Tag Archives: anti-war

For Netanyahu and Trump, Palestinian Christians are only pawns for political gain

We are an integral part of the Palestinian people, yet we are virtually invisible for those in the White House who claim to care about Christianity.

By Fr. Emmanuelle Awwad

A photo taken near the ruins of the Saint Barbara Church in the West Bank village of Aboud. (Bukvoed/CC-BY-4.0)

A photo taken near the ruins of the shrine of Saint Barbara in the West Bank village of Aboud. (Bukvoed/CC-BY-4.0)

When Israel barred Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting Palestine last week, it was a clear attempt to keep the congresswomen from witnessing the impacts of military occupation for themselves. This decision, however, also revealed the extent to which the very leaders who claim to care about Christians in the Middle East are willing to weaponize religion.

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I was supposed to meet with the congressional delegation. My plan was to introduce them to the reality of my people, and particularly the Christian Palestinian community, by telling them about Aboud, the village I have been serving for over a decade. I was hoping that our village could symbolize not only the hardships of life under military occupation, but also a message of hope for the prospects of peace through the fulfillment of the rights of everyone, including the right for Palestine to be free.

Aboud is located around 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) northwest of Jerusalem and has a population of around 2,000 people. I serve in a church that has had uninterrupted services since the year 332 AD. The Church of Saint Mary was built at the same time as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Historically, Aboud had around nine churches and monasteries, including the shrine of Saint Barbara, which dates back to the fifth century and was blown up by the Israeli army in 2002.

We are a village full of history yet almost no pilgrims or tourists visit us. The fact that Aboud was part of the path taken by the Holy Family from Jerusalem to Nazareth doesn’t seem to impress those in charge of making touristic packages. Instead of having a responsible and ethical pilgrimage to the Holy Land, including engaging with the local population, visitors prefer to tour stones without getting to appreciate the traditions and customs of those who have been taking care of those places for centuries.

Three settlements, Halamish, Beit Aryeh, and Ofarim, have been built on our village’s land. The existence of these Jewish-only settlements has become part of the daily nightmare that our people must endure. Aboud, known historically as the “City of Flowers,” once had enough water to survive on its own. Today, its main water resources are under Israeli control, and mostly serve the Israeli settlements nearby. Some of our villagers have access to their own water only if they buy it from an Israeli company.

Aboud has been deprived of developing almost 12,000 dunam of land (2,956 acres) due to restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation. In other words, there are only 2,000 dunams, or 608 acres, available for development. This has dealt a major blow to our local economic and housing needs. Young people today can’t find affordable places to live, and many are leaving our village.

 

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While some prefer to talk about Christians leaving this region, we have chosen to set an example of resilience by doing everything possible to stay on our land. That is why, with the initiative of our own community, we are developing housing and tourist plans with one main goal in mind: to keep a strong and vibrant Christian presence in the birthplace of Christianity.

In this context, we can understand why neither President Trump nor Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted the congressional delegation to visit Palestine. It is not only the reality of the occupation that they did not want Tlaib and Omar to see, but particularly how it affects Palestinian Christians. We are an integral part of the Palestinian people, yet we are virtually invisible for those in the White House who claim to care about Christianity.

When they talk about “Christianity,” they seem to be reading from a different Bible: we talk about a God of love and compassion, while what we mainly hear from them is about hatred and the political use of religion. Our region knows exactly what happens when holy books are used to justify crimes.

On Dec. 16 and 17 we will be celebrating – once again without much fanfare, as we have done for centuries – the feast of Saint Barbara, one of the most important pre-Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land. Our families will be celebrating an ancient festival that very few get to see simply because places like Aboud, and others such as Burqin, Taybeh, Jifna and even Nablus and Jericho, are rarely visited by foreign Christian tourists.

We open our arms to Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, as well as other members of Congress, to join us for the celebration of Saint Barbara. Here they will meet a proud people that have carried on their traditions for generations and will continue to do so. All we are asking for is actions that will help us achieve what any human being wants: to live in dignity, freedom, justice and peace.

Fr. Emmanuelle Awwad is the parish priest of the Palestinian village of Aboud.

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Will Israel’s treatment of Omar and Tlaib finally wake Democrats up?

Now that Israel has banned entry to Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, will Democrats affirm the right to boycott and hold Israel’s feet to the fire? Five takeaways.

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

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

1. Don’t let the headlines fool you: neither Ilhan Omar nor Rashida Tlaib had any intention of visiting Israel when they announced their trip to the region. They had hoped, instead, to visit the occupied West Bank, where Tlaib’s family hails from. The fact that Israel is the sole sovereign between the river and the sea and can decide who and what can enter or exit the West Bank is one of the most fundamental aspects of Israel’s 52-year military occupation.

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2. One must also take stock of Israel’s priorities when it makes decisions about who is or isn’t welcome. While authoritarian leaders such Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, Hungar’s Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin are welcomed with open arms, these two Democratic congresswomen are turned into enemies of the state. Why? Because they believe in the right to hold Israel to account, including through boycotts.

3. BDS, one should recall, is a nonviolent and legitimate tool of resistance, especially when considering that Israel has for decades been crushing all other forms of Palestinian resistance, be it violent or nonviolent. Boycotts of and divestments from businesses that profit off human rights violations and war crimes are common in various struggles for social justice.

Meanwhile, even Israel supports the use of international sanctions when it serves its political goals. But only when applied to Israel’s decades’ long occupation and apartheid policies — with the express purpose of promoting freedom, equality, and democracy for Palestinians  — are boycotts, divestment and sanctions demonized.

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4. This is where parts of the left, whether in Israel, the U.S., Europe or elsewhere, also share the blame. Large segments among both Democrats and the Zionist left have historically taken part in delegitimizing BDS as a political tool for Palestinian liberation. By isolating BDS supporters, those on the left have paved the way for Netanyahu and Trump to go after Tlaib and Omar.

This can and should be a decisive moment. We are already hearing Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and left-wing and liberal groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and J Street denouncing Israel for the decision. Even AIPAC is demanding Israel backtrack and allow the congresswomen freedom of movement.

5. As long as these statements are not followed by real action, nothing will change. Israel has become immune to criticism, whether coming from friends or foes. If Democrats don’t turn their statements into full support for the right to boycott and actively try to stop institutional attempts to silence criticism of Israel in the U.S., nothing will change. As long as the international community sits back and the U.S. continues to offer Israel diplomatic immunity and a blank check, Israel will continue to deny Palestinians their basic human and civil rights.

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The Russians and Ukrainians Translating the Christchurch Shooter’s Manifesto

On August 10, 2019, a 21-year-old man reportedly murdered his 17-year-old stepsister before attempted to attack a mosque just outside of Oslo, Norway; he managed to injure only one person in the attack.

The Norwegian claimed he had been inspired by another 21-year-old man in El Paso, TX, whose massacre on August 3 was driven by, according to a 2,000 word manifesto the American had written and published online, a hatred of immigrants and people from Spanish-speaking parts of the Americas, particularly Mexico. 

Both of these 21-year-old men were inspired chiefly by what one 28-year-old Australian did on March 15, 2019, in Christchurch, New Zealand, when he undertook one of the most horrific mass murders in recent memory, one that he even livestreamed and recorded for posterity.

These two men in August (we have chosen not to name them) were inspired by what the Christchurch shooter published on the internet and emailed to dozens of people minutes before he began his massacre back in March. A rambling document that runs more than 70 pages, the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto outlines, both with dead-serious aplomb and in-the-know shitposting, why he chose to perpetrate one of the most vile acts of far-right terror possible. And, five months after the attacks, it’s still not hard to find the manifesto online.

But what if a budding far-right extremist wants to read it and doesn’t speak English? Unfortunately, a multilingual global community of violent far-right extremists has them covered.

In a testament to the increasingly transnational nature of violent far-right extremism and the global reach of far-right ideologies, Bellingcat found at least fifteen translations of the manifesto online. Whether French, German, Spanish, Croatian, Hungarian, Polish, Ukrainian or Russian, among others, the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto is available to read for hundreds of millions around the world who don’t speak English or would prefer to read the rambling screed in their native tongue.

It’s not a short document to translate; the manifesto, in its original English rendering, runs more than 70 pages. But it shows just how much effort some far-right extremists are willing to put into making their hateful ideas a reality. One 4chan user (where the original manifesto was posted before the March 15 attack) shared a translation they apparently made of the manifesto into Bulgarian; the user claimed it took them three straight days to do.

At the Bellingcat Monitoring Project we’ve chosen to take a look at two translations in particular: the Ukrainian-language and Russian-language translations of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto, and how they are being promoted online, especially on the social media app Telegram. These two translations serve as unfortunate case studies of how the extreme far-right is truly becoming more and more transnational.

The Ukrainian translation: out in paperback

In Ukraine, one fan of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto has done far more than just share or promote a translation.

This fan is the administrator of a Ukrainian-language Telegram channel with nearly 1,000 subscribers (we have chosen not identify the channel) that features content openly praising and glorifying the Christchurch shooter as well as sharing uncensored neo-Nazi content that explicitly encourages violence. This administrator also shared a Ukrainian translation of the El Paso shooter’s manifesto only two days after the attacks.

