Tag Archives: anti-war

Jerusalem orders kindergartens not to let ‘minorities’ visit

The municipality’s security department sends instructions to kindergartens in the city ordering that foreigners and ‘minorities,’ a euphemism for Arabs, not be allowed onto their grounds. Anti-racism group demands the city retract the orders.

Illustrative photo of Israeli children preparing for the first day of kindergarten in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Illustrative photo of Israeli children preparing for the first day of kindergarten in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Public kindergartens in Jerusalem were ordered by the city’s Emergency and Security Division not to allow “foreigners” and “minorities” into educational facilities in a document laying out security instructions distributed to kindergartens recently.

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Under a section titled “Entry of Visitors,” the document reads: “Do not allow the entry of foreigners into the kindergarten grounds — as a rule entry is not permitted for minorities, in any such case you must notify the area security officer.”

Minorities is a semi-official and universally understood euphemism for Arabs in its Hebrew usage in Israel.

The Racism Crisis Center, a project of the Coalition Against Racism and the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, sent a letter to the Jerusalem Municipality last week arguing that the instructions were illegal and demanding that they be changed.

According to Hebrew-language newspaper Ma’ariv, which first reported the story, the Jerusalem Municipality responded that “security protocols for educational institutions are determined by the Israel Police and the Education Ministry.”

The security instructions sent out by the Jerusalem Municipality to kindergartens in the city.

The security instructions sent out by the Jerusalem Municipality to kindergartens in the city.

The municipality told Ma’ariv that it would fix the wording of the document. Its response did not indicate whether changing the wording would alter the instructions regarding discrimination based on nationality or ethnicity.

“Minorities, even if they are citizens and residents of the state, are [considered] dangerous foreigners by default,” wrote member of Knesset Aida Touma-Sliman of the Jewish-Arab Hadash party.

“The municipality said it would correct the instructions — but what else should we expect if the racist [Bezalel] Smotrich heads the Education Ministry?” Touma-Sliman wrote on Twitter.

Smotrich, an openly homophobic member of Knesset who has in the past advocated segregation, and whose parliamentary slate includes former followers of the outlawed terrorist group once led by Meir Kahane, has said that he will demand the education portfolio in the next government.

Open segregation — both official and unofficial — exists in myriad ways and places in Israel, from maternity wards to amusement parks, buses, hotels, public pools, roads, and housing.

Last year, Israel passed a constitutional measure that gives precedence to Jewish national rights in Israel without guaranteeing full equality for all non-Jewish citizens. It is believed that the legislation will be used in order to justify and uphold inherently racist and discriminatory policies and laws should they be challenged in the country’s Supreme Court.

In addition to the state-sanctioned racism and discrimination inside Israel, in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, there is an entirely different set of laws for Jewish Israelis and Palestinian non-citizen subjects. Those sets of laws and legal systems come with wildly different sets of rights, leading to increasingly common charges of an apartheid system.

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Left-wingers are busing Arabs to the polls in droves — for real this time

Playing on Netanyahu’s warning about Arab citizens of Israel voting in the last elections, a grassroots campaign raises tens of thousands of shekels to bring Bedouin from unrecognized villages to the polls — not quite in droves, but mini-bus by mini-bus.

Illustrative photo of an Israeli bus driving along an unpaved road in the Negev/Naqab desert. (Zoe Vayer/Flash90)

Illustrative photo of an Israeli bus driving along an unpaved road in the Negev/Naqab desert. (Zoe Vayer/Flash90)

On Election Day in 2015, Benjamin Netanyahu sent a video to his supporters warning that “Arabs are heading to the polls in droves, and left-wing organizations are bringing them in buses.” This Tuesday, his then-baseless exhortation will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

More than 1,400 Israelis have donated tens of thousands of shekels to a crowdfunded initiative to bus to the polls Bedouin citizens of Israel who live in unrecognized villages in the Negev desert (Naqab, in Arabic).

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Get-out-the-vote efforts are par for the course for nearly every party in nearly every democratic country these days. In the United States, both major parties field volunteers to drive voters to the polls. Even Netanyahu’s warning about droves of Arab voters was a scare tactic meant to push his voters off the couch and to the ballot box. Turnout is almost always a deciding factor in elections, and motivation to vote is a driving force in turnout.

The campaign to bus Bedouin voters, however, was designed to solve a different problem. So-called unrecognized Bedouin villages, where tens of thousands of Israeli citizens live, do not have the most basic infrastructure most developed nations afford their citizens. They do not have running water, electricity, sewage, paved roads, public transportation — and no polling places.

Anyone living in an unrecognized Bedouin village who wants to vote must travel significant distances in order to do so in most cases. And without a car, it’s extremely difficult if not impossible to pull off.

The initiative, which is being fully funded by a crowdfunding campaign run by “Zazim,” an Israeli grassroots organizing group akin to MoveOn, and the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages of Negev, is expected to bring between 6,000 and 10,000 Bedouin voters to the polls on Tuesday.

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According to Zazim’s website, as of Sunday morning the campaign had raised enough money to hire at least 40 mini-buses and all-terrain vans that can ferry as many as 15 voters at a time between their villages and polling places.

“A high percentage of people in unrecognized villages don’t show up to vote simply because they don’t have a way to,” estimated Atia al-Asam, head of the informal unrecognized villages council, which as part of the campaign mapped out what the villagers need to make it to the polls on Tuesday.

“The polling places are only in recognized villages,” al-Asam explained, adding that some are forced to travel up to 70 kilometers (over 40 miles). He believes it is the lack of transportation that makes most Bedouin residents of the unrecognized villages stay home on Election Day.

The state has an obligation to enable its citizens to vote, al-Asam said. “Why don’t they put polling places in the unrecognized villages where there are schools? It would solve the problem.”

“We don’t tell people whom to vote for,” al-Asam emphasized, “the point is that they vote.”

At Zazim, the message was more political, inasmuch as the legitimacy of Arab votes and voters has been politicized in Israel.

“In the 2015 elections, Netanyahu tried to present Arab citizens’ votes as a threat but the real threat to democracy is the worsening incitement against 20 percent of [Israeli citizens],” Zazim’s executive director, Raluka Ganea said, referring to the more-than 1.5 million Arab citizens of Israel.

“Our initiative is the grassroots answer to that incitement, Ganea added. “Our community is extending its hand in solidarity to the Bedouin citizens of the Negev, and is sending a clear message to all Arab citizens: your voice counts to us.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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No Bolsonaro, visiting Yad Vashem doesn’t make you a ‘friend of the Jews’

Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro’s visit to Israel this week is just the latest step in Netanyahu’s warming relations with a new cadre of authoritarian leaders. 

By Sergio Storch

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a visit to Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, April 2, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a visit to Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, April 2, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s four-day visit to Israel demonstrates just how important the South American country has become to Netanyahu over the past few years.

