31 August 2007

31 August 2007 - Tribute to Theo Schkolne

Theo Schkolne, who is celebrating his birthday today (Happy Birthday!), is one of the pioneers of media activism in Cape Town around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was moved to act by a propaganda film (purporting to be a “news report”) that aired on e-TV. The film was called “Lifting the Veil,” and in his critique, co-written in August 2001--prior to both the Durban racism conference and 9/11--with Shauna Westcott, Theo lifted the veil on the manufacture of media bias in South Africa.



Written by Theo Schkolne and Shauna Westcott (August 2001)

Screened most recently on 29 June and 11 July 2001, “Lifting the Veil” is introduced and advertised as an E-TV “special news report”. But it soon becomes clear that it is an opinion piece and we are told as much by Faizel Cook, the writer and narrator. The subject matter is two-fold: the suffering of the Iraqi people under United Nations sanctions and the plight of the Palestinians.

In the section on Iraq, Cook ignores such key issues as why Iraq finds itself in its current predicament, the role of Iraq as a regional bully, the Iraqi slaughter of countless thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq, and why Saddam Hussein refuses to allow UN arms inspectors to return. He makes no reference to Saddam Hussein’s intransigence and how this functions to perpetuate the suffering of the Iraqi people. No opponents to Saddam’s despotic rule are canvassed, no dissident voices heard.

Instead, the viewer is shown terrible and moving scenes of children dying as a result of a lack of essential medicines. We are told that 1,3 million Iraqis have died as a direct result of sanctions, many more than during the Gulf War. Cook then interviews a number of “medical activists” who make the unverified claim that there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of cancer-related illnesses and deformities in children since the Gulf War. This is blamed on the Americans who, again without any verification, are accused of using uranium-depleted shells on the population. Iraqi torching of Kuwaiti oil wells and the resultant toxic cloud over the region is unmentioned. We are told how wonderful life was in this oil-rich country before sanctions (there were no beggars on the streets, now there are many) and how the economy has been destroyed.

The Iraqi component ends with critical questions unasked, possible solutions unexamined. The viewer is merely invited to participate in pervasive feelings of resentment and anger at the injustices portrayed. The intention is clearly to leave the audience with the impression of a patriotic, proud and suffering nation in solidarity with their leadership in opposing “American-led aggression”.

In this instance and overall, “Lifting the Veil” transgresses the basic rules of fair reporting. Cook states at the outset that his work “makes no attempt at being an objective piece of journalism”. Rather, he says, “this is how I saw it ... this is my story”. But even an “opinion piece” should attempt to provide the viewer with a reasonable account of the context—at least the most pertinent background information. To utterly neglect this basic requirement of honest story telling, particularly in relation to a region so volatile and tormented as Israel/Palestine, is so extremely irresponsible that it must smack of sinister purpose.

In place of a fair hearing for both parties to the conflict, Cook relies on highly emotionally charged testimony from one side alone—and from an extremist sector of that one side. This infuses the malignly reduced “landscape” that he sketches with an undertone of incitement. In addition, particularly in regard to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Cook allows mostly ungrounded prejudicial assumptions and associations to guide his reading of events and the questions that he poses.

The narration is delivered in a quiet tone of earnest humility, suggesting the honest attempt of a questioning man to come to terms with terrible truths in a world where much more is veiled than revealed. But the largely contrived content of Cook’s piece obscures far more than it claims to uncover.

In the second half of the programme, Cook tells us that his chosen destination is “Palestine”. This suggests that he is among those who refuse to recognize the legitimacy (even the existence) of the state of Israel—“the Zionist entity”, as many in the Arab world contemptuously call it. The only references to “Israel” are later in the narrative when Cook describes his group’s “humiliating” encounter with Israeli border guards who refused them entry into Israel from Jordan, and the “millions of Palestinian refugees ... in countries all around Israel ... who just want to go home”. It is as if Israel can be named only as a wrongdoer.

Cook approaches his subject matter with a mindset that has already sculpted a perfect (and perfectly false) congruence between the oppression and struggle of blacks under apartheid and the plight of the Palestinians. He talks of the “strange nostalgia” that he felt when encountering Israeli soldiers and tells us that his experience in the struggle against apartheid serves as a reference point in understanding this conflict.

“In my mind I have always drawn a parallel between the oppression of black people under apartheid and the suffering of Palestinians,” he says. “It’s a comparison that many South African Jews are most uncomfortable with. Black South Africans and Palestinians both became third-class citizens in their own land, both forced to carry passes. The only difference in my mind was that the whole world condemned what apartheid was doing to blacks.”

It would appear that Cook’s journey to “Palestine” is an attempt to eliminate this “difference”, in the hope that once the “truth” is unveiled, there will not be a country left that will not heap condemnation on Israel.

But Cook trifles with the facts and with the viewer. What does he mean when he speaks of “third-class citizens in their own land, forced to carry passes”? He can’t be referring to Israeli Arabs, whom he would surely also want to classify as Palestinians? These citizens of Israel do not carry passes and have full participatory rights. Arab parties serve in the Knesset, Arab citizens are included on the party lists of mainstream Israeli parties and numerous Supreme Court rulings have outlawed discrimination in housing and jobs. While much still needs to be done to break down alienation and mistrust between Israeli Arabs and Jews, especially since the latest intifada, significant elements within civil society are working hard to break down barriers. In addition, many within certain mainstream political parties, numerous NGOs and other activist groups are committed to reaching a just peace in the region and to realizing full economic integration and equal opportunity for all citizens, whether Arab or Jew.

Palestinians resident in Gaza and the West Bank, who work in Israel and who commute daily, do require ID documentation to enter and to leave Israel, precisely because the final status of these territories has yet to be determined. Palestinians in the neighbouring countries do not carry passes. Surely one cannot be a “third-class citizen” in a country in which one does not live?

By ignoring the distinctly different geo-political and geo-historical scenarios that pertain in each situation, Cook attempts to foist a malicious caricature on the unsuspecting viewer. In fact, dishonesty pervades his whole piece. Not only is the title a misnomer (no veil is lifted on anything except Cook’s prejudices) but also, in the second segment on “Palestine”, Cook never gets beyond the border of the place he claims he is portraying. His group is delayed by Israeli border personnel, subjected to rigorous body searches, and finally denied entry.

“The only reason ... given was security,” Cook complains, apparently unmoved by the danger of more civilian deaths in the suicide bombings presented by extremists as “holy war”. Indeed, one must wonder whether Cook himself does not subscribe to the deadly rhetoric of Jihad, which supposed “spiritual” leaders deploy from the safety of their pulpits to inflame the Palestinian youth to self-destruction and murder.

Subsequent use of news footage on the recent disco bombing in Tel Aviv (in which 21 Israeli teenagers died) lends weight to this suspicion. Cook is pitiless, observing in a warning tone: “The Mujahidin [holy warriors] are ready to cause the kind of devastation that sends shivers down the spines of most Westerners.” We are not seeing the tragic and criminal waste of 21 young lives but merely “devastation that sends shivers down the spines of most Westerners”. In this demented vision, which Cook so glibly portrays, the slaughter of teenagers is not murder, it is holy war; and the brutalised dead are not children but merely dehumanised units of the “Zionist entity”.

What is at best an appalling naiveté (but more likely a mindset created by demonic indoctrination) is also what strips youth and life itself from the tragically misled suicide bombers. As journalist Huda Al-Husseini (of the London based Arab daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat), no friend of Israel, notes: “I want to know why we, the Arabs, insist on dying instead of living for our homeland.” Shocked at reports that Palestinian children are trained for weeks to serve as a stone-throwing screen from behind which adult Palestinian gunners fire at Israeli soldiers, Al-Husseini asks: “What kind of independence is built on the blood of children while the leaders are safe and so are their children and grandchildren?”

Cook appears to be insulated from such painful questions by a tunnel-vision focus on his purpose. This is, we suggest, to construct Israel as an exact replica of apartheid’s evil empire and, by implication, as therefore deserving of destruction.

Thus he is righteously aggrieved that the “pilgrimage” of members of his group has been frustrated. “A lot of people on the delegation feel embarrassed and humiliated and very angry,” he says. For Cook, “it is an experience that plays itself out a thousand times for many Palestinians who live in the neighbouring countries .... who just want to go home”.

The legitimate right of a sovereign state to use discretion in a volatile and deadly situation is ignored, and we are to believe that somehow the “rights” of Cook’s group have been violated. One must ask: would the group have expressed the same level of outrage had they conducted their “pilgrimage” differently, because it is well known that anyone who has an Israeli stamp in their passport, will certainly be denied entry into Iraq?

But Cook is preoccupied with imprinting his associative caricature in the minds of his audience. “The sprawling refugee settlements of Jordan reminded me of the townships of South Africa,” he says. “They looked very different but they feel the same.” If seeing is not believing, then feeling must be!

