By Larry Stillman.
Hello all, I ran home like crazy to try to put in a report about the anti-Trump demo for those who are observant though as far as I can see, the sun is well and truly shining.
Yes, there was a 1/2 hearted from Palestine to Mexico slogan attempt by the young ‘chair’ of the protest that annoyed me a bit, but there were as far as I can tell, no anti-Israel signs or posters, at least at the state library. I did not stay for the March down Bourke Street (why they felt the need to hold up trams etc. I don’t know, but this is masorti).
Only one speaker made strong allusion to Israeli/Palestine as a parallel case of exclusion, and frankly, he said nothing that the ‘true’ Israeli left or Haaretz would not say.
Richard di Natale spoke first (or was it second?), and nothing he said would have been objected to by anyone who opposes Trump.
And thank you to Sheikh Mohamed Mohideen, of the Islamic Council for such perceptive and kind words about the important role of the Jewish community in the US –unity being shown- despite differences. I hope this message got through to more than a few people in attendance.
Alexjo Sandra Nissen spoke and was great. The politics of the very factional left organisers may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it is fair to say that Alex was out there, loud, and proud, as an authentic Australian-Israeli activist (yes, not a Zionist, but a believer in bi-nationalism) who does not accept the current mainstream and especially Netanyahu narrative that supports, borders, walls, and discrimination. It took some effort to get the organisers to be inclusive. I think they learned a lesson, and she got a lot of applause.
Watch the recording here.
And a reflection: decades ago, a lot more protests, particularly on Vietnam War issues, were coordinated by a number of church, union, and other organisations. Such people and structures knew each other very well and used to working through differences and the order and focus of events (maybe students were more anarchic, I think so). And, the division of labour was well, highly gendered. I think most of the key people were men, and women were at home with the kids, or did the typing etc. It’s not like that any more. Of course there were exceptions, like Save our Sons.
It was on International Holocaust Memorial Day this year, after issuing a statement that made no mention of Jewish – nor any other – victims of the Holocaust, that Donald Trump signed an Executive Order banning people from 7 predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. The effects were swift and brutal: people who were born in, or are citizens of, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen were immediately banned from entering, with the result being that numerous people were detained, deported, and refused permission to fly. Refugees and others, whether migrating or seeking temporary entrance, were refused entry. This was a closing of the borders in a way which is both a continuation of what has come before, but also something new. As a settler-colony and with a slave history, the United States was founded on such murderous violence: this action is the latest, brutal step in this chain.
Encouragingly, the response was also swift: people across the United States and across the world have stood up in opposition and actively campaigned to oppose this measure and act in solidarity with those detained and impacted by the order.
The AJDS stands alongside them. We seek to make clear that we stand in solidarity with Muslim communities, and others, across the world in our outrage and resistance to this new Executive Order. It is a deplorable, racist, attack on people’s abilities to live their lives: it is causing immense violence.
The AJDS also stands opposed to the response issued by the Australian government, and utterly refutes the idea that they should be working closely with Trump to punitively enforce borders, as Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison have said they will. We know well the racism and violence which already characterises Australia’s ongoing settler-colonialism and treatment of refugees. Rather than increasing border control, just as the United States must reverse this closure of its borders, and work beyond that to a fairer and more open migration system, so too must Australia vastly change its current conditions.
Like many Jews around the world – many of whom are uniting under the banner of #JewishResistance – we remember the lessons of the Holocaust vastly differently to the meanings that Trump, Steve Bannon and their Nazi and white supremacist allies have sought to give it this year. We remember the devastating violence and loss caused by genocide, and we commit to acting in that memory, and in the knowledge of that history, for a more just world. Some of us carry family histories of being refugees, and we all carry that historical knowledge, and so we stand alongside the world’s current refugees in calling for them to be granted access to safety wherever they seek it.
The executive of the AJDS calls on members, supporters, and all Jews who seek justice to actively take a stand against both our government and the US government, and the ways in which they treat racialised minorities, including refugee, migrant, Muslim, and Indigenous communities. Sign a petition, call a politician, attend a rally, have a conversation, donate money, sign up to an organisation’s email list, read new stories, write new narratives: the list of things that each of us can do is endless. If everyone commits to doing one thing everyday, in partnership and solidarity with others around the world, then we can affect serious change. We can only do it together though, acting in solidarity and for justice.
