Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A mirror for 'greater' Israel


       If one changes the names below to the Europe of the shtetls, the Russia of the pogroms, and even Germany, one can get an accurate picture of what the state of Israel has chosen to enact in the occupied territories. Are the spokespersons for the Israeli government so traumatized or appealing so fiercely to the traumas of other Jews that they cannot ask themselves the question: isn’t this the very mistreatment Jews in Europe used to protest? One must run away from ordinary moral judgments, John Rawls’s original position and international opinion not to be repulsed– see Hilary Putnam on war and my comments here and here.  If ever there were policies which the disagreement of decent and knowledgeable people in democracies and everywhere else brought into question, Israel’s in the occupied territories are sadly a paradigm. 

     Even in small things: the Israeli government has stolen from Palestinian wages (poverty wages, after they risk their lives crossing the check points. Palestinians are also, sometimes not allowed to bring sandwiches for lunch; these are confiscated by private Israeli security firms so that the workers will have to buy lunch at high prices from Israelis) to pay for so-called “infrastructure” in the occupied territories: the illegal and immoral settlements (see the first story below).

      As a person who has fought fascists all my life, I see the Palestinians now as the Jews of the occupied territories.  I note that there are many Jews, those who stand for what is noble in the tradition of the slaves who exited Egypt, those who fought persecution and for basic rights for all in Europe and America, those who believe in democracy and human rights in Israel, who speak out against these polices like the economists who compiled the figures below on the theft of Palestinian wages or Amira Hass. Here is a fight for the soul of Israel. As Thoreau once said, it is now incumbent on all who have a voice to say: no.

      Hamas abducted and holds one Israel solider: Gilad Shalit.  Seizing new prisoners of "war" and throwing women and children out into the rain while doing it, the government of Israel wants to maintain 10,000 prisoners to trade for Shalit.  Actually, everyone in Gaza, forbidden to leave, is now a prisoner.  As with last January’s slaughter in Gaza (300 children murdered to one Israeli child), I find these proportions hard to bear.  H/T to Ilene Cohen for sending these stories.  They are, sadly, self-explanatory.

      Amira Hass, who has played a long and prophetic role in reporting the truth about these policies – see here – made the point about the some 212 incidents of abuse and brutality on February 24 that one sees in each cruelty not a “mistake” but systemic exploitation, jailing and murder.  No, the slaves are not happy, singing, down on the plantation…

      In Hass's words,

      “Any news item we report that deals with Israeli rule over the Palestinians is misleading. It creates the impression that whatever has been reported is all that has happened on the Palestinian side and that otherwise everything is normal, or even flourishing. Any news item that is published in Israeli papers is a sign of what is missing, what no one wants to know.”

      In HaaretzBradley Burston from a Russian émigré family fleeing tyranny and racism speaks too easily of “leftists” – as his pain indicates, he is really talking about the decent opinions of humankind – but names what this strange, deaf and brutal policy means.  

      Those who do these things will shatter every mirror in Israel.  The reflection in the eyes of Jews who are aware of their history and in the eyes of ordinary people around the world can not be borne.*

From Ma'an News Agency

Israeli report claims $2 billion stolen from Palestinians

March 3, 2010

Nazareth – Over the past four decades Israel has defrauded Palestinians working inside Israel of more than US $2 billion by deducting from their salaries contributions for welfare benefits to which they were never entitled, Israeli economists have alleged.

A new report, "State Robbery," to be published later this month, says the "theft" continued even after the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994 and part of the money was supposed to be transferred to a special fund on behalf of the workers.

According to information supplied by Israeli officials, most of the deductions from the workers' pay were invested in infrastructure projects in the Palestinian territories – a presumed reference to the massive state subsidies accorded to the settlements.

Nearly 50,000 Palestinians from the West Bank are working in Israel – following the easing of restrictions on entering Israel under the ‘economic peace’ promised by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister – and continue to have such contributions docked from their pay.

