Saturday, June 30, 2012

Berlin Jewish hospital suspends doing circumcisions after court ruling

One of my questions about the circumcision decision in Cologne, Germany has been answered - unlike a ruling by a district court in the US, the ruling applies to the entire country. The Berlin Jewish Hospital has suspended doing circumcisions for religious reasons after the court ruling.
Berlin's Jewish Hospital will suspend circumcisions after a German court ruled this week that performing the procedure on religious grounds is unlawful, a hospital spokesman said Friday."We are suspending circumcisions until the legal position is clear,"Gerhard Nerlich told AFP, citing head of internal medicine Kirstof Graf.

The hospital performs 300 circumcisions a year, a third of which are for religious reasons and the remainder due to medical concerns.

"We regularly performed circumcisions before this ruling but we don't have the legal freedom to do so any more," said Nerlich, adding that two procedures had already been cancelled.
Walter Russell Mead writes: "As of this moment in Berlin, it is against German law to live as a Jew."  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

German Jews Angry at Anti-Circumcision Law

JTA (via the Forward) has an article answering some of the questions I was asking in the previous post. Apparently the Cologne court is a district court, and its decision is not binding on any of the other 55 district courts. "The ruling could be appealed to a higher court, and is not binding unless there is a decision by the High Court of Justice or High Constitutional Court."

Does that mean, however, that its ruling is binding for its district, meaning that Jews or Muslims in Cologne could not circumcise their male children? There is still a Jewish community in Cologne of several thousand people, with a very active synagogue.
But the ruling suggests that those performing circumcisions in the future would be committing a criminal offense, since the court holds the right of the child sacrosanct. Berlin attorney Nathan Gelbart worries about the notion that “the parents have to accept that only the child can decide about his religion when he grows up, and that circumcision is a pre-decision” being forced on the child.
Holm Putzke, who was quoted in the previous article, is a professor of criminal law at the University of Passau, "has argued for several years for a ban on involuntary circumcision, [and] told JTA he hoped the ruling would spark discussion in Germany about 'what should be given more weight - religious freedom or the right of children not to have their genitals mutilated.'”

Perhaps Putzke should study his own country's history more carefully to see how anti-semites even before the Third Reich denounced circumcision and Jewish ritual slaughter as barbaric.
In late 1999, Germany’s top court ruled in favor of religious freedom, protecting the right to Islamic ritual slaughter and, by association, kosher slaughter. The ruling came after an Islamic butcher challenged a 1995 German law banning the slaughter of animals without stunning them first – something that is against the laws of kosher and hallal.
If the case comes to the high court, let's hope that it rules the same way in favor of permitting Jews or Muslims to circumcise their sons.

Infant Circumcision ruled illegal in Germany

I don't know if I'd put it quite so starkly as Walter Russell Mead - German Court Declares Judaism a Crime, but the decision of the Cologne court makes infant circumcision illegal in Germany. I have no idea if this only applies to the region where the court is located (in the US, a state court can only decide state law, and the federal courts similarly are limited to their own area), so it's unclear to me if the Cologne court is actually ruling for all of Germany. Also, I have no idea if the case can be appealed. The case was not about the circumcision of a Jewish infant, but of a four-year-old Muslim boy.
Circumcising young boys on religious grounds amounts to grievous bodily harm, a German court ruled Tuesday in a landmark decision that the Jewish community said trampled on parents' religious rights. The regional court in Cologne, western Germany, ruled that the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed thefundamental rights of the parents", a judgement that is expected to set a legal precedent. 
"The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to becircumcised," the court added. 
The case was brought against a doctor in Cologne who had circumcised a four-year-old Muslim boy on his parents' wishes. A few days after the operation, his parents took him to hospital as he was bleeding heavily. Prosecutors then charged the doctor with grievous bodily harm. The doctor was acquitted by a lower court that judged he had acted within the law as the parents had given their consent. 
On appeal, the regional court also acquitted the doctor but for different reasons. The regional court upheld the original charge of grievous bodily harm but also ruled that the doctor was innocent as there was too much confusion on the legal situation around circumcision. 
The court came down firmly against parents' right to have the ritual performed on young children. "The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision," the court said. "This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs." 
The decision caused outrage in Germany's Jewish community. The head of the Central Committee of Jews, Dieter Graumann, said the ruling was "an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination." The judgement was an "outrageous and insensitive act. Circumcision of newborn boys is a fixed part of the Jewish religion and has been practiced worldwide for centuries," added Graumann. "This religious right is respected in every country in the world."
I agree with Graumann.
Holm Putzke, a criminal law expert at the University of Passau, told the Financial Times Deutschland that the ruling was "enormously important for doctors because for the first time they have legal certainty." "Unlike many politicians, the court has not allowed itself to be scared off by charges of anti-Semitism or religious intolerance," added Putzke. 
And why shouldn't the court be "scared off by charges of anti-Semitism or religious intolerance"? As we all know, Germany has a long tradition of anti-semitism, beginning before the Holocaust, and there is currently a great deal of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. If circumcision were required by the Lutheran or Catholic churches, I can't imagine this case would even have been filed.
The World Health Organisation has estimated that nearly one in three males 15 or over is circumcised. In the United States, the operation is often performed for hygiene reasons on infants. 
Thousands of young boys are circumcised every year in Germany, especially in the country's large Jewish and Muslim communities. The court specified that circumcision was not illegal if carried out for medical reasons.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bad & bizarre news from Iran