This administrator of the Telegram channel claimed in a post that, on the urging of another member of the channel, he had made arrangements to produce bound paper copies of a Ukrainian translation of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. The administrator further claimed in the post they had found a publisher willing to print the translation; by June, according to posts in the channel, the administrator had in his possession the first box of bound copies of the translation.

Printed versions of the Ukrainian translation of the Christchurch’s shooter’s manifesto, posted by an individual claiming to be responsible for printing the translation (We have chosen to obscure the name of the Telegram channel watermarked onto the photos)

Since then, according to posts in the channel, the administrator has shipped copies of the Ukrainian translation of the manifesto to interested readers for a fee of 100 Ukrainian hryvnias, or around $4. One post even makes reference to an apparent “foreign reader” of the manifesto, who apparently sent back a photo which was published on the channel.

Bound and printed copies of the Ukrainian translation of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto (we have cropped the photo to remove references to the Telegram channel name)

Unidentified men in military fatigues holding copies of the Ukrainian translation of the manifesto while giving Hitler salutes

A copy of a Ukrainian translation of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto along with a semi-automatic rifle

Another interested reader in the manifesto, another post suggests, is a member of neo-Nazi movement Karpatska Sich (Карпатська Січ) — a group who, as the Bellingcat Monitoring Project documented, was involved in actions against KyivPride in June 2019. In a post on their own Telegram channel on August 14, Karpatska Sich openly urged its members to purchase a copy of the translation, encouraging its members to “get inspired” by it.

A bound and printed translation, in Ukrainian, of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto, flanked by a sticker for Ukrainian neo-Nazi group Karpatska Sich, a group that took part in actions against KyivPride in June 2019. The promoter of the translated manifesto claimed they had just shipped several copies of the manifesto to interested readers, one of whom had messaged back this photo.

Another interested reader sent the administrator back a photo that, thanks to other books and paraphernalia visible in the photo, inadvertently gives a quick lesson into what at least some members of Ukraine’s far-right are into. Among the books the interested reader has in their collection are at least three books published by the literature club of the Azov movement, as well as a book about radical Ukrainian integral nationalist ideologue Dmytro Dontsov. Also visible is a knife featuring the SS motto and morale patches from two different Ukrainian brands popular with members of the far-right.

The Ukrainian translation of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. Other relevant items in the photo include: at least three books published by the literature club of the Azov movement; a “morale patch” (on the backpack, centre) sold by M-TAC, a company with a close relationship to the Azov movement; a second morale patch (on the backpack, right) sold by another Ukrainian far-right fashion brand; a knife with the SS motto engraved on it.

It’s not clear how many bound and printed copies of the Ukrainian translation have been shipped to interested readers in Ukraine and beyond; with a global population of 33 million Ukrainian speakers, according to Ethnologue, the ‘market’ for a Ukrainian-language version of an extremist’s manifesto is larger than it might be for languages like Hungarian, but smaller than for languages like Russian. Still, there are apparently enough interested readers in the Ukrainian language space to justify the channel administrator’s efforts, at least in their mind.

The Russian translation: promoted by literal Hitler worshippers

Russia, it seems, might hold a special place in the mind of the Christchurch shooter. As was reported August 14, the shooter sent a handwritten letter to an individual in Russia from his prison cell that was also posted on 4chan, a letter which reportedly mentioned a month-long trip the shooter himself took to Russia in 2015.

With Ethnologue estimating a global population of over 250 million Russian speakers, with over 150 million speaking it as a first language, there’s far more potential reach for a Russian-language translation of his manifesto than Ukrainian or other languages like Croatian, Hungarian or Bulgarian. 

Ironically, however, the biggest online promoters of a Russian-language translation of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto aren’t in Russia: they’re in Ukraine. A Kyiv-based neo-Nazi group with roots in Russia, Wotanjugend, is behind the promotion if not the translation itself of the manifesto.

According to the authors of Militant Right-Wing Extremism in Putin’s Russia: Legacies, Forms and Threats, Wotanjugend developed during the 2000s among the hardcore neo-Nazi music scene in Russia, with leaders and members who “styled themselves as an elite neo-Nazi avant-garde.” Many of Wotanjugend’s leaders, being anti-Kremlin and anti-Putin, were supporters of the protests on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv that mushroomed into a revolution in February 2014. 

As Russian-led forces in eastern Ukraine set off war in April 2014, some Wotanjugend members came to fight with far-right battalions, including the Azov Battalion. Later in 2014 two of Wotanjugend’s leaders, Alexey Levkin and Ivan Mikheev, moved to Ukraine where they remain today.

Since coming to Ukraine, Wotanjugend has been able to act openly and with clear connections to the Azov movement. Levkin, for example, has described himself as an “ideologist” with Azov’ National Militia. A group with himself and another Azov figure, Olena Semenyaka, have organized a neo-Nazi record label and shop that sells music with racist, anti-Semitic lyrics and paraphernalia with open Nazi symbolism at the Azov movement’s Cossack House, just off Maidan Nezalezhnosti in central Kyiv.

A Nazi flag at a December 2018 Wotanjugend event

In May 2019, Wotanjugend hosted an event called “Fuhrernight” in Kyiv, which featured Nazi flags and photos of Adolf Hitler on an altar surrounded by candles.

Wotanjugend’s May 2019 “Fuhrernight

The altar with a photo of Adolf Hitler and a Nazi flag at Wotanjugend’s “Fuhrernight” in May 2019

Wotanjugend’s propagandizing, however, is largely online. It hosts a Russian-language Telegram channel of more than 7,000 subscribers, a channel which promotes open neo-Nazi content and valorizes violence; it’s where the primary author of this piece first saw the vile first-person video of the Christchurch attacks. 

Over on Wotanjugend’s website there are articles praising a number of Nazi-era figures, including Adolf Hitler himself, and links to songs by neo-Nazi artists — including Levkin’s own band — that feature openly anti-Semitic, Nazi-praising lyrics. Their website also features articles about so-called “heroes”: far-right terrorists, including 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik, perpetrator of the 2011 Norway attacks.

It’s no surprise then to learn that, since March 20, 2019 — five days after the attacks — Wotanjugend has been promoting a Russian-language translation of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. While it’s not clear who may have actually translated the manifesto and whether it was an individual(s) associated with Wotanjugend, it’s clear that the Kyiv-based, Russia-rooted neo-Nazi group has been at the forefront of promoting it online.

With more than 26,000 page views according to the site’s own counter, the Russian translation of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto is the third-most popular article on Wotanjugend’s website; the other two are now-unavailable music videos of a song (the same song) from Levkin’s band that feature lyrics including “preachers of Kabbalah, offspring thereof/labour in Death Camps, burn in furnace fire.” 

On Wotanjugend’s Telegram channel, the post promoting the manifesto has more than 8,600 views, more than the channel’s number of subscribers. And anyone searching for the manifesto online in Russian will easily find Wotanjugend’s translation, as Bellingcat ourselves discovered using several different search terms that landed Wotanjugend’s translation at or near the top of search hits.

But who’s reading the manifesto on Wotanjugend’s website? While the movement is currently based in Ukraine, there’s little question that a large majority of the readers of the manifesto are in Russia. According to web traffic analysis site Alexa, 87% of Wotanjugend’s web traffic over the last 30 days is from Russia. Fortunately, however, Wotanjugend is not a popular enough website to provide much more in the way of usable web traffic data, as an additional look at web traffic analysis site SimilarWeb suggests. Still, with more than 26,000 views over barely six months, to say nothing of other means of sharing, like private sharing, it’s clear that there’s a committed Russian-language audience for the words of a terrorist.

Promote, radicalize, inspire

Most of the coverage from international media about the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto has, understandably so, focused on the influence and reach of the original English-language manifesto. In addition, most of those extremists who have admitted they’ve been inspired by the manifesto are in the United States or from countries with a generally high level of English language fluency (e.g., Norway, where the Oslo mosque attacker posted online in English before his attack). 

But those who translate and promote these manifestos have stated exactly why they’re doing it. The individual on 4chan who claimed he translated the manifesto into Bulgarian made it clear why they had done so: to make it readable for a non-English-speaking public in the hopes of promoting a violent far-right extremist ideology, radicalizing readers and inspiring at least one of them to follow in the Christchurch shooter’s bloody footsteps.

 

The post The Russians and Ukrainians Translating the Christchurch Shooter’s Manifesto appeared first on bellingcat.

Thousands of Jews protest ICE raids across U.S., 44 arrested in NYC

A growing movement of American Jews is mobilizing against U.S. immigration policy across the country. ‘We’re fighting for the soul of our country, for our very humanity.’

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

NEW YORK CITY — Hundreds of American Jewish demonstrators staged a sit-in at one of Amazon’s flagship stores in New York on Sunday, to protest the company’s ties to the big-data firm Palantir, which contracts directly with Immigration and Custom Enforcement forces. The action resulted in the arrest of 44 people, including a New York City councilman, several rabbis, and high-profile public figures like Eli Valley and Molly Crabapple.

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The protest, organized by a coalition of Jewish groups including T’ruah, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), and Never Again Action, as well a number of synagogues, was organized in solidarity with immigrants threatened with deportation by ICE and who are vulnerable to attacks by white nationalist terrorists. It was one of many protests involving thousands of American Jews in cities across the United States planned to coincide with Tisha B’Av, a traditional Jewish day of mourning.