This statement was released by the AJDS 31/1/17
On October 5th 2016 13 pro-Palestine activists on board the ship Zaytouna-Oliva of the Women’s Boat to Gaza were stopped by the Israeli army in international waters and then detained and deported. We send our support and solidarity to the women who sailed on the ship for their courage and commitment to bring attention to the dire situation in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli led blockade since 2007.
While the women on board the ship have now been released, the blockade of Gaza remains, leaving 1.9 million Palestinians effectively imprisoned. Due to Israeli military measures, about one-third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible (Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur). Last year, a United Nations report predicted that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020. More than 70% of the population relies on humanitarian aid, 47% of the population suffer from food insecurity, and 95% of the tap water is unsafe for drinking. The legality of the blockade has been disputed, with independent UN panels asserting it to be unlawful under international law as it constitutes collective punishment.
The captain of the Women’s Boat to Gaza was a woman from Hobart, Madeleine Habib. Speaking on her involvement in the ship to Gaza, Ms Habib said: “Once you’ve been there and you understand the suffering and humiliation and the slow wasting away of a culture and of the people, it’s only then that you realise it’s something we need to stand together to stop.”
We call on Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to condemn Israel’s policies of occupation and to support steps to lifting the blockade on Gaza in recognising the principles of Palestinian self-determination. We also call for measures to be taken to ensure that all parties adhere to ceasefire conditions and that the easing of the blockade on Gaza is met with the cessation of rockets fired into Israel. There can be no peaceful solution while Israel and Egypt maintain their blockades leading to the siege of Gaza which is producing unlivable conditions for Palestinians in Gaza.
This statement was issued by the AJDS Executive Committee October 17, 2016
‘Illegal Israeli Settlements are obstacles to peace and the Two-State Solution’, heard members of the UN Security Council. In a powerful condemnation of Israel’s Settlement expansion policy, Lara Friedman of Peace Now (US), and B’tselem‘s executive director, Hagai El-Ad, addressed the UN last week in a session organized by The Permanent Missions of Malaysia, Egypt, Senegal, Angola, and Venezuela.
The session was filmed and transcribed. Friedman starts her talk at about 7 minutes in, and El-Ad follows:
Lara Friedman stated:
We have all also heard Israeli government spokespeople claim that Israel is not establishing new settlements or expanding settlements beyond their current areas. But hidden behind that claim is the fact that just between 2009 and 2015, under Netanyahu, the government of Israel authorized or worked to give legal authorization to at least 26[xi] [xii] settlement sites established by settlers in contravention of Israeli law – often referred to as illegal outposts. These sites are thus being transformed into new official settlements, or into new and often remote “neighborhoods” of existing settlements, dramatically expanding the footprint of those settlements.
Read the full transcript of Lara Friedman’s speech: http://peacenow.org/entry.php?id=20994#.WAMEkXry2T_
Hagai El-Ad’s speech was equally important:
What does it mean, in practical terms, to spend 49 years, a lifetime, under military rule? When violence breaks out, or when particular incidents attract global attention, you get a glimpse into certain aspects of life under occupation. But what about the rest of the time? What about the many “ordinary” days of a 17,898-day-long occupation, which is still going strong? Living under military rule mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily, violence. It means living under an endless permit regime, which controls Palestinian life from cradle to grave: Israel controls the population registry; Israel controls work permits; Israel controls who can travel abroad – and who cannot; Israel controls who can visit from abroad – and who cannot; in some villages, Israel maintains lists of who can visit the village, or who is allowed to farm which fields. Permits can sometimes be denied; permits must always be renewed. Thus with every breath they take, Palestinians breathe in occupation. Make a wrong move, and you can lose your freedom of movement, your livelihood, or even the opportunity to marry and build a family with your beloved.
Read Hagai El-Ad’s full speech: http://www.btselem.org/se…/20161014_security_council_address.
We share with you the following initiative from Love Makes a Way:
Join us in a Powerful Act of Truth-Telling!
Can you sense change is coming? In response to the #NauruFiles, refugee advocates from all different organisations have been holding vigils, rallies and peaceful acts of civil disobedience to let the Government and Opposition know that enough is enough — Australia’s inhumane treatment of people seeking asylum must end.
As part of this ongoing effort, a coalition of organisations, including LMAW, will be holding #NauruFiles reading vigils around Australia during the week of 12–16 Sept, 2016. At these vigils we will be aiming to read as many of the 2,116 incident reports as possible, as a way to publicly narrate the cruelty that’s occurring in Australia’s detention centres.
