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Red Rag column
Red Rag

By Gideon Spiro

17 June 2010
(English translation posted 25 June)

Who will save us? The elders of the community

Following the strong international criticism Israel received over its navy’s murderous attack on the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara, [1] which was a part of the humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza, two waves have swept over the country: a wave of criticism of the political leadership for its failure to plan the operation properly, and a patriotic wave of support for the naval commandos who “acted heroically under circumstances in which they found themselves through no fault of their own.”

In other words, if there is a failure, those responsible are the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, and their resignations are demanded. Some add the Chief-of-Staff of the IDF and the Commander of the Navy to the list and demand their resignations as well. But the soldiers who raided the ship? Nothing wrong with them at all.

Of course, like in every mafia, it is the bosses who bear the brunt of the responsibility for what the IDF does. The Prime Minister, the Defence Minister, the Chief-of-Staff and the Commander of the Navy are responsible for the failure. They should resign and give an accounting of themselves. But are the mafia soldiers who actually pulled the triggers completely absolved of any responsibility whatsoever? In my opinion they too are part of the chain of evil, even if their responsibility is diminished in comparison to that of the bosses.

When it comes to the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians and their supporters, the modus operandi is often similar to those of murderous mafias. Does that mean that the mafias and the government of Israel are one and the same thing? Heaven forfend! Only an extremist would say such a thing; everything I say is in measured and moderate terms: the methods used by the Israeli government to violently appropriate property that does not belong to it and transfer its ownership to people associated with it (who just happen to be Jews) sometimes look like the violent and murderous methods used by Russian oligarchs or the Sicilian Mafia for appropriating the property of others, whether they be isolated individuals or the general public. Whereas the Jews in Germany, Poland and Hungary have received restitution for the property they lost in the Second World War, Palestinians have not received similar restitution from the State of Israel for property they lost in the 1948 war. Not only that has their property not been returned and compensation not paid, but even the property Palestinians acquired after they became refugees (in the West Bank and Gaza Strip) has been repeatedly confiscated for the benefit of Jewish settlers.

The violent interception of the humanitarian aid flotilla is very consistent with the Israeli violence syndrome, according to which what we cannot accomplish by force we can accomplish by more force – and along the way we can also steal the passengers’ property. Otherwise how can we explain the fact that the cameras, telephones, computers that the Israeli pirates confiscated from the passengers have still not been returned to them? Nobel Peace Price laureate Mairead Maguire, who was on the Rachel Corrie ship, told me a few days ago that her cellular telephone as well as another electronic device were taken from her and not returned.

The Chief-of-Staff claimed that the soldiers who attacked the flotilla “killed whom they had to,” and that those they killed were “terrorists.” In Israel, when you say somebody is a “terrorist,” that person’s life has no value.

The list of those killed proves otherwise. Was Ibrahim Bilgen, a 61-year-old electronic engineer from the city of Siirt, married with six children, a terrorist? Or Cengiz Songur, 47, from Izmir, married with seven children? Two examples out of the nine victims. On what grounds are they spreading this nonsense?

The government of Israel claims that it has the right to prevent the transfer of weapons to Hamas and so it has to check every ship on the way to Gaza. An excellent explanation. I too have an interest in the non-transferral of weapons to Gaza, but the principle of mutuality requires that the flow of weapons to Israel too be stopped. As long as weapons flow to Israel without any control or inspection, how can we blame the government of Gaza, which is in a conflict with Israel? Some will say to me: do you mean to say that Hamas and the government of Israel are the same thing? God forbid! As I said before, I am no extremist, and it would not occur to me to say such a thing. The two governments are definitely not the same thing. True, there are lines of similarity: the tyrannical nature of each regime (ironically, the tyranny of both governments is directed against Palestinians) and the religious fundamentalism of each, the faith of both sides that the Holy Land belongs “only to us,” and the cult of martyrdom: land is more important than life. And there are also differences: the government of Gaza is weak, poor and isolated, whereas Israel is strong and rich and enjoys all the benefits that accrue from contacts with the outside world.

In any case, even if we accept the premise that Israel has the right to check vessels approaching Gaza – the Mavi Marmara in this case – it was clear to all that the were no arms on the ship.

Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, a former general in the army and Knesset Member for the Kadima party and today a professor at Tel Aviv University, wrote in Israel’s highest-distribution newpaper Yediot Aharonot that “we knew there were no munitions on the ship.” Ami Ayalon, a former commander of the navy, chief of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), Knesset Member and government minister, declared that “the violent option is our only option, even when it harms our interests.” Too bad that they attained such wisdom only after their military careers, in which they took part in that whole violent march of folly, had come to an end.

In the face of international pressure, the government decided to set up a commission of inquiry headed by Yaakov Turkel, a former judge in the Supreme Court, whose record is replete with pro-government judicial decisions. He backed the Occupation and authorized the administrative detention of Palestinians, and the odour of racism wafts from more than a few of his rulings. Other members of the commission include Shabtai Rosen, a 93 year old law professor who among other things served as the judicial advisor of the Foreign Ministry, and Amos Horev, an 86-year-old retired general who among other things developed war-fighting techniques for the IDF. Two observers from abroad will also be present at the commission’s discussions, but without voting rights. William David Trimble of the Northern Irish Unionist Party, who won a Nobel Peace Prize and is known as a close friend of Israel, and Ken Watkin, a Canadian general and former chief military prosecutor of the Canadian Armed Forces. Israeli newspapers report that he converted to Judaism three years ago.

The announcement of the commission has been greeted with a great deal of scorn in Israel, mainly because of the advanced ages of its members. I do not share that view. Those senior citizens may very well still be alert and lucid. The fact that Shabtai Rosen is assisted by a Filipino caregiver proves only that he has difficulty with his physical functions, but not necessarily with his mental faculties.

My scepticism stems from the fact this commission is composed of people who are sympathetic to the government, it has no real authority and is limited to expressing opinions on two judicial questions. It will not look into the actions of political or military leaders, and it will not even be able to subpoena witnesses to appear before it.

The fact that President Obama views the establishment of the commission as a response to international demands for a deep, comprehensive and transparent inquiry with international standards proves that Israel is still able to toy with the White House.

We must expect the commission’s final report to be a whitewash, but I remain open to surprises. These men may yet prove that they still have some fire in their bellies in their old age.

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas, who will celebrate her 90th birthday in two months, was until recently the most senior White House correspondent. She began her career in 1961, during Kennedy’s presidency. A Jewish rabbi set a trap for her at some event at the White House. Camera in hand, he asked her one or two questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Helen Thomas, who whose family immigrated to the USA from Lebanon, said something along the lines of: the Israelis, who conquered Palestine are cordially invited to return to their lands of origin, Germany, Poland or the USA. That sentence was inflated to enormous proportions by the Jewish lobby, and Helen Thomas was forced to resign. She apologized, but that did her no good. The Jewish lobby has proven that its influence is strong enough to compel the resignation of a woman who had become a White House institution.

Those who want to cut Thomas some slack may point out that she was speaking not about the Jews but the Israelis who conquered Palestine, and nobody who will disagree that at least in 1967, that is exactly what happened: Israel conquered Palestine. The point is that her words, while perhaps not the wisest thing to say under the circumstances, were also not as dreadful as they have been made out to be. Some have said that her statement was akin to saying that the Blacks in the USA should return to Africa. It is not the same thing. The Blacks in the USA did not conquer America and they did not expel anybody from it. They were taken there against their will as slaves. The Israelis did indeed conquer Palestine and expelled a million Palestinians from their homes.

Helen Thomas did not propose that the Israelis should go to Hitler’s Germany or to German-occupied Poland. To return today to democratic Germany or Poland is no punishment; for many it is even an advantage. It is not for nothing that tens of thousands of Israelis – including second and third generation Israelis who were born in Israel and never lived in Germany or Poland – have availed themselves of the chance to recover German and Polish citizenship. They saw it as a welcome right and not a punishment. Nor do I know a single Jew who immigrated to Israel from the US who renounced his or her US citizenship.

Speaking as one to whom German citizenship has been restored, I can testify that there have been occasions when I thought to myself that my feelings about Germany were more positive than my feelings about Israel.