After a silent march through midtown Manhattan, the protesters, dressed in black, occupied the Amazon store and conducted a Tisha B’Av service that combined the traditional liturgy with readings of testimonies from immigrants detained by ICE. Speakers drew direct parallels between the treatment of Jewish immigrants during World War II and that of Latinx immigrants today, and the crowd periodically chanted the refrains “close the camps” and “never again is now.”

“The cries of the Jewish people, of our people, against the forms of oppression visited upon us through our migrations across Jewish history, require us to speak out about what’s being done now,” said Brad Lander, a Jewish city councilman from Brooklyn who was among those arrested during the sit-in inside the Amazon store. Lander pointed to the similarities between the historical experiences of Jews and those of Latinx immigrants today, a parallel that the Never Again Action protests have insisted on drawing.

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“Amazon has chosen to make itself a corporate partner to ICE,” he added. “And if they’re either so addicted to profit or so callous to suffering that they are willing to continue to be a corporate in ICE’s bloody work, then I think it is very appropriate for us to target them in today’s action.”

“Part of the idea of civil disobedience is to prevent something from becoming normal — but the times aren’t normal,” Lander explained.

Protest organizers connected what they described as the Jewish ethical imperative to fight injustice with the somber message of Tisha B’Av, the day the Jewish people commemorate the destruction of the Jewish Temple, asserting that Jewish suffering in the past obligates them to advocate for those suffering in the present. The impression left by the New York protest was that of a movement gaining strength despite – or perhaps because of – the seemingly constant outrages and tragedies of the past several weeks.

It has been a particularly deadly and devastating month for immigrant communities in the United States. A white supremacist gunman walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in early August and killed 22 people, most of them Latinx. In a manifesto the shooter released online, he wrote that his attack was a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” echoing the xenophobic rhetoric employed by President Trump and many Republicans. Just four days later, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials raided multiple food-processing plants with predominantly Latinx workforces in Mississippi, arresting 680 people.

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

While Lander had attended one of the first Never Again Action demonstrations outside an ICE detention facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in July, for Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, who leads the historic Union Temple of Brooklyn, Sunday’s Amazon sit-in was her first with the immigrants’ rights movement. “As a rabbi, as a Jew, as a mom, I feel like I have to be here today,” she said.

Kolin, who was also among those arrested, credited the earlier Never Again Action demonstrations with moving her so much that she felt she had to join. “It is inspiring to see that these young Jews have so integrated our responsibility to the other, to the vulnerable, to all people who are created in the image of God, that they’re willing to put their bodies on the line,” she said.

Like many of the other protesters, Kolin expressed the feeling that present U.S. policies toward immigrants are extraordinary in their cruelty and, therefore, demand an extraordinary kind of response. “I feel like we can’t just go about and live our lives, business as usual,” she added. “It can’t be that the bottom line takes precedence over people’s lives.”

“We’re fighting for the soul of our country, for our very humanity,” Kolin concluded tearfully.

Indeed, the timing of the New York protest made for an especially emotionally charged event. Protesters cried as they recited the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer traditionally recited after the death of a loved one, for the 25 people who died in ICE custody. Even experienced organizers found it hard not to be moved by the show of spirit and force. So many protesters committed to risking arrest that the police had to commandeer a New York City bus to transport all of them to be processed.

Audrey Sasson, executive director of JFREJ, called it “one of the most powerful actions I’ve been a part of, and I’ve been organizing for about twenty years.”

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

The protests came just over a month after Never Again Action, a Jewish-led immigrant rights movement, launched a string of protests and civil disobedience actions outside ICE detention centers. Since then, several hundred American Jews have been arrested for protesting ICE and thousands more have taken part in the protests.

This time, Never Again Action were also joined by establishment American Jewish groups such as the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center and the liberal, pro-Israel lobby J Street. Participants included not only experienced left-wing Jewish activists but also mainstream Jewish community leaders and politicians — a sign that the segment of the American Jewish community that feels compelled to protest the U.S. immigration regime is continuing to widen. The protesters also appeared to span divides of denomination — Reform, Conservative, Orthodox — as well as generation.

The undeniable emotional power of the Never Again Action protests – the resonances between the darkest moments of Jewish history and the darkness of the present moment – appear to be driving the movement’s growing appeal. What is already one of the most significant American Jewish protest movements in over a decade could very much become a longer and more intense struggle by American Jews against the U.S. government’s immigration policies.

Sasson added that she felt the movement’s momentum was picking up, and that the protests would continue into the future. “We have an opportunity and an obligation as the Jewish community to respond with bold direct action and we’re ready to take part in a more escalated way.”

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that 44 protesters had been arrested and not 36, as was mistakenly stated.

 

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Yes, It’s (Still) OK To Call Ukraine’s C14 “Neo-Nazi”

This week, a Ukrainian court ruled it’s not OK to call a neo-Nazi group a neo-Nazi group.

In May 2018, a tweet from Ukrainian independent media outlet Hromadske, on its international English-language Twitter account, described C14 as “neo-Nazi.”

“Neo-nazi group C14 has seized a former militant of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”, Brazilian Rafael Lusvarghi, and were going to hand him over to #Ukraine’s Security Service, one of the group members posted on Facebook,” the tweet read, referencing C14’s extralegal seizure of a Brazilian man who had allegedly fought with Russian-led forces in eastern Ukraine.

In response to this tweet, C14 sued Hromadske. On August 6, 2019, a court in Kyiv ruled in C14’s favour. 

As Hromadske’s own story on the verdict reports: “[the] court noted that the information circulated by Hromadske back in May 2018 “harms the reputation” of C14 and ordered Hromadske to refute the information and pay 3,500UAH ($136) in court fees to C14.”

But, as we explain here in this brief investigation, the phrase “neo-Nazi” should be used to describe C14. The group’s past and present use of common neo-Nazi symbols and its violent rhetoric and actions make one thing clear: it’s completely justifiable, despite what a Ukrainian court has just ruled and despite their efforts to sanitize their public image, to call C14 “neo-Nazi.” 

Who calls neo-Nazis by their name?

The ruling shocked human rights groups, journalists and other observers both inside and outside of Ukraine. Even the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media tweeted its concern about the ruling, arguing that it “goes against #mediafreedom and could discourage journalistic work” in Ukraine. 

Despite losing the court case, Hromadske has pledged to appeal, and doesn’t appear to be backing down. One of their first responses was to call C14 “neo-Nazis” once again. “The Neo-Nazis Who Don’t Want to Be Called Neo-Nazis,” blares the title of an article published on their website on August 6, hours after the court ruling. 

But it’s not just Hromadske who have used the word “neo-Nazi” to describe C14. International outlets from Israel’s Haaretz, Reuters, Washington Post and, of course, Bellingcat have used the term “neo-Nazi” in reference to C14. Unlike Hromadske, none of these outlets have been sued. 

Additionally, “government bodies, such as the British Parliament, have referred to C14 in a similar manner. Human rights organizations, such as the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, have also referred to C14 as “neo-Nazi,”” Hromadske writes.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, in an article published the day after the ruling, points out that C14 is “considered by most experts to be neo-Nazi.” The Group points out that a number of experts and observers of the far-right in Ukraine frequently have referred to C14 as “neo-Nazi.” These experts and observers include Vyacheslav Likhachev, the author of a 2018 Freedom House report on the far-right in Ukraine, as well as academics Anton Shekhovtsov and Andreas Umland. 

C14 has also had a former member describe them as neo-Nazi. “C14 are all neo-Nazis,” Dmytro Riznychenko told Radio Svoboda in 2018. “It’s quite an appropriate definition.” 

Just months before, Riznychenko was beaten in his Kyiv office. He claimed C14 was responsible — he had a public falling-out with the group and head Yevhen Karas — but Karas denied C14 was responsible; Riznychenko also said at the time he declined to give a statement to police about the alleged assault. 

Why the number 14 matters

The ‘14’ in C14’s name is more than just a number. 

For its part, C14 claims that ‘C14’ is meant to resemble the Ukrainian word ‘СІЧ’ (“Sich”), and that the ‘14’ in their name refers to the mythical founding date of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) on October 14, 1943. But these explanations have never convinced watchers of the far right.

The ‘14 words’ are a well-known white supremacist, neo-Nazi slogan, as Matthew Feldman, Director of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR), explained to Bellingcat. “While it’s possible, given the 14 words’ formulation, to be ‘only’ a white supremacist slogan,” Feldman told Bellingcat by email, “I feel its neo-Nazi context is pretty well appreciated by friends and enemies alike.”

“Put simply,” Feldman added, “it’s a neo-Nazi phrase and anyone using it for different purposes….is doing it wrong, either through naivety or deception.”

C14 can’t claim ignorance; they’ve used the actual ‘14 words’ themselves. On a social media post for a “Youth Football Cup” the group hosted in 2011 — one, as we explain later in this article, they claimed was “for white children only — C14 includes the 14-word slogan, in English, at the bottom of the post.

“Youth Football Cup: For White Children Only,” reads a post from a social media page for C14’s “Youth Football Cup” in 2011. The ‘14 words,’ in English, are written underneath the post.” (Social media/Hromadske)

Feldman also argues that the “C” in C14’s name is “clearly modelled on the neo-Nazi ‘Combat-18’ group that appeared in the UK in 1992.” Feldman is not alone in arguing this; as Vyacheslav Likhachev argued to Hromadske, “[the] Latin letter “C” (stands for “combat”) – in conjunction with numerical neo-Nazi symbols – is also found in other neo-Nazi organizations.”

