Roundup of Recent News

Leave a comment

Here are a few under-the-radar items from the past week that are worth looking at.

1 – This was a busy week for demolitions. Here are two examples that include videos of the events.

The first occurred in the South Hebron Hills in the same general area as Susya which I wrote about in the second half of a February 6th post. See http://rhr.org.il/eng/index.php/2012/02/watch-idf-demolishes-in-the-palestininan-villages-of-saadet-thalah-and-ar-rakeez-video-south-hebron-hills/

The second occurred last week in the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem (see my posts of January 2nd and January 10th ). The government just demolished a community center built by the local residents to make room for a parking lot for the City of David tourist site run by Elad, the settler NGO.  See the videos at the bottom of this link: http://settlementwatcheastjerusalem.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/silwandemoition/

2 – A major event is happening in the Palestinian community but it is garnering little attention elsewhere. Khader Adnan is near death from a hunger strike he began after being arrested and placed in administrative detention. This is a practice that is particularly reviled in the Palestinian community and Adnan has become a hero for risking his life to protest it. There have already been demonstrations to show support for him – and it is anyone’s guess what this might lead to if and when Adnan dies.

Adnan is a member of Islamic Jihad, not a group that most readers of this blog would sympathize with. This obviously adds an element of complexity to this story. However, he has focused attention on an aspect of the occupation that has caused outrage and suffering among Palestinians for a long time. For details of this case from a perspective shared by Palestinians and those concerned about human rights, see http://972mag.com/protesting-arrest-for-months-without-charges-khader-adnan-is-dying/35672/

I intend to cover the topic of arrests and the judicial system on the West Bank in future posts because of the huge impact they have had on Palestinian society.

3 – Finally, this is an interesting perspective on the politics in the American Jewish community from a left-wing Israeli who recently visited the United States. See http://972mag.com/dear-liberal-american-jews-please-dont-betray-israel/35396/

Advertisements

Palestinian-Settler Interactions in East Jerusalem, Part 2

5 Comments

While I was on a tour this past December in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem with Rabbis for Human Rights we stopped in to visit with Ahmad Qarae’en, a respected neighborhood leader. We met in a small community and youth center located on the main street of Wadi Hilweh, a neighborhood abutting the Old City walls. The center was in an old house fronted by a jerry-built structure that felt like it was part tent and part exposed walls – an addition that was clearly built by local residents. We sat on hard benches and chairs in front of Ahmad as he told us what it was like to live in Silwan.

Ahmed was using crutches and by the way he efficiently moved around with them it was obvious he did not have a temporary injury. I assumed he had some kind of a disease from childhood or a long-term genetic condition. That was until he recounted the story of how he had been shot in both legs outside a Jewish settler compound while trying to protect his son from being beaten by a settler. You’ll be able to read his story below.

This is the second in a series of posts that will explore the interaction between the Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian residents whom they want to displace. Most of the material that follows comes from a report produced in 2010 by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). You can access the full 59 page report, titled “Unsafe Space,” at www.acri.org.il/pdf/unsafe-space-en.pdf . Please keep in mind that I have chosen just a sampling of testimonies to illustrate some points below. These are representative of what thousands of Palestinians experience as part of their daily lives.

Armed Security Force

The cost for security to protect the Jewish settlers in the Arab neighborhoods close to the Old City of Jerusalem ballooned in 2011 to 81 million NIS (New Israel Shekels), or over $20 million. The Israeli Ministry of Housing pays for these private security services. A recent article in Haaretz reported that part of this money to protect settlers was diverted from social needs such as public housing in Israel. Keep in mind this is the government paying for security services for private residences, just one of the myriad ways that the government supports the settler NGOs who work to evict Palestinians from their homes.

As the ACRI report states, the private security guards “…employ verbal and physical violence, and even make use of loaded weapons. Moreover, according to residents the security guards are “quick on the trigger”, and perceive themselves as holding the ultimate power to serve as arbiters of daily life in the neighborhood.

Unlike police officers, whose ability to use force is limited by the strict guidelines established by law and police procedure, private security guards are not subject to these laws nor are they obligated by the basic rules that guide the police in carrying out their duties. Security guards do not undergo the same training as police officers, nor are they under the supervision of a publicly administered body. The result is that the security guards employed in East Jerusalem are not reined in by any clear working definitions, a situation which invites the abuse of power.”

