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Sindyanna of Galilee
Tel Aviv 61351
Rehov Ha-Aliyah 43
CHALLENGE is indexed by the Alternative Press Index.
The social and political roots of the Syrian revolution
A lecture given in Berlin on January 30, 2016
Yacov Ben Efrat
The revolutionary uprising in Syria that started in March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring, and the current struggle there, have had a huge impact on my political party, the Organization for Democratic Action (ODA-DAAM, henceforth DAAM). Because of Syria's proximity to Israel and Palestine, developments there directly affect Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Hamas is close to the Islamic Brotherhood in Syria and elsewhere, Fatah is close to Arab regimes such as Assad's in Syria and Sisi's in Egypt, while the Salafi and Jihadist movements influence Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line. more...
or some time now Prime Minister Netanyahu has been conducting an ongoing dialogue with his military on the future of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The background is clear: first, the latest outbreak of the “Stabbing Intifada” shows that PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is losing his grip on the Palestinian street; second, the total diplomatic stagnation reflects Netanyahu's position that a Palestinian state will not be established on his watch. These two factors make the collapse of the PA a real possibility. But Netanyahu does not want the PA to disappear, and the PA, for its part, is committed to full security coordination with Israel. Abbas himself acknowledged that this coordination is a “sacred” Palestinian national necessity. In light of the political stalemate, the PLO Central Committee and key Palestinian spokespersons are threatening to "return the keys" to Israel. In his last speech, however, Abu Mazen reiterated that the PA is here to stay as long as he heads it.
he words “historic decision” spill forth across Israel's political spectrum, including the Arab leadership. Yesterday, the most right-wing government in the country's history passed the largest aid program ever to its Arab sector: NIS 15 billion (ca. $4 billion). How is that possible?
he Israeli Right's crusade against the Left is gaining momentum. The movement Im Tirtzu ("If you will it"), an unofficial ideological arm of the government, decided to remove its gloves and clip the wings of human rights organizations in a campaign known as Shtulim, meaning implants or foreign agents. The campaign called for outlawing "Breaking the Silence,” an NGO that collects testimonies about military service in the occupied territories. Im Tirtzu received support from the defense minister and the education minister along with tacit approval from other government officials. There's little doubt that the refusal of the Palestinians to end their mini-intifada has motivated the Right to lash out at everything in its way.
srael is currently facing a wave of violence unknown for more than a decade. Both unnamed and undefined, it has been characterized by bodies of Israelis lying in the street alongside bodies of Palestinian children who have been “neutralized” by Israeli security forces. In this critical time, when US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to advance the promises made by Bibi Netanyahu to Barack Obama in Washington, the Israeli media have trouble showing interest, while the American media don't mention the visit. Bibi reneged on the promises, leaving Kerry without function. It seems as if he was here to take in the surreal scene, peer into the eyes of the Palestinians and Israelis, mumble a few words for protocol, and report back to the president.
year and a half have passed since the last meeting between Obama and Netanyahu. Meanwhile, the Middle East has changed. Obama and Netanyahu came to power in the same year, and have not stopped sparring since. The climax was a blatant attempt by Netanyahu to interfere in America's internal politics and to undermine the nuclear deal with Iran. This time around, Netanyahu came out of his meeting with the US President saying that it was "the best meeting to date."
t seems the recent “intifada of knives” has been the opening volley of the next election campaign. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s Knesset speech, in which every sentence was preceded with the words “when I am prime minister,” left no room for doubt. He promised a firm hand against the rebellious Palestinians, and slammed Netanyahu repeatedly for his refusal to negotiate with the Palestinians which, he said, was leading to the creation of “Israstine.” Herzog smells blood, and he pounces feebly on the prey. He has declared unequivocally that he will not join a unity government, and during a recent special Knesset session held for Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day, he threw down the gauntlet: for the first time: he reminded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the “balcony on Zion Square” from which, shortly before the assassination, Netanyahu had addressed an approving crowd that was waving posters of Rabin in SS garb.
rime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is astonished and confused, Education Minister Naphtali Bennett is hurt and bewildered. How did it come to this? The present wave of protests and stabbings causing panic and horror in Israel was unexpected. How did an “old piece of shrapnel in the butt” (Bennett's metaphor for the Palestinians under occupation) become a threat to the heart of the nation? It’s incomprehensible, it just can’t be, it goes against all the appraisals.
ollowing the nuclear agreement with Iran, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter arrived in Israel and offered a consolation prize of aircraft and missiles to strengthen the country's security. Secretary of State John Kerry, for his part, hurried to offer a Saudi newspaper the first interview of his term, in which he reiterated that the US views Iran as an enemy and is committed to its allies in the Gulf. However, these gestures fail to convince its regional strategic allies: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to discuss military aid, and the Saudis take every opportunity to lambast the US agreement with Iran in every media outlet. US President Obama is derided as a scoundrel, as weak, as naïve, as a playboy and as an intellectual, disconnected from reality, while the western powers are presented as yielding to the Iranians for money – as apparently evidenced by the German economics minister's hasty trip to Tehran just a few days after the agreement was signed in Vienna.
he Knesset was frantic over the latest flotilla sailing toward Gaza, especially because Knesset Member Basel Ghattas of the Joint Arab List was on board. The purpose, he said, was to draw attention to the siege on the Gaza Strip and "the terrible suffering of its residents." However, far from the spotlight, Israel is taking rapid steps to ease the siege, in close coordination with Qatar and through indirect talks with Hamas.
majority of 61 Knesset seats out of 120 isn’t bad, but it’s not enough to govern. Coalition members who have not yet been sworn in know this well, but they rush ahead blindly nonetheless. We have almost forgotten the last elections, yet Netanyahu took a long time to get a government together. His “natural” partners are already at the wheel and ready for the journey, but they too feel that the trip is likely to be short and end in disappointment.
t seems every option has been tried and the results are still the same – Bibi, like Putin and Assad, is still here and we can’t get rid of him. We must qualify that comparison: Putin has absolute control of the media and liquidates the opposition, and Assad liquidates the Syrian people with bombs and starvation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, has to contend with a hostile press, but he still succeeds in charming his voters. The forces needed to defeat him simply do not exist in Israeli society. He enjoys the loyalty of the repressed, true, but the reason for his success is mostly the lack of an alternative. Bibi versus “Boujie” (Isaac Herzog) is really not a fair fight – that was clear enough even before they stepped into the ring.
s Israel’s media began marathon broadcasts on the three abducted Jewish youths, the world was busy with just one event: the fall of Mosul into the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the disintegration of the Iraqi army. There is no apparent connection between the two, but one man dreamt up a connection and made full use of it for his own political ends. That man was Israel’s imaginative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
he abduction of the three Israeli youths was the sign, and Israel’s media took up the call. Thus began the familiar routine of nonstop broadcasts, interrupted only for the World Cup. In this way a suitable atmosphere was created, and the (Jewish) people of Israel were recruited for a war to liberate the three from their captors. It is of course absurd to use overwhelming military force for an operation that requires a tweezers. The reason came to light within a few hours: Netanyahu determined that the kidnappers were sent by Hamas. An entire regiment of paratroopers swept the West Bank and carried out night arrests of 300 activists to “crush Hamas’ infrastructure.”
l-Qaeda in Iraq, or “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS), to give it its current name, has taken over the city of Mosul in the north. Iraqi forces have retreated in alarm. Thus, without warning, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lost a major oil-producing region and the central refinery in Baiji. Maliki quickly called on US President Barack Obama to assist by bombing the positions of the rebels as they advance on Baghdad, but Obama only reiterated his policy principles as he had expressed them during his last speech at the West Point Military Academy, when he promised the new cadets they would never set foot in foreign lands. The Nobel Peace laureate keeps himself occupied with interesting theories, but Al Qaeda is busy fighting and has managed to spread from Syria to Iraq, in the process effectively eliminating the border between the two states.
or one short moment, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has managed to bring everyone together – not merely reconciling Fatah and Hamas, but completely uniting the Israeli government which, many thought, was on the verge of collapse. People still remember Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying he’d prefer new elections over the release of Arab-Israeli prisoners, and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett threatening that his party, Habayit Hayehudi, would leave the coalition if any of these were freed. Day and night the teams negotiated – Tzipi Livni, Saeb Erekat and US mediator Martin Indyk – seeking the magic formula which would enable the talks to continue and ensure the government coalition’s unity. Commentators regurgitated the official line that this was impossible, because Abu Mazen was not only insisting on the release of all prisoners as promised, including Israeli Arabs, but also added two new conditions: talks on the future borders and a three-month freeze on settlement construction. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response was immediate: “Abu Mazen doesn’t want peace!”
