Monday, September 4, 2017

Conan O'Brien in Israel: A Patsy for Netanyahu's Propaganda

Dear friends,
if you are a regular social media user, you may have noticed over the last week that US
Late Night Television host, Conan O'Brien was in the Middle East normalising and whitewashing Israel's apartheid regime and illegal military occupation of Palestine.

O'Brien spent the last week doing propaganda stunts with the Israeli military in occupied territory, hanging out with illegal Israeli settlers and lunching with Benjamin Netanyahu. He also visited the dead sea, failing to mention how Israeli is carrying out an occupation and stealing resources. While O'Brien made a cursory visit to Occupied Bethlehem, he made no mention in his social media posts that it was under military occupation and made mention at all of the repression and oppression faced by Palestinians. His posts depicting Palestinians, the few that they were in comparison to his many posts glorifying the Israeli military and state, were decidedly Orientalist in nature. O'Brien's trip is little more than a propaganda exercise, which normalises and whitewash Israel's apartheid regime and illegal military occupation.

In other words, his tripe was a Israeli hasbarist's (propagandist's) wet dream.

Despite this and a lot of crowing by Israel apologists and apartheid whitewashers, there was also a concerted push back on social media, which was good to see. Many were not buying his hokey fake "apolitical" BS and were calling him out for normalising Israeli apartheid and whitewashing Israel's occupation and oppression of the Palestinians.

So while O'Brien is more than happy to play the court fool/jester to Netanyahu and to an apartheid terror state, the time has also long passed since people will just blindly accept this type of normalisation and whitewashing.

There has been several articles written over the last few days on O'Brien's trip (see for example, Mondoweiss - click here), I am reposting Haaretz's article, which gives a very good breakdown/analysis of O'Brien's trip. 

As the article notes, O'Brien has sought to affect a fake sense of apolitical neutrality, which is not neutral at all.  As South African anti-apartheid campaigner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously noted:  "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."O'Brien has clearly chosen a side and he has chosen the side of the oppressor.

In solidarity, Kim


Conan O'Brien Became a Patsy for Netanyahu's Propaganda

His 'Conan in Israel' tour has exceeded even the expectations of Israel's right-wing prime minister and the energetic hasbara apparatus that seeks to disappear the occupation.

Hagar Shezaf Sep 04, 2017 HAARETZ.

They say the best publicity you get for free, and Israel sure got a ton of free publicity over the past week from none other than Conan O’Brien, who has been filming a "Conan in Israel" special for his show.

Using Facebook Live, Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube, O’Brien has broadcast his trip non-stop. And what he's seen hasn't strayed one inch from precisely the kind of image Netanyahu and his government would want the world to see. O’Brien has amplified Israel's positive propaganda apparatus more efficiently than the state itself could have dreamt someone of his stature would ever do.

Every country engages with public diplomacy, seeking to promote its best face to the world. One could argue Israel's PR efforts are no different, but they're also predicated on an attempt to shift global public attention away from one critical issue that defies PR laundering: the occupation.

Israeli public diplomacy, or hasbara, often conveys two key messages about Israel to the world. First: Israel is a key player against terrorism, the Iron Dome of the Western world. Secondly, Israel is a fun, western, liberal state in the middle of the wilderness of the Middle East. In other words, it is a small, attractive country with unfortunate and unfair PR, but the cocktails are great and the women are beautiful.

Both elements are very much present in O’Brien’s social media tour of Israel: he sampled Tel Aviv’s "craziest drink", visited the offices of the start-up nation’s most recent big success, the navigation app Waze, talked about Israel’s beautiful women and buff men and even did a 50-minute long Facebook live broadcast from an IDF training session with an all-female unit.

Most of his visit went by without the barest acknowledgement of the political reality here. His two main encounters (broadcasted on Facebook live) with Palestinians were stereotypical Orientalist encounters, both in marketplaces: in Jerusalem, he was "taught how to haggle" by the merchants; in the second, in Bethlehem, was sold a "fake hookah" and was treated to tea.

Watching O’Brien walking through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, scene of a massive Palestinian protest movement only a month ago but left unmentioned, was perplexing. The most politically charged location in the country has suddenly become - through O’Brien’s gaze - just like any other "Arab market" (in his own words), in Marrakech or in Disney’s imaginary Agrabah.

He also visited the Aida refugee camp, from where he shared a photo alongside with kids who were "not impressed with his showbiz stories." Their lack of enthusiasm was an eloquent pushback to O'Brien's attempt to turn them into a sycophantic audience and his utter lack of commentary about their lives as refugees.

Social media platforms are a key battleground for competing sides to frame Israel’s reputation. Israeli politicians and those employed in many and various public diplomacy efforts urge Israelis and their supporters to take on social media to challenge pro-Palestinian narratives online, and to tell the world about what a beautiful place Israel is.

The Israeli government recently supported and spearheaded an app called ACT.IL where users are assigned daily tasks on social media such as reporting on so-called 'anti-Israel' Facebook posts or sharing and retweeting positive news about Israel.

One of the app’s team members told Ynet: "We asked the users to send us videos of all sorts of sports they've done in Israel. We edited it together into a spectacular video and spread it on Facebook with the help of the app's users."

O’Brien’s videos did just the same, not stepping an inch from what you would expect from a full-fledged hasbara campaign. "I think there might be a lot of people in the world who would think that’s a very tense place and it’s not the impression that you get," O’Brien told Israeli news anchorwoman Yonit Levi during an interview last Wednesday.

O’Brien obligingly sat down with Prime Minister Netanyahu and joked around with him about the Prime Minister’s dog, Kaia. This meeting followed an Instagram video Netanyahu shared where he welcomed O'Brien.

Netanyahu's celebration of O’Brien’s visit not only contributes to his social media image as a cool, worldly guy (the same politician who copycats Trump terms like "fake news" and calls African refugees and asylum seekers "infiltrators"), but serves as proof of Netanyahu’s claim that Israel is far from being isolated and that his policies have done no damage to Israel’s image in the eyes of the world. I mean, how can you say that after you have someone as famous as O’Brien coming here?

"One thing I can tell you, you think you in Israel you got problems? It’s every day in the United States," O’Brien said in the very same Channel 2 interview.

Conan has declared his comedy non-political in the past, though it seems that since Trump’s election his comedy has leaned at times towards the political – like the sketch where 'Trump' narrated a documentary about the civil war or when he went down to Mexico in March and asked Mexicans to "chip in" for Trump's wall plan.

That's why it's even more surprising that as a politically aware American, O’Brien could tour Israel, even paying a short but dutiful visit to the West Bank - and completely ignore the political situation. This sort of wilful ignorance may have been acceptable before the Trump era, but today it’s even harder to excuse this constant attempt to not talk about politics abroad when you do talk politics at home.

O'Brien's attempt to shut his own eyes, not see the checkpoints he crossed on the way to Bethlehem for what they are, the Old City for its volatility or Netanyahu for his dire role in local politics - are ever more apparent when you compare it to his critical approach towards Trump.

Celebrities coming to Israel aren’t a new thing, obviously, and they always stir a heated online debate. Most recently, Radiohead’s performance was hailed as an anti-BDS victory after Roger Waters of Pink Floyd called on the band not to perform in Israel because of the occupation, to which Thom Yorke replied saying they chose to come to Israel in order to send a message of peace.

O’Brien has absolved himself from the debate altogether, choosing to completely ignore politics. Some may say that this is O’Brien’s way to remain neutral, even pointing to the fact that he visited Bethlehem (even tagging a photo or two #Palestine) as a way of acknowledging Palestine and representing Palestinians.

But we live in times where neutrality actually means choosing a side; painting Israel as just another fun tourist spot, and normalizing what isn’t normal, is an active contribution to the narrative of Israel's right-wing government.

O’Brien’s trip has done nothing but strengthen Israel’s “villa in the jungle" self-image. And that image is crucial to Netanyahu because it facilitates justifying all of its policies and actions – and not least, to an American audience.