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The trip includes a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s renowned Holocaust museum, which commemorates one of the worst tragedies in history and sets out to ensure that genocide remains a thing of the past. For many, Yad Vashem serves as an inspiring example of how crucial collective memories are for strengthening both the identities and coping mechanisms of groups who have suffered violent persecution.

And yet, the meaning of a visit to Yad Vashem takes a different tone when the guest of honor represents hatred, oppression, and the devaluation of life. Netanyahu didn’t seem to worry about this when he brings Bolsonaro to the museum. After all, it is not the first time Netanyahu has invited a far-right nationalist leader to Yad Vashem; leaders of Hungary, Poland, and the Philippines — all of them known for their extremist policies and rhetoric — have also visited the museum alongside the Israeli prime minister.

Boslsonaro’s visit comes on the heels of his infamous “anti-crime package,” which increases sentences for serious crimes such as robbery, corruption, and embezzlement, and incorporates Bolsonaro’s campaign promise to back police officers who open fire at suspected criminals deemed dangerous by security forces. Brazilian human rights NGOs have labeled the package a “fake solution” that would only increase violence — as well as incarceration rates — among Brazil’s poor.

Netanyahu is no fool. On the eve of Israeli elections, by appearing with Bolsonaro at Yad Vashem he can sell the image of the leader of a 200 million-strong country ostensibly honoring Jewish suffering. But the visit goes beyond simple political calculus: Bolsonaro is just another leader being used in Netanyahu’s attempt to rewrite history and use the Holocaust as an attempt to justify Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a visit to the Western Wall, Jerusalem's Old City, April 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a visit to the Western Wall, Jerusalem’s Old City, April 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In turn, these heads of state receive the prime minister’s blessing, and a defense against charges of anti-Semitism, despite their hatred for various other minority groups, whether Muslim refugees, African migrants, Mexicans, or indigenous people. Visiting Yad Vashem washes these leaders of their guilt, even as their governments continue to dabble in anti-Semitism, as is the case in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has dabbled in historical revisionism when it comes to the role of both the Poles and the Palestinians in the Holocaust.

The turn toward authoritarian leaders, and their visits to Yad Vashem, are part of Netanyahu’s attempt to create an equivalency between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel. By visiting the museum, Netanyahu’s new allies prove they are Israel’s friends, thus reinforcing Netanyahu’s thesis. Brazilian Jews who supported Bolosonaro during the country’s elections last year did so based on the fabricated idea that he is a “friend of the Jews” — a notion that will only be bolstered by his visit to the museum.

Taken in its broadest meaning, Bolsonaro’s visit to Yad Vashem is another brick in the worldwide construction of a big lie in which Israelis and Brazilian Jews are duped into believing that an alliance of extremists is somehow in their best interest. And although Jewish communal leaders in Brazil have, in varying degrees, supported this doomed alliance, there is still a possibility for change. It is crucial that all those dedicated to human rights, democracy, and justice distance themselves from both the hubris of the Israeli government, and the authoritarian leaders who give it the backing Netanyahu so desperately needs.

Sergio Storch is a human rights activist in Brazil and a leader in the network of Brazilian Jewish Progressives. A version of this article was first published in Portuguese on Brasil 247.

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PHOTOS: Tens of thousands protest along the Gaza fence

Israeli troops kill three and wound hundreds more in the protests marking a year since the Great March of Return protests began, and coming as cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas come to a head.

By Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org

A large crowd of Palestinian protesters gathers near the Gaza fence to mark Land Day and one year since the start of the Great Return March protests, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A large crowd of Palestinian protesters gathers near the Gaza fence to mark Land Day and one year since the start of the Great Return March protests, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

GAZA CITY — At least 40,000 Palestinians protested at several locations along the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip on Saturday, marking Land Day and one year since the start of the Great March of Return protests.

Israeli troops used live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets, and tear gas to try and disperse demonstrators who approached the fence. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, Israeli snipers killed three 17-year-old boys during the protests, and more than 300 others were wounded, including five who were in critical condition.

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Adham Amara, 17, was shot and killed east of Gaza City, and Bilal Mahmoud Najjar and Tamer Aby el-Khair, both 17, were shot in east of Khan Yunis and died later at the hospital. A fourth man, Mohammad Saed, was killed along the fence before the protests began Saturday morning.

Protesters chant slogans during the demonstration, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Protesters chant slogans during the demonstration, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

Volunteer medics hold their hands above their heads as they try to reach a wounded protester near the fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Volunteer medics hold their hands above their heads as they try to reach a wounded protester near the fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

The return march protests began as a mass movement last year, demanding to fulfill the right of return for Palestinian refugees and an end to the Israeli siege. Israeli snipers and sharpshooters killed over 195 participants since March 30, 2018, including 68 in one day alone.

Land Day, March 30th, commemorates how in 1976 Israeli security forces responded to a general strike and mass protest of Palestinian citizens of Israel by killing six and wounding some 100 others.

A Palestinian protester throws a tear gas canister back toward Israeli troops positioned along the Gaza fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian protester throws a tear gas canister back toward Israeli troops positioned along the Gaza fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

Two Palestinian women suffer from tear gas inhalation, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Two Palestinian women suffer from tear gas inhalation, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

One woman at the protests on Friday, who gave her name only as Um Ahmed, 42, told +972 Magazine said she wanted the world to know Gaza will not be broken by anyone. “I am here today to demand my right to return to the land occupied by Israel. We will resist the occupier, even they kill us all,” she said, adding, “my hope is that the siege will end and that we could live in peace.”

The protests came as Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza, were said to be nearing “understandings” about a cease-fire following a tense several weeks that saw rockets fired at Tel Aviv and Israeli bombing raids across Gaza. Hamas’ demands reportedly focused on easing the blockade, while one of Israel’s central demands was that Hamas rein back the weekly protests along the fence.

A group of protesters takes cover from Israeli troops as they approach the fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A group of protesters takes cover from Israeli troops as they approach the fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

Protesters throw back tear gas canisters toward Israeli soldiers, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Protesters throw back tear gas canisters toward Israeli soldiers, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

A group of protesters wave a Palestinian flag while trying to take cover during the demonstration, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A group of protesters wave a Palestinian flag while trying to take cover during the demonstration, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

Medics evacuate a wounded protester who was shot in the leg by an Israeli sniper, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Medics evacuate a wounded protester who was shot in the leg by an Israeli sniper, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

A large group of protesters runs from Israeli sniper fire and crowd control measures, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A large group of protesters runs from Israeli sniper fire and crowd control measures, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Editor’s note:
The casualty count was updated at 11:15 p.m. on March 30, 2019.

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You have the power to stop apartheid: An open letter to AIPAC

American Jews, who play such a central role in what happens in Israel, can put an end to the oppression of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line. But only if they tell Israelis that enough is enough.