Interestingly, in the process of conjuring congruence between the experience of the Palestinians and the victims of apartheid, Cook falls into a cross-cultural trap. Invoking the insults gratuitously dished out to blacks under apartheid, Cook recounts how his group’s middle-aged Palestinian tour guide was called “boy” by young Israeli border guards. But there is no linguistic equivalent to this racist term in Hebrew nor is it likely that Israeli guards with some English would use the English “boy” in this sense. Cook may be interested to learn that the Hebrew word for “come here” is “boh” or “boyi”.

More serious is Cook’s disingenuous “history” of the establishment of Israel and the roots of the Palestinian refugee problem. Lasting a mere thirty seconds, this sound-bite annihilates context, meaning and the longitudinal unfolding of events, leaving viewers without the basic information necessary to evaluate what they are seeing.

What Cook tells us is this: the Palestinians “were forced to flee during the war that led to the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948 and they continued to arrive on the doorsteps of their neighbours landless, penniless, many with just the clothes on their backs. In the beginning the refugees lived in tents hoping they would leave here soon. Five decades later they are still here. The settlements have taken on lives of their own and the refugees now make up half the population and most of them are poor”.

Cook fails to give the viewer any idea of the complexity of both the history and the current situation in Israel/Palestine. He does not mention the background against which the international community decided to divide the ancient home of both Jews and Arabs into Israel and Palestine (United Nations resolution of November 1947). He does not mention that the Jews agreed to abide by this decision while the Arabs refused.

He does not mention Arab complicity with the Nazis during World War II. He is silent about invading Arab destruction of ancient Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and between Jerusalem and Hebron, and about subsequent Arab quarantine and desecration of Jewish holy places. He does not tell the viewer about the approximately 600 000 Jewish refugees who fled numerous Arab countries after the War of Independence, because of the violation of basic human rights, including confiscation of their property. The basic story line is simple, as far as Cook is concerned: only the Palestinians have suffered, only the Jews have done wrong. (Extremists on the other side would switch the verbs.)

The truth, of course, is far more difficult and painful. And the crucial thing for those interested in facilitating peace is to recognize that there has been great suffering on both sides of this tragic and possibly world-menacing conflict. Equally, there has been wrongdoing and propaganda from both sides.

For example, early Zionist claims that Palestinians left their land and homes because they were urged to do so by their own leaders (who planned to return after the Jews had been driven out) have been overstated. Equally untrue, however, is the Palestinian claim that the first refugees were victims of ethnic cleansing. While numerous Palestinian villages were attacked by Jewish forces, there was no master plan to expel the Palestinians. Indeed, some Jewish mayors pleaded with their Arab constituents to stay and a variety of reasons (mainly fear and reluctance to live under “Jewish rule”) were behind the exodus that first created “the Palestinian refugee problem”.

Another relevant fact unremarked by Cook is the role played by Arab nations in perpetuating the suffering of the refugees. There are more than enough petro-dollars in the region for comfortable integration of the refugees. However, the displaced Palestinians became the armament for fractious Arab nationalism, or as the historian Paul Johnson put it: to resolve the refugee problem would mean “the final disposal of a moral asset” (History of the Jews, pg. 530).

Thus the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees is that they have been used by hostile Arab neighbours as a potent symbol to delegitimise Israeli nationhood. Allowing them to remain impoverished in makeshift camps enables a continuing vivid embodiment of “Israeli crimes”. Coupled with the undeniable fact that neighbouring Arab states have never ceased to threaten Israel (indeed, have waged four wars aimed at ridding the region of the “Zionist entity”), this, in turn, provokes enormous rage and insecurity on the Israeli side of the conflict.

“Everyone we spoke to claimed that they would die fighting” the Israelis, Cook says. (Did he speak to any women, one wonders, any peace activists, anyone except those consumed by hatred and fantasies of divinely sanctioned murder?) He lets the camera dwell on Salah Alsheikh, a third-generation Palestinian living in Jordan, who has named both his son and his new cafe “Tahir”, meaning “revolution”. Alsheikh vows that the intifada will not stop “until the last drop comes out from our nation”. He has sworn that he will not visit “Palestine” without a gun in his hands because he “will not be able to see the criminals and the killers in front of me—the Jewish, the Israelis”.

Another third-generation “refugee”, Sultan Abdul Aid, says: “We will go to Palestine when it is a free country and all the Jews have left.” Cook adds: “Here there is the belief that the current peace process is a means to an end—the end, the eventual liberation of Palestine, all of Palestine!”

And so Cook, his camera and “pilgrimage” team end their “journey of discovery”, incomplete as it is, as a result of what is portrayed as the intransigence of Israeli border police. By contrast, Cook tells us about the two Jordanian police agents who escorted the group on to their plane and “were kind enough to even check in our luggage for us”. (How awful the Israelis are, how dear and sweet the Jordanian police!)

Sitting on the plane en route home Cook reflects on his experiences and notes: “The Israeli refusal to allow us into the country made sense. It is a government whose legitimacy to govern is being questioned.” We then see file footage of two women carrying a poster stating “No peace, no security without ending the occupation”, which refers to Gaza and the West Bank. Cook goes on to declare that “there are millions of refugees waiting to take back their land” and that the Israelis “need to protect themselves from those whom they know will not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for the land they believe is their God-given right”.

The file footage is a mere filler distraction, because it is now clear (if it was ever in doubt) that what Cook is referring to and aligning himself with is the ending of the “occupation” not just of Gaza and the West Bank, but of “Palestine, all of “Palestine”!

It remains only to regret profoundly that Cook—and E-TV—missed an opportunity to contribute to the possibility of reconciliation in a protracted conflict that has been immensely painful for everyone directly involved, one that will ultimately call for profound compromises on both sides. Those who truly yearn for a peaceful settlement will view his programme as a piece of malevolent propaganda, which does nothing to deepen insight or understanding. Rather, the primary aim appears to be to evoke an agitated sense of outrage in the viewer and to serve as a subtle incitement to violence.

There must also be a suspicion, perhaps a cynical one, that this programme was made and aired in the run-up to the World Conference on Racism as part of the ongoing campaign to resurrect the 1975 UN resolution (repealed in 1991) equating Zionism with racism. No doubt the agitation will continue, despite the reminder to conference planners by UN Human Rights chief Mary Robinson that the resolution was repealed ten years ago and that “anyone who seeks to reopen this issue is putting the Durban conference at risk” (Cape Times, 31 July 2001).

Much more than a conference is placed at risk by hate speech.

30 August 2007

31 August 2007 - UK joins the Arab League, and Palestine bear-ly beats Israel

Jerusalem is currently hosting the United Buddy Bears, a traveling exhibition that features 132 identically-shaped bears, decorated by artists from around the world to represent their respective nations. I visited the exhibition a couple of weeks ago with friends, but I happened to be passing by again earlier tonight—my last evening in Jerusalem this summer—and I thought I’d have another look.

The bears are arranged roughly alphabetically, with the U.S. next to the U.K. (Apologies for the grainy photos – I took them with my computer.) The U.S is well-represented by a patriotic bear decorated as the Statue of Liberty. The U.K. bear is wrapped in the Union Jack, but is also wearing a jalabiyya and kaffiyeh, not exactly national costume. Multiculturalism run amok? Foreign policy message? Or just fun?

The Israeli bear is well-executed but somewhat disappointing. It is a wailing wall with a bleeding heart—several bleeding hearts, as if obsessed by memories of past episodes of suffering. (The expression of the guy in the picture says it all.) The Palestinian bear, by contrast, was one of the best (perhaps even the best), dressed in colorful national costume, right up to the checkered kaffiyeh around its neck.

29 August 2007

30 August 2007 - In unity, diversity; in diversity, confusion

A couple of days ago, I went for a sunset run through the German Colony and Baka and up to the Haas Promenade, one of my favorite places in the city and one of the few areas where Jews and Arabs mingle in substantial numbers. The promenade has two “levels”—above, a stately walkway made of Jerusalem stone, and below, a lush, long grassy area popular for picnics and impromptu soccer matches.

At the far eastern end of the promenade, on the grassy level, is an area often used for weddings. This particular evening, an Orthodox Jewish wedding was taking place. The couple stood beneath a chupah draped in white lace, with the city glimmering behind them in the last golden light of day. The rabbi began the wedding ceremony just as the sun’s disc began to sink behind the western hills.

Above, on the stone walkway, a crowd of onlookers began to gather—some Jewish, but most Muslim Arabs. The women in hijab seemed particularly interested—not just out of ordinary curiousity or for sentimental reasons, I thought, but also because Islamic nuptials don’t directly include women in the ceremony. Soon, it seemed, there were almost as many uninvited guests as invited ones.