Israel Revokes Citizenship of Thousands of Negev Bedouin, Leaving Them Stateless

Dear friends,
as you will be aware, Israel continues its attempts to ethnically cleanse not only Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem and the Occupied West Bank,but also inside the Israeli state itself. Please find below a recent article from Haartez on Israel's latest ethnic cleansing attacks on Palestinian Bedouin.

I have also written previously on Israel's  ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians inside Israel. You can read my earlier blogs on this below:

Two killed in Bedouin village slated to be demolished, replaced with Jewish town

Prawer-Begin Plan: Israel to escalate ethnic cleansing

IN PHOTOS: Palestinian General Strike Against Israel's Prawer-Begin Ethnic Cleansing Plan

Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Bedouin

in solidarity,


Israel Revokes Citizenship of Thousands of Negev Bedouin, Leaving Them Stateless

Some were citizens for 40 years, served in the army and paid their taxes, but had their status canceled with a single keystroke and no further explanation

 Jack Khoury Aug 25, 2017 Haaretz

Abu Gardud Salem from the village of Bir Hadaj of the Azzamah tribe on August 18 became a man without citizenship after a trip to Israeli immigration offices.  photo: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Dozens of people – men and women, young and old – crowd into a big tent in the unrecognized village of Bir Hadaj. Some hold documents in plastic bags while others clutch tattered envelopes. What brought them to this village south of Be’er Sheva in Israel’s Negev desert was that the Population, Immigration and Border Authority had revoked their citizenship, claiming that it had been awarded to them in error.

Judging by the increasing number of complaints piling up in recent months, this appears to be a widespread phenomenon among the Negev’s Bedouin residents. Hundreds if not thousands of them are losing their citizenship due to “erroneous registration.” This is the reason they get from the Interior Ministry, with no further details or explanation.

Fifty-year-old Salim al-Dantiri from Bir Hadaj has been unsuccessfully trying to obtain Israeli citizenship for years. He doesn’t understand why Israel won’t grant it to him; his father served in the Israel Defense Forces. “Sometimes they say there was a mistake in my parents’ registration dozens of years ago. Is that our fault?” asks al-Dantiri. He’s not the only one, but many of those who came to the meeting were reluctant to identify themselves out of concern that it might hurt them in their interactions with the Population Authority. Others have already given up hope.

Mahmoud al-Gharibi from the Al-Azazme tribe in the Be’er Sheva area is a carpenter who has been unemployed for a year following a road accident. He has 12 children from two wives. One is an Israeli citizen and the other comes from the West Bank. Seven of his children have Israeli citizenship but he has been stateless since 2000. “I went to the Interior Ministry to renew my identity card,” he relates. “There, without any warning, they told me they were rescinding my citizenship since there was some mistake. They didn’t tell me what it was or what this meant. Since then I’ve applied 10 times, getting 10 rejections, each time on a different pretext. I have two children who are over 18 and they too have no citizenship. That’s unacceptable. I’ve been living in this area for dozens of years and my father was here before me. If there was a mistake, they should fix it.”

Another person in the tent, who wished to remain anonymous, says that “many of these people, mainly ones who don’t speak Hebrew that well, don’t understand what happened to them. No one explains anything and all of a sudden your status changes. You go in as a citizen and come out deprived of citizenship, and then an endless process of foot-dragging begins.”

For years Yael Agmon from nearby Yeruham has been accompanying Bedouin to the Interior Ministry to help them apply for passports or update their identity cards. On many occasions, she has witnessed their citizenship being revoked. “You can clearly see how a clerk enters their details into a computer and then they instantly lose their citizenship. They then have to contend with an endless bureaucratic process. Sometimes it costs them tens of thousands of shekels in lawyers’ fees, and they don’t always get their citizenship in the end,” she says.

Salman al-Amrat came to the tent gathering because of his wife’s and oldest son’s status. The 56-year-old member of the Al-Azazme tribe is an Israeli citizen. His 62-year-old wife is stateless even though she was born here, he says. “Every time we try to get her citizenship we are met with refusal.” Al-Amrat’s oldest son, now 34, is also without citizenship even though his younger brothers ultimately received theirs. “We’ve been trying for years to obtain citizenship for him but to no avail. Every time they say some documents are missing. Now we’re trying through an attorney. It’s illogical that six of my children and I have citizenship and my oldest son doesn’t,” he says.

Atalla Saghaira, a resident of the unrecognized village of Rahma, fought for 13 years to obtain his citizenship, even though his late father served in the IDF. He started the process in 2002, when he applied for a passport and the Interior Ministry refused to give him one. “They said that my parents had become citizens but weren’t ones to begin with,” he says. He finally obtained Israeli citizenship in 2015. “I insisted on my rights and waged a campaign against the bureaucracy by myself until I obtained citizenship, but I know there are some people who give up,” he says. Saghaira’s father was a tracker in the army for several years, and left after sustaining an injury. At the time, he had seven children (including Attala), but three of them still are still stateless.

Another resident of Bir Hadaj, Abu Garud Salame, works in the Ramat Hovav industrial zone. He says that all five of his children and three of his brothers received their Israeli citizenship but he has been refused each time he requested to have it reinstated. “We’ve been living here for dozens of years. My parents registered in the ‘50s and now I’ve been deprived of my citizenship. Even if there was some mistake in the registration process I don’t know why I have to pay for it,” he says. “Why are we to blame for things that happened decades ago?”

Automatic change in status
Lawmaker Aida Touma-Suliman of the Join List has received many appeals in recent months from people who have been stripped of their Israeli citizenship. Attorney Sausan Zahar from the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel recently appealed to Interior Minister Arye Dery and to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, asking them to cancel this policy.

According to her petition, these sweeping citizenship cancellations has been going on at least since 2010. When Bedouin citizens come to Interior Ministry offices in Be’er Sheva to take care of routine matters such as changing their address, obtaining a birth certificate or registering names, the Population Authority examines their status, as well as that of their parents and grandparents, going back to the early days of the state.

In many cases, the clerk tells them that their Israeli citizenship had been granted in error. On the spot, he changes their status from citizen to resident and issues them a new document. People who lose their citizenship are given no explanation and no opportunity to appeal. Instead, the clerk suggests that they submit a request and start the process of obtaining citizenship from scratch, as if they were newcomers to Israel.

Many, caught by surprise and without legal advice, don’t know what to do. Some submit a request for citizenship while others simply give up in despair. Zahar says that many requests are denied due to missing documents, a criminal record (not a valid reason for denying citizenship) or even the applicant’s inability to speak Hebrew. Many Bedouin women who have been stripped of citizenship fall into the latter category. One such woman filed an appeal over the cancellation of her citizenship due to an alleged error. When it turned out that her Hebrew was lacking, her appeal was rejected. She remains stateless.

Adalah’s petition to the interior minister shows that individuals who have been citizens for 20, 30 or even 40 years, some of whom served in the army, who voted and paid their taxes, had clerks cancel their status with a keystroke. As permanent residents, they can vote in local elections but cannot run for office, vote in national elections or run for the Knesset. They receive social benefits such as medical insurance and national insurance payments, but cannot receive Israeli passports. If they are out of the country for prolonged periods of time, they can also lose their permanent residency, and unlike citizens, they cannot automatically transfer their status to their children.

Among those who remain without Israeli citizenship are people born in Israel to parents who are Israeli citizens. There are families in which one child is a citizen while another is a permanent resident. Some of those affected were stripped of their citizenship when they tried to renew their passports to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca, a mandatory tenet of Islam and something they now cannot do.

Registration during British Mandate
The Knesset’s Interior and Environment Committee held a discussion on the issue last year, following an accumulation of requests to reinstate citizenship. During it, Interior Ministry officials confirmed that such a policy exists: When Bedouin citizens come to the ministry’s offices, clerks check the population registry for records of their parents and grandparents between 1948 and 1952.