By Marzuq al-Halabi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC Conference in Washington DC, on March 6, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC Conference in Washington DC, on March 6, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Dear AIPAC leaders,

In one of his most famous poems, “Think of Others,” Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish asks the reader to keep the other in mind at all times. This, he writes, should apply whether we are preparing breakfast, paying our water bill, or declaring war. I wonder, then, whether you, as you take part in your annual conference next week think about us over here? Do you think about me or my 19-year-old daughter Shaden, who these days is head over heels in love?

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Jewish people across the world have much influence over what is happening in Israel, a fact that to a large degree also affects my fate. Thus, as the third wheel in your relationship with the state in which I live, allow me to ask a few simple, banal questions. Ordinary questions, like those in Darwish’s poem.

Before you invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the conference goers, ask him about the daily, unbridled incitement against Israel’s Palestinian citizens, people yearn for a decent life, as do all the people of the world — as do you, Jewish-American citizens of the United States. Ask him and his friends about who gave them the right, the power, and the justification to pass the Jewish Nation-State Law, which creates a hierarchy between communities and nationalists, and which is a gateway to a racist state?

When they come to Washington D.C. to speak about the right of the Jewish people in its homeland, ask them about the rights of people such as myself, non-Jews, in their homeland. Do you know of Jewish values that undermine values of universalism, human rights, and democracy? Would you accept a situation in which American Jews are prevented from having the same rights as other citizens?

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My questions, of course, pertain to citizens of Israel inside the Green Line. These are residents of the State of Israel whose land was expropriated and never returned, even if it was never put to use. These are citizens, a third of whom are internal refugees, uprooted from their villages and towns in 1948 and forbidden to return, even if they live just a stones throw away. This is the lived reality of 100,000 residents of the unrecognized villages in the Negev, living on borrowed time.

Bedouin women collect their belongings from the ruins of their demolished homes in the village of Umm al-Hiran, Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Bedouin women collect their belongings from the ruins of their demolished homes in the village of Umm al-Hiran, Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

These people are the indigenous minority from before the 1948 war and the Nakba, making up 20 percent of the general population that lives on 3.2 percent of this country’s land. A relatively quiet national minority compared to others living under similar circumstances. A population that gave its blessing to the peace process and the Oslo Accords, one which has always taken its citizenship seriously. This goes for the Druze community as well, which forged a blood pact with the Israeli state, at least until the passing of the Jewish Nation-State Law.

And what about the occupied territories, the Gaza ghetto, and the daily injustices that long ago have been transformed into an apartheid regime? My apologies, but there is no other term that accurately describes what happens every day, every hour, in the West Bank. Jewish-only roads, fences, walls, checkpoints, closure, collective punishment, military operations against a civilian population, and nationalistic settlers, who make the lives of the Palestinians miserable.

Recently, as I made my way to a meeting of the Global Forum of the National Library of Israel, I passed through the city of Modi’in, which was partially established on land conquered in June 1967. There I saw fenced-off Palestinian villages with only one or two entries, under the control of Israeli soldiers. I saw a terrifying wall, which dismembers not only the land but also the lives of those who are forbidden from traveling freely — an elementary right of all people. Speaking to one of the discussion groups, I told them exactly what I had witnessed.

The separation wall in Shuafat refugee camp, in the background is Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev, East Jerusalem, January 24, 2017. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The separation wall in Shuafat refugee camp, in the background is Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, East Jerusalem, January 24, 2017. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

From a bird’s eye view, Israel has never had it better: Military, economic, political, and strategic superiority over the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab countries. It appears that the feeling of being drunk on power has far surpassed the euphoria that took hold of the Jewish community following Israel’s victory in June 1967. This new feeling has left Jews in a stupor, effectively legitimizing Kahanism, hyper-nationalism, racism, and belligerence. The Jewish Nation-State Law was born out of this very feeling.

We are on the verge of witnessing Israel turn from an ethnic democracy into a full-fledged apartheid state, and there is no one left to put the genie back in the lamp. Right-wing leaders are exploiting the situation they created in order to frighten Jews in Israel and across the world of even the slightest possible change in the status quo. Meanwhile, they have succeeded in delegitimizing not only Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, but any Jewish citizen who believes in human rights. They have not succeeded in establishing a so-called Start-Up Nation, but rather a terrified citizenry subject to constant fear-mongering. The government takes advantage of this fear to justify the occupation’s crimes.

The feeling of total victory pushes Israelis to believe that the time has come to defeat the Palestinians once and for all. Yet life has its own set of rules. The fading relevance of the Green Line is creating a demographic balance between Jews and Palestinians between the river and the sea. To deal with this fact, the government will try to deepen its control over six million Palestinians. Oppression will lead to a cycle of resistance, subsequent greater oppression, followed by a popular uprising. More power will lead to expulsions, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. American Jews could end up paying the price for Israel’s actions, and the world may no longer be able to look you in the eyes.

Palestinian protesters seen at the Gaza border fence, during a 'Great Return March' protest, Gaza Strip, September 28, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Palestinian protesters seen at the Gaza border fence, during a ‘Great Return March’ protest, Gaza Strip, September 28, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

We can move toward a process of historic reconciliation only after the sense of Jewish supremacy is replaced by generosity, out of the understanding that the Jewish question is intertwined with that of the Palestinian question — that both will be solved between the river and the sea in historic Palestine. And while reconciliation is naturally a long and arduous process, it is preferable to apartheid.

AIPAC leaders, you who live thousands of miles from here, must listen to the voices of those who are not invited to deliver speeches at your annual conference — those whose voices were silenced or purposefully distorted. Please, do not believe those who tell you how good we have it in the Land of Zion. At the very least, cast doubt on what they say.

You, who play such a central role in what happens in Israel, can prevent the worst from happening. Tell them “no more.” Perhaps then we can bring an end to the injustices.

Yours,

Marzuq al-Halabi

Jerusalem

Marzuq Al-Halabi is a jurist, journalist, author. He writes regularly for Al-Hayat. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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In Israel’s elections, only the far right is talking about democracy

A new campaign ad by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked signals that this time around, only the far right is talking about democratic norms — and how to undo them. Does the opposition have a response?

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked's satirical campaign ad mocks the Israeli left for its opposition to her attempts to weaken the judicial system.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s satirical campaign ad mocks the Israeli left for its opposition to her attempts to weaken the judicial system.

Of all the aspects of political campaigns that voters love to hate, none is more maligned than the political advertisement. The term “30-second spot” has become synonymous with dumbing down, mudslinging, and manipulation of political campaigns ever since the Daisy Ad.

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But punchy ads are great. They can help de-code the strategy each party has chosen, and short scripts packed with narrative are enormously revealing about the country’s electorate, seen through the eyes of the candidates. Political campaigns are us, the voters, reflected back to ourselves – even if we don’t like what we see.