Palestinian workers in Israeli settlements: Contending with a regime of work permits and limited rights
by Assaf Adiv
carlet Johansson did not intend to, but when the Hollywood actress represented SodaStream, an Israeli company operating in the occupied territories, and claimed that the Palestinian workers receive the same full rights as their Israeli counterparts, she raised an international media storm. Responding to criticism that the plant’s location in occupied territory violates international law, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum claimed, “We are very proud of our plant in Mishor Adumim. It must be understood, the plant employs both Israelis and Palestinians. All workers have equal rights. We call this an ‘island of peace’” (from Israel Hayom, 3 Feb. 2014).
ntil 2008 the boycott against Israel, known also as the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), was a marginal phenomenon. It began on July 9, 2005 when 171 Palestinian NGOs called for a boycott at an economic and cultural level. Over time, the initiative spread beyond the Occupied Territories to the wider world. But the Palestinian Authority (PA), which maintains diplomatic, security and economic ties with Israel, refused to express support (and refuses until now). The world’s governments likewise withheld support. Here and there, a famous singer or actor cancelled a gig in Israel, and demonstrations were held abroad when Israelis performed there, but these did not have an impact on public opinion in Israel, or on its government, which regularly accused the boycotters of anti-Semitism.
or the Dutch version, click here.
ne week ago, four key activists at the human rights center in Duma were abducted. Duma is located in the suburbs of Damascus, an area under the control of the militant group “Army of Islam”, headed by Zahran 'Alush. Among the kidnapped is Razaan Zeituna - a central figure in the civil opposition movement, a lawyer who defends prisoners sentenced in Assad courts.
he data of the Central Bureau of Statistics indicate enormous wage gaps between men and women, as well as between Jews and Arabs. These have made headlines and caused urgent debates at the Knesset Finance Committee. Not that the gaps are surprising, but the publicity has embarrassed Israel both in its own eyes and in front of the OECD, revealing its Achilles’ heel: the larger the gaps, the more the weak sectors of the population drag the country down, and the more likely is Israel to find itself exiled from the club of the developed nations. That has been the gist of the talk in Israel’s corridors of power.
by Assaf Adiv
he Prime Minister’s Conference on Minorities, held on Oct. 29, 2013, was entitled “Growth in Partnership.” PM Binyamin Netanyahu and senior ministers took part, including the “brothers in arms” Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, as well as Education Minister Shay Piron and Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug. The speakers gave stirring speeches full of promises to boost the political and economic integration of Israel’s Arab citizens, and to dismantle barriers to enable the full business potential of the Arab sector to be used. Higher education was emphasized along with employment, real estate, and fields in which government incentives could encourage economic growth in the Arab sector.
by Assaf Adiv
ome left-wing spokespersons look to Syria and see Vietnam. They are terribly wrong. The moral and historic duty of any progressive person is to stand by the Syrian people's struggle for freedom and help them topple the genocidal Assad regime
ddressing the nation on September 10, Obama reiterated and defended the justice of his decision to attack Syria and at the same time backed away to give Russia a chance to relieve Assad’s regime of its chemical weapons. On the same day, the New York Times published an item on the US which sheds light on the president’s inability to convince his nation of the justice of his path.
he smoking gun, about which so much has been said over the past year, has finally appeared. The corpses of babies, scattered on the ground, left nobody indifferent. There were no signs of blood; their death was silent and cruel. The images also left no doubt as to who is responsible for the slaughter, and the use of the deadly gas. Assad's regime has been massacring its own people for over two years using conventional weapons, planes and Scud missiles. The civil war in Syria has already taken a toll of over one hundred thousand fatalities, hundreds of thousands of refugees and people displaced within their country, and two million ruined homes. This regime, as we have seen, will do anything to prolong its reign, including the use of chemical weapons, banned from use by all international conventions.
n July 19, 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the resumption of talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The announcement did not come from Jerusalem or Ramallah, but from the Jordanian capital Amman, which has become the US State Department’s front line in the region. In the present tour, Kerry did not meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, because it was clear to all that Netanyahu was not the one who must make the decision. The ball was in the court of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen); he’s the one being asked to accept Israel’s familiar terms – talks with no preconditions, or in other words, talks for the sake of talks, as has been the norm since the Oslo Accords were signed.
he Egyptian revolution of 2011 was a rare opportunity to drive the country towards the future by creating a democratic regime which would enable Egyptians to develop a political awareness. The Muslim Brotherhood is incapable of turning Egypt into a modern state, because its religious outlook directly opposes cultural and scientific freedom, while the oppression of women prevents Egypt from shaking off backwardness and social introversion. But this is no reason to support the generals and the military coup. The only way of contending with these issues is via democratic elections.
