Peace in our Time?

February 15, 2007

My blog on The Guardian’s COMMENT IS FREE, in response to Seth Freedman

Filed under: Blogroll, Palestine, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 3:17 pm
Comment No. 432454
February 15 12:40
Seth, sorry you didn’t come round to debrief as you’d said you would after the tour. In a general discussion you might have realised I’m not a racist. Twenty percent of the Israeli population is of Russian origin. Lieberman represents many of them and is in the Cabinet. One minister resigned to protest that appointment and if you google fascism and Lieberman you get 34,000 answers (and the same number if you google fascist and Lieberman). Lieberman was the Prime Minister’s bureau chief under Bibi and had to resign. Now he heads his own party (Rehavam Zeevi had his own brand of fascism, also preaching transfer, so Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party is not alone…), and he’s been working to get a law passed to facilitate dictatorship.

Since the Russian aliyah, Israel has become a world leader in sex slavery, with women now being trafficked to this country from the FSU. I find that problematic. Just as post-communist Russia has a major problem with corruption (along with many other parts of the world) and Russian Mafia money-laundering is rampant here: during the past ten years I recall major bank fraud cases involving it. The ultra-right politics of Russian Israelis has been explained to me, by Russians, as a result of Russian experience under communism. Many are anti-Arab/Muslim because of their experiences pre-immigration in the Afghanistan and Chechnya wars.

I have heard that oligarchs are supporting settler activities in East Jerusalem. I don’t have bank details, but local people have seen Abramowich, Leviev et al, at City of David celebrations. Those settler groups aren’t shy about their tunnelling and archaeological activities in Silwan, next to the Al Aqsa Mosque. Leviev’s construction firm, Hefziba, is the major settlement expansion company. A Russian guard at Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron wouldn’t allow me into that illegal settlement until I proved that I am Jewish. That indicates a closed and totalitarian world, so maybe you are missing the point. I had a long conversation recently with a Russian woman who was “proud of having killed Arabs when [she] was in the army.” Similarly, in my work over a period of years in MachsomWatch, monitoring Israeli military checkpoints, we see that very often Russian soldiers are amongst the worst in their attitude to Palestinians. Not all: I remember one guy from DCO who was amazing. I remember a Russian friend in the 80s who went to live in Ariel simply because that was her only option financially, being a single mother. But she understood nothing about the history of the conflict and didn’t realise she was being manipulated and exploited, and didn’t listen then to my arguments that living over the Green Line was immoral and one day she would have to leave because it’s not our land. In this, all new immigrant groups – Russian, Ethiopian, French, American – who are encouraged to settle in those subsidised illegal city settlements are problematic. Now there are half a million of them.

As a left-winger, the Russian contribution and perhaps development of the extreme right wing, is worrying. Is that racist to say so? Israel is increasingly portraying itself as far-right, with Russian politicians saying things that Jean Le Penn or Jorg Haider would baulk at. For example: Lieberman’s suggestion to bomb the Aswan High Dam, or execute Arab members of Knesset who travel to Syria on fact finding tours, or drown Arabs in the Dead Sea.

Secondly, I take issue with your portrayal of me implying that the Russians are the cause of the problem. No, it’s far more complex than that. There are MANY problems. One of them is the inability to reach out to the ultra-right and engage them in a measured debate. When did you last try talking to settlers in Hebron? I have tried and can testify that it’s not a conversation, or a dialogue. They have a pre-recorded tape that repeats mantras, using a slanted version of the events of 1929 to justify their behaviour.

The lurch to the right is also a result of the Lebanon War defeat, the lies of Barak, reaction to terror attacks and the fear that’s always been cultivated by Bibi of tiny Israel – “Israel haKtantonit”. Tiny Israel indeed: We have the fourth largest army in the world, supported by the largest. We have the fourth largest nuclear power supported by the largest and we are the third largest producer of weapons.

Other explanations for the lurch to the right also include our rampant militarism and our education system which doesn’t teach children their history. Aharon Megged, when “Tekuma” was on TV a few years ago, said it’s better children should feel good about themselves with mythology than learn history. Denial, hatred, revenge, post-holocaust trauma, landaholic insecurity, centuries of anti-semitism, you name it, I can continue with a long list of what has brought us to this complexity. Even the brainwashing which says: “We didn’t cause the refugee problem.” Some of all this we discussed on the tour, so why didn’t you quote me on that, too?