This week, Israelis looked into the campaign mirror and saw Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, with the ad that launched a thousand memes and at least as many headlines. In just 44 seconds and with only five essential words, Shaked redefined democracy in Israel.

In a mock-up of the familiar “Obsession” perfume ads, a vixen-voiced narrator lists the minister’s policies to weaken and restrain the Israeli justice system. “Judicial revolution,” she purrs, “reducing [judicial] activism, appointing judges, governance, separation of powers, reigning in the Supreme Court.” The ad sarcastically refers to these policies as bottled “fascism.” Shaked then lifts a bottle of perfume towards her face, sprays and utters the five critical words: “Smells like democracy to me.”

The ad crystallizes a bitter divide of this election that has bubbled below the surface for years. Shaked didn’t just say “the court needs to be restrained” or “I’m against judicial activism.” She said that these positions are democracy itself.

On one side of the divide lies Israelis who believe that the Supreme Court is among the most important state institutions, an essential check on other branches of government. They view the assault on the court by right-wing governments of recent years as an attack on democracy itself.

The other camp views the court as an unelected leftist group of elites, who uphold human and civil rights of minorities – even Palestinians. This side is not necessarily against human rights – there are few complaints when the court rules against accepting evidence of Jewish suspects whose rights were violated in the process. It’s the universal bit about human rights that makes them angry.  And in fact, Israel’s Supreme Court has upheld the country’s policies of occupation at least as often as it modifies them. Yet the image that the court helps Palestinians endures.

And for these voters, judicial activism itself tramples the will of the majority — Jews. Their antidote is policies that favor the majority, manifested by the elected legislature; hence Shaked’s quest to give the Knesset greater control over the courts. For the justice minister, and in Israel more broadly, democracy is being redefined as minimally-restrained majority rule, based on constitutional anchors such as the Nation-State law, and accompanied by national triumphalism.

With her ad, Israel’s justice system is on trial and Shaked is the prosecutor.

On this issue, the jury is not divided by typical left/right/center lines. In my December survey for Israeli anti-occupation organization B’Tselem, a plurality of moderate right-wingers gave the court a “favorable” rating. Among the hard-right-wing respondents, twice as many gave the court a negative rating compared to positive. It’s clear which side Shaked is vying for.

Her New Right party is fighting to wrest votes from The Union of Right-Wing Parties (which includes the Kahanist Jewish Power party). That far-far right party is also fighting over the judiciary: Rafi Peretz, leader of the Union, said on Wednesday that his party would demand the Justice Ministry in a future government, so that the “Supreme Court will know its place,” while his Kahanist consort Itamar Ben-Gvir vowed to “put an end to the government of the Supreme Court.”

Otzma Yehudit party member Michael Ben Ari (right) and party member and attorney Itamar Ben Gvir seen at court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, March 13, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit party member Michael Ben Ari (right) and party member and attorney Itamar Ben Gvir seen at court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, March 13, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The New Right and Union of Right-Wing parties are both poised to enter Knesset; they might even become leading coalition partners. If so, one is likely to get the Justice Ministry. Aggressive policies will follow – most prominently, the “Override Bill,” which will make it easier for the Knesset to override judicial review. The right-wing is convinced the court only rules against legislation that they believe favors Jewish national interests; violating the will of the legislature – a reflection of the Jewish majority.

Given the stakes, surely defenders of Israel’s democracy are putting up a fight. But judging by the ads, it’s a one-sided battle.

Netanyahu’s closest challenger, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, has focused primarily on, well, replacing Netanyahu. Their ads attack the Likud for corruption, without connecting this to the larger issues of governance or democracy. In fact it’s hard to pinpoint any national issue as the heart of the party’s agenda.

The Labor Party, head of the opposition, has presented only “strategic” voting messages focused on the makeup of the future coalition and attacking Blue and White as an accomplice of the right. Their latest ad is slightly scary (in a fun, Thriller-like way), but the message is what I call the politics of politics, not national issues.

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Voters might have expected smaller parties to lead the charge but for one reason or another, they are not. Tzipi Livni’s campaign launched with a strong, explicit focus on defending democracy, but she exited the race. The Arab-Palestinian-Jewish slate led by Hadash and Ta’al, are wisely preoccupied with trying to get Arab voters to turn out. The left-wing Meretz party is barely finding its way to my feed — an absence that mainly shows poor targeting skills.

In the battle over essential national issues, the right-wing parties seem to be the only ones on the field. This week’s Shaked ad for the New Right drove the nation’s attention to her indictment of Israeli democracy. And in this trial, the defense attorney is MIA.

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WATCH: Israeli soldiers break into Palestinian school, arrest 10-year-old

Fully armed soldiers enter the school in occupied Hebron, threaten teachers, and take away a child they likely exceeded their authority to arrest because of his age.

By Meron Rapoport

Fully armed Israeli soldiers forced their way into a Palestinian school in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron and took away a 10-year-old boy this week The age of criminal culpability is 12 years old under both Israeli civilian and military law.

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While the soldiers likely exceeded their authority in this case, it would hardly be the first time that has happened. Israeli soldiers have been documented arresting and detaining far-younger Palestinian children over the years, particularly in Hebron.

The incident this week took place at the Haj Ziad Jaber School in of Hebron, a city in the West Bank where hundreds of Israeli soldiers are permanently stationed alongside hundreds of Jewish settlers and tens of thousands of Palestinians.

While the Jewish settlers living in the same city are subject to Israeli civilian law, Palestinians, even those living on the same street, are subject to military law and can be arrested by Israeli troops — a foreign army — at any time.

According to a report in Ma’an News, which published a video of the incident, the soldiers forced their way into the school and snatched the child from his classroom. On its Facebook page, the school wrote that the boy is a fourth grader.

In the video, an Israeli army officer can be seen grabbing the boy, who appears very young. A few Palestinian adults, including the school’s vice principal, try and stop the soldiers from taking the child.

Another Israeli soldier can be seen pushing an older Palestinian man, who Ma’an identified as the vice principal. When yet another Palestinian educator tries explaining to the soldiers that these were small children, the Israeli officer responds in Hebrew, “they threw stones, I don’t care how old they are,” adding that he would take them to an Israeli police station.

When the vice principal asks the Israeli soldiers to explain what is happening in Arabic, the army officer responds, again in Hebrew: “I don’t give a crap about your Arabic.”

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Most Palestinians do not speak Hebrew and the vast majority of Israeli soldiers, even those in roles that require them to interact with the occupied Palestinian population on a daily basis, do not speak Arabic.

At a certain point in the video, the Israeli officer is seen speaking into his radio, ordering more soldiers to enter the school, saying “there are teachers jumping all over me.” Another soldier then threatens to break the arm of another of the Palestinian educators.

When one of the Palestinian educators asks to speak with a higher-ranking Israeli officer, the officer who originally forced his way into the school to detain the small child responds, “talk to whoever you want, I don’t give a crap.”

