The Last Refuge
August 27 2009
The timing of the mini-maelstrom over an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by Neve Gordon, who teaches politics and government at Be’er Sheva’s Ben-Gurion University, calling for a boycott of Israel, was somewhat grotesque. Hardly have the throats dried of those calling for his dismissal, for his citizenship to be revoked, for his expulsion and, if all else fails, his stoning, when another petition has surfaced on the Internet, this one calling for a boycott of Ikea. A bad article on the back page of a Swedish tabloid is enough to produce a call here for a consumer boycott to which thousands sign their names. Turkey has barely recovered from the boycott that our package tourers imposed on it because its prime minister had the gall to attack our president, and already we are cruising toward our next boycott target. It’s our right.
It’s a safe bet that most of the boycotters of Antalya and Ikea are the same people who want to tar-and-feather the Israeli professor who dared promulgate the use of the very same civic weapon. According to the Israelis who railed against Gordon, the imposition of a boycott is a legitimate, perhaps even effective, means of punishment that can be invoked against our enemies, real or imagined. Gordon, an Israeli patriot who served in the Paratroops and is raising his two children here, thinks that a 42-year-long criminal occupation should generate at least as much international protest as an article in a Swedish newspaper, and that this protest can and should be translated into concrete measures. The Israelis think that one scurrilous article is enough to warrant punishing everything Swedish, and that one comment by a prime minister is enough to do the same to everything Turkish. Gordon thinks the occupation is a sufficiently important motive to boycott everything Israeli.
Since the time of the ban imposed in the Jewish community by Rabbeinu Gershom at the turn of the first millennium, which applies to offenses of considerably less severity than mistreating 3.5 million people – namely, marrying more than one woman, divorcing a woman without her consent and reading private correspondence without the owner’s consent – the boycott has been a just and appropriate civil weapon. And since the boycott of the apartheid regime in South Africa, the boycott has also been an effective weapon. Israel is demanding its invocation against Iran, America wants it imposed against North Korea and both of them are demanding it against the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, and worse, against all the residents of Gaza. Israel, and with it most of the international community, imposed a boycott on 1.5 million Gazans only because they did not vote for the right party in the democratic elections that the international community demanded.
A country that constantly demands boycott from the world and also imposes boycotts itself, cannot play the victim when the same weapon is turned against it. If the election of Hamas is cause for boycott, then occupation is a far more potent cause. The fact that Israel is living a lie – pretending that the occupation does not exist, that it is just, temporary and unavoidable – does not make the struggle against it any less legitimate. So let us admit the truth: The occupier deserves to be boycotted. As long as the Israelis pay no price for the occupation, the occupation will not end, and therefore the only way open to the opponents of the occupation is to take concrete means that will make the Israelis understand that the injustice they are perpetrating comes with a price tag.
Anyone who champions the struggle against the occupation is no less of a patriot than a soldier who shoots a bound Palestinian or a settler who plunders land and builds his house on it, in defiance of every law. They are giving Israel a far worse name than a lecturer who calls for a struggle against the occupation – just ask Israel’s critics. It is precisely the Gordons, those who fight from within, who are repairing slightly the horrific damage that has been done to Israel’s image in the past few years. They are proving to the world that despite everything Israel is not monolithic, that not all Israelis speak with the same voice, that not all Israelis are Liebermans or Kahanists, and that maybe Israel is, after all, a type of democracy with freedom of expression, at least for its Jewish citizens.
Gordon went one step further. Boycott is the next logical step, he believes, because all else has failed. Forty-two years of fruitless fighting from within and an occupation that is only growing stronger, dictate stepping up the struggle. We tried demonstrations but the masses did not come; we tried conferences but they led nowhere. All that’s left is to give in, to go on with the routine of our lives, like all the Israelis, to shut our eyes and hope for the best – or to intensify the struggle, in conjunction with the intensification of the occupation. The Israeli soldiers who shoot at civilian demonstrators in Bil’in or Na’alin, almost like in Iran, are perpetrating a far more illegitimate act against the state’s rule of law than those calling for an international boycott. But no one will urge the revocation of their citizenship.
Gordon chose not to follow the herd, unlike most of his cowardly colleagues or the nationalists. It is one’s right to think that an Israeli who does not boycott Israel does not have the right to call on others to take that step, or that the call for an external boycott is the last option of Israeli patriots who do not want to abandon the country or throw up their hands. There is, however, no place for the vicious attacks on Gordon. The height of ludicrousness was achieved by the President of Ben-Gurion University, Prof. Rivka Carmi. She was appalled by the article published by a member of her faculty, fearing it could affect the university’s donations from American Jews. Here, then, is a new criterion for good citizenship and morality: the harm it wreaks to our schnorring. It’s also a new gauge for academic and civic freedom of expression: If something miffs the donors from Beverly Hills or Miami Beach, then we must not speak it aloud. Quiet – people donating.
The reactions from official Israel, and from the street, have lately become more irritable and more aggressive. An article in a Swedish paper or in an American paper, a report by Breaking the Silence or Human Rights Watch, whatever does not conform to the official right-wing, militaristic, nationalist line, is reviled, delegitimized and subjected to an outpouring of hate. This is an encouraging sign. Only when Israel, at both the official and the popular level, begins to understand that something went awry here, that something is morally rotten, that maybe protest, documentation and exposure are justified, then what remains is the last weapon in the hands of the defenders, the weapon of unrestrained attack on the protesters and the documenters.
If Israel were sure it is right, it would not be so frightened and be so aggressive against everyone who objects to its official line. If we were convinced that the soldiers of Breaking the Silence are making up stories and that Gordon’s call for a boycott and his description of Israel as an apartheid state are unjust, we would not be so abusive toward them. Not only Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi, from Shas, but also Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who expressed “disgust,” and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, who called for Gordon’s dismissal – two ministers who are supposed to be in charge of imparting education and values – were in the forefront of the assault against Gordon. It is not just a question of basic intolerance for different and even subversive opinions, whose expression is a fundamental value in every democracy. It is also a manifestation of edginess and aggressiveness that prove what Gordon and others like him want so much to show in Israel and abroad: that something very basic and very deep is flawed in the third kingdom of Israel.
Point of interest. IKEA is owned by a non profit group from the Netherlands. ( Dutch).
Antalya, Mediterranean paradise, Turkish riviera. Very Beautiful place.
Ottoman archives show land deeds of settlers were forged.
March 26 2009
A legal battle being waged by Palestinian families to stop the takeover of their neighborhood in East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers has received a major fillip from the recent souring of relations between Israel and Turkey.
After the Israeli army’s assault on the Gaza Strip in January, lawyers for the families were given access to Ottoman land registry archives in Ankara for the first time, providing what they say is proof that title deeds produced by the settlers are forged.
On Monday, Palestinian lawyers presented the Ottoman documents to an Israeli court, which is expected to assess their validity over the next few weeks. The lawyers hope that proceedings to evict about 500 residents from Sheikh Jarrah will be halted.
The families’ unprecedented access to the Turkish archives may mark a watershed, paving the way for successful appeals by other Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank caught in legal disputes with settlers and the Israeli government over land ownership.
Interest in the plight of Sheikh Jarrah’s residents peaked in November when one couple, Fawziya and Mohammed Khurd, were evicted from their home by an Israeli judge. Mr Khurd, who was chronically ill, died days later.
Meanwhile, Mrs Khurd, 63, has staged a protest by living in a tent on waste ground close to her former home. Israeli police have torn down the tent six times and she is facing a series of fines from the Jerusalem municipality.
The problems facing Mrs Khurd and the other residents derive from legal claims by the Sephardi Jewry Association that it purchased Sheikh Jarrah’s land in the 19th century. Settler groups hope to evict all the residents, demolish their homes and build 200 apartments in their place.
The location is considered strategic by settler organizations because it is close to the Old City and its Muslim holy places.
Unusually, foreign diplomats, including from the United States, have protested, saying eviction of the Palestinian families would undermine the basis of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The help of the Turkish government has been crucial, however, because Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire when the land transactions supposedly took place.
Israel and Turkey have been close military and political allies for decades and traditionally Ankara has avoided straining ties by becoming involved in land disputes in the occupied territories. But there appears to have been an about-turn in Turkish government policy since a diplomatic falling-out between the two countries over Israel’s recent Gaza operation.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, accused his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Olmert, of “lying” and “back-stabbing”, reportedly furious that Israel launched its military operation without warning him. At the time of the attack, Turkey was mediating peace negotiations between Israel and Syria.
Days after the fighting ended in Gaza, Mr Erdogan stormed out of a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, having accused Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, of “knowing very well how to kill.”
According to lawyers acting for the Sheikh Jarrah families, the crisis in relations has translated into a greater openness from Ankara in helping them in their legal battle.
“We have noticed a dramatic change in the atmosphere now when we approach Turkish officials,” said Hatem Abu Ahmad, one of Mrs Khurd’s lawyers. “Before they did not dare upset Israel and put us off with excuses about why they could not help.”
He said the families’ lawyers were finally invited to the archives in Ankara in January, after they submitted requests over several months to the Turkish consulate in Jerusalem and the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Officials in Turkey traced the documents the lawyers requested and provided affidavits that the settlers’ land claims were forged. The search of the Ottoman archives, Mr Abu Ahmad said, had failed to locate any title deeds belonging to a Jewish group for the land in Sheikh Jarrah.
“Turkish officials have also told us that in future they will assist us whenever we need help and that they are ready to trace similar documents relating to other cases,” Mr Abu Ahmad said. “They even asked us if there were other documents we were looking for.”
That could prove significant as the Jerusalem municipality threatens a new campaign of house demolitions against Palestinians. Last week, Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called the recent issuing of dozens of demolition orders in Jerusalem “ethnic cleansing.”
Palestinian legal groups regularly argue that settlers forge documents in a bid to grab land from private Palestinian owners, but have great difficulty proving their case.
Late last year the Associated Press news agency exposed a scam by settlers regarding land on which they have built the Migron outpost, near Ramallah, home to more than 40 Jewish families. The settlers’ documents were supposedly signed by the Palestinian owner, Abdel Latif Sumarin, in California in 2004, even though he died in 1961.
The families in Sheikh Jarrah ended up living in their current homes after they were forced to flee from territory that became Israel during the 1948 war. Jordan, which controlled East Jerusalem until Israel’s occupation in 1967, and the United Nations gave the refugees plots on which to build homes.
Mrs Khurd said she would stay in her tent until she received justice.
“My family is originally from Talbiyeh,” she said, referring to what has become today one of the wealthiest districts of West Jerusalem. “I am not allowed to go back to the property that is rightfully mine, but these settlers are given my home, which never belonged to them.