Tag Archives: Strategy

Desmond Tutu calls for divestment; some thoughts

Deutsch: Desmond Tutu beim Evangelischen Kirch...

Desmond Tutu writes a passionate call for American divestment in Israel. He gives me some food for thought on BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), and on my role as an Israeli in the struggle for a just peace.

Justice requires action to stop subjugation of Palestinians

Desmond Tutu, TampaBay.com

A quarter-century ago I barnstormed around the United States encouraging Americans, particularly students, to press for divestment from South Africa. Today, regrettably, the time has come for similar action to force an end to Israel’s long-standing occupation of Palestinian territory and refusal to extend equal rights to Palestinian citizens who suffer from some 35 discriminatory laws.

I have reached this conclusion slowly and painfully. I am aware that many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who were so instrumental in the fight against South African apartheid are not yet ready to reckon with the apartheid nature of Israel and its current government. And I am enormously concerned that raising this issue will cause heartache to some in the Jewish community with whom I have worked closely and successfully for decades. But I cannot ignore the Palestinian suffering I have witnessed, nor the voices of those courageous Jews troubled by Israel’s discriminatory course.

 Continue reading on the Tampa Bay Times »

I’m not entirely sure what I think about the Palestinian BDS campaign.

Continue reading Desmond Tutu calls for divestment; some thoughts

Some more thoughts on exclusion, BDS and the housing protests

I got two comments on yesterday’s post via Twitter:

If @ & #j14 won't distinguish between Ariel & "Israel proper," why should anyone? Full #BDS now more than ever. http://t.co/e3Ft9IG
@MaxBlumenthal
Max Blumenthal
@ @ Let's get things straight in name of Social Justice: Settlers are criminals.

I have some more thoughts on this.

I

The strategy of exclusion, of which BDS is one example, is a tricky thing. It is effective when the excluder is (potentially) stronger than the excluded, on some dimension. International BDS is an effective strategy because it can actually hurt Israel: it can deprive Israel of services (such as a European-made tram system), entertainment, and a general feeling of legitimacy and business-as-usual. Boycotting products of the settlements within Israel is the same thing again on a smaller scale: if many in the Israeli market boycott settlement products, Israeli factories in the West Bank move back into Israel, and it’s no more business-as-usual. For a European boycott of the settlements to have an effect you would hardly need a couple percent of the European market to adhere to it. But would the EU care if the settlers decided to boycott all European products? Even if all 300-odd thousand of them strictly adhered to the boycott, it would hardly register, never mind causing some shift in EU policy.

II

Although the housing protests are the strongest thing we’ve ever seen in Israel, garnering more support than any political party could ever dream of, it would be foolish to assume that this strength is of the same kind as the EU or US’s economic and political power, which makes BDS effective. The housing protest is strong only because it has managed so far not to step on anyone’s toes too hard. In Israel, that is an astounding achievement. If a prominent part of the protest movement1 should pick a fight with the people of Ariel for the sake of total BDS, the movement’s strength may very well dwindle rapidly. The movement may even splinter. The movement boycotting Ariel would quickly become meaningless because not all tent cities would accept the boycott and it would suddenly just be a few isolated left-leaning groups going on about the settlements as usual.

III

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. BDS is an impressive and important tool, but it is not the only tool, certainly not the only tool available to Israelis who have the time and energy for political activity. The housing protests have to navigate the many illogical and contradictory conceptions prevailing in Israeli societies, and despite a majority opposing the settlements (in polls, at least), it is also a mainstream idea that Ariel is practically part of Israel and here to stay. (This stems from people not bothering to look at maps [PDF] or thinking these things through. Ariel has absolutely got to go in a two-state solution.)

Total inclusiveness, even of ideological settlers, drunks and lunatics, is probably the only way this movement can survive.2

IV

The fact that some so-called “leaders” of the movement fail to speak out against the occupation does not mean the movement ignores the issue or enables it. Actual discussions in the tent cities often turn to the occupation, and this movement has given the Israeli left more sympathy and more people willing to listen than anything else since at least the mid-nineties. But this too is different from one tent city to another, and it’s very hard to tell what the movement as a whole thinks. I doubt the movement as a whole agrees on anything except that the cost of living and the inequalities within Israeli society are unacceptable.

