Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Peter Beaumont

When the Devil in the details?

When the occupation forces are comfortable in the situation?

Israelis diverge on details of a Palestinian State

Would Israeli support for a Palestinian state (60%) be dramatically lower when they are presented with specific details rather than being asked to support the basic idea?
Right Wing think-tank jumped at the occasion with a biased poll to confirms the argument that Israelis who support theory of two-state solution recoil from concrete details.
 in Jerusalem in The Guardian, Monday 20 October
 Jerusalem
The Jordan Valley
The Jordan Valley, which Israel considers to be its eastern border. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

poll has found that 75% of Israeli Jews oppose the creation of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders if it means withdrawing Israeli troops from the Jordan Valley.

The survey, conducted by a right wing think tank headed by a political ally of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, makes for stark reading, contradicting previous polls showing up to 60% of Israelis in favour of a two-state solution.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is making a concerted diplomatic push for a UN security council resolution seeking an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories by November 2016.

Of the 60% of those polled who described themselves as right wing, opposition to a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines rose to almost 92%, while 72% of those who identified as left wing would support it.

That opposition rises further still if the issue of dividing Jerusalem is included, with 40% of left wingers opposing the division of Jerusalem.

The poll was commissioned by a think-tank run by a former policy advisor to Netanyahu and initially published in the free newspaper owned by the Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson, one of the Israeli prime minister’s biggest backers.

Left Wing commentators suggested the polling was likely to be an accurate reflection of Israeli public opinion.

“The poll published in Israel Hayom is obviously meant to serve Netanyahu’s agenda,” said Mairav Zonszeinwriting for the +972 website.

“And while it is dangerous to rely solely on a single poll to backup any claim, this specific poll – no matter how flawed or skewed – happens to be an accurate reflection of the Israeli government’s policies, much of its rhetoric, and the reality on the ground.”

Although historical polling has suggested solid Israeli support for a two-state solution, Zonszein argues that the latest poll more truly reflects both how Israelis vote for political parties – and those parties’ agendas – and how they talk about the peace process.

Even though many polls over the years have shown and still show that a majority of Jewish Israelis support a two-state solution based more or less along the 1967 border with land swaps, such sentiment is reflected less and less in the way Israelis vote and talk. This new poll seems to provide a much more honest assessment of the reality on the ground and the reality in the halls of government,” she said.

The latest poll reflects what appears to be an ever-diminishing appetite for a two-state solution on both sides. (Yes, right. And study done by a US think-tank?)

Two sets of polls earlier this year – one of Palestinians for the right-leaning US think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a Pew Research poll in the spring – both identified growing pessimism that a peace deal could be done.

Note: But the details are known if you are interested, though we are under the belief that all the details are secrets because that’s what Israel wants you to believe. The two-State status is a preliminary condition for any sustainable and serious peace negotiation in the Middle-East

 Seed bank to save Palestinian farming heritage in the Holy Land’s hills

 Vivien Sansour: “There is an old Palestinian idiom: “‘He who does not eat from his own adze cannot think with his own mind.’”

In the rocky hills of the Palestinian West Bank, farmers learned long ago how to adapt to extremes of climate that make spring the shortest season.

In a part of the world where agriculture was first practised, they found crops that could survive even if watered only by the occasional rain storm.

But a form of farming that informed both Palestinian culture and identity – seeping into the language, songs and sayings – has increasingly come under threat from a combination of factors, including manmade climate change, the incursion onto Palestinian land by Israeli settlement, and agricultural companies’ marketing of hybrid varieties to farmers.

Now, an initiative is being launched to save Palestine’s agricultural plant heritage, with the first seed bank dedicated to preserving traditional varieties used by farmers for generations – before they vanish for ever.

The Palestine Heirloom Seed Library – to be formally launched in June – is part of an effort both to educate Palestinians about traditional forms of agriculture in the Holy Land, which are in danger of being forgotten, and about the culture associated with them.

The seed library will preserve “heirloom” varieties particularly adapted to the West Bank.

Supported by the Qattan Foundation, the project is the brainchild of Vivien Sansour, who studied and worked abroad before returning to the West Bank city of Beit Jala.

She was inspired to launch the library after her experiences in Mexico and after working with farmers in the West Bank city of Jenin.

“I was away from Palestine for a long time,” said Sansour. “While I was away, what I remembered were the smells and tastes. When I came back, I realised that what I remembered was under threat and disappearing.

“That threat came from several things. From agri-companies pushing certain varieties and farming methods and from climate change. Places, too, where people would forage for edible plants – like the akub thistle – have come under threat because of issues like the spread of Israeli settlements.

“I realised that what was also under threat was something deeper – the connection to a sense of cultural identity. The songs women would sing in the fields. Phrases, even the words we use. So it is about preserving the local biodiversity, but it is also about the importance to Palestinian culture of traditional agricultural methods.”

Typical for many Palestinian villagers were allotment-style garden plots, known in Arabic as “pieces of paradise”, and the traditional multi-crop planting season known as ba’al.

“They are vegetables and herbs you plant at the end of the spring rains and usually before St George’s Day. The varieties were ones that became adapted over the years to work well in the West Bank’s climate and soil,” said Sansour.

The project, she hopes, will preserve strains including cucumber, marrow and watermelon, once famous throughout the region, that are in danger of dying out. “There is a kind of huge watermelon, known as jadu’i, that was grown in the northern West Bank. Before 1948, it was exported around the region. It was famous in places like Syria. It has almost disappeared. One of the most exciting discoveries so far is that we found some seeds for it. They are seven years old, so we need to see if they are viable.”