First the bizarre
Iran’s vice president used the lectern of an international antidrug conference here Tuesday to deliver a baldly anti-Semitic speech, blaming Judaism’s holiest book, the Talmud, for teaching how to suck blood from people and for causing the spread of illegal drugs around the world.....

Mr. Rahimi, second in line to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the Talmud teaches to “destroy everyone who opposes the Jews.”

The “Zionists” are in firm control of the illegal drug trade, he said, asking foreign dignitaries to research his claims. “Zionists” is Iran’s ideological term for Jews who support the state of Israel. 
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will pay for anybody who can research and find one single Zionist who is an addict,” Mr. Rahmini said. “They do not exist. This is the proof of their involvement in drugs trade.”.... 
Mr. Rahimi, who spoke after Mr. De Leo [UN Office on Drugs and Crimes representative in Iran], told stories of gynecologists killing black babies on the orders of the Zionists and claimed that the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was started by the Jews, adding that mysteriously no Jews died in that uprising. 
He said the Talmud teaches the Jews to think they are a superior race. “They think God has created the world so that all other nations can serve them,” he said. 
Halfway through the speech, Mr. Rahimi said there was a difference between Jews who “honestly follow the prophet Moses” and the Zionists who are “the main elements of the international drugs trade.”
And now the bad:
With the failure of negotiations between Iran and six world powers last week, the Islamic regime now says it has the right, under international law, to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil tanker traffic should an embargo on Iran’s oil go into effect July 1. 
The third round of talks between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany ended in Moscow without any agreement on Iran’s illicit nuclear program. Iran continues to insist that the only way out of the impasse would be for the West to accept its nuclear program. 
Hossein Shariatmadari, the chief editor of the Iranian Keyhan newspaper, which is directly under the supervision of the supreme leader, warned in a commentary on Saturday that not only will Iran not back down on what it sees as its right to become a nuclear power but that it has the ability to stop oil tanker passage through the strait should new sanctions take effect.... 
“It is noteworthy that should the oil embargo on Iran by the European Union take effect on July 1st, then the Islamic Iran has the right to retaliation as the waters of the Strait of Hormuz are located within Iranian territory,” Shariatmadari said. “According to the Geneva 1958 Convention and the Jamaica 1982 Convention, which touches on the legality of the international waterways, Iran can close down the Strait of Hormuz to all oil tankers and even other commercial vessels if it is barred from selling oil.” The conventions allow passage of all vessels so long as the security of any country is not threatened. With these new sanctions, Iran would consider its security threatened.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Second letter from Gita Falkon Kagan to my grandfather Mark Falcon Lesses

April 7, 1937

Dear Mark,

I received your letter from March 2 this year on the days of Pesach, when I was very busy because of the holidays. Although I did not have time to respond to you immediately I was very happy to hear about the birth of your son. We congratulate you and your lovely wife Helen - raise your kids only for joy and never know sorrow - we wish you all a joyful and happy life.

The Pesach holidays my husband and I spent pretty well, our children did not interfere, though they do not keep it. If you keep holidays - I also congratulate you with Pesach. My husband and I had a great desire to visit Uncle Falcon, but this unfortunately was not possible. How and where do you plan to spend this summer? How is Helen, has she recovered? How is your newborn son? What is his name? How is the oldest one?

News about you and your family pleased me extremely; I am glad to hear and to know about you.

My son has now graduated from a second institute. In 1922 he graduated and obtained his first diploma of Electrical Engineer. In order to expand his professional opportunities, he graduated from another institute and obtained a second diploma of Mechanical Engineer.

My son-in-law also graduated from an institute and obtained a diploma of Technological Engineer.

I personally regret that none of my children chose to become a doctor.