“The allusion to the 14-word slogan in the organization’s name, as well as the systematic use of other signs,” Likhachev told Hromadske, “…give full justification for claiming that C14 systematically uses neo-Nazi symbolism and is neo-Nazi.”

Celtic crosses, runes and black suns

There are two well-known neo-Nazi symbols that C14 has made regular use of in the past. The Celtic cross, as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) points out in its Hate Symbols Database, is a common white supremacist, neo-Nazi symbol, particularly when it’s used in a short “sun cross” version, exactly as C14 has used it in the past. It’s also, ADL points out, the logo of Stormfront, one of the internet’s first and largest neo-Nazi hate sites. 

A Celtic cross symbol commonly used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

The logo and motto of neo-Nazi hate site Stormfront.

The Celtic cross that C14 has used in the past, as seen from their own social media posts, is identical to that commonly used by other neo-Nazi groups. 

C14 members carrying a flag emblazoned with a Celtic cross, a common white supremacist, neo-Nazi symbol.

A photo from C14 social media of C14 graffiti featuring a Celtic cross, a common white supremacist, neo-Nazi symbol.

C14 members carrying a flag emblazoned with a Celtic cross, a common white supremacist, neo-Nazi symbol.

Yevhen Karas and C14 members hoisting a flag with a Celtic cross at the Kyiv city hall during the 2013-14 revolution.

The symbol has been so commonly used it sometimes appears multiple times in the same photo.

A photo from C14 social media showing graffiti originally reading “class war” altered to read “race war” — another neo-Nazi concept — with Celtic crosses.

Even the co-founder of C14-linked Education Assembly, Mykola Panchenko, got into the act.

Even the co-founder of C14-linked Education Assembly, Mykola Panchenko, got into the act.

In the town of Malyn, C14 “rebranded” a local far-right group into what they called “C14 Malyn.” The group’s name before C14 rebranded them was “White Pride Malyn,” and its logo was a Celtic cross. C14 itself shared news of the group’s rebranding. 

The logo of the former “White Pride Malyn” group, now “C14 Malyn.

The other neo-Nazi symbol C14 has made regular use of is a Tyr rune. Part of the Nazi regime’s appropriation of ancient European imagery, the Tyr rune resembles an arrow pointing upwards, and was used on badges of the Sturmabteilung (Stormtroopers) training school in Nazi Germany as well as by a Waffen SS division

A badge of the Nazi-era Reichsführerschule featuring a Tyr rune.

It’s not just C14 who has made use of the Tyr rune; for example, the logo of the Azov movement’s “leadership school” — which, as we pointed out in a previous investigation, receives Ukrainian government funds for some projects — resembles a Tyr rune.

The logo of the Azov movement’s “leadership school,” evoking a Tyr rune.

A video from a C14 march in 2013 shows the group using both of these neo-Nazi images.

“Sport, Health, Nationalism,” reads a C14 banner featuring a flag with a Celtic cross as well as a Tyr rune, both common white supremacist, neo-Nazi symbols.

A C14 image featuring both a Tyr rune and Celtic cross.

Also, as we pointed out in our previous investigation, Education Assembly’s logo, on its outer edges, resemble a sonnenrad, a well-known neo-Nazi symbol that was used by the Christchurch shooter.

A photo from Education Assembly’s Facebook page showing a group logo, resembling a Sonnenrad.

The same sonnenrad is also visible on tattoos of C14 members (and, for that matter, members of other far-right groups in Ukraine).

A 2019 photo from C14’s Telegram channel showing C14 members, one with a sonnenrad tattoo.

A photo from a June 2019 protest march in central Kyiv organized by C14 to raise awareness of Ukrainians held captive in Russia. The young man on the right has a sonnenrad tattoo, as well as visible sig runes – the symbol of the SS – in the middle of the tattoo.

When neo-Nazis do neo-Nazi things

Organizing a football tournament “for white children only” sounds like the sort of thing a neo-Nazi group might do. It’s something C14 did in 2011. 

As shown above, C14’s “Youth Football Cup” was promoted and branded with overt neo-Nazi imagery, from Celtic crosses to the 14 words to the printed slogan “for white children only” clearly visible.

A banner for C14’s “Youth Football Cup” in 2011, with a member giving a Hitler salute on a banner bearing a Celtic cross, a well-known neo-Nazi symbol. (Social media/Hromadske)

Since that time, C14 may have tried to clean up its image and push back at being called neo-Nazis; for example, the organization makes little if any use of the Celtic cross anymore.

Some C14 activists don’t seem to have got the message. Bellingcat found one self-described C14 activist who, before her public Instagram account was apparently banned earlier in 2019, posted pictures of herself with a Nazi flag and a shirt bearing the words “Meine Ehre heißt Treue” — “my honour is loyalty,” the motto of the SS.

Photos from a since-removed Instagram account of a self-described C14 activist, including a Nazi slogan and a Nazi flag.

Another individual’s public Instagram posts show them at a C14 march while wearing a C14 bandana over his face, while wearing a t-shirt of Kyiv-based, Russian-Ukrainian neo-Nazi movement Wotanjugend.

Photo of a young man participating in a C14 march and wearing a C14 bandana as well as a t-shirt of neo-Nazi movement Wotanjugend.

Wotanjugend, affiliated with the Azov movement, is an openly neo-Nazi movement that praises extremists like the Christchurch shooter, whose manifesto the group translated into Russian on their website. Wotanjugend even hosted an event in May 2019 called “Fuhrernight” which featured Nazi flags and photos of Adolf Hitler on an altar surrounded by candles.

Photo of a young man participating in a C14 march and wearing a C14 bandana as well as a t-shirt of neo-Nazi movement Wotanjugend.

C14’s founder Yevhen Karas is himself no stranger to giving Hitler salutes.

An undated photo of C14 founder Yevhen Karas, middle, giving a Hitler salute. (Social media/Hromadske)

But C14 has done more than just talk or use symbols and gestures common among neo-Nazis. The group has a long history of violent actions against minorities, including Roma, and individuals it arbitrarily accuses of being “separatists.” It has even earned the distinction of having two of its leading members on trial for murder (though the two men deny the charges).

“Enough ‘sieging,” [i.e., giving Hitler “Sieg Heil” salutes] it’s time to act!” reads a post on C14 social media promoting violence.

As we noted in our previous investigation, C14 filmed themselves attacking a Roma camp in Kyiv in April 2018, an attack one senior member of the group boasted about in now-deleted social media posts. Subsequent video that was published on the Leviy Bereg news site paints a terrifying scene: Roma women and children fleeing from C14 members throwing stones and spraying tear gas.

In addition, C14 openly act as vigilantes, as we observed in our previous investigation about the C14-linked street vigilante group, “Knights of the City” (Лицарі Міста), who have allegedly assaulted individuals it believes are intoxicated in public; C14 has also openly offered up their violent services as “thugs for money.”

C14 on the defensive?

But even with an apparent victory on August 6, C14 seems to be a group on the defensive. According to Ukrainian journalist Samuil Proskuriakov, C14 “numbers 150-200 activists across Ukraine, of which 60 to 70 are based in Kyiv,” while Ukrainian think-tank Institute Respublica, in a recent analysis, estimates that C14 has approximately 350 activists. Regardless of the differences in the range of estimates, there’s no doubt C14 is considerably smaller than the largest and most dominant Ukrainian far-right movement, the Azov movement, which claims to have approximately 10,000 “active members.” 

During Ukraine’s presidential elections earlier this year, C14 was largely seen as pro-Poroshenko movement, or at least a movement opposed to Poroshenko’s two main opponents, Yulia Tymoshenko (who at one time was seen to be Poroshenko’s primary challenger for the presidency) and now-president Volodymyr Zelensky. C14 stood alongside other smaller far-right groups during the campaign like Tradition and Order (Традиція і Порядок) and Unknown Patriot (Невідомий Патріот) in this regard.

On the other side, the much larger Azov movement was openly (and violently) anti-Poroshenko throughout the campaign, taking the side of the figure largely perceived to be their patron, interior minister Arsen Avakov. Conversely, C14 has long been assumed to be linked to Ukraine’s security services (SBU).

It’s entirely possible that this year’s election results have C14 worried, both the presidential elections which saw Poroshenko trounced and the parliamentary elections which saw Poroshenko’s party finish fourth with only 8 percent of the vote. Worse for C14 is that the patron of their (sometimes) rivals in Azov, Arsen Avakov, looks set to keep his position as interior minister, which could well help Azov solidify its place as the dominant force on Ukraine’s far-right scene. 

And it seems C14 is worried. After our Bellingcat Monitoring Project tweeted in early June that a C14 leader, Serhiy Mazur, followed an anti-LGBT account on Telegram, C14 responded with a 500-word response on its own channel, claiming that they “haven’t hit or attacked anyone” at KyivPride over the last five years (though C14 was part of a group in 2018 that tried to block the KyivPride march route, some of whom allegedly attacked police with gas canisters). This was all because we mentioned a senior member in passing in one Twitter thread.

It’s also worth noting that Bellingcat, at the time of publication, could not find a single mention of C14’s apparent victory in court on any social media account run by other Ukrainian far-right groups. C14, for all the celebrating it’s doing this week, is apparently doing so alone.