And no less important: those very same Jews in Israel and the US who made such a show of being appalled by the words of Helen Thomas – are hypocrites. For after all, here in Israel that kind of talk is as plentiful as sand on the beach. Hardly a day passes without some Israeli Jew, in the Knesset or outside it, suggesting to the Arabs that they leave Israel and go to one of the Arab states. Only recently Jewish Knesset Members of the right wing racist ilk proposed it to MK Hanin Zoubi because of her participation in the humanitarian aid flotilla.

Helen Thomas can certainly take comfort from the fact that many Israelis have indeed followed her advice and returned to Germany, Poland and other countries.

Helen Thomas’ seat in the front row in the White House correspondents’ room should be returned to her.

Do not give in to the government of Israel

Following the arrest of a Mossad agent in Poland, I wrote the following letter to the German Chancellor:

14 June 2010
To Her Honour Chancellor Angela Merkel

Honourable Madame,

I am a German citizen who, due to historical circumstances, also holds Israeli citizenship. I was born in Berlin. The families of my parents, both on the side of my father, the physician Dr. Samuel Spiro, and of my mother, the photographer and technician Grete Spiro, from the Naumann family, lived in Germany for hundreds of years.

My parents refused to emigrate until nearly the last minute, in the hope that the evil spirit that spread over Germany in the 1930s would pass. But after the Krystallnacht pogroms in November 1938 they understood that that hope was gone and in March 1939 they emigrated to Palestine, which was then under the rule of the British Empire.

Democratic Germany decided to return to the Jews of Germany the citizenship that had been taken from them by the racist laws that were implemented by the Nazi regime. I willingly accepted the offer because I saw it as the correction of an injustice.

I am a journalist and active in peace and human rights organizations. According to my outlook, which was formed by the lessons that I have learned as one who suffered from racism, no people has the right to rule over another and to deny its basic national and human rights. The solution to the conflict will not come through murder, liquidations, occupation and the theft of the lands of the Palestinians by Israeli settlers, but from talks and respect for the rights of others.

Up to now I have been providing personal background.

I am addressing you in connection to Israel’s attempt to prevent the deportation of an Israeli citizen, who answers to the name of Uri Brodski, evidently a member of the Mossad, who is currently under arrest in Poland and suspected as having been involved in the issuance of a false German passport that was used by members of the cell that murdered Muhammad al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Today it is clear to all that it was an operation carried out by the Israeli Mossad. Members of the cell used falsified passports while using borrowed identities. I opposed that action because, among other reasons, I oppose the death penalty in general and extrajudicial execution in particular.

In the context of their efforts to prevent the extradition Israeli representatives are also diluting the Holocaust, which of course has no relevance to the issue at hand. The time has come for the international community to condemn and no longer to give in to Israel’s systematic extortion in which the Holocaust is pressed into service for the transient political objectives of Israeli governments. This indulgent attitude to Israel, as if it were a beloved child who is naughty from time to time, must come to a stop, because the child is far from being a nice one. He is known for aggressiveness and violence, and has several hundred atom bombs. It is not funny, and now it is has become dangerous.

The details of my German passport were photographed and are located in the files of the Israeli security services. I sent a letter to the Israeli Attorney General and requested that he send me a commitment in writing not to use the details of my passport in support of any action by the Israeli government or its security services. I have not yet received a reply. I recently sent an additional reminder.

I appeal to you not to give in to Israel’s demands, to proceed with the requested extradition, to put the man on trial, and if he is guilty to impose a meaningful punishment. It will be an important lesson to the government of Israel, following which they might reconsider their unjustified system of extrajudicial executions by liquidation cells.

With great respect,

Gideon Spiro

*** *** ***

Withdrawal of citizenship

To the Honourable Yehuda Weinstein
Attorney General
Palestinian East Jerusalem

The Minister of the Interior, Eli Yishai, has proposed to withdraw the Israeli citizenship of MK Hanin Zoubi because of her participation in the humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza, which as we know was stopped by a deadly pirate raid by the Israeli navy.

Minister Yishai saw her participation in the flotilla as “treason” that justifies the cancellation of her citizenship. It is clear that Minister Yishai does not understand the basics about civil rights and the principles of a democratic society, and the racist in him is alive and kicking.

In October 2008 I participated in a humanitarian flotilla to Gaza that succeeded in breaking the blockade. The humanitarian aid that we brought, especially medications for the hospitals, reached those for whom it was intended.

The difference between me and MK Zoubi in this regard is that I succeeded in reaching Gaza and she did not. According to Yishai’s logic, my treason was worse than hers. But the Minister did not propose to cancel my citizenship.

I request of you, as the one responsible for the implementation of the rule of law, to bring to the attention of the Minister the fact that discrimination on national or religious grounds is against the law. What Minister Yishai is doing is a betrayal of democracy. Does the law contain any provision that deals with such betrayals?

Gideon Spiro

*** *** ***

Who is the racist here?

The whole country is in an uproar over a disagreement between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Haredim in the settlement of Emmanuel. Below is a letter that I sent to Judge Edmond Levy who sat at the head of the panel that discussed the matter.

27 May 2010

To His Honour Edmond Levy
Supreme Court
Shaarei Mishpat Street

It was reported in the newspaper Haaretz (23 May 2010) that you were being called a “kapo”, an “informer” and other such terms in Haredi circles, due to their displeasure at your rulings on the conflict between the Hasidic group and a Mizrahi group in the settlement of Emmanuel. I do not intend to go into the substance of that disagreement – whether it is a matter of Ashkenazi racism against the Mizrahi group, as the most of the secular press reports, and as can be understood from your ruling, or whether it is a religious disagreement over lifestyles, as members of the Hasidic group claim.

By my lights this is a quarrel between two racist groups who live in a settlement in the Occupied Territories that was built on stolen or plundered Palestinian land, who enjoy privileges under the protection of the apartheid system that the military Occupation regime has imposed on the indigenous population, the Palestinian people.

When two racists quarrel they go to a third racist to adjudicate between them, and in this context you play the role of the racist judge.

The holy fury that the you demonstrated against what in your eyes is the Hasidic group’s racism against the Mizrahim is a display of crocodile tears by one who is himself stained by a record of racist rulings in support of the Israeli Occupation regime and the apartheid regime that the State of Israel and its army and settlers have imposed on the Palestinian people.

The moral value of your rulings in the Emmanuel quarrel amounts to zero, for a racist cannot preach morality to other racists.

I do not agree with those who define you as a kapo, for in order for you to be one the Nazi conqueror must be on the other side of the barricade. If they must use imagery like that, even if only as a metaphor for our reality, then the kapo is the Palestinian who collaborates, the rat who informs to the Occupation authorities, whereas for your part you are on the Nazi side, that of the cruel occupier. Your judgements give backing to war crimes, and one day you will have to account for your actions as did the Nazi judges at the Nuremberg Tribunal.

I suggest that you start thinking about ways to make amends and undergo a process of democratic repentance, so that the racists’ anger at you will at least be for the right reasons; for today, as illustrated by the Emmanuel affair, you are not only eating the rotten fish, but you are also being expelled from the city. [2]

Gideon Spiro

Cc: President of the Supreme Court Beinish, and the Attorney-General

Translator’s notes

1: The Mavi Marmara was built in a Turkish shipyard, is owned by the Turkish NGO IHH and was operated by a Turkish crew, but it was sailing under the flag of Comoros. The Free Gaza Flotilla that was forcibly intercepted and boarded by the Israeli navy in international waters on 31 May 2010 was comprised of six ships, including one Turkish-flagged ship, the Gazze. It also included two Greek-flagged ships, the Sophia and the Sfendoni, as well as a US-flagged ship, the Challenger 1. The other ship in the flotilla that Israel attacked on 31 May was the Defne Y, sailing under the flag of Kiribati.

2: A Hebrew idiom that originates from a rabbinic parable about a man who was given a choice of accepting one of three punishments but ended up receiving all three, since in the midst of each of the first two he decided the next one would be more bearable. It refers to a person who has ended up with “the worst of both worlds” due his or her weakness of character or poor judgement.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
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