Good News, Bad News, and some Intriguing Political Analysis

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There was lots of interesting news during the past several days while I took a short vacation to drive through the Galilee where, after this winter’s torrential rains, yellow and blue wildflowers cover the hillsides and some areas resemble the dark, green woods of New England. So here are three items that make for interesting reading.

Supreme Court ruling on Migron

This is good news if you care about the rule of law in Israel and the importance of enforcing Supreme Court decisions. In 2006 the court ordered that the illegal settlement of Migron be evacuated and the land be returned to its rightful Palestinian owners. This was followed by 6 years of delays and government inaction. Recently, an agreement was reached between the government and the settlers, without consulting the Palestinian landowners, that would have delayed the evacuation until 2015. Yesterday, the Supreme Court rejected this agreement and unanimously ordered that Migron be demolished by August 1st. Click here for key excerpts from the justices’ decision.

Migron settlement. Credit: Reuters

Despite settler claims to the contrary, Migron was a clear-cut case. Here is a 2008 article describing an Associated Press investigation of the settlers’ claims of ownership. One of the documents presented to the court was a bill of sale by a Palestinian farmer, Abdel Latif Sumarin, that was signed and notarized in 2004. Unfortunately for the settlers, Mr. Sumarin had died over forty years earlier in 1961. The notary, who is based in California where the fictitious sale was purported to have occurred, also declared his signature was fraudulent. See the article for more details.

Of particular note, and perhaps more indicative of the attitudes behind the settlers’ actions and the government’s policies, is a reference at the very end of the article to Itay Harel, a settler who lives on that particular plot of land:

“Itay Harel, a social worker who lives on the Sumarin plot in Migron, insisted the sale was legitimate, although he refused to discuss it in detail. He also made clear that from the settlers’ perspective, the sale was beside the point.

‘This land belongs to the people of Israel, who were driven off it by force,’ Harel said, referring to the defeat and exile of the Jews by Rome in A.D. 70. He said no Palestinian had a rightful claim to any part of the West Bank.

‘Anyone who claims the land is his is lying, and it is said that if you lie enough times, you start believing it,’ he said.”

Israeli Politicians and defense officials are scrambling to figure out where to move the settlers and how to avoid a violent confrontation with their supporters. Even worse for the government, this might open the door to many other court decisions that settlements have been built on privately owned Palestinian land and must be evacuated. We can expect that the Knesset will attempt to address this issue. Today’s newspaper reported that already there are bills under consideration that stipulate “if a community [Jewish settlement] is erected on private land in good faith, after a certain number of years the rightful owner cannot evict residents but can demand compensation.” So far these bills have been blocked but Migron is a game changer.

Riot in a Shopping Mall

One week ago 300 fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team descended on the Malha Shopping Mall in Jerusalem to celebrate the team’s victory in a game. They stood on tables and chairs, screaming “Death to the Arabs” and then proceeded to attack the Arab workers in the mall.  As one shop owner said, “…they beat the hell out of them.” Arabs were hurled into shops, smashed against plate glass store windows, and chased up and down the escalators. The entire riot was captured on the closed circuit video cameras in the mall. A very large contingent of police eventually arrived 40 minutes later and cleared the mall. Then nothing was done. No one was arrested or prosecuted despite the video evidence. The media ignored the incident until the Haaretz newspaper broke the story five days later last Friday. Click here for more details.

A frame of Beitar fans in the Malha Shopping Mall taken from a video clip.

Over the weekend, the police were scrambling to do damage control, claiming there will be a thorough investigation and that the perpetrators will be prosecuted. One can only imagine the police and media response if 300 Arabs had invaded a shopping mall and then chased and beat Jewish workers.

The problem is that the lack of police follow-up is not unique. I documented a long history of police ignoring violence against Arabs in East Jerusalem in a February blog post. The situation is especially egregious in the West Bank. The human rights NGO Yesh Din reported that over 90% of police investigations into settler violence against Palestinians resulted in no indictments (97% resulted in no indictments if the crime was limited to destruction of Palestinian property). Even worse, as I reported in the February blog post about East Jerusalem, it is often the Palestinians themselves who are arrested if they file complaints. Click here for an example.

Why the Israeli public votes as it does

Here is a thought-provoking article which argues that the political status quo of the West Bank occupation is a rational choice that the Israeli public has chosen, given today’s environment. The article offers an intriguing explanation for why the Likud and Netanyahu are so popular right now, despite polls that show many Israelis would like to end the occupation.

To Boycott or not to Boycott? The furor over Peter Beinart’s Proposal

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For the past few years my wife and I, always preferring to buy Israeli made-goods whether we are in Israel or the USA, carefully scrutinized labels on Israeli products to see where they were made. Living half of each year in Tel Aviv, it seemed almost normative to not purchase goods made in the West Bank. We have many friends who made aliyah decades ago, passionate Zionists all, who have boycotted goods from Judea and Samaria for a long time (Click here for one example). They are anguished over what the occupation has done to Israeli democracy and the rule of law, and are frightened for the future.

Imagine then our surprise over the controversy stirred up by Peter Beinart’s op-ed column in yesterday’s New York Times calling for a targeted boycott of West Bank products in order to save Israel….

To read the rest of this post, go to http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/to-boycott-or-not-to-boycott-the-furor-over-peter-beinarts-proposal/

The Negev: A Bedouin Village versus a JNF Forest

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There was a clear blue sky after many days of rain when we drove to Al-Arakib near Be’er Sheva down in the Negev. The air was cool but the sun was strong. All around us the desert was in bloom as we turned onto the dirt road, passed a small cemetery on the left and pulled up before a large three-sided Bedouin tent. In the distance I could see groves of trees on higher ground. But the surroundings around the tent were barren, just sandy ground and rocks. I was soon to find out why.

To read the rest of this post, go to http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-negev-a-bedouin-village-versus-a-jnf-forest

From Africa to Tel Aviv, Part 3: Demonizing Asylum Seekers

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In my prior two posts (here and here) I described the plight of African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv and how the Israeli government is not fulfilling its legal and ethical responsibility to protect their human rights. I explained how it’s not abiding by the stipulations in the 1951 United Nations Convention dealing with refugees that the first Israeli government helped develop. Instead, the current government has instituted draconian policies denying the vast majority of refugees the right to file for asylum while restricting their right to work and withholding material support. This is creating a humanitarian crisis on the streets of Tel Aviv. Hunger and hopelessness are spreading, which will affect not just the refugees themselves but will create social problems for the broader Israeli society.

In this column I will describe how the government has justified these policies by demonizing the asylum seekers and convincing the public that they are a threat to the country.

The Implications of the Words We Use

Until a few years ago, the Africans were referred to as refugees or asylum seekers. Although the government did very little for them, they were not vilified. That has now changed. Government ministers and Knesset members have begun a campaign of redefinition to call them “infiltrators,” a term that for many decades was used to describe armed Arab terrorists crossing the border from neighboring countries.

To read the rest of this post, go to http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/from-africa-to-tel-aviv-part-three-demonizing-asylum-seekers/

From Africa to Tel Aviv, Part 2: Draconian Government Policies

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In my prior post I described the plight of African refugees in Levinsky Park in downtown Tel Aviv where many hundreds, ill clothed and hungry, face a record-breaking cold and rainy winter. Last week was no exception when I visited the park one night. It was chilly but thankfully it wasn’t raining.  That was about to change as a major storm was blowing in with high winds, temperatures dropping into the 40’s (Fahrenheit), and four days of hard, steady rain forecast. The refugees were standing in line for a meal of soup and bread, the only food for many of them all day. Most were wearing sweatshirts and light jackets, some with hoods. Some had thin blankets wrapped around their bodies and over their heads.

This situation will only get worse as more asylum seekers, fleeing war in Sudan and persecution in Eritrea, cross the Israeli border. For years now the Israeli government has ricocheted between periods of draconian policies targeting the refugees and periods of simply ignoring the problem.  Now the number of refugees has grown too large to ignore – an estimated 40,000+ asylum seekers – and the government is instituting the most oppressive refugee policies in its history.  The objective is to make life so unbearable that others won’t follow in their footsteps.

To read more about the government’s response to this crisis, see http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/from-africa-to-tel-aviv-part-two-draconian-government-policies .

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