The post Yes, It’s (Still) OK To Call Ukraine’s C14 “Neo-Nazi” appeared first on bellingcat.

Distorting the definition of antisemitism to shield Israel from all criticism

The IHRA initially sought to combat racism against Jews and Holocaust denialism, but its definition of antisemitism serves as a tool to silence all criticism of Israel, making it harder to identify actual forms of anti-Jewish hatred.

By Amos Goldberg and Raz Segal

Pro-Israel demonstrators in Times Square, New York City on October 18, 2015. (Amir Levy/Flash90)

Pro-Israel demonstrators in Times Square, New York City on October 18, 2015. (Amir Levy/Flash90)

There is a growing tendency among both Jews and non-Jews to label those with whom they have profound political differences, especially on the subject of Israel-Palestine, as antisemitic. The accusation is a severe one: in most countries in the West, antisemitism is considered a taboo, and the identification of a person or organization with antisemitism often renders them illegitimate in the public arena.

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Two major techniques facilitate such allegations. The first relates one’s claim very illusively to some antisemitic imagery. The fact that 2,000 years of hostility and hatred toward Jews have created a storehouse of anti-Jewish imagery so rich – and at times contradictory – means that nearly any claim can be linked to at least one of those images.

Through manipulation of these images, along with a little imagination, one could identify any form of criticism as antisemitic. This kind of logic is deployed by supporters of Israel’s occupation and nationalistic government in order to delegitimize anyone who dares criticize Israeli policies.

The second technique draws on the definition of antisemitism formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Founded in 1998 (under a different name), the IHRA is a political body with considerable political power, uniting government representatives and Holocaust scholars from 33 countries, nearly all of them in the West. The IHRA aims to spread and institutionalize teaching and research on the Holocaust, commemorate the Holocaust, and struggle against antisemitism.

The IHRA agreed on a definition of antisemitism in 2016, along with a list of examples, based on previous definitions. It has since become a kind of “soft law” that is binding in many institutions and even states across the world. The problem is that the IHRA definition deals obsessively — more than with any other topic — with the degree of antisemitism in criticism of Israel, making it far more difficult to identify real instances of anti-Semitism, while casting a cloud of suspicion over nearly all criticism of Israel. Meanwhile, the burden of proof lies with critics of Israel, who are constantly asked to prove that they are not anti-Semites.

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These two dubious techniques were recently displayed in an article published in Haaretz by Yehuda Bauer, which helps to identify some of the grave and fundamental distortions of the current discourse on antisemitism. Bauer claims that the demand for the Palestinian right of return—which is a consensus among Palestinians—is not only antisemitic but even proto-genocidal, no less. This, even though Bauer himself characterized some of the events of the 1948 War as “ethnic cleansing” in his book, “The Jews: A Contrary People.” Can the very demand that justice be done after “ethnic cleansing” – even if the writer thinks that it should not be realized – be considered antisemitic? Is this not a reversal of roles: the (real) victims become (imaginary) mass murderers within this warped discourse on antisemitism?

Bauer, however, went even further, accusing Israeli historian Daniel Blatman of adopting an antisemitic stance for daring to criticize sharply the IHRA, which Bauer helped establish and where he serves as honorary chairperson to this day. Blatman argues that the definition is dedicated to protecting Israel from any significant criticism. Yet in Bauer’s eyes, the argument that the IHRA definition exerts powerful and harmful influence is based on the antisemitic image of Jews as possessing disproportionate power and ruling the world. Here, too, Bauer’s claim is weak. Instead of engaging in a meaningful way with the critique of the definition, the accompanying examples, and its terrible consequences on the struggle against the oppression of Palestinians, supporters of the definition, Bauer included, prefer to associate criticism of it with antisemitic imagery.

Members of Jewish-American anti-occupation group IfNotNow protest Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Washington D.C., May 14, 2018. (Gili Getz)

Members of Jewish-American anti-occupation group IfNotNow protest Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Washington D.C., May 14, 2018. (Gili Getz)

A similar accusation was also made recently against the German magazine Der Spiegel after it published an unflattering investigative article on the pro-Israel lobby in the country. The article sparked vehement backlash by Jews and non-Jews alike, including Felix Klein, Germany’s federal commissioner for the fight against antisemitism, who focuses mainly on defending the government of Israel. A clarification published by the editors of the magazine — which they did not publish following similar investigations — pointed out that in recent weeks they had carried out similar investigations into two non-Jewish lobby organizations in Germany with no links to Israel.

Defending the settlers, not the Jews

These two techniques are used very frequently and with dire consequences. Another example came in 2017 when a young scholar from England who had spent time at an academic institution in Israel wrote a critical article in an obscure journal about her impressions from a tour of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. Among other things, she wrote that the memory of the Holocaust should not give Israel moral dispensation for the occupation. Six years later, Sir Eric Pickles, a Conservative member of British Parliament, found the article and called it “one of the worst cases of Holocaust denial” he has seen in recent years.

Pickles, along with the Campaign Against Antisemitism, demanded that the scholar be dismissed immediately, relying not solely on the IHRA definition. The British university where she was teaching at the time convened a panel of experts to look into the matter. Although it found no indication of antisemitism in the article, the discussion continued and the scholar’s good name was tarnished. She eventually left the university and move to another institution.

The message to the public — and to scholars — was clear: it is better to forget about free speech and not criticize Israel. After all, doing so means you could be subject to a grave accusation.

Today the attempt to suppress criticism of Israel based on the IHRA definition also extends to the campaign against the European Union’s position that products made in Israeli settlement must be labeled as such (which the Simon Wiesenthal Institute listed this as the third most serious anti-Semitic incident in 2015). It appears, then, that the IHRA definition defends Israeli settlers more than it worries about the safety of Jews around the world.

An Israeli winemaker inspects the grapes in his vineyard in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, north of Ramallah (Kobi Gideon/Flash90).

An Israeli winemaker inspects the grapes in his vineyard in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, north of Ramallah (Kobi Gideon/Flash90).

Accordingly, at the end of June, a bill that would ban expressions of antisemitism in public schools and public universities was introduced in the New Jersey State Senate. There is certainly a need to fight against antisemitism in the United States, particularly in New Jersey, the state with the third highest reported antisemitic incidents in the United States in 2018, with approximately 200 reported antisemitic incidents.

It is unlikely, however, that the bill, which includes sections modeled on the IHRA definition, would aid in the struggle against antisemitism in the Garden State, as its main purpose seems to be the silencing of criticism of Israel (it forbids, for example, peace or human rights investigations that focus solely on Israel). But the idea that only Israel is the target of this kind of criticism is not only divorced from reality, it aims at creating a chilling effect. It suffices, for example, to take one look at the list of people charged by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which includes not a single Israeli, to ask ourselves whether there is a need for such a provision in the bill, apart from the desire to suppress any criticism of Israel.

Yet the damage caused by the bill lies not only in the fact that it aims to defend a powerful state – Israel – more than it seeks to protect Jews in New Jersey. The more harmful damage is caused by the way in which the bill’s attempt to silence criticism of Israel’s 52-year-old military occupation (one of the longest running in the world), which includes dispossession, humiliation, expulsions, and daily violence against Palestinians, plays into the hands of avowed antisemites who hate Jews in the U.S. while admiring Israel.

Diverting attention from real antisemites

Richard Spencer, one of the prominent voices on the nationalist right in the United States, provided a prime example of this connection in July 2018  when he expressed fervent support for Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law. This came a little over half a year after he called Israel an inspiration and a model of ethno-nationalism, while at the same time explaining that “Jews are vastly over-represented in what you would call ‘the establishment’ and white people are being dispossessed from this country.” The IHRA definition certainly aims to fight against such statements and people such as Spencer, but its obsession with silencing criticism of Israel diverts attention from real antisemites who may support Israel while simultaneously posing a serious threat to Jews in the United States.

Richard Spencer seen speaking at a public gathering in 2016. (Vas Panagiotopoulos/CC BY 2.0)

Richard Spencer seen speaking at a public gathering in 2016. (Vas Panagiotopoulos/CC BY 2.0)

Put differently, one does not need the IHRA definition to identify people like Spencer as antisemites, but once antisemitism becomes identical with criticism of Israel, people like Spencer are off the hook. After all, they are great supporters of Israel.

Indeed, the connection between Jews and the alleged dispossession of white people in the United States was the motivating factor for the white supremacist who carried out the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh mere months after Spencer’s remarks. In a statement published on social media a few minutes before he opened fire, the shooter wrote that Jews are helping refugees enter the U.S. and destroy it.

This fear of “white genocide” possesses the minds of white nationalists across the world. It is impossible to struggle against this grave danger to Jews, refugees, and others whom nationalists view as an existential danger to their ethno-nationalist vision by silencing criticism of Israel and its ethno-nationalist vision, which views Palestinians – residents of the occupied territories, refugees from the 1948 war, and citizens of Israel (as well as refugees from Africa) – as an existential danger. But the IHRA definition and its derivatives contribute precisely to that.

Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jewish supporters protest against the Jewish Nation-State Law in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jewish supporters protest against the Jewish Nation-State Law in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Right-wing politicians, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli right-wing media, have understood that the focus of the fight against antisemitism has shifted from racist nationalists to criticism of Israel, and they use the catastrophic IHRA definition for their purposes. In contrast to Bauer’s apparent naivety, the right understands very well the powerful potential of the IHRA definition, not only for the purpose of shielding Zionism from any criticism, but also for defending the occupation itself.