Eventually, after the Israeli army reinforcements filled the elementary school’s hallways, each clutching an assault rifle, the soldiers take away the 10-year-old Palestinian child and at least one of the adults.

According to Ma’an, “local sources” said that Palestinian authorities attempted to intervene at that point and that the boy was released some time later.

Gaby Lasky, an Israeli attorney who specializes in human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, said that because the age of criminal culpability is 12, “the soldiers did not have the authority to arrest the boy.”

“Every soldier, and definitely every officer, should know that there is no legal authority to arrest or put on trial a child of that age,” Lasky explained. Even entering school grounds during school hours with weapons, without a warrant, and without coordinating with the school’s administration, is something that should be forbidden. Usually, she said, even the army avoids doing so.

Lasky said she planned to file a complaint against the soldiers for entering the school grounds and arresting the young child

An Israeli army spokesperson responded by claiming that a group of students had thrown stones toward Israeli cars in the Jewish settlement in Hebron, and that following that incident, a “[military] force conducted a warning chat with the pupils, but they were not arrested.”

Nevertheless, the spokesperson added, “the incident will be investigated and regulations will be clarified accordingly.”

Meron Rapoport is an editor at Local Call, where a version of this article first appeared in Hebrew. Read it here.

The post WATCH: Israeli soldiers break into Palestinian school, arrest 10-year-old appeared first on +972 Magazine.

‘The entire world knows the settlers have declared war on us’

In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians living near extremist settlements have been seeing a drastic increase in violence. Israeli authorities refuse to take responsibility, while the villagers are left to fend for themselves.

By Rami Younis and Oren Ziv

Palestinian women walk by a wall that had been hit by price tag graffiti. The graffiti reads: 'Evacuating Yitzhar = price tag.' (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian women walk by a wall that had been hit by price tag graffiti. The graffiti reads: ‘Evacuating Yitzhar = price tag.’ (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This past year was, by all accounts, a difficult one for Palestinians living near settlements in the West Bank. According to data provided by the Palestinian Authority’s Wall and Settlement Resistance Committee, 2018 saw 614 settler attacks against Palestinians, ranging from property damage to stone throwing and lethal assault.

This constitutes an increase of 217 percent compared to the previous year; 2017 saw 284 incidents of assault, while the PA recorded 255 such incidents in 2016. As of early March, the committee documented 125 assaults — an average of more than two incidents per day.

The attacks, once referred to as “price tag attacks,” are committed by extremist Jewish youth from settlements and outposts across the West Bank. Their goal is to exact a price from Palestinians for actions Israeli authorities take against the settlers, usually building enforcement in illegally built settlements. The attacks are sporadic and difficult to combat in real time.

Settler violence has steadily increased since the middle of last December, when Asam Barghouti stepped out of his car and opened fire at a group of soldiers and civilians waiting along Road 60 at the entrance to the settlement outpost of Givat Assaf. Two soldiers were killed in the attack, and another soldier and a civilian were wounded. Following the incident, far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich tweeted: “If there are terror attacks, we won’t have Arabs on the roads.”

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Meanwhile, settlers from across the West Bank set off on a campaign of revenge. In the 24 hours following the Givat Assaf shooting, Israeli anti-occupation organization Yesh Din recorded attacks in 28 locations across the West Bank, from the Nablus area in the north to Hebron in the south. Ever since , Palestinians have been reporting an increase in settler violence. The main victims are those living next to Route 60, and particularly in villages near the settlement of Yitzhar — known for its extremism — and the settlement outposts around Shiloh, northeast of Ramallah.

It is difficult to obtain data from the Israeli side. Most incidents are not reported or are designated by the army as “confrontations” (in many cases the army arrives at the site after the settlers leave, and clashes take place between the army and Palestinian youth). B’Tselem, another Israeli anti-occupation group, investigated 129 of the violent incidents in 2018, in which four people were killed and sixteen were wounded. We tried, to no avail, to obtain information from the army and the police regarding the number of settler attacks. The Shin Bet referred us to the police, the police referred us to the army, which then sent us back to the police. No one knows — no one takes responsibility.

Layers of protection

A Palestinian woman seen outside her home in the West Bank village of Urif. She has installed two layers of metal bars to protect her home from settler attacks. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian woman seen outside her home in the West Bank village of Urif. She has installed two layers of metal bars to protect her home from settler attacks. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

“It was completely random — that’s what was so scary,” says Rumel Sweiti, the editor in chief of the Al Hayat daily, which is published in Nablus. Sweiti, who routinely reports on the attacks, was himself the target of assault in early February. “It happened around 10 p.m. near my house in Huwara,” just few miles from Yitzhar. “My house is in the northern part of the village, where the settlers have attacked many times,” Sweiti adds. “They entered my yard and smashed three parked cars. I complained to the Palestinian police, now we are going to the Israeli police.”

Sweiti has been attacked twice before, as have the houses of his brothers who live nearby — but this time, he says, it feels different. “Ever since the Aisha al-Rabi incident (a Palestinian woman killed by settler who threw a stone at her car, R.Y., O.Z.) [the settlers] no longer have any fear or respect for the sanctity of the Sabbath. Now they are entering people’s backyards, which they did not do before, even on the Sabbath.”

Not far away in Urif, a village of some 4,000 people located in the shadow of Yitzhar, the inhabitants say settlers have been trespassing on their land almost every single day since the shooting at Givat Assaf. They also say that while in the past settlers would throw stones from a distance, today they are entering people’s yards.

One of these houses belongs to Munir Suleiman, a father of 10 who makes a living collective scrap metal. The back yard of his modest home — where the windows are now protected by metal bars, thanks to the help of the villagers and the local council — is full of old motorcycles and automotive parts, some of which have been smashed by settlers. “They will do anything to prevent me from earning a shekel, anything!” he says. Suleiman walks with a limp, a souvenir from a previous settler attack.

He shows us the dilapidated house, located at the edge of the village near the high school, where his children live. He long ago decided to block the house’s window with stones and concrete. The local council built a fence around the house, which does little to prevent attacks.

Munir Suleiman, fro the Palestinian village of Urif, points the a bullet hole in his home, which was targeted by settlers. 'Sometimes they come down with the army, sometimes the army joins later, after the entire village comes out to defend itself.' (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Munir Suleiman, fro the Palestinian village of Urif, points the a bullet hole in his home, which was targeted by settlers. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Every house in the area has bars that were installed when the house was initially built, as well as an extra layer of protective black bars that give the homes a prison-like appearance. On top of the bars is metal mesh, meant to prevent stones from breaking through. Suffice it to say that none of this has helped. “They often use metal rods that cut through the mesh and break the windows despite the bars” says Munir Qadasi, a field worker from Yesh Din who comes here several times a week to document attacks.

