|By: Gideon Spiro|
4 February 2012 (English translation 15 February)
Sounds of war
Talk of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is back in the headlines. The Washington Post published a report that US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta believes that Israel will attack in the spring or summer. On 3 February NBC’s Internet website wrote that there is a 50% chance that Israel will attack Iran in the spring. The article goes into the details and methods of the attack, according to which Israel will use long-range Jericho missiles, pilotless aircraft and F-15I aircraft with willingness to lose aircraft “if necessary”. I hope that someone will put a stop to this madness, that this is a gamble that is fraught with disaster. Like Cato the Elder I repeat my position that the way to achieve the undoubtedly worthy objective of preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons is not by using the Jericho missiles or airplanes the US gave to gift to Israel, but by divesting the Middle East of these weapons. Nuclear Israel is pulling the whole region into a nuclear arms race, and it cannot keep a nuclear monopoly forever. I hope at least that these reports are intended to warn Iran to take appropriate defensive measures that will put the brakes on Israel’s willingness to launch a new war.
A racist and a braggart
On Friday 3 February 2012 the military radio station Galei Tzahal reported that Dov Lior, the rabbi of the settlement of Kiryat Arba, gave a speech at a conference in which he lashed out at the nations of the world, called the US President Barak Obama “the Negro (Heb. “Kushi”) from the West” and compared him to the wicked Haman. A style that is reminiscent of the gatherings of storm-troopers from the 1930s in which they lashed out at Jews, Roma (Gypsies) and Leftists. Education Minister Gideon Saar was also in attendance at the conference. In his previous public appearance Lior defined democracy as “like the idol-worship of our generation”. That too is consistent with the fascist ethos.
The irony in the whole affair is that the this braggart Lior, who is known among human-rights proponents as a vile racist, could not even have his position as the rabbi of Kiryat Arba, which lives off the public purse, without the support of the President of the United States. Obama and his predecessors, who have poured into Israel the hundreds of billions of dollars that make it possible for Israel to allocate massive budgets for the illegal and out-of-control construction in the Occupied Territories.
Kiyrat Arba and other settlements would not have been built if the US had used its influence and cast a veto on what already now can be called a bechiya le-dorot (a mistake the effects of which will be felt for generations). The US, which closes its eyes to Israel’s crimes in the Occupied Territories, has settled for occasionally issuing weak declarations that they are unacceptable, but has continued to finance them.
To judge by his statements, Dov Lior could have been a guest of honour at the gathering of European neo-fascist or neo-Nazi parties that took place recently in the Austrian capital, Vienna. Lior’s words remind us again of the truth of the bumper stickers that used to be seen on cars in Israel: “Judea and Samaria and Gaza is a crime, and Judea and Samaria and Gaza is evil.” (Yesha’ hu pesha’ ve-Yesha’ hu resha’) 
The military arm of the Supreme Court
In my last column I published letters to four Supreme Court judges, in which I criticized them for their ruling that ratified the racist Citizenship Law that bars Palestinian citizens of Israel from starting a family in Israel with their spouses from the Occupied Territories, and for their rejection of the Yesh Gvul movement’s appeal against the shameful appointment of the settler Noam Solberg to be a judge in the Supreme Court.
This time I want to compose some words about additional appointment to the Supreme Court, Uri Shahrabani Shoham, now a District Judge, who will soon be sworn in for his new office. Shoham, a native of Iraq, was chosen in for the position following criticism of the fact that no Mizrahis are currently sitting on the Supreme Court. They are all Ashkenazis.
Shoham’s being a native of Iraq was a necessary but not exclusive condition, for in the lower civilian and military courts as well as among lawyers, which are the three sources from which candidates for judicial positions are drawn, there are more than a few whose roots are in the Jewish communities of Arab countries and have qualifications no less distinguished than Shoham’s, but they were not chosen. Why? Because Shoham is a general who serves as an arm of the military Establishment.
Shoham joined the army in 1966 and retired in 2001. He served in the army for 33 of the 45 years of the Occupation. He is a product of the Occupation as well as its servant and proponent, in the ongoing efforts to strengthen, renew and entrench human-rights violations and apartheid. He is a product of the Occupation as well as its servant and proponent, in the the ongoing efforts to strengthen, renew and entrench human-rights violations and apartheid. Among the many positions he has held have been head military prosecutor, president of the military court of appeals in the Occupied Territories and eventually Military Advocate General. In that capacity he was responsible for the despicable, corrupt and twisted justice system in the form of military courts that constitute the judicial arm of the Occupation. It is an well-oiled human-rights-violating machine that convict of innocents and daily deprives Palestinians, including thousands of minors, of their freedom in neutered judicial proceedings of the type that are typical of despotic regimes.
Shoham retired from the army with the rank of brigadier-general, and soon after his retirement he was appointed District Judge in Tel Aviv. This brings us to another disgrace of “the only democracy in the Middle East”: the judges in the travesty that is the military court system serve as a reservoir from which the judges in the civilian system are drawn. This explains why the civilian justice system functions largely as an extension of the military system as far as security and military issues are concerned. The accused don’t have a chance.
In the September 1998 issue of Mi-Tzad Sheni (a publication of the Alternative Information Centre), which was dedicated to the place of the army in Israeli society, I published a comprehensive article on the subject, the essence of which was: Israel has never had a military coup of the type described in political-science textbooks, nor is there a need for it. In Israel both the government itself and its standards are dictated to a great extent by the senior echelon of the officer corps. They do that while on active duty, and in retirement they continue to do it through their integration into key positions in politics, economy, the Academy, the media and the justice system.
The appointment to the Supreme Court of Brigadier-General (Ret.) Uri Shoham is a manifestation of that.
Occupation rabbis as stamp of approval for Supreme Court judges
Neal Hendel is a new judge in the Supreme Court of Israel. He has served since 2009. His appointment doubled the number of religious Jews on the Supreme Court. He is a native of the USA, a graduate of Yeshiva University, and was a pupil of Rabbi Soloveitchik. Hendel immigrated to Israel in 1983 and was absorbed by the judicial establishment - first in the State Attorney Service in the Southern District, then as a magistrate in Beersheba, from there he was promoted to the Beersheba District Court and now as we have seen he is in the Supreme Court.
Hendel was one of the judges on the panel (which also included Court Vice-President Eliezer Rivlin and Hanan Meltzer), which ruled on the appeal of Muhammad Zegair, a resident of Hebron, was injured as a result of an Israeli air force operation that was intended to execute a wanted person while he was sitting in his car in a crowded residential area. Zegair requested compensation for the attack, because he was not the one targeted for liquidation; but the District Court turned down his appeal on the basis that it was an act of war, which absolves the State from paying compensation.
The Supreme Court turned down the appeal, backed the District Court and justified the execution. The harm done to the innocent Zegair is, in the sterilized language of the judicial system, “within the bounds of reasonableness and proportionality”. No surprises so far. Parenthetically I will observe that Israel presents itself to the world as a civilized state where there is no death penalty, but that is misleading. In Israel the death penalty is applied without any judicial proceedings (in the sterilized language of the Occupation: “targeted killing” – which is often far from being targeted), with the retroactive backing of the Supreme Court.
The innovation in this ruling is not that Neal Hendel relied on previous Supreme Court rulings, nor that he drew on “Hebrew Law” (traditional Jewish religious law that can be applied in non-religious contexts); but that he drew on an article written by a rabbi who heads a yeshiva in the Occupied Territories.
Imagine a German judge in the 1930s who rules on a Jewish petitioner’s demand for compensation damages sustained by police violence. The judge rejects it because the Jews are enemies of the Nation, and in support of his position he invokes an opinion on the characteristics of the Jews written by a university professor who is an expert in racial theory. Of course there is a difference in the circumstances of the two cases, but there is also a common denominator: they are both the discourse of racists and robbers. One racist relies on the opinion of another.
International Holocaust Day
In November 2005 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, to be commemorated on 27 January, the date on which the Auschwitz extermination camp was liberated by the Red Army. If it was up to me, Israel would replace the Holocaust Remembrance day that is commemorated in Israel in accordance with the Jewish calendar (the result of a compromise between the government and the rabbinate), which usually falls in April, with the date that was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and thereby join the international community.
In my view, the United Nations Resolution confers the correct historical context on Remembrance Day. The Holocaust did not befall the Jewish people alone; it was also a holocaust for humanity, and so it is fitting that the UN Resolution mentions in its preamble the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Charter and the Genocide Convention. And the date too is more appropriate: the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the extermination camp that became a symbol of Nazi evil.