Perhaps these years were not chosen by chance. Between the founding of the state in 1948 and the passage of the Citizenship Law in 1952, many Arabs could not register with the population authority since their communities were governed by a military administration. This included areas in the Negev which had a high concentration of Bedouin residents after 1948. In many cases, checking the records of an individual's grandparents entails looking at their citizenship during the British Mandate – a time when Israeli citizenship did not even exist.

After last year's Knesset discussion, the Interior Ministry was asked to check the extent of the phenomenon and its legality and to then update the Interior Committee. The head of the ministry's citizenship department, Ronen Yerushalmi, submitted the findings to the committee's chairman, David Amsalem (Likud), in September 2016. Entitled “Erroneous Registration of Negev Residents,” the report said that “the extent of the problem could involve up to 2,600 people with Israeli citizenship, who could lose it due to erroneous registration by the Interior Ministry.” It added that since individual cases had not been examined, the data was not precise and the numbers could even be higher.

During an earlier meeting of the committee in December 2015, the committee's legal counsel, Gilad Keren, expressed doubts regarding the legality of this process: “The citizenship law refers to cases in which citizenship was obtained based on false details, namely under more serious circumstances, not when the state has made a mistake. It refers to people giving false information before obtaining their citizenship. The law allows the interior minister to revoke citizenship only if less than three years have passed since it was granted. After that a court needs to intervene in order to revoke it. I therefore don’t understand how, when a person has been a citizen for 20 years and the state makes a mistake, that person’s status is changed.”

Adalah’s appeal to the interior minister and the attorney general demands an immediate halt to the citizenship cancellation policy. Zahar argued that the people affected by it don’t even have the right to a hearing before their Israeli citizenship is taken away from them. In addition to infringing on their right to citizenship, she wrote, the policy blatantly infringes on their right to equality. It is discriminatory based on nationality, since no Jewish citizen has had his citizenship revoked due to a mistake in his parents' or grandparents' registration under the Law of Return.

“I’m afraid that what has been exposed is only the tip of the iceberg and what hasn’t been revealed yet is even more serious,” says Touma-Suliman. She says that if Dery and Mendelblit do not resolve the issue soon, it will go to the High Court of Justice. “There is no justification for this policy,” she says. “The ministry is blatantly violating the law. It’s unacceptable that in one family living under one roof, half the children are citizens while the other half are residents or people with indeterminate status.”

Haaretz approached several former senior officials at the Interior Ministry and the Population Authority, including the agency's head until 2010, Yaakov Ganot, and Amnon Ben-Ami, its director until recently. Former Interior Minister Eli Ben-Yishai, who held the post most recently in 2013, said that if a decision had been made to revoke the citizenship of Negev Bedouin, “I don’t know about it and don’t remember holding discussions regarding this issue during my tenure.”

The Population Authority said in response that the cases mentioned above were not instances of revoked citizenship but ones of past registration mistakes, in which people had been registered as citizens but were not. It said now was the time to fix the problem, adding that the ministry held a discussion on the issue, the minister had taken a decision and the Knesset's Interior Committee had been informed. It said that “attempts are being made to address this problem legally in a manner that won’t affect these individuals' status in Israel.” The Population Authority also said the attorney general would be handling the appeal filed by Adalah.

Dery’s office insisted that the cases were absolutely not instances of citizenship being revoked but were instead situations of arranging legal status. “The minister has directed officials at the Population and Immigration Authority to handle the process involving this group of people in the easiest and simplest way possible. Minister Dery asked them to find any way possible to shorten the procedure in an attempt to avoid imposing any hardship on them,” said the office.

The attorney general's office gave no response, but officials there confirmed the details of the matter, telling Zahar that the issue had been handed over to attorney Dina Zilber, Mendelblit's deputy responsible for public administration affairs.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

REDFLAG: Debunking the myths of Israel/Palestine

Dear friends,
please find below my latest article, Debunking the Myths of Israel/Palestine, which was published by RedFlag earlier this month.

In solidarity, Kim

Debunking the myths of Israel/Palestine 
By Kim Bullimore
RedFlag: 5 August 2017

Over the past 120 years, the Zionist movement and later the Israeli state have constructed a web of fallacies that surround the creation of Israel and the ongoing conflict, and which also seek to justify Israel’s ethnic cleansing and oppression of the Palestinian people.

This web of historical and current fallacies, which are often repeated by the capitalist media and Western governments seeking to extend their imperialist outreach in the Middle East, try not only to mystify the origins of the conflict but also to ensure that a just solution can never be reached.

Only through debunking these myths, separating the historical truth from the Zionist fiction, can we understand the origin and causes of the conflict.

Myth #1: The conflict is religious

Zionist mythology often casts the Israel-Palestine conflict as a centuries-old religious conflict between Jews and Palestinian Arabs. This is a historical fiction. The reality is a settler-colonial conflict, which emerged only in the early 20th century.

Zionism, the ideological foundation on which the Israeli state is built, emerged in the late 19th century in reaction to European anti-Semitism and waves of anti-Jewish pogroms.
Reacting to the persecution faced by Jews in the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, a small section of the European Jewish petty bourgeoisie began to subscribe to the idea that anti-Semitism was not a result of historical developments but an inevitable occurrence as long as Jews lived among non-Jews. Consequently, the Zionists began a campaign to establish a “national” homeland, despite the fact that they did not constitute a nation, but a religious and cultural group.

Theodore Herzl, the founding father of the Zionist movement, understood that the world was already carved up by competing colonial powers and that it might not be possible to establish a Jewish “national homeland” in Palestine. Writing in his 1896 political tract, The Jewish State, Herzl asked, “Shall we choose Palestine or Argentina?”

He noted that the Zionist movement would “take what is given us, and what is selected by the Jewish public opinion”. Herzl also explored the possibility of establishing a national homeland in Angola, Kenya and North Africa. The year before his death in 1904, Herzl also enthusiastically accepted a British offer to establish a Jewish state in Uganda. However, in 1905, the Zionist Congress rejected the plan in favour of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine.

Myth #2: Israel is not a colonial settler state

Settler colonial societies are a distinct type of imperialist formation, which are premised on the racist elimination of the indigenous population through various means, including ethnic cleansing, genocide and/or assimilation.

Unlike other forms of colonialism that centre on the exploitation of resources, settler colonialism is primarily concerned with the control of territory and the elimination of the indigenous population in order to replace it with a settler population. As the late Australian academic and leading settler-colonial theorist, Patrick Wolfe, notes: “settler colonialism destroys to replace”.

Before, during and after Israel’s foundation, the Zionist movement sought to control as much of historic Palestine as possible, establishing a permanent settler population by eliminating and replacing the indigenous Palestinian Arab population.

Prior to the 1890s, Jews made up less than 4 percent of the population of Palestine. The rest were Arabic-speaking Muslims and Christians. Initially, the Zionist movement attempted to buy land from Palestinian and Arab landowners, expelling Palestinian tenant farmers and families who had worked the land for centuries. However, it soon became clear that the majority of Palestinians had no interest in selling their land to a European immigrant population.

When, in 1947, the UN decided to partition Palestine against the will of the indigenous Palestinian Arabs, proposing to hand over 54 percent of the territory to the Zionists, Jews still made up only 33 percent of the population, while Palestinian Arabs were 67 percent of the 1,845,000 residents. Less than a year later, by the end of 1948, the demographic table had been inverted, Jewish settlers now being a majority.

This was because, in the months leading up to the proposed partition, between December 1947 and April 1948, Zionist militias carried out strategic attacks on Palestinian cities and villages, terrorising and killing thousands of Palestinian civilians. Zionist militias would eventually forcibly expel 1 million Arabs from 418 of 476 Palestinian cities, towns and villages, with 750,000 fleeing to neighbouring states, while another 150,000 became internally displaced refugees inside the newly established Zionist state.

Of the 418 Palestinian villages and towns ethnically cleansed by Israel, 385 were completely destroyed as Israel seized control of 78 percent of historic Palestine.

Regardless of whether Zionist settlers attempted to purchase land or forcibly take it as they did in 1948, the settler colonial dynamic of the Zionist movement and the Israeli state remains the same. In both cases, the Zionist movement sought to colonise a territory permanently by replacing the original population.