Complicit in the deception, the report adds, is the Histadrut, the Israeli labor federation, which levies a monthly fee on Palestinian workers, even though they are not entitled to membership and are not represented in labor disputes.

‘This is a clear-cut case of theft from Palestinian workers on a grand scale,’ said Shir Hever, a Jerusalem-based economist and one of the authors of the report. ‘There are no reasons for Israel to delay in returning this money either to the workers or to their beneficiaries.’

The deductions started being made in 1970, three years after the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories began, when Palestinian workers started to enter Israel in significant numbers, most of them employed as manual laborers in the agriculture and construction industries.

Typically, the workers lose a fifth of their salary in deductions that are supposed to cover old age payments, unemployment allowance, disability insurance, child benefits, trade union fees, pension fund, holiday and sick pay, and health insurance. In practice, however, the workers are entitled only to disability payments in case of work accidents and are insured against loss of work if their employer goes bankrupt.

According to the report, compiled by two human rights groups, the Alternative Information Centre and Kav La'Oved, only a fraction of the total contributions – less than eight percent – was used to award benefits to Palestinian workers. The rest was secretly transferred to the finance ministry.

The Israeli organizations assess that the workers were defrauded of at least $2.25 billion in today's prices, in what they describe as a minimum and "very conservative" estimate of the misappropriation of the funds. Such a sum represents about 10 percent of the PA's annual budget.

The authors also note that they excluded from their calculations two substantial groups of Palestinian workers – those employed in the Israeli settlements and those working in Israel's black economy – because figures were too hard to obtain.

Hever said the question of whether the bulk of the deductions – those for national insurance – had been illegally taken from the workers was settled by the Israeli High Court of Justice back in 1991. The judges accepted a petition from the flower growers' union that the government should return about $1.5 million in contributions from Palestinian workers in the industry.

‘The legal precedent was set then and could be used to reclaim the rest of these excessive deductions,’ he said.

At the height of Palestinian participation in the Israeli labor force, in the early 1990s, as many as one in three Palestinian workers was dependent on an Israeli employer.

Israel continued requiring contributions from Palestinian workers after the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, arguing that it needed to make the deductions to ensure Israeli workers remained competitive.

However, the report notes that such practices were supposed to have been curbed by the Oslo process. Israel agreed to levy an ‘equalization tax’ – equivalent to the excessive contributions paid by Palestinians – a third of which would be invested in a fund that would later be available to the workers.

In fact, however, the Israeli state comptroller, a government watchdog official, reported in 2003 that only about a tenth of the money levied on the workers had actually been placed in the fund.

The Finance Ministry has admitted that most of the money taken from the workers was passed to Israeli military authorities in the Palestinian territories to pay for ‘infrastructure programs.’ Hannah Zohar, the director of Kav La'Oved who co-authored the report, said she believed that the ministry was actually referring to the construction of illegal settlements.

The report is also highly critical of the Histadrut, Israel's trade union federation, which it accuses of grabbing ‘a piece of the pie’ by forcing Palestinian workers to pay a monthly ‘organizing fee’ to the union since 1970, even though Palestinians are not entitled to membership.

Despite the Histadrut's agreement with its Palestinian counterpart in 2008 to repay the fees, only 20 percent was returned, leaving $30 million unaccounted for.

The Histadrut was also implicated in another ‘rip-off,’ Hever said. It agreed in 1990 to the Israeli construction industry's demand that Palestinian workers pay an extra two percent tax to promote the training of recent Jewish immigrants, most of them from the former Soviet Union.

Hever said that in effect the Palestinian laborers were required to ‘subsidize the training of workers meant to replace them.’ The funds were never used for the stated purpose but were mainly issued as grants to the families of Israeli workers.

In one especially cynical use of the funds, the report claims, the money was spent on portable stoves for soldiers involved in Israel's three-week attack on Gaza last year.