Just one example of this was the killing of an unarmed father of 5 children by a security guard in 2010. See http://settlementwatcheastjerusalem.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/the-guards-just-shoot/.

The guard claimed it was self-defense but here is Israeli TV coverage of the same incident which provided video evidence that challenged the security guard’s story. But, as usual, the head of the Jerusalem police accepted the guard’s account. No charges have ever been filed for this killing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hb8pq9qrfRQ.

There are multiple such examples of these private guards using violence and live ammunition against Palestinian residents. They also affect the more mundane aspects of daily life as explained by this 14-year old boy in Silwan who described what it is like to play in a neighborhood with no playgrounds or parks and under the watchful eye of hostile guards: “Every time we play ball and the ball lands near the guards, they stop us from playing. They take the ball and throw it to the bottom of the wadi [valley], and so we’ve lost the ball and can’t get it back. The problem is that we, the children of Silwan, have nowhere else to play. I come home from school, eat lunch and prepare homework, and then I go to play in front of our house with the neighborhood kids, but the settlers don’t like that and neither do their security guards. They always accuse the little kids in the neighborhood of throwing stones at the settlers’ houses, but that’s not true. They don’t want to see us play. The police always believe their claims.”

Settler Violence:

It is the day-in and day-out threat of violence by the settlers that wears down the Palestinian residents. An example is this woman’s account of living next to a settler house. “The settlers’ house doesn’t have a permanent family living in it. There are only men there who are always accompanied by security guards, and they are all armed. In the evenings when they arrive at the apartment, there is a lot of noise, shouting, singing and prayer, and this generally lasts about an hour. I knock on their door so they’ll understand that they are making a lot of noise, then they come out, yelling at me and pushing or hitting me, and it develops into a confrontation…. The situation is even worse on the weekends, on Friday and Saturday, when there is much noise. They always knock on our door to deliberately taunt us, they sing at full volume, they shout. From the moment the Jewish Sabbath begins until it ends, it is impossible neither to sleep nor sit and relax.

Last week, Padi, my 12-year old boy, was walking in the corridor [between her house and the settler house] when at the same moment a settler passed by. He pinned my son’s body against the wall slammed his head into the wall — for no good reason, just to intimidate and harass our kids. One day I arrived at home and saw that my granddaughter was crying. I asked her what had happened and she told me that a settler from across the hall had passed her as she was sitting on the stairs and hit her for no reason.

We had another incident, one time when the children and I were sitting in the stairwell. They came, passed over us and began beating my little boy to a pulp. I couldn’t stand by, I got up to protect my child, and five of them jumped me and hit me on the head.”

Impunity from Prosecution:

Settlers act with impunity against Palestinian residents with no fear of police action. The ACRI report cited one woman who filed 20 complaints against violent settlers and not once was any action taken by the police. Other Palestinians report that the police refuse to accept their complaint forms alleging settler attacks or, even worse, when they try to file complaints they are themselves arrested as the instigators of the violence. A typical example follows.

During a neighborhood party of Palestinian residents, a local woman reported “10-12 settlers came out of the al-Kord family house in the direction of the second house under their control. One of the settlers was holding a video camera and he filmed me and all the girls [with me] in a very provocative manner: he pointed his camera at me and approached to within a foot. I shouted at him and asked him why he was filming me? He gave no reply and continued to shoot until finally I moved his camera aside. In response, he punched me in the face. As a natural reaction I defended myself, pushing him backwards, but he wouldn’t stop hitting me all over my body.” Police, who were nearby and witnessed the event, did nothing to stop the beating. This woman was so badly beaten she was taken to the hospital by an ambulance. When she went to the police station afterwards to file a complaint, she was arrested for starting the fight. Ultimately she was given a three-month restraining order from her neighborhood and a 700 shekel fine.