On the tour we passed West Jerusalem Arab mansions and talked about how those Palestinian Christians had left in panic on the day of Dir Yassin, because Jews came around with megaphones warning them to get out before? “(we) do to you what we did in Dir Yassin”. Yes, we caused the refugee problem. I believe we’ve a collective moral responsibility to acknowledge this and I hope that one day we will have the strength to apologise, compensate and live in truth and reconciliation and hope and normalcy. That alone will give us a far greater chance for peace and real security. Real security, not the military’s version of ongoing war, or the bad faith negotiations that characterised Israeli “peace making” during Oslo when settlements doubled. Conflict resolution, not cold war games. Respect of other peoples’ basic human rights…

Seth, I arrived here over 26 years ago (coming from apartheid South Africa — this is far worse, in my opinion — not least because in South Africa they needed the black labour force, whereas here we’ve brought in 300,000 foreign workers, so most Palestinians are unemployed and hungry now). I don’t have all the answers. It is complex. But the fact is that East Jerusalem is occupied territory. On the tour I said that Palestinians of East Jerusalem pay their rates and taxes and so, even though they are not citizens of Israel, those 230,000 people should receive municipal services, which they don’t. All they get for their money are bulldozers demolishing their homes – over 18,000 buildings demolished in the OPT since 1967, (having nothing to do with security or punitive measures — the army ceased its demolition policy two years ago, as counterproductive – i.e. it helps cause terror). That means literally hundreds of thousands made homeless deliberately by bureaucratic means. Palestinians boycott the municipal elections as a legitimate form of protest against the occupation. A tax payer’s protest should not preclude him or her from receiving municipal services. Can you imagine the same happening in London? And if the international community and international law do not recognise the annexation of East Jerusalem (I pointed out on the tour that there are therefore no embassies in Jerusalem, they’re all in Tel Aviv), why should the Palestinians recognize Israeli sovereignty on occupied land, when no one else does? You want them to vote? Last time they did, look where it got them. Financial suicide.

And Seth, if you want to know what I DO believe: I believe we’re all equal; we share in common far more than we allow ourselves to realize. The tragedy is that if you concentrate on differences and separation you lose that truth. “Hafrada,” the government policy, means “apartheid” and the ghetto mentality that Rabin tried to encourage Israelis to leave behind, saying ‘We are strong enough to come out of the ghetto.’

Those who believe their God is real, without seeing it’s the same God which created all Life, deny that all is sacred. This “Love of the Land” is causing not only conflict but its own ecological destruction.

I also believe we’re in danger now of bringing down the modern Temple on ourselves. We’re losing the thread of Judaism as a moral, ethical code. “Thou Shalt Not Covet” has religious Zionists obeying Sharon’s order: ‘Grab every hilltop’. As David Grossman said, we have no leadership. “Never Again” has become, tragically, “Never Again to Us”. And that’s a mindset that realpolitik only aggravates, because power politics doesn’t contain the essence of social justice and is therefore unsustainable and usually immoral and undemocratic. Bertrand Russell preached that truth must be universal if it’s to have meaning. It cannot be exclusive.

Finally, I believe if you are not very vigilant and aware, you create what you fear. I think we’ve fallen into that trap.


February 14, 2007

MoveOn Moves On to Middle East Peace!

Filed under: Blogroll, Palestine, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 9:35 pm

From: Ricken Patel – []
Sent: 14 February 2007 08:02
Subject: 7 years on, a real chance

Dear friends,

It will soon be seven long and devastating years since the top Israeli, Palestinian, and international leaders sat down together to talk peace. But this week that tide could turn – on Monday, President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert will meet briefly with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Jerusalem.

We cannot afford to let Monday’s summit lead nowhere. This may be our best chance in years at peace, but only if the players agree to meaningful negotiations. We have to show them the world is watching.  Click below to sign our petition calling for full Middle East peace talks — your message will be delivered to summit leaders and published in leading Israeli and Palestinian newspapers on Monday:

Our ad will include the number of signatures and the number of countries from which they’ve come. The more signatures there are, the louder our voice will be. Can you sign, tell your friends and family,  and help us get to 100,000 signatures from 150 countries by Monday?  Our petition will also be delivered to the “Quartet” powers (the UN, US, European Union and Russia) meeting in another MidEast summit next Wednesday:

It’s time for the international community to step up on this issue. We can’t afford another seven years of bloodshed and war in the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict sits at the heart of regional instability, and tensions in the Middle East threaten our security around the world.

All the pieces for a renewed peace process are falling into place. The Palestinians have decided to share power, end internal conflict and restart peace talks; the vast majority of Israelis stand ready to support a viable accord. The international community must help cross the next hurdle by bringing all parties to the table. 

Billions of us around the world want this conflict solved. That’s just one of the things we have in common. Let’s join across cultures and borders to call for real Middle East talks today.  Add your voice and tell your friends – together we will make a difference:

With hope,

Ricken, David, Iain, Andrea, Jeremy, Rachel, Tom, Hannah, Paul, Lee-Sean, Galit, Graziela, Nicole and the whole Avaaz team


PS – In our first four weeks Avaaz has made tremendous progress, with over 100,000 new members, and press coverage in major newspapers in Germany, Mexico, the US, the UK, France, Colombia and many other countries. Our climate change campaign has run a TV ad on three continents, and 92,000 Avaaz members participated in a global virtual march for peace on Washington DC. The new site is up in 10 languages and has the climate change ad and pictures from the March in Washington, so after you sign the Middle East peace talks petition, check out our site!