In response, the Finance Ministry called the report ‘incorrect and misleading,’ and the Histadrut said it was ‘full of lies.’ However, neither provided rebuttals of the report's allegations or its calculations.

Hever said the government body responsible for making the deductions, the department of payments, had initially refused to divulge any of its figures, but had partly relented after some statistics were made available through leaks from its staff.

Assef Saeed, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority's Labor Ministry, said the PA was keen to discuss the issue of the deductions, but that talks were difficult because of the lack of contacts between the two sides.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. A version of this article originally appeared in The National, printed in Abu Dhabi. It is republished here with permission from the author.

Source: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=259113

Ma'an News Agency

Israel hands down travel ban for Jerusalem researcher

Today (Last Update) Time 09:58

 Jerusalem – Ma'an – Israeli police handed prominent Jerusalem researcher Khalil At-Tafkahi a signed order by the Minister of Internal Security preventing him from traveling outside the country for a period of six months. The order cites ‘security reasons’ for the ban.

A Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, At-Tafkahi is the Director of the Cartographic Section in the Arab Studies Society (Beit Ash-Sharq) and an expert on settlements and settlement expansion. 

At-Tafkahi said he considered the order evidence that Israel does not want peace. ‘I am a peace man,’ he said, recalling he was in the delegation of Palestinians who attended peace talks from Oslo to Taba (1992-2001) and stressed that any move against him was a move by the current Israeli government against peace.

Source: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=259019 

Overnight Israeli raids see 22 taken to unknown locations

March 3, 2010 

Bethlehem – Ma'an/Agencies – Nighttime raids targeting the Bethlehem, Ramallah, Qalqiliya and Hebron areas saw a total of 22 Palestinians taken from homes and streets and transported to unknown locations, military sources confirmed. 

A Palestine Solidarity Project Spokesman said troops stormed Beit Ummar north of Hebron and raided several homes. During the searches, women and children were thrown out of the buildings and told to wait in the freezing rain. Secondary military vehicles threw stun grenades at homes as the raid continued.

Those taken from the village were identified as:

Murshid Muhammad Murshid Al-Aqeed, 35

Aiesh Ahmad Murshid Za’aqeq, 23

Rami Bassam Khalil Za’aqeq, 32

Muhammad Bassam Khalil Za’aqeq, 20

Murad Amer Ahmad Abu Juda, 21

Muhammad Amer Ahmad Abu Juda, 20

Sharif Fathi Muhammad Baragheeth, 22

Ashraf Ali Khalawy Sabarna, 27

Jihad Khalawi

Troops also entered the Old City, where they detained Usama Al-Ja’bary.

According to Israeli sources, all those detained were "wanted" by the army. Sources said seven of the detainees are from near Qalqiliya, three others from Ramallah, eight from Bethlehem, one from Jenin, and three from Hebron.

Source: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=259011

More Than 25% of Knesset Joins 'Land of Israel Forum' Shevat 20, 5770, 04 February 10 02:32by by Hillel Fendel (Israelnationalnews.com)

A new Land of Israel Forum has been formed in the Knesset, with representation from no fewer than seven parties. It is co-chaired by coalition whip MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union).

“The lobby will deal with strengthening the State of Israel’s grasp of the entire Land of Israel,” Elkin said at the lobby’s opening session on Tuesday, “and especially Judea and Samaria.” Among the more than 30 members are Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, Communications Minister Moshe Kachlon, Science Minister Rabbi Prof. Daniel Herskovitz (Jewish Home), Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Begin, and MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima).

“We face many challenges and we have many problems,” Elkin said, “but still and all, the rate of growth in Judea and Samaria is the largest in the country. As with the Jews in ancient Egypt, the more they oppress us, the more we grow… Our purpose is to bring hearts closer together – religious, secular, hareidi. We are all united to strengthen the Land of Israel and develop Judea and Samaria.”