This woman continued, “What really hurts, deep in my heart, is that it’s always the Arab residents who are blamed in every situation. I went to file a complaint with a broken nose and a body full of cuts and scratches, and the police arrested me! With the settlers, it’s the opposite: they harass us and beat us, and nothing is done to them, which only leads them to abuse us more”

An even more telling story was related by a mother in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood whose 17 year-old son was attacked by a settler. Her son was arrested when he filed a complaint at the police station. His mother gave this account. (Bold highlight is my emphasis.) “All my photographs, the three witnesses I brought, and all the evidence in favor of my son amounted to nothing. On the contrary, the investigator ignored it all and extended the remand of my son for another 24 hours. The investigator also said that he regretted that nothing could be done for my son and that he believed our story, but those were his instructions from above. When we asked about what happened to the settler who created this mess, he said that the problems in our neighborhood are endless and that he has no cause to arrest him.”

Repression of Non-violent Palestinian Leadership:

Unfortunately, Palestinians often resort to stone throwing out of a sense of helplessness and rage. They feel totally trapped in a system of violence and oppression that is rigged against them. At least part of the cause for this is that other, non-violent means of protests are met with disproportionate violence from the police or army: tear gas, stun grenades, and bullets. Community organizers who espouse non-violent protest are persecuted and banned, leaving no other outlet for the anger. In 2011 the police made a concerted effort to destroy the community organizations that oppose the settler activities in East Jerusalem by targeting the leaders. See http://settlementwatcheastjerusalem.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/police-silwan/.

Next to Last Words:

The ACRI report sums up the settler violence and repressive government policies by pointing out that eventually all of society suffers.

“Selective and discriminatory enforcement of the law by the police, which turns the Palestinian residents into readily-available victims and permanent suspects; the arrest of minors in the middle of the night; the free reign granted to security guards, who use force broadly without even minimal supervision; the unequivocal and unacceptable preferential treatment shown towards Jewish needs in the neighborhood when it comes to planning, building and developing, to the point of taking control of precious land resources; the sweeping violations of freedom of movement, and more – in all these, the authorities systematically favor the needs and interests of the Jewish settlers over the basic needs of the Palestinian residents, while making daily life in these neighborhoods intolerable.

The results…are catastrophic in all that pertains to the preservation of human rights, and it undermines the basis for the existence of a well-ordered society and government.”

Final Words: The shooting of Ahmad Qarae’en in Silwan:

I began this post by describing a tour sponsored by Rabbis for Human Rights where we met with Ahmad Qarae’en, the community leader who was shot and crippled. As a fitting end for this post I have included below his account because it ties together so many of the threads that were discussed above.

“My injury occurred on Friday, September 11, 2009. At 5:45 p.m. I returned from prayers [on the Harm al-Sharif/Temple Mount] and I was very tired from the fast, as it was the middle of the month of Ramadan. I was lying on the sofa, when suddenly I heard shouts. I put on shoes and went down the street to see what had happened. A neighbor’s son told me that a settler had hit another neighbor’s children. The boy pointed him out to me, and said it was over now and that everything was OK. I turned to go home, and suddenly I heard the screams of my little boy, and when I turned back I saw my oldest son coming to protect him from the settler. It was then that the settler pointed his rifle at the chest of my eldest son.

I came straight at the settler and shouted “Why are you beating up kids?” He raised his M-16 and said: “I’ll shoot you, too,” and he started walking backwards. I kept asking him: “Why are you hitting them?” When he reached the sidewalk, he tripped and fell to the ground. His friend who was with him told him: “Get up and shoot him,” and he got up and shot my right leg in the thigh. I fell and started shouting ‘Ambulance, ambulance!’ Suddenly I heard another shot and then I saw a little 13-year old boy named Amir Farouk screaming ‘My leg, my leg!’ The settler had shot him too. He then returned to me as I was lying in the street and my oldest son Wadi’e was hovering over me, crying. He shot me again, this time in my left knee.

One of the guys called an ambulance, but since I was bleeding a lot and the ambulance hadn’t arrived, the guys loaded me into one of their cars to drive me to the hospital. We had not yet left the neighborhood, when a border policeman stopped us near the Muslim cemetery. They removed the driver and handcuffed him and told him he was under arrest. All attempts to explain to him what had happened were to no avail. After a few long minutes, a border policeman opened the door of the vehicle and when he saw me bleeding, he did not react at all. He shut the door and stood next to us while talking with his superiors. After three minutes, a regular police unit arrived and released us. We had barely traveled another 10 meters when the border police stopped us again for another 3-4 minutes. This time, drivers who witnessed our first arrest and were stuck in traffic began shouting at the police that we were wounded, until they were convinced to let us pass.