I wonder why your sister and my niece Gertrude never wrote me - isn't she interested in her father's relatives at all?

Per your request I am sending you a random homemade photo. There you can see me, my husband, and our youngest daughter Anna, who is working as an economist. The photo was cut off from a big group one that you would generally not be interested in.

Dear Mark, you write that as physician you cannot help me at a distance. I regret it very much, I would probably be your faithful and diligent patient.

Is there any hope for our meeting, will you visit us one day?

I am finishing my letter by wishing you all the best. Please write, do not forget about us.

Loving you and your family,

Aunt Gita

Sincere regards from my husband and children to you and your family.

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I have the photo that Gita sent with this letter, but my scanner isn't working so I can't post it right now.


Letter from Gita Kagan Falkon to my grandfather, Mark Falcon Lesses

As I have written about in the past, my grandmother, Helen Rosenman Lesses, preserved letters that were sent to my grandfather, Mark Falcon Lesses, during the 1930s and into 1940, from his relatives in Europe. The letters from two people were in English - Sima Shlosberg and Mordechai Falkon (my grandfather's uncle). The letters from his aunt, Gita Falkon Kagan, were in Russian. Two of the letters had English translations with them, but two did not.

I brought the letters with me to Israel and I have met several times with a cousin-by-marriage (Sima Shlosberg is a common cousin for us) who made aliyah to Israel from Russia about thirty years ago. She was eager to see the letters, especially those from Sima, and she was so kind as to offer to translate the two Russian letters into English for me. She did this before Pesach and I'm only now managing to type them up. The first one is in this posting and the second one will be in the next one.

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A letter from my great-great-aunt Gita Kagan to her nephew, my grandfather, Mark Falcon Lesses

Moscow, 23/IX 36 (September 23, 1936)

My dear nephew - greetings to you and your wife and your glorious little son!

Thank you very much for the letter I received recently. In that letter you wrote me only a couple of words - why I did not answer your previous letter - but for these few words I am very grateful to you, because these few lines have shown me that in your heart you truly have sincere friendly affection for me and want to keep our relationship. I am happy to answer you, and, like all of us, my husband and my kids, we always would like to get from you only the best and joyful news about you and your lovely family. On your very first letter I responded, so we certainly have received it. I am very sorry that I did not respond to your second letter immediately. We left Moscow for the dacha for almost four months. Our dacha is 19 kilometers from Moscow; it is linked to Moscow by electric trains. Living outside Moscow and poor health knocked me out of a rut very much, and I have in my mind the need to answer your letter quite a long time (ago) still faced with the fact of my debt to you.

I promise to be more accurate in future and write you regularly upon receipt of your letters.

In last months my brother and your uncle Falcon from Libau strongly requested the possibility of my husband's and my entry to Libau for two months visit. He sent us a visa already and my husband and I, we'll maybe go to Libau. I have not seen your uncle from Libau since World War I, since the year 1915. Now he is very old and weak. Recently, my husband's sister wrote us that he is seriously ill. Your uncle in his letters writes nothing about himself and recently he writes to us very rarely (not more than once a month) and very very tersely. You can realize of course, my dear Mark, that we are not young anymore, and all sorts of diseases, short letters, or not receiving them in time causes morbid anxiety in the heart.

My own health is poor, I already wrote you about it. My husband also does not feel well. But you're a doctor yourself so you probably say to your patients: what is aging - it is getting decrepit and you cannot put a new heart in the body.

You wrote us that one of your hospital nurses would visit Moscow in the summer. But nobody visited us. Maybe she did not come at all.

My children have no special news. They are all as usual.

I still have a great desire to see you, my dear nephew, personally. I would like to look at you, to hug and to kiss you.

I am looking at my grandchildren, they are cousins to each other and they are really close to each other. Though they are still small, but they instinctively feel their proximity and show it. You, my dear nephew, are in the same relationship to my children, but unfortunately you are separated by the ocean and by many years of living in different hemispheres. I would like to wish that no ocean or hemisphere or even different languages would be a barrier for contact with you.

The way from America to Moscow was recently laid by our pilot Levandovsky. I would like this way to connect our two hemispheres as quickly as possible, so I could see all of you.

Once again I send my very best wishes to you, your wife and son. Also, I send my sincere greetings to your mother, father, and brother. I welcome Gertrude with her family. Why does she never write anything?

Truly yours,

Aunt Gita Kagan

My husband, our children and grandchildren send you their greetings and kisses. Our photos I'll send somehow. I still hold onto the photographs because I hope to look better but to tell you honestly my hopes have not come true yet.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Druze on the Golan are now asking for Israeli citizenship

Some real news, highlighted by Elder of Ziyon - "The protest against Assad: The Druze on the Golan are asking for Israeli citizenship." The story is from Israel's Channel 2 news of June 21, 2012 (for the Hebrew, go to: חדשות 2 - המחאה נגד אסד: הדרוזים בגולן מבקשים אזרחות ישראלית). My translation follows:
The thirty-year old ban that the Druze majority on the Golan imposed on the residents of the villages that agreed to receive Israeli citizenship - has ended. In opposition to Assad's regime, and in order to show that it no longer rules over the villages on the Golan, the leaders of the community lifted the ban imposed on those who accepted Israeli citizenship.
... Thirty years after the Knesset decided to grant Israeli citizenships to the residents of the Golan, the ban has ended which the leaders of the community decreed against the residents who agreed to accept Israeli citizenship.
In contrast with the Druze who live in other parts of Israel, the Druze on the Golan see themselves first of all as citizens who are loyal to Syria. Therefore, the Druze sheikhs decided to place a ban on anyone who accepted Israeli citizenship - their families were shunned, they could not marry their children, and they were not honored at funerals of their loved ones.
Senior officials in Israel tried for years to put pressure on the Druze sheikhs to change their policy without any success. It took events occurring over the border, in Syria, to bring a change. In defiance of Assad's regime, Druze on the Golan are now asking to take advantage of the right that was given to them by the law and to add Israeli citizenship. This step has been taken, among other reasons, to show Assad that he does not rule any longer over the Druze villages on the Golan.
This is really a major step. There remain close ties between the Golan and the Syrian Druze, and the Golan Druze have not wanted to seek Israeli citizenship in order to ensure that those ties continue. They have also done so out of the consciousness that if they accepted Israeli citizenship, and the Golan went back to Syrian rule, they would be regarded as traitors and treated accordingly.

My first thought is - if this is how the Druze on the Golan feel - why should the Golan ever go back to Syria?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

SYRIA – A Journey to Hell

Here in Israel we hear the news from Syria every day - how many people have been killed by the Syrian security forces. We hear about the massacres and the deaths of many children. There has been very little activism about Syria here - just a few demonstrations by Israeli Arabs, some of them in favor of Assad, and recently against him. I do not know if there have been any other demonstrations by Israeli Jews against the Syrian regime which tortures and murders its people. It is frightening to think that all of this is happening not very far from where I sit in Jerusalem.

I just read a harrowing account by Pierre Piccinin, a Belgian historian and political scientist, who has visited Syria three times since the beginning of the revolt against Baathist rule there. His name is The first two times he went with the approval of the Syrian government. The latest time he went in without approval, spent some time with the rebels, and on his way into another town, supposedly with government troops' approval, he was arrested, tortured quite horribly, and thrown into a cell with political prisoners from all over the world. He was lucky enough to get word to the Belgian embassy and back to his home. He was tortured for a day, and freed after six days, but he witnessed much worse torture of others, who died under the treatment.

From glancing at his publications he seems to be quite leftwing; for example, he wrote an article for Counterpunch on August 4, 2011 entitled "Syria - the  Hama Affair (How 10,000 Protestors Multiply Overnight to be 500,000)" and then another one on March 6, 2012 entitled "The Syrian Mirage - From the Alawite Fantasy to the Surrealism of the UN."

His opinions have now changed totally about what must be done in Syria. He writes.
Until now, as far as Syria goes I have always defended the principles of Westphalian law and those of national sovereignty and no intervention. I have denounced neo-colonial wars in Afghanistan, in Iraq or in Libya, led by economic motives and geostrategic considerations, whose “humanitarian” aims were no more than crudely dressed-up pretences.

But in view of the horror I have witnessed, for each of those men I have seen atrociously mutilated by barbarians serving a dictatorship whose outrages and degree of ferocity I could never have imagined, I now join in their call for military intervention in Syria, which will overthrow the abominable Baath regime: even if the country has to sink into civil war, if that terrible descent is necessary, it must be pursued in order to put an end to forty-two years of an organised terror, of whose proportions I had no idea. 
I would never pretend to speak for the Syrians. I am merely passing on the unanimous message which was given me by the fighters of the SLA, the prison companions tortured to death, the friends in Bab al Musalla.... 
Syria has no economic value to attract the western powers and motivate them to intervene. Quite the opposite: from a geostrategic view the government of Bashar al-Assad has the actual support of the United States, which has been conducting a policy of rapprochement since 2001; of Israel which congratulates itself on this outspoken neighbour but provides it with a strong frontier along the Golan; of the European Union which purchased 98% of Syrian oil and looks anxiously at the destabilisation of this pivotal power in the middle East; of China and of Russia, for whom Syria is the only remaining Arab ally, and with a window on the Mediterranean. 
A western military intervention, which would force the Russian position, would certainly represent a unique case of the engagement of powers in an enterprise from which they could acquire no profit whatsoever. Incha’Allah.
For the complete report, see SYRIA – A Journey to Hell: in the heart of the Syrian Intelligence Service Prinsons by Pierre Piccinin. It has been published in Le Monde, L'Espresso, and Le Soir.

Warning: explicit descriptions of torture and murder.

הצבע ארגמן - "The Color Purple" in Hebrew translation

By searching around a bit on the internet I discovered that "The Color Purple" has indeed already been published in Hebrew, in 1986. M. A. Orthofer of "The Literary Saloon" posted about the translation and even provides an image of the cover of the book in Hebrew, which I reproduce here.

I just checked on the website of the National Library of Israel to see if the book is found there, and indeed it is, under the catalogue number S 87 A 2447. I've ordered it and hope to look at it today when I'm in the library. It was translated into Hebrew by Shelomit Kedem (שלומית קדם). The publisher was Leduri (לדורי). 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Alice Walker refuses to have "The Color Purple" translated into Hebrew

This is no surprise, but it's still sad. Alice Walker refuses to authorize the publication of a Hebrew translation of her book "The Color Purple" because "Israel is guilty of apartheid." (For more on her views about Israel, Zionism, and Jewish self-determination, see my posts on her - Alice Walker).

Her opposition may not, in fact, prohibit the book from being published in Hebrew. Haaretz reports:
It was not clear when Yediot Books, an imprint of the daily Yediot Achronot newspaper, made the request, or whether Walker could in fact stop translation of the book. At least one version of the book has already appeared in Hebrew translation, in the 1980s.
The letter she wrote to Yediot Books refusing to let her book be published was posted on the PACBI website. Apparently when the book was made into a movie, the question arose as to whether it should be shown in South Africa, during the years of apartheid. She decided that it shouldn't be because "there was a civil society movement of BDS aimed at changing South Africa’s apartheid policies and, in fact, transforming the government." Walker is convinced that Israel is worse than both apartheid-era South Africa and the segregated South in which she grew up, particularly in how Israel treats the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and in how Arab citizens of Israel are treated.

I cannot speak to what it felt like to grow up in the segregated South as an African-American. I am white, and grew up in Massachusetts. My only taste of segregation was when I visited my grandparents in Washington, DC. What disturbed me was not the visible signs of segregation (for example, water fountains marked separately for "white" and "colored"), because I didn't see them, and they might have already been taken down by the time I was visiting. What disturbed me were the casual racist attitudes I encountered. And it's not as if there was no racism in the north - I lived in the Boston area throughout the period when the federal courts decided that the Boston schools should be integrated through busing. The courts did this because the Boston School Committee steadfastly refused to integrate the schools. It had members who engaged in the crudest racist demagoguery.

Despite what Israeli government spokespeople will tell you, the position of Israeli Arab citizens is not equal to that of Jews. As far as I can tell, the situation is quite mixed. Israeli Arab towns and villages suffer from decades of neglect by the government - the infrastructure in most of them is decidedly inferior to that in mostly Jewish cities and towns. Because most Israeli Arabs do not serve in the IDF, they have a great deal of difficulty in finding jobs in areas of the economy where IDF service is required. (Druze and Circassians are drafted into the IDF, and many Bedouin volunteer, but very few other Arab men serve in the IDF).

From what I can tell, the situation is improving slowly - the government is now running a program to encourage Jewish employers to hire Arab university graduates. There have been advertisements on the radio (and television also, I assume) urging Jewish employers to consider Arab applicants, and the government is also given monetary incentives to employers who hire Arab graduates. Arab Israelis go to colleges and universities (for example, the local college in Safed has a majority of Arab students, probably because of the large Arab population in the Galilee, where Safed is located). Hebrew University, which I am most familiar with, has Arab students - I don't know what percentage of the student population they are, but they are certainly visible on campus.

I do not think it is accurate to describe the situation of Arabs within Israel as "apartheid," or even "segregated" - I think it is accurate to say that they suffer from some discriminatory government policies and from widespread suspicion of them by Israeli Jews, which can lead to discrimination in employment or housing. The situation is hardly ideal, but it is not as bad as the segregated South or apartheid South Africa.

As for the description of the situation of Palestinians in the West Bank as "apartheid." I assume that is meant is the existence of separate, government-built infrastructure for Jews, including separate communities and roads. For example, Rte. 443 goes from Jerusalem to Modi'in through the occupied West Bank. There are parts of 443 that Palestinians are not permitted to drive on, for security reasons. (Israeli cars and cars belonging to West Bank Palestinians have different-colored license plates, so it's easy to tell - the Israeli ones are issued by the Israeli government, and I assume the Palestinian ones are issued by the Palestinian Authority). Is this apartheid? It definitely makes me feel uncomfortable, and I try not to drive on 443.

When I was first living in Israel in the late 1980s, as a graduate student, there were a lot fewer Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and there were no separate roads built to get to the settlements. If you wanted to ge to the Gush Etzion settlements, close to Bethlehem, you had to drive on roads that went through Palestinian towns. With the outbreak of the first intifada in December 1987, this became increasingly dangerous. I don't know when exactly the separate roads started to be built - the second intifada, which started in 2000, might have been the real impetus for the construction of separate roads, because it was so much bloodier than the first intifada.

In my opinion, the situation in the West Bank is getting close to apartheid, in the sense of government-imposed separation and favoring of one group (Israeli settlements) over another (Palestinians). This is one of the many reasons that I favor Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state with full sovereignty (unlike the partial control given to the Palestinian Authority in certain parts of the West Bank). I think that some of the settlements should become part of sovereign Israel, while others will remain under Palestinian state control - in other words, returning to the borders as of June 4, 1967, "with land swaps," as President Obama put it.

Is any of this relevant to whether Alice Walker's book should be published in Hebrew? I think that she should davka publish it in Hebrew, with a forward explaining her current political views. The book is very powerful, and I think that it could be influential, with sufficient publicity - not only with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also to the current disgraceful treatment of African refugees in Israel. If she refuses to publish it in Hebrew, she's taking herself out of any anti-racist and pro-peace movement in Israel, and that seems like a complete waste.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Racism poisons Israeli society

Good article from Shiraz Socialist on how Racism poisons Israeli society.
“Garbage”. “Poison”. “Cancer”. These are some of the words used by Israeli politicians to describe African migrants in the last month, which has seen racist riots, assaults and firebombings in working-class neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv, encouraged and partly orchestrated by the “mainstream” right. 
The real cancer in Israeli society is racism, running riot as Israel entrenches its domination over the Palestinians, Israeli society is further militarised and brutalised, and Israeli politics shifts further and further to the right. 
To give a flavour of the kind of things being said about migrants and refugees, one Knesset member (MK, like MP), Aryeh Eldad has argued that “Anyone that penetrates Israel’s border should be shot— a Swedish tourist, Sudanese from Eritrea, Eritreans from Sudan, Asians from Sinai. Whoever touches Israel’s border — shot.” He describes people who oppose such a policy as “bleeding hearts”. 
Eldad is a member of a small nationalist party. But politicians from the government party Likud were instrumental in sparking the riots. Meanwhile the government has refused to condemn attacks on Africans and instead used them as an excuse to step up its anti-migrant agenda. This includes 
• a new law allowing refugees to be jailed for three years, and those who help them illegally to be jailed for up to 15 years; • seeking to immediately deport all refugees from South Sudan, with raids across Israel since the start of June, on the spurious pretext that now it has separated from Sudan it is safe (ironically for the Israeli right, this will hardly lessen the number of refugees in Israel, since the vast majority come from Sudan and Eritrea, to which they cannot legally be returned); • building a 150-mile fence along the border with Egypt; • building a giant detention centre, with accommodation made out of cargo crates, in the Negev desert. 
Naturally such measures will — in addition to directly producing a lot of death and suffering — boost racism and lead to further attacks on those who remain in the cities (and probably black Jewish Israelis — this has already happened in at least one case).
There are 60,000 African migrants in Israel, out of a population of almost 8 million. Yet anti-African racism is even more widespread than anti-Arab racism, and seems to be rapidly becoming a new cutting edge for political reaction in Israel. Likud MK Miri Regev described African migrants as “a cancer in our body” — and one poll suggests just over half of Jewish Israelis agree with her. One third sympathise with the recent attacks. Even among Arab Israelis, 23 percent sympathise with the attacks, though “only” 19 percent agree with the “cancer” description. 
Left-leaning and secular Israelis are much less likely to hold anti-African views. But no large political organisation has spoken out in defence of migrants. The Israeli Labor Party is typically speaking out of both sides of its mouth, condemning (in the words of its leader Shelly Yachimovich) “inflammatory and shocking racial incitement against foreigners” but also saying that “the government has failed… and let the slums be flooded by migrant workers and refugees, thereby helping to kindle wild passions” and asserting the need to “protect the country from facing a huge mass of migrant workers”. It has set up a “panel of experts” on the issue, headed by a former head of the Israeli national police’s serious crime department. The Histadrut union federation seems to have remained quiet.....
This is an article cross-posted from the Workers Liberty website.  The Alliance for Workers Liberty is a small far-left wing party in Britain that, unlike the other far-left-wing parties and organizations in Britain, actually supports Israel and a two-state solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. This article reflects accurately what is happening in Israeli society today.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Photos from the Galilee



I went on a visit with friends to the Galilee over the weekend - here's a link to my photos. Click on the picture to be taken to the album on Picasa.

Today's Headlines

Another revolting policy of the Israeli government:

Israel admits it revoked residency rights of quarter million Palestinians since 1967
Israel stripped more than 100,000 residents of Gaza and some 140,000 residents of the West Bank of their residency rights during the 27 years between its conquest of the territories in 1967 and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. As a result, close to 250,000 Palestinians who left the territories were barred from ever returning.
More ugly vandalism:

Vandals slash tires, spray racist graffiti in East Jerusalem neighborhood
Vandals slashed the tires of seven cars in the Arab neighborhood Shuafat in East Jerusalem early yesterday - one car was sprayed with the word "Ulpana," the part of the Beit El settlement where the High Court has ordered homes demolished. 
"We got up in the morning and that's what we saw," said Ibrahim Salah, a resident of Shuafat. "The people here are simple folk who want to live in peace. I don't understand why people are doing this. This country is becoming racist .... Now foreign laborers are being targeted as well. Racism is rife in Jerusalem because of radical Jewish groups." 
Late Thursday night, vandals slashed the tires of 14 cars and sprayed racist slogans on three of them at the Jewish-Arab village Neveh Shalom near Latrun. Graffiti was also scrawled on the entrance to the community's bilingual Arab-Jewish school. 
The slogans included "Death to Arabs," "Revenge," and "Ulpana." The secretary of the Neveh Shalom Association, Gideon Suleimani, sees the vandalism as "an attack on the idea of coexistence - the political idea on which the village was founded." The police are investigating the incident.
Yad Vashem desecrated with antisemitic slogans
Vandals spray-painted anti-Semitic slogans at the entrance to Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem on Monday. 
At least 10 slogans were found on the walls outside the museum, with slogans such as: "Hitler, thank you for the Holocaust", "If Hitler did not exist, the Zionists would have invented him", and "Zionists! You declared war on Hitler in the name of the Jewish people, you brought upon the Holocaust." 
Some of the slogans were signed with the words, "The World Zionist Judaism."
Jerusalem Police suspect that those responsible for the graffiti are anti-Zionist Haredi Jews, similar to the vandalism that was found at Ammunition Hill memorial site earlier this year.
I just looked at the photos of the vandalism at Ammunition Hill, which was done just before Yom ha-Zikkaron and Independence Day, and it looks to me that it's the same handwriting. The messages are similar, too.

The graffiti included slogans slamming President Shimon Peres, as well as praise for German poet Gunter Grass. The slogans that were found included: “The evil Zionist regime will fall,” and “Gunter Grass – be strong and brave.” 
Graffiti included curses against Peres, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai, calling Yishai a “Zionist Mizrahi.” 
I presume the police have noticed that the handwriting is the same, and are using this information to find whoever has done this.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Festival of Light in Jerusalem

Tonight I went to the "Festival of Light" in the Old City, and here are some photos of it!









A beautiful column by Amira Hass

When I'm in the United States, it's easy only to see the threats that Israel faces, both the military ones (for example, from Iran), and the cultural ones (for example, the movement for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel), and be moved always to defend Israel against those who defame it and see only the bad side of the country.

When being here, I find that I can't just adopt that defensive posture. I can't just defend Israel against its detractors. I have to pay attention to the bad things that happen here, whether initiated by the government (for example, the settlement policies of the Netanyahu government, which seem to be intended to destroy any possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) or by private individuals, religious and cultural organizations, or corporations. Israel, like any country, is a mixture of good and bad - and that mixture gets lost when one is out of the country and isn't participating in life here. It's all too easy either to see Israel only through rose-colored glasses, or through shit-covered glasses - without very much in between.

Which brings me to today's column in Haaretz by Amira Hass: Otherwise occupied / Religious restraints. I know that supporters of Israel in the US often find Hass's columns (and Gideon Levy's) incredibly aggravating, and attack her for never saying anything good about the country. She focuses on Palestinian life in the occupied territories, and documents the horrible things that the government, the army, and the settlers are doing in the West Bank. Before the disengagement of Israeli military forces and settlers from Gaza, she lived in Gaza for a period of time and reported from there.

But I find that if I can calm down the part of me that is defensive on behalf of Israel, I can learn a lot from her columns. Her humanistic spirit shines through in the best of them. This column deals with three topics: about a lecturer at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank who hung up cartoons caricaturing polygamy and the burqa; whether Israeli reporters should write about "oppressive (or not) social customs in Palestinian society"; and how she answers when Palestinians ask her if she believes in God.

On the first topic, she wrote:
A young friend thought that I shouldn't write. That I shouldn't write what? That students at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah threatened a lecturer who hung caricatures on his office door about polygamy and the burqa (the robe that covers a woman from head to toe ). The lecturer himself refused to talk - as I heard indirectly - and the university's public relations department thanked me for my interest, but said it was a very minor internal issue that was being handled.... 
One caricature showed Superman with a beard, with a woman next to him who wanted to marry him. "I'm sorry," he says to her, "but on our planet we can only marry four." The second shows a man talking to a curtain, thinking that it's his wife, who always wears the burqa.... 
At a very early stage in the crisis the university established an investigative committee. About a week ago the students and teachers received its decisions in an e-mail from the president's office. First of all, said the message, the teacher explained that the illustrations he had hung in no way meant to mock Islam, but were an invitation to a critical discussion of certain social customs. Second, the committee will keep track of the complaints submitted by the dean against the students suspected of threatening the teacher. Third, there are ways of deciding on an academic curriculum, and doing so by e-mail is unacceptable. And fourth, the university adheres to freedom of research, teaching and opinion, respect for religions and beliefs, and condemns any use of violence or threats.
On the second topic, she wrote:
The young friend who suggested that I refrain from writing said: "They'll say that an Israeli reporter supports the teacher and his opinions, and that will work against him." This reporter also writes about the popular struggle against the occupation and about courageous activists, residents of the villages of Al Nabi Saleh and Bil'in such as Nariman Tamimi and Abdullah Abu Rahma. Is that supposed to work against them among the Palestinian public? 
Were it not for the fact that the event in Bir Zeit points to a phenomenon of silencing opinions with the excuse that they offend religious sentiments, there really would be no reason to mention it. And incidentally, a few years ago students in the Arab American University-Jenin brought about the removal of a teacher who taught selections from "Persepolis," the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. They claimed that one of the Iranian-French artist's caricatures offended religious sentiments. 
Of course, the natural place for discussing oppressive (or not ) social customs in Palestinian society is not in an Israeli newspaper. Even if there is a similarity to Israeli tactics for silencing other discussions. There is also logic in the implicit question as to whether an Israeli reporter suffers from a shortage of issues that touch directly on her society, but for reasons of lack of public interest do not come to the knowledge of Israeli readers. For example: the blocking of the road that connects Kufr Qaddum to its agricultural land and Nablus. The village holds a weekly demonstration because of that, and the Israel Defense Forces disperse it by force. Every week people are wounded.
And on the third topic she wrote:
Long ago I learned that it's hard to answer Palestinians directly when they ask "Do you believe in God?" I couldn't lie when I was asked this question by Shukriya Abdul Hadi, from the village of Nebi Samwil, which is besieged and cut off, and groaning under prohibitions against construction and movement. 
This woman, who is in her 70s, has spent most of the past 45 years protecting what's left of her land, which like most of the village land was confiscated by Israel and was replaced by security fences and a national park, or fell into the hands of bogus owners. In response, I cited to her what a (Jewish) female acquaintance says when she hears about another of the methods of our foreign rule: "There's no question, our place in hell is assured." 
"Aha," Abdel Hadi said to me. "I understand. You don't believe in God, but you believe in hell."
Amira Hass doesn't write columns to incite her readers to be reflexively anti-Israel - she writes columns to make us think, to realize that Palestinian society is complex and diverse, and to realize that the actions of the Israeli government and military are not injuring a group of faceless victims, but rather people who are living ordinary lives and trying (some of them) to build a better society for themselves and others, in the face of Israeli oppression and the struggles within their own society.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

New archaeological finds in Israel

I've let my other blog ("The Land and the People") languish for a few months, even though I intended to post interesting stories about Israel on it. Recently, however, I've posted three stories about archaeological finds:

Today: Ancient Roman treasure found near Kiryat Gat.

May 23: Bulla with "Bethlehem" on it found in Jerusalem. The article also explains what a "bulla" is.

May 23: More ancient jewelry, this time from Megiddo, which is 3100 years old