On our tour of Urif we are joined by Muntasar Safadi, who works for the local council. He lifts his pant-leg over his ankle, revealing a wound he sustained after being shot by live fire during a demonstration three months ago. Qadasi and the other inhabitants point to the walls of the village houses, which are now pocked with bullet holes. “Sometimes they come down with the army, sometimes the army joins later, after the entire village comes out to defend itself. Then the live fire begins,” says Safadi. Suleiman sits down in his yard next to a small decrepit chicken coop, telling us about one incident in which a bullet just nearly missed his head while sitting in the very same spot.

The villagers say they have tried to install security cameras, but the army immediately arrives to confiscate the film following attacks. The army does not do this in order to stop the settlers, they say, but rather to identify the young Palestinians who come out to defend their land and confront the attackers.

Several months ago, the PA held discussions about the possibility of establishing people’s defense councils in every village. But operating the councils would be dangerous and problematic: even if activists are not immediately detained by Israel, the councils would require the PA to both pay salaries and provide for other resources. “All this talk about the councils is irresponsible,” says Qadasi. “They want the young people to risk their lives and protect us from the settlers with their bare hands — without weapons and without salaries? It’s not going to happen.”

In the meantime, the inhabitants of Urif protect themselves with WhatsApp groups. “Even at 5 a.m. when someone sends an alert, you will see all the villagers coming to fight off the settlers within a few minutes,” Safadi says.

“I am afraid to complain and attract attention to my house,” tells us Samir Sawalma, a retired teacher who lives near Suleiman. “I am originally from Jaffa, after the Nakba we moved to Balata refugee camp. In 2000 I moved here to escape the mess there…” Suleiman does not finish the sentence, instead gesturing with resignation as he points to the reinforced windows of his house. Often, he says, he misses a doctor’s appointment so as not to leave his house empty. He shows us a note he has for a doctor’s appointment for the exact time we are sitting together in his yard. “I am a refugee and therefore get my health care in the camp, but the doctors are very busy. There are not enough appointments and it is important to take any available slot. But how can I leave my wife and children alone?” While we are sitting at the yard, a commercial truck stops outside the gate and the driver honks the horn repeatedly. Sawalma goes out and hugs his son who has just returned from school in the truck.

Muntasar Safadi seen in the West Bank village of Urif. 'Even at 5 a.m. when someone sends an alert, you will see all the villagers coming to fight off the settlers within a few minutes.' (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Muntasar Safadi seen in the West Bank village of Urif. ‘Even at 5 a.m. when someone sends an alert, you will see all the villagers coming to fight off the settlers within a few minutes.’ (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

“Did you notice what is going on here?” asks Safadi as he lights another cigarette. “The drivers are afraid to let the children out of the car alone without a parent to let them into the house. They fear a settler could be lurking, lying in wait for the children. As far as the driver is concerned, he could be honking the horn for another hour and not let the child exit the vehicle alone.”

The distance between the high school and Yitzhar is only a few hundred feet, as the crow flies. The settlers from Yitzhar often attack the school, and when the students come out to stop them, the army arrives and disperses them with tear gas, rubber bullets, and sometimes with live fire. Dozens of tear gas canisters can be seen strewn on the ground, a testament to the frequent confrontations here.

Buy during the day, attack during the night 

Huwara, a town of 9,000 inhabitants located on Road 60 between Za’atra (Tapuah Junction) and Nablus, has also been a frequent target of demonstrations and attacks by the settlers. From the yard of city hall, we can see the military post situated between Yitzhar and Huwara overlooking the area. On top of the military post flies a yellow flag with the word “Messiah” on it, most likely hoisted by settlers. The Palestinian farmers who come to work their land are required to coordinate their arrival with the Israeli army ahead of time. Access to some plots is denied throughout the year.

“Now begins what we call ‘the coordination season,’” says Hawara Mayor Nasser Hawari. “We help local farmers receive confirmation from the army so they can access their land between Huwara and the settlement. Spring is approaching, and people need to plow their land, but we know that the settlers will arrive and make trouble.”

Hawari, a man with a ready smile, grows serious when I ask him about what happened during last year’s plowing. “The settlers know to wait for us when we come down to our land — it’s like an annual ceremony. Last year, 35 settlers from Yitzhar attacked the farmers with stone and rods as the army looked on. They ruined my car, elderly people where hit on the head with stones, and a young man working on a tractor suffered panic attack and stopped breathing. It was a miracle he survived.”

Hawara Mayor Nasser Hawari. 'The settlers know to wait for us when we come down to our land — it's like an annual ceremony.' (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hawara Mayor Nasser Hawari. ‘The settlers know to wait for us when we come down to our land — it’s like an annual ceremony.’ (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Not far from city hall is a girl’s elementary school, which was the target of a settler attack in November 2018. On the wall, settlers sprayed painted the words “Yitzhar’s Evacuation — Price Tag.” The residents tell us that the night the school was attacked, settlers slashed the tires of several tractors belonging Bilal Hajj Jaber, who sells construction materials. When we visit him, a settler from the area is finalizing his purchase, while a teenage Palestinian loads the merchandise onto the settler’s jeep. “They buy during the day and attack at night,” says Qadasi. Hajj Jaber says that some of his Jewish customers condemned the attack, calling the perpetrators “dogs.” He says his insurance company is unwilling to reimburse him for the damage caused by the settlers. “The insurance company told me this is a ‘state of war’. For now, I can take it, but what about the others? The entire world knows that the settlers have declared war on us.”

Neither the Shin Bet, the army, nor the police spokesmen responded to our questions regarding the increase of violent attacks by the settlers against the Palestinians, and did not accede to our request for additional data on the topic. In their response, the army spokesperson referred only to the claims by the inhabitants of Urif regarding the use of live fire by the army when they came under attack by the settlers, saying “The Israel Defense Forces acts to protect the security and fabric of life of all inhabitants of the region. Lately, a number of incidents occurred in the vicinity of Urif. IDF forces acted to maintain order using crowd-dispersal means. As far as we know, no live fire was used by the IDF in recent months against demonstrators in the area of the village.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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I’m Jewish, and I’m ashamed of how we’re treating Ilhan Omar

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is being accused of anti-Semitism not because criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic, but because the pro-Israel lobby has done a great job of making the American public and Congress believe that story.

By Scott Brown

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. (Leopaltik1242/CC BY-SA 4.0)

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. (Leopaltik1242/CC BY-SA 4.0)

The House of Representatives is set to bring a resolution to the floor on Thursday to confront Ilhan Omar’s comments on the influence of Israel and the Israel lobby in American politics, a controversy that has escalated rapidly since her Tweets about AIPAC’s influence on certain Congress members on February 10.

At the same time, most Democratic leaders have been deafeningly silent about a poster connecting Ilhan Omar to the 9/11 attacks that was posted at a Republican celebration in West Virginia last weekend.