Jews and Arabs want to know more about each other, and are occasionally able to interact with each other in these quiet, gentle ways. Today I met my Arabic tutor, a secular Muslim, for coffee—the last time I will see her this summer. She had just returned from Europe, where she joined several Arab and Jewish women on a retreat. They had to go to Germany to meet, but meet each other they did.

Occasionally, there are disasters. Ha’aretz reports today that a group of rabbis has been causing unintended panic among Arab farmers in the center of the country by telling them they have to sell their land. The reason? Next year is a shmitah year, a sabbatical year, in which Jews are commanded by God to let their lands lie fallow (See Leviticus, Chapter 25). (The rule generally applies to lands in Israel alone.)

The shmitah rule makes running a modern agricultural economy—and even a pre-modern one—difficult. So, over the centuries, the rabbis developed a way around the rule: Jews would “sell” their land to Gentiles for the year for some token sum, on the tacit understanding that the land would be returned afterwards. Meanwhile, the Jewish farmers would continue working the land as before.

Among Israel’s Orthodox Jews, there has been a push in recent decades to enforce the shmitah. (No one is yet pushing to enforce the second part of the doctrine, the Yovel or Jubilee, according to which all land must revert to its original owners every fifty years. This, it is said, can only be enforced in a messianic age when all of the Jews in the world have been gathered into the Land of Israel from exile.)

So why does the shmitah involve Arab farmers? Because the farmers are leasing their land from the Israel Lands Authority, the central body that owns most of the land in the country. On the one hand, this is further proof that non-Jews can and do possess landing Israel. On the other hand, this Arab land is religiously Jewish—at least in the eyes of the Orthodox rabbinate, for the purposes of the shmitah.

The rabbis, irony of ironies, have been telling the Arab farmers that their produce will not be certified kosher next year (i.e. next Jewish year, beginning in mid-September) if they do not “sell” it to a non-Jew! The poor farmers are completely confused, and are terrified, in the context of a history of conflict, that this is some sort of scheme to impoverish them and permanently dispossess them of their land.

Pressure from the rabbinical authorities may feel like extortion, especially to people who aren’t Jewish. The kashrut bureaucracy in Israel is reputed to be corrupt, and restaurant owners are rumored to make use of extra “donations” to smooth the process. What looks to some like the sincere inclusion of Arab farmers in a Jewish tradition may appear to others—especially the farmers—like a protection racket.

At some point, a line has to be drawn, beyond which the rabbinate cannot exert any further authority. Already, the tolerance of mainstream Israeli Jews towards the rabbinate’s control of their family affairs is growing thin. Now, with the shmitah, the rabbis are expanding their authority not just to farming among Jews, but to farming among Arabs. Shmitah should be a matter of choice, not compulsion.

Perhaps this is another sign of Jewish transition—the struggle to move from a minority consciousness to a majority one, one that has to be large and tolerant enough to include minorities on fair terms. Before coming to Israel, I could talk about the complexity of conflict. Over the past few months, I’ve learned that there is also a dynamic complexity of transition to consider, for both Jews and Arabs.

I meet Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group founder Bassem Eid yesterday at his office in East Jerusalem, and interviewed him for the next issue of New Society. I asked him what he would do to help solve the conflict if he could choose one policy to implement. He said he would tell Palestinians to adjust to the fact that they are negotiating from a position of weakness instead of strength.

Weakness, until now, has been treated by Palestinians as a mark of illegitimacy. Islam is not used to being a minority faith, and Arabs are not used to being a minority group—just as Jews are not accustomed to sovereignty and the responsibilities it entails. Some maintain that power is actually foreign to Jewish identity. Our histories have not prepared Jews and Arabs for our present encounter.

But as I wind up my summer here, I feel hopeful that a resolution is possible. Bassem Eid seemed to suggest that even if Olmert and Abbas sign a deal, real peace will take a long time to build, because Palestinians need to build their own state. Israelis have long since taken control of their political destiny—but there are still many questions to face. Perhaps those answers, too, will bring peace closer.

29 August 2007 - Guest blogger Mike Berger: "Why I am a Zionist"

Mike’s a veteran of the media wars in South Africa. Like me, he was "drafted" unexpectedly. Mike is one of the most prolific letter-writers on Israel and other subjects, and is well-respected in political circles. His most recent article, “Why I am a Zionist,” was blocked by timid editors. In solidarity, I am posting it below in full, along with an introductory note from the man himself.


The South African media is, in many ways, admirable. Some sections were a strong source of opposition to apartheid. Currently, they speak out vigorously against aspects of the ruling party's policies and actions in government. But many have bought into a generalized, rather soft-focus and fashionable anti-imperialist/anti-American/anti-Israel stance which, coupled to a tabloid approach to public affairs, makes their stand less principled and effective than it might have been.

In particular, the more serious newspapers are dominated by the Independent group and by the Mail and Guardian both of which strongly embody these shortcomings. Their pages are a regular source of anti-Zionist material and it is difficult to get contrary viewpoints published.

Here is one article rejected by both the Cape Times (the morning daily of Cape Town) and the Mail and Guardian, a national weekly. It has been (very) slightly edited from the original submitted.

Mike Berger


I’ve just finished reading Jan Morris’s last book, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere. In it she pays tribute to a city which, for her, symbolises the vast ebb and flow of humanity and, consequently, has become the natural capital of that tribe of universal people who, to summarise in her own beautiful words: “. . . form a Fourth World, or a diaspora of their own…. They come in all colours. They can be Christians or Hindus or Muslims or Jews or pagans or atheists. They may be patriots, but they are never chauvinists . . . they are always in a minority, but they form a mighty nation . . . it is the nation of nowhere”.

I am a natural member of this tribe. I have lived in different countries and have studied, taught and interacted socially and professionally with Muslims, Hindus, Indians and black and coloured South Africans. I have learnt that stereotypes at the level of the individual have little meaning, and we have a black granddaughter of whom we’re inordinately fond.

So why have I found myself writing passionate letters and articles in defense of Israel to newspapers, and why have I become involved in Jewish community organisations? In short, how has my Jewish identity come to assume a much greater significance in my life than either my history or temperament would invoke?

The answer is simple and is contained in the blurb to an upcoming HSRC (Human Sciences Research Council) Seminar entitled “How Israel envisions a Palestinian state for the Palestinians”, hosted by Dr. Virginia Tilley with Dr. Ghazi-Walid Falah (from Akron, Ohio) as the guest speaker. His intent is also best summarised in his own words:

My thesis here is that the Israeli political class…(is) trying to impose their political hegemony on the contour of the future Palestinian state . . . any future Palestinian state that is ‘allowed’ to crystallize had (sic) to be consistent territorially, economically and politically with the grand geopolitical code of the Zionist enterprise of settlement, colonization, land redemption and aggrandizement of state boundaries and territory . . . . Otherwise, its leaders and population are decried and demonized as 'terrorists' . . . Israeli strategy is double-pronged here: a war of rhetoric and the war of occupational fire power, both aimed at the destroying the current leadership structures”.

Tilley herself is an ardent anti-Zionist who has found a congenial home in South Africa, initially in the Centre for Policy Studies and now in the HSRC. The first is a research organisation concerned with development issues in South Africa, specifically, and Africa more broadly. The second is a parastatal research institution, supposedly concerned with national issues, and supported largely by the South African taxpayer.

She is the author of a book entitled The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock—which, as pointed out even by her ideological bedfellows, is a euphemism for the euthanasia of the Jewish State.

Should there be any doubt where Tilley stands, she is happy to inform us: “First, each person works in his or her own immediate orbit. People might urge divestment from companies investing in Israel by their colleges and universities, corporations, clubs, and churches. Boycott any sports event that hosts an Israeli team, and work with planners to exclude them. Participate in, and visit, no Israeli cultural events - films, plays, music, art exhibits. Avoid collaborating with Israeli professional colleagues, except on anti-racist activism. Don't invite any Israeli academic or writer to contribute to any conference or research and don't attend their panels or buy their books, unless their work is engaged directly in anti-racist activism. Don't visit Israel except for purposes of anti-racist activism. Buy nothing made in Israel : start looking at labels on olive oil, oranges, and clothing. Tell people what you are doing and why. Set up discussion groups everywhere to explain why.” The seminar she will be hosting is simply another nail she hopes to drive into Israel ’s coffin.

Dr Tilley is an anti-Zionist zealot, as devoted to the destruction of Israel as Hamas or Hezbollah; perhaps more so since she does not need to live with the consequences of her actions.

She is part of a small, but very vocal, Western network of likeminded ideologues, whose ideological purity and zeal have received recognition from within the Muslim anti-Israel establishment. According to a London-based Saudi newspaper, such Western intellectuals have freed themselves from the timidity of their Muslim counterparts and “are dedicated to stripping bare Zionism and its crimes”.