February 5, 2007

The Tragic Death of an Activist’s Daughter

Filed under: Blogroll, Palestine, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 9:52 pm


by Donald Macintyre
in Anata, West Bank

The Independent
5 February 2007

They lay on the school principal’s table, the relics of 10-year-old Abir Aramin’s last, fatal, journey: the black plastic shoulder bag containing the sixth-grade maths text book, cheerfully decorated with Sindy dolls, which she had taken for last-minute revision before her exam that morning; the bars of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Biskrem she had bought in the little grocery shop across the street when it was over. Sawsan Halwe, head of Anata Girls’ School, recalled how after what she said was a “big boom”, Abir had been carried, bleeding and unconscious, into a classroom. She tried to describe Abir in normal times: “She was lovely. Her teachers liked her, she had good grades. She was a very active student.” But then Abir has an unusual father. Bassam Aramin, 39, had been an active Fatah militant in his youth, ready to kill for the Palestinian cause, and jailed for seven years for attempting to do so. Yet today he is energetic in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and closely associated with the Peres Centre’s Jewish-Arab sports programmes.

Last April, Mr Aramin helped to found “Combatants for Peace” – a unique organisation of former Israeli soldiers and ex-Palestinian gunmen who have renounced violence and are devoted to the cause of ending the occupation by peaceful methods alone. A mere 10 months later, Mr Aramin has had his beliefs tested to the outer limit, by a grief he could never imagine.

Yesterday at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque he buried Abir, his younger daughter, killed by what he and every resident of Anata is convinced was fire at lethally close range – probably, they believe, a rubber-coated bullet – from an Israeli border police jeep.

Shortly after 9.10am on Tuesday, Abir, her sister and two friends, came out of the grocery store and started walking downhill along the street. At that point, said one of the girls, Abrar Abu Qweida, 12, an Israeli jeep came up the hill; further down the hill, she says she saw “three or four” boys throwing stones towards the vehicle. As the jeep passed them going up the hill, she says, she noticed what she says was a gun protruding from the rear window. Moments later, she says, a Ford Transit, of the sort frequently used in the West Bank for unlicensed passenger transport, came up the hill. Abrar explained: “Abir said: ‘Let’s get in the Ford.’ We were afraid from the jeep. But I said: ‘I haven’t any money.’ So she said: ‘OK, we don’t go.'”

Abir’s fatal injury came moments later. As they faced down the hill, Abrar was holding Abir’s hand; Abir’s sister Arin, 11, was immediately behind her. “Arin lowered her head and so did I,” said Abrar, hunching her shoulders in a graphic demonstration of an instinctive reaction to an explosion. But Abir didn’t duck, and fell forward, said Abrar, adding: ” I ran away. I ran into the school.” Arin, she says, fell to the ground from the shock, crying. Abrar says that the Ford Transit, the driver alerted by the sound of an explosion, returned immediately. “Two men jumped out and carried Abir into the school,” Abrar said. “I was crying all the time. I can’t study now. When [Abir] was doing her last exam she was sitting at the desk next to me.”

After a formal complaint by the family, police have now launched an investigation by its internal affairs division. The police suggested this week that she might have been hit by a stone thrown by a Palestinian, and the initial findings of yesterday’s autopsy do not so far prove that she was shot. But Abrar’s account is consistent with the massive fracture in the back of Abir’s skull, from which surgeons at the Hadassah Hospital fought to save her; with other eye-witness reports; and from the rubber bullet one boy testified to the Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din he had found where Abir fell. The Peres Centre’s Dr David Shanin, who visited doctors at the Hadassah with Mr Aramin as his daughter lay already clinically dead, is convinced her injuries were caused by a rubber bullet. He said: “The cause is obvious to anyone who doesn’t want to twist the truth.”

In order to ensure his two sons were not caught up in the clashes while the separation barrier was being built through the middle of Anata last year, Mr Aramin had long moved his sons to a school in East Jerusalem. But he never imagined anything like this happening to his daughters. He added: “I do not want revenge. Revenge is against our principles. My revenge is to bring [the perpetrator] to court, to defend other children, and so that he will learn not to shoot in cold blood and that there is a price to be paid. This should be the same for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Even if Abir were not shot, there remains the question of what the police were doing near the schools in Anata in the first place. The police say that they were there to protect “ongoing work” on the separation barrier. But residents – and the Yesh Din lawyer Michael Sfard, who is helping to represent the family – are all adamant the work stopped months ago when the barrier here was completed.

Avichai Sharon, one of Mr Aramin’s Israeli ex-soldier friends, says: “A few months ago they did come to protect the bulldozers. But now there is nothing to protect. They are just there to cause a provocation. There is no other reason.”

Mr Sfard, while saying that shooting with rubber bullets is a ” reasonable” and “likely” explanation for Abir’s death, acknowledges that this cannot yet be proved. But he agrees that the Border Police’s, in his view, wholly unnecessary presence was the underlying cause and adds that it’s known the forces opened fire in the vicinity of the schools. “None of the public statements made by the [Israel Defence Forces] or the police suggests that they were under threat.”

Mr Aramin said that his daughter’s death will not deter him from his work in the peace forums. “We have no choice but to continue to save more children from falling in this dirty conflict,” he said. And he adds gratefully that his Israeli ex-soldier friends in Combatants for Peace had shown unswerving solidarity with him since Tuesday. “They even left their jobs to be with me and that has helped to make me feel strong,” he said.

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