Today, Israel remains an expansionist settler colonial state. In the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, Israel continues to steal Palestinian land and ethnically cleanse Palestinians in order to build illegal Jewish-only colonies, while inside Israel it seeks to ethnically cleanse between 70,000 and 100,000 Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel from their homelands in the Naqab (Negev), to make way for Jewish settlements and towns.

A 2012 report by the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to housing condemned Israel, saying, “From the Galilee and the Negev to east Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israeli authorities promote a territorial development model that excludes, discriminates against and displaces minorities, particularly affecting Palestinian communities, side by side with the accelerated development of predominantly Jewish settlements”.

Myth #3: Israel is the plucky David fighting the Arab Goliath

Zionist mythology has consistently painted Israel as being locked in a David vs. Goliath battle for survival, aggressive Arab states seeking to destroy it at every turn. Even today, the birth of the Zionist state in 1948 and the 1967 war in which Israel seized control of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem are depicted in this manner.

This narrative was not systematically challenged until the emergence of Israel’s “new historians” in the 1980s. The new historians such as Avi Shlaim have revealed that the “miraculous” birth of the Israeli state in the face of invading Arab hordes that “enjoyed an overwhelming numerical superiority” is a myth.

According to Shlaim, in mid-May 1948, “the total number of Arab troops, both regular and irregular, operating in the Palestine theatre was under 25,000, whereas the Israel Defence Force (IDF) fielded over 35,000 troops”. By mid-July, Israel’s troops numbered 65,000, increasing to 96,000 by December 1948. In addition, the Zionists forces were better trained and disciplined than the Arab forces. As Shlaim notes, “[T]he final outcome of the war was therefore not a miracle but a faithful reflection of the underlying military balance in the Palestine theatre”.

Similarly, Zionist mythology portrays Israel as facing imminent destruction at the hands of Arab aggressors in 1967. According to Israel’s then foreign minister, Abba Eban – in a speech to the UN on 19 June 1967 justifying Israel’s seizure of Palestinian, Egyptian and Syrian territory – the Zionist state was faced with a clear choice “to live or perish, to defend the national existence or forfeit it for all time”. However, the Six Day War launched by Israel on 5 June against Egypt, Syria and Jordan was not a war of self-defence but of expansion, allowing Israel to seize and occupy the rest of historic Palestine.

As Israeli historian Ilan Pappe notes in his most recent book, The Ten Myths of Israel, ever since 1948 sections of Israel’s military and political elites had been seeking an opportunity to seize what was left of Palestine in order to establish a “greater Israel”. According to Pappe, the 1967 war provided “the best opportunity” to do this.

Prior to the war starting, both Israel and the United States were aware that Egyptian president Gamal Nasser was not seeking war. At the time of the Egyptian troop movement, Yitzhak Rabin, the chief of Israeli military forces, informed his government that although Egyptian troops had been deployed to the Sinai, they were not in an offensive position and that “Nasser did not want war”. Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, who served as a cabinet minister in the “unity” government during the Six Day War, later admitted that Israel was the aggressor, saying “We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him”.
Israeli president and former defence minister Ezer Weizmann, who served as Israel’s chief of military operations in 1967 and was instrumental in launching the June war, similarly admitted that Israel faced no threat of destruction and that Israel’s military superiority ensured that, had Egypt attacked first, it would have “suffered complete defeat” within 13 hours.

In 1972, general Mattiyahu Peled, who led Israel’s war efforts in 1967, once and for all debunked the myth that Israel went to war because it faced imminent destruction. According to Peled, the claim was a “bluff”, and Israel faced no such threat. Peled later condemned Israel’s actions as a “cynical campaign of territorial expansion”.

Today, Israel fields one of the strongest military forces in the world. According to Global Firepower’s 2014 ranking, Israel’s military capabilities ranked 11 out of 133 countries, four spots ahead of Canada and nine spots ahead of Australia. Since World War Two, Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign aid. In 2016, the USA signed a new 10-year military assistance deal with Israel, the largest in US history, worth $38 billion. The deal was a 27 percent increase on the previous military assistance deal between Israel and the USA, signed in 2007.

US imperialism seeks to control the vast oil and natural gas reserves of the Middle East. In this effort, Israel became US imperialism’s chief ally, the US-Israel alliance being based on a shared political interest – opposition to any form of Arab radicalism that might threaten either US or Israeli domination in the region.

Myth #4: Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East

Israel is often touted as “the only democracy in the Middle East”. But far from being a democracy for all its citizens, Israel is an ethnocratic state that does not afford all of its citizens the same rights. One of the first laws passed by the newly established Israel in 1949 was the “Absentees” property law, which allowed the confiscation of land and property belonging to more than 1 million Palestinians who had been forced to flee their homeland by Zionist militias in 1948.

Between 1949 and 1966, Palestinian citizens of Israel were forced to live under martial law. Unlike Jewish citizens of the Zionist state, Palestinian citizens were regularly subject to curfews and political repression, Israeli military governors ruling over the lives of Palestinians with impunity. Despite being citizens of Israel, Palestinians could not leave or enter their towns without permits, restrictions were placed on their education and employment, and political activity and organisations were banned.

Writing for Haaretz on 16 June 2013, Palestinian activist and novelist Odeh Bisharat recounted his own family’s experience under Israel’s military regime between 1949 and 1966. In addition to the daily struggle to obtain exit permits to work in “Jewish cities”, Bisharat noted that Shin Bet (Israel’s secret police) and its network of collaborators/informants were omnipresent in the lives of all Palestinians, ensuring that “the military administration settled in our homes, nestled between the sheets of our beds, between father and son, man and wife, until everything seemed suspect”.

According to researcher Sarah Ozacky-Lazar, Israel’s military rule “penetrated all areas of civilian life and became a state instrument for political, economic and social control of the Arab minority”.

Despite martial law formally ending in 1966, Palestinian citizens of Israel are still not afforded the same democratic and civil rights as Jewish citizens. According to Israeli human rights group Adalah – the Legal Centre of the Arab Minority – since 1948, more than 50 discriminatory laws have been enacted against Palestinians, who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population.

In 2015 and 2016, Israel enacted a further seven laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens and Palestinians living under Zionist occupation in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Adalah explains that these new laws “undermine the most basic legal protections, rights and freedoms, including the rights to vote and to be elected, to political expression, essential procedural safeguards for detainees, and to ownership of property”.

Among the laws was one that allows the Jewish majority in the Knesset (parliament) to oust elected Arab members and their political lists purely on the basis of political or ideological considerations. According to Adalah, the law is the “latest attempt by the government to delegitimise the elected political representatives of the Palestinian minority in Israel”, following a range of laws including the “Electoral Threshold Law”, “Nakba Law” and “Boycott Law” in order to silence the Palestinian Arab public.

The reality of Israeli apartheid

Despite more than 50 laws legally enshrining discrimination against non-Jewish citizens of Israel, its governments and their supporters deny the apartheid nature of the Zionist state, claiming Israel is nothing like South Africa.

While Israel has not sought to impose exactly the same apartheid regime on Palestinians that existed in South Africa, it imposes a system of rights and privileges according to ethnic and religious identity, which fits the definition of apartheid enshrined in the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
According to the convention, apartheid consists of denying members of a racial group the right to life, the infliction of arbitrary arrest, illegal imprisonment, serious bodily and/or mental harm (such as torture or degrading punishment), the exploitation of racial groups by forced labour and the imposition of living conditions aimed at destruction – in part or whole – of the group.

Furthermore, Article Two of the convention identifies apartheid as denying “basic human rights and freedoms” to racial groups and the implementation of “any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country”, including the right to nationality, education, employment, freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association and freedom of residence and movement.

While Palestinian citizens of Israel are subject to a range of apartheid laws in areas as wide ranging as land, employment and political activity, one of Israel’s most notorious apartheid laws is the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Provision), which was enacted in 2003. The law prohibits the granting of citizenship or residency status to Palestinians from the occupied territories, as well as Arabs from Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, who are married to Israeli citizens. According to Adalah, the law specifically affects Palestinian citizens of Israel, preventing thousands of families from living together.

