a futile protest. Not one BDS supporter will willingly give away his laptop, iPad or cellular phone, despite their high content of Israeli produced hardware and software.
BDS has only symbolic value. In a free and democratic country people have the right to express their views peacefully. Jews all over the world and especially in the USA, are reconsidering their relationship with Israel. They have every right to do so AND remain Jewish. For the JCCV to even contemplate excommunicating The AJDS because the organization doesn’t adhere to the rigid guidelines of what the JCCV accepts as” true Zionism” can only be described as anti -democratic.[Larry Stillman]
“Yet attacks on Jewish critics are becoming desperate, for obvious reasons. Even many liberal Zionists are demonstrating their support for a “selective” boycott, aimed at shunning everything to do with the Jewish settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territories. So, too, are some prominent Israelis, including Avraham Burg, the former speaker of the Knesset, a well-known and influential figure among diaspora Jews, who publicly announced his position in an Independent op-ed. Many young British Jews are exposed to the reality of life in the occupied West Bank through visits and contact with Israeli human rights groups. While a just Palestine-Israel peace has never seemed more distant, the tectonic plates of Jewish diaspora awareness of Israel’s self-destructive path are definitely shifting.”
The abuse of dissenting Jews is shameful. Jewish diaspora support is vital for Israel, yet those who oppose its policies are demonised and vilified
Is the US state department’s decision to label extremist settler violence as “terrorist” going to make the Israeli government more likely to enforce the law to protect Palestinians? Those diaspora Jews already critical of Israel’s trajectory will surely doubt it. But is the Israeli government really bothered by the doubts of Jewish critics abroad?
The fact is that Jewish diaspora support is vital for Israel, whose governments have taken that support for granted for decades, exploiting it to bolster the country’s international position. But they also treat Jewish communities as subservient to Israel by claiming to speak and act on behalf of Jews everywhere. Were that support to weaken dramatically and Jewish diaspora critics of the Netanyahu government’s policies become dominant, Israeli officials privately acknowledge that the state would face an unprecedented crisis.
While this outcome is far from realisation, fear that growing Jewish criticism could seriously challenge Israel’s assumption of Jewish solidarity is a principal reason why the country is devoting resources to strengthen Jewish support, in close collaboration with Jewish communal leaders and pro-Israel advocacy groups worldwide.
One method of achieving this is to make it harder for Jews to criticise by accusing them of disloyalty, succumbing to “Jewish self-hatred”, and being “fellow travellers” of antisemites – spurious and groundless charges. Jewish critics with radical ideas for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – particularly those who stress there is a Jewish moral obligation to support Palestinian rights and that this is in Israel’s own interests if it wants to be a genuinely democratic state – are subjected to a process of vilification, demonisation and marginalisation. Since such Jews often describe themselves as being outside the organised Jewish community, ostracising them has been effective.
The Jewish establishment in the UK – which includes the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, the Zionist Federation and numerous private groupings of the great and the good – is highly experienced at this. I saw it happen in the 1980s when communal leaders sought to make life impossible for the small but highly active radical Jewish Socialists’ Group. And I became a target for such treatment myself when I was appointed head of the influential Jewish Policy Research (JPR) thinktank for a second time in 2005, an experience I recall in my book The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist.
By then I had served the community professionally for 26 years. A Zionist for decades, I was one no longer. But I wished passionately that Israel would become a democratic state for all its citizens, end the occupation, recognise the Palestinians’ right of return, and acknowledge that Israel’s establishment in 1948 was a Nakba, a catastrophe, for the Palestinians. I had no intention of using JPR as a platform for advocating these views but rather made one of my principal aims creating space for Jewish critical thinking and debate about how Jews should relate to Israel, to its policies towards Palestinians and to the serious impact of its actions on European Jews. I believed that only through open and civil discussion of these issues could the necessary change in diaspora Jewish opinion occur.
But those who thought my views were beyond the pale had other plans for me. As head of one of the community’s major institutions, I represented far more of a danger than so-called marginal Jews. Brazen efforts were made to prevent my appointment, and then, once hired, to force me out. Prominent public figures staged high-profile resignations from JPR’s board. Communal leaders secretly sought to silence me and undermine JPR’s work. After three years, I concluded it was impossible to carry out my responsibilities effectively, and at the end of 2008 resigned.
In the four years since then, has anything changed? Is it any easier for critics to find a receptive communal audience? There are reasons to think it should be. A 2010 survey of Jewish opinion in the UK revealed that while 72% described themselves as Zionists, 74% opposed settlement expansion and 35% said Jews should always feel free to voice public criticism of Israel. New “pro-Israel, pro-peace” groups that support a two-state solution and an end to occupation have emerged. Even one of British Jewry’s most senior leaders – Mick Davis, chair of Britain’s largest pro-Israel charity and CEO of the mining conglomerate Xtrata– criticised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, questioned some of Israel’s policies, and called for criticism to be voiced freely throughout the community.
But even as opportunities for expressing dissent appear to have grown, right-wing Zionists staged a media-savvy fightback, using the usual accusations of disloyalty and “giving succour to our enemies”, especially targeting liberal Zionist Jewish critics. The latest charge is “‘Jew-washing’, Jews using their Jewishness to give token cover for [boycotting Israel] and even antisemitism” – a calumny, itself redolent of antisemitism, promoted by the Israel-based, rightwing NGO Monitor. Spearheading this crusade is an assortment of columnists, bloggers and thinktankers of an aggressive and apocalyptic mindset who smear their targets to the edge of actionable defamation. Even Mick Davis was attacked and has since been tellingly silent. Many leading Jewish communal professionals I know have grave doubts about Israel’s direction but censor themselves for fear of losing their jobs, funding or establishment support.
Yet attacks on Jewish critics are becoming desperate, for obvious reasons. Even many liberal Zionists are demonstrating their support for a “selective” boycott, aimed at shunning everything to do with the Jewish settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territories. So, too, are some prominent Israelis, including Avraham Burg, the former speaker of the Knesset, a well-known and influential figure among diaspora Jews, who publicly announced his position in an Independent op-ed. Many young British Jews are exposed to the reality of life in the occupied West Bank through visits and contact with Israeli human rights groups. While a just Palestine-Israel peace has never seemed more distant, the tectonic plates of Jewish diaspora awareness of Israel’s self-destructive path are definitely shifting.
That dissenting Jews are still demonised is shameful and undermines Jewish pluralism. But it’s manageable. Because the Jewish diaspora’s support matters so much to Israel’s leaders, the quest for serious, open and civil debate among Jews about what is really best for Israel must continue.
Over the years the AJDS has participated in and initiated a number of significant debates in the JCCV, including the Wik legislation introduced by the Howard government to curtail native title rights, the application by a gay & lesbian support group to affiliate with the JCCV, anti-terror legislation and others.
Issues relating to Israel and the Middle East have proved to be the areas of most tension between the AJDS and the JCCV. The JCCV has never quite embraced the notion that in order to legitimately claim to be the community roof body means it needs to accept the diversity of views that really do exist in the community.
While it is almost certainly true that all affiliates of the JCCV fundamentally support the existence of Israel (the AJDS included), the JCCV is not the Zionist Council – it is a broader based roof body that includes organisations whose central focus is locally based, as well as Zionist and non-Zionist groups. The Zionist groups may indeed disagree passionately with the latest AJDS campaign – and have every right to argue against it – but the JCCV should remain above the fray, as it has on the quite fundamental differences between Orthodox and Progressive Judaism – both of whom are represented in the JCCV.
On the specific issue of the AJDS campaign, both the Zionist Council and JCCV are aware that there are many people in the Jewish community who think that the Israeli settlements on the West Bank are detrimental to the future of Israel. For consumers of Israeli products to be able to make a choice about the particular Israeli products they choose to buy, both supports Israel by aiding its economy as well as avoiding support for aspects of Israeli policy about which there is disagreement. It’s a campaign about which there can be legitimate opposition, but it is hardly “repugnant” in any objective sense.
We’d love for people to come along who are interested in getting involved with the AJDS Indigenous solidarity group.
The Aboriginal Yarra River Walk – “Walkin’ the Birrarung” is a highly popular Aboriginal cultural walk which has been running through Melbourne’s centre for almost 10 years, it has opened the eyes, and the hearts, of many thousands of patrons of all ages and walks of life. Come and be a part of this cultural experience.
Discover Melbourne through Aboriginal eyes
Connect with Culture, Connect with Country
Come on a journey of Knowledge and of Spirit
This leisurely two hour Cultural walk begins at the small, but very significant site of Enterprize Park on Southbank, part of the ancestral lands of the Kulin people, which we today call Melbourne. This engaging journey peels away the layers of time and the dramatic irrevocable changes of both people, and place. It evokes the memories of a vibrant natural and cultural landscape. A memory that now lies beneath our urban existence. Come and dispel some old misunderstandings, hear the stories, and see a city with new eyes. “Walkin’ the Birrarung” is not only a cultural and historical journey but an intimate personal one, connecting everyone regardless of age or background, back to a connection with Place. Find Melbourne’s waterfall, its rich wetlands, its Aboriginal people
Its deeper spirit …
Conducted and operated by ABORIGINAL TOURS And EDUCATION MELBOURNE ‘A-TAEM’
‘A-TAEM’ is the proud Victorian Aboriginal owned and operated business of Dean Stewart, a Wemba Wemba-Wergaia man, with almost 20 years’ experience in cultural tourism, education, interpretation and conservation.
Sunday, April 7 at 1 pm
Duration: 1.5-2 hours
Start : Enterprize Park (next to the Aquarium) Melways ref: 43 G10
Concludes: Southbank Shop plaza near Princes Bridge
$35 Full price
Please book online here –
Places are limited to 25 people so book ASAP.
If you can’t make the walk but would still like to be involved in the AJDS Indigenous solidarity group please send an email to Max Kaiser at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please read and judge for yourself.
See PDF here
The Hon. Senator Bob Carr
PO Box 6100
Canberra, ACT 2600
5th December 2012
Dear Senator Carr,
Our organisation supports the compromise decision of the Australian government to abstain on the recent UN General Assembly vote to upgrade the Palestinian status to a non-member observer state.
We also strongly support your decision for DFAT to call in the Israeli ambassador over Israel’s subsequent announcement authorising the construction of 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and development of an area of land known as E1, between Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Although the headlines in the recent edition of the Australian Jewish News, “You’ve Let Us Down” – in reference to the abstention by Australia at the UN – reflects the views of some in our community, it is by no means a universal view. We know this because articles we wrote which were published in both the Age newspaper and the Australian Jewish News in August 2011, arguing in favour of the recognition of Palestine, received support within our community.
In August of this year we visited Canberra and met with several Labor members including Maria Vamvakinou, Laurie Ferguson, John Murphy, Kate Lundy, Claire Moore, and Andrew Leigh. We put to them that there is another constituency in the Jewish community, supportive of Israel, who believe that it is time for Australia to speak plainly to Israel about the urgent need to resume negotiations towards a two state solution to the conflict. Steps such as settlement expansion, and indeed rocket fire from Gaza, work against a resolution.
By way of reference, our organisation is an affiliate of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.
Harold Zwier & Larry Stillman
For the AJDS executive
See PDF here
17 December 2012
Dear Mr Kaiser, Mr Zwier & Mr Stillman,
Your letter dated 7 December 2013 [sic] to the Foreign Minister Bob Carr has been brought to my attention.
The Jewish Community Council of Victoria is the elected roof body of the Victorian Jewish Community with 60 organisations as its constituents. These organisations cover the full spectrum of political and religious thought and philosophy and rightly so, do free from interference.
However, that does not entitle any organisation affiliated with the JCCV to purport to speak on behalf of the JCCV or on behalf of the community as a whole.
The final sentence of your letter to Senator Carr, by placing your organisation within the context of the JCCV, seeks by implication, to attach itself the imprimatur of the JCCV.
I would therefore request that you make the appropriate clarification on your website.
Nina Bassat AM
cc the Hon. Senator Bob Carr
See PDF here
Nina Bassat AM President JCCV
306 Hawthorn Road Caulfield 3162
8th February 2013
Re: Your letter of 17th December 2012 in response to our letter to Senator Carr of 5th December
My apologies for the delay in replying to your letter. I have been away for the last month and a half.
I was surprised at your suggestion and concern that the letter we sent to Senator Bob Carr, regarding the abstention by Australia at the UN General Assembly in the vote to upgrade the status of Palestine, in any way implied we spoke either for the JCCV or for the Jewish community in general.
By its decision to become an affiliate of the JCCV in October 1993, the AJDS chose to firmly place itself as an organisation within the organised Jewish community rather than one outside it. While the AJDS is interested in the issues of social justice, refugees, Aboriginal reconciliation and conflict resolution among others, it is the issue of Israel that has caused the most tension within our community. Our willingness to be fundamentally supportive of Israel and publicly critical of Israel on some matters of Israeli policy, sets us at odds with those in our community who believe that we should either remain silent, or at best raise criticism behind closed doors. Yet the AJDS represents a constituency within the Jewish community and the legitimacy of our voice was manifest in the decision by the JCCV to accept our affiliation in October 1993.
When we deal with people and organisations outside the Jewish community any reference to our JCCV affiliation is simply a way of making clear that we speak as Jews who are proudly part of our community, representing what we regard as a moderate and objective perspective on matters relating to the Middle East and Israel. In our experience, the reaction of those outside our community, whose goodwill towards Israel is not in question, is largely positive towards the views we express.
In our letter to Senator Carr of 5th December, we wrote:
“Although the headlines in the recent edition of the Australian Jewish News, “You’ve Let Us Down” ‐ in reference to the abstention by Australia at the UN ‐ reflects the views of some in our community, it is by no means a universal view. “
And in the next paragraph we wrote:
“…We put to them that there is another constituency in the Jewish community, supportive of Israel, who believe that it is time for Australia to speak plainly to Israel about the urgent need to resume negotiations towards a two state solution to the conflict.”
Both those paragraphs make clear that there is a diversity of views in the Jewish community on matters relating to Israel. Indeed in your email to me on 6th February, quoting your comments at the JCCV plenum meeting of 4th February, you wrote “We are a diverse community, with many divergent views…”.
No ordinary person reading our letter could reasonably infer therefore that we tried to represent ourselves as speaking on behalf of the whole Jewish community, or on behalf of the JCCV. We simply expressed a different voice in the Jewish community – and our letter made that clear.
You wrote, “The final sentence of your letter to Senator Carr, by placing your organisation within the context of the JCCV, seeks by implication to attach to itself the imprimatur of the JCCV.”
Let me remind you that our final sentence said, “By way of reference, our organisation is an affiliate of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.”
If the reputation of the JCCV as the roof body of the Victorian Jewish community confers a certain status on its affiliates then the price paid by the JCCV for its reputation, is to represent the community in all its diversity. That was the decision of the plenum in 1993 when we became an affiliate. That is the decision of the plenum every time a new organisation is affiliated.
If stating that we are an affiliate of the JCCV implies that we have the approval (ie. imprimatur) of the JCCV then it does so precisely because the JCCV has approved our affiliation. On no reasonable interpretation of our words does it imply that we speak on behalf of the JCCV.
We note that a copy of your letter to us was sent to Senator Carr. We have done likewise with this reply.
Harold Zwier Executive member
cc. The Hon. Senator Bob Carr
Jerry Haber’s (also known as the Magnes Zionist) piece in the Daily Beast is another corrective to simplistic binary approaches to the Israel/Palestine conflict taken on the left and the right. On one hand, it challenges so-called liberal Zionists who want their cake and to eat it without doing anything real to support Palestinians. On the other hand it also takes on , supporters of Palestine who reject that there are also very progressive Zionists who take human rights very seriously. They they can actually be partners for conflict resolution in partnership with Palestinians. This article is well worth considering, even though you may not agree with his take on the BDS movement’ s attitudes towards Israel.
AJDS has been accused of many things over the years, including being a supporter of terror or anti-Israel ‘fundamentalism’. The Jewish Community Council of Victoria minuted that AJDS was antisemitic, though it has backtracked to a degree without offering an explanation or apology.
More recently, Phillip Mendes stated that “you can guarantee that Larry Stillman will line up 90 percent of the time with the [anti-two state] fundamentalists as AJDS did with Overland Magazine for example. And they will then claim it is unfair to expose that is what they are doing. How pathetic.”
This is tiresome stuff for several reasons.
It is a re-hash of old, very old differences, that go back about 20 years with AJDS and are as much about personal clashes with a long list of people as their politics (thus Mendes’ labelling of now deceased members of AJDS as “good Jews” or “Uncle Toms”). In another case, it is a re-hash of a debate over material that was published in Overland Magazine– and the subsequent AJDS defence of giving space to different viewpoints on Israel/Palestine, interpreted by Mendes as a defence of the indefensible. Mendes’ contretemps is also about the interpretation of the course of Israeli history, that is, whether Israel is in an “existential crisis” with its neighbours, or that other interpretations can be put upon Israel’s wars. His difference is probably also a deep annoyance that AJDS does not “wave the flag” for Israel, though most of the AJDS committee, as far as I know, have strong personal or other relationships with Israel ( I have relationships with two Israeli universities, but I don’t like having to prove my “loyalty”.)
Mendes now also speaks of somewhat spooky “philosophical anti-Zionists” in AJDS as opposed it seems, to “moderates”. It also exaggerates my role in AJDS–at one point he used the word “Stillmanites”–it shows a complete misreading of where people are at in an organisation which is a most of all a forum, not a political party with a particular line. The only reason why my name is out there is because I like to write. It does not mean I lead a faction, and it is laughable to think I have the capacity to do so.
Mendes seems unaware that a new generation of people is now increasingly involved with with AJDS, or groups around it, and they have have a lot of grounded experience in Israel as well, both within Zionist movements and beyond it. But Mendes now sees the spectre of “unapologetic philosophical anti-Zionists” as a new demon. In fact, I think that the views we share are ones that many people on the post or even left-Zionist Israeli left would now share–it is a pity that Mendes does not appear to be aware of the considerable traffic on Facebook for example, in Hebrew, by people documenting human rights abuse in Israel or in the Occupied Territories or even in the pages of Haaretz. This is the stuff that is informing people like myself, not fundamentalist screeds. If he considers that AJDS is fundamentalist or extremist, then how is it that much of what AJDS appears concerned about is documented by by people such as Rabbis for Human Rights (who are very Zionist) ? Or are they too extremists? If one sees that Zionism does not offer a solution for the security of Israeli Jews, then what can? If one calls it post-Zionist, is that necessarily against the security of Jews in Israel? Perhaps Mendes is reflecting, in his own way, the split that exists between the institutions that have dominated acceptable views about Israel and the very public splits that have emerged in the US and now the UK.
So what about the Z word? From my point of view, in a democracy, people are entitled to believe that they want. If they want to call themselves Zionists but do no harm to others, and support human rights, then I have no issue. However, if they call themselves Zionists and engage in or support oppression, and separate development, or pretend that Zionism has only benign effects, then I don’t agree with that form of Zionism. Consequently, I do believe that Zionist parties (and diaspora Zionists) have to come to accept an Israel of all its peoples and that fundamental constitutional arrangements are required if Israel is to survive as an independent country. There are proposals for this from Israeli Palestinian organisations such as Adalah and others, for “Arabs and Israeli Jews in this country is to create a democratic state founded on equality between the two national groups” [ From the Haifa Declaration]. That is a point which probably challenges everything Mendes and others think Israel about Israel as a “Jewish state”. The statement is particularly challenging, because it has not come from Jews, but well educated Israeli Palestinians who wish to live side by side in equality. It is hard to dismiss the proponents of such a statement as supporters of the “Arab State of Greater Palestine” as Mendes has characterized Palestinians on other occasions.
Of course, I know that many anti-Zionists who are supporters of Palestine have a great difficulty in giving any place at the table to Zionism, or that Zionism is many different things to many different people and there is not an completely evil causal chain between something that Herzl said and the actions of someone who give money to the JNF or the activities of gun-toting hill-top youth. That is a far, far too simplistic an analysis of the dynamics of Jewish identity in the 20th century both in Israel and the diaspora.
I have consequently been pretty critical on Facebook with supporters of Palestine (eg Ben White or Ali Abuminah) about naive one-state aspirationalism that seems have little to with the reality of long-established communal politics and the politics of national identity for Jews. They appear to have little understanding of how secularism of the sort they imagine will be resisted by many traditional communities. They also appear unable to accept–as I wrote in the above paragraph, that a principle of a future open society is that many Jews will continue to regard themselves and promote themselves as Zionists. It appears to me that one of the few people who is aware of this complex communal dynamic is Oren Yiftahel, and for that reason, I recommend his writing as he models future arrangements. The same blindness about the reality of Zionism as reflecting, for better or worse, particular aspirations results in the idiocy which leads to resistance to even talking to Israelis unless they engage in a form of negative loyalty oath. That does not make for peace-making (and look at George Galloway).
For many people who are post-Zionists, the issue is probably not one of absolutely guaranteed one-or two states, or whether or not a person is a Zionist, but arrangements in which human rights are at the top of the agenda. What solutions can guarantee the rights of as many people as possible, doing the least possible harm in future state arrangements? For example, how do we balance the right of return for Palestinians who choose to return to their place of origin against the right of Israelis to live without the fear that they will lose their homes? If Israel is to continue as a democratic state, then should it continue as a state of all its peoples, or can it remain a state dominated by a special Jewish preference in its constitutional arrangements? If “safety” for Jews in Israel is not to be “military safety”, then what are the requisite conditions that would satisfy people and allow them to come to terms with an abiding Palestinian presence? Is the concept of Israel as the national home for all Jews–as distinct from a cultural or religious centre (together with the right of return), now past its useby date? What should the nature of such a new relationship be?
Furthermore, for any future Palestinian state, what about the rights of minorities in it (Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or purely secular)? Thus, the human rights record of both the PA and the Hamas government is pretty shoddy and Human Rights Watch has no doubts about this. In fact, as a recent exchange has made very clear to me, those who support Palestinian rights are doing their cause a disservice if they are not more vocal about rights abuses internally, because they hold Israel to such a high standard. If they are to hold Israel to such a high standard, and pick at it unceasingly for its faults, then it is hypocritical to use the excuse of ‘solidarity’ to ignore rights abuses, or barely hidden virulent nationalism that holds the same dangers as Zionism. Those other teams are going to be in government one day–whatever the shape of that government is–and they need to start showing that they can properly govern. All these issues need to be put on the table. Otherwise we will get a naive and permanent privileging in reverse of the rights of one group over another (to account for the oppressed rather than the oppressor –which as far as I am concerned is an absolutist and defective analytical model when applied to the situation in Israel/Palestine), because of the sins of the fathers, and the danger of its political abuse. Furthermore, the questions raised in the previous paragraph should be of equal concern to advocates for Palestine, because though the rights deficit is clearly in the Palestinian court, it is only by positively changing Israelis that much of this goal can be achieved.
There has been something of an excursus here, but there has been a need to touch base on a number of issues: the nature of post-Zionism (as distinct from what is demonically-labelled philosophical anti-Zionism); a concern for a rights-based approach to the future that affects all communities and how Zionism is to be judged in that regard; and the need to tolerate the existence of Zionism as an political ideology in future arrangements; Palestinian responses to Jewish concerns for safety; and the relationship between Israel and the diaspora.
But to return to the accusation that AJDS is akin to fundamentalist anti-Israel groups. To collapse the criticisms and concerns we have to into the label of fundamentalism and justification of ultra-left idiocy is an deliberate misreading of the thinking of myself or others in AJDS, akin to the recent labelling of AJDS as anti-Semitic by the Jewish Community Council of Victoria. I think I am right in saying that all the members of the AJDS Executive have a deep concern about the future of Israel, but this is a concern as critical friends. As I said, we are not flag wavers.
With what follows below in mind, we also note that the JCCV’s Policy platform includes a section on “Respect”, which –
The JCCV’s Policy platform includes a section on “Respect”, which –
3.7.2 RECOGNISES that irrespective of the common traits that bind us as a community, Victorian Jewry is also diverse and pluralistic and that this is reflected in different, often strongly held views, on a range of issues affecting the Jewish and larger communities.
3.7.3 CALLS FOR respect for any such differences, while affirming that disagreement is only permissible in ways that do not vilify other persons or their views.
3.7.4 CALLS FOR abstention from any public or private conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, revulsion, vilification or severe ridicule of, another person or group on the ground of their identity (including race, religion, colour, disability, sexual orientation, gender and national origin) or views of that other person or group.
“Address to the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) – March 4, 2013
Harold Zwier – AJDS delegate to the JCCV
At the February 4, 2013 plenum meeting, during General Business, John Searle was reported in the minutes as having said:
“John Searle stated that the behaviour of the AJDS has caused enormous concern in the community for many years. There have been calls in the past whether the AJDS should be a part of the JCCV. If the AJDS has an issue with an organisation, or an issue with a human rights concern then there is an entitlement to raise that concern. Unfortunately the behaviour in the past has only shown to condemn organisations, Israel or Israeli organisations, not withstanding far greater human rights that have been taking place in so many other countries and are equally applicable, and has been seen to only attack and not raise serious human rights issues in the Jewish community. The real question of membership does get raised. These attacks appear to be anti-semitism, there is a difference in the way a Jewish community and Israel is treated, and one that should be given real consideration to.”
The last sentence prompted the AJDS to write to Nina Bassat the president of the JCCV requesting that the minutes be amended to remove the words “These attacks appear to be anti-Semitism…”
The issue was discussed at the 4th March plenum meeting. Nina Bassat proposed that the 6 words be removed from the minutes. These are the comments of the AJDS delegate to the JCCV.
This discussion is not about the right of people to criticise or comment on the activities of organisations in the Jewish community including the AJDS. I don’t agree with the comments about the AJDS made by John Searle at the February plenum meeting during General Business, but John [Searle] has as much right to make those criticisms – fair or otherwise – as anyone. I would not be occupying the time of this plenum if the issue was simply unfair comment and criticism. That’s not what this discussion is about.
This discussion is about 6 words uttered by John [Searle] during the course of his comments about the AJDS. Those 6 words are defamatory of the AJDS i.e. those 6 words lower or harm the reputation of the AJDS.
Not only did John [Searle] confirm saying those words, but the JCCV saw fit to publish those words in a public document – the minutes of the February plenum meeting. I have therefore been given no choice but to engage with what the JCCV has done.
Those 6 words are: “These attacks appear to be anti-Semitism” and in the context of the comments made by John [Searle] as reported in the February minutes (see above), they are quite clearly directed at the AJDS and can be reasonably understood to express the opinion of John [Searle]. John [Searle] has denied that he was expressing his own opinion. In an email he sent me last Monday (25th Feb.) he wrote: “the fact that certain matters were stated to me over the years and canvassed in plenum meetings etc is true but of course that does not mean and nor did I say that the allegations/comments/opinions/ issues raised by others were themselves factually correct.”
At first blush it may sound like John [Searle] has explained that he is not accusing the AJDS of anti-Semitism, but in fact John has conceded something quite extraordinary. He concedes that he repeated the accusation that the AJDS engages in anti-Semitic activity without concern as to whether there was any truth to those words.
For some people who sprout the most ignorant political abuse in the letters pages of newspapers, we rightly discount the weight and value of the words they write.
But John Searle is not someone whose comments can be dismissed as having no weight – as having no value. He is the immediate past president of the JCCV, Barrister-at-law, and chairman of the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission. He is a person who knows about the importance of words uttered in a public place. He knows the law and he knows about defamation.
The repetition of a defamation by someone with as high a public profile as John Searle, in both the Jewish community and wider community, lends substance to the words he uttered in a way that not many others in our community could manage.
Throughout this past week I have made extraordinary efforts to resolve this matter quietly. I have sent numerous emails to Nina [Bassat] and suggested that the matter need not be brought to the attention of the plenum if the minutes were amended to remove the offending words and re-circulated to the affiliates. Not a single concession was made. Not a single conciliatory suggestion was put to me.
Instead, after writing yet again to Nina [Bassat] late Saturday evening, I received a response from Nina [Bassat], on Sunday morning – yesterday morning – saying that she would be proposing at the Plenum meeting that the offending words be deleted from the minutes. Let me spell out for you what Nina [Bassat] proposed. She proposed that there be no change to the minutes containing the defamatory words published by the JCCV on 22nd February and that the matter be the subject of discussion at this plenum meeting. In effect she said, “Let the plenum decide if the AJDS is anti-Semitic or not. Perhaps they will decide that the words should remain.”
I want this plenum to be aware of something very important. Throughout my comments I have not attempted to defend the AJDS against the accusation of anti-Semitism. And I won’t do so. Because if I engage with that accusation then I will give substance to it.
It is an outrageous accusation.
That a Jewish organisation and an affiliate of the JCCV can be accused of anti-Semitism makes the argument, more effectively than anything I could write, about how politicised the word “anti-Semitism” has become and how demeaned its value has become when it’s thrown around our community and beyond as a term of political abuse. John [Searle], of course, has said he is not personally making the accusation, but far from dissociating himself from the accusation, he has publicly repeated it.
There is an obvious contradiction between the accusation voiced by John [Searle] at the February plenum meeting and the lack of any action by the JCCV executive against the affiliate accused of anti-Semitism.
You can’t have it both ways. The JCCV can’t on the one hand have a senior member make an accusation of anti-Semitism, while the rest of the JCCV executive says that the accusation has no substance (i.e. it declines to take any action). That’s called dog whistle politics – because you’ve managed to get the accusation out there, while at the same time denying its truth.
Above all, the role of the JCCV in this matter has been deeply and profoundly disappointing to me personally. I believe that it would be appropriate for John Searle to apologise to the AJDS, and if he is unwilling to do so then I think an apology should come from the JCCV.
While the offending words were removed from the February 2013 plenum meeting minutes, there was no apology issued nor was there any acceptance by the executive of the JCCV that anyone on the JCCV executive had acted improperly.”
Note: Anthony Lehrman has written eloquently about this issue in “Jews attacking Jews”
YESTERDAY (Thursday, 20th February) Zakaria and I went to visit the village of Kusra on the way up to meeting some Bedouin in the Northern Jordan valley regarding demolition orders they had received. We expected it to be a short visit to pay our respects to the Mayor Abdel Adim and to inquire as to the fate of the olive trees we had planted there on Tu BeShvat. We were accompanied by three young Americans from the Michigan Peace Team who were interested in learning more about what we do.