Please share this event on Facebook,
and announce it at your church on the weekend.
We want to send a message to the Government and Opposition that the abuse, assault and conditions detailed in the Nauru reports must end, and that they must take responsibility for their poor decisions and the culture of secrecy that has been created around immigration detention.
Most of all, we want to see Australia’s offshore detention camps shut down immediately. Will you join us?
Whether you can give an hour or ten, head to your nearest reading vigil to help us narrate the truth from within our detention centres.
Monday 12 September
BRISBANE: 8am–6pm, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 299 Adelaide St, Brisbane
Tuesday 13 September
ADELAIDE: 8am–5pm, Pilgrim Uniting Church Forecourt, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide
Wednesday 14 September
MELBOURNE: 8am–6pm, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 2 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Thursday 15 September
PERTH: 8am–6pm, Wesley Church, 75 William St, Perth
Friday 16 September
SYDNEY: 8am–6pm, Queen Victoria Building (south end), Cnr George St and Druitt St, Sydney
Like many around the country, members of the AJDS were appalled watching the Four Corners episode last Monday which told the stories of the brutality of Don Dale prison. Although these stories have been previously reported on and shared – particularly by Aboriginal peoples, groups, and media – it was this airing which captured the nation’s attention. Now that our attention has been drawn, we are surely responsible for responding with action.
Aboriginal incarceration rates across Australia are higher today than they were during the days of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and indeed almost none of the recommendations issued by the Royal Commission have been implemented. Across the country, Indigenous children are 26 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in detention. In the Northern Territory, 97 percent of the youths in jail are Indigenous. These facts and statistics point to a problem of over-policing of Aboriginal people, as their lives are routinely criminalised and their bodies treated by the state as expendable. The current situation is part of a very long history of colonisation in this country – understanding why matters are as they are today, and working to change the situation, must therefore deal with the underlying problems caused by our continuing settler-colonial present. We must work towards decolonisation and justice for Aboriginal peoples. Proper land rights and self-determination is required.
We also need to be making connections between the incarceration of Aboriginal people – both children and adults – and the continued indefinite detention of asylum seekers, in Australia and in detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island. If we look across these different groups of people, we can see that this country is one with a disastrous relationship to locking up racialised people. Racism in this country has many outlets: these are but two.
While the Federal Government has announced a Royal Commission, large groups of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and across Australia have made clear that this is an ineffective response. AJDS stands alongside these groups and calls for more serious and immediate changes to be made.
Last weekend we saw protests on the streets of almost all the capital cities in Australia. In Melbourne, led by Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR), people occupied the intersection of Swanston and Flinders streets for 12 hours. On Tuesday, family members and community members of the Aboriginal children incarcerated in Don Dale held a sit in in the Chief Minister of the NT’s office and made a series of demands, and called on people around the country to jam the phones and emails of Adam Giles, Nigel Scullion, John Elferink and Malcolm Turnbull every Tuesday until their demands are met. Their demands are:
We encourage all AJDS members and supporters to make phone calls and send emails in support of these demands. We also encourage you to watch the WAR Facebook page, and join in any actions they call, standing in solidarity with them and their work. This is an issue which requires our immediate and ongoing response and action. Beyond feeling horrified, it is clear that we must do something.
This statement was issued August 5, 2016.
By Yael Winikoff.
Journalist Omar H. Rahman has said “the topic (of normalisation) is reaching a fever pitch within Palestinian society.”1 The issue is most certainly pertinent in Palestinian discourse, at times very divisive, and clearly an issue relevant to AJDS’s stance on Israel/Palestine. Further to arguments and counterarguments around the normalisation debate, how can we implement some of these lessons into the work that we do?
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has defined normalization specifically in a Palestinian and Arab context “as the participation in any project, initiative or activity, in Palestine or internationally, that aims (implicitly or explicitly) to bring together Palestinians (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (people or institutions) without placing as its goal resistance to and exposure of the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people.” This definition is also endorsed by the BDS National Committee (BNC). PACBI’s website further states: “Normalization is the colonization of the mind, whereby the oppressed subject comes to believe that the oppressor’s reality is the only “normal” reality that must be subscribed to, and the oppression is a fact of life that must be coped with.”