The government of Israel and its representatives, as well as many pro-Israeli organizations all over the world, are remarkably successful in silencing criticism of Israel’s policies by playing this card. Using the IHRA’s poor definition of antisemitism, they have succeeded in completely changing the discourse: rather than talk about the occupation, the Nakba, or its violation of national, human and civil rights, the dominant public discourse now revolves around what is or is not forbidden when it comes to criticism of Israel, and to what extent said criticism is antisemitic. In this reality, Israel no longer needs to defend itself against allegation — it has a free hand to throw around accusations.

Professor Amos Goldberg teaches at the Department of the Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research focuses on the Holocaust and its memory. Dr. Raz Segal is Assistant Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Stockton University, New Jersey. A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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‘Our whole lives are here. Where can we go?’

Spending the night with Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, hoping to stop the bulldozers coming to demolish their homes.

By A. Daniel Roth

Armed Israeli soldiers storm into a Palestinian home in Sur Baher, East Jerusalem ahead of the building's demolition, early the morning of July 22, 2019. (A. Daniel Roth)

Armed Israeli soldiers storm into a Palestinian home in Sur Baher, East Jerusalem ahead of the building’s demolition, early the morning of July 22, 2019. (A. Daniel Roth)

I am awakened by the “thud thud thud” of someone pounding and then the sound stops. It feels like I am waking up after only five minutes of sleep. Each of my eyes feels like it weighs 10 pounds. I can’t remember where I am, but the sound is unmistakably a fist hitting a door. I hear rustling somewhere near me and realize I’m in a dark room, on a mattress on the floor surrounded by other people.

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I am in a room with 20 or 30 other activists. We have been sleeping for a few short hours in an office in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Baher, which straddles the Green Line between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. We are here because the local community is facing a number of home demolitions.

I jump to my feet. The knocks were from a Palestinian resident sent to wake us up when the army arrives. The activists sleeping over in Sur Baher had come from Palestine, Israel and around the world. Many of us are Jews from diaspora communities and members of All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective.

We are all there because in prior years, activists, organizers, and community members have worked to build partnerships across national and ideological divides. We are there because when the Israeli High Court ruled in June that a number of homes could be destroyed in the Wadi Hummus area of Sur Baher, those relationships sprung to life. Invited and led by the residents of Sur Baher, folks began to organize.

One of several buildings slated for demolition in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher, July 22, 2019. (Emily Glick)

One of several buildings slated for demolition in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher, July 22, 2019. (Emily Glick)

It’s 3 a.m. and my heart sinks. All I can think about is what I am about to walk into. I follow others down the stairs, out the door, and into the cold summer morning, wondering how I would cope if my home was permanently under threat of demolition.

Israeli demolitions in East Jerusalem are fairly common, but these homes happen to be located in Area A of the occupied West Bank, under full Palestinian civil and security control according to the Oslo Accords. Israeli authorities say the demolitions are being carried out for “security reasons,” claiming the buildings were built too close to the separation barrier. It’s a well-worn excuse.

The beeping of trucks and the revving of engines moving heavy machinery are distinct in the distance. We move swiftly down toward those sounds that fill the darkness at the foot of an unfinished, multi-story building. This is just one among several buildings slated to be demolished. We weave past Israeli army jeeps and Civil Administration pick-up trucks and arrive at a line of police officers, some masked — all of them armed — telling us to stop and move back a few meters here or several steps there. It’s all seemingly arbitrary, but there is little we can do.

Some of us head off to another home after getting word that a family, at risk of losing their home today, wants others there to be there with them. Their hope? To stop or slow the impending demolition of their home.

A small group of us enter quietly with nods and greetings in Arabic. We sit in the living room while the couple who live there sit in their bedroom. I imagine they are feeling shattered.

A Palestinian family looks outside the window as soldiers and militarized police arrive to East Jerusalem's Sur Baher area to carry out slated demolitions, July 22, 2019. (Emily Glick)

A Palestinian family looks outside the window as soldiers and militarized police arrive to East Jerusalem’s Sur Baher area to carry out slated demolitions, July 22, 2019. (Emily Glick)

Thud. Thud. Thud.

This time the children and teenagers of the house have come to wait together. The next hour is filled with the sounds of activists planning, kids learning English words, coffee, and prayers. According to rumors, nine busloads of soldiers and militarized police are being brought to the area to secure the massive number of demolitions set to take place.

Still, there is more time for activist plans, children’s games, and contemplation of how these young uniformed people can allow themselves to take peoples’ homes away from them.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

It’s now around 5 a.m. and the light is creeping in. The banging on the door feels different this time. The patriarch of the house opens the door and uniformed, armed police officers flood the apartment. They take stock of the family, activists, and cameras staring at them and proceed to detail their plans to clear the house of all inhabitants.

The patriarch of the house sits down and when told to leave answers in Hebrew: “You can demolish the building over our heads. Our whole lives are here. Where can we go?”

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The sleepless night pads my emotions. I am in the main room of the apartment surrounded by armed Israeli officers and a moment later I am being pushed and pulled out to the street. There, families, neighbors, and activists – some with bloodied faces – gather behind the line of armed personnel to watch as the demolitions go on.

Some move back quietly. Others continue to yell and cry. I’m exhausted and thinking about what to do next, about the losses endured by those families and that community. I’m thinking about the fact that our movement is not winning yet, but we are most definitely growing.

Daniel Roth is an educator and journalist based in Jerusalem. His writing and photography is at allthesedays.org. Follow him on Twitter: @adanielroth.

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Don’t wait for Israeli archives to prove what Palestinians already know

Israeli authorities are deliberately concealing historical documents to undermine evidence of the state’s dark and violent origins. And the world is still falling for it.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian refugees fleeing during the Nakba.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian refugees fleeing during the Nakba.

The village of Safsaf (“willow” in Arabic) appears on page 490 of the newest edition of Walid Khalidi’s All That Remains, a seminal book that catalogues 418 Palestinian communities that were destroyed and depopulated during the Nakba. A Palestinian eyewitness account describes the day when Zionist forces conquered the village and rounded up its residents in October 1948:

As we lined up, a few Jewish soldiers ordered four girls to accompany them to carry water for the soldiers. Instead, they took them to our empty houses and raped them. About seventy of our men were blindfolded and shot to death, one after the other, in front of us. The soldiers took their bodies and threw them on the cement covering of the village’s spring and dumped sand on them.

On Thursday, Haaretz published a widely-shared investigative piece by Hagar Shezaf on how Israeli authorities are systematically concealing archival materials relating to the 1948 war, even after they have been officially disclosed. It begins with an Israeli historian stumbling upon a document four years ago that was written in November 1948 by the Haganah’s former chief of staff. The note, which was first unearthed by New Historian Benny Morris in the 1980s, is also quoted in Khalidi’s book:

Safsaf – 52 men were caught, tied them to one another, dug a pit and shot them. 10 were still twitching. Women came, begged for mercy. Found bodies of 6 elderly men. There were 61 bodies. 3 cases of rape, one east of Safed, girl of 14, 4 men shot and killed. From one they cut off his fingers with a knife to take the ring.

It is strangely consoling to see official Israeli admission of the event. As Shezaf’s excellent article shows, and thanks to the vital work of Akevot – an Israeli organization that works to expand public access to documentation about the conflict held in government and private archives – along with other historians, archive research has made it irrefutably clear that Zionist forces consciously carried out brutal acts of violence against Palestinians to facilitate their expulsion.

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Though this is hardly news, such archives remain valuable in providing what are essentially “confessions” by officials of the inhumane crimes they oversaw – crimes that are denied by Israel and its supporters to this day.

Yet, for many Palestinians, the bewildered reactions to these discoveries can be infuriating. They remind us of how thousands of Palestinian testimonies, and decades of Palestinian-led research, struggle to stir so much as a ripple in mainstream discourse about Israel’s history. A few Israeli documents, however, can swiftly rile up a storm.

The knowledge of this disparity has been a key reason for Israel’s obstinate archive policy: as one official blatantly told Shezaf, authorities deliberately continue to hide these documents in order to “undermine the credibility of studies about the history of the [Palestinian] refugee problem.” And many still fall for it.

Jewish workers demolish homes in Jaffa following the 1948 battle that cleared the city almost all its Palestinian residents, October 6, 1949. (Fritz Cohen/GPO)

Jewish workers demolish homes in Jaffa in 1948 after the majority of the city’s Palestinian residents were either expelled or fled, October 6, 1949. (Fritz Cohen/GPO)

This cruel double standard over who has “permission to narrate” the conflict has been raised before – and, it seems, it must be raised again and again.

The world should not have to constantly catch up to what Palestinians have always known about the Nakba. Many Palestinians reading about Safsaf in Haaretz would have reached for their copies of All That Remains or other collections, correctly assuming they would find the same facts recorded years before. Descendants of Safsaf’s survivors would likely know the harrowing story by heart, having heard it from their grandparents’ own lips. Like all settler-colonial states, Israel fears the ghosts of its dark and violent origins. Palestinians are those living ghosts. Listen to what they have to say.

The post Don’t wait for Israeli archives to prove what Palestinians already know appeared first on +972 Magazine.