If I had ever hoped to become a permanent, card-carrying member of Jan Morris’s universalist “nation of nowhere”, my contact with the tribe of “zealots” has disabused me of such Utopian dreams. Like others, I too have been seriously “mugged by reality”. Kicking and struggling they have have converted me, along with thousands of other universalist Jews, into a Zionist.

It is difficult to adequately convey the revulsion with which I read their caricature of one of the most poignant and heroic enterprises of the modern era (or perhaps of any era), namely, the resurrection and renaissance of the Jewish people from the ashes of 2000 years of dispersal and oppression, culminating in the Holocaust. Objectively, the Israeli miracle dwarfs all comparable achievements, including the extraordinary post-world war successes of Japan and Germany .

This was accomplished by a relative handful of brave men and women from many lands, cultures and ethnicities, differing vastly from one another in terms of language, degree of religious belief and level of education. The majority were themselves refugees and deeply scarred by history and personal experience. Yes, they received assistance from some of their compatriots in the Diaspora. Yes, they were supported (sometimes reluctantly and conditionally) by America. Yes, they were human and have erred, sometimes seriously. No, they have not created a Utopia, only a country which in the midst of war and bloodshed can hold its head high amongst the other nations of the world in terms of democracy, the rule of law, education, innovation and science, the arts and in freedom of opinion and expression.

That the debate in this country, and elsewhere in the West, has been framed by anti-Zionist zealots is a stain on humanity equivalent to the vile antisemitic propaganda which set the stage for the pogroms and the Holocaust of the 19th and 20th centuries. Those who hope for a more meaningful and legitimate take on the Middle East can start with the http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifinformed and left-of-centre analysis by Tony Klug at , and many similar commentaries that take account of human and historical realities on both sides.

But, so long as the tribe of zealots is accorded space and legitimacy in our media I, along with thousands of my compatriots, will have to postpone our fulltime sojourn in the Land of Nowhere and continue to serve in the Zionist trenches. Would that it were otherwise.

28 August 2007

28 August 2007 - Peace warning!

News media are reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are close to a deal. They met today to discuss, among other things, the three major final-status issues: Jerusalem, refugees, and borders. In celebration, and in continued credulity and hope, I am raising this (stolen) peace flag, which I will continue to do every time news of this sort emerges.

28 August 2007 - Israel's number one song is...

There’s a poster hanging in the office hallway, a photograph of a woman in hijab holding a candle behind the words: “Gay Rights are Human Rights.” I never understood why the poster features an apparently Arab woman in traditional dress. The organization behind it seemed to be called “Dana International.” Who is Dana, I wondered, and why name a gay rights group after her?

Well, today the penny dropped—Dana International is one of Israel’s most popular singers. She has an amazingly cute and catchy hit, “Love Boy,” that was only released a few months ago but has apparently already become one of the most successful singles in Israeli pop history. If you know a little Hebrew, you’ll enjoy the lyrics, which are really funny and completely over-the-top.

So why is Dana a gay icon? Because she used to be a he. Dana is a transsexual, having made the switch in 1993. She then went on to win the Eurovision song contest (below) with “Diva” in 1998, bringing great pride to the country (and joy to the audience!) but great consternation to the Orthodox establishment, which was outraged that the Jewish state should be represented by a queen other than Esther.

I’ve been doing a bit of work on gay rights over the past couple of weeks, focusing on the issue of adoptions. Recently, a Jewish lesbian couple immigrated to Israel with their child, who was the biological child of one and had been adopted in the U.S. by the other. The Israeli government tried to avoid recognizing the adoption until it was defeated in court by human rights lawyers acting on the mothers’ behalf.

Now the government is trying to prevent similar occurrences in future by applying strict requirements for the recognitions of adoptions abroad by current or potential Israeli citizens. I’ve been dispatched to find ways around this, and it’s hard because the government might argue that it has a strong legitimate interest in stopping child trafficking that justifies such close scrutiny of foreign adoptions.

Israel is an amazingly vibrant democracy, and the only place in the Middle East (and perhaps the world?) where a transsexual could represent the country in a competition as an icon of its popular culture. Yet there’s a constant political insertion of religious interests into personal and family matters. Aren’t there bigger things to worry about than Diva’s breasts or whether Yael has two mommies?

UPDATE: Here are two more great Israeli Eurovision entries: Ofra Haza with Chai (1983) and Kaveret with Natati La Chayai.

27 August 2007

27 August 2007 - The Shabak in international legal context

One of the legal issues that arises in counter-terror operations concerns the power of the authorities assigned to investigate and prevent terror attacks. In Israel, those authorities are the Shabak—the SHerut Bitachon Klali, otherwise known as the General Security Service (GSS) or Israel Security Service. The American equivalent is probably the (FBI). The Shabak report directly to the Prime Minister alone.

In recent years, the Shabak have become notorious, largely because of a highly-publicized Israeli High Court of Justice ruling in 1999 that prevented the Shabak from using physical pressure during interrogations. Previously, the use of such methods had been frequent. Rights groups allege that it carries on today, under the pretext of the “ticking bomb” scenario, which invokes the “necessity” defense.

There are other concerns about the Shabak, one of which is that a Shabak agent can apparently direct security forces to arrest or deny border passage to an individual without explanation or possibility of review. The Shabak is governed by a 2002 law passed by the Knesset, but much about its internal workings is unknown, and its agents are anonymous. The strand of accountability is very thin indeed.

Nonetheless, not all internal security organizations are the same. There are anti-civil secret police, which are used to sow fear among the citizenry and prevent any challenges to the government in power; and then there are pro-civil secret police, which aim to protect democracy by confronting external threats as well as domestic attempts to seize power. The Shabak, like the FBI, fall into the latter category.

The Shabak have two basic missions: to prevent Arab terror, and to prevent Jewish extremism. These are the two proven and potent threats to the security of Israel’s citizens and the endurance of its democracy. Yet – Qui custodiet ipsos custodes? – Who will guard the guards? This is a question every democracy around the world is facing in the aftermath of 9/11 and subsequent events in the “war on terror.”

In a recently-released book, Comparative Legal Approaches to Homeland Security and Anti-Terrorism, Professor James Beckman of the University of Tampa examines counter-terror laws throughout the democratic world, including Israel. He finds that all democracies have expanded the police powers of the state; the effects on civil liberties, however, vary. (169) Here is a general overview of his findings:

The United States

Since 9/11, the U.S. has passed the PATRIOT Act of 2001, which expands the intelligence-gathering powers of law enforcement agencies and permits broader authority to the state in investigation and detention of suspects. The U.S. also created the Department of Homeland Security, which combines several previously differentiated departments into a single, powerful but bureaucratic agency.

One of the problems that arises is the lack of accountability over local law enforcement; federal authorities will investigate civil rights violations in only a small minority of cases. Expanded surveillance, authorized in some cases by the President himself, has also created controversy. The “extraordinary renditions” abroad by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have also created concern.

Perhaps the most widely-criticized practice has been the detention of so-called “unlawful enemy combatants” in facilities such as Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay. After losing several cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, and facing intense public criticism, the Bush administration began introducing greater elements of due process for these prisoners and is moving towards closing the Guantanamo facility.

The United Kingdom

The U.K. is thought to have some of the most aggressive anti-terror laws in the world, and had extensive experience with counter-terror before 9/11, owing to the Northern Ireland conflict. Though civil rights are not protected by a constitution, and civil rights norms differ in some ways from those of the U.S., they are neither unimportant to the British public nor to Britain’s self-image as a democracy.

The British equivalent of the Shabak is the MI-5, which deals with “terrorism, espionage, and other serious crimes against the state.” MI-5 works with local law enforcement and other government agencies; like the Shabak, its staturory authority was only created long after the service itself. There is a process for reviewing complaints against it, but there is no judicial review of MI-5 activities.

The U.K. Terrorism Act of 2000, passed before 9/11, brings U.K. law into compliance with international human rights laws, but also broadened the scope of anti-terror laws in the U.K. Post-9/11 laws include the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act of 2001 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005. Both were heavily criticized. After the London bombings of 7/7, the Terrorism Act of 2005/2006 was passed.

This last Act made “glorification” of terrorism a crime, among other controversial provisions. It also provided for the most extensive administrative detention period (90 days) of any country in Western Europe; however, the House of Commons defeated that provision. Surveillance via closed-circuit television (CCTV) remains one of the defining features of British counter-terror and law enforcement.


German history—both the decline of the Weimar Republic and the abuses by the Nazi regime—is an important background to an understanding of German counter-terror laws. In addition, because of its history, Germany is constrained to use law enforcement approaches to terror, as opposed to the defence-based approaches favored by Israel and sometimes used by the U.S. and the U.K.

Since 9/11, German law enforcement authorities have expanded the use of surveillance and other techniques. However, the central intelligence and counter-terror agencies are constitutionally separated from local law enforcement. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is in charge of protecting Germany against terror threats, and enjoys sweeping powers of investigation.

Other agencies, such as the Federal Criminal Investigation Office, have also become involved. Many German laws have been amended since 9/11, though no major structural changes to law enforcement were made. As in the U.K., various kinds of rhetorical support for terror were criminalized, and some of the protections previously enjoyed by religious groups were weakened considerably.

The powers of the Border Police were also strengthened: they can now, for instance, question anyone at the border without having to justify the interrogation in terms of border protection. As in the U.K., counter-terrorism and immigration laws have become more closely intertwined, with non-Germans required to provide identification data beyond the ordinary biometric data collected from Germans.


The “traditional” terror threat from Basque separatists has now been joined by threats from Al-Qaeda. The Spanish constitution actually allows for fundamental rights and liberties to be suspended during periods of national emergency and in cases of terrorism. The country’s law enforcement structure is controlled by the national government but involves several different, often competing, agencies.

Spanish legislative changes since 9/11 have been criticized by the Special Rapporteur on Torture for the UN Commission on Human Rights. Laws provide for the banning of political organizations and other measures. Interestingly, after the Madrid train bombings of 3/11 (2004), Spain did not make new amendments to its counter-terror laws; rather, it withdrew all of its remaining troops from Iraq.

Law enforcement officers have, however, been given sweeping powers of investigation, surveillance and detention. Detainees are held, often incommunicado, for at least 48 hours and for up to five days when suspected of terrorism charges. Spanish law also allows secret proceedings in certain cases, once approval from a magistrate has been granted; terrorism suspects are tried in special courts, as well.


The Russian constitution (like the Soviet constitution before it?) enshrines human rights and liberties. However, this is not generally thought to be adequate protection, especially amidst growing concerns about the erosion of the rule of law and checks on executive power. Many of the post-9/11 counter-terror laws passed in Russia are suspected of having been enacted for political, not security, reasons.

Many Russian responses to internal terror threats—as in Chechnya—are excessively brutal and disproportionate in their impact on innocent civilians. However, they enjoy wide popular support. Like Israel, Beckman writes, Russia uses its military in its counter-terrorism efforts. President Putin has also tripled the resources of the Federal Security Service (FSS), the successor to the notorious KGB.

Under Russian law, the state president has direct responsibility for counter-terror activities. Counter-terror authority is also given to state and local authorities. The FSS leads anti-terror operations, and enjoys vast powers; it can even negotiate with terrorists, but cannot make concessions. Restrictions on speech are among the severest in the democratic world, and may have little to do with counter-terror.


Japan does not have extensive experience with terror, but was the target of a nerve gas attack in 1995 by members of a home-grown religious cult. This incident prompted more expansive laws and reduced protections for religious groups. Like Germany, however, Japan is constitutionally barred from using certain military means to combat terror and must rely on ordinary criminal law enforcement.

Local law enforcement is stressed in Japan. However, the central government remains involved in surveillance and investigation of terrorist activity. Like Spain and Israel, Japan prosecutes terrorists not for the specific crime of “terrorism” but for the underlying criminal offenses. (In the other two cases, however, more than the criminal law enforcement structure is involved in counter-terror activity.)


Israel has been threatened by terror since its independence in 1948. It does not have a constitution, but does have Basic Laws and judicial traditions that are broadly protective of human rights. However, the Basic Law on Freedom of Occupation and the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty contain a “limitation clause” that allows certain departures “in the name of collective security of society.”

Israel’s counter-terror laws are of long standing and consistency, though they do not actually define “terrorism” as a crime. Counter-terror responsibility in parts of the occupied territories now falls to the Palestinian Authority, though the Israeli military is given considerable free reign to act against perceived threats there. Israel does prevent “terrorist speech” and membership in terror organizations.

Prior to 1980, civilians accused of violating these laws in Israel would face charges in a military court. A kind of martial law still prevails in the occupied territories (i.e. the West Bank), where defendants enjoy few protections and little due process. Israel has stepped up its military response to terrorism, moving from a strategy aimed at dealing with civil disturbance to one dealing with a near-war situation.

One method used is “targeted killings,” which the High Court of Justice refused to allow in all circumstances but refused to prohibit outright. The Court did, however, reject the category of “unlawful combatant.” Another is the security fence, which has been extremely effective at stopping terror attacks but has been challenged at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Israel’s High Court.

Israel’s Shabak is active in counterterror efforts. Like the other countries discussed, Israel uses extensive surveillance and grants its law enforcement authorities broad powers of investigation. Unlike some of the other examples, Israel uses its military in this policing effort, not just in monitoring suspected terrorist activities but in pre-empting and responding to specific threats, especially in the occupied territories.

The book’s analysis is compromised (slightly) by its acceptance, at face value, of partisan claims about Israeli policy, such as that of James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, who said Israel is “the last place on Earth I’d go for a model. They are notorious violators of human rights and have not solved the problem.” (xii) In fact, Israel’s experience hold many positive (as well as negative) lessons.

International Law

Beckman also considers the implications of European Union and international law for counter-terror law enforcement. There are, he points out, roughly thirteen multi-lateral treaties and protocols dealing with terrorism, included UN Security Council Resolution 1373, passed after 9/11. International courts such as the ICJ and the International Criminal Court have proved largely inadequate to the task, however.

The EU has also created new measures to deal with terror, including an EU arrest warrant that is valid throughout Europe, overcoming delays and jurisdiction problems. At the same time, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights play a restraining role. Interpol, and to a lesser extent Europol, have also played a small role in counter-terror operations thus far.


Beckman divides the countries studied into two groups: the U.S., U.K., Russia and Israel consider themselves to be fighting a “war against terror,” involving military as well as civilian forces; Japan, Germany and Spain have opted instead for a law enforcement approach, giving less power to the executive. However, Russia, Israel and Spain use the military in domestic counter-terror policing to some extent.

The U.K., Israel, Japan and Spain use a centralized police structure that makes intelligence-gathering easier; the U.S., Germany and Russia use a more decentralized structure, which is thought to minimize abuses of power. Most countries, except Spain, passed new terrorism laws after being attacked. Russia has the longest period of administrative detention—30 days—without trial.

Israel, meanwhile, has gone the furthest in criminalizing speech that is considered supportive of terrorism, even barring the use of symbols associated with terror groups. The U.K. has gone the furthest in amending its counter-terror laws, which were already fairly well-developed; it would have exceeded Russia in its allowed period of administrative detention if the relevant provision had not been defeated.

Relevance to Israel and the Shabak

Israel is not unique in having an internal security organization that is minimally accountable. The Shabak seem unique in its methods of investigation and interrogation; however, this may only be because of the legal challenges that the Shabak has faced through the Israeli court system. Israel goes further than other countries in some areas—such as speech restrictions—but less far in others.

Overall, it is difficult to assess whether Israel’s Shabak presents a special case, an “outlying” example in the democratic spectrum of counter-terror law enforcement. Given the fact that only Israel is occupying neighboring territory, this might create grounds for a political challenge to the legitimacy of Shabak’s activities. On the other hand, the unique dangers faced by Israel might mitigate this challenge.

The legal issues are far less clear—certainly to my non-expert eyes. If proven, the persistent use of physical pressure, in defiance of Israeli law and court decisions, could provide grounds for international litigation—especially given that there have been no criminal investigations of any of the 500 complaints submitted to since 2001. However, domestic legal remedies may have to be exhausted first.

26 August 2007

26 August 2007 - An argument for fiction

The headlines in the newspapers here in Israel have been really strange for the past few days. Not scary, just bizarre. Maybe they’re always that way, and I’m only just noticing now. This is a period of relative calm, and yet things seem edgy, distracted. I’ve been doing a lot of work, but not much creative writing or observation. I almost feel that reality here is not to be seen, but is lost in some hidden interaction.

A few years ago, I saw an Israeli film called “August (A Moment Before the Eruption),” filmed in August 2000. It depicted a nervous, vulnerable society steaming in the heat, one month before the intifada. A professor whom I saw at the screening thought it was self-indulgent garbage, but something in it stuck with me—its humor, perhaps. Maybe what I’m seeing now is just another Israeli August.

But let’s look at the news for a moment. The front page of the Jerusalem Post this weekend featured a picture of a missile being launched in a ball of fire and a prediction that the next war—with Syria, by apparent consensus—will involve heavy bombardment of Israel by missiles. Today’s paper covers last night’s infiltration of two Palestinian terrorists from Gaza and says there will be more.

Meanwhile, the reversal of the Anti-Defamation League’s position on the Armenian genocide has triggered a real diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey. Somehow the Turkish government doesn’t get that Israel doesn’t have an on/off switch for American Jewish groups. It also seems unable to tackle the self-examination that a reckoning with Turkey’s history demands (and which Israel has had to learn, too).

And speaking of history, the Jerusalem Post also has an interview with the rightful owner of the Hebron marketplace that was run by Arabs until a suicide bombing caused the IDF to close it, and which was then occupied by Jewish settlers until the IFD evicted them. He wants to be known as an anti-Zionist and supports a one-state solution. Never mind its consequences; “justice” demands it. Kant versus Mill?

I love this place, and I love what I do, but I feel a sense of fatigue settling in. It strikes me that in all the libraries you could fill with everything that has been written about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, there’s some good poetry and film but so little decent fiction that can speak to the core of this tragedy. At least, little that I know of: I’m no expert, but it seems most fiction on the topic is rather polemical.

In South Africa, the struggle against apartheid produced a flourishing arts industry. After democracy arrived, many creative people found they had lost the source of their inspiration, and things flagged for a bit. Here, it seems, the opposite might be true. The conflict causes imaginations to seize. Only when its resolution looms, perhaps, will a a new literature blossom. Or maybe literature should lead?

A few years ago, when there was a brief lull in the public debate, I told myself I was done writing about the issue, and I wanted to probe it through fiction instead. I never got around to it—perhaps for lack of courage, or maybe because the debate soon flared up again. I don’t see myself focusing on this forever. There’s a point to peace: one seeks it so that life can begin again in all its fullness. Here’s to that day.

24 August 2007

24 August 2007 - Public, Multiparty Negotiating Forums (PMNFs)

In preparation for my presentation next week at MECA, I’ve put together a little Q&A about one of the ideas Sapir Handelman and I will be presenting: the introduction of public, multiparty negotiating forums (PMNFs) in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. PMNFs won’t be the sole focus of our paper, but it’s one of the models we will be drawing attention to as part of a multi-faceted approach.

What is a Public Multiparty Negotiating Forum (PMNF)?

A Public Multiparty Negotiating Forum (PMNF) is an institution that facilitates open debate and negotiation between the parties in a conflict. A parliament or town council is a PMNF. However, PMNFs need not be institutions of representative government. Collective bargaining councils, multilateral commissions, community forums of various kinds and even debating chambers may be considered PMNFs.

Who participates in a PMNF?

In political negotiations, participants include representatives of all parties or organizations involved in a given conflict. Opposition groupings as well as governments may be included; smaller parties and external observers may join on a voluntary basis. The only firm rule is the exclusion of any party that has not ended or at least suspended any attempt to achieve its objectives through violent attacks.

How does a PMNF work?

The representatives to the PMNF can be appointed by the various parties on a voluntary basis, with perhaps a limited number of delegates from each side. Alternatively, delegates may be chosen through democratic elections conducted by an independent election commission. Proposals are introduced, debated, amended and approved or rejected by the PMNF in an open and procedurally fair manner.

Why is a PMNF necessary in the Israeli-Palestinian case?

A PMNF is necessary because it performs three essential functions, each of which addresses a weakness of previous negotiations: it de-legitimizes violence as a political tool; it allows moderates from each side to form coalitions with each other; it gives a wider variety of actors a stake in the success of the negotiations; it establishes the process and its goals as political realities in the public imagination.

Where has the PMNF model been used successfully?

The PMNF model has been used successfully in two other cases with which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often compared—namely, South Africa and Northern Ireland. In both cases, the negotiating institutions failed frequently and were interrupted by violence. However, these failures did not lead to the collapse of the peace process or a return to violence, and agreements were eventually reached.

When should the work of a PMNF end?

The work of a PMNF can end as soon as the conflict it was created to deal with has ended. Alternatively, it can be superseded or replaced by institutions that have greater power and authority. In some cases, the PMNF may continue its work after the main dispute has been resolved to provide a continuing foundation for relations between the various parties and to handle new disagreements as they arise.

What are the alternatives to a PMNF and why are they insufficient?

One alternative to a PNF is an externally-imposed solution to the conflict. There have been many attempts, by the UN or outside powers, to enforce a settlement or at least intervene between the parties. These efforts have established principles for a solution. However, external solutions cannot work because no outside force is willing or able to enforce a settlement against the will of one or both of the parties.

Another possibility is a unilateral solution to the conflict, adopted by Israel. This alternative is represented by the Gaza disengagement and the security barrier. Effectively, it is an alternative to negotiation. Unilateral solutions may reduce conflict, improve stability and demonstrate Israel’s commitment to concessions. However, they cannot end violence, and they impose huge costs on the Palestinians.

Another alternative is the use of internal reforms to guide each party toward peace negotiations. In the Palestinian Authority this would involve creating domestic institutions that can guide a process of nation-building. In Israel this would involve sweeping constitutional reforms. Internal reforms can prepare the two sides to make and enforce peace agreements but they do not resolve disputes between them.

A final alternative is the use of diplomacy between elites to reach political agreements, as in the Oslo process of the 1990s. Track I or formal diplomacy, combined with Track II or informal diplomacy, can move the parties towards resolution. However, these are elite processes, vulnerable to violence and to domestic politics, and disconnected from crucial public involvement and support.

What are the main obstacles to a PMNF and how can they be overcome?

One of the main obstacles to a PMNF is the mistrust between the two sides. The failure of the Oslo peace process and the deaths of thousands during the second intifada embittered both Israelis and Palestinians. At the same time, growing majorities on both sides support the two-state solution. A new institution that gave the public indirect involvement in the process might built trust in place of suspicion.

Another objection to a PMNF is that various forms of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation have been tried, and failed, before. These included the Joint Liaison Committee and a number of other cooperative arrangements. However, these did not address core issues or include mechanisms for dispute resolution. There were also some areas of success, which can be used as a basis for future cooperation.

Another obstacle would be the reluctance of each side to participate in a PMNF for fear that this would compromise the sovereignty of either. Previous cases of the PMNF model involve a unitary state or home rule. However, the model can be adapted to new circumstances. It could also draw on the federalist tradition in Zionist thought, and growing enthusiasm for a confederation arrangement.

An additional objection to the use of PMNF is that the position of Hamas in Gaza would preclude it from participating in any joint institutions. This is true, and would require the separation of the peace process into two stages. However, in principle the PMNF could remain open to Hamas, conditional on its suspension of violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist and commitment to past agreements.

What are the outcomes of a PMNF likely to be?

The PMNF model is not designed to deliver success but to ensure better failures over time. However, there are numerous signs that the region is ready both for a new peace process and for new institutional innovations. A PMNF would support negotiations and encourage domestic reforms in both societies. It would also promote representative democracy, security and human rights in the region.

Would a PMNF be sufficient to guarantee success in the peace process?

The creation of an Israeli-Palestinian PMNF might be a helpful or even necessary condition of peace, but it is not sufficient. Ultimately, success will require inspired leadership and the patient efforts of ordinary people to achieve coexistence and reconciliation. The creation of a joint negotiating institution can allow such leadership and efforts to emerge and grow within and between both societies.

23 August 2007

23 August 2007 - Kids and rockets

Ha’aretz has a new English-language TV feature that provides a short roundup of the day’s news. The lead story in the latest edition is about the disagreement over how two Palestinian kids happened to be killed by an IDF shell. The IDF says it fired at two figures who had emerged to retrieve rocket launchers after a Qassam launch. Hamas says the IDF targeted a group of kids out collecting carobs.

Children are suffering on both sides of the border, but whether in Israel or Gaza the culprit is Hamas. Several times, Palestinian children have been killed by errant Qassam shells. Palestinian terror groups have made use of children as would-be suicide bombers and human shields before, and this time seems no different. Send the kids out: if they don’t come back, turn their deaths into a propaganda coup.

On the Israeli side, I have seen what a Qassam rocket looks like after it lands. The heavy, twisted metal and the shrapnel leave no doubt as to the murderous intent of those who have launched literally thousands of these things over the past several months. The big debate in Israel is how, and whether, to protect nearby schools with reinforced conrete shields. The cost is high, but the cost of inaction is higher.

There is much more to write about—however, I am in the midst of preparing my paper for the MECA conference and simply haven’t had time to write much on the blog lately. However, I thought I’d recommend a series of articles by Gershon Baskin in the Jerusalem Post in which he analyzes the reasons for the failure of the Oslo peace process. Part III is due next week; read Part I and Part II for now.

22 August 2007

22 August 2007 - Recognizing genocide

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith reversed its unconscionable stance of denial of the Armenian genocide yesterday, following pressure by the Armenian-American community and American Jews. Propaganda around the issue had accused the ADL of actively lobbying against a Congressional bill forcing the U.S. to acknowledge the genocide, but the ADL denied this; it has yet to back the bill.

The ADL had held out against recognizing the 1915-18 genocide as such because of fears that doing so would endanger Israel’s relationship with Turkey and might prompt reprisals against Jews living there. This, frankly, does not add up to a legitimate excuse and is a sort of shtadlanut by proxy. However, the ADL deserves to be commended for its change of heart, a rare phenomenon in the political world.

Last night, before knowing the ADL had adopted a new position, I watched clips of the debate in the Watertown, Massachusetts council, where the town decided to withdraw its participation in the ADL-affiliated “No Place for Hate” program. The cause may have been just but the atmosphere was that of a witchhunt. Everyone, including the American Anti-Arab Discrimination Committee (ADC), took potshots.

The spat between the ADC and ADL is about much more than this issue alone. The two organizations have taken opposing positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the ADC declaring “The illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is the foremost obstacle to peace.,” while the ADL’s position is that Palestinian terror and Arab/Muslim rejectionism is the fundamental cause of the continuing conflict.

Closer to the region itself, I am confident that in spite of all the violence, failed dialogue and hatred, something like a consensus is emerging about a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A perusal of the articles in the most recent Palestine-Israel Journal (and I’m not just plugging it because I’ve got an article in it) suggests broad support for the two-state solution and some sort ot confederation.

I think the question at this stage must be less about specific solutions but about methods and approaches to a solution, all of which might be secondary to the issue of leadership on both sides. There is a possibility that we might see a breakthrough this fall. Hopefully both Israelis and Palestinians can then get down to building their future, and those of us in the two diasporas can bicker a little less.

21 August 2007

21 August 2007 - 40 years of failed dialogue

I’m often complaining that discussions among human rights groups tend to be one-sided, moralistic, and inimical to an exploration of the fundamental issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would be better, I often argue, to adopt an approach more geared towards conflict resolution and dialogue. I was reminded yesterday that such discussions can be just as unproductive than the confrontational kind.

The Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture—in which I’ve recently published a quirky article about the “Northern Ireland option”—held a discussion yesterday on Jerusalem. The focus was the history of the city’s development in the forty years since “reunification,” and the prospects for the future. One speaker was Palestinian, the other Israel, but they disagreed on little.

The Palestinian speaker, a filmmaker, began by saying that she cared deeply about the city, then launched into a distorted, almost comical account of Israeli intentions in 1967, claiming that Ben-Gurion wanted to destroy of the Old City and fly the Israeli flag above the Dome of the Rock. (She was later corrected by an audience member, who pointed out that Ben-Gurion was not in power in 1967 in any case.)

Her basic argument was that Israel has succeeded in creating physical “facts on the ground,” such as the security barrier and Jewish neighborhood (she called them “settlements”) in East Jerusalem. However, she claimed that Israel had failed in its alleged effort to control Palestinian demography. The wombs of Palestinian women, she suggested, had defeated Israeli efforts to make the city Jewish instead of Arab.

Despite her “care” for the city, this speaker seemed to see the future of Jerusalem as a kind of zero-sum population game. No doubt, there are Israelis who feel the same, and this mutually impoverishing vision has indeed driven Israeli policy in the city for quite some time. But she seemed locked into the confrontation, even suggesting that any Palestinian culpability in the conflict was a response to Israeli actions.

The Israeli speaker, a former Knesset member, promised to be “extremely brief” but then spoke for about twice as long as her Palestinian counterpart. She argued that the integration of the city had, paradoxically, reinforced its inequalities; and that now, Israel was attempting to divide the city in order to maintain Jewish demographic supremacy. Jews and Arabs, she claimed, never interact as equals.

I found her presentation stunning in its denialism. What Jerusalem is she living in? I wondered. Not the integrating Jerusalem of today. Also, the issue of inequality is a red herring. When two populations with unequal resources interact after being separated from one another, there might well be greater inequality, but the real question is whether the more disadvantaged group benefits in absolute terms.

Here I think there is no doubt that life in East Jerusalem is much better today that it was 40 years ago. Things have undoubtedly changed for the worse in the part of East Jerusalem that lies beyond the security barrier, but that is not, as both speakers assumed, part of a demographic plot. Rather, it is an unfortunate feature of an anti-terror strategy that has improved life in this city immeasurably.

Not once did either speaker mention the terrible impact of suicide bombings in the 1990s and especially in the second intifada, and how the hated security barrier had restored calm and optimism to Jerusalem. I had the feeling that both of them were simply of an earlier generation, one that had come of age in a simpler time of more comfortable moral certainties and that had failed to grapple with today’s challenges.

Both speakers mentioned that Jerusalem has become a poorer and more religiously extreme city, but neither of them identified any real causes or solutions. It occurred to me that the city’s economy would recover if more secular, skilled people started moving back, and that encouraging them to do so might only require simple (though controversial) changes like allowing public transport to run on Saturdays.

The most constructive idea I heard—and it was one that nearly everyone else in the room disliked—was the idea of giving sovereignty over the city’s holy sites to God, and having them be governed by a council of religious representatives. The woman who suggested this idea took it to fanciful extremes, but it struck me that a bicameral council that dealt with mundane matters in a lower chamber could work.

Overall, the discussion was a failed dialogue between people of a mostly left-wing persuasion who actually disagreed deeply on fundamental issues but struggled to maintain a façade of consensus. I left feeling rather disillusioned, imagining that what the city really needed was visionary leadership that was sensitive to the different communities and willing to do what is needed to make the place work.

20 August 2007

20 August 2007 - Judges in Jerusalem

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has been sending an “Eminent Jurists Panel” around the world to study the human rights impact of counter-terrorism measures employed after 9/11. I had the opportunity today to hear the presentations of a number of Israeli human rights NGOs to the two visiting judges who are in Israel and the Palestinian territories to wind up the ICJ investigation.

I had the opportunity to review some of the ICJ documentation beforehand. In 2004, the ICJ issued the Berlin Declaration on Upholding Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Combating Terrorism. The Berlin Declaration spells out some noble ideals, but it seems to me that it sets the bar unrealistically high. How, for example, can states be expected not to discriminate somewhat on the basis of national origin when they may be facing the threat of terror groups from an enemy nation?

The list of jurists on the panel also concerned me. At least two of the seven have no place on a panel weighing human rights against counter-terrorism, in my view, because they enforce the law in countries (Egypt and Pakistan) that are not even slightly democratic and do not honor the civil and political rights of their citizens.

The presentations by the Israeli NGOs presented a number of accusations which were not probed by the judges, nor met with any evidence to the contrary. While the visiting judges are scheduled to meet with state attorneys, legal officers from the IDF and senior Israeli judges, the failure to honor the principle of audi alteram partem in today’s presentation created a skewed and superficial picture, in my view.

The issues that were discussed included Israel’s temporary law preventing “family reunification” by Arab citizens of Israel with Palestinian spouses living in the occupied territories; restrictions on Palestinian movement within and across the boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza; Israeli military accountability for the deaths of Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israelis; interrogation techniques used by Israelis on Palestinians in detention; procedural problems in Israeli military courts in the occupied territories; the continued responsibility of Israel for conditions in Gaza; the reduction in the number of permits granted to Gazans to travel to Israel for medical treatment; and the use of traffic violations to restrict the movement of Palestinians—many of whom merely wish to work—into Israel.

All of these issues, I felt, were important—but none of them could be considered without considering the context. Given the mandate of the panel, there was surprisingly little discussion of terrorism and counter-terrorism. I listened to one Palestinian rights advocate speak at length about Israeli violations in Gaza without once mentioning the ongoing bombardment of Israeli civilians with Qassam rockets.

To at least one of the presenters, such actions by Palestinians were not even illegitimate. “We are talking about people who are carrying out, in their own way, self-defense against the occupation,” she said. Another claimed that if Israel were allowed to kill terrorists in their homes, half of Israel’s population would be legitimate military targets, since most adult males serve in the IDF reserves.

In a similar vein, one group reported that half of all Palestinians killed by the IDF since the start of the second intifada had not been involved in fighting at the time they were killed. But what does that mean—and if they are part of a terror group, what difference does it make? When asked about targeting an armed person, one presenter actually said: “I don’t think taking a rifle is a reason to be targeted.”

Not every presentation was quite so slanted, and the problems raised are serious. However, there was little way to determine the truth of some of the allegations, and the discussion never complex explored moral and legal questions, except for the exchange about targeted killings. I wasn’t really sure how much preparation the judges had done, either, since at times their questions were pretty basic.

I was asked to take notes for the entire group, which I did, and a staffer from the ICJ specifically asked me to get quotes that would paint a picture or tell a story. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I had the feeling he wanted the plaintive, earnest outrage of the human rights activists to come through. And what about the stories of victims of terror? Or the relief of millions of Israelis protected by the IDF?

Not once today did the discussion address the effectiveness of Israeli counter-terrorism tactics in protecting civilians on both sides. Nor did there seems much room for a strategic assessment of the positive gains of the Gaza disengagement. Some presenters acknowledged improvements in Israeli policies in response to human rights complaints but others claimed things had only gotten worse.