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But just as silent have been mainstream Jewish institutions. In response to Omar’s comments, organizations claiming to stand against hate and defend Jewish people, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Weisenthal Center, have written assertive public letters addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling for another condemnation of Omar’s comments, and even for her to be stripped of her role on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Meanwhile, their response to the Islamophobic poster? Silence. Or a singular tweet.

I am deeply angered and ashamed at the response of Jewish institutions to Ilhan Omar. As a white American Jew who has simultaneously experienced hate and enjoyed white privilege, I believe I cannot claim to stand for things like safety and justice for all without both understanding and showing up in solidarity with the struggles of others. To my fellow Jews, I say if that feels true for you too, then ask yourself: what does it say that the mainstream Jewish community is attacking people like the first black Muslim woman in Congress for criticizing Israel?

Have we taken the time to learn her story of escaping the Somali civil war and surviving refugee camps as a child? Have we looked at her impressive record as a state legislator, human rights activist, and advocate for women and children? Have we taken into consideration how all of these experiences may have actually given her a deep understanding of what oppression and injustice looks like, including for Jewish people?

Or have we reactionarily condemned black leaders as Jew-haters because we’re unable to differentiate between critique of Israel and anti-Semitism?

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A few weeks ago, I was at a dialogue group I’ve been participating in for the past six months that brings together black and Jewish DC residents to increase understanding and confront tensions between our communities. After one discussion about the lack of trust between our communities, one friend approached me and asked: “Are there any prominent Jewish leaders at all that speak out against Israel?” I’m a white Jew; he’s black and not Jewish.

His question hit me in the gut because it shed light for me on how some people outside the Jewish community perceive Jews: unapologetic supporters of a state with a record of egregious human rights abuses and violations of international law. This is a perception that we as a Jewish community have enabled by accepting and advocating the idea that being Jewish means embracing and defending Israel, and conversely, that criticism of Israel is the same as anti-Semitism.

That same misunderstanding is at the root of the ongoing controversy around Ilhan Omar’s statements, the public attacks on Professor Marc Lamont Hill after speaking on Palestinian liberation at the UN, and Angela Davis having a human rights award revoked due to her support of Palestine.

Jewish people do not become safer when we divide ourselves from people like Ilhan Omar, Marc Lamont Hill and Angela Davis. All we do is further endanger these leaders, who are already putting their livelihoods — and lives — at risk for taking controversial political stances as black public figures. Condemning those who criticize Israel in the name of safety for Jews, as many white Jewish leaders do, while failing to say a thing about Islamophobic attacks like those on Omar, is shameful and deeply hypocritical.

I, too, once thought that part of being Jewish was loyally supporting Israel. In the hall where we worshipped at my synagogue, there was an American flag on one side of the stage and an Israeli flag on the other. We sang Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem, as part of our Hebrew school singing lessons.

That experience is not uncommon in American Jewish communities. And much of that Israel-centric education is facilitated by institutions with similar aims as the political lobbies like AIPAC that Ilhan Omar is criticizing. Their goal is to build strong relationships between Americans and Israel, not just on a political level, but also within our communities. In Jewish communities, that means creating a deep, unquestioned sense of loyalty to Israel as a part of Jewish identity.

One example is the educational programs that organizations like the Jewish National Fund (JNF) bring into American Jewish communities. As a the self-declared largest provider of Israel education in America, the JNF states it believes “investing in education is critical to creating the next generation of Israel supporters.” At the same time, large portions of the millions the JNF raises in donations in the United States are directed to projects in illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine.

So it’s not much of a surprise that when someone like Ilhan Omar pushes back against the pressure for American politicians to support Israel, that so many, Jews and non-Jews, would condemn this as anti-Semitism. But how do these condemnations look when we investigate and see that Eliot Engel, who publicly demanded Omar apologize for her statements, was the 5th highest recipient of donations from the pro-Israel lobby in 2018? Or when we look closer at the Democratic House members who signed the last statement condemning Omar, and find that every single one of them except Nancy Pelosi received money from pro-Israel lobbies in 2018 too?

AIPAC is not the only one doing this lobbying; Evangelical Zionist groups like Christians United for Israel and the U.S. defense industry that makes untold amounts off of Israel military contracts do the same. AIPAC is just doing it really well. The fact that so many Congress members came running to defend them when they were called out by Omar shows just how effective they’ve been at their work. Whether or not these politicians truly believe that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic, it is in their interest and their donors’ interest to buy into that narrative.

Omar, Hill, and Davis were attacked with accusations of anti-Semitism not because criticizing Israel is inherently anti-Semitic, but because the pro-Israel lobby has done a great job of making both the public and Congress believe that story.

So as I stood there, looking into my friend’s eyes as he asked me if any prominent Jewish leaders speak out against the actions of Israel, the only honest answer I could give is “not enough.”

Scott Brown is a queer, Jewish organizer in Washington, DC passionate about justice, community-building and glitter. He organizes with Jewish Voice for Peace-DC Metro and Occupation Free DC. Find him on Twitter: @scottbrown545.

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Israel trying to deport stateless Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem

Mustafa al-Haruf has spent the last 20 years living in East Jerusalem, where he has a wife, daughter, and works as a photographer. Now Israel wants to deport him to Jordan, where he has no family or legal status.

Palestinian journalist Mustafa al-Haruf seen at a Jerusalem Court following his arrest for supposed incitement on Facebook. He was released the following day and the case was closed, December 2017.

Palestinian journalist Mustafa al-Haruf seen at a Jerusalem Magistrates Court following his arrest for supposed incitement on Facebook. He was released the following day and the case was closed, December 2017.

Mustafa al-Haruf, a stateless Palestinian journalist who lives and works in Jerusalem, has been in an Israeli detention facility for the past month, fighting a deportation order to Jordan, a country he has no ties to. Al-Haruf, born in Algeria to a Palestinian father, has lived in East Jerusalem since he was 12, and is married to a Jerusalemite Palestinian woman, with whom he has a small child.

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His story is a complicated one. It also encapsulates the problematic situation for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, who are residents of the city, but not citizens of the State of Israel. Their residency can be taken away from them at any given moment — even if they were born or raised in Jerusalem.

Al-Haruf, 32, is the son of an Algerian mother and a Palestinian father from East Jerusalem. His family moved to East Jerusalem shortly after his twelfth birthday. Like many other Palestinians, it took years for his father to formalize his status, since he had been living abroad for so long. After finally receiving status, al-Haruf’s father attempted to formalize that of his children. Mustafa’s request was rejected since he was 18 and four months, and therefore too old according the Israeli authorities.

According to al-Haruf’s attorney, Adi Lustigman, who is representing him on behalf of Israeli human rights organization Hamoked, the family went to the Interior Ministry office on Jerusalem’s Nablus Road, which is known for its endless lines. “There were no procedures for a parent who wanted to register his or her children. Therefore, by no fault of their own, it took the family a long time to request residency for the children,” says Lustigman.