V

This movement is surprisingly open to criticism. Simply finding excuses to write it off and attack all those who support it will not get your issue addressed. If you think the movement should take a stand regarding the settlements, you have to either go to its assemblies or at least write something that actually tries to convince them. As Max probably knows, it takes a lot of explaining to get typical Israelis to even begin to understand BDS. Don’t take it for granted and just attack this whole decentralized thing for not following the methods you support. Engage the people involved in action and decision-making. You might even convince j14.org.il to list settlements separately from Israel proper if you actually try.

VI

I should note that despite my disagreement with Max, I’m sick of exclusion being the only kosher leftist tactic, and will continue to consider him an all-round good guy (as I consider other opponents of the West Bank apartheid). I will also continue to follow his blog and Twitter feed and list him on this site’s list of links. (I’m doing this as a favor to myself; I know nobody really cares who I like, follow or link to.)

Footnotes

  1. j14.org.il is just a part of the movement – it is a decentralized uprising with no real center, leadership, or hierarchy, despite what the press may say []
  2. As far as I know, the only thing excluded is exclusionary messages: when extreme racist settlers showed up on Rothschild, they were eventually kicked out for having shirts reading “Tel-Aviv for Jews [only]” and other exclusionary slogans. The only thing that’s not tolerated is open intolerance. []

A response to Max Blumenthal: Social justice for all, even settlers, is a good start

A neighbourhood in Ariel.
As much as settlements may remind of us of evil death robots, they are nonetheless home to human beings, many of whom are victims as well as criminals. (Image via Wikipedia)

Max Blumenthal has been raging against the official inclusion of the massive, strategically placed settlement of Ariel in the #J14 housing protest movement. (See Max’s Sunday post and Twitter stream.) I have to strongly disagree with his position, and I would argue that social justice for all, even the settlers, is a good goal and a good start.

I should preface this by saying that I’ve been following Max’s blog for months and this is the first time I ever strongly disagree with him; I think Max is an excellent journalist and activist and I believe we share many core values. I also agree with his assessment that the settlements, Ariel in particular, are unacceptable on multiple levels: they are built on stolen land, make people’s lives miserable (to put it mildly), and have done much to intensify and prolong the conflict.

However, the fact that the residents of Ariel are part of a horrendous crime does not mean they are not the victims of the Israeli socio-economic and political system along with the rest of us. No doubt, any person who knowingly makes the choice to move there is making themselves part of the occupation. But the fact that the settlements have grown so slowly despite massive government support, and the fact that only about a third of the West Bank settlers are ideological, tells me that the West Bank is hardly anyone’s first choice for location. Since stolen land tends to be the cheapest kind, especially when it’s also subsidized, there has always been a strong economic incentive to move to the settlements. The people who end up making that choice are people who, like the rest of us, were not able to achieve the standard of living they aspired towards, but made a dubious choice (one supported by many vocal members of society and government.)

Let me be clear: nothing can justify the choice to be part of the colossal crime of the settlements. But making that wrong choice does not make a person or their family less of a victim.1

But making this about the wrongs perpetrated or perpetuated by different parts of Israeli society is the wrong way to go. I’d say it plays right into Netanyahu’s hands, and goes along perfectly with the economic and social system of Israel, pitting sectors of the populations against one another. If Netanyahu had his way, J14 would exclude the settlers (alienating big parts of the right), it would exclude non-Jews (alienating big parts of the left) and it would be almost entirely a movement of spoiled young Ashkenazis whose parents and grandparents were part of the old elite (alienating almost everyone else). With that kind of movement, Netanyahu could just sit tight and wait for it to blow over.

But since the movement is radically inclusive – going both against mainstream prejudice (e.g. that the Arabs are not part of this society) and the prejudice of many activists (e.g. that all settlers are the enemy) – it is able to actually achieve something, and so far has not made an enemy of any major sector of society. Only the government and some far-right nationalists seem strongly against the whole thing. And this openness is undermining vital underpinnings of the occupation – whether J14 acknowledges the connection or not.

How? First and foremost, it has ended the prevailing apathy in much of society and made it possible to discuss almost anything. People are very publicly talking about racism, the division of resources, even the use of “security” to silence social movements, and many people are actually listening. This won’t end the occupation tomorrow or in a month, but then nothing else could, either. In the longer run, it sets the stage for major changes to happen, and we may find many more people willing to listen than we did before. The movement  seems to be redefining “left” and “right” so that for many people, being a “leftie” isn’t the absolute worst possible thing ever anymore.

Moreover, the movement’s focus on the division of resources will make it very difficult for future governments to act as if the settlements are the only part of the country worth their attention (as this government sometimes has). The movement may well work against the interests of the settlement movement while at the same time working in the interests of individual settlers. These interests are not identical.