MK Eldad said, “There are black clouds over the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria… This lobby includes MKs from many Knesset factions to fight the Land of Israel’s fight.”

Minister Herskovitz: “One of the goals of the lobby is to promote legislation to strengthen settlement – legislation that already exists in the Bible. Unlike parliamentary laws, this one can’t be revoked. It is clear even to non-Jews with whom I meet... The problem is less with legislation and more with awareness and national [public relations], and that’s where we have to focus. Every Jew has the elementary and inalienable right to live wherever he wants in our Land. If we get this message out to the whole nation, then we will once again see the Land blossoming all over.”

Minister Benny Begin said, “The establishment of a foreign independent sovereign state headed by the PLO in parts of the Land of Israel stands in opposition to two basic ideas that are both supported by a majority of the Knesset: the absolute historic right of the Nation of Israel to the Land of Israel and the right of the State of Israel to national security.”

MK Rivlin noted, “We all share this mission, we were all elected to serve in the Knesset in order to fulfill our mission, and we are all tested at times when it is not easy to do so. We face doubts and heavy international pressures, and there are moments of weakness, and fears that the majority has given up the fight. But I believe that the nationalist camp is the force that will fortify the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel and in Judea and Samaria.”

Minister Kachlon said, “As a Cabinet minister, I will try to serve as a mouthpiece for this lobby in the government. We know that settlement is one of Israel’s strong points, and certainly not an obstacle to peace.”

39 army raids, 28 arrests: Just another day in the West Bank
By Amira Hass

"The year 2009 was the quietest for Israelis from the security point of view and the most violent for the Palestinians from the point of view of attacks by settlers in the West Bank." Just as he was saying this - as an example of one of the absurdities that characterize the political situation - Palestinian Agriculture Minister Ismail Daiq received a phone call from the Jenin district to inform him that five artesian wells in the village of Daan had been destroyed that morning. One person was shot and wounded in the abdomen when he tried to lift the pump to save it from damage. This was not an attack by settlers but a raid by the army. 

And that wasn't the only routine event on Wednesday, February 24. The negotiations affairs department of the Palestine Liberation Organization collects information daily from all the districts of the occupied territories (Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Jerusalem) and publishes it in a daily situation report by the Palestinian Monitoring Group. For the sake of convenience, the report categorizes the events and then provides details for each district. 

That Wednesday, a total of 212 occupation-related incidents were recorded. Examples include: four physical assaults (which took place in the West Bank, and included civilians being beaten in Nablus and Jerusalem); one injury (a civilian hurt in a clash in Daan); eight military shooting attacks (two of which took place in Gaza, two were in the midst of raids, and one came from a military outpost; 39 army raids (one in Gaza); 28 arrests; and 12 detentions at checkpoints and in residential areas. The items on the checklist include home demolition (none that day), the leveling of agricultural land (one, in Gaza), and construction of the separation wall (at 22 locations). 

The report also includes categories for property destruction (seven cases, including the destruction of wells and crops); checkpoint closure (eight cases at five checkpoints, including instances of impeded access); mobile ("flying") checkpoints (23); permanent closure of village access roads (seven); closure of main roads (40, (including four in Bethlehem and 14 in Hebron, and the village of Jaba east of Ramallah); closure of main crossing points (four, including the permanent blockade of Gaza); disruptions at school (three cases, including the throwing of two tear gas canisters); violence on the part of settlers (one, in Sheikh Jarrah); demonstrations (one, in Hebron). The checklist also includes Palestinian attacks (none on that day). 

The philosophy behind the situation report is clear. An "event" is not just a fatality, assault, shooting or demolition. It is something that entails permanent damage, and stems from the policy of imposing closures, building the wall and maintaining the blockade of the Gaza Strip. But even without these occupation-related items, the vast majority of the incidents are not made known to the vast majority of Israelis. 

No statistics can express the emotional and social distress that accompanies every event and non-event, such as the incarceration of 1.5 million people inside the Gaza Strip or the fact that tens of thousands still have not been able to reconstruct homes that were damaged during the Israel Defense Forces offensive in the winter of 2008-2009. Even without asking, it is possible to know that the reason for the destruction of the wells in the Jenin district is that they were dug "without a permit." But the sovereign that destroys is also the one that controls the water resources and decides on an unequal division of water between Palestinians and Israelis. The statistics do not include the practical difficulties that stem from this discrimination or the permanent insult it creates. 

In 2009, Israel destroyed 225 Palestinian homes in the West Bank and uprooted 515 Palestinians from their homes, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported. Thousands more in Area C and in Jerusalem live in constant fear that their homes will be destroyed and they will be uprooted from their places of residence. 

How does one count fear? Like the fear that was felt in the homes of some 700 minors the IDF arrested in 2009. The Palestinian branch of Defence for Children International represented 218 of these minors. Forty were released, 28 on bail and 12 without conditions. Seven minors were kept in administrative detention - that is, they were detained without a trial. A total of 192 were brought to trial, of whom 23 were aged 12 or 13, and 46 were 14 or 15. The majority - 123 minors - were aged 16 or 17. 

Sentences of less than six months were imposed on 121 of those arrested - 63 percent - while 31 of them received sentences of between six months and a year, and 32 were sentenced to between one and three years. Eight of the minors were jailed for more than three years. 

The majority (117) were sentenced for throwing stones, 33 for possessing and throwing Molotov cocktails, 11 for being members of a banned organization, eight for conspiring to kill, seven for possessing and hiding explosives, and 16 for possessing and manufacturing weapons. 

For the moment, let us not discuss the arrests and trials of the military system, which is said to be a way of maintaining law and order but actually maintains the occupation. Let us put aside, for now, the fact that in military tribunals it is often advisable to admit to offenses the defendant did not commit, since the detention time while the proceedings are underway might end up being longer than the actual sentence for the alleged offense. 

But how is it possible to quantify the personal and collective rage expressed by the stones being thrown and created by Israel's military tribunal system? 

Any news item we report that deals with Israeli rule over the Palestinians is misleading. It creates the impression that whatever has been reported is all that has happened on the Palestinian side and that otherwise everything is normal, or even flourishing. Any news item that is published in Israeli papers is a sign of what is missing, what no one wants to know.

Haaretz. February 20, 2010
I envy the people who hate Israel
By Bradley Burston

At times like these, I envy the people who passionately, frankly, with all their hearts, despise Israel. 
Hate Israel enough, and the Jewish state's failings and blunders, its self-satisfied blindness and its resultant self-destructive policies, cause not pain, but delight. 

Hate Israel enough, and you're spared all inclination to try to fix what's wrong, to work to set it right. On the contrary, hate Israel enough, and you may come to believe not only that that the country deserves to be punished to the point of replacement by a different state - Israel may well do the job all by itself. 

This is one of those times. 

I have made my peace with the fact that this is not the same country I moved to, so long ago. I learned when I first came, that Israel was not the country I'd thought I was moving to. 

But this is different. This time is a test for every Israeli, and so far, we are failing. 

There was once a time when Israel longed to be a member in good standing of the community of nations. There was a time when one of its fondest goals was to end its status as a nation in quarantine, boycotted, unrecognized, unwanted, kept firmly at arm's length. 

No longer. Without asking its people, without a second thought, Israel, at its highest level, has taken an executive decision. Unable to beat the forces who want to see Israel as one of the world's primary pariah states, it has resolved to join them. 

Determined to take our fate into its own hands. Israel, at its highest level, has decided that the job of delegitimizing the Jewish state must not be left to foreigners and amateurs. Showing itself desperate to be a pariah state, Israel will now get it done on its own. 

What the far-left from Britain to Berkeley has been been unable to bring off - a sense among Israel's allies that Israel has become a heartless, morally heedless aggressor state worthy of sanction and shunning - the far-right in Israel's own government, and in particular, its Foreign Ministry, seems determined to inculcate to the full. 

We should have known that something like the Dubai assassination debacle was going to happen. The process of de-legitimizing Israel from within was going too slowly. 

It was not enough choose a pathetic side issue, a Turkish television show with anti-Israel scenes, as grounds to humiliate with infantile malice the highly respected ambassador of Turkey - a nation whose relationship with Israel, though troubled, remains crucial from every strategic and diplomatic standpoint. 

It was necessary for Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who as the recently returned former ambassador to Washington certainly knows much better, to compound the insult on the eve of a fence-mending visit to Turkey by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, by declaring diplomatic war on the rest of the world: 

Referring to the bellicose, confessed and convicted disgrace who is his foreign minister and superior, Ayalon told Channel Two, "His policy is proving to be effective. We will not allow a situation where every country will kick us. If there will be an attack [even if verbal or cultural] on Israel, we will leave all options open, including the expulsion of ambassadors." 

It wasn't enough to threaten our relations with the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Austria and the whole of the European Union, as well as the emirates and other moderate Muslim states, by apparently violating the basic conventions of all civilized states in the Dubai murder. 

It was necessary to stage a quick follow-up, for the sake of balance, perhaps, in going after our relations with Israel's indispensable ally. In a gratuitous move breathtaking in its haughtiness, its ignorance of and disrespect for the United States and the American Jewish community, the Foreign Ministry - spearhead of Israel's campaign against boycotts abroad - elected this week to boycott a meeting with five U.S. Congressmen visiting Israel. 

Why? The representatives were visiting under the auspices of J Street. J Street, in the ministry's eyes, is guilty of the crime of explicitly calling itself pro-Israel, while not agreeing wholeheartedly with everything the government of Israel says and does. 

I have come to envy the people who hate Israel. They've got every reason to smile. 

There was a time when you could reasonably blame Israel's execrable public relations officials for much of Israel's bad press. No longer. No one can defend this anymore. There's too much that looks bad, and much too much of it is true. 

Like so many of Israel's recent actions, the motives for the Dubai assassination are debatable. The negative impact is inarguable. 

My heart goes out to the people who care about Israel. My wife, who cares about this country as deeply as anyone, was singing this morning, but with a smile I have come to recognize as a sign of pain. " ... And they call the state Pariah." 

All those years of isolation, of quarantine, are coming home to haunt us. Now it turns out that the contempt for the rest of the world that it bred in Israeli Jews, extended to contempt for immigrant Jews as well. 

The response of many Israelis to what appears to be officially sanctioned theft, exploitation, and ruin of the identities of immigrants to Israel, was terrifying in its good humor, with morning talk-show hosts making fun of their Hebrew, even as they made light of their plight. 

There are times when I envy the people who hate Israel. There is no sense of betrayal, not a tinge of loss. Only simhah la'ed, a vengeful joy in our sorrow. 

This is what I have learned about the government of this place, and many of the voters who put it there. Intelligent people who are too smart to be able to see themselves clearly, render themselves stupid. 

And countries which cannot bear to look, even if they have good reasons, render themselves dangerous - first of all, to themselves. 

This is not the country I first came to. But I still care about it, even if I know it may care much less than I would like, about me. 

I have come to envy the people who hate Israel, because they cannot feel the tragedy in the phenomenal possibility, the depth and breadth of humanity that is going to waste here. 

Someday soon, if only because Avigdor Lieberman is indicted for money-laundering in countries which hate us, this is going to begin to turn around. I believe that. 

I have to. 

My father did not flee the Soviet Union just so his son could one day have the chance to live in a place just like it. 


*This post also illuminates the consequences of Leo Strauss’s “pagan-fascist” solution to the “theological-political problem.”  See the response to Michael Zank in “Letters” here.




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