At various times, people used ideologically-charged language like “apartheid,” or accused Israel of using counter-terrorism policies for nefarious purposes like altering Israel’s internal demographic balance. Rarely did any human rights representative challenge the bizarre statements of some of their colleagues—though disagreement broke out over the precise structure of Israeli military courts.

I left the panel feeling rather dejected, knowing that my notes would be used to prepare a report that would likely be unfair to Israel and offer decontextualized, one-sided judgements. And I felt worried about the cumulative effect of such reports on Israelis’ regard for human rights themselves. Why, I wondered, was there no NGO in Israel that tried to offer an alternative perspective at these kinds of events?

19 August 2007

19 August 2007 - Peace Now and the Heftsiba collapse

Recently, the Heftsiba construction company, one of Israel’s most important real estate developers, collapsed amidst allegations of fraud and mismanagement. Hundreds of people who paid for apartments in new developments have now been left in the lurch, and some have even tried breaking into their unfinished units in the hope that living inside their investments would save them from being lost.

The story of how and why Heftsiba failed is probably a complex one, and the authorities are investigating charges of wrongdoing. But a new theory is doing the rounds among Israeli settlers. Peace Now, the story goes, caused Heftsiba to collapse when it brought a successful court injunction against a Heftsiba construction project in the West Bank which violated zoning restrictions.

To Israelis on the right of the political spectrum, this is a classic case of left-wing activists damaging the country, and the rights of Israelis, for purely ideological and self-interested reasons. To Israelis on the left, the Heftsiba collapse—if indeed it was indirectly caused by Peace Now—should serve as a warning to Israelis and Israeli companies that the days of “anything goes” in the territories are over.

This has the makings of a great, tragic political drama. All the various factions in Israel are involved, from the left-wing activists to the Haredim to the Russian tycoons. The Palestinians of Bil’in are there, and the new settlers of Modi’in Illit, and with them all the yearnings and recriminations of the conflict. It would be entertaining—if hundreds of families were not in danger of losing their homes.

17 August 2007

17 August 2007 - Giuliani vs. Obama

Foreign Affairs
has been publishing essays by the leading American presidential candidates on their respective visions for U.S. foreign policy. Last month, for example, it published Barack Obama; this month it published Rudy Giuliani. These candidates have the most interesting foreign policy positions because they represent views that are a) clear; b) contrasting; and c) moderate. Here’s my take on each.


Analysis of the problem: “The Bush administration responded to the unconventional attacks of 9/11 with conventional thinking of the past, largely viewing problems as state-based and principally amenable to mhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifilitary solutions.” This is curious, since it implies Bush’s policy is not “neoconservative” but “paleoconservative.” Obama believes the problem of terror can be separated from the states that support it.

First priority: “To renew American leadership in the world, we must first bring the Iraq war to a responsible end and refocus our attention on the broader Middle East. Iraq was a diversion from the fight against the terrorists . . .” Here Obama proposes a “phased withdrawal” or “redeployment” of American troops. (In the old days, they called it a “retreat.”) The U.S. must use regional diplomacy to solve Iraq’s problems.

Second priority: “Changing the dynamic in Iraq will allow us to focus our attention and influence on resolving the festering conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- a task that the Bush administration neglected for years.” This somewhat outdated analysis places the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the top of the agenda. Why this is more important than other issues is not adequately explained.

Israeli-Palestinian issue: “Our starting point must always be a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel . . . we must help the Israelis identify and strengthen those partners who are truly committed to peace, while isolating those who seek conflict and instability.” There are no really innovative ideas here; Obama believes the key is renewing the personal commitment of the President to the issue.

Human rights: “The new UN Human Rights Council has passed eight resolutions condemning Israel -- but not a single resolution condemning the genocide in Darfur or human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Yet none of these problems will be solved unless America rededicates itself to the organization and its mission.” Obama believes the US cannot fight for human rights if it does not set the example.

Strongest point: “To renew American leadership in the world, I intend to rebuild the alliances, partnerships, and institutions necessary to confront common threats and enhance common security.” Obama wants the US to get more involved in reforming the UN and NATO, and to lead on issues of global interest such as climate change. A more engaged America can certainly achieve more than a sullen, passive one.

Weakest point: “Tough-minded diplomacy, backed by the whole range of instruments of American power -- political, economic, and military -- could bring success even when dealing with long-standing adversaries such as Iran and Syria.” Obama is willing to talk to everyone, using the implied threat of force for leverage but he will not use such force unless authorized by others. (Except Pakistan?)


Analysis of the problem: “The world is a dangerous place. We cannot afford to indulge any illusions about the enemies we face. The Terrorists' War on Us was encouraged by unrealistic and inconsistent actions taken in response to terrorist attacks in the past.” Wishful thinking about terror and its causes allowed 9/11 to happen and is being revived by so-called “realist” ideas about foreign policy.

First priority: “The first step toward a realistic peace is to be realistic about our enemies. They follow a violent ideology: radical Islamic fascism, which uses the mask of religion to further totalitarian goals and aims to destroy the existing international system.” That means not showing weakness, and it means fighting to achieve U.S. goals in Iraq and Afghanistan and keeping (some) troops there.

Second priority: “The idea of a post-Cold War ‘peace dividend’ was a serious mistake . . . . We must rebuild a military force that can deter aggression and meet the wide variety of present and future challenges.” That means greater investment in both offensive and defensive capabilities, though how this is to be squared with goals of fiscal discipline and other domestic priorities is not adequately spelled out.

Israeli-Palestinian issue: “It is not in the interest of the United States, at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists, to assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism. Palestinian statehood will have to be earned through sustained good governance, a clear commitment to fighting terrorism, and a willingness to live in peace with Israel.” Make them come to us, in other words.

Human rights: “The next president must champion human rights and speak out when they are violated. . . .[T]he better a country's record on good governance, human rights, and democratic development, the better its relations with the United States will be.” A far stronger and more explicit statement of principle and purpose than Obama provides here, putting human rights at the core of foreign policy.

Strongest point: “Another step in rebuilding a strong diplomacy will be to make changes in the State Department and the Foreign Service. . . .Too many people denounce our country or our policies simply because they are confident that they will not hear any serious refutation from our representatives.” When was the last time you heard an American official give a really stirring defense of U.S. policy?

Weakest point: “A hybrid military-civilian organization -- a Stabilization and Reconstruction Corps staffed by specially trained military and civilian reservists -- must be developed. The agency would undertake tasks such as building roads, sewers, and schools; advising on legal reform; and restoring local currencies.” Better to give direct support to existing institutions and leaders in other countries, I think.


Both candidates want to see the United States remain active in world affairs, and to reform international institutions. Both see a role for diplomacy and military force, but Giuliani sees diplomacy as a means, not an end. Guiliani’s ultimate strength is that he recognizes a) the danger of appeasement; b) the importance of human rights; and c) the need to win the war of ideas within the democratic world.

16 August 2007 - Pilgrimage to MECA

In three weeks, I’ll be presenting a paper co-written by Sapir Handelman and myself at the 2007 Middle East and Central Asia (MECA) Politics, Economics and Society Conference at the University of Utah. The program looks amazing and I will be sure to blog from the conference about all the debates and discussions there. Below is the abstract for our paper, which has changed only slightly since then.

Interactive models of negotiation: the Palestinian-Israeli case

Sapir Handelman and Joel Pollak (Harvard University)

What is the appropriate model for negotiation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? The conflict has had a negative impact upon almost every dimension of life within the two societies. A peace agreement is in the interest of both, but has proved elusive.

There are many factors that make the conflict intractable. These include disagreements between the parties as well as domestic political barriers to compromise. Yet negotiation is necessary because although Israeli and Palestinian societies have separate aspirations, they are closely entwined.

Accordingly, our central claim is that negotiation should be regarded as a discovery process in which both sides learn how to create the conditions for peace. Negotiations should not focus narrowly on a final settlement but should build a multi-faceted process that serves as the foundation for future improved relations.

We evaluate four relevant models of negotiation. The first, the external model, involves a settlement imposed from outside. The second, the elite model, suggests talks between top leaders from each society, without direct public involvement, as in the Oslo peace process of the 1990s.

The third model, the institutional model, proposes the creation of public multi-party forums to carry out negotiations. Such institutions were used successfully in South Africa and Northern Ireland. The fourth model, the indirect model, prompts each society to address internal questions, such as ethnic and religious pluralism, as a way to prepare each for engagement with the external “other.”

We conclude that successful negotiations require some or all of these models at once. We consider the question of leadership under the pressures of intractable conflict, and how leaders might achieve domestic reform as well as external reconciliation.

Our aim is to provide analysis and policy recommendations to help Israelis and Palestinians build a stable dialogue and achieving peaceful coexistence in two independent and cooperative states.