Finally, with general welfare now at the center of the public agenda, and general disillusionment about the government’s narrative, many people will be reminded of how peace is in their own interest and refuse to buy excuses for maintaining the current line of policy.

I think it is unrealistic to expect immediate solutions from J14 – whether for social issues or political ones. There’s a lot of work ahead and absolutely nobody can predict how things will go. But looking for excuses to distance oneself from J14 plays only into the hands of the status quo.2

Footnotes

  1. In the same way, the generation that started this country was both victim and perpetrator, and the two do not cancel each other out — the victimhood does not cancel out the atrocities as the right would have it, and the atrocities do not cancel out the victimhood as some in the far left would have it. []
  2. And anyone who doesn’t see their position or background represented in the movement should stop whining, go out and make their voice heard. The only thing stopping you is you! []

Links: Harry Potter and Terrorism, Apes and Englishes, and more

I’m in Jerusalem with my family right now, and we’ve just returned from the annual extended-family vacation. I used the past days on the seaside to catch up on my feed reader, and I have a bunch of goodness to share which might help tide an eager reader over until I actually write something again.

PEACE: Harry Potter and the Politics and Terror

Dan Nexon over at The Duck of Minerva took two stabs at analyzing the last installments of the Harry Potter series. Both are an amusing and interesting read:

The Duck also points to a piece on Foreign Policy about the post-conflict reconstruction that must be done after the fall of Voldemort.

On the lighter side, there’s a trailer for Harry Potter as a teen comedy and the plot of the series in a 99 second song (both on TastefullyOffensive, both via Dubi Kanengisser).

LANGUAGE: Pullum on apes and (possible) racists

Over at Language Log, Geoffrey K. Pullum has two excellent and characteristically sharp posts:

Other fine links

  • Charlie Brooker makes some necessary comments regarding the commenting on the Norway right-wing terrorist attacks (Comment is Free, via Dubi)
  • John Oliver spreads the word about the Florida couple that foreclosed on Bank of America (Daily Show, via Yuval Pinter)

Not funny. Gaza again.


This blog started with a post about Gaza. In recent days, Israel has been escalating the conflict on the Southern front while Hamas pursue aggressive diplomacy, i.e. firing rockets while asking for a ceasefire. I feel like I have to do something. Yet all I can really do is write.

The enigmatic Six in Battlestar Galactica incessantly reminds us: “all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again”.

Remember, in late 2008 we embarked upon the very same path, unleashing massive amounts of firepower on Gaza, killing at least 700 civilians and launching us into Israel’s most isolated couple of years in its history. Back then the idea was the same: hit them so hard that they can’t hit us back.

The problem is that this logic never, ever works. We’ve been trying it for decades. We kill them, even demolish their infrastructure, but in the process we give so many people cause to hate us that within a few years their ranks are replenished and out to get us again.

Chatting with a right-wing friend the other day, I said something about the families of the victims and how they’ll feel about us after we take their siblings/children/parents away. He said the mistake is to leave any family. (I’m not sure whether he was serious or not — this was a textual conversation and I didn’t feel like pursuing the topic.)

Yet even if we follow this sick logic to its conclusion — total annihilation of the rival tribe — we will gain no peace. We will only push the frontier a little further, gaining enemies in places where nobody used to give a damn about us. We will only gain international isolation and brain drain, as people leave what has become of our country, a country created by and for the victims of genocide.

Observation: there are some 11 million Palestinians in the world (according to Wikipedia). Total genocide of the Palestinians will give Israel the dubious honor of having surpassed the Nazis’ genocide of Jews. (I suppress nausea, breathe deep, continue.)

Incidentally, it will not end all of our haters.

So long as we use violence, we invite violence. The more we kill, the more people will want to kill us. So long as we continue acting as we’ve acted, we will not break the cycle. Hamas could try to break the cycle as well. But bombing Gaza is not the way to convince them to do so. Israel’s citizens and few remaining allies must demand and enforce a ceasefire.

We now have Iron Dome, a system that can destroy rockets fired out of Gaza in mid-air. Instead of financing another war, build more Iron Dome units. Fund peace proposals. Pay Arabic-speaking copywriters, pay printers, and bomb Gaza with flyers. Stop wasting money and lives on a cycle of violence in which Israelis and Palestinians – especially the poorer of both groups – have their everyday lives disrupted or destroyed, every day.

 

All I can do is write, but for days I have not been able to. Every time violence flares up against Israel, I am reminded of how urgent it is to strive towards peace. There is always a sense of the inevitable to it; knowing that my country continues to use violence, I know we will be faced with violence.

It’s painful, and all I can do is write. It seems like so little. I don’t know if I’ll write about this again any time soon.

For now I’ll just continue to try not to think about it, while thinking about it all of the time. I’m an Israeli; denial’s my life.

 

UPDATE (two hours later):

I’ve just read that there’s some kind of tacit cease-fire, apparently as of last night. I hope this lasts and the rhetoric of “final escalation” loses out to some common sense. A strategy that has failed us dozens of times will continue to fail us no matter how many times we try.

Settlement construction as counter-attack?

A lot has already been said about the despicable murder of a sleeping family in the settlement of Itamar on Friday night. A lot has also been said about what has been said about the murder. In particular, I’d like to point to Dimi Reider’s critique over at +972 about the lousy response from most of the activist Left, and to the pointed words of Rehavia Berman (Hebrew), with which I agree entirely. (As he says, the state has to, unfortunately, apprehend the murder, try them, and let them rot in jail — “unfortuantely” because the barbarous killer deserves to be tortured extensively and left alive, perhaps after removing some useful organs like hands, feet and eyes. But alas the state has no right to do that kind of thing and really shouldn’t exercise justice in that way.)

I just wanted to point out something particularly intriguing: the government’s lightning-fast decision to approve a bunch of new settlement houses in the West Bank in response to the heinous attack. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time the Israeli government admits that construction in the settlements is an attack against Palestinians. How surprising that they aren’t constructed purely out of love of the land!

Pogroms– err, hiking!

Baruch Marzel.
Baruch Marzel
Image via Wikipedia

As some may have already heard, today for the second day in a row a Palestinian teenager has been killed by settler fire. Assuming for the sake of argument that the version on Ynet is not a total embellishment, what happened today was that a few settlers were out on a peaceful hike when some Palestinians started throwing rocks at them. Fearing for their lives, they responded with live fire and hit a boy in the head, who is now clinically dead. Subsequently,

[e]xtreme rightist Baruch Marzel of the SOS Israel organization urged the settler public “not to be deterred and continue traveling throughout the Land of Israel. The Arabs must take into account that Jews are not suckers and are allowed to defend themselves against those who want to take our lives,” he said.

There’s a few interesting things about this case. First of all, the settlers going for a nice stroll through the Holy Land were, obviously, carrying firearms; there’s nothing unusual about this. Second of all, they were there asserting their right to go wherever they damn well please in the Land of Israel, disregarding the established practice (and law?) of coordinating this kind of thing with the police and military.1 Third of all, once the clash had begun, the IDF showed up and defended the illegally hiking provocateurs, wounding further Palestinian civilians.2

There’s a logic to each of these things that’s at least well-understood in Israeli society, if not outright accepted or taken for granted:

  1. It really wouldn’t be safe to hike in a large group unarmed, even if in recent years it hasn’t been quite as bad as it used to.
  2. Settlers have always argued that Jews should be allowed to go and live wherever they want (preposterously claiming that Arabs can, an outright lie); while most Israelis probably see this kind of thing as a provocation, the basic logic is appealing and accepted on some level. Ideally, I too wish it were possible and safe for Jews, Muslims, Christians, or just humans in general to go and live wherever they want.
  3. The IDF is the military of Israel, and Israel sees its mission in physically defending the Jewish people, including any Jew, anywhere, from violence. That’s how the Holocaust justifies our statehood, after all. Also, Israeli taxpayers (which include the settlers) rightly expect the army they pay for to come to their aid when they face violence.

However, taken together, especially points 2 and 3, these things result in a tragically skewed balance of violence. Palestinians who wish to defend themselves must do so with stones. Israelis can do so not only with their own guns (which are sometimes full-fledged military-grade assault rifles) but with the assistance of an advanced modern army with a bigger budget than any other organization in the country. Combine this fact with Israel’s lenient attitude towards settler provocations, settlers can easily just “go hiking” somewhere where there are Palestinians, and be fairly certain the latter will come out of it with more bullet wounds than themselves.

I don’t mean to insinuate that all settlers are out to kill as many Arabs as possible. Some certainly are, but I’ve known too many lovely people who come from settlements to make generalizations about the whole population. However, there is an ideological settler movement which holds it to be perfectly fine to use violence against Arabs in order to maintain freedom of movement. This movement is currently not effectively reined in by the Israeli government and security establishment, and I’m not sure it ever has been. While the army regularly claims “keeping the peace” to be its motivation, such as when imposing a closed military zone somewhere, it usually ends up helping provocateur settlers rather than hindering them. In fact, settlers now know they just have to go to, say, a water hole, clash with some Arabs, and they will no longer be allowed to go there and collect water.

