Demography Is Not A Threat

Last week, just ahead of the failed “Unite the Right” rally in Washington, Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham spewed some venomous anti-immigrant statements. She said that “in major parts of the country, it does seem that the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people and they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like.”

Plenty of people lined up to criticize Ingraham, and rightly so. But I wonder how many would have similarly criticized this statement:

In about a decade, the Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will be a majority and the Jews a minority. The Jewish national home will become the Palestinian national home. We will be again, for the first time since 1948, a Jewish minority in an Arab state. I want to separate from the Palestinians. I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel. I don’t want them to change my flag and my national anthem. I don’t want them to change the name of my country to Isra-stine.

Those remarks were made in June 2015, at the annual Herzliya Conference in Israel. Who made them? Benjamin Netanyahu? Or perhaps one of the far-right figures in his government such as Ayelet Shaked, Miri Regev, Avigdor Lieberman, or Naftali Bennett?

No, those words were uttered by Isaac Herzog, who was, at the time, the opposition leader and chair of the Labor Party, the largest part of Zionist Union coalition. He was the leader of the center-left in Israel. Notably, his words drew little attention. Laura Ingraham would wish for such indifference. Read more at Lobe Log

False Confession, Misleading Headline: That’s Occupation

The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, is widely seen as Israel’s lone mainstream left-of-center daily. It has a low circulation inside Israel, but its English edition is read much more widely by Israel observers outside of the Middle East. It has even been called “The New York Times of Israel.”

That’s why it’s important to draw attention when it stumbles.

In a story published on Tuesday, Haaretz reported on the Israeli military’s claim that 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi, a Palestinian youth whose cousin, Ahed has recently become a cause celebre for opponents of Israel’s occupation around the world, got his devastating skull injuries not from Israeli fire but from falling off his bike.

Haaretz’s reporting on the claim was solid. They faithfully relayed the claim made by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and reported on all the evidence that demonstrated that Mordechai was, to put it plainly, lying. Haaretz reported that eyewitness testimony corroborated the shooting of young Mohammed and, “Haaretz has also seen Tamimi’s CAT scan and images of the bullet fractures removed from his skull.”

But the headline, which remained up even after Haaretz published a piece by Amira Hass attacking the COGAT for the fabrication, read simply, “Israeli Army: Tamimi’s Teen Cousin Admits Head Wounds Not Caused by Bullet, but by Bike Crash.”

This is not the fault of the Haaretz reporter, Yotam Berger, who wrote a solid piece that clearly met journalistic standards, but of the editors, who wrote the headline and allowed it to stand. The editors might argue that the sub-headline—“Israeli army claims Mohammed Tamimi’s injury is ‘fake news,’ but medical documents, eyewitness accounts and images of bullet removed from his head obtained by Haaretz challenge account”—mitigates the main one. But this is just not good enough. Many people only see headlines, whether because they’re just skimming the news or because it flies by them on social media. Anyone who’s worked in print news knows the headline tells the story for the masses.

Surely the editors of Haaretz are aware of this, just as they are aware that, ever since the video of Ahed Tamimi slapping an Israeli soldier went viral, the Israeli government has done all it can to persecute and punish the entire Tamimi family and to paint a false image of itself as the victim of a clever, far-fetched, and elaborate plot to “discredit” the occupying army. In that context, the irresponsibility of this headline is even more acute.

A Forced Confession

Ahed Tamimi’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, posted a statement on Facebook explaining how it was that Mohammed, more than two months after he was shot, suddenly “confessed” to his cover-up (my thanks to Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service for his translation).

15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi was plucked from bed in the middle of the night and arrested despite the serious head injury he sustained as a result of IDF gunfire shortly before the incident in which his cousin was placed in custody. Although the police were aware of his medical condition, including the fact that he’s due to undergo a major operation to reconstruct his skull next week, he was interrogated without the presence of a parent or an adult sitting in on his behalf.

Now, an IDF Major-General, the Coordinator of Operations in the Territories, Yoav (Poli) Mordechai, cynically exploits this weird investigation that should not have taken place, and declares that the boy admitted that he was injured while riding a bicycle. The question needs to be asked: what kind of miserable, incompetent set-up of an interrogation causes a frightened kid to say he fell off a bicycle.

This use by a general in the IDF illustrates how far the authorities are prepared to go in order to hit out at Mohammad and Ahed Tamimi. And if it was not clear until now, it is now clear that the military system cannot provide Ahed a fair trial and she therefore must be released immediately.

The story gains even more significance given that the shooting of Mohammed Tamimi occurred during the same protest that his cousin Ahed slapped the Israeli soldier. Ahed’s daily anger and frustration at living under the harsh conditions of military occupation, as she has all her life, was no doubt compounded by the protest, the army’s violent reaction, and, much more than that, the shooting of her cousin. All of this explains why Israel is so defensive and frightened of the image the young woman projects that a general would be tempted to lie in such a big, and, as B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli put it, “easily debunked” way.

Mohammed is facing surgery in a week, and one look at him shows that he is dealing with some awful burdens for anyone, let alone one so young. In the middle of the night, soldiers shot tear gas into his home and sprayed foul-smelling liquid all around it, and dragged him, along with nine others, out to be arrested and interrogated. Surrounded by soldiers with rifles, under those conditions, not knowing how long the Israelis would hold him—would he even be released in time for his upcoming surgical appointment or would he be held indefinitely, like his cousin, despite his serious medical condition?—Mohammed told them what they wanted to hear.

The COGAT leapt at the chance to undermine the defense of Mohammed’s cousin. He was, though, a little too eager, not realizing that the forced confession wasn’t going to stand up credibly against the existing objective evidence.

Can the Media Do Better?

Anyone who has followed the day-to-day operation of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank cannot be shocked by the COGAT’s behavior. As appalling as this story is, nothing about it is all that unusual, though it’s important not to become de-sensitized to the crimes and horrors that are the inevitable result of holding millions of people without rights for decades.

But so-called “liberal” media outlets like Haaretz can and must do better. It is to the newspaper’s credit that it printed Amira Hass’ piece not long after the piece by Berger that they headlined so badly. It is to its credit that the offending headline topped an article that was an otherwise fine piece of journalism that simply and dispassionately relayed the facts.

Haaretz’s editor-in-chief Aluf Benn and the rest of the editorial staff know the importance of headlines, and they had to know that this headline was misleading. I will not speculate as to why the article was headlined as it was, nor why the headline remains there as of this writing.

But the occupation’s story is as contested as any on the planet. The cases of Ahed and Mohammed Tamimi have been fought with propaganda as much as with slaps, military invasions ,and legal chicanery. The media in Israel has been under siege for years, especially under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who may finally be paying a price for his attempts to stifle the semi-free press that Israel has traditionally allowed under military censorship.

No outlet is as important in this regard as Haaretz. When people who aren’t necessarily immersed in the issues of Israel, Palestine, and the occupation see a headline like that one in the liberal Haaretz, it has a strong impact. It informs their view when they hear an argument about whether the Tamimis are trying to defame the Israeli military or if the military is simply clamping down on some uppity Palestinian teens.

The newspaper that provides, for better or for worse, a view of the events of the occupation that puts truth above any defense of the government has got to do better than this.

After 50 Years, Time to Talk about Rights, Not Occupation

For the past year, peace groups all over the world have been working on ways to mark the 50thanniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But now that the 50-year point

The Hawara Checkpoint

has been reached, we are greeted with some big news that few are talking about: There is no occupation.

No one has made such a declaration, of course, but the conclusion is inescapable. In all the relevant international law stemming from the 1907 Hague Conventions and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, which govern belligerent military occupation, are based on the presumption that the condition is temporary.

A recent paper issued by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) concludes “An unlawfully prolonged occupation arises when an occupying state seeks to permanently transform the international status, government or demographic character of a foreign territory, including through de jure or de facto annexation.” Their legal arguments are well worth reading and quite conclusive. Trying to summarize the details here would do them an injustice.

For many years, some critics of Israel’s policies have argued that the expansion of settlements was clear proof that Israel had no intention of ending its occupation. Defenders of Israeli policy have argued that the settlements themselves are temporary (a difficult proposition to sustain for anyone who has ever been to any settlement, even outside the so-called “major blocs,” that has had time to develop into the small towns many of them are).

That debate has been effectively ended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. For years, Netanyahu has been fighting to legitimize settlements as de facto part of the sovereign and recognized state of Israel while giving lip service to a two-state solution that he would never clearly define. But now, he has clearly rejected any end of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Speaking at a ceremony celebrating 50 years since the 1967 war that saw Israel capture the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula, Netanyahu said that “…in any agreement, and even without an agreement, we will maintain security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River.” There cannot be a clearer statement reflecting Israel’s intention to permanently transform the international status of the West Bank. It can no longer be elided.

In this regard, the right wing in Israel has won. They wanted always to deny the occupation and consider “Judea and Samaria,” as they refer to the West Bank, an inalienable part of Israel. The mission, in the wake of Netanyahu’s statement, is to make the right wing’s victory a pyrrhic one.

Status of the “Occupied Territories”

Israel insists that the areas controlled specifically by the settlements (that is, the land that is under the jurisdiction of the regional councils) are part of Israel, while the rest of the West Bank is not. This state of affairs cannot be legally defended. The territory cannot be cherry-picked in this fashion: it is either occupied by Israel or it is Israeli.

The question becomes whether the international community needs to press for citizenship rights for the Palestinians of the West Bank or for Israeli withdrawal. This isn’t a question Israel wants to face. In fact, a coalition of Israeli peace groups, under the umbrella name Save Israel, Stop the Occupation (SISO) says, “We support a two-state solution. If that is not imminent, Israel must grant full rights to Palestinians for as long as they are under Israeli control.” The group understands the choice Israel should face. Although they don’t say that Israel must extend citizenship to Palestinians, as a practical matter, it is impossible to grant “full rights” without granting citizenship.

SISO’s statement, however, reinforces the reality that, even if we move past the occupation framework and focus on rights instead of territory, a two-state outcome is not negated by Israel’s renunciation of its position as occupier. Palestinian demands can still be addressed either through granting Israeli citizenship or by an independent Palestinian state.

In this vein, we should examine a recent op-ed in Ha’aretz by the far-right wing Knesset Member, Bezalel Smotrich. In this piece, Smotrich argues that Israel should annex all of the West Bank and those who do not take up arms will be welcome to stay. Smotrich, of course, does not say they will be granted citizenship or equal rights, but only that they would “…enjoy a personal life far superior to that of Arabs in neighboring states.”

Presumably, Smotrich would use Syria as his basis of comparison, but in any case, it would be very difficult to differentiate the status of West Bank Palestinians from those in Israel proper under those conditions. As he says, “Those who remain won’t be forced to sing the national anthem. All they need do is not to take up arms.”

It is worth considering calling Smotrich’s bluff.

Could Israel remain a Jewish state if West Bank Palestinians had full civil and political rights? The wealth of the country would still be overwhelmingly be in Jewish hands, as would the political institutions. As we have seen in the United States, technical equality under the law doesn’t quickly change the face of the powerful.

Much of the country would retain its Jewish character simply because it was built by the Jewish collective. And if more of the country began to look like Haifa or Yafo, would that mean that the Jewish character of the country was erased?

Still, it is quite possible, even likely, that Jews would no longer be the majority in Israel in a foreseeable future under those circumstances. Is that reason to hold millions without rights? We must insist that it is not. If Israel wishes to avoid this unpleasant decision, it must move with all speed toward the establishment of a fully viable, fully sovereign Palestinian state, with all that such status implies.

A Rights-Based Discourse

The argument over whether it was always Israel’s intention to keep the West Bank will continue (Minister of Labor Yigal Allon presented a plan to annex a huge chunk of the West Bank and return the rest to Jordan just a month after the war). But it’s more important to focus on the present, and the current implications. And those implications are numerous, as we’ve already seen.

Netanyahu’s declaration that Israel would never end its occupation of the West Bank has not, of course, made people think that the territory is not occupied. To a great extent, this is because the statement changes nothing on the ground.

But it can make a difference, and it can be seized upon to address the single most basic inequity in this conflict. That inequity is the notion that Jews’ right to national self-determination in a state of our own trumps the basic right of Palestinians to freedom.

No one can deny to Jews our national identity and our right to pursue a national, self-determined existence. Nor can it be denied that, despite general conditions for Jews around the world over the past few decades, which are certainly the best in the modern era, history and the continued existence of anti-Semitism argue convincingly for Jews’ need for a place that can be both a safe haven from persecution and a national homeland.

But none of that entitles us to deny rights to others. No matter what the politics, the simple fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians have never harmed a single Jewish person. Yet every one of them lives without the basic rights most of us never even think twice about.

This is where abandoning the occupation discourse has the deepest impact. True, international law has specific regulations for military occupations. But Israel disregards those in any case. And, more to the point, those regulations, based on the presumption that the occupation is a military necessity and will end as soon as possible, confer an inferior status on those under occupation.

Occupation discourse also focuses on territory. In Israel-Palestine, the debate over borders, settlements, viability, and contiguity often implies human issues, but a rights discourse puts human beings under Israeli rule in sharp relief. And that is what Netanyahu’s statement opens up. We can and should respond to it by saying, “Fine, Israel can defend territory all the way to the Jordan River, but it must then grant all of those under its control full rights.”

The idea that Israel can control Palestinian lives without giving Palestinians rights is too often papered over in arguments about security, settlements, Jerusalem, and other issues. Netanyahu has opened the door to a shift toward a discourse based on equal rights for every Israeli and every Palestinian. Some of us, myself included, will continue to argue that such rights are best achieved in two separate states. But even we two-staters must agree on one point: Israeli and Jewish rights to life, security, peace, the pursuit of happiness and prosperity, and national self-determination are sacrosanct. And so are the Palestinians’ rights to the very same things.

Many of us have said such things, of course. But it is time to base our entire discourse on that idea. It must be stated directly in every argument we make. It must be genuine, reinforcing the unqualified support for rights for both sides. Because fundamentally, that is where advocates for a just peace differ not only with Bezalel Smotrich, but also with Benjamin Netanyahu, and with any Israeli, Palestinian, or other who would deny equal rights for all.

Fifty years of belittling Palestinian rights in favor of Israeli self-determination, security, and aspirations is enough.

FMEP supports Congressional letter calling for Leahy Law’s application to Israel, Egypt

On February 17, 2016, ten members of the House of Representatives, led by Hank Johnson (D-GA), joined with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting that the State Department look into violations of the Leahy Law by Israel and Egypt. The Leahy Law stipulates that if a military unit of a recipient of US military aid is shown to have committed a “gross violation of human rights,” aid may not be provided to that unit, and any aid given to the country in question cannot be used for the unit that committed the violation(s). The letter specifies several cases in which Egyptian or Israeli units are accused of such violations. The Foundation for Middle East Peace issued the following statement in support of the letter.

Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Patrick Leahy

Matthew Duss 

Washington, DC: The Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) strongly supports the congressional letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting assurances that Leahy Law restrictions are being applied to Israel and Egypt. The letter, led by Representative Hank Johnson and signed by nine other representatives and Senator Patrick Leahy, notes specific incidents where grave violations of human rights by Israeli and Egyptian forces are alleged have occurred and calls on the Department of State to investigate these accusations and to determine what action, if any, should be taken under the Leahy Law. Continue reading

Breaking the Silence Responds to Unfounded Allegations

The past months have witnessed an unprecedented series of attacks on Israel progressive, peace and human rights groups. Right-wing organizations, many with close ties to the Netanyahu government, have worked to paint these groups as “plants” for foreign powers, or even as traitors. Back in December, the Foundation for Middle East Peace issued a statement in support of these groups, and we reaffirm that support today.1446906402_152994b6ec_z

No group has faced more frequent or aggressive attacks than Breaking the Silence. This group of veterans who served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the West Bank and Gaza gathers
testimony from other soldiers, goes to enormous lengths to corroborate those testimonies, clears them all with Israel’s military censor before publishing and then uses those testimonies to explain to Israeli citizens what the occupation is and what their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and parents do when they serve there.

Breaking the Silence opposes the occupation, and their purpose in gathering and publicizing these testimonies is to make Israelis understand both the human rights violations that occur as a result of the occupation and experiences of the soldiers whose job it is to maintain it. Because they are IDF veterans, and all of their testimonies are gathered from other veterans (including many who do not share the views of BtS), they are special targets of the right.

On March 17, Israeli Channel 2 aired a report based on information gathered by Ad Kan, an organization of right-wing settlers with a history of using deceptive methods to build their cases against progressive Israeli groups. Yet Channel 2 aired their charges unquestioningly. According to Breaking the Silence:

“The report showed footage of members of BtS, filmed with hidden cameras by moles of Ad Kan who infiltrated our organization. Among the false claims in the report was the argument that BtS collects confidential information that could potentially endanger the security of the state. Another grave claim was that we persuade pre-military youth to enlist in specific IDF units to collect intelligence and spy on the IDF from within. The implications of such claims led to public turmoil and accusations that BtS members are guilty of treason, in the words of Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon. Needless to say, both of these claims are false. They are also malicious and slanderous and it is highly disturbing that they come from the highest political echelons.”

In response to these attacks, Breaking the Silence has published a response, and answers to some of the questions that these accusations have raised:

How does Breaking the Silence collect testimonies?

Since the founding of Breaking the Silence in 2004, we have interviewed over 1,000 Israeli soldiers who testified about their service in the occupied territories. These testimonies serve as the basis for our public outreach. We’re very proud of our thorough, meticulous research methods, for which our researchers, all former soldiers who broke their silence, undergo an extensive professional training process. Each testimony undergoes a rigorous process of corroboration and is examined by both our legal advisors and the Israeli military censor.

To date not a single testimony has been disproven, which attests to our reliable and professional verification process. In fact, there have been four unsuccessful instances in which the right-wing settler organization Ad Kan attempted to submit false testimonies to BtS through four different moles: Amir Beit Aryeh, Oren Hazan, Haim Fremd and Roy Peled. None of their testimonies successfully passed our corroboration process, thus none were ever published.

Does BtS plant soldiers in the IDF to spy for the organization?

Of course not. BtS does not “plant” soldiers in the IDF, nor do we send anyone to covertly collect information in any forum. The vast majority of the over 1,000 soldiers who have broken their silence testified after having been released from the IDF.

BtS explicitly does not collect classified information. Prior to conducting an interview with IDF soldiers, we always forewarn them not to discuss classified information or military secrets. Everything BtS publishes is sent to the military censor prior for approval. Nothing has ever been, nor will ever be published without undergoing this process.

Did BtS urge a young female solder to serve in a specific unit of the IDF?

Ad Kan attempted to stigmatize a young woman, who sincerely wished to serve the country in a meaningful framework of her own volition, as a spy for BtS. The woman in question is a recently hired employee of BtS. She was secretly filmed by an Ad Kan mole. Their conversation was reduced to a shallow sound bite by Channel 2.

The following is a summary of her heartfelt account, regarding her deliberations prior to enlisting in the IDF. Having studied in a modern Orthodox high school and pre-military academy, she could have easily received an exemption from the IDF. However, she felt compelled to serve the country through truly meaningful service.

Prior to enlisting she was offered a wide variety of roles. She struggled with that choice. As a young woman with a strong political awareness, she wondered whether it would be possible to serve as a “good soldier” within the complex reality of occupation and whether she could contribute to the best of her ability.

While deliberating what to do, she conducted an earnest discussion with a former member of BtS who she had met during a tour. She expressed that she was considering whether or not to serve in the civil administration in the occupied territories, or rather in a position within the education corps, like the majority of her friends did. Seeking guidance regarding her own doubts, she asked the former BtS member whether he believed it to be possible to change the occupation from within. He advised her to serve where she believed she would have the most meaningful service and joked that she should not simply serve in the occupied territories in order to be able to testify later before BtS. After further consultations with additional people, she decided to enlist in the civil administration, so that she may pursue a humane path in improving, even if not changing, the process from within. Even if merely through warmth, generosity and professionalism, she preferred to confront the reality of occupation, rather than avoid it. Years later, she indeed returned to provide testimony before BtS, completely on her own accord.

Does BtS collect classified information?

BtS explicitly does not collect classified information. Prior to conducting an interview with IDF soldiers, we always forewarn them not to discuss classified information or military secrets. Everything BtS publishes is sent to the military censor prior for approval. Nothing has ever been, nor will ever be published without undergoing this process.

In the recent Channel 2 report, through manipulative editing, one of the primary claims made was that two of Ad Kan’s moles were asked by BtS researchers to share classified information:BtS explicitly does not collect classified information. Prior to conducting an interview with IDF soldiers, we always forewarn them not to discuss classified information or military secrets. Everything BtS publishes is sent to the military censor prior for approval. Nothing has ever been, nor will ever be published without undergoing this process.

  • The first mole, Haim Fremd, was interviewed regarding remotely operated weaponry on the Gaza border. Channel 2 claimed that the information was classified. However, not only did the military censor approve it, but Channel 2 had published a piece in January 2016 on the topic, aptly titled “The Unmanned Vehicles that Protect the Southern Border.”
  • The second mole, Roy Peled, continually insisted on sharing classified information relating to his service on the border with Syria, even though that is out of the realm of BtS’s scope, as was revealed in a news item by Raviv Drucker on Channel 10. His testimony was not published by BtS.

In interviews with testifiers do you ask questions that are out of the realm of your research?

The Channel 2 report accused BtS of asking broad questions that aren’t directly related to the IDF’s activities in the occupied territories before a civilian population. Moreover, they claimed that we gather tactical intelligence about how the army functions.

As most good researchers are aware, holistic research requires comprehension of the broader context at hand. By asking questions about the broader circumstances in which testimonies take place, we’re able to gauge whether the individual was indeed present during the instances he/she describes and better equipped to verify testimonies case-by-case based on specific details.

A prime example of this is indicated by one of the moles who tried to provide fabricated testimonies to BtS, MK Oren Hazan. The gaps in his interview made it clear that he was fabricating elements of his story, and thus his testimony was not publicized. This story was revealed months ago in a news item by Raviv Drucker on Channel 10.

What is BtS’ response to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for an investigation of the organization by the Israeli Security Agency?

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided to turn Israel’s security services into a political tool, in order to silence soldiers who oppose the occupation and thereby challenge his political agenda. Not only did he call for an investigation of BtS, but Defense Minister Ya’alon went so far as to accuse us of treason, furthering the government’s campaign of incitement against us. We’re not afraid of being investigated, as it would only prove that we work strictly according to the law. Threats to investigate BtS are merely political manipulations intended to divert the public’s attention from the government’s failures.

Who is “Ad Kan”?

Ad Kan is a right-wing organization affiliated with the (Israeli government co-funded) Samaria Settlers’ Committee, along with both the Jewish Home and Likud parties. They have been planting moles in various human rights NGOs over the past three years, to secretly document them with the purpose of “exposing” their work to the Israeli public. Their work is part of a larger campaign of incitement being conducted against Israeli human rights NGOs in general and BtS in particular.

As part of a campaign to support segregation of buses in the West Bank, Ad Kan fabricated alleged documentation of the sexual harassment of female bus passengers by Palestinians in the West Bank. This footage was later exposed to be fake in an investigation conducted by Haaretz journalist, Chaim Levinson. The woman who claimed to have been harassed had not been, and was in fact an Ad Kan operative working with another operative who was wringing out sexually-related statements from a Palestinian passenger on the bus. All this was done for the sake of promoting the separation of Jews and Palestinians on public transportation in the West Bank. This is typical of the way Ad Kan operates.