They took me to the hospital on Mount Scopus, where I received about 7 units of blood. Before I even entered the emergency room, a police investigator arrived and asked the medical staff to stop my treatment so that he could question me. He collected my testimony, while the medical staff treated the second child who was wounded along with me. The hospital closed the entrance to the emergency room and didn’t allow anyone to enter and visit me other than my wife. Police were stationed at the entrance to the hospital.

After two days I underwent surgery, and as I came out of the operating room, still under the influence of anesthesia, two police officers arrived and demanded to question me. My two brothers who were in the room with me tried to explain that I had just come out of surgery and was still in intensive care, but they threatened to arrest my brothers if they didn’t leave the room. The officers accused me that I jumped the soldier and tried to wrestle away his weapon. Until that point, I didn’t know he was a soldier, I thought he was a settler, because he was in civilian clothes and looked just like the rest of the settlers in our neighborhood, and those who come to visit them. The investigators took DNA evidence from me and stated that they also wanted to question my two children.

The summons for the questioning of my two children arrived at my hospital ward after about a week. On the fourth day after the shooting, they questioned my youngest boy for about 3 hours. His mother, who was present at the questioning, told me that the questions seemed designed to make the child feel that it was his fault for what happened to his father, that if he hadn’t gone out to play in the street, then his father wouldn’t have fought with the settler and wouldn’t have been shot. They asked him repeatedly why I went out into the street, what happened to your father, and so on. During the investigation of my oldest son, they shouted at him in Hebrew all the time and he did not understand a thing. Two investigators questioned him at the same time, while another typed into the computer.

I was hospitalized for 20 days. A month later I received a call from the Russian Compound from “Room 4” (the Investigations Unit which deals with cases from East Jerusalem.) They told me to come down for further questioning. I told them that I can’t walk, but if they wanted they could come to my house and question me there. My attorney, Michael Sfard, wrote them a letter that I cannot come in for questioning, and since then they never called me again. Recently I learned that the prosecutor closed the case against the man who shot me. He was arrested for a total of 24 hours and then he went home as if nothing happened.”

A Tale of Two Cities

Leave a comment

“The day Jerusalem was liberated was the day that the city heaved a sigh of relief and began to spread its wings, for the benefit of its Arab and Jewish residents alike….We will never again allow Jerusalem to become a separated, bleak and divided city.“ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

When Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke those words at the Jerusalem Day ceremony in 2010, he was already too late. Unbeknownst to his audience, Jerusalem had already become bleak and divided.

This is a tale of two cities, one rich with parks, well cared for neighborhoods and tourist attractions; the other impoverished and deprived of even basic services. And as for a united Jerusalem spreading its wings for the good of Jews and Arabs alike, well, you decide below on the efficacy of that claim.

As background, as I covered in a post on January 16, A Virtual Tour of East Jerusalem (I urge you to “take the tour” if you haven’t done so already), Israel annexed in 1967 all of what had been East Jerusalem plus 28 nearby villages and incorporated them into the municipality of Jerusalem.

Fast Forward to 2012:

Let’s see how the Palestinian population has fared 45 years later when compared to Jewish West Jerusalem.

Population: There are 303,000 Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem, one-third of the population, out of a total of 835,000 people in the Jerusalem municipality (2009 data).

Poverty: 65% of Palestinian families live under the poverty line as compared to 31% of Jewish families. (This is 2008 data. Economic conditions in East Jerusalem have gotten much worse since then so these figures have deteriorated further.)

Children:  74% of Palestinian children live under the poverty line compared to 45% of Jewish children. (Also 2008 data)

Schools: Average class size is 32 students in East Jerusalem versus 24 students in West Jerusalem. School buildings are neglected, often run down. The Jerusalem municipality’s own statistics listed 50% of East Jerusalem’s classrooms to be sub-standard in 2009 (704 out of 1,360) including 221 that were deemed unfit.

In addition, due to an estimated shortage of 1,000 classrooms in the municipal schools there, an estimated 11,000 Palestinian children (12% of school age children) did not attend school for the 2009-2010 school year due to lack of space. Tens of thousands of others were forced to attend private schools, which posed a severe financial burden on the mostly impoverished population. In 2008, the per-student budget allocation for elementary school children in Jewish West Jerusalem was 400% higher that in East Jerusalem: 2,372 NIS (New Israel Shekels) per Jewish student versus 577 NIS per Palestinian student.

Given all of this, it is not surprising that there is a 50% drop out rate for Palestinian children compared to 7.4% in the Jewish sector.

Several recent court rulings have ordered the Jerusalem municipality to build more classrooms and to increase the East Jerusalem school budget. How these rulings will be implemented is a question that will unfold over time.

Pre-school: There are roughly 15,000 three and four year olds in East Jerusalem. Despite the importance of early education on child development, 90% of them are not enrolled in a pre-school educational program. This is not for a lack of interest. There are only 2 municipal pre-schools in East Jerusalem compared to 56 in West Jerusalem.

Land: One-third of the land in East Jerusalem has been expropriated by the Israeli government from Arab owners since 1967.

Housing: As of 5 years ago, over 50,000 housing units for Jewish residents has been built on this expropriated land. That number is larger today. No housing has been built for Palestinian residents.

Housing density for existing homes in East Jerusalem is almost double what it is for Jewish residents: on average, 1.9 people per room versus 1 person per room. It is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits to construct new houses or to repair existing ones due to discriminatory policies. The result is massive illegal construction without safety inspections and the constant threat of demolition by the government.

View of East Jerusalem neighborhood

Municipal Services: There are minimal municipal services provided to East Jerusalem residents. A simple walk through neighborhoods will reveal decrepit roads and sidewalks, and few public parks or playgrounds. Hundreds of streets are not provided with trash collection services that results in trash piling up everywhere.

Street scene in East Jerusalem

Water connections: 160,000 Palestinian residents, over half the population, have no legal connection to the water network. Either they jury-rig connections to the water mains or they use stored water in containers.

Sewage: Estimates state that East Jerusalem is in need of 50 kilometers of new main sewage lines. Entire neighborhoods still use cesspools, not ideal for densely packed urban neighborhoods, and existing sewage facilities are antiquated and poorly maintained. It is not unusual for sewers to overflow and for sewage water to run above ground close to homes.

NOTE: These last few items pose a risk to public health from infectious disease but they continue to be ignored by municipal authorities.

Postal service: 10 post offices serve Palestinian areas compared to 42 in West Jerusalem. Mail delivery is only partial and sporadic making commerce more difficult.

In addition, Palestinian residents face the ongoing menace of home demolitions and eviction, especially in the neighborhoods directly abutting the Old City where the government works closely with several ideological NGOs to evict Palestinians and replace them with Jewish settlers (For details, see my posts of January 2 and January 10).

Home in East Jerusalem shortly after being demolished. Note pile of rubble in the background.

The construction of the Separation Wall, as noted in previous posts, has disrupted the flow of commerce by severing neighborhood from neighborhood and all of East Jerusalem from the nearby commercial centers of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and the rest of the West Bank. This has caused massive economic dislocation and impoverishment.

Separation wall in Jerusalem. Note how it splits this neighborhood in two, severing all connections.

The data above is just a sampling of the comparisons between Palestinian East Jerusalem and Jewish West Jerusalem. For those interested in more details, you can read a full report that was produced by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an organization that fights for the rights of all Israelis. (For more details, see http://www.scribd.com/doc/31806771/Report-May10-ACRI-Human-Rights-in-East-Jerusalem-Facts-and-Figures Scroll down to page 38 for English). A preface to the report sums it up as follows:

“Israel’s policy for the past four decades has taken concrete form as discrimination in planning and construction, expropriation of land, and minimal investment in physical infrastructure and government and municipal services. As a result, East Jerusalem residents suffer severe distress, and their conditions are worsening.”

“Life in East Jerusalem can be described as a continuing cycle of neglect, discrimination, poverty, and shortages. These, compounded by construction of the Separation Barrier cutting Jerusalem off from the West Bank, have led to the social and economic collapse of this part of the city. A large majority of East Jerusalem residents do not receive, and cannot afford to buy, the most basic services.

It seems to me that the facts on the ground in East Jerusalem belie the claim that Jerusalem is indivisible. East and West Jerusalem are like two separate worlds, one a modern urban environment, a magnet for visitors, and the other a neglected and impoverished backwater. The demand for a unified city which has been made into a roadblock for peace, the city that tourists are shown with reverence, is a Potemkin Village hiding the truth.

Update on recent Bedouin Home Demolitions:

Two days ago I linked to a late breaking story about a middle of the night demolition of several Bedouin homes. Unfortunately, more details have emerged that make the situation more distressing. In all, six houses were destroyed making many more families homeless than was originally reported. See this update to read what the experience was actually like: http://972mag.com/idf-commits-price-tag-attack-against-activists-resisting-home-demolitions/33866/

Salim Shawamreh's house before it was demolished. See the link above for the view afterwards.

Profoundly disconcerting in the above link was when one of the Israeli soldiers yelled at Rabbi Arik Aschermann, director of Rabbis For Human Rights in Israel who had rushed to the scene, to take off his skullcap because “he was a disgrace to Judaism.” This while the soldiers were escorting a bulldozer from house to house, demolishing them without any advance notice. In the dead of night, entire families – men, women, children and babies, bewildered and disoriented – were evicted into the cold winter rain with no shelter and just the clothes on their backs.

Tzedek tzedek tirdof. (Justice, justice shall you pursue.) Deuteronomy 16:20

Haredim and the future of Israel

Leave a comment

Recently, the newspapers in Israel have been filled with articles about the clash of the ultra-orthodox, called Haredim, with Israelis who are oriented to the modern world. This conflict has been going on for decades but recently it has attained a new intensity that is galvanizing larger segments of the population. It seems every day there are headlines of new incidents or Haredi protests.

Overview of the Current Clash:

The latest flare-up began in December when two women, one secular and one Haredi herself, refused to move to the back of gender segregated buses that were designated to serve the requirements of the Haredi community. The actions of these women garnered front-page attention that compared them to Rosa Parks in long-ago Montgomery, Alabama. But the issue really gained traction when an 8-year old girl from a religious but non-Haredi family was spat upon and derided by Haredi men in the city of Beit Shemesh for being too immodestly dressed. 10,000 people rallied to support her along with women’s rights after she described on TV how she was scared to walk to school through her neighborhood’s Haredi gauntlet.

But as an article in the New York Times stated, these incidents were just the latest in a long festering clash. “The list of controversies grows weekly: Organizers of a conference last week on women’s health and Jewish law barred women from speaking from the podium, leading at least eight speakers to cancel; ultra-Orthodox men spit on an 8-year-old girl whom they deemed immodestly dressed; the chief rabbi of the air force resigned his post because the army declined to excuse ultra-Orthodox soldiers from attending events where female singers perform; protesters depicted the Jerusalem police commander as Hitler on posters because he instructed public bus lines with mixed-sex seating to drive through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods; vandals blacked out women’s faces on Jerusalem billboards.” (see the full article for more background at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/world/middleeast/israel-faces-crisis-over-role-of-ultra-orthodox-in-society.html)

More recently the concept of Kol Isha, a Jewish law that prohibits hearing the voice of a woman singing, has caused controversy in the Israel Defense forces (IDF). IDF policy is that all soldiers, no matter what their religious orientation, must attend ceremonies even if women are singing. The chief rabbi of the Air Force resigned in protest and this week, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, an influential rabbi who directs a hesder yeshiva (a yeshiva that combines Torah study with army service) also said he would be resigning over this issue. He charged that the IDF is “bringing us close to a situation in which we will have to tell [male] soldiers, ‘You have to leave such events even if a firing squad is set up outside, which will fire on and kill you.'” (For some insight into the orthodox perspective on this, see http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?p=114857 . Note the comments at the bottom.)

Lest you think the conflict is only about gender issues, this week a 3rd grade boy in Beit Shemesh revealed that on two recent occasions he had been physically attacked or threatened by Haredim in his neighborhood, once for walking his dog which is considered “impure.” See http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/ultra-orthodox-teens-accost-u-s-immigrant-boy-in-beit-shemesh-1.407677

Some Background:

This controversy represents a clash of worldviews that might have ramifications beyond the particular issues that are causing the current friction. There is huge resentment towards the Haredi world from the general public, especially among those who identify as secular. Two-thirds of Haredi men do not work. Most study in yeshivas full-time supported by government subsidies. Few serve in the army. They have their own school systems where secular subjects are seldom taught (math, science, foreign languages or non-religious history). Thus they are not equipped to participate in a modern economy and have a distinctive worldview.

Government subsidies also provide allowances for each child, making it somewhat easier for them to practice the commandment of “be fruitful and multiply” resulting in very large families. Haredim are mostly very poor. They draw significant resources from the state without contributing their fair share economically. Although one of their main values is the intrinsic worth of Torah study, this is not meaningful for much of the Israeli public.

Because of the way that the political system works in Israel, minority parties like those that represent Haredi interests have inordinate influence in the coalition governments that are formed. Such is the case today as it has been in the past, no matter which major party was in power. However, the breaking point may be approaching, especially given the large social protest movement from last summer when thousands of Israelis took to the streets demanding a change in government and economic policies.

Demographics

Let’s leave the current controversies for a minute and take a look at this from a broader perspective.

The total population of Israel is 7.8 million. This includes 250,000 Palestinians in the annexed part of East Jerusalem, 42,000 residents of the Golan Heights (mainly Jewish and Druze) and the 325,000 Jews who live over the Green Line in the West bank. It does not include the Palestinians who live in the West Bank outside of Jerusalem and over 200,000 migrant workers in Israel.

Out of the total 7.8 million population,

  • 75%, or 5.5 million are Jewish
  • Almost 20% are Arab: 1,240,000 Muslim (16.8%) and 153,000 Christian (2.1%). This includes the 250,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
  • 1.7%  (122,000) are Druze, a non-Muslim group mostly located in northern Israel and the Golan Heights.
  • Roughly 4% are not classified.

Now, getting back to the Haredi/secular divide, let’s look at the religious composition of the Jewish population. A study done by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics in 2010 asked Jews over 18 years old to define themselves.

  • 8% of these adults said they were Haredi. However, they have a high birth rate with many families having 10 or more children. For example, despite being a minority of 32% of the population in Jerusalem, they account for 60% of the children attending elementary school. Thus their percentage of the total population including children is higher. It is estimated that their population will double in 16 years.
  • 12% stated they were “religious”: non-Haredi orthodox, known as national religious or religious Zionist.
  • 13% said they were “religious-traditionalists”: mostly adhering to Jewish Halacha (Jewish law and observance). Their level of observance probably varies widely.
  • 25% are “non-religious traditionalists”: only partly respecting Jewish Halacha. This probably includes regular Friday night Shabbat meals with family and some observance of holidays.
  • 43% defined themselves as “secular.”

Remember, these figures represent adults. Due to the higher birth rates of the religious, Haredi and non-Haredi, the total percentage including children of the religiously oriented is much higher as is their growth rate.

An article in the Jerusalem Post (http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=214979) cited a report released in 2011 that forecast that by 2030, only 18 years from now, the majority of Israel’s Jewish population will be religious – a reality that could lead to several different results, including an increase in poverty, the annexation of the West Bank settlements and Israel’s deterioration into an anti-democratic country.

The report, which was compiled by Prof. Arnon Soffer, who holds the Reuven Chaikin Chair in Geostrategy at the University of Haifa, also concluded that by 2030, the Haredi population will reach more than a million people, which will place an especially high economic burden on the secular population.

“As long as the Haredi percentage of the population increases, the economic gaps between the Haredi population and the remainder of the population will continue to grow, requiring a greater transfer of funds [from the secular population] to support them.”

The report goes on to state. “The public agenda, the public square and the cultural aspects of the country stand to all reflect the spirit of the Haredi and religious world…. Education will become Torah-based, courts will be operated according to Jewish religious law and much of the media will undergo a transformation in which a large amount of the content it broadcasts will disappear.”

The report concludes that, without changes in policy, this will lead to greater emigration of the secular population, further accelerating these demographic trends. There is an interesting article by Dr. Lawrence Davidson, professor of Middle East history at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, that plays out this scenario in greater detail at http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_63302.shtml?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+axisoflogic%2FAxisFeed+%28axisoflogic.com%29 .

Indeed this narrative is already being reflected on the West Bank with influential settler leader Benny Katzover’s recent call for getting rid of democracy. He stated, “The main role of Israeli democracy now is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its role, and it must disassemble and give way to Judaism. All leads toward recognition that there is no other way but to place Judaism at the center, above all else, and this is the answer to every situation.” (http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/dismantle-israeli-democracy-and-replace-it-with-jewish-law-says-settler-leader-1.406035)

But as even Professor Davidson points out, the future scenarios are still conjecture. We need to keep in mind that much could change in the coming decades. The less religious and secular segments of society are feeling embattled, both economically and culturally, and a backlash could easily occur that would change many of these dynamics. There was a fascinating Op-Ed in Haaretz recently that pointed out the coming election could surprise everyone. Almost 800,000 voters, mostly Arab and those on the left, chose not to vote in the last election but are very likely to do so in the next one. They represent 25% of those who last voted (3.3 million) and could change the political dynamic in Israel today – which, by changing government priorities and policies, could impact how the society is structured in the future. For this excellent piece, see http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/israel-s-arabs-and-seculars-will-return-to-the-polls-1.406379

Interestingly, Israel’s Arab citizens could play a key role in changing the political dynamic if they choose to participate in greater numbers and if the Jewish parties and their constituencies would be willing to form coalitions with them. The Arab community also has a very high birth rate – their percentage of the population has doubled since 1950 despite the massive immigration of Jews during much of that period. How fast this population grows and how it interacts with the Jewish majority is a wildcard in the mix.

Nothing is a given. In the meantime, the Jewish religious-secular conflict is playing out on the streets of Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. Depending on one’s perspective, one can be filled with despair or with hope.

5,000 feet up

1 Comment

Recently two articles were brought to my attention that offer a bird’s eye view of what has been happening in Israel.  Although coming from very different perspectives, I think you’ll find these of interest – see links below – because they address  trends and developments that will affect what Israel might be like in the future.

The first is an interview with Rabbi David Hartman, the founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Rabbi Hartman made aliyah 40 years ago from America because, as he says in the interview, ““That’s what I thought I would see in Israel–a living Judaism that was gentle, sensitive, moral, loving. From the moment that I moved here, I fought for it to be that way. That’s why I built the institute, as a place open to religious and secular, Jews and Arabs.” The interview is an anguished cry from a leading religious scholar about what has happened to Judaism and Israel; where did they lose their way religiously and morally?

In the past few days I have had several conversations that tried to understand how coveting the land seems to have become the central obsession of the Jewish state. How did stones and dirt become more important than how we treat other human beings? How did very religious Jews seem to become more concerned with the minutia of observance versus the ultimate spiritual purpose of that observance? Although I was unable to formulate adequate answers to these questions, Rabbi Hartman attempts to address these very issues in the interview. See http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4159477,00.html

The second article is an opinion piece in last week’s Haaretz newspaper written by Ari Shavit, a centrist columnist who in the past was generally sympathetic towards Netanyahu. He is very concerned about the concerted attacks on democratic principles and civil rights in Israel and how that might transform the country into something unrecognizable. As he writes in this column, “Time after time there have been assaults by the secular right and the religious right on the principles of liberalism and on liberal institutions, but there has never been an all-out, multi-pronged and multi-dimensional attack on the core values of the Jewish democratic state.” It is notable that someone like Shavit is publishing this type of piece.

I expect in future posts on this blog that I will provide details on specific issues such as attempts to limit freedom of the press or restrictions on funding for human rights organizations. But Shavit in this column presents a broader picture. See http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/israel-has-never-been-so-ugly-1.401501

Lest you think Israel is alone in this assault on democratic values, far-right and even fascist parties are becoming stronger in many European countries. Hungary is the canary in the coal mine where a veto-proof, two-thirds majority of right wing parties in the parliament has re-written the constitution to limit freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and gerrymandered election districts to ensure their continued power. This doesn’t make the Israeli situation any better but perhaps does provide some context.

Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: