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Hagai El-Ad: Let justice ring in Sheikh Jarrah

March 3, 2010 12 comments

Banner calling for March 6 2010 rally in Sheikh Jarrah

Let justice ring in Sheikh Jarrah

Recent events in Sheikh Jarrah are part of a wider process — the Hebronization of East Jerusalem. The only way to stop this destructive process is to protest on the streets.

[Hebrew version here.]

This Saturday night (March 6 2010) will witness one of the most important demonstrations in years, in the struggle for human rights and justice here. A struggle against injustice and dispossession, against the Hebronization of East Jerusalem, and against the anti-democratic processes undermining Israeli society. In this struggle, Sheikh Jarrah has already become a symbol. But as in any struggle for justice and equality, that has never been the goal. The goal is justice and equality, human rights and a future that embraces all human beings without distinction. Saturday night’s rally organizers hope to attract thousands and to finally make justice ring in Sheikh Jarrah. If successful, it may gradually become possible — to move beyond symbolism to the true purpose of the already months’ long Sheikh Jarrah struggle: justice.

The asymmetric legal situation in Israel, through the Absentee Property Law, makes it possible for Jews to return to property that was owned by Jews before 1948 — while Palestinian property return is completely impossible. This is both unjust and unwise. In Sheikh Jarrah, this has resulted in Palestinian refugees, originally housed in the neighborhood by the Jordanian government after 1948, becoming refugees a second time. Of course, unlike the settlers forcing the Palestinians out of their homes, the Palestinians cannot return to the homes they owned before 1948 — not in Jaffa, nor in West Jerusalem or anywhere else.

So far, four families have lost their homes: Al-Rawi, Hanoon, and the two Al-Kurd families. Many more families face a similar fate if the plans of the Simeon the Just Company materialize, to destroy their homes and instead build 200 housing units for Jewish settlers.

By itself, what is described above is already more than sufficient to require us to demonstrate against. But the injustice does not stop with that: what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah is part of a larger process — the Hebronization of East Jerusalem. In the raging struggle over Jerusalem’s future, facts are already being determined on the ground, and the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are forced to pay the price upfront, their human rights violated in a great variety of ways. Inadequate to non-existent infrastructure, shortage in classrooms, social, health and mail services, revocation of residency status, lack of planning programs that would have allowed for legal construction and the constant fear of house demolitions – all these are added to the destructive processes sadly familiar to us from another city: Hebron.

As if watching the replay of a movie whose ending we have already seen, here in front of our eyes the Hebron processes are taking place once again, this time in Jerusalem: the entry of settlers to the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood, the provocations and violence, the one-sided actions of the security forces – always serving the interests of the Jewish settlers over the rights of the Palestinian residents. And then, what follows: restrictions of movement, segregation, life becoming a nightmare, and all this in the name of “security considerations”. Shuhada Street in Hebron is already closed for Palestinians for years — a street that was part of the bustling heart of one of the largest Palestinian cities, and has become a ghost road in the service of extremist settlers, the human rights of local Palestinians thrown to the roadside.

A similar process to what has already happened in Hebron is now happening in Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah now has police checkpoints at the entrance to the neighborhood. During certain hours on Friday the entrance to the neighborhood is generally blocked, but is open to Jewish worshipers. In contrast, Jews wishing to enter Sheikh Jarrah to express solidarity with the Palestinian families are prevented from entering the neighborhood. Violence against Palestinians ends with arrests — of Palestinians. The mechanism of dispossession and the construction of security excuses are already at work. And all this is happening right here, in Jerusalem.

In tandem, the Jerusalem Police tried to break the Israeli activists who wanted to express solidarity with the Palestinian families and protest against the injustice done to them. Only after nearly a hundred false arrests and a series of hearings at the Jerusalem Magistrate Court, did the police finally allow for the protest vigils to take place. For many weeks, each Friday, rain or cold, arrests or no arrests, hundreds of Israelis gather to protest in Sheikh Jarrah. Now, the Police is trying to keep Saturday’s planned demonstration as far as possible from the neighborhood, perhaps fearing the thought that the Palestinians will be able to hear the voices of those who consider them human beings, not objects for removal. High Court justices will hear an urgent petition on this matter Thursday morning; hopefully they will not forget the Court’s ruling in a similar context almost twenty years ago: “The location’s effectiveness is the lifeblood of a people’s assembly.”

Whether the police will succeed in distancing the demonstration or the Court will intervene in defense of freedom of speech is yet to be seen. Either way, what is at stake is the process that has not begun in Sheikh Jarrah nor will be stopped there, unless we begin to change course. It is the process of dispossession and the constant injustices against the Palestinian residents – while canonizing acts of violence. Israelis demonstrating in Sheikh Jarrah are no longer regularly arrested, but that is not the heart of the matter. The question that should concern all of us — and mobilize all of us — to demonstrate in Sheikh Jarrah this Saturday night is this: How to stop injustice and how in its stead promise a shared future, common to all people, based on foundations of human rights and equality. It is this voice that will ring this Saturday night from Sheikh Jarrah — a strong voice that we must ring for Israelis and Palestinians, a resonant voice that we must ring for the world to hear, a personal voice that we must ring for ourselves. And this can only happen in one way: for each and every one of us to come this Saturday night at 7pm to Sheikh Jarrah. Together, let us bring justice to ring in Sheikh Jarrah.


Israeli McCarthyism, circa 2010

February 4, 2010 10 comments

Hagai El-Ad is the Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). He blogs at the Huffington Post, where he recently posted an incisive article on Sheikh Jarrah.

Other recent posts on the latest wave of suppression of dissent in Israel| Essays Hadas Ziv; Hagai El-Ad; Yariv Mohar; Aeyal GrossDorit Abramovitch | News and analysis IDF joins assault on Israeli human rights community; Israeli media goes after New Israel Fund: “Responsible for Goldstone Report”; Hagee and CUFI fund anti-NIF campaign organizer; Two senior Maariv reporters attack the anti-NIF campaign sponsored by their newspaper; Following the Im Tirzu campaign: First Knesset steps against NIF |

Israeli McCarthyism, circa 2010

Ad from the anti-NIF campaign

Ad on page 3 of the January 31 edition of the Jerusalem Post.

The deliberations in the Knesset yesterday (February 3 2010) breathed new life into Joseph McCarthy’s legacy. After a week of incitement against the New Israel Fund (NIF) and its human rights grantees, the nonsense reached parliament. And as if carefully reading the instructions for would-be new McCarthys (“McCarthysm is the politically motivated practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence”), here’s how Israel’s parliament deliberated with the upmost seriousness the “Data transfer for the Goldstone Report by the NIF and lefty organizations”. The discussion did not only demonstrate utter disregard to facts, it actually defied common sense. Here’s an eclectic tasting-menu from yet another day in the ongoing project of dismantling Israel’s democracy.

MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi – New National Religious Party) begun with a short introduction to the concept of treason: “My friends the members of the Knesset. Treason was defined as a crime so to prevent soldiers and civilians from providing ammunition to the enemy to destroy Israel. That’s treason… The Goldstone Report, I think, is the harshest report issued by the UN against Israel, and Israel, in my opinion, wall to wall, is trying to undermine the report, refute the lies, the libel presented there. And we realize that we are fighting against a report that threatens us as much as war. Is nothing less than war. It gives legitimacy to fuel Israel’s worst enemies to fight us. And if there’s a premium mitzvah, it’s the commandment to undermine and erase the Goldstone Report. But what do we discover? That within us, among citizens of our country, from [Israeli] organizations, they feed, provide, give information, help falsification of facts, a huge amount, an amazing percentage, to support the Goldstone Report. So you ask me – does it constitute treason according to criminal law? Probably not. You ask me if it constitutes moral treason? Yes and yes.”

MK Danny Danon (Likud) presented the concept of truth: “The question is very simple and we will know the answer within a few months. If these organizations did not give false information to the Goldstone Report – then all the fuss is for nothing. I’d be wasting precious time of the Israeli Knesset. But if they indeed passed false information to Israel’s enemies – if they fed them false data – we need to say: enough.”

This suggests the following philosophical question: what is a worse crime – feeding one’s enemies with false data, or with real one? Or, putting the sarcasm aside for a moment: how is MK Danon going to find out if the questions raised with regard to the IDF’s conduct during Cast Lead are true or false, if there won’t be any credible investigation into Cast Lead?

MK Chaim Amsellem (Shas) seemed terrified, while continuing to demonize: “Jewish and Israeli people, with a clear agenda that is very specific, their voice sounds constantly, on all channels… they get a stage everywhere, are professors at universities, serve in public bodies; each report they publish and every fragment of a press release that they issue receives disproportional headlines and becomes the talk of the day – without almost having anything to really discuss.” Terrifying indeed! Perhaps these dangerous individuals should somehow be silenced? But it gets even more terrifying. Something truly sinister is lurking in the dark, but the courageous defenders of Israel will soon expose it. Read on.

Senator Joseph McCarthy

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) seemed reassuring with his kind words, that there’s no suspicion of anti-Semitism involved: “I do not mean, in any case, at least in my eyes, to go to each and every donor to the NIF and say: you are actually a partner to anti-Semitism and to deliberately harming Israel”. Thank you minister! But – then again – one can never be too careful, right? It might be anti-Semitism after all: “We need to make sure that there’s no campaign of concealment, that under the guise of social programming for human rights they are actually acting in an anti-Semitic campaign to deny the right to self-determination of the Jewish people.”

So: is it anti-Semitism or not? Erdan helps us solve the dilemma: “Those organizations, companies and friends, are part of the global campaign of radical, extremist Islam, in its fight against the free West…” One has to wonder – is Erdan the new local prophet of neoconservatism?

MK Nissim Zeev (Shas) demonstrated copywriting skills when renaming NIF the “New Ishmael Fund”. MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) demonstrated talent in his rebuttal of this never ending nonsense: “You can perform a nation-wide rectoscopy to everyone you wish.”

MK Arie Eldad (Ihud Leumi), a physician who opted not to discuss proctology in his remarks, wrapped things up by bringing us back to our key original theme, treason: “I want to explain to you why we need to submit this topic to the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee — since this is a health issue. There’s the issue of noise. The hierarchy of noises I know begins with a birdsong, chamber orchestra, rock band, to the sound of a Merkava tank. The next level of noise is that produced in these Knesset chambers when catching the Arabs and the Israeli left performing treason.”

MK Eldad seemed to be rejoicing in the sound of catching those lefty, Arab traitors. I was hearing noises too – but found no reason for joy. Catching traitors? I don’t think so. The sounds I was hearing were those of Senator Joseph McCarthy grinning at us from the past, rising from his grave. The noises of the undoing of a democracy.

ACRI’s Hagai El-Ad on the delegitimization of HR groups in Israel and the essence of democratic life

February 1, 2010 17 comments

Hagai El-Ad is the Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). He blogs at the Huffington Post, where he recently posted an incisive article on Sheikh Jarrah.

A Hebrew version of this article appeared on NRG, Maariv website, this afternoon (February 1 2010.) For background, see Noam Sheizaf’s wrap, Hadas Ziv’s critique and an exposé of the funding of the NGO behind the anti-NIF by Pastor Hagee and CUFI.

On the delegitimization of human rights groups in Israel and the essence of democratic life

The ongoing attack on Israel’s human rights organizations is a misunderstanding of the importance of government oversight – and an even more lethal offence to Israel’s image as a democracy

The scandalous report by Ben Caspit in Friday’s Maariv (“Our contribution to the materials out of which the Goldstone Report was made,” January 29, 2010), set a new low in the wave of mudslinging against the human rights and civil society organization in Israel. Many of us saw Caspit’s article, read it and were shocked – by the inflammatory tone, the McCarthyistic style, the impudence and the salacious “charges” based on the “investigation” by the organization, Im Tirtzu. And if that were not enough, they added to that an ugly and shameless personal attack against Prof. Naomi Chazan, President of the New Israel Fund.

This article is too brief to list Chazan’s record in defending human rights, promoting social justice, civic and gender equality, freedom of religion and democracy in Israel. With her leadership Chazan has contributed tremendously toward the creation of a better and more just Israeli society, of which we are all a part. No mudslinging, as ugly as it may be, can take the least bit away from her brave, determined and moral record.

The cliché about patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel is unfortunately appropriate for the present assault against the New Israel Fund. Unfortunately, the present slander is not the first – and will probably not be the last. Campaigns of delegitimization against human rights organizations in Israel and against the Arab public have become a painful part of daily life in Israel. Instead of dealing honestly with the tough challenges facing Israeli society, there are many who choose to attack those who dare identify those challenges.

If extreme organizations such as Im Tirtzu, NGO Monitor, Yisrael Beiteinu and their partners succeed, the ones who pay the price will not “only” be the civil society organizations in Israel or human rights activists. The price will be paid by our democracy and its citizens. The harm caused to the future of Israel and those who live in it will be intolerable. What is on the balance is not a matter of image nor is it a passing trend; gradually, the essence of democratic life in Israel is evaporated.

Months of government indecision since Cast Lead

The current assault focuses on the contribution of Israeli human rights organizations, who receive grants from NIF, to the Goldstone report. This is a particularly grim example of the way those who refuse to deal with an uncomfortable reality instead attack the human rights organizations. Had the government listened in the first place to the reasoned arguments of the human rights organizations in Israel right after Cast Lead, as to the need to conduct a credible investigation in Israel, the report by Judge Goldstone’s committee may not have ever come to be.

Im Tirtzu‘s campaign refers extensively to the damage caused by the Goldstone Report to Israel’s public image. This is an embarrassing mistake in the reading of reality: The fundamental damage (including to Israel’s image) was entirely the result of the policy decisions made willingly by the government of Israel, from its management of the war to its refusal to investigate its own actions.  Presently, after months of confusion, it appears that the state may decide to conduct an investigation after all. Even the outgoing Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, openly and unequivocally now supports an investigation. Does Im Tirtzu plan to slander and vilify him as well?

Anyone truly concerned about Israel’s fate would have long ago joined the demand by the human rights organizations in Israel with regard to Cast Lead. Instead, dual damage is caused: both by the ongoing pressure to prevent the necessary investigation that Israel must adhere to – and by defaming NIF for its tremendous contribution to strengthening Israeli democracy. Read more…