Israel’s apartheid regime is enacted against both Palestinian citizens and Palestinians living under Israeli military occupations. Since 1967, Palestinians living in the occupied territories have been subject to military laws, which control every aspect of their daily lives.

Palestinians are regular subjected to a wide range of punitive punishments and restrictions, including the destruction of homes and crops and restrictions on freedom of movement.
Israel’s apartheid regime in the occupied territories also allows the detention and arrest of large numbers of Palestinian civilians without charge or trial. Detained Palestinians, and their lawyers, have no right to know what they are accused of and no right to access the military “evidence” being used against them.

Since 1967, more than 40 percent of Palestine’s male population, including minors, have been detained by Israel. According to Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, “Physical and psychological torture against Palestinian and Arab prisoners has been a distinguishing factor of Israeli occupation since 1967”. The association estimates that since the beginning of the first Palestinian intifada in 1987, at least 30,000 Palestinians have been tortured by Israel.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How Pro-Israel advocates in Australia targeted three Australian journalists

Dear friends,
I am a little late in posting this up.  Recently respected Australian journalist, John Lyons recently released a memoir about his time in Jerusalem bureau for The Australian.  As many will be aware, Murdoch's Australian is avowedly pro-Zionist/pro-Israel and Lyons has often been the lone dissenting voice on Israel-Palestine among its permanent roster of journalists. 

In his memoir, Balcony Over Jerusalem, Lyons documents how both the Israeli government and Zionist pro-Israel lobby in Australia systematically targeted him and other journalists, seeking to favourably influence and/or undermine their reporting of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Please find below the Guardian's article from July discussing Lyon's memoir and the targeting of journalist by the Israeli government and Pro-Israeli lobby groups.

In solidarity, Kim


Pro-Israel advocates in Australia targeted three journalists, new book claims

John Lyons says he was put under constant pressure when covering the Middle East for the Australian, and so were ABC reporters Sophie McNeill and Peter Cave

The ABC’s Sophie McNeill was one of the network’s two reporters who were put under the microscope by pro-Israel advocacy groups, a new book claims. Photograph: Sophie McNeill/Instagram 

Pro-Israel advocacy groups in Australia targeted the Middle East correspondent of the Australian newspaper and two ABC reporters, a new book claims.

John Lyons says he was subjected to consistent pressure from the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) while based in Jerusalem for the Australian for six years, as were the ABC’s Sophie McNeill and the veteran ABC correspondent Peter Cave.

In his Middle East memoir Balcony Over Jerusalem, Lyons says Cave told him another group prepared dossiers on Cave and other ABC reporters “and sent them to like-minded journalists and members of parliament”.

Lyons says pressure also came from inside his own paper. He says the former editor of the Weekend Australian Nick Cater refused to publish his work and the pro-Israel lobby bombarded editors with criticism of his reports.

“I phoned Cater and he confirmed that he’d asked for my work to no longer appear in Inquirer [the Australian’s Saturday opinion section],” Lyons writes.

“I let [editor-in-chief Chris] Mitchell know that, from my point of view, the exclusion from Inquirer was just the latest in a long series of disagreements with Nick Cater … he intervened and told Cater that excluding me from Inquirer was not acceptable.”

Lyons writes that an Israeli embassy official was invited by Cater to the Australian’s head office in Sydney, and told editors that the embassy was not happy with him. “To me the idea of an officer of a foreign government wandering the floor of my newsroom criticising me was outrageous.”

Lyons interviewed Mitchell and others for the book, but Cater declined.

In 2015, AIJAC sent a file on McNeill to Jewish members of the ABC board, including the then chairman James Spigelman, and this file claimed among other things that she was unsuitable because she had said “one of the saddest things I’ve seen in my whole life is spending time filming in a children’s cancer ward in Gaza”.

The then ABC managing director Mark Scott ordered a detailed response from corporate affairs, which he took to the board.

“I will not cower to the AIJAC,” Scott said, according to Lyons.

Scott was also forced to defend McNeill from attacks at Senate estimates after the dossier was sent to key parliamentarians.

“Before this reporter set foot in the Middle East, there was a campaign against her personally taking up that role,” he said in response to a question from senator Eric Abetz.
“I am saying that she is a highly recognised and acclaimed reporter … she deserved that appointment and she needs to be judged on her work.”

In a letter to the board, Scott wrote: “The article [by AIJAC] demonstrates to Sophie McNeill and the ABC that her every word will be watched closely by AIJAC and she starts on the ground with this key interest group sceptical. We are all aware she will be under even closer scrutiny now. As they seek to influence our coverage, this is a pre-emptive ‘shot across the bows’.

“The pre-emptive attack on McNeill is similar to the approach employed by lobby groups internationally. The US reporter Jodi Rudoren was targeted when she was appointed Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times in 2012 and accused of being biased against Israel and unsuitable for the post … The New York Times refused to bow to the pressure and Rudoren remained in the position.”

Lyons writes that AIJAC director Colin Rubenstein had unprecedented access to the Australian, speaking regularly to editors and even suggesting articles the paper should run.

After criticising Lyons’s reporting, Rubenstein emailed an alternative article to Cater.
Mitchell, who was supportive of Lyons, later told him that Rubenstein would go behind his back and call Cater if he refused to take his call, Lyons writes. “I got upset with Colin when he rang me and attacked [Australian reporter] Elizabeth Wynhausen as ‘a self-loathing Jew’.

I thought it was inappropriate for him to be making that kind of comment about one of my staff. For some time after that I stopped taking his calls.”

Lyons argues that Australian journalists should not accept the trips to Israel organised by the lobby . “During my time in Israel I would come to believe that Australia’s uncritical support of Israel is both illogical and unhealthy,” he writes.

“For more than 20 years, Australians have read and heard pro-Israel positions from journalists, editors, politicians, trade union leaders, academics and students who have returned from the all-expenses-paid Israel lobby trips. In my opinion, no editors, journalist or others should take those trips: they grotesquely distort the reality and are dangerous in the sense that they allow people with a very small amount of knowledge to pollute Australian public opinion.”

Rubenstein told the Guardian he had spoken to editors over the years, including Cater. “I find it hard to see in what way this is nefarious or improper.”

He added: “I certainly did speak to Chris Mitchell about Elizabeth Wynhausen in 2006, and specifically about a piece which read like a ‘hit job’ on both AIJAC and myself, while evoking all too familiar caricatures. I felt entitled to some right of reply - which I received in the form of a letter.

“I do not recall ever calling her a ‘self-loathing Jew’ and that does not sound like the kind of terminology I would use. As for Chris Mitchell’s claim about ceasing to take my calls, I must say I was not aware he felt that way at the time – which shows how infrequently I actually spoke to him.

“We did put together a public document explaining why we thought Sophie McNeill … was an inappropriate choice for Middle East correspondent for the taxpayer funded ABC, with its statutory obligations of impartiality.

”Everything we do - critiquing media stories; contacting editors, politicians and journalists and explaining our point of view to them; writing our our letters and op/eds; making complaints – are absolutely normal elements of deliberation and debate in a democratic society.

“I would call on those who oppose our views, including Mr Lyons, to engage with different views in a democratic, tolerant and constructive spirit, rather than demand, as he appears to be doing, that those who disagree with him be silenced or suppressed.”

The Guardian approached Cater but he declined to comment.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Nakba and Survival VS Benny Morris

Dear friends,
a review in Haaretz of Adel Manna's new book, Nakba and Survival and a response to Benny Morris's criticism of the book.

in solidarity, Kim

For the Nakba, There's No Need of an 'Expulsion Policy'

In contrast to what Benny Morris claimed, Adel Manna's 'Nakba and Survival' is an inspiring book, noteworthy for its methodical approach in presenting a credible, multifaceted history of the Palestinian tragedy of 1948

 Daniel Blatman, Haaretz, Aug 04, 2017

Benny Morris’ criticism of Adel Manna’s important book “Nakba and Survival: The Story of the Palestinians Who Remained in Haifa and the Galilee, 1948-1956” (“Israel had no ‘expulsion policy’ against the Palestinians in 1948,” July 29)  is part of the historian's efforts – which have continued for over 15 years – to deny what he once claimed in the past: that Israel carried out ethnic cleansing for all intents and purposes in Israel's 1948 War of Independence. (“Nakba,” meaning "catastrophe," is the term used by Arabs to describe the war, when more than 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes over a period of about two years.)