The anti-normalization movement is in close quarters with the BDS movement in that it has called for an end to all interactions between Israelis and Palestinians that do not subscribe to the same three key tenets: ending the occupation; equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians; and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The movement has much traction in Palestinian communities, with virtually the entire political spectrum of Palestinian youth, student organizations and unions in the occupied Palestinian territory supporting anti-normalisation.2 The radical arm of the Palestinian anti-normalisation movement occasionally rejects any interaction with Israel and Israelis, and is also the subject of robust debate.3
The discourse of coexistence echoes the same tensions implicit in normalisation. Coexistence projects and initiatives tend not to highlight the power imbalances present between Israelis and Palestinians and as such seek to foster a seed of hope for both peoples living together side by side in a peace that does not recognise the core demands of Palestinian civil society.
Palestinians and Jews holding hands around Jerusalem, or attending hug rallies, may make us feel optimistic and guilt free inside, but does little to challenge the very real conditions of occupation and oppression that is daily lived by Palestinians. It does little to illustrate the differing lives lived by participants, by oppressor and oppressed, when they go back to their homes and privileges after a well photographed snapshot of coexistence. What it says, is both parties can rise above the social stigmas and national narratives that give fuel to the intractability of the conflict, without ever actually addressing the conflict itself. It occurs within a vacuum, whereby celebrations of the act of a Palestinian holding hands with a Jew is excised from the very real subject of power that exists in that space. While a Jewish Israeli has more rights and privileges, including freedom of movement, safety from the violence of the occupation, access to State delivered services derived from contested land and water resources, etc., a Jew and Palestinian holding hands in Jerusalem are existent in very differing spaces.
The arguments against coexistence seek to posit a framework where these injustices and power imbalances are addressed rather than normalised and obfuscated. Coexisting means life as usual, no matter how unjust it is. It is easy for an Israeli who participates in normalisation projects to feel that they are not part of the problem. That because they have Palestinian friends of colleagues they have surpassed the oppressions designated within society, even if they are doing nothing to address the injustices that are being committed by their society.
This is exemplified by the fact that almost all coexistence groups in Israel are run by Jews, with funding coming often from Jewish donors abroad or locally. These groups have also received criticism for engaging a “token Arab as co-director.” The post-Oslo period saw an explosion in normalisation programs, which gained credibility and funding when words such as “joint” or “coexistence” were used. The Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information estimates that between September 1993 until September 2000 US$20-$25 million was allocated for funding people-to-people projects.4 Coexistence programs became lucrative while the issue of the deteriorating conditions for Palestinians under occupation remained undealt with, leading to a growing anti-normalisation movement.5
The peace movement has long been dragged along a never ending process of dialogue which has led Palestinians further away from goals of self-determination and achieving statehood. It has done this with the help of projects, rhetoric and images that have fuelled the propaganda required to render the process of negotiations detrimental, such as the staged and now iconic image of coexistence.
In Australia, while some Jews may feel no connections to Israel, we still possess more rights via the Law of return than Palestinians. According to this law we can enter and live in Israel and automatically be assigned the same set of privileges enjoyed by Israeli Jews. So too, coexistence and normalisation projects in Australia serve the same asymmetrical power imbalances existing in Israel.
While anti-normalisation discourse has gained much traction, there is also rigorous critique of its ideologies and methods. Some argue that shutting off to individuals and organisations plays into the hands of the status quo, and is not an effective means of achieving Palestinian rights and self-determination.6 Joel Braunold and Huda Abuarquob, two leaders of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, an umbrella group of civil society activists in Israel and Palestine assert:
“In their effort to delegitimize coexistence programming, anti-normalization activists lampoon people-to-people activities as Israelis and Palestinians coming together to eat hummus then go home. This is an utterly false representation of the people-to-people movement today. Look at the thousands engaged by Parents Circle or Combatants for Peace, the farmers whose crops have not wasted thanks to Olive Oil Without Borders or the communities receiving fresh water owing to the work of EcoPeace. These are just a sample of thousands of people whose lives have been changed through joint programs.”