stanbul, and with it all the major Turkish cities, has risen against what is regarded as the dictatorship of the Justice and Development Party, led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In our consciousness, Taksim and Tahrir squares have merged, Habib Borgeiva Boulevard has become one with Al-Abasain square in Damascus, and it seems that we are witnessing yet another event of the sort we have seen since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. This resemblance derives not only from the nonviolent nature of the Turkish rallies and demonstrations, but also from the fact that their initiators are young, middle class men and women, who used social media to mobilize and publicize their activism, steering away from the traditional political parties and the self-censoring mainstream media.
t the outbreak of the revolution in Syria two years ago, the Israeli government announced that events there were none of its business and it would not interfere. Forty years of quiet on the Golan Heights had led Israel to prefer Assad over any conceivable replacement. Now, however, when the rebels rule wide areas, when the Syrian army is falling apart, and when the regime's survival is in the balance, Israeli policy appears to have shifted from passivity to active intervention.
air Lapid had hardly settled into his Knesset seat before the Finance Ministry declared war on the ultra-Orthodox, on the Histadrut, on the monopolies – in short, a world war. What the father Tommy began with Netanyahu in 2003, the well-disciplined son is completing ten years later, fulfilling his father’s directives. Tommy Lapid has passed away, but Netanyahu has received renewed strength to continue the process he began as finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s government. Netanyahu paid a heavy price when he lost the general elections to Ehud Olmert, but a man like Bibi doesn’t despair – especially when another Lapid arrives to restore his self-confidence.
hroughout Obama’s three day visit, we couldn’t understand what the hell he came for. What brings an American president to Israel just two days after a new government is formed, while in the US a fateful debate is raging over the budget and economic policy? For three days we searched for the afikoman Obama had hidden, with no success. But just a few seconds after Obama boarded Air Force One to Jordan, the announcement went out: Netanyahu had spoken with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and apologized. The strategic relations between Israel and Turkey were renewed with Obama’s mediation, and the US president chalked up a gigantic strategic achievement.
he history of Palestinian political prisoners is replete with struggles that have claimed many victims but that have always had two characteristics: first, they expressed a collective decision, and second, their demands were focused on improving prison conditions. In these respects, the series of hunger strikes beginning in 2012 with Khader Adnan (66 days), a series which has since included others and is now continuing dangerously with Samer Issawi (more than 200 days) is exceptional. Each strike is the consequence of a private decision, and its purpose is to force Israel to liberate the striker.
n March, after Bibi Netanyahu forms Israel’s new government, U.S. President Barack Obama intends to arrive for a first historic visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Obama wants to talk with the Israeli people, but has nothing of note to tell them. First on the American president’s crowded agenda will be Iran, and then Syria. Last will be the Palestinian issue, concerning which he has no new initiative.
by Assaf Adiv
hen it comes to the elections among the Arab voters, it seems that reality has stood still: as if we are not in the midst of the Arab spring, as if hundreds of citizens are not being slaughtered in Syria daily. Thus, the vast majority of the Arab voters voted for the same three traditional Arab parties: The Islamic – Tibi Bloc, The National Progressive Tajamu and the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (DFPE, also known as Hadash).
heikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib’s declaration that he is ready to talk to the Assad regime came like a bolt out of the blue. A few days before he travelled to the Munich Security Conference, the Syrian National Coalition leader wrote on his personal Facebook page that talks would be dependent on the release of 160,000 political detainees and the return of passports belonging to opposition members who have been unable to enter their home country. On the same day, the Syrian National Council, which had been the main Syrian opposition until the National Coalition was formed, declared that the leader’s statement did not represent the views of the opposition.
n January 15, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper Haaretz printed an unusual opinion piece. Unusual not just because it was printed in two languages, Hebrew and Arabic, which in itself was extraordinary – but also because of the content. The newspaper is doing some soul-searching born of deep despair, because for the first time in Israel’s history the election results are known to all before voting has even begun. The merger of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu has left the opposition powerless. The picture looks even grimmer in the light of the increasing strength of Habayit Hayehudi, headed by Naftali Bennett, and the disintegration of the center-left into four parties: Kadima, Hatnuah, Yesh Atid and Labor.
sma Agbarieh-Zahalka is ecstatic. For the first time she sees clearly that the way to the Knesset in Jerusalem is shorter than ever. She is convinced that this time the Daam Workers Party, which she chairs, will cross the threshold, despite the fact that tens of thousands of votes stand between success and the 2645 votes received by the party in the 2009 elections. In an interview I conducted with her before the last elections four years ago, she seemed more introverted, more serious, working diligently yet without hope. But something has changed in four years, something that even she never envisioned would happen so quickly, although she had been waiting impatiently.