“In all my 18 years of work, I have not seen a single case in which Israel arrested someone who came to Jerusalem as a child for being undocumented. Mustafa has no other place where he can legally be,” says Lustigman.

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After being rejected by the Nablus Road office, Al-Haruf turned to the Interior Ministry’s humanitarian committee, which also refused to accept his request. Eventually, he was granted a B1 visa, most often given to foreign workers for a one-year period. “The state is treating children who were born in East Jerusalem or abroad as foreigners,” Lustigman explains. “It defines the requests of these children as family unification cases, even in instances in which the resident has left to study abroad.”

“I came here as a child, it was not my choice to live here,” Al-Haruf said to Judge Michael Silberschmidt, who headed the Interior Ministry tribunal that heard the case, during a hearing on February 19. “I have lived my entire life in a giant prison — Jerusalem. I have been waiting for 20 years. I went to the Jordanians and told them I am Palestinian. The Palestinians told me that I am from Israel. The Israelis tell me I am Jordanian. So now I ask the Interior Ministry — who am I?”

“This is my first time in prison,” al-Haruf continued as he choked back tears, “it is hard for me to have my family see me this way. I know myself, I did not do anything illegal in the 20 years I have been living here.”

Rejected for ‘security reasons’

The fact that Al-Haruf is a journalist adds yet another complication. Over the last few years, he has been working as a photojournalist for the Turkish outlet Anadolu Agency. Before that he worked as an independent photographer, focusing on clashes in the Old City, and specifically around Al-Aqsa Compound.

Al-Haruf’s request to renew his visa was rejected in 2015 for “security reasons.” His attorneys say that this was likely due to the photos of clashes he had published on his personal Facebook page (Al-Haruf closed his Facebook account in 2016). He was arrested once again for Facebook incitement in 2017 — both cases were closed.

Al-Haruf was also arrested in 2015 near Al-Aqsa Compound and charged with attacking a police officer. Al-Haruf says that he, not the police officer, was the one who was attacked, and in a rare turn of events an Israeli court accepted his argument. The case was dropped, and the officer responsible was convicted in a disciplinary proceeding by the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department.

In 2016 Al-Haruf married a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem, with whom he has a daughter. Following his marriage, he reached an agreement with the Interior Ministry to undergo a process of family unification and thus forgo the humanitarian route. As part of the family unification process, the authorities looked into his criminal and security record.

Mustafa al-Haruf seen at an Interior Ministry tribunal with his wife and daughter, February 19, 2019, in Jerusalem.

Mustafa al-Haruf seen at an Interior Ministry tribunal with his wife and daughter, February 19, 2019, in Jerusalem.

On January 21, 2019, the Interior Ministry informed Lustigman that it would refuse the family unification request. Al-Haruf appealed the decision, but a few hours later, in the early hours of the morning, police officers and immigration inspectors raided his family home in the Wadi Joz neighborhood and arrested him. At first, they instructed his wife to pack her belongings and go with them, until they were convinced that she was indeed an East Jerusalem resident. Their landlord, too, was arrested overnight on suspicion of harboring an “infiltrator.” He was later released.

Since his arrest, al-Haruf has been held in Givon Prison in the city of Ramle, where he is waiting for a decision on his case.

During the tribunal hearing, Lustigman argued that Israel could not deport al-Haruf since he does not have citizenship or status in any country. The Interior Ministry claims he has a Jordanian passport, but Lustigman says that the passport’s sole purpose is to allow Palestinians to reach Arab countries through Jordan, but does not grant them any legal status in the Hashemite Kingdom, nor does it allow them to live there.

A representative of the Interior Ministry admitted that al-Haruf is not a Jordanian citizen, yet still insisted on deporting him to the country. “We look into the case of a specific detainee when there is a final decision that he can be deported,” she said at the hearing. “If there’s a problem, we will deal with it.”

‘An attack on freedom of the press in Israel’

“Can a person be deported to a country in which he is not a citizen?” Lustigman asked aloud during the hearing. “It is our understanding that the answer is no. Even if this is technically possible, Al-Haruf has no connection to Jordan, he has no family [there], he has no ability to live there legally. He has no ability of living anywhere and he cannot move with his family anywhere.”

Following his arrest, the Interior Ministry claimed it had received recent “classified material” from the Shin Bet — in addition to that which had been presented during the family unification process — according to which al-Haruf is a “member of Hamas involved in illegal activity and in contact with other members in a proscribed organization.” Al-Haruf had never been arrested or charged on these grounds in the 20 years he has lived in East Jerusalem.

Al-Haruf denies the allegations. “If I did something, let them take me to prison. But they did not tell me a thing. I need to understand the charges.” He says his contract stipulates that he act according to the same rules that apply to Israeli journalists. “I do not belong to any side. I am a journalist. I do not write, I photograph,” he told the tribunal. When asked about his contacts with terrorist groups, al-Haruf responded: “Let them give me a list of people with whom I cannot speak and publish it in all the newspapers.”

Turgut Alp Boyraz, al-Haruf’s superior at Anadolu, says the allegations are baseless. “This is an attack on freedom of the press in Israel,” he told the tribunal. Lustigman further argued that “people call him because he is a journalist. People he knows and those he doesn’t; he goes and photographs. (Full disclosure: I know al-Haruf from his work as a journalist).

Throughout the hearing, tribunal head Silberschmidt asked representatives from the Shin Bet to enter the room to discuss the classified information. It is difficult to describe the absurdity of the situation: al-Haruf and Lustigman were asked to leave, with the latter given the option of handing her pre-written questions to Silberschmidt, who would then hand them over to the Shin Bet representative who would be able to respond. The representative of the Interior Ministry was allowed to remain in the room.

Lustigman asked the Shin Bet representative whether the activities described in the classified material are directly or indirectly connected to al-Haruf’s activity as a photojournalist, and why he has never been taken in for questioning regarding these supposed allegations. After a 30-minute closed-door hearing, Silbschmidt read aloud the Shin Bet’s response, according to which the agency has “information that goes beyond the work of the appellant.” The Shin Bet did not explain why al-Haruf was never questioned.

Unsurprisingly, the appeal was rejected. “Indeed, the fact that the appellants do not have access to the information available to the security services makes it difficult for them to respond or refute the information,” Silberschmidt wrote in a decision published on Sunday, while adding that “there is no reason” to intervene in the decision to reject the family unification request. “The Minister of the Interior is given extensive discretion when considering a person’s request to receive status in Israel, even more so when the Minister of the Interior believes that the candidate poses a danger to the security of the state and the public.”

Lustigman plans to appeal the decision to the District Court. Al-Haruf’s family and friends hope that with the help of an international campaign, they will be able to stop his deportation.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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