Andrew Bossone shared this link
In the birthplace of agriculture, traditional crops are dying out. But one woman has a plan to preserve them
theguardian.com| By Peter Beaumont

Part of the project – which Sansour hopes will eventually be housed in a new science centre, the Qattan Foundation, in Ramallah – has seen teachers being trained in a pilot project to reintroduce students to old agricultural practices. One of these is Inam Owianah, who teaches 12to15-year-olds. “I am a science teacher,” she said. “Part of the curriculum is the growing cycle. I was invited to a workshop of the seed library.

“I wasn’t even sure what an heirloom variety was. And then I understood! It wasn’t just about the seeds, but about an intimate connection to our heritage. And the students started to understand that civilisation is not just about buildings but about a way of life. It was why my grandmother would save the best aubergines and courgettes for seeds for the next year,” said Owianah.

“I started asking my students to ask their grandparents and parents about the stories and sayings associated with the plants.”

On Sansour’s patch on the outskirts of the village of Battir, next to the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv railway line where she will plant her own ba’al varieties in the coming

days, fennel, mallow, chard and mint are growing wild. On the stone walls she points out edible herbs.

Other plots around have already been cleared for the growing season with a glyphosate-based weed-killer. “You can see the difference,” she says, disapprovingly picking a handful of wild fennel from her own untreated plot to eat. “You can see how wild and lush it is, even before it is cleared for planting.

“There is an old Palestinian phrase,” she adds: “‘He who does not eat from his own adze cannot think with his own mind.’”

Orange says it plans to terminate contract with brand partner in Israel

French telecoms giant has been under pressure to end relationship with Partner over services to Israeli settlements regarded as illegal under international law

Speaking at a news conference in Cairo, Stephane Richard says his company intends to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel as soon as possible
Speaking at a news conference in Cairo, Stephane Richard says his company intends to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel as soon as possible. Photograph: Thomas Hartwell/AP

The French telecoms giant Orange has indicated that it intends to terminate its relationship with the Israeli company that licenses its brand in the country

And would end the relationship “tomorrow” if it could.

The comments – made by the company’s CEO, Stephane Richard – have emerged amid a sharp push back by the Israeli government against growing calls for an international boycott of Israel over its continuing occupation of Palestinian territories.

They were angrily condemned by the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who called on the French government to “distance itself publicly from the miserable statement and the miserable action of a company that is partially owned by the government of France.”

Although Orange only licenses its name to the Israeli company Partner, the threat – if carried through – will be seen as a major success for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which has been campaigning on the issue in both France and Egypt.

Orange, in which the French government has a quarter stake, has been under pressure in France as well as in Egypt to terminate its relationship with Partner over its supply of services to Israeli settlements regarded as illegal under international law.

Last month Orange was accused of flouting the French foreign ministry’s own guidelines on investing in Israel by the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development.

In a report published in May the group claimed that Partner had built more than 100 telecommunication antennas on confiscated Palestinian land, as well as operating four shops in Israeli settlements.

Speaking at a news conference in Cairo to lay out plans for the years ahead in Egypt, Richard said that his company intended to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel as soon as possible, but that the move would take time.

“I am ready to abandon this tomorrow morning but the point is that I want to secure the legal risk for the company. I want to terminate this, once again, but I don’t want to expose Orange to a level of risk and of penalties that could be really sizeable for the company,” he said.

Richard said his company’s stance on the matter was the result of its sensitivity to Arab countries.

“I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt … We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries.”

He added that the brand fees from the contract with Partner were low compared to the size of Orange, saying that “the interest for us is certainly not a financial interest”.

“If you take those amounts on one side and on the other side the time that we spend to explain this, to try to find a solution and the consequences that we have to manage here but also in France, believe me it’s a very bad deal,” he added.

At the news conference, Richard explained that the use of the Orange brand name in Israel dated back to the 1990s, under a contract inherited by the group when France Telecom acquired Orange.

Recent negotiations have put Orange in a position where it can terminate the contract in the future, but at the moment the legal framework was not favourable, he said. Partner is Israel’s second biggest mobile company.

Partner said in response that it regrets Richard’s comments.

“We wish to highlight that Partner Communications is an Israeli company owned by Saban Capital Group, which is owned by Haim Saban, and not by France Telecom (Orange). The company is holding the Orange brand name since 1998, and the only connection between us and France Telecom is the brand name.”

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, wrote to Richard asking for clarification.

“I must admit to have been taken aback by these reports which do not become a responsible global company such as Orange,” she wrote. “I am confident that these reports do not reflect the intent of your company. I therefore urge you to clarify the matter as soon as possible.”

Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid party, also attacked Richard for the comments, and called on state-run France Telecom, which owns a majority stake in Orange, to distance itself from the comments.

“This is hypocrisy of the highest order,” he said in a statement. “I don’t remember him having a problem making money here and profiting from Israeli citizens. The state of Israel is an island of sanity in this difficult neighbourhood and we certainly won’t accept lessons in morality from someone so self-righteous and detached.”

The row over Richard’s comments came as the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, pointedly remarked that the threats to boycott Israel were being driven, in part, by a lack of peace negotiations.

“The problem is that now there are no negotiations,” Shapiro told Israel Radio.

“In the past when there were negotiations, that was the most effective tool to tell other countries, perhaps private companies as well, not to impose sanctions because that would upset efforts to reach a solution.”

Devil in the details: Israelis diverge on details of a Palestinian State

Would Israeli support for a Palestinian state (60%) be dramatically lower when they are presented with specific details rather than being asked to support the basic idea?
Rightwing think-tank jumped at the occasion with a biased poll to confirms the argument that Israelis who support theory of two-state solution recoil from concrete details.
in Jerusalem in The Guardian, Monday 20 October
 Jerusalem
The Jordan Valley
The Jordan Valley, which Israel considers to be its eastern border. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

A poll has found that 75% of Israeli Jews oppose the creation of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders if it means withdrawing Israeli troops from the Jordan Valley.