In the past Morris stated this with commendable courage. In a debate with Israeli author Aharon Megged on the pages of Haaretz in 1994, he declared: “The new corpus of facts that have been revealed in documents (for example: details that had been concealed regarding acts of slaughter, expulsion and expropriation carried out by the Hebrew defense forces in 1948 and in the following years) have given rise to a different interpretation of the Zionist enterprise Zionism’s principal aspiration was to solve the problems of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, to establish a political entity that would be a refuge for the Jews and an exemplary country.

An Israeli soldier, armed with a rifle, stop some Palestinian Arabs in a street in Nazareth, Palestine, July 17, 1948, as they are travelling after the allotted curfew time

“But," Morris continued, "Zionism also had other objectives: to take control of the Land of Israel from the sea to the river to replace the Palestinians who lived there: to push them out of the country at the moment of decision the defense forces of the Zionist movement gave expression to the belligerent and expansionist urge that was always at the basis of Zionist ideology, and made sure – whether by means of making them flee and expulsion, or by preventing the return of refugees – to push outside the borders of the state-in-the-making the vast majority of Arabs who lived in the areas that became the State of Israel, and also to enlarge the state beyond the lines drawn in the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution.”

The Benny Morris of 1994 did a better job of explaining what Dr. Manna asserts in his book. But in recent years Morris has been trying to “correct a mistake” and to prove that what he concluded from his research about the expulsion of the Palestinians was actually incorrect. I don’t know what made him change his conclusions regarding the catastrophe that Israel inflicted on the Palestinian people in 1948. What is worse is the fact that Morris wickedly criticizes research that is attempting, in a balanced and critical manner, to deal with the Nakba and its outcome from an angle that doesn’t suit the Zionist narrative – a narrative that Morris also attacked harshly in the past due to its ideological biases.

Morris asserts in his review that, “Concerning the 1947-1949 war, Manna’s story is simple: The Jews uprooted the Arabs from their locales and also did so in the years after the war; a conflict between two national movements, each of them with legitimate claims, did not happen; and, in fact, there was hardly even a war: There was just an uprooting and nothing else.” But isn’t this assertion similar to what he himself said 23 years ago?

Palestinian refugees leaving a village near Haifa, June 1948

Manna, as opposed to several of his critics, is fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and English, which is why, for example, he can not only read and examine official documents of the Haganah (the pre-state Jewish fighting force), but can also survey the Arabic press and other Arabic sources. In other words, as opposed to Morris, whose research is based mainly on official documents from Israeli and British archives, Manna presents a complex and more credible picture of the Palestinian tragedy.

Morris’ tendentiousness is also clear, for example, in his criticism of Manna regarding the interviews he gathered from survivors of the Nakba, who are now elderly men and women. How is it possible, complains Morris, that after so many years people remember what really happened? According to Morris, “Throughout ‘Nakba and Survival,’ Manna ‘shows’ that what people remember 40 or 50 years after the fact is congruent with what is related in the documentation that has come down to us from those years (this, contrary to my own admittedly not very vast experience to the effect that usually there is no such congruence, or else the interviewees simply did not remember anything).”

In other words, according to Morris, what’s really important in order to understand “what really happened,” is what he found in the Israeli or British archives. Strange, since in a review he wrote in the Haaretz Hebrew edition (“These refugees have nowhere to return to,” November 24, 1992) on an encyclopedic collection published by the Institute for Palestine Studies about Palestinian villages that were erased from the map in 1948, he thought differently: “The authors didn’t interview refugees (and in a few years from now none will remain),” he claimed.

Benny Morris still believes that the role of the historian is no more than to tell his readers what he found in an official archive and in documents issued by some government organization or other. Had the study of the Holocaust, for example, continued to be based on a similar approach – as indeed was the case in German historiography in the 1970s – we would know almost nothing about the Jews’ lives and their efforts to survive during the years of their great tragedy, as we now know thanks to the many testimonies from the survivors themselves.

PHOTO: The cover of 'Nakba and Survival: The Story of the Palestinians Who Remained in Haifa and the Galilee, 1948-1956.' 

And that’s actually what Manna does: He brings the story of his people’s national tragedy from the point of view of the victim, of the survivor. Israel’s policy on the Palestinian issue and the policy of expulsion are not at the heart of the book: The story of the expulsion and of the survival is what's found there.

On the issue of the expulsion Morris also squirms in an effort to distance himself from his former self. But here he steps on a land mine: Serious researchers of the phenomenon of mass violence don’t have to find unequivocal proof of the existence of “a policy of expulsion” in order to reach the conclusion that crimes against humanity were committed. He asserts that there was no such policy, and if there were directives issued to carry out massacres in Palestinian villages they were conveyed, he says, “by (vague) order.”

One would think that when the Ottomans decided to expel the Armenians in 1915 they published it in the official press, or when Ratko Mladic decided to slaughter over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995, he made his orders public. Orders and instructions to carry out such crimes are given orally, in closed discussions, and by implication, in ambiguous language. That doesn’t mean that those who carry them out don’t know exactly what is intended by the person who gives those evasive orders.

Morris finds the ultimate proof for the weakness of Manna’s claim regarding the expulsions in the fact that at the end of the war, 160,000 Arabs remained inside Israel. Is that expulsion? If there was a policy of expulsion, he asks, how is it possible that so many Palestinians remained? That reminds me of what Holocaust deniers wrote already in the first years after World War II. A final solution? What are you talking about? How is it possible that hundreds of thousands of Jews remained in all kinds of European countries, and millions in the Soviet Union? Perhaps, those anti-Semites claimed, several hundreds of thousands died from the harsh conditions in various places – but ... gas chambers and mass murder?

Of course, no research is free of errors and imprecise assertions. That’s also true of Manna’s research, and Morris mentions some of them. But Manna’s book is an important contribution to the study of the Palestinian tragedy, and mainly, a rare opportunity for the Jewish reader to understand the human aspect of the great catastrophe that the national independence of his people inflicted upon members of the nation that lived in this country for many years before that.

Palestinian refugees returning to their village after its surrender during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Israeli Conscientious Objector: 'It's okay to be racist in Israel'

Dear friends,
Israeli conscientious objector and anti-occupation activist, Sahar Vardi recently gave an interview to Al Jazeera on racism in Israel and the Zionist state's ongoing belligerent military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

I first briefly met Sahar when she attended demonstration in the Occupied West Bank against Israel's occupation. At the time, she was a high school refusenik/conscientious objector and had not yet been sent to prison for refusing to serve in the Israeli military. 

In 2012, Sahar and Micha Kurz, another conscientious objector and one of the founders of the Breaking the Silence were in Australia for a speaking tour. During the Melbourne leg of their speaking tour, Sahar and Micha kindly agreed to do a video interview with me on co-resistance in Israel and Palestine, which I have included below.

In addition to the 2012 video interview and the recent Al Jazeera interview with Sahar, I have also included the conscientious objector video that Sahar participated in, along with other conscientious objectors in 2009.

In solidarity,

 Israeli Conscientious objectors, 2009

2012: Melbourne interview with Sahar Vardi and Micha Kurz 
on Co-resistance in Israel & Palestine


'It's okay to be racist in Israel'

An Israeli conscientious objector speaks out about racism and subjugation as the occupation enters its 51st year.

Supporters of an Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, charged with manslaughter after he shot a wounded Palestinian alleged attacker as he lay on the ground in Hebron in 2016


Al Jazeera, 25 June 2017

Zena al-Tahhan is an online journalist and producer for Al Jazeera English

Occupied East Jerusalem - This year, Israel's 1967 occupation of the Palestinian territories entered its 51st year.