It should be obvious these provocations do not further our overall common interest of living in peace.

It gets worse though. Arabs prosecuted for violence towards Jews rarely win. It is common practice for the state to submit secret evidence, which the defense is not even allowed to see, and such “evidence” is often used to convict them. Sometimes, dubious information extracted from youths under duress is used as well, as it famously was in the case of Abdullah Abu-Rahma of Bil’in. On the other hand, Jews prosecuted for violence towards Arabs often have their case dropped before trial, and if convicted will always have a very lenient sentence. It’s also far unlikelier that the state will even try to prosecute them in the first place.3

The bottom line

Even if the bits of logic each kind of make sense on their own, the situation in the West Bank is currently a very vile form of apartheid. Not kinda-like-apartheid. Apartheid.4 If the Israeli state were truly interested in peace, public order, sovereignty, etc., the IDF would easily be able to keep the settlers from provoking violence.5 If the Liberman/Netanyahu/Barak government doesn’t do something quick (like, today) we may see more and more enterprising settlers go on “hiking trips”-cum-pogroms next week. And all the while, Egypt is exploding in revolution, our neighbors to the North and East aren’t looking as stable as they used to, and every week another country recognizes the Palestinian Authority as a sovereign state in the ’67 borders.

The Middle East is headed towards a world of violence, and frankly I don’t see anyone in the position to stop it. Shalom aleynu, wa salaam aleykum, wa salaam ma3hum. Peace be with us all.

Footnotes

  1. This isn’t limited to the West Bank; I used to go hiking in an organized youth hiking thing and all hikes were coordinated with the security forces and escorted by an armed civilian. []
  2. Fourth of all, Marzel sees the armed killers as the victims, but whatever. []
  3. All of this is just my semi-educated impression. I may have read it somewhere, but I admit I can’t be certain. If I’m wrong, please provide data to contradict what I said! I’d be glad to be corrected! []
  4. It should be noted the division of rights in this apartheid is not based purely on race, but also on citizenship. It is apartheid none the less. []
  5. One way to do this, off the top of my head: take away weapons from all civilians in the West Bank, provide IDF protection only within settlement and in activities coordinated in advance and deemed non-provocative. Dismantle indefensible outposts as though they were unrecognized Bedouin villages. []

The Delegitimizers

2011 started with some difficult days for Israeli democracy. Starting Saturday morning, the IDF has been scrambling to explain away the death of Jawahar Abu-Rahmah of Bil’in, who in all likelihood died as a result of IDF tear gas (and probably not hyper-rapid leukemia or the common cold.) On Monday, Ma’ariv gave us reason to believe that Netanyahu’s call for direct talks with the Palestinians on the core issues is less than honest; their sources indicate quite simply that this government is captive to its most extreme elements and unable to serve the majority. In its 2010 annual summary, the GSS (Shabak) describes the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah, Ni’lin, Bil’in, and Nabi Saleh, as “clashing against the security forces.” And speaking of the GSS, the High Court of Justice denied, Tuesday, a petition requesting information on how many detainees the GSS has kept from seeing an attorney (on the grounds that this would “potentially harm state security.”)

It’s been one damned thing after another. And yesterday, the Knesset managed to top it all. I spent the evening trying not to think about it, but today I can think of nothing else. Continue reading The Delegitimizers

Addicted to insecurity

I handwrote the following post on the train to Dresden on December 24th. I had to edit it less than I thought I would. I apologize for the very sparse sources. If any particular fact seems dubious to you, please leave me a comment and I’ll try to track down some links.

Many people have pointed out how society is addicted to the concept of security — in the US, in Israel, in the UK,  really everywhere in the developed world. This can lead to some paradoxical situations. For example, as Roi Maor points out, the wave of xenophobia in Israel is far more dangerous to the African refugees than they are to the Israeli public. The primal fear of the Other plays a central role here, as does the government’s utter failure to address the needs of the poor neighborhoods and of the foreigners that gravitate towards them.1

I think another factor is the Israeli addiction to insecurity — the inseparable flipside of our addiction to security, as well as a bit of residue from Diaspora. You could call it chronic societal paranoia. Continue reading Addicted to insecurity