The survey, conducted by a rightwing thinktank headed by a political ally of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, makes for stark reading, contradicting previous polls showing up to 60% of Israelis in favour of a two-state solution.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is making a concerted diplomatic push for a UN security council resolution seeking an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories by November 2016.

Of the 60% of those polled who described themselves as rightwing, opposition to a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines rose to almost 92%, while 72% of those who identified as leftwing would support it.

That opposition rises further still if the issue of dividing Jerusalem is included, with 40% of leftwingers opposing the division of Jerusalem.

The poll was commissioned by a think-tank run by a former policy advisor to Netanyahu and initially published in the free newspaper owned by the Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson, one of the Israeli prime minister’s biggest backers.

Leftwing commentators suggested the polling was likely to be an accurate reflection of Israeli public opinion.

“The poll published in Israel Hayom is obviously meant to serve Netanyahu’s agenda,” said Mairav Zonszein, writing for the +972 website.

“And while it is dangerous to rely solely on a single poll to back up any claim, this specific poll – no matter how flawed or skewed – happens to be an accurate reflection of the Israeli government’s policies, much of its rhetoric, and the reality on the ground.”

Although historical polling has suggested solid Israeli support for a two-state solution, Zonszein argues that the latest poll more truly reflects both how Israelis vote for political parties – and those parties’ agendas – and how they talk about the peace process.

Even though many polls over the years have shown and still show that a majority of Jewish Israelis support a two-state solution based more or less along the 1967 border with land swaps, such sentiment is reflected less and less in the way Israelis vote and talk. This new poll seems to provide a much more honest assessment of the reality on the ground and the reality in the halls of government,” she said.

The latest poll reflects what appears to be an ever-diminishing appetite for a two-state solution on both sides. (Yes, right. And study done by a US think-tank?)

Two sets of polls earlier this year – one of Palestinians for the right-leaning US thinktank Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a Pew Research poll in the spring – both identified growing pessimism that a peace deal could be done.

Note: But the details are known if you are interested, though we are under the belief that all the details are secrets because that’s what Israel wants you to believe.

Israel’s refuseniks. Unit 8200 in the intelligence: ‘you can’t run from responsibility’

Three signatories of the 41 Israeli military intelligence refusenik letter agreed to be interviewed by the Guardian to discuss what motivated their concerns.

They are all members of Unit 8200 – known in Hebrew as Yehida Shmoneh-Matayim – Israel’s largest signals intelligence gathering unit, active both abroad and in the Palestinian territories.

All three are now on the active reserve list and have said they will not do reserve service relating to the occupied Palestinian territories.

Of the three, “A”, aged 32, and Nadav, 26, are sergeants, while “D”, 29, is a captain.

Letter of Unit 8200 explains why they refuse to work in Palestinian territories

Three Israeli intelligence veterans talk about their experience in Palestinian territories

By agreement with the letter’s signatories, material relating to specific claims regarding the unit was provided in statements that they chose to disclose to the Israeli military censor.

In face-to-face interviews they agreed to discuss what motivated them to sign the letter, declining to discuss specifics.

Below is a transcript of the Guardian’s interview conducted earlier this week in collaboration with several other media outlets. It has been lightly edited for repetition, brevity and sense.

Two minor amendments were made at the request of the soldiers to clarify meaning.

How did you organise the letter?

D: For a couple of months friends [have been] joining and [it’s been] growing slowly … most of them are still active. We’ve been thinking about it for maybe a year.

It was a difficult dilemma. We were worried that this action would be seen only as a response to the war in Gaza and it is important to us to make it clear this is about the ‘normal’ situation [of the occupation].

A: We didn’t want it to be interpreted only in this context. We decided before the recent war to do this. For me there wasn’t any particular trigger. It was a long process of realising …

When people talk about the role that intelligence services play in non-democratic regimes usually their hair stands on their back a bit and they shudder.

And that’s not the way I thought about the military service that I did [at first].

It was a gradual realisation that this was me [as well]. That I was playing that role. That made me see in a different light what I’ve done and take this action.

I still feel very committed to how I was raised, and that’s what makes it so difficult. I still feel part of [Israeli] society.

N: I think because we are part of [Israeli] society is the reason [that] we are doing it. It is not an act against everything that is done …

A: We feel it as an act of taking responsibility for the things we take part in. But we also see it as part of a deep concern for the society we live in. We’re not trying to break away from it or anything like that.

Maybe you can say something about yourselves?

D: I currently live in Jerusalem. I’m a student. I’m doing a master’s in computers. I joined the military in 2003. I stayed until 2011.

I was an officer. An intelligence officer. And I stayed for a couple of years extra. I was a team leader, then a section leader. A captain.

A: I was enlisted in 2001 after half a year of pre-military courses which I volunteered for. Afterwards I also stayed on for an extra period.

I volunteered to become an instructor and then a team leader. Full time I was [there] five years. Since then I’ve been a student also in the Hebrew University.

Now I live in Tel Aviv and my wife and I are expecting our first daughter. I’m studying maths.

N: I enlisted in 2007. I was in the army for almost four years. I was also an instructor. I finished the military in 2010.

Now I live in Tel Aviv. I’m a student in the Open University and I’m studying literature and philosophy.

When you think about intelligence work, people think about it as “clean” because it’s not about running after people in alleys of refugee camps and shooting at protesters.

What’s not “clean” about intelligence work that you wouldn’t want to be involved in?

N: The intelligence gathering on Palestinians is not clean in that sense. When you rule a population … they don’t have political rights, laws like we have.

The nature of this regime of ruling over people, especially when you do it for many years, it forces you to take control, infiltrate every aspect of their life.

D: [This is] one of the messages we feel it is very important to get across mostly to the Israeli public because that is a very common misconception about what’s intelligence and I can say for myself and for many of the participants – refuseniks in our letter – that this is something [we also felt] when we were enlisting in the military.

Not being aware of the conflict as much as we are aware of it today … [believing] our job was going to be minimising violence, minimising loss of lives. That made the moral side of it feel – be – much easier.

A: I distinctly remember before I was recruited, I felt very fortunate that I had this job that was so clean of moral dilemmas. [Because] our job was to make the work smarter.

We were supposed to minimise the casualties both fighting terrorism. And when Israel is forced to strike back, we would be able to make sure only the bad guys get killed.

And I think recent events … but this is not just about the recent war [in Gaza] … our experience after the past 10 years have made us see this is simplistic.

N: In the last month there were two occasions of this in newspapers that reflect this [point] exactly.

There was a [Palestinian] parliament member in Ramallah. The army told her she had to move to Jericho because she was supporting demonstrations.

That’s just one example of the things intelligence does that is not really to do with terrorism or anything like that.

D: A significant part of what the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] does is not the “title” [ie defence]. The “title” of what the IDF does in the occupied territories is ruling another people.

One of the things you need to do is defend yourself from them, but you also need to oppress the population.

You need to weaken the politics, you need to strengthen and deepen your control of Palestinian society so that the [Israeli] state can remain [there] in the long term … We realised that that’s the job of the intelligence.

Was there work they did not object to?

D: I think a lot of what the unit does, doesn’t have anything to do with Palestinians, we’re not only not against that, we’re all in favour, we think it is the right and duty of the state of Israel to defend its citizens.

We took that very seriously while we were in the unit and we still take it seriously. That’s what makes this decision much more difficult because it’s not a black and white situation.

Did you feel your were violating people’s rights?

N: Definitely. In Israeli intelligence regarding Palestinians, they don’t really have rights. Nobody asks that question. It’s not [like] Israeli citizens, where if you want to gather information about them you need to go to court.

A: The only limitation is the limitation of resources. There’s no procedural questions regarding who can and cannot be surveilled. Everybody is fair game.

N: An 18-year-old soldier who thinks: “We need to gather information on this or that person” – that 18-year-old kid [in Unit 8200] is the one that decides.

A: It is well known that the intelligence is used. People are arrested in the Palestinian territories. Sometimes without trial. And even when they are taken to trial it’s often with evidence that can’t be exposed [in court] because it is classified.

And the intelligence is used to apply pressure to people, to make them cooperate with Israel. These are all things that are known.

It’s no secret that Israeli intelligence is producing the target database that is used in the air strikes …

There was a big media outcry after [Hamas military leader] Salah Shehade was assassinated [in 2002] and 14 members of his family were killed.

There was a big story around that and the commander of the air force then – Dan Halutz – said to the pilots:

You did well. You’re not responsible. Your job is to deliver the ammunition to the target in the most professional and accurate way you can, and you did that and your hands are clean”.

D: And you don’t see the big picture …

A: The question [is] who does see the big picture? Who does provide this information to these pilots? And the answer is clear [ie Unit 8200].

[There was] a famous incident. It was when “Lieutenant Alif” [Lieutenant A, a former member of their unit] refused to pass on information regarding the capacity of a building. The idea was to destroy a building and its inhabitants – and what I’m telling is not the story we were told in the unit – it was a story that was exposed by journalists in Israel years later.

D: In 2003 [during the second intifada] there was this general routine for the IDF to bomb buildings at night as a response to terrorist attacks or to pass a message or … whatever you like.

After an especially bad terrorist attack in south Tel Aviv by the old bus station there was a decision that the response had to be more harsh this time.

The action that was decided upon was to destroy from the air a building belonging to Fatah, which wasn’t the organisation that was responsible for the terrorist attack.

And the building wasn’t related in any way to military activity. It was some kind of welfare centre where they were giving out pay cheques.

Unlike previous times, an essential part [of the operation] was that building wouldn’t be empty and there would be people there, no matter who. Someone had to be there in order to die.

The role of our unit was to give the green light for this attack. To say when the building isn’t empty. So this lieutenant – whose name wasn’t published – refused.

At first he tried to get the action cancelled. And then he spoke with his commanders but still found himself in real time being asked for that information.

And even when he knew that now the building is not empty and was supposed to give the green light he said: “I’m refusing, I’m not doing it.” He got the operation cancelled.

The response of all the senior commanders – in the unit and in the military – was to be shocked by him daring to refuse a direct order that he had received. That was the only kind of inquiry that was taken into the matter. There were some reports – just days after the incident, in the Israeli media – but they were wrong. They changed the goal of the operation and said the goal was a targeted killing of …

A: I remember that it was the talk of the unit because it was in the news and we all had briefings about it. We were told he was “confused”. He didn’t understand what was asked of him. And the general message was there’s no such thing as a manifestly illegal order in the unit.

D: What’s important is that it wasn’t only the interpretation … the media and soldiers inside the unit were told a lie about what was the target of the operation. … The [fact that] the ultimate goal was to kill innocent people was hidden. I joined the unit several months after. The response was to kick [the lieutenant] out of his job – not the unit – until he finished his military service.

I received a lesson in the course where we discussed this [case]. As a person who spent many years in the unit, who took my job there very seriously, I was very motivated to be a part of this unit and to do our job and I feel very betrayed by this lie. I feel the worst thing about it is, it isn’t the momentary decision of a completely illegal, immoral operation, but the fact that for more than a decade later the unit still prefers not to deal with it …

N: To deny what really happened …

D: … to say that according to senior officers this operation was looked into before the order was given. Legal officers checked the order to make sure it was an OK operation to carry out. So according to these senior officers this was all OK. There was no problem. When they were asked in [this article] in 2011 they could not even understand what was the issue. They say “Leave us alone” to the reporter.

A: But you talked to the people who were there …

D: I did speak with people who were there. I don’t want to say exactly who. People who were in the room …

A: The reason I brought up the whole Lieutenant Alif case was to emphasise that on the one hand the pilots are not responsible and on the other hand we – who are providing the information – are not responsible. The feeling is that it’s never possible to point any fingers. There is no one who is responsible.

N: And when you look at what happened this summer when building after building was destroyed on the inhabitants and hundreds of innocent people were killed. No one raised an eyebrow as opposed to just one decade ago when a killing of a family of a commander of Hamas [Salah Shahade] – then people were shocked. It was a huge story in Israel.

D: The story [of Lieutenant Alif] is very important and representative of the response of senior commanders of the unit to this incident I was referring to. [The fact] that the incident is used to give soldiers in the unit the message: “You’re not responsible.” There’s no such thing as a definite illegal order.

And we think this message has been well understood in the unit, which we think is a part of the fact that in the recent decade we’ve seen a decline in how much the soldiers and the Israeli public cares that innocent people are dying.

A: It’s important to say, the reason I decided to refuse. I decided to refuse long before the recent [Gaza] operation. It was when I realised that what I was doing was the same job that the intelligence services of every undemocratic regime are doing. That I’m part of this large mechanism that is trying to defend or perpetuate its presence in the [occupied territories] …

N: … it is part of the effort to save the status quo.

A: To preserve and hold and deepen our hold on the Palestinian population. And I think for most of us this was the main reason for doing this. And of course the operations and the wars – the ongoing periodic wars are part of this.

How did the letter come about?

D: At first it was just a small group of people meeting and discussing both our political opinions and also going through a process of realising what we’ve been involved with. You have to understand that being in the unit is very, very secret. It is not only that we keep secrets from the outside but we keep secrets from each other.

The whole culture is very secretive. It is very difficult to just be in a situation where you meet with each other to reach a position of productive discussion. So for all of us just coming out with our thoughts was in itself very difficult.

Slowly we discussed it with more friends – with friends from the unit we thought would be interested – and just expanded it.

A: You sort of feel around to see how people feel about doing reserve service.

D: First when we approached people we didn’t say: “Look this is our plan, what’s your opinion?”

A: I should say there are a lot of people who, when they leave the military service they start seeing Palestinians as people not just as sources of information, and getting a bigger picture of what’s happening and a lot of people … there’s very different levels of commitment and enthusiasm in doing the reserve service and a lot of people taper off.

D: It was clear from the beginning we wanted to do everything legally. We went to a lawyer and said we don’t want to commit an offense or say anything not allowed to can you help us figure out what we would be allowed to say.

N: We’re not telling secrets about what we did or the way the unit works. We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to hurt national security, we just want to say what is wrong with the things we did and the unit does.

We want people to know that being in intelligence is not clean, and to control a population of millions you can’t just do counter-terrorism and hurt the people who want to hurt you.

D: I think another aspect is the personal aspect. Our decision as individuals that we morally can’t continue to participate in these actions in military service. In theory there is the option of just avoiding the service, not going public but that brings me to – if I had to answer the question what are we doing this for – for me, it is to take responsibility.

I am very acutely aware that I was a part of the cycle of violence, in perpetuating it. I feel like in many moments in this long process I felt maybe just drop it. Maybe just forget about it. You can be leftist, you can go to demonstrations if you want. But I realised that is running away from responsibility because I am already a part. I’ve been a part for almost eight years of these actions that I disagree with.

What at the personal level influenced each of you?

D: During my military service, especially during my last years, I advanced through the ranks and I understood more about what is happening. About the unit’s role in the occupied territories. That was one stage.

After I left in 2011 it the summer of the famous social protests, and I think that was a moment of political awakening for a lot of people despite quite a lot of cynicism in Israel about the impact of that. I felt it put me in a more responsible and involved mindset.

I had questions from my military service I couldn’t really deal with. But it was my whole life. My friends, my daily job. I wasn’t in a position where I could question then properly …

Then I went back to things I was involved in. Thought about it. That was a bit of a Pandora’s box to open because I felt the moment I asked myself these questions I couldn’t run away from responsibility.

Another important realisation for me was that our unit was the intelligence side of an oppressive military regime [in the occupied territories]. Realising it in those terms also brought it much closer to me because my dad was Argentinian, and he was imprisoned by the military dictatorship in 1977.

I think this comparison – and that’s not at all to say the actions of this Argentinian dictatorship is at all similar [to Israel] – but it’s this realisation that we were imagining Palestinians as just plain enemies.

We didn’t realise there was a difference between [the Palestinians we rule over] and citizens of any other country that is the enemy of Israel. My hard realisation was when I realised our function is both to be the regime and also to gather this intelligence … It isn’t like a military issue where you need to know how many airplanes the enemy has.

The targets of this intelligence are specific people and the consequences that this intelligence have are very, very serious and encompass many different areas of their life, because it is also [gathered] by the same regime that controls their lives.

And in this aspect it is the same thing as the dictatorship in Argentina that imprisoned my dad.

A: I identify with a lot of what D said. We are told, and we like to think about Palestinians as enemies in a symmetrical conflict. I started going on tours in Hebron and around Jerusalem and I started to see the reality of the people living there. And you are basically providing them with water and electricity.

And you give them job permits. On the one hand, you decide whether they can work their land or not. And on the other hand, they don’t want you there.

And in this complicated situation you are bound to be drawn to do the all-encompassing surveillance that D has talked about. I’m the person who is doing it … [and I came to] see myself in the light of other oppressive regimes and the role that intelligence plays in these regimes was the turning point.

N: I have to say I was very proud when I first enlisted. I thought it was a very important unit. I am still proud of some things that I did there. I’m not saying that everything done is wrong. The thing that led me to take this decision is that during my service I started realising that we don’t only do things meant to ensure the security of Israel in the sense that these people want to hurt us, but more and more to do with innocent people.

There were times when I raised the question with my fellow soldiers in the unit, with the commanders, that maybe some things were wrong. The answer I was given all the time was: “No, it’s OK.” These questions kept arising in my head. Now as the years go by, and I see it from the outside, I realise that there are some things that are really problematic.

Intelligence can be gathered about everyone.

A: It’s not just a procedural objection that we have. It is the deeper issue that we are part of a regime that is denying Palestinians their rights. It’s been going on for almost 50 years.

D: The problem is that we realised what the actual role of the unit is, that’s what we are bothered about. We don’t think fixing the legal procedures a bit or caring a bit more about Palestinians would be a solution. We think it is a cause of the unit of the job.

A: I think we have said that some of the things that the IDF does really does deserve the title defence forces, but there is a significant proportion of what it is doing that does not deserve this title. It’s in the interests of perpetuating a regime that is oppressive. That is not democratic. It is these things we are trying to bring to the attention of Israeli public first and foremost. To create a discussion and think critically about it.

So you won’t serve across the Green Line in the occupied territories?

D: That is the exact parallel. It’s important to us, if it was up to us, our full names would be on the [published] letter. We are not allowed to reveal it because of secrecy laws.

When you look at [things] in terms of intelligence you can broadly say that there are two types of intelligence in the world. One is gathered – say in a democracy – that a regime collects against its citizens. For example, as an Israeli the government might collect intelligence on me but it has severe limitations on how to do that, and the way that it can use it against me is very limited.

Even if it is taken to court in the end if there is a punishment it is only a punishment directly related to the offence I committed. So that you can, if you like, call civil intelligence.

Then there is military intelligence, which a country collects on another country. Then there’s no laws governing that, only diplomacy and international relations. That’s intelligence. It’s pretty dirty.

But that’s the inherent rules of the game. The other country can defend itself to some extent. In most cases this kind of intelligence won’t have direct consequences for the actual civilian citizens in the other country that might be the target of this intelligence.

[But] in this situation, what’s common to the Palestinian situation – and the situation in Argentina [under the military dictatorship] – is that people get the worst of the two types of intelligence. On the one hand, there are no rules about collecting the intelligence, but at the same time this intelligence might have severe consequences regarding all areas of their life.

You realise that this might have consequences for you – socially and for future employment? You might pay a price for this?

N: This is a price I’m willing to pay. This is very important. You can’t run from responsibility.

D: It’s a serious dilemma for a lot of people I know who decided not to sign the letter. One of the main reasons was this: everyone of us sees the risk a bit differently. I think we are all worried about it but I feel like there is no other choice.

 

Stories from an occupation: the Israelis who broke silence

A group called Breaking the Silence has spent 10 years collecting accounts from Israeli soldiers who served in the Palestinian territories.
To mark the milestone, 10 hours’ worth of testimony was read to an audience in Tel Aviv.
  posted from Tel Aviv

The young soldier stopped to listen to the man reading on the stage in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, outside the tall façade of Charles Bronfman Auditorium.

The reader was Yossi Sarid, a former education and environment minister. His text is the testimony of a soldier in the Israel Defence Forces, one of 350 soldiers, politicians, journalists and activists who on Friday – the anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land in 1967 – recited first-hand soldiers’ accounts for 10 hours straight in Habima Square, all of them collected by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.

Israeli soldiers arrest Palestinian protest against Jewish settlement

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian after clashes at a protest against a Jewish settlement in the West Bank near Ramallah, January 2014. Photograph: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

When one of the group’s researchers approached the soldier, they chatted politely out of earshot and then phone numbers were exchanged. Perhaps in the future this young man will give his own account to join the 950 testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence since it was founded 10 years ago.

In that decade, Breaking the Silence has collected a formidable oral history of Israeli soldiers’ highly critical assessments of the world of conflict and occupation. The stories may be specific to Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories but they have a wider meaning, providing an invaluable resource that describes not just the nature of Israel’s occupation but of how occupying soldiers behave more generally.

They describe how abuses come from boredom; from the orders of ambitious officers keen to advance in their careers; or from the institutional demands of occupation itself, which desensitises and dehumanises as it creates a distance from the “other”.

In granular detail, the tens of thousands of words narrated on Friday told of the humdrum and the terrible: the humiliating treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints, shootings and random assaults.

Over the years the Israeli military’s response has been that these stories are the exceptions, not the rule, accounts of a few bad apples’ actions.

“What we wanted to show by reading for 10 hours is that the things described in the testimonies we have collected are not exceptional, rather they are unexceptional,” says Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of the group and a former soldier himself.

Shaul breaks off to greet the European Union ambassador and a woman soldier who served in his own unit whom he has not seen for years. We talk about the solitary soldier in the square, now talking to the researcher. “We’ll get in contact. See if he wants to talk. Perhaps meet for coffee. Then, when we interview people, we ask them to recommend us to their friends. We might get 10 phone numbers, of whom three will talk to us.”

It is not only word of mouth that produces Breaking the Silence’s interviews. At the annual conferences that soldiers leaving the army attend to prepare them for the return to civilian life, researchers will try to talk to soldiers outside.

Shaul explains why he and his colleagues have dedicated themselves to this project, why he believes it is as necessary today as when he first spoke out a decade ago about his own experience as a soldier in Hebron.

“In Israeli politics today the occupation is absent. It’s not an issue for the public. It has become normal – not second nature; the occupation has become part of our nature. The object of events like today is for us to occupy the public space with the occupation.”

His sentiments are reflected by the Israeli novelist and playwright AB Yehoshua, who gets on the stage to read a comment piece he had written the day before to mark the event.

“The great danger to Israeli society,” Yehoshua explains, “is the danger of weariness and repression. We no longer have the energy and patience to hear about another act of injustice.”

A man appears holding a handwritten sign that condemns Breaking the Silence as “traitors”. Some of those attending try to usher him away while others try to engage him in conversation.

A journalist asks Shaul if the man is “pro-army”. “I’m pro-army,” Shaul answers immediately. “I’m not a pacifist, although some of our members have become pacifists. I’m not anti-army, I am anti-occupation.”

ISRAELI SOLDIERS’ OWN WORDS

Nadav WeimanNadav Weiman. Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum

SERGEANT NADAV WEIMAN
2005-08, Nachal Reconnaissance Unit, Jenin
We’d spread out above Jenin on “the stage”, which is a tiny mountain top. That evening an arrest mission was in progress, there were riots inside the refugee camp, and we sat above and provided sniper cover for the operation. Things got rolling and there were arrests, some rioting began in the city.

There was random peripheral fire so there were generally no people on rooftops. Some time in the middle of the night, we detected someone on a roof. We focused our sights on him, not knowing for sure whether or not he was a scout. But we targeted him and got an OK to fire because he was on a rooftop very close to one of our forces.

We were several snipers, and we took him down … Later when we got back to Jalame, it started: “Was he armed or not?” But we’d got our OK from the battalion commander. He was also the one to come and speak with us when we got back to the base in Jalame. We were with the guys with whom we sat to debrief after the action, and it was wall-to-wall,

“You don’t realise how lucky you are to have actually fired in an operation. That hardly ever happens, you are so lucky.”

And according to the way we implemented the rules of engagement, we declared him a target by documenting him. We thought the Palestinian had been speaking on the phone, he seemed to be raising his hand to his head, looking sideways, going back and forth, just like a person scouting and sending information back. You could see the angles of his body, his whole conduct facing the soldiers who were north of him, in the alley below, a few metres away.

SERGEANT, ANONYMOUS
Undisclosed Reservist unit, Gaza Strip 2009, Operation Cast Lead
The actual objective remained rather vague. We were told our objective was to fragment the Strip, in fact we were told that while we were there, not knowing how long, we would have to raze the area as much as possible.

Razing is a euphemism for systematic destruction. Two reasons were given for house demolitions. One reason was operational. That’s when a house is suspected to contain explosive, tunnels, when all kinds of wires are seen, or digging. Or we have intelligence information making it suspect. Or it’s a source of fire, whether light arms or mortars, missiles, Grads [rockets], all that stuff. Those are houses we demolish.

Then we’re told some will be destroyed for “the day after”. The rationale is to leave a sterile area behind us and the best way to do that is by razing it. In practical terms, it means you take a house that’s not suspect, its only transgression is that it stands on a hill in Gaza.

I can even say that in a talk with my battalion commander, he mentioned this and said half smiling, half sad, that this is something to add to his list of war crimes. So he himself understood there was a problem.

Tal WasserTal Wasser. Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum

SERGEANT TAL WASSER 
2006-09, Oketz (canine special forces), Nablus
Standing at the roadblock for eight hours a day puts everyone under this endless pressure. Everyone’s constantly yelling, constantly nervous, impatient … venting on the first Palestinian to cross your path. If a Palestinian annoys one of the soldiers, one of the things they’d do is throw him in the Jora, which is a small cell, like a clothing store dressing room. They close the metal door on him and that would be his punishment for annoying, for being bad.

Within all the pressure and the stress of the roadblock, the Palestinian would often be forgotten there. No one would remember that he put a Palestinian there, further emphasising the irrelevance and insignificance of the reason he was put there in the first place. Sometimes it was only after hours that they’d suddenly remember to let him out and continue the inspection at the roadblock.

SERGEANT, ANONYMOUS
Nablus Regional Brigade, Nablus, 2014
“Provocation and reaction” is the act of entering a village, making a lot of noise, waiting for the stones to be thrown at you and then you arrest them, saying: “There, they’re throwing stones.”

Lots of vehicles move inside the whole village, barriers. A barrier seems to be the army’s legitimate means to stop terrorists. We’re talking about Area B [under civilian Palestinian control and Israeli security control], but the army goes in there every day, practically, provoking stone throwings. Just as any Palestinian is suspect, this is the same idea. It could be a kid’s first time ever throwing a stone, but as far as the army is concerned, we’ve caught the stone thrower.

Avner Gvaryahu former Israeli soldierAvner Gvaryahu. Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum

SERGEANT AVNER GVARYAHU
2004-07 Orev (special anti-tank unit), Nablus
It was when I was a sergeant, after we had finished training. 200 [the number of the commander] said to us unequivocally: “That’s how you’re ranked. With Xs. Every night I want you to be looking for ‘contact’ [an exchange of fire] and that’s how you’ll be ranked.”

At some point I realised that someone who wants to succeed has to bring him dead people. There’s no point in bringing him arrests. [The message was:] “Arrests are routine, the battalions are making arrests. You’re the spearhead, the army has invested years in you, now I want you to bring me dead terrorists.”

And that’s what pushed us, I believe. What we’d do was go out night after night, drawing fire, go into alleys that we knew were dangerous. There were arrests, there were all kinds of arrests. But the high point of the night was drawing fire, creating a situation where they fired at us.

It’s a situation, totally insane, you’re in it, it’s hard to explain. You’re looking through the binoculars and searching for someone to kill. That’s what you want to do. And you want to kill him. But do you want to kill him? But that’s your job.

And you’re still looking through the binoculars and you’re starting to get confused. Do I want to? Don’t I want to? Maybe I actually want them to miss.

SERGEANT, ANONYMOUS
Kfir Brigade, Tul Karem, 2008
There was one checkpoint that was divided into three lanes: there’s a settlement, a checkpoint, and then Israeli territory. In the middle, there’s a Palestinian village, so they just split the checkpoint into three lanes. Three lanes, and the brigade commander ordered that Jews should only wait at the checkpoint for 10 minutes. Because of that we had to have a special lane for them, and everyone else, the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, had to wait in the other two lanes. I remember that settlers would come, go around the Arabs, and just did it naturally. I went over to a settler and said: “Why are you going around? There’s a line here, sir.” He said: “You really think I’m going to wait behind an Arab?” He began to raise his voice at me. “You’re going to hear from your brigade commander.”

Gil HillelGil Hillel. Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum

GIL HILLEL
2001-03, Sachlav (military police), Hebron
On my first or second day in Hebron, my commanders asked me to go on a “doll”, a foot patrol that we conduct in the casbah and Jewish settlement. I agreed, it seemed cool. It was my first time in the field, come on, let’s do it. We went on patrol, into the casbah, and I think that was the first time I sensed the existential fear of living under constant threat.

We started the doll and I started feeling bad. The first time in the field is not simple. One of my commanders, the veteran among them, took an old Palestinian man, just took him aside to some alley and started beating him up. And I … it wasfine by all the others … I sort of looked at them and said: “What is he doing? Why is he doing that? What happened? Did he do anything? Is he a threat? A terrorist? Did we find something?” So they said: “No, it’s OK.” I then approached my commander, the [one] who trained me, and asked: “What are you doing?” He said: “Gil, stop it.”

And that really scared me. I was scared of their reactions, of the situation we were in. I felt bad with what went on there, but I kept quiet. I mean, what can I do? My commander told me to shut up. We left there and went back to the company and I went to my commander and said: “What are you doing? Why did you do that?” So he said: “That’s the way it is. It’s either him or me and it’s me and …”

They took him aside and just beat him up. They beat him up, they punched him. And slapped him, all for no reason. I mean, he just happened to walk by there, by mistake.

SERGEANT, ANONYMOUS
Nachal Brigade, 50th Battalion, Hebron, 2010
The Jewish settlers of Hebron constantly curse the Arabs. An Arab who passes by too closely gets cursed: “May you burn, die.”

On Shuhada Street there’s a very short section where Arabs may walk as well, which leads to Tel Rumeida neighbourhood. Once I was sent there and we found three Jewish kids hitting an old Arab woman. Another man from the Jewish settlement happened along and also joined them in yelling at the woman: “May you die!” When we got there they were mainly yelling, but there had clearly been blows dealt as well. I think they even threw stones at her.

I believe the [policeman] was called but ended up not doing anything. The general atmosphere was that there was no point in summoning the police – the policeman is a local settler from Kiryat Arba who comes to pray with the Hebron settlers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs on Fridays.

Nadav Bigelman former Israeli soldierNadav Bigelman. Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum

SERGEANT NADAV BIGELMAN
2007-10, Nachal Brigade, 50th Battalion, Hebron
During patrols inside the casbah we’d do many “mappings”. Mappings mean going into a house we have no intelligence on. We go in to see what’s inside, who lives there. We didn’t search for weapons or things like that. The mappings were designed to make the Palestinians feel that we are there all the time.

We go in, walk around, look around. The commander takes a piece of paper and … makes a drawing of the house, what it looks like inside, and I had a camera. I was told to bring it. They said: “You take all the people, stand them against the wall and take their picture.” Then [the pictures are] transferred to, I don’t know, the General Security Service, the battalion or brigade intelligence unit, so they have information on what the people look like. What the residents look like. I’m a young soldier, I do as they say. I take their pictures, a horrible experience in itself, because taking people’s pictures at 3am, I … it humiliated them, I just can’t describe it.

And the interesting thing? I had the pictures for around a month. No one came to get them. No commander asked about them, no intelligence officer took them. I realised it was all for nothing. It was just to be there. It was like a game.

SERGEANT, ANONYMOUS
Paratrooper, 2002, Nablus
We took over a central house, set up positions, and one of the sharpshooters identified a man on a roof, two roofs away, I think he was between 50 and 70 metres away, not armed. I looked at the man through the night vision – he wasn’t armed. It was two in the morning. A man without arms, walking on the roof, just walking around. We reported it to the company commander. The company commander said: “Take him down.” [The sharpshooter] fired, took him down. The company commander basically ordered, decided via radio, the death sentence for that man. A man who wasn’t armed.

I saw with my own eyes that the guy wasn’t armed. The report also said: “A man without arms on the roof.” The company commander declared him a lookout, meaning he understood that the guy was no threat to us, and he gave the order to kill him and we shot him. I myself didn’t shoot, my friend shot and killed him. And basically you think, you see in the United States there’s the death penalty, for every death sentence there are like a thousand appeals and convictions, and they take it very seriously, and there are judges and learned people, and there are protests and whatever. And here a 26-year-old guy, my company commander, sentenced an unarmed man to death.


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