In the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Israeli army is responsible for controlling the lives of more than three million Palestinians through hundreds of checkpoints, raids of villages and homes, trial of civilians in military courts, demolition of homes, suppression of protests, and the killing and injuring of civilians, to name a few.

To sustain the occupation industry, Israel makes it mandatory by law for Israeli citizens, excluding Palestinians and Orthodox Jews, to enter the military at 18. Men have to serve just under three years while women serve two years.

Yet, there are Israeli citizens who refuse to serve in the military for several reasons, including opposition to the army's policies in the Palestinian territories it occupies.

Sahar Vardi, 27, is one of such refusers. She is an Israeli activist who was sentenced to prison and detention eight times consecutively for her defiance in 2008. Vardi also faced other repercussions for her decision; she said she would get very late phone calls for periods up to a year at a time with people cursing at her.

Her home was also graffitied with profanity directed at her.

READ MORE: How Israeli soldiers interrogated me

Many countries around the world have accepted the right of conscientious objectors to be exempt from military service. In Israel, objectors must apply through a committee to gain exemption.

The committee, popularly known as the "Conscience Committee", is mostly made up of military officers. In practice, only those who claim religious reasons or apolitical pacifism - a refusal of violence in all forms - are exempted.Those who outwardly state their opposition to the occupation are sentenced to repeated terms of imprisonment until they are declared unfit to serve by the Israeli army.

Al Jazeera spoke to Vardi, who was released in 2009, about her experience and her views on Israeli society after 50 years of occupation.

Al Jazeera: Can you tell us about the process of getting out of military service in Israel?

Sahar Vardi: There are two legal ways to be exempt from military service in Israel. The first is being recognised as a conscientious objector. It's difficult to do so, but it is possible.

Every year, some 54,000 people are drafted into the Israeli military. Out of the 54,000, about 100-200 request conscientious objector (CO) status*. A military committee assesses each case, but grants CO status to only a few dozen youths.

READ MORE: Israeli army 'among world's child rights violators'

The committee only allows pacifists to be exempt from military service, but the committee has a very narrow definition of what pacifism is. To be granted CO status, you have to tell the committee that you are against any form of violence under any circumstance and that your refusal is not political. Mainly, if you say the word "occupation", you fail. That's kind of the game.

A lot of it is also avoiding the committee's questions because they're absurd - you cannot answer them - at least not honestly. We've had people being asked: "You're standing with a gun in front of Hitler, what do you do?"

The second way to be legally exempt from military service is to cite mental health problems, which is the easier way out.
Al Jazeera: How did you decide to go about it?

Vardi: I did go to the conscientious objectors' committee, but decided in advance that I will say the real reasons why I did not want to be in the military and use the word "occupation" in my explanation. And I failed the committee's test.

I got a letter saying that I was not recognised as a conscientious objector, and therefore must serve in the military. Once you are classified as fit for service, you cannot refuse to join the military in Israel - there's no legal way to do that.

You are tried as a soldier refusing an order, which means that you will go to court, be sentenced, and go to prison. When you eventually get out of prison, you will get an order saying you have to go back to your military base to continue your service. If you continue to refuse, you will repeat these steps for a while.

The most anyone has ever sat in prison for refusing to serve was two years.

I refused eight times consecutively, but I wasn't sentenced to prison each time. Sometimes I was put in detention because they didn't have room for me in prisons. In those instances, we were kept in a military base instead. I've spent a total of five months in prison and detention.
Al Jazeera: Why didn't you try to get out based on mental health?

Vardi: Getting out on mental health is pretty easy. Today about 12 percent of the Israeli population that's supposed to be conscripted - Jewish and Druze - either don't start or don't complete their military service based on mental health issues. That's huge. I'm going to assume that not 12 percent of Israeli society is mentally ill.

Everyone knows that this is the easiest way out of the military. Many people who do not want to serve in the military because of economic reasons will get out by citing mental health issues.

Also, some people who are ideologically opposed to being in the military, but who do not want to go to prison, choose the mental health route to avoid military service.

For me, it was kind of an opportunity to make a political stand. I knew I could get out in whatever way - I could have said the right things to the conscientious objectors' committee. I know the answers they wanted to hear. But the idea is that it's an opportunity to talk about the occupation. There are other people like me, so we had a voice - we came out with a campaign, we made statements to the media, and so on.

Once you go to prison, you can talk about the realities of the occupation. This is not merely about avoiding military service, which is easy. It is also about putting out a message.

Al Jazeera: Do you think Israelis are ignorant of the occupation of the Palestinian territories?

Vardi: Israelis do know that something is happening in the West Bank. Some of them won't call it occupation because they like to hide behind the legal discourse of it being disputed territory.

But there aren't Israelis that don't know there's military control on a civilian population at least in the West Bank - in Gaza, it's different.

People have no idea about what that means though. We have this idea that everyone was in the military so everyone knows what occupation looks like right? That's not the case.

Between 10-15 percent of the military are combat - meaning will actually be stationed in the occupied territories.

Even then, what they know is a very specific narrow reality. You speak to soldiers in a protest and they'll tell you this is Area A of the West Bank, you're not supposed to be here when we're not actually in Area A. [Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israeli citizens are forbidden from entering Area A of the West Bank, under Palestinian control]

They don't even know what's happening around them.

Even the fact that you're there doesn't mean you understand the reality. Understanding what is actually going on requires a lot of knowledge and the priority of the military is not to educate soldiers. The military's priority is to teach soldiers that they need to follow orders. So, Israelis don't really know what occupation is.

Most Israeli Jerusalemites that you stop in the street in West Jerusalem don't know that Palestinian Jerusalemites are residents and not citizens - they literally have no idea that they are not citizens of the state.

Al Jazeera: Who's responsibility do you think it is?

Vardi: Of course, it is their responsibility to know, but it's the responsibility of Israeli activists to make sure Israeli citizens know these things. For most people, the occupation is not relevant to their lives. It's also important to understand the dynamics within the Israeli society.
Israel today, within the Organisation for Economic, Co-operation and Development (OECD), is a country with one of the biggest gaps between the rich and the poor. This means a huge part of Israeli society is struggling for existence - and really couldn't care less why East Jerusalemites are only residents, and why close to 80 percent of them live in poverty. It's not really their priority.

I think for us as activists, part of the responsibility is to figure out how to make this an issue - and make people understand that it is their responsibility to care about this. But we need to make sure that we do this from a place that also acknowledges other issues that they care about.

Al Jazeera: Why do you think the discussion on 1948 in Israel, even among leftists, is non-existent?

Vardi: There's a difference between the Zionist and the non-Zionist left. But mainly, it's because there's an easy solution for 1967 - the two states. I don't think it's realistic, but at least at the discourse level, the Israeli left have a solution for the problems born out of the 1967 war.

But 1948 - what do you do with it? The one thing you can do with it - if you actually want to talk about it and recognise the Right of Return - is to give up the Jewish state. There's a lot of solutions that will still allow Israeli Jews to be here - that's not the issue. The issue is that if you acknowledge the problem with 1948, your only option is to give up on the Jewish state.

INTERACTIVE: A record year of home demolitions in occupied East Jerusalem

In mainstream Zionist discourse and mindset, that's not on the table. That's not an option, that's not something people conceptualise. It's challenging for people who grew up with the conception of: "We need a Jewish state to protect ourselves." That's mainly what it stems from. They believe that this is a need. So, based on that, opening up 1948 to discussion is a problem.

It's a question of tackling something far deeper and far more rooted within Israeli existence. Most Israelis don't have a reason to do it. Their life is fine - it's comfortable - why should they question these things?

There's actually been more discussion in the last few years about the "Nakba" - surprisingly because of the right wing. For example, the Nakba law [a law that criminalises commemorating the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948] meant that you have to explain what the Nakba is.
Al Jazeera: How do you think regular Israelis justify what is happening in the occupied Palestinian territories?

Vardi: For the ideological right, it's about taking over the Holy Land. From a more mainstream political perspective, a lot of it is about resources - cheap land, water, man power, that allows for a successful economy.

Most settlers don't move to a settlement for ideological reasons - they move because it's far cheaper. For example, people who move into the Maale Adumim settlement move there because that is the only place they can afford to live.

Others justify all this with the need for security. They think occupation keeps them safe. This has a lot to do with how Israelis are educated and how fear is a huge part of our identity. And there's a lot of political interest in keeping it that way. You can't continue such a level of militarisation in a society without fear. You can't ignore what happened in 1948 without it. You can't continue maintaining an occupation without it. Our education system is built to make sure that we're terrified. Even our media and political campaigns - [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu is an expert at making sure that we're terrified.

I have a friend who, during her military service, worked at the biggest radio station in the country, which is military run. She was part of the news desk. They were ordered to start the broadcast with a news story about Iran whenever they had to report something that is critical of the military or something bad that happened - like a Palestinian being killed at a checkpoint.
They were told to go to Reuters and find something about Iran. It's like: "We do bad things sometimes at a checkpoint but there's an existential threat - a nuclear bomb, right?"

People are genuinely afraid.
Al Jazeera: How do you explain the Israeli military's use of psychological abuse in the occupied territories?

Vardi: That's how militaries work. If you choose to maintain an occupation and if you choose to maintain military control on a civilian population, it's going to be violent - there's no nice way to do it.

Of course, racism is an inherent part of it. This is rooted in the fact that these people are told that they have to control this civilian population as if they are an enemy. To achieve this, they have to become racist. You can't stand in a checkpoint and stop people from going where they need to go without either going crazy or becoming racist.
You have to dehumanise people. You can't follow orders if you don't dehumanise people. Think about yourself standing at a checkpoint for eight-hour shifts and having to tell people, "Oh, actually, your permission to enter ended three minutes ago and you can't pass anymore, even if you have a doctor's appointment."
You can't do that if you actually see the person in front of you as someone who could be your grandmother.

So you dehumanise them and once you dehumanise a group of people there is no turning back. You dehumanise them just so you can say "no" at a checkpoint. But the next time you're in a situation where you have to push them, it'll be easy enough for you to push them. And then, when you have to shoot them, it'll be easy enough for you to shoot them.

After a few months, you lose all touch with humanity.

Al Jazeera: Is this part of the military training?

Vardi: The military is made up of officers who are used to dehumanising people. It is full of people who used to beat people to the ground. That's already inherent in who they are and how they see things. So, obviously, it's part of the entire culture. This culture stems from the military and eventually becomes part of civil society - and today - racism is a legitimate part of the Israeli discourse.

It's okay to be racist in Israel today. It's okay to say, "Yes, Jews are better." It's okay to think, "Yes, when we are thinking of security, the security of Jews is more important than the security of Arabs" - that's not even a question.

The legitimacy of racism is partially based on what Zionism is. It's a nationalist movement of the Jewish people – it's by definition preferring Jews over non-Jews – that's what Zionism is. People believe that this is a logical way of thinking in light of the way we have been treated through history.

There's a fundamental difference between protecting the Jewish identity as a minority and what happens when Jews become the majority and still pursue the ideology of protecting the Jewish identity at any cost.

Once, I witnessed a family having a serious conversation about what would be worse - their Jewish son bringing home a Palestinian girl or [an Israeli] man. A Palestinian friend of mine, who speaks fluent Hebrew, also witnessed this conversation. And we just sat there, thinking that this is a legitimate conversation that can be had in public.

Al Jazeera: What do you think needs to happen for things to change?

Vardi: I think one of the things that Israel has done very well is to maintain a level of oppression, which means you will always have to deal with certain issues, but you also still have something to lose because, when people don't have anything to lose, they revolt.
Israel is pretty good at keeping that balance, although it is beginning to break slightly. The fact that Israeli society is becoming more right-wing and that Israeli politicians are responding to that and are becoming more aggressive means that at some point that balance will break - at some point Palestinians will not have as much to lose - but I hate to see that as the optimism.

*The Israeli military did not respond to Al Jazeera's request to confirm the figures.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Facts & Figures: 50 Years of Israeli Military Rule, 70 Years of Palestinian Dispossession

Originally published June 08, 2017 - IMEU

50 Years of Israeli Military Rule, 70 Years of Palestinian Dispossession

A woman sits in front of her destroyed home after it was demolished by Israeli bulldozers in the Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran

The policies of discrimination and displacement that Israel has implemented against Palestinians in the lands it has military occupied since the 1967 war are part of a larger program of dispossession of Palestinians dating to Israel’s establishment in 1948 and encompassing Palestinians citizens of Israel as well. Inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, these policies are intended to limit and contain the Palestinian population in order to create and maintain a Jewish majority country that privileges Jewish citizens over non-Jewish ones.
  • Although they have the right to vote, Palestinian citizens of Israel (who comprise about 20% of the population) face widespread systematic discrimination in virtually every aspect of life, including dozens of laws that preference Israeli Jews dealing with everything from land ownership and housing, to education, employment, health care, and family reunification.


  • As non-Jews in a Jewish state, Palestinian citizens of Israel are confined by law and zoning policies to just 3.5% of the land. Ninety-three percent of the land in Israel is state controlled by the Israel Land Authority and quasi-governmental Jewish National Fund, which discriminate against non-Jewish citizens. According to Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, in 2015 only 4.6% of the housing tenders published by the Israel Land Authority were given to Palestinian communities in Israel. 


  • Like Palestinians in the occupied territories, Palestinian citizens of Israel who build homes without difficult to obtain permission from Israeli authorities risk having them destroyed. Between 1997 and 2017, Israel destroyed more than 5,000 homes belonging to Palestinian citizens of the state. According to the Israeli government, between 2012 and 2014, 97% of the demolition orders issued were for homes belonging to Palestinian citizens of Israel. In April 2017, the Israeli government passed the “Kaminitz Law,” making it easier for authorities to destroy homes belong to Palestinian citizens of Israel.


  • There are currently entire Palestinian Bedouin villages in the Negev desert in southern Israel which are threatened with destruction by the Israeli government. In 2013, Israel decided to forcibly remove the 500 Bedouin residents of Umm al-Hiran and build a town for Israeli Jews in its place, called Hiran. Following the decision, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an editorial declaring that it “constitutes a new low in the state’s treatment of the Bedouin of the Negev, and a new stage in Israel’s becoming an ethnocracy: a regime that exists for the good of a single ethnic group, and that grants rights on the basis of ethnic affiliation rather than the principles of equality.”


  • In total, there are an estimated 56,000 homes belonging to Palestinian citizens of Israel that under threat of destruction by the Israeli government.


  • During Israel’s establishment, between 1948 and 1950, Zionist and Israeli forces ethnically cleansed more than 400 Palestinian towns and villages, including homes, businesses, houses of worship, and vibrant urban centers, which were systematically destroyed or repopulated with Jews. Most of them were demolished to prevent the return of their Palestinian owners, now refugees outside of Israel's pre-1967 borders, or internally displaced inside of them. (See here for interactive map of Palestinian population centers destroyed during Israel's creation)


  • During its establishment, Israel expropriated approximately 4,244,776 acres of land belonging to Palestinians who were made refugees or internally displaced people. Between 1948 and 1967, Israel expropriated approximately 172,973 acres of land belonging to Palestinian citizens of the state.


  • Today, approximately 100,000 internal refugees from Israel’s establishment in 1948 live in more than 100 “unrecognized villages” near their original homes, which were destroyed by Israel, where they “suffer from inadequate living conditions and constant threats of demolition,” according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).


  • Similar to Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in the occupied territories since 1967, Palestinian citizens of Israel were governed by martial law from 1948 to 1966. Thus, during the entirety of Israel’s nearly 70-year history, there has been a period of only about one year that it didn’t rule over large numbers of Palestinians while denying them the most basic of political and civil rights.