ne might think that these elections are meaningless. The results are ostensibly known in advance, like a repeat broadcast of a soccer match. There’s a feeling of defeatism in the air, and people relate to the rightwing as they might to the weather: one can talk about it, but it can’t be changed. It’s hard to believe that just a year and half ago, summer 2011, citizens occupied the streets, new ideas blossomed, politicians appeared despicable and defeated, and Tel Aviv’s youth burst out of their indifference and made their opinions known, without giving a damn for the opinions of the “adults” who had disappointed them so.
by Igal Sarna
rom Yedioth Aharonot, Weekend supplement, December 14, 2012
n November 29, the UN will recognize a Palestinian state for the second time. Once again this will be recognition on paper alone – a forlorn effort to bring an end to this tragedy. In light of the results of the Likud primaries (the internal party vote which determines the ranking of party leaders in the Knesset list), and in light of polls predicting greater support for the rightwing bloc, this recognition is unlikely to have much effect on the ground. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will not be dancing Dabke (Palestinian folk dance) in celebration, and they don’t expect much from President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), whose status has plummeted.
hat do the top leaders of Israel and Hamas have in common? They share the same enemy: PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Abbas embodies all that Ismail Haniyeh despises: secularism and compromise with Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, hates Abbas because his moderation threatens Israel's control of the West Bank. Abbas wants to achieve peace with Israel on the basis of the 1967 lines, including dismantlement of the settlements. He threatens Netanyahu's political future, for in paying the price of peace, the Israeli PM would have to part from his extremist right-wing allies, as well as the Land of the Patriarchs.
by Assaf Adiv
n Asher Schechter's Rothschild – A Chronicle of Protest (Hebrew), Published by Kav Adom – HaKibbutz HaMeuhad, 2012, 309 p.
inyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu's call for early elections initially evoked an instinctive response: Who needs this? The result of normal elections, scheduled for next fall, was predictable: Bibi could look forward to another four years as Prime Minister. He had split the Labor Party and pulverized his main rival, Kadima, dispersing its 29 mandates in all directions, with the result that no one on the political horizon could even come close to posing a threat. Nevertheless, elections are always a step into the unknown. Before Bibi's announcement, his predecessor as PM, Ehud Olmert—who had been ousted because of corruption charges—won a court victory and was able to contemplate a return to political life. There was also action from Haim Ramon, who had been forced into early political retirement because of an illicit kiss. Ramon is working to return Zipi Livni to the arena and unite forces with Olmert. Ramon's close friend, Aryeh Deri of the Sephardic religious party Shas, is returning to politics after ten years, two of which he spent in prison for bribery. This pool of old-time sharks was enough to scare Netanyahu.
n a recent TV appearance, Yossi Beilin voiced his hope that the Palestinians will carry out their threat to annul the Oslo Accords, which he helped design. Annulment would spell the end of the Palestinian Authority (PA), throwing direct responsibility for the residents of the Occupied Territories upon the shoulders of Israel.
he Arab world hates America. Nobody denies this fact, but it’s not just the Arabs. The Iranians hate America, the Russians can’t stand America, and even Benjamin Netanyahu loathes America. Hatred for America is not unique to Arab genes – it is trans-cultural and trans-ethnic. However, the world also admires America to the same extent that it hates it, because America is an economic and military power. What is more, Hollywood has caused us to identify with America's heroes – and as we well know, cinema has a hypnotic influence on the psychology of the masses.
e can relax: the disturbances in the Occupied Territories appear to have subsided, and the would-be third Intifada may have skipped over 2012 as it did over 2011. Back then it was supposed to break out after Abu Mazen vainly sought a Palestinian state at the UN Security Council. Israeli intelligence missed the mark in 2011 and misled others. This year, when all its analysts were worrying about how to get through the Jewish holidays in peace and quiet, they completely missed what was about to happen in the Palestinian territories. The protest broke out in reaction against a hike in petrol prices, derived from a similar price hike by the Israeli government, which seeks to reduce its budgetary deficit. After the Israeli social protestors tired and lost interest in demonstrations, the baton has passed to the Palestinians, who suffer many times more from the cost of living. What can you do: after 45 years of an Occupation that flooded their markets with Israeli goods, they too eat Tnuva cottage cheese, whose price triggered protest in Israel last year.
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Tel Aviv 61351
Rehov Ha-Aliyah 43
CHALLENGE is indexed by the Alternative Press Index.