Interviews and discussions with dissenting Israelis and Jews has found that many individuals who in time challenge the occupation rather than following the status quo began questioning their position after interpersonal interactions with Palestinians. This must in part be credited to the work of person to person coexistence projects. Anti-normalisation beckons the question where is the room for debate, for discussion, for convincing someone who doesn’t subscribe to your own view?7
However, these counterarguments articulating the gains of coexistence and normalisation projects are increasingly being met with dialogue which addresses the complexities of the issue and attempts to etch out ways of working that subvert normalisation. For example, there are a number of organisations that have undergone self-reflection and restructured their organisation and programs to deliver more shared decision making structures and moderation, and altered their discourse on dialogue and co-participation. The principles espoused in the anti-normalisation camp does not posit a complete disengagement of Israelis and Palestinians, but rather a reflection on the work and outcomes that are achieved by such relationships, with a focus on ending the occupation, solidarity and “coresistance.”
Whilst various bodies have provided parameters of ant-normalisation, likening it to BDS demands, the critique of normalisation stands on its own merit as a valid deconstruction of the impact of normalisation projects. In campaigning for justice for Palestinians, we can unpack the work that we do and ask ourselves whether we are fostering a “life as normal” paradigm implicated in coexistence projects, and whether we are explicitly or implicitly endorsing the status quo. We can actively seek to become aware of the privileges that we have as Jews or Israelis.
And in addressing the question of where the room for debate and discussion is within the disengagement of anti-normalisation, in the Australian context there is plenty of room for establishing these spaces for discussion within our own Jewish communities. Whilst Palestinian stories, narratives and lived experience is central to the occupation, the occupation itself, as a policy of the Israeli State is something that can, and should be discussed within Jewish, Zionist, and Israeli spaces.
In the past two weeks there has been an unprecedented attack against human rights activists in the Israeli media and in the Israeli political system. This includes what appear to be trumped up charges against two Jewish and one Palestinian employee on the basis of spying by semi-privatised intelligence agencies funded by settler organisations and supporters, filtered through sensationalist media.
As of January 22nd, it is still unclear if the Jewish detainees will actually be released next week, despite a court order. The Palestinian detainee has been removed from Israel civil jurisdiction and sent to a military prison, an example of the form of local apartheid that exists between Israel proper and the Occupied Territories. Guy Butavia, one of those arrested, said in court “This is a political arrest, its entire goal is to hurt our work for Human Rights in the Palestinian territories, and against the crimes and criminals of occupation. Everything they will try to pin on us, it won’t work. This case will crumble, and they can’t break us. They can’t”.
Coupled with a move to force NGOs that receive foreign funding to wear stigmatizing badge when in the Knesset building, and other activities by extreme right-wing organisations such as the ‘student’ organisation Im Tirzu, Israeli civil society is under threat. And of course, gangs still appear to be free to harass and conduct graffiti and other attacks against churches and mosques, pursue ‘mixed couples’, and books on such topics are forbidden in school.
In an environment wracked by the current wave of horrendous inter-communal violence, which we absolutely condemn, more than ever, it is time to show solidarity with human rights organisations in Israel.
The use of gag orders by the Israeli authorities–frowned upon by Menahem Begin–is a demonstration of how politicized and dangerous the situation has become, where a virulent nationalism has taken hold. We don’t know who is next to be caught up in a secret political swoop. What has been used for years against Palestinians is now being used against dissenting Jews (and we hold the same concerns for the secret conduct of investigations into the Duma murders). One of the benchmarks of a free society is open and due process. This is entirely missing now.
This will only serve to isolate Israel even further from the world community
What can you do? You can directly support affected organisations, by making donations to them via their websites, and by conveying your displeasure and concern to the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, here.
We mention organisations such as Ta’ayush (a non-Zionist human rights collective), and Rabbis for Human Rights (a strongly Zionist organistion), and B’tzelem or Shovrim Shtika/Breaking the Silence, also Zionist, because this range show that human rights and ethical behaviour is an issue that concerns people of different political and ethical orientations in the Israeli Jewish community.
But despite the campaign against civil society organisations in Israel, we must not forget the daily humiliation and harassment faced by Palestinians, and the important of witnessing organisations, such as Ta’ayush and RHR, which go out in the field, all the time. As Ta’ayush says:
“Harassment of Palestinian farmers and shepherds in South Hebron hills by both settlers and the army continues. These forces take over their lands and prevent them from accessing it. Without the presence of activists, many farmers don’t get the chance to cultivate their land.
There is a direct link between the number of activists who come to accompany the farmers and their ability to live a relatively normal life.” [found here]
We are also deeply disappointed that leading Australian Jewish community organisations have fallen silent in the face of attempts to demonise human rights activity in the country. Their silence and complicity at this time is indefensible. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Occupation, we need say, “Not in Our Name” and let this be known.
This official statement was released by the AJDS January 23, 2016
By Alon Idan
Haaretz supplement, 20/2/2015
Translated by Keren Rubinstein
‘Occupation’ is not a good word. It takes the Israeli away from reality instead of bringing him closer to it. ‘The Occupation’ has a permanent place in the Israeli hall of collective consciousness, therefore there’s no need to consider it afresh when it is heard or called out. When there’s no longer a need to rethink an uttered word, then its link with considered thought about it and its real meaning is lost; the word becomes a museum artefact, archival material.
The reason ‘occupation’ isn’t a good word is also tied up to the fact that the Occupation doesn’t describe the problems themselves, the reality, the actuality; ‘the occupation’ is the reason such problems came into being as part of that reality. The Palestinians don’t suffer from an ‘occupation’ (as someone might ‘suffer from fever’ or ‘suffers from pain’), but they do suffer from a harsh reality borne of occupation. In that sense ‘occupation’ is a word that sounds better to Israeli ears, because it plasters militaristic and strategic content onto the reality of suffering.
That is why spoken Hebrew has come to feature the word ‘Apartheid’, not so much to describe historical identification with South Africa; ‘Apartheid’ in the Israeli-Palestinian context came into being in order to rethink the words; to uproot the usual place ‘Occupation’ occupies in the air-conditioned hall of Israeli consciousness and launch ones associations to new fields of institutionalized racism.
But the problem with the word ‘Apartheid’ is clear: it is taken from a different place and a different time, so that unconsciously it takes the Israeli away from the critical sense of what is happening here and now. Furthermore, ‘Apartheid’ implies that events for which we are responsible aren’t original, but rather are a copy or a variation of something that has already happened. This is a destructive message, because there is great value in originality and singularity – even that of crimes. A copy can never cast a shadow over an original.
In order to change reality one has to struggle with the words describing it. The ability to reactivate thought about reality is critical, because every time someone is forced to rethink things, there is a chance he might want to change them; and each time he isn’t forced to think about things, but just deal with their bureaucracy – that is, the usual filing system for those words – the chance he’ll want to change things diminishes.
The most important task for those seeking to change reality, the one in which Israel has been crushing millions of people for decades, is to locate the words that will reactivate Israelis’ thought. In order to reactivate thought, bothersome words must be located; words that will accurately describe what happens in actual lives, in daily reality, words that will not suffice with a militaristic and strategic description, or with terms that have been borrowed from elsewhere.
The time has come to put away ‘occupation’ and ‘conflict’ and even ‘apartheid’ – which have been coerced into collaborating with reality. The time has come to use simple words, every day words – words that are therefore accessible. Office words, for instance. When an employee feels flattened under the weight of the boss’ boots, he says “my boss is abusing me”. Therefore ‘abuse’ is a good word. Not ‘the Israeli Occupation’ but ‘Israeli abuse’. When someone feels bad at work, he says, ‘I’m sick of it, I suffer every day’. Therefore ‘suffering’ is a good word. ‘Palestinian suffering’.
Bibi [Netanyahu’s] electrician gets along really well with the Occupation. Because he gets along so well with the Occupation, Israelis are more interested in the electrician than in the Occupation. We have to make Bibi’s electrician not get along with the Occupation. He has to be made to feel that he’s abusing people and is causing others’ suffering. Bibi’s electrician won’t accept these terms, he’ll deny them, he’ll object to them. But that’s exactly what must be done to all the electricians working for Bibi [Netanyahu], and Buji [Herzog], and Tzipi [Livni], and Naftali [Bennet] – they must be made to stop connecting wires from the kitchen to the lounge room for one moment, and to scream: Us? Abusers? Where did you get that from?
We got it from the papers, we’ll tell them. From the headlines in the newspapers. There’s no occupation there. Only electricians.
 Translator’s note: this is a reference to one of numerous allegations of embezzlement made against the Netanyahus. The Prime Ministerial household had underhandedly continued to employ an electrician to do copious and overpriced amounts of work, despite being legally required to employ a different, un-affiliated contractor. A Likkud supporter and family friend, the electrician’s services were sought almost every weekend, including on Yom Kippur, while his charges far exceeded the PM’s household budget, paid for by the State.
By Hagai El-Ad, CEO of B’Tselem
Accountability is at the core of protecting human rights. For without it, especially during times of war and military conflict, how can one hope for justice? What recourse do we have against abuses of power or violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)?
This is why so much of the work of the organization I head, B’Tselem, in the occupied Palestinian Territories, focuses on identifying violations, collecting data and testimonies, and bringing them to the attention of the relevant investigative bodies, primarily the IDF Military Advocate General (MAG), in order to achieve what is our moral and professional responsibility, what victims of human rights violations deserve: justice for past abuses, deterrence against future misdeeds.
The pursuit of accountability has seen its worst failures in recent years in the context of the repeated cycles of violence in and around The Gaza Strip. On all relevant sides, the picture is grim.
Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups commit blatant violations of IHL but have never been made to suffer the legal consequences. This clearly contributes to the repetition of these violations, including in the most recent round of conflict this past summer.
With regard to Israel, serious questions have been raised as to the legality of the army’s conduct during the recent offensive known as “operation Protective Edge.” During the operation, over 2,100 Palestinians were killed, at least half, even Israel concedes, did not participate in the hostilities. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.
With this paramount destruction in mind, and in light of B’Tselem’s long term experience and research, we are convinced that the current investigative apparatus simply cannot – indeed, won’t – guarantee accountability.
Major systemic flaws beset the current Israeli system for domestic investigations of potential IHL violations during military operations. The major ones being that the system is not equipped to investigate senior officials and military commanders who made policy decisions that lead to the loss of hundreds of Palestinian lives. Nor does it make sense for the MAG – who was responsible for legally authorizing measures suspected of being unlawful – to be charged with retrospectively deciding whether to initiate a criminal investigation into his own conduct and that of his subordinates.
One major case in point is 2009’s “operation Cast Lead.” Then too, hundreds of incidents were examined by the army, over 50 led to criminal investigations. Eventually, out all this performance, of the three cases where criminal charges were brought, the harshest sentence was served by a soldier who stole a credit card from a home in Gaza. Hundreds of civilian casualties, thousands injured, tens of thousands homeless – and a single credit card.
A poor investigations-to-convictions ratio is not, in itself, proof that the entire system is constructed in order to deny accountability. Still, the extreme dissonance between the enormity of the questions and the bottom line – that credit card – should give us pause, especially considering the breadth of paperwork created through these “investigations”, and official statements explaining the motivation to go through all this.
Major General Danny Efroni, the current Chief MAG, expressed a common official view of the matter in his recent description of “a legal battle” that will be waged by Israel against “the [international] commission of inquiry already established … legal entities in Israel and abroad who seek to blame Israel, the IDF, and its soldiers with war crimes.” Granted, Efroni accepts that “During combat there may be irregular events and mishaps, that under such circumstances could also lead to tragic and undesirable consequences”, but his framing the discussion in these terms leaves out the obligation to investigate potential violations of IHL, to take responsibility, to ensure justice is done. Keeping the matter in the realm of public relations and Israel’s international standing brings us dangerously close to a void of accountability, where the MAG’s work is celebrated as a tool to “shield” possible Israeli violations from scrutiny.
And now, a short time after this summer’s offensive, this theatre of the absurd is on the road once again. The military has appointed senior officers to look at dozens of incidents, several criminal investigations have been opened. Others might follow. The MAG’s office has asked B’Tselem to refer “irregular” cases to its attention, as we have done after Cast Lead and other operations.
After serious consideration, B’Tselem decided this time around to cast itself in a new role. As long as the shortcomings in the existing investigative mechanism remain, we will not participate in this renewed performance of MAG investigations.
* * *
We have not given up on our quest for accountability, quite the contrary. But we have concluded that the most effective path towards it does not involve working with a system structured to evade responsibility. Calling this system’s bluff is our best chance to promote a change. What is urgently needed now is an investigation apparatus to seriously and objectively examine suspected violations of international humanitarian law during Operation Protective Edge. A sufficient mechanism would be professional, transparent, and independent – both of the military system and of the political establishment. Independent international observers in the investigation may greatly enhance the investigation’s credibility.
Such a mechanism, if established, will be met by B’Tselem’s best professional efforts and commitment to the truth. Until that day, we will share our findings with the public, online and through social media. A mechanism geared towards impunity will never deliver justice, and justice will not be served by playing a willing part in such a system.