That is precisely the problem. Israel does not want to be part of the international humanist community. It turns away from human rights. Genocide does not concern it, unless Jews are the victims. Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel has taken on military features: a fly-past by Israeli fighters over Auschwitz, military honour guards at the memorial ceremonies.
In the State of Israel the Holocaust has become debauched. It has become an instrument to motivate young people to enlist in the army of Occupation, and under its protection Israel is maintaining a racist state that cruelly rules over another people, using its brutal legions to deny basic freedoms to millions of human beings. With the help of the Holocaust, Israel tries to silence critics worldwide through the manipulative allegation of “anti-Semitism”. The lessons of the Holocaust have not been learned. We are permitted to cruelly torment others, for after all, they’re not Jews. A public-opinion survey recently conducgted by the Israeli Democracy Institute showed that 70 per cent of Jews in Israel believe that the Jews are the Chosen People. Such a nation is permitted what is forbidden to others. Israel over all. I don’t think that even among the Germans there was such a high percentage that believed that in Germany over all.
Yeshayahu Leibowitz Prize
The Yesh Gvul movement, which supports those who refuse to take part in Occupation and oppression, initiated a special – and to me brilliant and inspiring - undertaking: a prize in honour of Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, awarded to those whose public activities are consistent with Leibowitz’ political doctrine, particularly regarding the Occupation.
Professor Leibowiz was among the first Israelis after the June 1967 war who warned of what awaited us if the Occupation persisted. He expected that Israel would turn into a thuggish secret police state, and his sharp tongue did not spare the governmental Establishment. The more the Occupation persisted and became entrenched, the sharper his critique became.
His vast knowledge encompassed most realms of human thought, from the natural sciences to sociology, politics and religion, especially Judaism. He was not only a man of extraordinary erudition, but a creator in his own right who left his mark on philosophical thought in Israel. Even in his advanced old age (he died at 90 in 1994) he was clear and lucid and retained his provocative formulations that enriched the public discourse in Israel. He rebuffed consensuses in just about every domain he touched on.
Twenty years ago, in February 1992, when he was nearly 90, I interviewed him at his home in Jerusalem for Der Semit, a German-Jewish periodical (the April-May 1992 issue). The words he said then have lost none of their relevance to this day. Below are excerpts from the interview:
On what Israel can expect: “If the Occupation continues, the consequences are certain, both internally and externally. Internally: the State of Israel will be a true fascist state. It is not that yet, the proof being that we can still conduct this conversation. But it is on its way there. If this situation persists Israel will become a fascist state with concentration camps not just for Arabs – those exist already – but also for Jews like me. And externally, there will be a total war against Israel in which the world will sympathize with the Arab side.”
On Israel: “Israel is losing all its meaning. It is not a framework for the national liberation of the Jewish People, but a mechanism for violent Israeli rule over another people. The retention of the [Occupied] Territories is depleting its material, psychological and spiritual resources. Israel is neglecting education and health and the social and communal conflicts. It will rot from within and if this situation persists, the end will be catastrophic.”
On torture: “The former President of the Supreme Court, Dr. Moshe Landau, stated that it is legally permitted to use torture. Israel thereby removed itself from human civilization. A person is not required to consider himself bound by the laws of the State when it permits the use of torture.”
On refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories and the Yesh Gvul movement: “I am flooded with queries from young people. Some of them criticize me, others write or call. Most of them are high-school graduates awaiting their enlistment [in the IDF]. They know that they will be sent to the Territories and they will kill children. They know that in the last three years the army murdered 160 Arab children aged 14 and under: 11-, 12-year-old “terrorists”. That’s what service in the Territories means. It is a fact that it is impossible to keep the Territories without this. Whoever says that it is possible to keep territories that are not part of the State of Israel without being a murderer, it’s like saying that you want a triangle without three sides.
“About two months ago I got a letter from a military prison, signed by two, a junior officer and a private. One had been sentenced to 28 days and the other to 35. Their letter moved me very much. It was a thank-you letter. Because of their conversation with me, they did what they did.”