Identifying the Separatists Linked to the Downing of MH17

The full report can be viewed here (mirror)

The Bellingcat Investigation Team has previously published a number of reports demonstrating that the deployment of the Buk missile launcher used to shoot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over Ukraine on 17 July 2014 involved senior officers of the Russian Ministry of Defense and its military intelligence agency, the GRU. However, questions still linger over the involvement in the downing of other previously unidentified individuals. Who were the people heard on the intercepted phone calls published by the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) in the aftermath of the downing? What role did infamous separatist leaders such as Igor Bezler, Aleksandr Khodakovsky, and Igor Strelkov play in the operation?

Today’s new report from Bellingcat seeks to resolve these questions and to determine the identity of most of the individuals, hitherto unknown to the public, who were heard and/or referred to on the SBU intercepts. With this, the report provides further context around the intercepted phone conversations and reveals new potential suspects in the downing of MH17.

The first batch of phone intercepts allegedly linked to the downing of MH17 were released by the SBU on their YouTube channel in an attempt to convince the international community that the airliner was shot down from separatist- held territory. The published calls were just a small selection of the total inventory of intercepts captured in the period surrounding incident, and the JIT is known to have received from Ukrainian authorities data on about 150,000 intercepted phone conversations. An unknown portion of these calls contain evidence relevant to the MH17 case, and some were later published by the JIT both on their YouTube channel and during their press conferences as part of a call for witnesses, and as further evidence supporting their assertions regarding the events that led to and followed the tragedy.

Images of several recorded intercepted phone calls that were published by the SBU.

Intercepted phone conversations published by a government intelligence service, in this case the SBU, should not be trusted without verification, but there has already been a plethora of evidence from open sources corroborating the authenticity of the published calls. Several of these calls are intercepted phone conversations between separatists and Sergey “KhmuryDubinsky, the (ex-)GRU officer and former head of the intelligence of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (“DNR”) who oversaw the transport of the Buk-M1 missile launcher that downed MH17 over Ukraine. The transport route of the Buk-M1 discussed in these recorded conversations exactly matches the route along which the missile launcher was filmed and photographed in in eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014. Furthermore, separatist leaders Igor Bezler and Nikolay Kozitsyn have admitted that it was indeed their voices that are heard on the intercepts, and voice comparisons carried out by forensic analysts in two research institutions have confirmed the identity of Russian officers Nikolai “Delfin” Tkachev and Oleg  “Orion” Ivannikov, as described in previous Bellingcat publications.

The report released today provides further evidence that the publicly released phone intercepts are unlikely to have been tampered with, as critics have continued to allege.

Screenshots of videos of SBU recorded intercepted phone calls, released by the JIT.

In this publication, Bellingcat releases the actual names of several militants who featured on the SBU intercepts along with a preliminary assessment on their respective level of involvement in the Buk transport and/or the downing of MH17. Some of these identities have not been published before by Bellingcat or other media organizations. Below, an organizational chart shows most of the individuals heard or mentioned on the intercepted conversations within the hierarchical structure of the DNR in July 2014 (click here to see the image in full resolution)

The following overview shows the key individuals, who had a role in organizing or facilitating the transport of the Buk missile launcher that downed MH17 on 17 July 2014 is eastern Ukraine.

The Ministry of Defense of the DNR

Igor Girkin/Strelkov, call sign “Strelok”

Date of birth: 17 December 1970
Place of birth: Moscow, Moscow oblast, Soviet Russia
Nationality: Russian
Function in the summer of 2014: Minister of Defense of the DNR.

Link to MH17: We have identified former FSB colonel Igor Strelkov on one of the intercepts with Sergey Dubinsky from the morning of 18 July related to the removal of the Buk missile launcher from separatist-held territory in Ukraine to Russia. Since most of the separatists who can be linked to the downing of MH17 were his subordinates, it is likely that he was also fully aware of the procurement and import of the Buk from Russia. The full report describes his close cooperation in mid-July 2014 with Pulatov and Kharchenko, both of whom are believed to have provided security to the Buk near the launch site.

 

The GRU DNR

The “GRU DNR” (not to be confused with Russia’s military intelligence agency — the GRU) was the military intelligence agency of the Donetsk People’s Republic in 2014. It was headed by Sergey “Khmury” Dubinsky. The group coordinated the transport of the Buk through separatist-held territory on 17 and 18 July, and also provided security to the Buk at the launch site south of Snizhne.  This group may have also been involved in the decision to shoot down MH17. Although the GRU DNR was formally independent from Russia, allegations have lingered that it was actually controlled in whole or in part by the Russian GRU. Given Bellingcat’s previous reporting on the role of GRU’s Oleg Ivannikov in coordinating the delivery of the Buk to separatist-held territory, there is little doubt that the GRU and the GRU DNR closely coordinated at least some of their efforts in the summer of 2014.

 

Sergey Nikolaevich Dubinsky, call sign “Khmury”

Date of birth: 9 August 1962
Place of birth: Neskuchnoe, Donetsk oblast, Soviet Ukraine
Hometown: Rostov-on-Don, Russia
Nationality: Russian
Function in the summer of 2014: Head of the GRU DNR, subordinate to Strelkov. According to Ukraine’s official position, allegedly also a member of Russia’s GRU.

Link to MH17: Several intercepted phone calls indicate that it was Dubinsky who requested the delivery of a battle-ready Buk missile launcher to aid his forces at the frontline south of Snizhne, and that he personally coordinated the transport of the arriving Buk missile launcher to the launch site on 17 July. He was also involved in the removal of the Buk back to Russia after the downing of MH17. Furthermore, the full report demonstrates that Dubinsky also ordered some of his subordinates to secure the Buk near the launch site south of Snizhne, and that it was his group that may have played a key role in the decision to shoot down MH17 under the presumption that it was an enemy aircraft.

 

Oleg Yuldashevich Pulatov, call signs “Gyurza” and “Khalif”

Date of birth: 24 July 1966
Hometown: Ulyanovsk, Russia
Nationality: Russian
Function in the summer of 2014: Head of the 2nd Department of the GRU DNR, subordinate to Sergey Dubinsky.

Link to MH17: Oleg Pulatov is a (former) Lieutenant colonel in the Russian Armed Forces who has previously been identified as the man behind the call sign “Gyurza” who is mentioned on one of the intercepts. In the full report we provide new evidence confirming that Pulatov is indeed the man behind the call sign “Gyurza” and that he was likely involved in securing the Buk missile launcher at the launch site south of Snizhne.

 

Leonid Vladimirovich Kharchenko, call sign “Krot”

Date of birth: 10 January 1972
Place of birth: Kostyantynivka, Soviet Ukraine
Nationality: Ukrainian
Function in the summer of 2014: Head of the Krot Reconnaissance Battalion of the 2nd Department of the GRU DNR since 6 July. Before then, he was the garrison commander in his hometown Kostyantynivka.

Link to MH17: Kharchenko is found to be involved in the securing of the Buk missile launcher near the launch site south of Snizhne. He may have also coordinated the transport of the Buk from Donetsk to the launch site, and the subsequent removal of the Buk from the launch site to Russia.

 

Eduard Mashutovich Gilazov, call sign “Ryazan”

Date of birth: 27 March 1984 (missing and presumed dead since 27 July 2015)
Place of birth: Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk oblast, Soviet Russia
Hometown: Ryazan, Russia
Nationality: Russian
Function in the summer of 2014: Commander of the 1st Reconnaissance Company of the Krot Reconnaissance Battalion, subordinate to Kharchenko.

Link to MH17: Gilazov has been identified as the separatist commander who, in the aftermath of the downing, brought a member of the Buk crew who had lost the rest of the crew to his commander Leonid Kharchenko in Snizhne. He may also have been involved in securing the Buk near the launch site south of Snizhne.

Oleg Anatolevich Sharpov, call sign “Zmey”

Oleg "Zmey" Sharpov

Date of birth: 30 May 1972 (died on 3 November 2014)
Hometown: Kostyantynivka, Ukraine
Nationality: Ukrainian
Function in the summer of 2014: Platoon commander within a Reconnaissance Company

Link to MH17: Sharpov has been identified as the separatist named Oleg in an intercepted phone call with Leonid “Krot” Karchenko from 17 July 2014 at 1:09 pm. In this conversation, Sharpov asks Kharchenko about directions to the location south of Snizhne from which the Buk system launched the missile that downed MH17. As this conversation took place more than two hours before the downing, Sharpov was very likely present at the launch site.

 

The Bezler Group

The Bezler Group is named after “Igor Bezler“ (nickname “Bes”), a former officer in the Russian Armed Forces who, according to the SBU, was in service of the GRU during the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Bezler Group controlled the area around Horlivka in the summer of 2014. Two telephone intercepts featuring Bezler have linked the Bezler Group to the downing of MH17.

 

Igor Nikolaevich Bezler, call sign “Bes”

Date of birth: 30 December 1965
Place of birth: Simferopol, Crimean oblast, Soviet Ukraine
Nationality: Russian
Function in the summer of 2014: Commander of the Bezler Group, alleged by Ukraine to be a member of GRU.

Link to MH17: Bezler is heard on the phone intercept with his subordinate Stelmakh who informs him that a “birdie” is flying towards him. Bezler instructs his subordinate to report this message “upwards”, and as such may have facilitated the spotting of MH17 as an enemy aircraft. Bezler is also heard on an intercept in which he reports the shootdown of an airplane to a person whom the SBU identified as a GRU agent named Vasily Geranin. Bezler has claimed that this recording was actually from 16 July 2014 — one day before the downing of MH17 — but in the full report it is explained that it is more likely that the message was recorded on 17 July concerning the downing MH17.

 

Sergey Sergeyevich Povalyaev, call sign “Botsman”

Sergey "Botsman" Povalyaev

Date of birth: 10 November 1976 (died of pneumonia in Russia on 6 January 2016)
Place of birth: Kaliningrad, Soviet Russia
Nationality: Russian
Function in the summer of 2014: Deputy commander of the Bezler Group, possibly a Russian GRU Spetsnaz officer

Link to MH17: In an intercepted phone call between Sergey Dubinsky and “Botsman” that took place shortly after MH17 was downed, Dubinsky tells “Botsman” that he received a Buk-M in the morning and that they just shot down a ‘Sushka’ (a Sukhoi aircraft). Aside from how “Botsman” was Bezler’s deputy, there is no direct link between “Botsman” and the downing of MH17.

 

Valery Aleksandrovich Stelmakh, call signs “Naemnik” (“Naimanets” in Ukrainian) and “Batya”

Date of birth: 1 August 1955
Place of birth: Dzerzhynsk, Donetsk oblast, Soviet Ukraine
Function in July 2014: Militia commandant of Dzerzhynsk until 21 July 2014, subordinate to Bezler.

Link to MH17: Stelmakh has been identified as the person with the call sign “Naemnik” (“Naimanets” in Ukrainian) who reported the spotting of MH17 as an enemy aircraft to Bezler a few minutes before the downing. Bezler also instructed him to report this message to “higher up”, which might indicate that Stelmakh relayed this message to the GRU DNR or another authority that was in contact with the Buk crew. The full report features a reconstruction showing that it is indeed possible that it was this message that had reached the Buk crew shortly before the downing of MH17.

 

Igor Ivanovich Ukrainets, call sign “Minyor”

Date of birth: 24 December 1971
Place of birth: Verbky, Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Soviet Ukraine
Nationality: Ukrainian
Function in the summer of 2014: Subordinate of Bezler and commander of an infantry unit known as the “Minyor Unit”.

Link to MH17: Ukrainets has been identified as the commander of the Minyor Unit, which was mentioned by Bezler in one of the intercepts in relation to the downing of MH17. Although it has been possible to confirm that Ukrainets was at the time a subordinate to Bezler, we found no evidence that suggests Ukrainets was involved in the downing of MH17. In the full report we discuss the possible explanations why Bezler had mentioned him in relation to the shootdown of the aircraft.

 

The Vostok Battalion

The Vostok Battalion was one of the largest separatist groups in the summer of 2014 and was based in Donetsk. It was headed by Aleksandr Khodakovsky, a defector from the SBU’s Alpha special forces unit. The phone intercepts indicate that the Vostok Battalion helped facilitate the transport of the arriving Buk missile launcher in Donetsk. Additional evidence suggests that its leadership also knew about the arrival of the Buk from Russia in advance.

 

Aleksandr Sergeyevich Khodakovsky, call sign “Skif”

Date of birth: 18 December 1972
Place of birth: Donetsk, Donetsk oblast, Soviet Ukraine
Nationality: Ukrainian
Function: Head of the Vostok Battalion and until 16 July 2014 the Minister of State Security of the DNR.

Link to MH17: As the head of the Vostok Battalion, it is likely that Khodakovsky helped facilitate the arrival of the Buk system in Donetsk, since the intercepts indicate that his deputy Aleksandr Semyonov helped coordinate the transport of the Buk in Donetsk. After the shootdown of MH17, he admitted in an interview with Reuters that he knew beforehand that pro-Russian separatists were going to receive a Buk missile launcher that would be transported from Luhansk to Snizhne, but he later retracted these statements saying that they were taken out of context by Reuters. The SBU intercepts also reveal that he had briefly attempted to hide MH17’s black boxes from the OSCE and other parties on behalf of Moscow, which he later also denied. In the full report we will provide further information that suggests Khodakovsy’s statements to Reuters were not taken out of context, and that he was indeed willing to hide the black boxes, most likely on behalf of officials in Moscow.

 

Alexander Aleksandrovich Semyonov, nickname “(San) Sanych”

Date of birth: 21 December 1967
Place of birth: Yenakieve, Soviet Ukraine
Function: Deputy commander of the Vostok Battalion and the DNR’s Deputy Prime Minister of Economy, subordinate to Khodakovsky.

Link to MH17: The phone intercepts indicate that Semyonov helped facilitate the arrival of the Buk in Donetsk in coordination with Sergey Dubinsky. One day before the downing, Semyonov was also informed by Dubinsky that the latter wished to receive a missile launcher for operations at the Marynivka front.

The post Identifying the Separatists Linked to the Downing of MH17 appeared first on bellingcat.

For Israelis the Nakba is a footnote. For Palestinians it’s the heart of the conflict

Israelis tend to view the expulsions of the 1948 war as a small, local affair that was quite restrained compared to the Nazi genocide. For Palestinians, it is an ongoing dispossession.

By Sam Freed

Palestinian refugee children seen in a makeshift school in Nablus, West Bank, 1948. (Hanini/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Palestinian refugee children seen in a makeshift school in Nablus, West Bank, 1948. (Hanini/CC BY-SA 3.0)

To large portions of the Jewish Israeli public, the Nakba was small event — an historical side note. To most Palestinians, on the other hand, it is a huge, exceptionally brutal, and vastly important part of their history. In order to understand why there is such a vast disparity in the way the Nakba is perceived by Israelis and Palestinians, despite very little contention as to the objective size of the event — 700,000 people were deported and dispossessed, which today we would call ethnic cleansing — one must look back several hundred years.

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Nothing motivates wars like ideas on paper. The printing press was invented in the mid 1400s in Germany. Rebellions against the Catholic Church were not infrequent during that period, but after the printing press was available such rebellions spread much faster. The most prominent of those was the Protestant Reformation, which led to centuries of internal religious and ideological wars in Europe, ending only in 1945. The number of victims is estimated at around 100 million.

Meanwhile in the Ottoman Empire the situation was quite different. Most of its military efforts were in the Balkans, directed towards Catholic Austria. In 1485, Sultan Bayzid II banned the printing press because the Arabic letters of the Qu’ran were considered too sacred to be used mechanically. The result was 500 years of relative peace in the Muslim world – quite a contrast to the constant bloodletting of religious wars in Europe.

The Ottomans controlled the Middle East by granting the local population maximal self-government. This included having a mukhtar (chief) run each village according to its own traditions. The result was that the Ottomans were able to control the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River with only a few hundred soldiers. While in Europe tens of millions were being killed in Christian-on-Christian violence, the first wars amongst Muslims involving over one million deaths happened quite recently: the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1970 and the Iran-Iraq War in 1979.

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The Zionist leadership that created Israel was virtually entirely of European origin. In the first half of the 20th century, the numbers of deportees and the dispossessed in Europe was high: in 1923 there were massive “population exchanges” between Greece and Turkey, in 1947 the British arranged for the partition of India, and after the Second World War eastern and central-European states expelled eight million ethnic and cultural Germans who lived in those countries for centuries. As a culturally European society, it is unsurprising that the Israelis did not see the expulsion of 700,000 people as exceptional or even uncivilized.

On the other hand, prior to the Nakba — the worst disaster in the collective memory of Palestinians — was the punitive exile of 10,000 men to Egypt in 1834. This was occasioned by the Palestinians refusing to join the Egyptian Army during the Egyptian revolt against the Ottomans. In contrast to the the European vantage point, the expulsion and dispossession of 700,000 people, including women, the elderly, and children, was seen as an act of barbarism of unprecedented magnitude. The disaster of 1948 was 70-times larger than the largest calamity in local popular memory at the time.

Additionally, Israelis and Palestinians view the Nakba differently when it comes to the dimension of time. As far as Israel is concerned the expulsions were over by the end of the war and cemented with the refusal to return refugees after the war. For the Palestinians, the Nakba is ongoing. The presence of the refugee camps is an ongoing tragedy, as is every time a Palestinian is dispossessed of land or a settlement for Jews only is set up on previously Palestinian land.

Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in the Return March, held at the destroyed village of Khubbeiza, to mark Nakba Day, May 9, 2019. (Mati Milstein)

Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in the Return March, held at the destroyed village of Khubbeiza, to mark Nakba Day, May 9, 2019. (Mati Milstein)

This ongoing Nakba peaked in during the war of 1967 but has continued in waves since 1948 through the expropriation of land in the Galilee and in the Negev, the ongoing tragedy of the “unrecognized villages,” and the ongoing construction of Jewish-only settlements in both the West Bank and Israel proper. For Palestinians, all these processes are the same Nakba: an ongoing dispossession and exile of Palestinians from their ancestral land.

For many Israelis, the Nakba was a small, local affair that was quite restrained in comparison to the mass murder of the Nazis in Europe. No matter what you call it, the Nakba is a founding event of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Seeking a mutual understanding of how the two sides see it so differently is a prerequisite for any rapprochement between the two nations.

Dr. Sam Freed is a researcher at the University of Sussex, and teaches at the Hebrew University. He is also an occasional human rights activist. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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