We were graciously received in the town council, served coffee and were hearing about the problems faced by this Palestinian community from some of their settler neighbours and the army (including seeing photos of trees vandalized and people who had been injured there in the past) when someone came running into the council offices. They declared that “The army is here in the village! Come quick!”
The sight that met us on the southeastern side of the village was unfortunately all too familiar. Just beyond the last house we saw a bulldozer approaching accompanied by a couple of army jeeps. On coming closer one could see that they were border police who were in full riot gear, obviously ready for trouble. They refused to talk to anyone, formed a cordon and began pushing people away as the bulldozer began its work, knocking down an electric pole. The border guards were restrained at first but they continued pushing and were not willing to give any explanations or written orders. There had been no previous warning that a demolition was planned for that day as far as I could discern.
Young men and adoloscents began to arrive, running, and gathered near the soldiers and bulldozer as it knocked down a second pole. There was a lot of angry shouting. Attempts by the mayor to encourage restraint failed and soon some of the young kids started throwing rocks, immediately followed by a volley of teargas cannisters. Zakaria and I retreated to his jeep, the young Americans stayed taking photos, later to rejoin us, shocked and eyes streaming and red from the teargas.
After a second round of tear gas we spotted someone, wearing a red sweater or shirt, lying on the ground near the soldiers. Zakaria called out that there was someone wounded, but to no avail. The shooting and stone-throwing continued. We tried approaching slowly in the car, calling out that someone was wounded.We successfully got the young men near us to stop throwing rocks, but the army opened fire again almost hitting us. We closed the windows and retreated again. Phonecalls to a local DCO officer made it possible to get a Palestinian ambulance in to help the wounded man – still lying on the ground, and another who had also been injured. I was told he was a diabetic who also suffered from asthma. He had been lying on the ground not moving much for a long time and we were seriously concerned for his life.
The young man was being given oxygen and sitting up as we left. He was very red in the face, but he was alive!
Apparently a couple of soldiers were also injured, but that must have happened after we left. (Throughout the entire event I saw no attempt by my fellow Israelis to take care of the injured of either side!)
One wonders if the whole absurd and dangerous episode could have been avoided had there been warning on the part of the army, and of course why any of this was necessary at all since there was no obvious reason for the demolition to take place in the first place. The electric poles were on the edge of the village in an area which was we were told (confirmed by maps received from Dror Atkes) on the border between area B and C
The nearest illegal outpost Esh Kodesh also has “unplanned” infrastructure, including electric poles, but nothing is ever done to remove those, not to speak of removing the trouble-making outpost itself.
The next night “unknown” visitors entered the village of Kusra, arsoned and destroyed six vehicles in a Price Tag attack.
Neither this violence nor that of either the army or the young Palestinians will lead us in any positive direction, certainly not towards peace or coexistence.
The blatant injustice and discrimination in this case is outrageous and a profound offence against Torah which teaches us to treat all equally before the Law!
Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann
Director, Dept. of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories Rabbis For Human Rights
An article by in New Matilda Magazine discusses the Prisoner X affair in the context of Australian Jews and insider/outsider status.
Harold Zwier 15th February 2013
Recently, a small modern Orthodox Synagogue in East St Kilda, decided to join the Zionist Council of Victoria. Our Synagogue is a warm and friendly kehilla composed of interesting people. The Synagogue Board thought the decision to join the Zionist council was completely uncontroversial and justified their decision as “an appropriate action for our shul to take”.
And indeed why should there be a question? Our Synagogue has always described itself as a Zionist Synagogue. Item 9 of its Statement of Purposes aims to “foster the commitment and attachment of its members to the State of Israel”. We say a prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel every Shabbat. Return of the Jewish nation from exile is a central motif of Judaism and Israel is so central to modern Orthodoxy that joining the Zionist council seems, at first blush, to be no more than crossing the t, or at least dotting the i on our commitment.
Nevertheless, I believe that our Synagogue should not join the Zionist council without applying a level of critical thought to this issue, in line with the general intellectual engagement encouraged by modern Orthodoxy.
It is not the bond between Israel and modern orthodoxy that is in question, but the differences between our secular and religious engagement with Israel – and to what extent there is common ground between the two.
So, what is the contrast?
Modern Zionism is a product of ideas developed in the last couple of centuries, emanating from the Enlightenment. Orthodox Judaism’s attachment to Israel has a history spanning three millennia. Of course modern Zionism has its roots in religious Judaism, but the nationalist and political agenda of modern Zionism is historically based and secular. When religious groups in the diaspora participate in political/national activities relating to modern Israel, they are essentially participating in a secular process.
In the barrage of material about Israel in the media and beyond, the lines between the religious and secular often blur. But Orthodox Judaism has not embraced the view that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of Gd’s promise to return the Jews from exile.
Firstly, the Yom Tov Mussaf amidah includes the prayer, “U’mifnei cha’ta’ainu galinu mai’artzeinu . . .”, “But because of our sins we have been exiled from our land. . .”. These prayers have not been altered or abandoned as a result of Israel’s creation in 1948. Indeed, modern Israel is a secular state – not a halachic state (thank Gd).
Secondly, support for saying the prayer for the welfare of the state of Israel can be found in Pirkei Avot 3:2, “Pray for the welfare of the government”. We say a prayer for the welfare of the country in which we live and Israel – both countries we care about. The prayer for Israel includes “. . . ba’reich et m’dinat yisrael, reisheit tzmichat g’ulateinu”, “. . . bless the state of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption”. Not everyone in orthodox Judaism accepts those words. One strongly Zionist member of our Synagogue said “I make the mental caveat that dissents from ‘reisheit ..ge’ulatheinu’. I do not locate a messiah in a political entity”.
Thirdly, the prayer for the welfare of the state of Israel is not recited in all orthodox Synagogues. Few, if any orthodox Jews would regard those Synagogues as being any less authentically Jewish by their choice not to say that prayer, or indeed a choice not to align with Zionism at all.
Given these quite significant differences between religious and secular approaches to Israel, the decision to join the Zionist council can be understood in one of two ways.
If the decision follows from the belief that the state of Israel is indeed the beginning of our redemption from exile, then the Zionist council might be seen as embracing both secular and religious forms of Zionism. Joining the Zionist council is a logical step from that perspective. Of course while this may express the views of some in our Synagogue, it may alienate others. It is a position that narrows the way in which the Synagogue fosters “the commitment and attachment of its members to the State of Israel”.
But if the decision follows from a blurring between the secular and religious, then it is problematic in a different way. Joining the Zionist council requires adoption of the “Jerusalem Program 2004″ into the Statement of Purposes of our Synagogue. This is a statement of the nationalist, political and cultural principles of Zionism. Adopting it moves our Synagogue away from an inclusive religious engagement with Israel, into a much more specific secular, politically aligned and nationalist engagement with Israel.
As the Synagogue member quoted previously put it:
“i am a Zionist i am a member of this shule i join a shule to be part of a congregation i’ll join the Zionist council if I want to formalize my zionist status i don’t want my shule to do that for me”
This shift – this realignment – of our Synagogue is much more profound than might be first thought. Within the philosophical and religious boundaries of Orthodox Judaism, the intrusion of nationalist, secular and political interests works directly against the principal aim of nurturing an inclusive religious community. Since the decision to join, or not join the Zionist council makes no material difference to the longstanding openly expressed commitment of our Synagogue to Israel, the question falls back on the Board to articulate a significant purpose and benefit for this change.
Harold Zwier is a former Board member of his Synagogue and a member of the Zionist council through another organisation.
Yehiel and his wife Debbie talked about many things over coffee including the use of the a-word (apartheid), the growth of the nationalist rights, the BDS movement, and the silencing of diverse opinion, whether in the US, Israel or Australia. Yehiel works with many Palestinians and has been arrested at the Sheikh Jarrah protests. They also spoke about their commitment to a progressive form of Zionism, but at the same time, equality. It is important for Jews and supporters of Palestinian rights to understand the position by people with such a strong religious and human rights commitment. I hope that their views can become more widely known and shared in Australia, even though not all on the left with agree with the position they take on Israel, democracy, and the ‘state’ issue. Remember, they have a spiritual commitment rather than just a political case and I think the way they express attachment to ‘the land’ cannot be lightly dismissed through polemic such as ‘Judaism is not Zionism’. Religious cultural identity–and managing it–is a much more complex thing.
This audio is an hour long, but worth bearing with. The hard questions start at about the 30 minute mark.[LS]
The Australian Govemment’s decision to abstain on the resolution balanced our long-standing support for the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and their own state, with our view that the only durable basis for resolution of this conllict ts direct negotiations between israel and the Palestinians.
At the same time, the Government called on both sides not to exploit or overreact to adoption of the resolution. I was extremely disappointed by the Israeli Government’s subsequent decision to build additional housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and to unfreeze planning in the highly sensitive E1 area east of Jerusalem. Such activity threatens the viability of the two-state solution, without which there will never be security in Israel.
Australia will continue to pursue progress towards a two-state solution throughout our membership ofthe United Nations Security Council. The current stalemate is no no party’s interest and serves only to widen divisions — a point which I made strongly to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders during my August 2012 visit to the region.
Thank you for bringing your views to my attention.
See flyer here.
The AGM will be held on Sunday, 24th February at 8 Yarraford Avenue, Fairfield. BBQ at 1 pm, AGM at 2.30 pm. Please bring your own meat and wine etc.
All members must be financial to participate but may renew on the day. We invite all members to consider standing for the executive. Please find here the minutes from the last AGM. An agenda will be sent out in the next couple of weeks.
Once again, the Australian Jewish community is being hindered from hearing other voices by a media outlet which considers itself inclusive and authoritative.
With the Jewish National Fund (JNF) “Green Sunday” coming up, this year raising money for projects in the Beersheva region, there are some important reasons why we need to think carefully about the role that the JNF plays in Israel. For instance,
* Despite some tinkering due to recent court cases in Israel, the JNF charter prohibits the sale or renting of land to non-Jews. Yet Israel is supposed to be a state for all its citizens. Would we support such a form of discrimination against defined groups of citizens in Australia?
* The JNF receives land from the forced removal of Bedouin villages in the Negev. While the JNF claims that such Bedouin settlements are unlawful, the deliberate resettlement of indigenous populations such as the Bedouin (and they are classified as such) clearly breaches international protocols. One village, Al Araqib, has been demolished 45 times, and its demolition orders are currently facing Supreme Court appeal.
* For decades now, the JNF’s forests have been used to cover up destroyed Palestinian villages. The villagers, many of whom fled and were not involved in hostilities, have no right to return or to claim compensation.
* The JNF continues to plant pine trees even though it is very clear that this is environmentally irresponsible and contributes to devastating forest fires. They are the wrong trees for the local environment.
* The JNF is active in the Occupied Territories, through its involvement with evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Supporting the Occupation in this way politicises the JNF in a very divisive way.
There are more ethical, non-discriminatory and environmentally-friendly organisations in Israel which deserve the support of the Australian Jewish community. These include the Green Environment Fund and Friends of the Earth Middle East, as well as Israeli hospitals which offer treatment without fear or favour, and of course, social development organisations supported by the New Israel Fund and other organisations. With the establishment of Israel over 65 years ago, it’s past time for us to think seriously about our support for the JNF.
Executive, Australian Jewish Democratic Society
On 17th October 2012, JVS volunteers joined two women from the Israeli organisation Machsom Watch in their visit to Hamra and Tayasir checkpoints in the Jordan Valley.
This visit was prompted by a recent document issued from the Israeli ‘Ministry of Defence,’ on the 3rd of October, promising to lift restrictions of movement on Palestinians desiring to pass through checkpoints in the Jordan Valley, especially those permitting entrance into the Jordan Valley from areas A and B. Machsom Watch wanted to observe how this document will manifest in Palestinian’s everyday reality.
They explained that prior to this ‘change’ in policy, Palestinians were restricted from travelling to and from the Jordan Valley – only those with a vehicle registered to owners who are living in the Jordan Valley were permitted entry through the checkpoints. This has been part of Israel’s greater strategy in isolating the Jordan Valley, pressuring residents to leave their villages and eventually to annex the area, which Israel has always claimed is territory it will never cede.
Our first stop was Hamra checkpoint. One of the women from Machsom Watch was concerned about a queue of cars forming at the checkpoint. From our encounter with Hamra checkpoint, it is clear that the checkpoint continues to operate as an opportunity for Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) to harass Palestinians travelling in their own land, as well as a display of power that the soldiers exert over those wishing to pass. The IOF check the IDs and vehicles of those passing from areas A and B to the Jordan Valley, but not the other way around, for those entering areas under Palestinian Authority control.
However, the IOF continue to assert their dominance by waving through drivers one by one and disallowing entry to those who approach too quickly or too closely. The first car was waved through, readily, deemed ok to pass. The next car followed suit, but had not adequately waited for the go ahead and was promptly ‘punished’: forced to reverse the car and start again, disciplined like a school child, subject to the whims of the soldier in charge. This happened a number of times as we watched the traffic pass through the checkpoint.
From Hamra we drove north along Allon Road (Road 578). As we passed close to the colony of Ro’i, we observed a gate with the name ‘Guchiya,’ which functions to further separate the villagers in the Jordan Valley from one another. The gate is hidden amongst man-made stretches of dirt mound, which function as a wall. One of the women from Machsom Watch explained that the gate is meant to open three days a week, but in actuality this is a rare occurrence, and a few times she has spent the night waiting at the gate with farmers wishing to return to their homes.
She explains that everything is blocked here. It makes life impossible for the villagers. Children often have to live with relatives on the other side of this Eastern Separation Wall, so they can get to school each day. The Occupation Military Administration denies Palestinians their right to have schools in the 95% of the Jordan Valley that is designated as Area C (under full occupation control). Thus families have a ‘choice’. They can either send their children long distances to a school in one of the five ‘Area B’ villages in the Jordan Valley, or attempt to send them to the nearest school to their village, with the obstacle of the Eastern Separation Wall to overcome. Most of these families have very limited income, and there is no public transport for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley. In addition, children are frequently harassed by both Israeli settlers and the Israeli Army when walking to school, so the first of these options is just not possible for them.
Um Zuka Nature Reserve
Along the same stretch of road, we were taken to an area designated ‘nature reserve’ – an area which does not resemble a natural reserve, but rather a neglected, desolate region, an obvious cover for land confiscation. If Palestinian cows and farmers enter this land, they are fined large sums of money. Sometimes during the summer, when there is no straw for livestock, Palestinians will search for food here. One man had twenty four cows confiscated for doing this. Six of his cows died and he had to pay 1500 shekels to retrieve the rest.
Two signs are erected side by side, the only structures observable in the area. One prohibits lighting fires in the area. The other declares the land a ‘military firing zone.’ Such is the arbitrary, hypocritical, oxymoronic nature of the IOF.
‘Ein Al Hilwa
We arrived in ‘Ein Al Hilwa where we enjoyed tea with a family who live under the constant threat of the violent colony nearby, Maskiyot. Settlers from there torment villagers by beating them, stealing their animals, making false claims to the police and army about them – sometimes leading to their arrest. We spoke to the family, who told us that a neighbouring family has just received a demolition order on their house, to be implemented in three days. But this doesn’t mean much. He has had a demolition order on his house for a long time, this whole area has. Every village has a demolition order and no one knows when it will be carried out. “They usually come early in the morning”, the woman from Machsom Watch explained.
Along the road to Tayasir checkpoint, the woman from Machsom Watch explained:
“No stone is accidental; everything is planned. This road is blocked with the sole purpose of isolating communities in Area C. Such a beautiful area, being so contaminated.”
With some 95% of the Jordan Valley under Israeli control (50% is controlled by Israel’s illegal settlements, and the other 45% is military bases, ‘closed military zones’ and ‘nature reserves’) communities are cut off from schools, access to hospitals and travelling to markets can take hours – hours in which food will go rotten, if it is even allowed through the checkpoint.
Land grabs along the road are clearly delineated by colors indicating how much water different populations, whether they be lands colonised or lands cultivated by Palestinians, receive. The 9,000 settlers living on Palestinian’s land are surrounded by lush green areas, while the land of 52,000 Palestinians is largely dry and yellow because Palestinians are restricted from digging wells and access to water is curtailed as a measure to pressure Palestinians into leaving the Jordan Valley.
Characteristic of the northern part of the Jordan Valley is the frequency of big blocks declaring the area a ‘closed military firing zone.’ These ‘declarations’ are not merely scattered along the road, they are deliberately placed next to dwellings and communities that have inhabited the area for centuries. Palestinians have been restricted from building houses ever since the area was occupied in 1967. Many now live in tents, but their rightful claim to the land will not be stopped by the IOF and their checkpoints, road signs, blocks and systematic policies of isolating the Jordan Valley.
At Tayasir, we found that restrictions of movement and security checks are in still place, contrary to the recent policy, which promised to open the checkpoints to Palestinians travelling to and from the Jordan Valley. Unlike Hamra checkpoint, at Tayasir Palestinians must show their ID to soldiers when travelling both ways. We asked the soldiers why this is the case, citing the recent letter from the Israeli ‘Ministry of Defence,’ but they said they had not heard of such a thing. When Machsom Watch offered to show them the letter, they said they didn’t want to see it, it makes no difference.
“Are you afraid?” one of the women asked.
“The truth. Here it is.”
So ultimately, this letter meant nothing to the situation on the ground.
Back at Hamra checkpoint
On return to Hamra, we found long queues on both sides of the checkpoint, some twenty cars waiting. We placed a call to the Israeli Military Administration, but in any case, it seemed that the IOF decided arbitrarily to take a short afternoon break, and, stationed in their air-conditioned room, they sat waiting for as many cars as possible to collect as a way of exercising power, controlling and harassing Palestinians travelling in their own land.
Before heading back to the Friends Meeting House, we shared tea, coffee and updates with a family whose home overlooks Hamra checkpoint. They told us that a new military road is being build on top of a hill close to their village. They are worried, because often this kind of construction means that the family will be forbidden to take their sheep near to this area, where they commonly graze.
We realised the importance of documenting what is actually happening on the ground here. An Israeli security service employee, whilst comfortably seated in an air-conditioned office in Tel Aviv, may sign a piece of paper authorising the opening of checkpoints in the Jordan Valley, but the reality of life for Palestinians living here may be completely different.
(this post originally appeared at Jordan Valley Solidarity on 20 October 2012)
by George Stein
On Saturday morning, the army, police and Nature and Parks authority confronted Kher Al Din at his home in Jiftlik, the Jordan Valley. Kher is our neighbor and we were asked to come and witness what was happening and offer our support. About eight men, six of whom carried heavy weaponry, ordered the confiscation of Kher’s tractor, on which he, as well as his employees, rely heavily for their livelihood. The reason provided for the confiscation is that Kher was moving stones in an area designated a ‘nature reserve,’ thereby committing an illegal act. This ‘nature reserve’ happens to be five metres from Kher’s home, in an area he frequently works.
In total, 95% of the land of the Jordan Valley is off-limits to Palestinians: 50% is controlled by Israel’s illegal settlements, and the other 45% is military bases, ‘closed military zones’ and ‘nature reserves.’
“What happened is political,” Kher says, “They don’t want Palestinian people here. They can’t kill us so they use this.”
The army arrested two of Kher’s workers; Abed who drives a bulldozer as well as Ahmed, a truckdriver. They called Kher into the police station in the colony Ariel for questioning. Kher was told to pay 3,700 shekels to reclaim his tractor. He was forced to spend a night in the prison and now has a court case to attend. He has not been told when it will be held.
This is the second time that this has happened. The first time he was cleaning animal waste around the Bedouin homes of al-Haddidya in the northern Jordan Valley.
“I have a big problem now; I don’t know which place I can work. Tomorrow if I go to work again from another place, maybe they will give me this again. I pay for them. What should I do? For how long can I deal with this?”
Kher claims that if this happens one more time, he will have to give up his work and look for work elsewhere. Indeed, this is Israel’s intention. There is no work in the Jordan Valley, so Kher will have to look for work in Tubas or Nablus instead, leaving the Jordan Valley. This is part of the Israeli process of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in the Jordan Valley, where arbitrary laws and policies are used to pressure the population to relocate elsewhere. Kher’s case is not unique, but is rather part of the everyday lives of those living in the Jordan Valley.
Bir El Eid is a small village in the South Hebron Hills, located in Area C, which makes it exist under the administrative control of Israel. Because of this, if Palestinian residents want to build structures, they must seek permission from the Israeli authorities. The likelihood of receiving a permit is so low that residents are forced to build structures without one, which exposes their homes to the constant threat of demolition. This happened, for instance, on June 20, 2011, when the whole village was destroyed, with tents demolished, electrical wires cut and vegetables uprooted.[i] Bir El Eid is also surrounded by settlements on all sides, whose inhabitants are particularly aggressive and violent.
Residents have limited access to water, with water cisterns located near the settlement outpost of Mitzpe Yair. Attempts to bring water from the cisterns have been met with settler and army harassment, with the army on occasion confronting villagers with tear gas.
In 1999, the army declared Bir El Id a firing zone and residents were forced to leave their homes. At the beginning of 2000, the court decided that residents were allowed to return to their village, but they were forced out again by settler violence. At the end of 2009, people started to return to their homes and remain there to date.
I visited this village with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), who were interviewing Ismail Adara, a resident of Bir El Eid. He recounted a number of incidences involving both the army and settlers which clearly point to constant attempts by Israel to displace these villagers from their land, in an act of ethnic cleansing. Settlers in the area are extremely violent, and many of them are known by name to the villagers, such as Yaakov, Avidan and Ilad. These names have been passed on to the authorities, but no action has followed this naming and no process of accountability has been put in place.
The settler, Yaakov, lives on a settlement farm alone with his family, has been consistently abusive and threatening towards villagers, and claims that the land of on which the villages sit in this area belongs to him. His reasoning is that the villagers were absent for a period of time since the year 2000. The army frequently takes action to aid Yaakov, such as raiding the village and demanding the return of sheep that they allege the villagers stole. The army took a number of sheep, who promptly escaped and returned to the village, wishing to be reunited with their offspring. The sheep clearly did not belong to Yaakov.
Four days before I and EAPPI visited, at 12.30pm at night, Ismail was sleeping when he heard strange noises. He got up quickly, ran outside and found two men throwing stones at his tent. He pursued them, yelling after them and then saw another three men awaiting the two men up the hill. Ismail realized they were soldiers. Ismail asked why they had been throwing stones at his home, but they denied responsibility, claiming the perpetrators must have run elsewhere. These psychological games, employed to terrorize people, are all part of an Israeli strategy aimed at displacing people from their homes.
For psychological torment often turns into direct physical assault and abuse, as Ismail explains. He tells us about a violent incident that occurred in August this year, in which settlers from the outpost of Mizpe Yair beat him up, badly. Ismail explains that as an old man, he does not expect to be the victim of such abuse. However, one day when he was farming his land, four settlers (two of whom he recognised as Avidan and Ilad) approached him. The settlers attempted to wrestle his rake from him, but Ismail refused to let go. Infuriated by his defiance, another settler pulled a gun on him, but Ismail managed somehow to reason with the settlers and they left. Ismail knew that this was not the last he would see of these men.
Fifteen days after the initial assault, the settlers returned as Ismail was tending his land again, this time with scarves over their faces. Ismail could see Avidan and Ilad waiting in the car, ready to drive away if other Palestinians were around. One settler approached Ismail quickly, as if to greet him, but instead head butted him in the face. Ismail used the plastic pipe in his hand (which he carries to be used for the sheep) to defend himself by hitting the settler with it. The settlers had long, wooden sticks and began to beat Ismail with them. Then, one settler pulled out a knife, attempting to stab Ismail, but sliced off his finger instead (at this point, Ismail shows us his new finger). The settlers continue to beat Ismail, hitting him on either side of his head and then kicking him when he is on the ground. Some people saw what was happening and called the army, taking Ismail to Alia hospital in Hebron where he is treated. The army asks who beat him and he tells them the names of these settlers, but neither is held accountable for their actions.
Many parallels can be drawn between the situation in the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills, such as water scarcity, unemployment and poverty, as well as settler violence, all of which are strategies employed by Israel to pressure Palestinians off their land with the intention of annexing the areas. For residents in both areas, existence is resistance, and they will not leave their land.
(For more information on this particular attack, see this newspaper report.)
“Mr Ambassador, I’m glad you implored people earlier today to pray for peace, but we need more than prayer – we need action. Praying, singing and dancing for peace aren’t enough; bringing about peace, and overcoming decades of counterproductive attitudes and actions is very hard work and requires individual and collective leadership and commitment from everyone including the Israeli government. The time has come to tell your Government to show that leadership, put down your weapons, and seriously negotiate in good faith to bring about peace. Bombing civilians and building settlements on land whose ownership is in question is not good faith. Fulfil the words of Isaiah, and show that Israel is called into righteousness as a light unto the nations. The time is now.“
The NZ Dominion Post also reported that “David Weinstein said they decided they could not play the gig without voicing their concerns. ‘‘We were very happy to perform … but we have concerns about the policies of the Israeli Government, particularly the recent bombings in Gaza and the recent flare-ups. We directly addressed the Israeli ambassador and asked him to hear our plea for peace . . . and called on [the Israeli Government] to cease the illegal occupations of Palestinian land and stop the bombing of Palestinian people, and take a step towards peace.”
See the rest of their statement here…
UPDATE: This was a very well attended event, and fortunately, there are mp3 audio files. Abu Sarah was introduced by Jordy Silverstein and the meeting was chaired by Sivan Barak-Baroda of the AJDS Executive. If you want to save the mp3s, use your right hand mouse button.
Aziz certainly ‘acceptable’ to liberal Jewish audiences because he is free of invective and prepared to talk to anyone. But he is no uncle Tom-the occupation and its machine is evil and as a refugee he still lacks a passport. If people think that he can be easily paraded around as ‘nice Palestinian’, and that they can pretend it is all OK and nothing needs to be done, I think they are wrong.
Due to a glitch, his full discussion of the implications of non-violent protest at Nabi Saleh (where there has been a history of attacks and killing by the IDF), a the very end of the first audio was cut off. He was making the point that the fear of the IDF that the spread of non-violent protest to many places means game over for the Israel army and the occupation. Their activity becomes totally unjustified. I think he also mentioned the history of non-violent protest spreading in other countries as well. At 26′ in the second audio, he also takes up the issue of ‘legitimization’ and ‘delegitimization’– Larry Stillman ].
As Israel and Palestine again descend into a tragic cycle of violence the AJDS is proud to present a talk on December 10, World Human Rights Day by National Geographic Explorer of the Year and peace activist: Aziz Abu Sarah.
Aziz Abu Sarah will discuss the currently unfolding events in Gaza, Palestinian non-violent resistance and the UN Statehood bid.
Community Event at: Caufield Park Pavillion on Monday 10 December at 7pm
Location map here
Aziz Abu Sarah is a Palestinian peace activist, born and raised in Jerusalem.
Aziz is also a columnist with Al Quds newspaper and is the co-executive director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. He runs alternative tours to the Middle East with a focus on Israel and the West-Bank through MEJDI a social enterprise he co-founded.
Aziz has spoken in hundreds of universities, churches, synagogues and mosques on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, peace, reconciliation, and interfaith dialogue.
He was recently named National Geographic Explorer of the Year.
Congratulations to Harold Zwier for getting national coverage in the Fairfax stable on 30 Nov 2012. Sanity over hysteria.
Update: Leunig’s own response on 11 Dec 2012 to the controversy which resulted from his cartoon
ON NOVEMBER 21, The Age published a cartoon by Michael Leunig which commented on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The device Leunig used was a parody of the famous poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller about the need to be vocal when one sees a wrong – even if not directly affected by it.
First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
There are variations to the poem and it seems it was first used in speeches Niemoller gave in 1946. In Leunig’s cartoon there are four frames to match the four stanzas of the original poem. There is an almost universal view in the leadership of the Victorian Jewish community that Leunig’s cartoon is anti-Semitic. The media release from the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission quoted chairman Dr Dvir Abramovich presenting the following arguments to support that claim.
”’First they came …’ introduces a celebrated statement attributed to German pastor Martin Niemoller about the apathy of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and their gradual elimination of certain groups. ‘They’ of course referred to the Nazis. In Leunig’s cartoon, however, it is the Israelis who are the Nazis.
”And Leunig’s second anti-Semitic theme? That anyone who supports the Palestinians will immediately be besieged by the all-powerful Jewish lobby, similarly jackbooted, treading on all who oppose them, closing doors in their faces, spiteful, hateful and bitter. In Leunig’s black-and-white world, Palestinian/Arab/Muslim lobby groups are muzzled and The Age would never dare to publish an article (or cartoon) critical of Israel.”
My reaction to the cartoon was very different. The power of a cartoon is in the many ways in which it can be interpreted. Once the cartoon is in the public domain it lives its own life – as indeed does Niemoller’s poem. My comments should therefore be understood to reflect a personal view.
That Leunig comes to his cartoon with the perspective of a Palestinian supporter merely sets the scene. The baseline of the cartoon is that Palestinians are always the victims. We know this isn’t a universal truth, but the cartoon isn’t a balanced dissertation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – it’s a cartoon. It uses exaggeration to tell us something.
The parody of Niemoller’s language is playful: ”First they came for the Palestinians … Then they came for more … ” And in this respect Leunig can be criticised – or maybe he is being self-critical. Is he being too playful about the plight of the Palestinians in complaining overtly about silence as a form of tacit acceptance and covertly that publicly criticising Israeli treatment of Palestinians will be met with anger – from ”the all-powerful Jewish lobby”, to quote Dr Abramovich?
However the cartoon is also clever, because the reaction of the Jewish community as articulated in the Anti-Defamation Commission media release is in fact encapsulated within the cartoon. As Leunig said, ”bitterness and spiteful condemnations would follow”, duly obliged by Dr Abramovich in his comments.
And so the Jewish community has been wedged. A more thoughtful response might have been to silently reflect on the sometimes appalling and disgraceful level of the debate about the conflict – and not just from one side. However, the genuinely held perception of anti-Semitism mandated a public response.
The Jewish community is a wonderful community, but sometimes I wish it was a little less weighed down by its collective memory and a little more informed by it. Sigh.
Perhaps, in the end, we might ask whether the cartoon is really about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or in fact about the conflict between the Jewish community and Leunig. It’s all a question of perception and interpretation – the power of the cartoon.
Harold Zwier is on the executive of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society.
The Hon. Senator Bob Carr
PO Box 6100
Canberra, ACT 2600
5th December 2012
Dear Senator Carr,
Our organisation supports the compromise decision of the Australian government to abstain on the recent UN General Assembly vote to upgrade the Palestinian status to a non-member observer state.
We also strongly support your decision for DFAT to call in the Israeli ambassador over Israel’s subsequent announcement authorising the construction of 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and development of an area of land known as E1, between Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Although the headlines in the recent edition of the Australian Jewish News, “You’ve Let Us Down” – in reference to the abstention by Australia at the UN – reflects the views of some in our community, it is by no means a universal view. We know this because articles we wrote which were published in both the Age newspaper and the Australian Jewish News in August 2011, arguing in favour of the recognition of Palestine, received support within our community.
In August of this year we visited Canberra and met with several Labor members including Maria Vamvakinou, Laurie Ferguson, John Murphy, Kate Lundy, Claire Moore, and Andrew Leigh. We put to them that there is another constituency in the Jewish community, supportive of Israel, who believe that it is time for Australia to speak plainly to Israel about the urgent need to resume negotiations towards a two state solution to the conflict. Steps such as settlement expansion, and indeed rocket fire from Gaza, work against a resolution.
By way of reference, our organisation is an affiliate of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.
Harold Zwier & Larry Stillman
For the AJDS executive
Note: For a previous letter to Carr, see http://www.ajds.org.au/489/.
There seem to be several lessons from the recent politics around this episode in the Australian public sphere.
It has demonstrated that the so-called official leadership of the Australian Jewish Community (the “Lobby”) overplayed its hand in trying to influence foreign policy decisions with an undercurrent of murky political wheeling dealing that revolves around support for one party or another by a small and influential single-interest lobby. It also demonstrated that even icons such as Bob Hawke, a strong Zionist, understand the reality of international politics, and Gillard seemed like an amateur.
It resulting in an ugly brawl in government in which the “interests of Israel” were seemingly rebuffed by those concerned for Australia’s own independent foreign policy. How the Lobby is to be regarded or treated in the future in Canberra is a matter for speculation, but it is an opportunity for considered viewpoints to be taken more seriously. Even if the coalition wins an election, it is likely that the same tensions will surface–there are also Liberals who share the same views about Palestine as “pro-Palestine” Labor or Green members.
Second, for those on the progressive side of politics, hopes such as the full-right of return or one state which result in thousands of aspirational words may not get international support. What the international community can broker may well be the solution that the ‘left’ needs to deal with in supporting the emergence of a state–actually two states– with strong, secular civil societies that can work out their relationships non-violently (whether in a federation or weak-border partnership, or any one of a number of models that are proposed). It is a fantasy to think that Israel can be wished out of the equation in finding a solution, or that the ideology of “anti-normalization” that has become a mantra in some quarters, puts Israel out of the question as a partner to conflict resolution. The reality is that Israel has to be dealt with and in one shape or other, it will continue to be a centre of Jewish life living with, and a neighbour to Palestinians.
Third, recognition of Palestinian observer status means a change for progressives from the current narrow focus of discourse and action, usually around 1) the evils of the occupation 2) Palestinian rights 3) BDS campaigns . This is not student politics. It may mean working with Canberra much more effectively to develop credible alternatives for Palestinian governance post-occupation that can be raised in influential international forums and directly, with Palestinians of all political shades, difficult as this may be. The development of positive alternatives coming from democracies is something which right-wing Israelis and their diaspora supporters will find increasingly difficult to white ant because all they will have to argue for is a control regime with apartheid-like features that benefits one group over another, rather than democratic process.
While the Australian government abstained from voting for the proposed UN General Assembly resolution on the recognition of the “non-member observer state” of Palestine, the Australian government, which already accepts the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,should vote in favour of recognition of the state in the future.
Anyone with an interest in the region will be aware of the difficulty that both Israelis and Palestinians face in confronting and dealing with the issues of, territory, Israeli settlements and Palestinian refugees. The necessary compromises will inevitably be painful and for many, seem like a betrayal of long-held aspirations. The task of the Israeli government and future Palestinian government, together with the international community, must be to guide both countries towards a resolution they can both live with.
Putting aside the propaganda rhetoric that permeates this debate, Israel and the Palestinians formally recognised each other when the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. But 19 years of on-again, off-again negotiations since then have all ended in failure. The recent flare up of violence between Israel and Gaza in which Israel exploited Hamas’ short fuse, divisions between the two main Palestinian factions, Israel’s continuing settlement expansion in the West Bank and the legitimization of extremism are all factors working against finding a resolution to the conflict.
The current political dynamic has not favoured a resumption of negotiations. However, the UN vote is a clear statement by the international community that Palestinians deserve a state of their own, that they are a people with rights, and Israel must come to terms with this reality. However, such recognition also comes with expectations for Palestinians. It is a significant move towards dealing with the Palestinian refugee issue within the boundaries of previous UN resolutions, and rather than solely through the principle of an inalienable “right of return”, much as that is a cherished belief. Formal recognition of Palestine will cause fury in Israel, but is also likely to renew debate about the brutalising effect of the 45 years of occupation, the resulting damage to Israel’s own democratic processes, and the sustainability of the settlement project.
The Australian Jewish Democratic Society is very disappointed that the “Kadimah” committee has cancelled the booking for our function with Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian peace activist, entrepreneur and journalist, born and raised in Jerusalem.
Aziz Abu Sarah is in Australia to present at the Global Shifts 2012 – Social Enterprise Conference, at RMIT University to be held in December. He will also be the speaker at a function organised by the Australasian Jewish Medical Association on Health Care, Israel and Peace in the Middle East. Aziz has spoken in hundreds of universities, Churches, Synagogues and Mosques on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, peace, reconciliation, and interfaith dialogue.
While we don’t question the right of “Kadimah” to accept or reject bookings for their venue, the AJDS booking was initially accepted and then cancelled by letter, citing concern about our function being potentially politically charged and potentially a “security risk”. The nature of the security risk was not specified.
The “Kadimah” itself, according to your letter, is a strictly apolitical institution prevented by its constitution from providing facilities for any such event. However, the “Kadimah” has previously provided their venue to the AJDS and other Jewish organisations, for functions that have had political content, and in any case this particular AJDS function falls well within several of the “Purposes, aims and objects” cited in the “Kadimah” constitution.
In particular, the following passages are relevant:
2.2 To promote tolerance, understanding and dialogue within the Jewish community and the
community as a whole.
2.6 To promote harmony and tolerance in Jewish and broader life.
2.8 To promote understanding and goodwill between Jews and citizens of other cultures and faiths.
2.15 To acquire, equip, maintain, manage premises for use as an asset by the Kadimah and for the
Jewish community of Victoria.
(The AJDS is an affiliated organisation of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria)
The cancelling of the AJDS booking at “Kadimah” for a function with a young Palestinian who has embraced engagement and dialogue, does not fit well with the proud 100 year history of the Kadimah and seems to be out of step with its constitution.
Melbourne is a safe space for activities between communities in conflict. Thus, there are Synagogue and Mosque visits, as well as other interfaith activities, involving representatives of the Muslim and Christian communities. We ultimately don’t understand the decision of the “Kadimah” committee in this matter and feel that our pluralistic and diverse community is the real loser. We believe the “Kadimah” committee should reconsider its decision to cancel the booking.
Further correspondence is now added and is now added to the page. But the AJDS position still has deep concerns about the attitude taken by Kadimah.
Sent: Tuesday, 27 November 2012 11:25 AM
To: Alex Dafner
Subject: [AJDS Executive] RE: Kadimah decision to cancel the AJDS booking
Thanks for your reply. You are correct to interpret
the foreshadowing of our posting the
correspondence on-line as an intention to be open
Our disagreement with Kadimah is on this issue
From: “Alex Dafner” To: “‘Harold Zwier'” Subject: RE: Kadimah decision to cancel the AJDS booking Date sent: Mon, 26 Nov 2012 20:38:40 +1100
You are of course free to do as you like re your website and to post our letter of response there, so I will not interpret that as a threat. However, I do not accept your references to previous Kadimah “political” event bookings, which may have indeed been made without our knowledge of their content and I resent the AJDS questioning and reinterpreting our rules and practices regarding this long held principle.
Obviously our reading of principles such as “promote tolerance, understanding, harmony and dialogue” differ. Whatever your guest’s credentials may be, the statements made re Israel on the web link and the fact that you do not provide an opportunity for a presenter with an opposing view to what you call a “community” event, has the potential to make it in our view, politically “charged” and a security risk, which we cannot afford to take.
If the AJDS wishes to hold a non-political event such as an AGM or a fund raiser, without political content, we would be happy to hire the LFH out to you, as I also indicated in my letter.
Regards, Alex Dafner Pres Kadimah
—–Original Message—–From: Harold Zwier Sent: Monday, 26 November 2012 1:33 PM To: Alex Dafner; Subject: Kadimah decision to cancel the AJDS booking
Below is the formal response from the AJDS to the decision of the Kadimah committee to cancel the booking for our function on December 10, 2012. Our intention is to post the letter from the “Kadimah” committee and our response, onto the AJDS website and social media first thing tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. If the “Kadimah” committee wishes to respond before then, we would be happy to consider that response. If you want to respond after tomorrow morning, then we would be happy to also post that response on our website.
About Aziz Abu Sarah.
Kadimah Letter to AJDS 12 Nov 2012
by George Stein
*Leila (name has been changed for job security)
Leila was born in Al- Jiflik in 1962. Her family were refugees from 1948, originally from Al nfaat village, near Al khdarah which is located in the north of Palestine, around Haifa. Leila tells us, “I have never been to my family village, but I heard that it is very good agricultural land.” The land was used to plant watermelon and vegetables. In Al nfaat village, Leila’s family had a good house and jobs.
Until 1967, Leila’s family lived in the refugee camp in Abu Ajaj. After this time, the Israeli Occupational forces forced her family out of this camp, which was destroyed, to relocate them to a village near the Jiftlik gas station on the main road stretching from Amman to Nablus.
She tells us that she and her nine siblings (two sisters and seven brothers), along with her father and mother all lived together in Jiftlik. Then it became too difficult to earn a living and her father and mother passed away. Shortly after, all of her sisters and brothers left the area because of a shortage of their basic needs, such as water and housing. “The Israeli authorities do not allow us to build or renovate houses,” she tells us, “Everybody except me and one of my brothers left.” Some of Leila’s siblings are now in Jordan and some are in Tulkarem where they can find water and agricultural land.
Leila is still in Jiftlik with her son. She got married in 2000 to her husband, who is a Palestinian refugee, living in Jordan. He spent four months with her in Jiftlik, but was forced to return to Jordan and is restricted from entering the country. Leila and her son have visited him a few times, but it is too expensive for them to travel back and forth, and so they cannot maintain frequent contact with her husband. Her husband cannot find work in Jordan, so in order to support herself and her son, Leila has no choice but to work on the settlement .
“I wake up at 4 am and wake up my son and I wash his face to make him wake up and go to school. He is now 12 years old. Its very difficult. My son has a very difficult life. When he was two years old I had to go to work at 5am. So I would leave food and water for him. I have no choice. And when I come back I find him sleeping on the floor.” She explains that some days there wasn’t even enough bread to eat. Leila would not eat for days, but would still feed her son milk from her chest. She praises god, saying she does not know how she overcame such difficulties when her son was a baby. She is grateful that her son is older now, that he can recognize things around him, that he is wise. She explains, “I make food and tea for him and wake him up before I leave. I call him on the phone. But when he was small it was difficult for a mother to leave her son alone.” At this time, Leila’s house did not have walls, windows, a door or kitchen. She explains that it was more like an animal barracks, with only a fence around it. It had a metal roof, which heats up in the desert sun, making it very difficult to live in. She would leave her son there and was afraid all day, for him, that a snake or a scorpion would come into the house.
“Why do you want to write about my life?” Leila asks sadly, “it is very hard for me to remember this. When I remember these difficulties I feel like I have a huge pain inside me. My head hurts. I am very sad for the days I left my son alone. How I used to leave him while he is two years old in the house. I struggle to stay in life. I did not become weak. I am not weak. I struggle for myself and my son. Nobody helps me. I struggle alone. As for this, when I remember these days I feel very sad. I love my son so much. I feel sad for my son. When I’m working in the settlement I heard him crying and I start crying. I heard his voice in my ears; I heard him crying. This is life. And we manage to stay in this life. “
Leila explains that now she has become very tired and sick. She has worked for most of the last twenty years of her life. “When I wake up in the morning, I am so tired I can hardly see.” But she has no choice. She must continue to work in the settlement.
“I passed very difficult days,” she tells us, “If I’m tired or sick, if it’s cold or hot… I have to go every day. I have to wake up at four am and have to work at five. Even if I’m sick, if I’m very sick… I have to go.”
She says that one day she hopes to see the village where her family lived before 1948. “Why not? Everyone loves where they were born, their own country. We need to see it. I have a big hope in life. Without this hope I will not be able to continue. I hope my son will continue his education, I don’t want him to continue his difficult life. I want him to forget the difficulties. I hope before I die, I will see him happy and in a good life and I hope that my experience in life- nobody will face such a life. But I am still strong and I will continue. “
23 November 2012.
This viewpoint has been finalised as a ceasefire goes into place. Though the situation may change on the ground, the broad thrust of our argument stands.
We strongly condemn Israel’s latest, and ongoing, attacks on Gaza and its people. The launching of “Operation Pillar of Defense”, which builds on the continuing land, air and water blockade of Gaza, will do nothing to further peace and security for the people of Israel and Palestine. Instead, it continues and exacerbates a cycle of asymmetrical violence which will harm, traumatise, and kill both Palestinians and Israelis, though at this time, at least 160 Palestinians have been killed compared to 5 Israelis, without even accounting for injuries on both sides.
The cycle of violence must be broken as it serves nothing for peace and instead only entrenches hatred and pain from all sides. Israel, as the party to the violence with greater military power, needs to cease hostilities immediately. We reject the use of extrajudicial assassinations as a means of resolving problems, and its associated “collateral damage” – the innocent civilian deaths perpetrated by Israel in the process. It is clear that Israel is again engaged in an action akin to the horrific attacks of Operation Cast Lead in 2009 that included war crimes because it has been able to get away with it. We call on Israel to immediately end its preparations for war and call on the Australian Government to condemn the attacks in the strongest possible terms.
Despite the propaganda spin, Israel does not face an existential crisis from Hamas, it can afford to engage in negotiations, and there have been signs for several years that Hamas is prepared to come to an accommodation with Israel. The blockade on Gaza is also completely unsustainable. It inevitably leads to outbreaks of violence such as this one, and the abuse of human rights in Gaza by Hamas under the cover of isolation and external threat. The blockade must end immediately, not only due to its crushing social and economic consequences for people in Gaza, but also in order to regularise trade and help put an end to the smuggling business that is benefiting armed groups.
We believe that Israel, with the international community, should sit down for serious negotiations with the Palestinian governments in both Gaza and the West Bank aimed at urgently addressing the cause of ongoing violence in the region – the ongoing statelessness of 4 million Palestinian people who have been living under Israeli military occupation for 45 years. At the same time, the international community need to work with all Palestinian interests to build a strong civil society that can move away from self-defeating tactics that are all-too-often adopted as a means of confronting Israel.
The latest violence in Gaza is one more page in the sorry history of that tiny strip of land. From the time that Egypt relinquished it to Israel in the June 1967 war, it has been a monumental defeat for Israel – out of all proportion to its size – and a tragic disaster for its residents.
They have been failed by their leaders, failed by militants determined to have their revolution by firing rockets into Israel, failed by Israel who is the occupying authority and bears a responsibility to protect them, and failed by the international community. Few seem really interested in their plight. Even the peace activists who have tried to break the Israeli naval blockade and deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, seem more interested in making grand political gestures than making a real difference to Palestinians. And Israel’s actions in 2010, resulting in the death of nine of those activists in international waters was incompetent and negligent.
The establishment of Israeli settlements in Gaza was a failure. It required huge resources from Israel to provide security for 8,000 settlers amid 1.6 million Palestinians. The 2005 unilateral withdrawal by Israel from Gaza, carried out for demographic and cost reasons, was a failed opportunity to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians for the mutual benefit of both sides. Ever since then, some advocates for Israel have falsely claimed that Israel’s unilateral withdrawal was a gesture of peace. The historical record does not support that claim. As much as Israel has justifiably complained about rocket fire from Gaza, Palestinians have had no reason to be grateful to Israel for the treatment they have received.
At every turn Israel has managed to add to its failure. From its land, sea and air blockade that has made life miserable for the civilian population but has not stopped militants from acquiring weapons, to Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009 in which some 1400 Palestinians died, many of whom were civilian, to the latest flare up and the assassination of Hamas military Chief Ahmed Jaabri, Israel has proved beyond doubt that whatever the provocation of Gaza militants in firing rockets into Israel, major military intervention is guaranteed to escalate the situation to the detriment of Israelis and Palestinians.
There is a fundamentally false assumption that Israel’s undisputed obligation to protect its own citizens requires a military response. If a fraction of the resources Israel devotes to its military campaigns were diverted to pursuing real negotiations with its perceived enemies, all parties would benefit.
Now that a ceasefire has been implemented, if anything is to be salvaged from the tragedy of 160 deaths and 1200 wounded in Gaza and 5 deaths and 240 wounded in Israel, it is well past time for negotiations to replace violence.
Our thoughts and sympathy are with all those affected by the violence through no fault of their own.
In the ordinary course of things, one would have expected many opinions and articles from AJDS on its website in response to the current outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas and we have been discussing a response, but are yet to produce.
But as well, consider the need to respond to other pressing human rights issues: the fact that the government of Australia is returning to a most punitive regime against refugees, one that is likely to cause any number of problems as they are released into the community while forbidden to work. We can see the consequences: involvement in petty crime or worse, drug dealing, and an outbreak of racism, with a subsequent ‘I told you so about those illegal from the Gillard government in coming months. Wonderful stuff. What can we say? What can we do?
What is more important? Israel/Palestine Round 537? The rights of refugees? The continuing crisis in indigenous health? or Climate Change?
Frozen, overwhelmed and seemingly underskilled.
This is in part a direct consequence of the social media revolution. There has been a switch of conversation from printed material (with a week or a month’s turn around), face-to-face meetings, to the online. 15 years ago we found the World Wide Web a huge technical challenge, but once that was mastered, we though the situation was settled and we could publish online and solve the problem.
But it hasn’t turned out like that. Disruption is the rule of technological innovation. For political campaigning for small organisations, the webpage may well be too hard and too difficult to maintain and promote. Now, instant conversations and reactions offered by Facebook, Twitter and any number of platforms on any number of diverse devicesthatget to people almost instantly. Thus websites in this context are clumsy and difficult for amateurs to maintain as fast and effective means of communication. Facebook requires no skill other than the capacity to type in one form or other, or you can just get on the phone. If you want opinion, go to the social media, but it won’t necessarily be organisationally filtered opinion, but rather the POV of people such as Sol Salbe, or the crew at +972, or even Electronic Intifada who play a critical role in informing the world. It is a role that is beyond traditional organisational capacities and community activism and advocacy are also victims and participants in the 7×24 conversation cycle. How else is it that conversations are going on between people in Melbourne on Facebook or via email at midnight, AFTER they have got through their ‘ordinary’ communication activity?
We are also faced by the overwhelming imbalance of resources in the Jewish community when it comes to political advocacy. How can a small voluntary organisation whose committee snatch moments from their working lives, compete with a full panoply of organisations with full-time, professional staff working in the capital cities and particularly Canberra, all with strong international links and heaps of resources to engage in social media work?
And when, as Robert Putnam showed so well in his study of community involvement in the US, people are increasingly passive, and ‘bowl alone’. Increasingly, people are not involved in organisations, but they wish to consume…and the same effects how progressive people behave, including younger people who are used to having choices that are mediated electronically. If it is not interesting, don’t put in the URL, but as well, drafty halls and meetings that take up personal time and opportunities to have fun, to discuss complexity are of increasingly less interest.
Oh well, soldier on for sake of truth, justice, and …
Larry Stillman is solely responsible for this post!
reposted from here
Today I received an email inviting me to a rally to express solidarity with Israel signed by the major mainstream pro-Israel and Jewish organizations ranging from those on the extreme far right all the way to J Street. J Street!
J Street is, of course, the organization that was established as an alternative to AIPAC, the “pro-Israel” lobby that has long dictated U.S. policy on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. J Street now joins the consensus that sees Gaza as a black and white issue: Israel is right, Hamas is wrong.
I accept that because I have been around the pro-Israel community long enough to know that this is the conventional wisdom. (Although I would not necessarily have expected J Street to join the pro-war crowd.)
The shocking thing for me is the language that J Street and the others endorsed:
Show your support as we stand together in solidarity for Israel. Governor Deval Patrick and other community leaders will address rising concerns of war and the importance of a strong friendship between the U.S. and Israel. Together, we’ll rally for peace and separate fact from fiction, because Israel’s children deserve freedom from fear.
That is it. Not a word of compassion for the children of Gaza. President Obama’s statements are slightly better. But only slightly. The reigning orthodoxy seems to be that Palestinian lives don’t matter very much. If you press for an explanation of this thinking, you are told that these children are unfortunate victims of the fact that their parents elected a terror organization to govern them. And that Hamas shelled Israel first. (Should American children have suffered because our government launched a war on Iraq with no justification?)
On the second point – that Hamas started this – the evidence is sketchy at best. In fact, it seems that the facts point in a different direction. (See this timeline put together by the brilliant Emily Hauser for The Atlantic.) More to the point is that this conflict did not begin this month or this year. Israel has kept Hamas under blockade since 2007 and the Palestinians under occupation for much longer.
Israel controls Gaza’s land, air and sea entry points and the only items that get in are those that the Israelis approve. It is also worth noting that there truly is no such thing as a Gazan. Every person who lives there is a Palestinian or the descendant of Palestinians who fled to or were driven to the Gaza Strip when Palestine became Israel in 1948. Yes, Israel has the right to defend itself. But so do displaced people. (Neither has the right to “defend itself” by killing or terrorizing civilians.)
But the main point is not the historical one. It is that the most militarily dominant nation in the Middle East, a nuclear power at that, is bombing refugees and their descendants rather than seeking to end the conflict with them through negotiations. Israel will not negotiate with Hamas to end the conflict but it negotiates with it on prisoner exchanges and the occasional ceasefire. And, as this Haaretz article points out, negotiations on a long-term cease-fire were underway at the very moment that the Israeli air force dropped a bomb on the Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari and kicked off the current intense phase of the conflict. It was Jabari who was deciding on whether to go with the cease-fire.
But back to the first point: the children.
Does it need to be said that all children are innocent, that not one of any nationality deserves to be terrorized or killed as part of some strategic game? Yes, Hamas has been shelling southern Israel for years. That is indefensible. But no more or less indefensible than Israel’s attacks on cities in Gaza. Can anyone seriously believe that one less shell will fall on southern Israel because the Israelis are dropping bomb after bomb?
Besides, how is Israel’s argument that Hamas does it any kind of justification? Israel repeatedly says that Hamas is a bunch of bloody terrorists, no different than Al Qaeda. When did Hamas become Israel’s yardstick for moral acceptability? This is not the Israel I grew up on. Can you imagine Yitzhak Rabin saying, “Well, they started it. They attack kids so why shouldn’t we?”
This war is an abomination. Because both sides are wrong, and both sides are right and, above all, because all children have the right to live without fear. It must stop. The Obama administration needs to stop having its actions dictated by AIPAC and the donors it directs to the Democratic party. A second term president has no justification for such timidity (nor, in fact, does a first term president). Here is what a president dedicated to the U.S. national interest and not to scoring points with donors would work to achieve:
First there must be a ceasefire. And then unconditional negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians (obviously including Hamas because this is an Israeli-Hamas war). The goal need not be a final status agreement that will end the conflict forever because an intermediate step is almost as good, a long-term cessation of hostilities by both sides. No more shelling from Gaza. Nor more bombs from Israel. An end to the blockade of Gaza and to weapons smuggling into Gaza. An enforcement mechanism to ensure that neither side violates the agreement.
Once that is achieved, Israelis and Palestinians can move on to the next step. Or not. Because the main thing is simply to stop the killing.
The alternative is looming just out there. It is a missile or bomb landing on a school and killing hundreds or kids. It is terrified parents. It is kids wetting their bed in fear as the bombs explode in the distance. It is simply endless death.
In God’s name, why would anyone join a rally to support such abominations?
POSTSCRIPT: Check out Jewish Voice For Peace. It is unambiguously opposed to this war and will not participate in Jewish community “solidarity” rallies.
Ayalim considers itself ‘a new kind of pioneer. A new brand of activism. A new model for Israel.’ It believes that “bringing students to settle in the Negev and the Galilee is a national undertaking of supreme importance.” In order to provide incentives for this, the association grants “scholarships and subsidized housing to encourage students to settle in such areas.” However, this is not a new kind of pioneer, a new brand of activism or a new model for Israel. It claims that ‘today, we are closer than ever to Ben Gurion’s vision.” On the 5th of October 1937, in a letter to his son, Ben Gurion wrote that the “Negev land is reserved for Jewish citizens, whenever and wherever they want….We must expel Arabs and take their places…and if we have to use force, then we have force at our disposal”. Dr Awad Abu Freh, from the Bedouin village Al-Araqib told me that in 1948/1949 Jewish militia groups came into his village and killed twenty-one people, trying to scare them into leaving their land.
I stayed in one of the student villages in which Dani worked for two nights. I noticed that it is under rapid construction, with new buildings springing up everywhere, including a new Jewish National Fund (JNF) community centre. I also noticed a few nice parks, where sprinklers sprayed water onto green grass, pulsating to a silent beat. The next day, I visited Dr Awad Abu Freh, from the Bedouin village al-Araqib, where he told me about Israeli policies of discrimination towards his community, restrictions of water and a plan to displace these people from their homes. I wrote Dani a letter, not knowing how else to express my thoughts.
Letter to Dani:
Thanks again for having me in your home; it was so lovely to see you. I just wanted to email you about a few things we started to discuss. I would really love to get your feedback on some things. I came to Tel Aviv last year, wanting to travel in Israel without going on a program with a rigid structure and rules (like March of the Living and Academy), but also because I had started to learn about the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict and wanted to see what it was like for myself. My perspective was: the situation is really complicated and there is violence on both sides, but peace requires both sides to agree on coming together; for both Palestinians and Israelis to work together to stop the violence.
A friend of mine told me she had been to the Jordan Valley, which is in the West Bank and technically occupied territory, according to international law. But it is in Area C, which means that it is under full Israeli control. Going to the Jordan Valley changed everything for me. I stayed for about a month, visited many Palestinian villages and spoke to local families. The policies of the Israeli government in this area shocked me. These villages have been here for generations, well before the establishment of the state of Israel. Palestinians have farmed their land, picking dates and grapes and vegetables and would sell them at the market. There is plenty of water in this area and springs in many Palestinian villages, but this water is restricted to Palestinians. Wells are enclosed in barbed wire fences and are only available to Jewish settlements, like Tomer, Ro’I and Maskiyot. Israel has drilled deep wells which service Israeli settlements only. Because Israel forbids Palestinians to drill to a certain depth, they dry out the wells. Less than 10,000 settlers in the Jordan Valley use “one-quarter the total amount of water consumed by the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank, some 2.5 million people.” Palestinian farmers have to travel huge distances to buy water from Jewish settlements or from the Israeli water company Mekorot. Settlers are given unlimited water and 75% discount on electricity, while many Palestinians have no electricity in these areas.
In addition to this, most Palestinian villages are under demolition order and are considered illegal by Israel, even though these communities have been here for generations. Most housing for these communities consists of metal poles with an aluminum or canvas sheet serving as the roof. In the harsh climate of the Jordan Valley, these structures offer no protection from the heat or cold (at night in winter). If these communities try to build more suitable homes (or schools or health centres), they will be demolished. Routinely, the army comes (usually in the morning) and demolishes homes and animal pens. Local Palestinians do not want to leave their land, and have nowhere to go, so sometimes these poor families will rebuild their homes over and over again, and live in constant fear of them being demolished (there is more information at jordanvalleysolidarity.org- this is the group I am with).
The reason I bring this up, is because similar things are happening in the Negev with the Bedouin communities. This is under the rationale of ‘making the dessert bloom.’ After I saw you, I went to visit the Bedouin village of Al Araqib. I thought I’d share with you some information that I learnt from speaking with villagers from there, as well as Israeli volunteers who have been working with this community for years. Al Araqib is located just off route 40 along the highway from Beersheva. According to Israel authorities, the village is unrecognized and illegal, as it was declared state property in 1954. Before the establishment of the state of Israel, there were about 65,000 to 90,000 Bedouin living in the Negev. Ninety percent of them were expelled from their homes. Ben Gurion claimed the Negev was empty, and suitable for immediate Jewish settlement. The next demolition was in 2010, by the Israel Land Authority to prepare the land for a JNF forest. Since 2010, the village has been demolished forty two times. In September 2011, the government released the Prawer report, which proposed the transfer of 70,000 Bedouin from unrecognised villages into seven recognised villages in the area, without any consultation with the communities involved.
I wrote something about my visit with a man I made contact with, Dr Awad Abu Freih and thought I’d send some to you:
I met with Dr Awad Abu Freih from Al-Araqib, a chemistry professor. He told me that there are big projects to develop the Negev. “For us,” he says “development of the Negev means destroying our homes. There’s the JNF and they fight us and are against us like we are enemies. They want to push us into cities, but we want to stay in our villages.” He tells me that life in the villages is very hard. Farmers must buy water from a nearby Jewish village and must pay two shekel for one cubic meter of water. Then, they must pay a lot of money to transport the water back to their villages. In the past, Bedouin people have been restricted to water access from some villages, but this was met with fierce resistance, with villagers threatening to break the water pipes if they were not given access to the water. So the only reason they have access to water is due to placing huge amounts of pressure on the government. “All the time they give water to the kibbutz and moshav but not the Bedouin who lives near them.”
Now, Dr Awad is in the process of bringing his claim of ownership over the land, to court. He has spent 100,000 dollars on legal fees alone. JNF is supposed to cease its activities until a decision by the court is made, but they have persisted in making the land into a forest. “The judge says if you win, we will give you the land like it was before. But How? They are liars. No one can make the land like before.”
Aziz is the leader of the committee of Al-Araqib. We sit and drink coffee in a tent-like structure in Al-Araqib and he tells me his story. He was born in 1974 in Al-Araqib and has continued his life here. He has six children. His story is briefly interrupted early on, by someone telling us that a nearby village is being demolished. I ask if they will come here. “We cannot know when they will destroy. All of our houses are unrecognised by the law. They can come anytime and destroy.”
Aziz tells me the first demolition was in 1948. His grandfather and father were amongst those who rebuilt the village, and now today he is doing the same. The villagers made everything green. They made oil from olive trees, produced wheat from the land and used sheep for cheese. “Before the second demolition [in 2010] we had 4,500 olive trees. We had 65 new houses, modern houses, fig trees, grape trees, orange trees in every garden. It was nice looking green and we eat this fruit. There were 573 people man woman children living here, but I am so sorry to say it our government decided to kill our life. They did not kill us but they kill our life.” From 2010 until now, Israeli Forces alongside the JNF have destroyed the village 42 times. This equates to 2 times a month. After demolishing the village, the government fines the people two million shekels to pay for the costs of demolition. So after forty-two demolitions, the people are expected to pay huge amounts of money. Paying for the bulldozers and soldiers who displace people of their homes.
At the same time as destroying these homes, the government is allowing new settlements to be built in the area. The JNF plants forests become state land and then these forests are cut down to make room for Jewish settlements.
Message from Al-Araqib to the world from the Sheihk of the village:
“I ask you and your groups to tell people what’s happening in the Negev.” People think that the JNF is making the Negev green, but they are destroying the Negev. Every Jewish person has the option of continuing life where they want. But Arabs are forced to live in villages. “We ask people to open their eyes.”
Before I go, Aziz tells me: Samud in Arabic means ‘stay on your land.’ We want everyone to know the word ‘samud,’ to stay on your land against the government, against the JNF.
Dani, this is relevant to you because the government is coordinating this displacement of Bedouins from the Negev at the same time as it is subsidizing and funding students to go to places like the one in which you work, in order to decrease the Bedouin presence while simultaneously increasing the Jewish presence in this area. If you get a chance, you should visit Al-Araqib. There are so many groups working there, like Negev Committee for Coexistence, Rabbis for Human Rights, etc. Even if you don’t believe what I am writing, I invite you: come to the Jordan Valley, come see this village. The world is becoming more aware of what is going on in Israel- government policies which use Judaism to enforce policies which cause all those who are not Jewish to suffer. For me, Judaism is too important to allow this to happen. The Palestinians do not see Jews as the enemy. They see those who deprive them of water, of work, of freedom of movement, of schools as the enemy. People are living under an unequal, military occupation which is causing them to suffer hugely. I only realised this when I saw it with my own eyes.
http://rhr.org.il/eng/index.php/tag/al-araqib/- Rabbis for Human Rights
“Aid … undermines the Palestinian’s political struggle, ‘normalises’ the situation of the occupation, and postpones a permanent solution” – Shir Hever in The Political Economy of Israel’s occupation: Repression beyond Exploitation.
In the early 1990’s a series of agreements known as the Oslo Accords were adopted in the Israeli Occupied Territories (OT) of the West Bank.
The Oslo Accords introduced a number of measures, ostensibly intended as first steps towards peace between Israel and Palestine. A key part of the agreements was the division of the OT of the West Bank into three zones known as Area A, B and C. Area A is now under the control of the Palestinian Authorities (PA), Area B under joint PA and Israeli control and Area C, comprising 61% of the West Bank under complete Israeli military control. The agreements were designed to operate over a five year interim period, with authority over Area C to eventually be transferred to the PA. Israeli military control of Area C is ongoing.
Oslo dramatically altered the framework within which the Palestinian national struggle was conceived: away from liberation and towards statehood. No longer was the focus on highlighting the inequality experienced by Palestinians living under occupation, but rather on ‘peaceful’ co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians. Issues central to the Palestinian struggle – such as the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, the status of Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital city, the existence of settlements and access to water – were relayed to so called “final status agreements”, following an interim period of five years. Almost 20 years later these issues remain controversial and unresolved.
In April 1994, Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Paris to sign the Paris Protocols, the economic component of the Oslo Accords. The protocols bind the Palestinian economy to Israel in a number of different areas, including customs, taxes, labor, agriculture, industry and tourism. The protocols established a “customs union,” to ensure no economic borders exist between Israel and the West Bank, but Israel maintains control over all external borders. This means that items imported into West Bank must meet Israeli standards, and Israel collects import taxes and transfers them to the PA. In addition, Israel has the power to unilaterally change the tax on import goods[i]. These measures disallow any kind of economic independence of a Palestinian state. Ultimately, Oslo and the Paris Protocol embed the Palestinian economy in a matrix of Israeli control, without requiring Israel to expend resources and energy in directly controlling the Palestinian population. The Oslo Agreements and the Paris Protocol force Palestinian markets open for Israeli goods, so in effect “the Palestinian community under the occupations is the biggest consumer of Israeli products and services. We are considered the second biggest market for the products of Israel or of products imported by Israel – second only to the Israeli community itself. We are considered the second biggest tax payer for the occupation,” says Fathy Khdirat, emphatically in an interview I conducted with him. Fathy is one of the founders of Jordan Valley Solidarity (JVS) campaign. He speaks passionately about the hardships faced by Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley and is critical of the way in which the international community has been engaging with this issue.
The Jordan Valley makes up 30% of the West Bank. 95% of its land is located in Area C. It stretches over 2,400sq KM, from the Dead Sea in the south, to the village of Bisan in the north. It encompasses the entire border between the West Bank and Jordan. The fact that it is situated over the Eastern Water Basin, coupled with its warm climate, means the land of the Jordan Valley is perfect for agricultural produce, much to the benefit of highly profitable settlement farms in the area. Israel intends to annex this land, effectively surrounding the West Bank on all sides and destroying any chance of an independent Palestinian state. In order to achieve this, Israel makes life almost unbearable for local Palestinians, who have been living in the Jordan Valley for generations. Israel does this by restricting Palestinian access to water, appropriating land for settlements, military training areas and so-called ‘nature reserves’, demolishing homes, confiscating tractors and livestock, to name only some of the harsh measures employed.
In response to this, the Jordan Valley Solidarity group was formed by local Palestinians. It is a grassroots campaign by local Palestinians and supported by international volunteers, who come from all over the world to support the Palestinian right to exist on their land. Fathy, one of the founders of JVS, claims that the Oslo Agreements and the Non Governmental Organizations (‘NGOs’) are normalizing the Occupation. He asks, “Are we going to accept the situation? To keep donating to the Occupation? To keep sustaining the Occupation and providing resources to the occupier? Are we going to continue encouraging development under the Occupation? Service development, infrastructure development, administration development, economic development?”
When asked what the NGOs and international groups working in area C are doing, Fathy responds, “you have to ask the international groups. They are working here since the Occupation and still nothing changes.” He says that there is no short supply of international groups claiming to want to help the Palestinian people. Yet the organizations must work according to Occupation regulations and laws. If they want to work in the OT they need permission from the Israeli Authority. Therefore, if the authority declares 95% of the land closed to Palestinians, they cannot work in 95% of the land. The only area in which they can work is area A, under the PA, where Palestinians can work and live. Fathy claims that by only working in area A, international organizations are normalizing the Occupation and helping it to implement its policy of displacing Palestinians, herding them into Bantustans (area A) and annexing area C, because if Palestinians in area C are not provided with basic needs like infrastructure, water, work and land, their lives become unbearable and they are forced to leave.
Indeed, it is an increasingly recognized worldwide that many NGOs are entering communities and implementing short-term oriented goals, which focus on alleviating harsh consequences of governmental policies. They functionally relieve governments of their obligations to people, most of whom have not benefited from the implementation of increasingly neoliberal policies (such as privatization of natural resources including water and land) accompanied by the shrinking of social welfare services. But these NGOs exclude the structure of the state or its economic policies as a site of injury to communities. They don’t attempt to target broader systemic causes of suffering. Therefore, the focus of NGOs is often identifying scarcity of resources as the problem, rather than institutionalized inequality and uneven distribution. Because the state is excluded from the site of injury, it means that laws, regulations and official practices by governments are naturalized and adhered to, rather than confronted, thereby perpetuating the very root of inequality. Most of the solutions offered by NGOs are no more than band-aid measures, which may provide temporary relief to some, but they are not transformative.
Because NGOs are often single-issue oriented, they tend to compartmentalize aspects of struggles and in the process fail to fully address the multifaceted, structural nature of conflict. In the case of Palestine, many NGOs do not necessarily focus on a critique of the Israeli occupation, but rather aim to train Palestinians to function in a newly established, post-Oslo ‘civil society’ characterized by Palestinian participation in free-market capitalism. Therefore, funding tends to be focused on projects which promote co-existence between Israel and Palestine, on joint projects rather than addressing their systemic inequality under occupation.
Fathy explains that the main issue in the Jordan Valley is water. Palestinians have no access to water sources right below their feet. Israel will not allow them to drill wells or renovate old wells in order to enhance their functionality. Yet, these international organizations will not address these systemic issues and “without water there is no life.” He says that the organizations are “giving soft help or donations like supplying people with tents or sheets. But this is not the main necessary thing. The most important thing is water and they are not offering sustainable water resources. These people used to drink from their own spring. The occupation confiscated and destroyed their water resources.” In an interview Fathy explains, “If anyone wants to support us they must support us according to the truth that we are people who want to resist the Occupation, who want to get rid of the Occupation.”
In 2007, Oxfam initiated a project in Al-Jiftlik village in the Jordan Valley to develop an underground water network which would allow residents to access and transport water more effectively and sustainably. In order for this project to proceed, Oxfam required several permits from the Israeli Authorities. The first permit required was for a water tank, the second to link up the pipes to Mekorot’s (Israeli water company) water supply, the third for the water pump and the last for a pipe to cross the village to Mekorot’s water supply. The procedure for applying for such permits is painfully slow and the slightest error requires restarting the entire process. So when Oxfam were denied permission to proceed with their project, they “changed the plan to distributing plastic water tanks to the community. Instead of building a useful 500 cubic metre water tank for the village, they distribute useless water tanks to each family,” says Fathy.
Anyone who researches about NGOs and donations in the OT will recognize straight away that the donations which are meant to come to these areas figure, over the last 15 years, in the millions. But this money is being funneled into projects which conveniently avoid the question of the Israeli Occupation. One NGO has a grant of half a million euros from the European Union to prevent owl extinction in the Jordan Valley, when people don’t have enough drinking water. These organizations “see no reason to challenge the Occupation, instead they invent soft projects which do not interfere with the Occupation. Take the owl project – it will not have a physical presence, you will not be able to see it on a map, it will not make any trouble with the Occupation authority.”
Because these organizations receive funding from various sources, they must protect their monetary interests by not crossing certain lines and by sticking to the status quo. In fact, it has been a well-cited phenomena that organizations which criticize Israeli policies risk being defunded and penalized. Such was the case of INCITE – Women of Color Against Violence. On their website, they explain that they began to receive funding from the Ford Foundation in 2000. Then, “unexpectedly on July 30, 2004, the Ford Foundation sent another letter, explaining that it had reversed its decision because of our organization’s statement of support for the Palestinian liberation struggle[i].”
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel is obliged to supply those living in the OT with their basic needs. NGOs have stepped in because Israel is not fulfilling this obligation, but this is creating a climate in which the “Israeli military administration no longer take responsibility for the welfare of the people in Area C, they can even stop surveiling these Palestinian areas because now they have the NGOs to do it for them.” Fathy explains that NGOs receive a lot of money, but most of it goes towards the costs of the NGOs themselves, including supplying NGO employees with well-paid salaries. Fathy continues to explain that since the Oslo Agreements, a great number of NGOs started coming into Palestine, claiming they want to help and support the people. But millions are spent, supposedly in the name of Palestinian people, on this new sector of Palestinian society. This is evident by the fact that “they have fantastic houses and high salaries and huge offices. They have large running costs, financed by donations supposedly on behalf of the Palestinian people. The taxes they pay take up 22% of their budgets and they implement their work through outside contractors, giving large salaries to “specialists” and “international advisors”. What actually remains for the people is nothing.
When asked what should be done, Fathy responds:
“As Palestinians we need to depend on ourselves. We don’t want to keep looking for help from the international community. We can’t imagine that the American Marines will one day come to liberate Palestine. I can’t imagine that the European Union will bring the Israeli murders to the courts. They will not open courts for the Israeli war criminals. It’s impossible to imagine that the leaders of Israel will eventually feel so guilty, suffer inside so much, that they will eventually grant us our freedom. I’m not imagining that the world will join together to put in place sanctions or boycott Israel, especially not through caring about the Palestinian cause. None of this will happen without action taken by us as Palestinians.
Up until now we encourage the Occupation to continue and be sustainable. Now we must start to do something. If we keep going like this we are encouraging Israel in its policy of isolating the Palestinian people. They will continue pushing us to live on the minimum natural resources. Israel considers us a reservoir for cheap labor. They grant us no rights and take no responsibility for the Palestinian laborers. We are the second biggest consumer of Israeli products after Israel itself, especially for products that are of low quality and not suitable to be sold in Israel itself. We are the second biggest taxpayer for the Israeli authority. So why would Israel leave? Why would Israel leave this area that provides a bountiful supply of human beings to produce whatever they want? We must boycott the occupation and everything that is linked to the occupation, be it directly or indirectly, and to boycott all those who profit from the occupation. Those that profit from the occupation, they are more dangerous that the occupation itself.”
Fathy stresses the importance of grassroots organizations, like Jordan Valley Solidarity, “if we can get some money from our friends and supporters everywhere, then we will have enough to survive. We will not depend on funding.” People leading the struggle must come from within the struggle. Fathy also emphasizes this- we do not represent the community, we are the community.
Changing the dynamics of the festering conflict can only occur if the international community sees a role in treating the conflict as a problem needing a solution rather than an exercise in political manoeuvring.
It is clear to anyone with an interest in the conflict that internal Israeli politics has moved beyond the point that will allow Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate the establishment of Palestine without outside assistance.
In an imperfect world, the best hope lies in a UN Security Council resolution that is not opposed by the US or Australia, on setting a deadline for the withdrawal and linked issues. Such a high-level resolution that has both Israeli and Palestinian interests at heart will help both sides to resolve critical final status issues including long-standing Palestinian aspirations and Israeli security needs – difficult and challenging as the compromises required will be.
To continue on the present course will, without question, lead to more violence, more deaths and more misery. Setting a deadline has the potential to change the climate of the conflict, circumventing Israeli political intransigence and giving hope to Palestinians and Israelis.
Change is desperately needed. Australia must play its part.
The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
Thank you very much for making the time available to meet with Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, Bonnie Gelman, Richard Harcourt and Robin Rothfield to discuss our concerns with the Government’s refugee policies.
2. Last July Robin had the pleasure of delivering to your Parliament House office a copy of the book he had just edited entitled “The Drownings’ Argument.” This book was a response to those politicians on both sides of the House who argue that offshore processing is necessary in order to deter asylum seekers from getting on boats. We wonder if you have had an opportunity to read this book and if you have any comments. We have another copy of the book which we should be pleased to give you if this is needed.
3. The Prime Minister and Minister for Immigration keep repeating that they have stopped the boats but the message of the book is that stopping the boats does not solve the problem for the asylum seekers, it merely relocates the problem.
4. Minister Morrison has got his bill amending the Migration Act through Parliament which includes the reintroduction of temporary protection visas. However, whereas it has been argued that TPVs will discourage asylum seekers from coming here by boat, the opposite is the case. This is because TPV holders are not permitted to sponsor family members so to be together the family members have no choice but to risk their lives on a boat. An example of this was with the SIEV X in 2001 when 353 men, women and children drowned while trying to join their loved ones in Australia.
5. Josh, we note from your maiden speech to Parliament that your great-grandparents, and many relatives on both sides of your family, perished in the Holocaust and that your great-aunt Mary Frydenberg spent two years in Auschwitz.
You would no doubt be aware of the SS St Louis which sailed from Hamburg, Germany in 1939 with mostly Jewish refugees on board. The ship headed for Cuba and the United States but most of the refugees were denied landing rights and the ship eventually had to return to Europe where most of the desperate passengers went to the camps.
6. Now imagine for a moment that the St Louis had headed for Australia. Imagine further that Scott Morrison had been Immigration Minister at the time. We know that at the 1938 Evian Conference Australia’s Minister for Trade, Thomas White, informed the Conference that in relation to accepting Jews from Europe, ‘Australia did not have a racial problem and was not desirous of importing one.’ So can there be any doubt that a Minister Scott Morrison of 1939 would have refused entry to the Jewish refugees on board the St Louis?
And if you accept that such a decision in 1939 would have been a wrong decision, then a decision in 2014 to refuse entry to asylum seekers before processing their claims for refugee status is also a wrong decision. If we don’t take the trouble to process their claims then how do we know what dangerous situations they may have escaped from (and may be sent back to)?
Those who do manage to arrive in Australia by boat
7. Arrivals by boat will also no longer have access to the Refugee Review Tribunal. They will have an appeal mechanism which is not a hearing but only a paper review. Josh, I put it to you that this is an alarming and worrying development. Do you agree? If so, what action will you take on the matter?
8. In 2013 Jewish Aid Australia (now known as Stand Up) produced a short video www.whatwouldyoudo.org.au/ in which viewers are asked what they would do in circumstances faced by people in countries where there is armed conflict or persecution.
I strongly urge you to watch this video and then respond as to what you would do.
Then please ask Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison to watch the video and respond as to what they would do in the circumstances portrayed.
9. The Senate had the unenviable choice of voting to allow 108 children to be removed from the Christmas Island Detention Centre while remaining silent on the 200 children left to rot on Nauru, where the safety of refugees has been threatened. As an example, three refugee high school girls were confronted by around 15 teenage Nauruan boys around 11.00am on 5 December at their class room at Nauruan College and punches were thrown. The situation for the Senators has been likened to Sophie’s choice, the video of which follows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaPBzhEsCL0
The 1951 Refugee convention
10. The 1951 Refugee Convention was introduced largely as a result of the experiences of Jewish refugees being prevented from gaining safe haven during the war. In the latest legislation passed through Parliament last week reference to the Refugee Convention has been removed. With the experience of your family in mind, is this a situation you can tolerate?
The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee
11. The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, chaired by Liberal Senator Dean Smith, stated that the proposed government changes to the Migration Act were incompatible with Australia’s human rights obligations (SMH 2 Nov 2014.)
Their report was scathing of nearly all of the government’s proposed changes to the act, saying they would put Australia at odds with international human rights law.
It was particularly critical of a proposal to cut the time in which asylum seekers’ refugee claims would be assessed, warning it could lead to genuine refugees being sent home to face persecution or torture.
Josh, how do you react to this committee’s report? What action will you take to ensure that Australia complies with its human rights obligations, above all that it will comply with its obligation not to deport people who face the risk of persecution (non-refoulement?)
The Migration and Maritime Powers Amendment Legislation (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 and the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014
12. Refugee law is built upon the fundamental principle of non-refoulement: that it is forbidden to return a person to a country where they may be persecuted or tortured.
The new bills, now Australian law, gives the Minister sweeping powers to intercept people at sea and take them anywhere, even to a country with which Australia has no agreement and which may not accept them, regardless of whether Australia has non-refoulement obligations in respect of the persons intercepted.
In other words the Minister is now entitled to return an asylum seeker to a country where they have been, or know they may be, tortured or persecuted.
Josh, why are there provisions such as these included in the legislation? What are the circumstances in which they may be invoked? And how can the current government guarantee that such provisions are not open to abuse by this and future governments?
The toxicity of debate
13. When Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister we had a bipartisan approach to refugee policy. Why can’t we have a healthy bipartisan policy now instead of the current toxic debate?
And why can the government take steps to negotiate and implement a regional approach that recognises the asylum seeker issue as primarily about the protection of people and not about border control?
Tactics used to get Ricky Muir to vote for the bill
14. We have read of allegations that Scott Morrison arranged for children in Christmas Island detention to ring Senator Ricky Muir and beg him to support the Bill and set them free. Would you be able to investigate this allegation and either confirm or deny its validity? According to Refugee Council of Australia’s Phil Glendenning the choice Senators such as Ricky Muir faced was essentially “Sophie’s Choice” in action. (ABC News 7.12.14)
Convention on the Rights of the Child
15. Australia is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but is failing to honour its obligations under the Convention. I append below text from an email sent to me by Save the Children on 27 June 2014. I am happy to forward you the original email if you so desire:
Save the Children’s position remains constant – we continue to maintain a strong objection to the mandatory and prolonged detention of all asylum seekers, especially children. Our experience, both on Nauru and previously on Manus Island, shows that sending people to offshore immigration detention centres threatens their physical, mental and emotional well-being. However, I note that children are no longer held at the offshore immigration detention centre on Manus Island.
In relation to your specific question regarding the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, I refer to the findings of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in 2004, which found that Australia’s mandatory detention system breached a number of human rights, including that:
As a child rights organisation, it is our view that children should only ever be detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Prolonged and mandatory immigration detention explicitly undermines this right. We therefore concur with the previous findings of the AHRC and submit that the current mandatory and protracted nature of Australia’s immigration detention system remains in breach of the human rights of children, young people and adults.
While SCA strives to provide children and young people with good quality education, recreation and child protection services on Nauru, this does not equate to facilitating access to or enjoyment of rights. This is because human rights are indivisible and interdependent. When one human right is undermined or denied, it can adversely affect the advancement of other rights. For example, prolonged immigration detention has been associated with developmental regression and poor physical and mental health, which can in turn affect a child’s ability to fully engage in education and enjoy the highest attainable standard of health. Accordingly, despite our best efforts, it is our view that children cannot have their rights fully realised, or protection guaranteed, while they are in immigration detention.
16. Josh, do you accept the contention that Australia is failing to abide by the Convention on the Rights of the Child? If not, how do you explain your position in light of the above? If yes, what representations will you make with the Minister for Immigration and/or the Prime Minister to address this situation?
17. We frequently hear the Minister for Immigration talk about “illegals” coming to our shores. But as so many top lawyers, including Julian Burnside QC, have pointed out, people coming here by boat to seek asylum are not breaking any law. When Scott Morrison continues to use this terminology we find it very distressing because we feel that this misuse of language can encourage racist feelings in the community. And that is something which we as Jews are very worried about.
18. At Limmud Oz last June Rabbi Genende of the Caulfield Hebrew Congregation delivered a speech on refugee policy which we strongly commend for your attention, and which is attached (Rabbi Genende Limmud Oz). Above all we draw to your attention the following paragraph:
Thus there are other issues, for example the principle of mipnei darchei shalom (for the paths of peace) which is about promoting peace for the honour and dignity of human beings. The honour and dignity of human beings is about making sure that we are not oppressing them, and also that we are saving lives. That’s what needs to be factored into any policy when it comes to asylum seekers and certainly we have a lot to answer for in terms of sending people to places like PNG and Manus if we cannot provide them with protection, if we cannot provide them with asylum, if we do not recognise their vulnerability.
Five questions about the new legislation
19. A good friend of ours from the Hobsons Bay Refugee Network has asked the following five questions and we should be grateful if you could answer them:
Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black
11 December 2014
This legislation reinforces the impoverished vision of Australia as a place which needs to protect itself from asylum seekers rather than offering protection to them; a place where border protection has become a mantra that drowns out the cries of those who seek safety; a place where the cruelty of our politicians mirrors an attitude far too pervasive in our society. The passage of legislation such as this insulates us from our international protection responsibilities and endangers those most in need of safety.
This is simply not acceptable.
Increased public pressure needs to be put on this government to end mandatory detention, release all asylum seekers from detention with appropriate support mechanisms and process all those who seek our protection regardless of their mode of arrival.
The AJDS calls for everyone to do what they can to be part of this desperately needed pressure.
Tales of a City by the Sea was a stunning theatrical experience. It is a many layered love story, set in the Gaza Strip. It is a unique play, written by Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian writer, poet, playwright and political commentator; a wordsmith of great talent. It is a poetic and musical journey into the lives of ordinary people in the besieged Gaza strip prior to, during and after its bombardment in the winter of 2008-9.
Tales of a City by the Sea tells the story of Jumana, (Nicole Chamoun) a Palestinian woman, a journalist who lives in the Shati’ (beach) refugee camp in Gaza and Rami, an American born Palestinian doctor and activist who arrives on the first ‘Free Gaza’ boats in 2008. It is a story of impossible love, crossing cultural as well as national boundaries, intertwined with the parallel tale of Jumana’s cousin, Lama. (Emily Coupe)
Lama is the reluctant fiancé of an entrepreneurial local Gazan, (Reece Vella) a tunnel smuggler, a fixer, a man bereft of family, besotted with Lama, who, in turn longs for the “great romantic love” and constantly postpones any final commitment. Together Jumana and Lama look longingly out to sea, discussing the endless possibilities that lie beyond the horizon.
And then come the boats. Boats to break the blockade. And on one of those boats, in the finest romantic tradition, comes Rami, a wealthy Bostonian doctor, born in the USA to a family of Palestinian origins and a mother (Wahibe Moussa) with important connections. Wahibe Moussa is a star. As Rami’s mother, she is a force of nature. But even she cannot breach the blockade that isolates Gaza from the outside world.
Osemah Sami as Rami is suitably handsome, blissfully blind to the mores of traditional and Hamas enforced Muslim Gaza. And he wears socks with his sandals. Oi vey! Osemah Sami is simply superb as Rami.
Jumana is the adored and adoring daughter, of a not so simple fisherman (Majid Shokor) and his wife, (Cara Whitehouse) a woman who alone could terrify the IDF (according to her husband). Other children have married and live outside Gaza on the West Bank. Relationships with grandchildren can only be conducted by Skype. Cara Whitehouse and Majid Shokor play Jumana’s parents to great effect, bringing alive the pain of exile and separation from extended family, especially grandchildren
Jumana’s laptop plays a very significant and at moments, erotic role in this tragic romance.
And then there is the voice and the music. Hauntingly beautiful, exquisitely sung, the music and the poetry add another level to the writing and serve to deepen the impact of this powerful story of imprisonment, separation and finally bombardment. Assel Tayah has the voice of an angel. I have never heard any music like this. Not quite the Arab music one hears on Israeli radio. Definitely Middle Eastern in origin, but different. The program notes that the sound design is by Khaled Sabsabi and the sound mix is by Max Scholler –Root.
As this lovingly wrought, gentle tale continues, with the sea always in the foreground, the inevitable scenario turns dark. Rami returns to the USA ostensibly to close his clinic and prepare for life in Gaza. In reality, he dreams of freeing Jumana from her prison, to deliver her to a life of luxury and liberty in the USA. She has sworn never to leave her family or her country.
On December 27th 2008, Operation Caste Lead begins and the bombardment destroys Jumana’s home, kills all of Lama’s large family and brings back Rami, smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels. He works day and night as a doctor to save lives and comes at last to grips with the Gazan reality.
One month later, in the shadow of the ruins of her dreams, Lama agrees to marry her long suffering and patient fiancé. “He”, she explains to a skeptical Jumana, who is still in the throes of romantic love, “will always be a good provider. We will always have plenty to eat and he will give me a good life. Together we will build a new family.” They marry and within the year, Lama is pregnant.
Commentators often remark on the large numbers of children, educated women bear in Gaza. Samah Sabawi demonstrates exactly why this is so. As long as families are destroyed, there will always be a natural urge to rebuild them. Similar sentiments were expressed by many Holocaust survivors.
Meanwhile Rami tries to persuade Jumana that there is no future for them or their children in such a place. But she still refuses to leave. Love conquers all and again he returns to the USA to close his practice and prepare finally for a life in Gaza. On entering the US, he is arrested, charged with being a Hamas terrorist and we are left with Jumana, once again gazing out to the sea and the horizon beyond, imprisoned, but infinitely patient.
Tales from a City by the Sea is a universal story of love which crosses boundaries and checkpoints, cultures and nationalities; of grandmothers and grandfathers who will never be able to know their grandchildren, whose own children will become distant and alien. The tyranny of distance, which figures so large in the Australian experience, cannot be compared to the cruelty of the blockade of Gaza, which began in June 2007 and continues to this day, but it resonates with those who feel forever separated from their kin.
The performance, which I saw on the 23rd of November, the final afternoon of its far too short, sell out, season, at La Mama Theatre, in Melbourne, Australia, took place literally at the opposite end of the world from Gaza, a 36 hour direct flight distant. The production was an overwhelming achievement. All the components of good theatre, acting, casting, set design, dress and music all came together under the superb direction of Lech Machiewicz.
Having just flown in from Tel Aviv, the authenticity of the characters played by the actors was breathtaking. I could have sworn that Lama was the check out girl at our local supermarket and that Jumana was sitting at the table next to us at a wedding we attended in Jericho.
Nicole Chamoun, Jumana, is probably one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Her acting ability matches her looks and she is already well on the way to a great career.
Emily Coupe as Lama, the chatterbox cousin, with her sexy tight jeans and hijab could be any Palestinian teenager shopping in Ramallah or on the streets of Jaffa, texting as she walks and gossips with her friends.
Lama’s fiancé, Reece Vella is uncanny in his portrayal of the non stop cigarette smoking fixer, tunnel smuggler, entrepreneur. Ubaldino Mantelli completes this multi ethnic cast, a testament to the rich diversity of Melbourne’s immigrant heritage.
The set is simple and effective. Sheets hung on receding lines to be drawn as needed. Domestic images of washing hung to dry on balconies and rooftops of apartment buildings lining the sea shore The same sea whose waves crash on the shores of Tartus in Syria, on Beirut in Lebanon, on ‘our’ beach, the Tzuk Beach in North Tel Aviv, Israel, and onto Jumana’s beach in Gaza. It is the same sea.
On November 22nd 2014, The Alrowwad Cultural and Theater Society performed a production of Tales of a City by the Sea in Bethlehem, Palestine. The production was directed by Dr.Abdelfattah Abusrour. Dr Abdelfattah Abusrour stressed the importance of this production, citing the lack of theatrical works that explore the Gaza case and Diaspora Palestinians. The play, he writes, demonstrates the role of theatre in supporting the Palestinian cultural values of beautiful resistance against the violence of occupation and its ugliness.