“... refusal is a matter of heroism. Not because you fear that you will get 28 or 35 days. It’s not nice but it won’t kill you. The heroism is spiritual heroism. The person recognizes in all with all his heart that this army is his army, not a foreign army, and according to the full depth of this understanding, it is his country that must be defended. That is why the army exists, and he serves in it wholeheartedly. The army is based on discipline. Despite this consciousness, those who refuse a legal order, because it is inconsistent with something that in his eyes has more value than the State, homeland, nation etc., it requires a great deal of spiritual heroism. Because the environment that you are in will not understand it, and will even mock it. Organized refusal is another thing. The individual who does it needs high spiritual heroism, but when the refusal is organized the individual has backing. He will not be an exception, and so I am inciting a revolt, for organized refusal.”
On the leaders from the Mapam Party and the Kibbutz Artzi movement: “They say to the young people: yes, you are right that it is not just /right to serve in the Occupied Territories and that to serve they has nothing to do with defending Israel, and we must not be murderers, but then they ad at the end the famous ‘but’. So they come to me, even though I am far from them, because I talk to them without the ‘but’.
Question: The Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories sometimes carry out pogroms against the Palestinian population. A few weeks ago, soldiers of the Israeli Occupation army burned hundreds of books, including books of religion, at Hebron University. Does that remind you of anything from the history of the Jews of Germany?
Leibowitz: “I am the one who introduced the concept ‘Judaeo-Nazi’.”
Question: Is there not something inappropriate about that comparison?
Leibowitz: “Why did we hang Adolf Eichmann? Everything he did was legal. He was carrying out legal orders. He did his duty as a German officer, just as we demand of our officers. Some time ago there was an incident with that young PLO woman who was held in prison, handcuffed day and night. What we call “moderate physical pressure.” She was pregnant and when the time came for her to give birth they took her to the hospital without removing the handcuffs. The handcuffs were still on her when she gave birth. That doesn’t look Nazi; it is Nazi.”
A few days ago the Leibowitz Prize award ceremony was held in the Tzavta Theatre in Tel Aviv. This is the third year that the prize has been awarded. The theatre was nearly completely full. This year’s laureates were Uri Avnery, for lifetime achievement, and Hagit Ofran,  the coordinator for Peace Now’s department for the monitoring of settlements, who was recently a target of settler terrorism but did not submit, and continues to patrol the Occupied Territories and to report to us and to the world about what is being done there.
Those who attended the ceremony are certainly aware of the fear of what awaits us in consequence of the anti-democratic tsunami that the right-wing government has swept over us. Leibowitz’ warnings of the inevitable process of Israel’s conversion into a fascist state due to the continuation of the violent rule over another people ring in our ears.
But at the same time, the gathering was pervaded by the sense of high spirits and optimism that emanated from the two laureates, who have not lost their faith that change will come, if belatedly.
But all as long as the Occupation continues, refusal to serve the Occupation is more relevant than ever, as Yesh Gvul declared in an open letter to the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, as follows:
We, the below-signed, are all members of the IDF reserves, many of whom have participated in Israel’s wars, have various ideological outlooks and are not partisan, but we are united by the concern over the existence and image of Israeli society. The Lebanon War, the settlements and the acts of oppression in the Occupied Territories reflect insensitivity to human life, loss of values and loss of a sense of reality. They close the option of peace with the Palestinian people and our other neighbours, they isolate Israel internationally, and prove that Israel prefers territory to peace. The Occupation has corrupted our values, and manifestations of extreme nationalism and racism have become acceptable in Israeli society. Jewish terror groups are given a seal of approval and racist doctrines have become legitimate. We took an oath to defend the peace and security of the State of Israel and we are faithful to that oath. For that reason we ask you to permit us not to take part in the process of oppression and Occupation in the Territories.”
Every word is on the mark. It was published as an ad in Haaretz on 6 June 1986, to commemorate the passage of 19 years since the beginning of the Occupation. Several hundred reservists signed the letter. The fact that I was one of the founders of the movement is a source of satisfaction to me.
The highest praise goes to all who had a part in the creation of the prize, foremost among them Mordechai Zeldon, whose persistence greatly contributed to its realization.
1. Judea and Samaria” means the West Bank. The acronym for Judea and Samaria, with the addition of Gaza, is “Yesha’”, which also means “salvation” in Hebrew.
2. Hagit Ofran is also a granddaughter of Yeshayahu Leibowitz.
Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent