|By: Gideon Spiro|
21 November 2014 (English translation 29 November 2014)
Atrocity in Jerusalem
Every time there is a murderous terrorist attack, it happens to me more than
once that someone I do not know addresses me, and the phrasing is always along
the lines of: “Look at what your friends are doing.” Generally I do not into an
argument with them in the middle of the street and I refer them to my column, if
they really want to know my opinion. Sometimes I reply: “Yes: they’re my
friends. I raised them, I fed them and mentored them. I am guilty. Not the
Occupation, not the oppression, not the discrimination, not the hopelessness.
Only I am guilty. Thank you.”
To murder people while they are praying is a terrible thing. All the people of
the Right, from the hoodlum Lapid to Netanyahu all the way to the supporters of
Kahane have exhausted nearly all the possibilities that the Hebrew language
affords for the condemnation of the murder of the four in the synagogue in the
Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem, including “human beasts”. When I compare
this to what right-wingers said after the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs
in Hebron by Baruch Goldstein in February 1994 that cut off the lives of 29
people while praying, the vigorous condemners of today were divided between the
mild condemnation of the moderate Right and the justification of the murder by
the extreme Right.
This brings me to the primary difference between me and the Right in all its
manifestations; unlike the Right’s halfhearted condemnation at best, and more
often justification of attacks on the Palestinian civilian population including
500 children in the last Gaza war, called “Solid Cliff” (called “Defensive Edge”
in English), I oppose every attack on a non-combatant civilian population,
Palestinians as well as Israelis. And another difference: I am not neutral in
distinguishing between murder by a member of the oppressed people and one
committed by a member of the oppressing people. And that brings to yet another
difference: while the Right does as much as it can to perpetuate and to
aggravate the Occupation, which fans the flames and fosters horrible acts of
murder like the one in Har Nof, I struggle for an end to the Occupation, which
will neutralize the motivation for such murders.
The murder in the synagogue at Har Nof is another of step in converting the
national conflict into a religious one. Who bears the principle guilt for this
development? This brings me to another disagreement between me and the Right:
the Right says the Arabs are guilty, and I say that since the Occupation began
in 1967, Israel is the party that has increasingly emphasized the religious
aspect of the conflict.
The crime that is the settlements began with an ostentatious Passover seder
Rabbi Levinger and his group held in the Park Hotel in Hebron in 1968 and
continued with the settlements of Gush Emunim, all based on some story in the
Bible. The Book of Books converted into a land-deed and God a real-estate agent.
God’s promise conferred the status of owner of the land, no need for
bureaucratic examination of papers to see who owns what.
“Who are you, abominable Palestinian, to question the decision of God to confer
ownership of the land on the People of Israel? Your title-deeds are not worth a
fig and you can wipe your ass with them,” says the Jewish emissary. Rabbi
Levinger and those who have followed in his footsteps considered themselves
representatives of God on Earth who are authorized to implement His decisions.
Since God promised various borders at various times, activists on the ground
have a range of options for confiscation and theft.
The secular government became enamoured of this approach; the appropriate
Biblical verses were put at its disposal for the purpose of building
settlements. And to this must be added the various organizations that have been
set up for the purpose of building of the Temple and reinstituting the rituals
necessary for the Temple cult. At first we saw them as buffoons with their heads
in the clouds who could be treated with tolerance, but they proved to be
persistent and the unbelievable happened: they became the mainstream of the
religion of the Occupation. Their vision to remove the mosques took on a
threatening aspect. No wonder the Muslim establishment raised a hue and cry
faced with the danger of Israeli seizure of the compound.
Goldstein’s massacre inflamed people and aggravated feelings among the Muslims
regarding the intentions of the Jewish rulers. The reply of the secular Rabin
government did not help to dispel the doubts. The settlement in Hebron was not
dismantled, and that too was an alarming message to the Palestinians: it doesn’t
matter how terrible a crime a Jew commits, whether he wears a kippa or not. His
house will not be demolished and his family will not be thrown onto the street.
The Palestinian takes note that whereas the son of an Arab terrorist is
interrogated and tortured in Israel Security Agency interrogation rooms, the son
of the Jewish murderer is enlisted in the air force and becomes a pilot, and he
wonders whether that son participated in the barbaric bombardment of Gaza,
thereby continuing from the air what his father stared on the ground.  On
this subject, the Palestinian notes that the politics are unitary and transcend
partisan boundaries: with Shamir it was the Jewish terror underground, almost
all of them wearers of kippot with the fire of religious extremism burning
within them; with Rabin it was the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs, the
murderer wore a kippa; with Netanyahu an Arab youth was burned alive by kippa-
wearers. And now, the struggle for Jewish access to the mosques compound – that
too is run mainly by kippa-wearers. There is a pattern here, says the
Palestinian to himself, and danger is looming for the mosques in the area called
the Temple Mount. They must be defended, and thus begins an intifada. Rhetoric
like “we have returned to the rock of our existence, biblical Shiloh and
Anathoth” is heard not only from rabbis, but also from secular ministers and
Knesset members. The question that is not asked is: who is it who has
“returned”? What is the connection between the gangsters who sit today in the
settlements that bear those names and those who lived there thousands of years
ago? Were they Jews in the sense of today? Let us assume that the answer is yes.
If all every tribe or national group returns to the “rock from which they were
hewn, the rock of their existence” two thousand years ago, uncontrollable chaos
will envelop the world.
Without a doubt 47 years of Occupation have converted Israel into a state that
is more religious in the obscure sense of religion, and for that reason a more
The hope, the fear and the catastrophe 
MK Shelly Yachimovich from the Labour Party said in an a newspaper interview
about the crisis in the governmental coalition that she would prefer that
elections not be held now, because she fears that that could lead to Bennett,
the leader of the extreme right-wing party “Jewish Home”, becoming prime
minister. The fear of Bennett is understandable. I mustered up some academic
discipline, neutralized my fears and sketched in my imagination three scenarios
with Bennett as prime minister.
The first: the scenario of surprise or the scenario of hope: Bennett as prime
minister sees things from there that he had not seen from here. He sees how the
settlements exact a high price; in the slow but steady destruction of the
economy, in Israel’s growing isolation in the world, in the deterioration of
civil cohesion, in growing emigration of Israel’s best brains – a partial list.
He comes to the conclusion that the price of the Occupation is too high, in fact
unbearable, and he becomes a kind of Israeli De Klerk, frees Marwan Barghouti
from prison and begins serious negotiations with the Palestinian leadership.
Within a short time a peace treaty is signed which includes massive evacuation
of settlements, and the Knesset approves it with a substantial majority. The
settlers are furious, they demonstrate, rabbis issue a din rodef against
Bennett, his personal security detail is reinforced, opponents of the agreement
demand a referendum, Bennett agrees, the people approve the peace agreement with
a sweeping majority and overnight Bennett and his Palestinian counterpart become
the leading candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. The chances? Very low, but
stranger things have happened.
The second: the social disparity in Israel grows as described in the first
scenario, but instead of being a De Klerk he moves dangerously close to the
North Korean model – me against the whole world.
In contradiction to the Jewish legal precept against provoking the nations of
the world, Bennett raises a middle finger to the world and says “I’ll keep
building settlements regardless of your disapproval and anger.” At home, the
Knesset passes a series of laws that restrict the activities of human rights
organizations and parties of the Left, and discrimination against Arab citizens
gets worse. The vision of Netanyahu’s patron, the casino billionaire Adelson,
according to which it is not written in the Bible that the State has to conduct
itself in a democratic way, is fully realized. The outside world understands
that polite diplomatic talks will not work with Israel and the sanctions
movement gains momentum. The oppression in the Occupied Territories gets worse
and brings about a new intifada. The sanctions against Israel leave their mark,
factories close, unemployment rises and the situation is on the verge of an
eruption. Now Bennett must struggle on two fronts at the same time, an uprising
in the Territories, the army shoots unarmed civilians, and demonstrations inside
Israel, the police shoot at demonstrators. Demands for the resignation of the
government grow, the Bennett government has its back to the wall, and resigns.
New hope appears at the door.
The chances? Substantial.
The third: the catastrophe scenario: Bennett and his government take seriously
the belief that is widespread on two opposite poles, among haters of Israel and
Israel’s admirers, that Israel is a power with a global reach. He decides to
teach the Americans a lesson in leadership and to do what they have not dared to
do, to destroy the Iran’s nuclear facilities. To that purpose he dedicates half
of Israel’s air force and launches an attack. The original plan goes awry,
Israeli planes are shot down, their pilots captured and a missile war develops
between Israel and Iran. The world is horrified in face of the danger of a drift
towards nuclear conflict. Even the most steadfast of the friends of Israel
understand that Israel is not an asset but a burden that endangers the peace of
the world. The Security Council convenes and unanimously passes a resolution: an
ultimatum to both sides to immediately stop firing missiles. It subsequently
passes another resolution to create an international task force that will go
into action if one of the sides does not obey the Council’s resolutions. Israel
is gripped with fear and trauma in face of destruction. Tel Aviv becomes a ghost
town, the shelters cannot accommodate the population and many are left exposed
to missile fire. The task force surprises Israel by seizing control of the
reactor at Dimona, and the US demands that Israel hand over its nuclear arsenal
just as previously Syria handed over its chemical weapons. A wounded and
despairing Israel accedes to the demand. Citizens who emerge from the shelters
and see the scale of the destruction ask themselves, how did it come to this?
Why was there nobody to stop this train on time? A voice will reply to them that
they were there, but no one listened to them because they were condemned as
The chances? Medium.
As I said, it is all this is all the fruit of my imagination. I hope I am
completely or partly wrong in the second two scenarios, and right in the first.
*** *** ***
To Police Officer Bentzi Sau
Commander of the Tel Aviv District
District Police Headquarters
18 Salame street
A few days ago police under your command, acting on your orders, arrested the
artist Natali Cohen Vaxsberg after an artistic performance that was posted on
the Internet in which she is seen defecating on an Israeli flag. The arrest
raised my anger to dangerous levels.
It is not good for police to be censors of works of art. Look at a map and see
in what countries the police decides what is legitimate and what is not in the
artistic realm. I assume that you would not want to live in a country like that.
Democratic police do not arrest artists but protect their creative freedom,
even, and especially, when the artist provokes, challenges and diverges from the
consensus. The arrest of Natali is another sign clear sign of how the norms of
the Occupation are penetrating to within the Green Line.
Of your 37 years of service in the police, you served 30 in the Border Guard,
which, it seems to me, is not the best school for learning democratic procedures
and human rights. Prolonged service in the Occupied Territories distorts the
democratic assumptions that police do not ride civilians, do not treat them with
violence, do not yell at them, do not torture them and shoot them, but help to
improve their quality of life and their security through a tireless struggle
against crime in general and organized crime in particular. In a word, the
police are not tyrants as is accepted practice in colonial regimes like the one
in the Occupied Territories, but democratic facilitators.
The arrest of Natali is not the first grave departure from the principles of a
democratic regime. A state commission of inquiry by headed by Supreme Court
Judge Theodor Or that investigated the events of October 2000 in which police
killed 13 demonstrating citizens, all of them Palestinian citizens of Israel,
indicted you as one who presided there as a senior officer in the Border Guard,
for actions counter to orders and posting snipers contrary to instructions. But
since in Israel Arab blood is horrifyingly cheap, you got off with a reprimand
and now your name is mentioned among the candidates to be the next general
commissioner of the Israel Police.
The suppression of Natali’s artistic expression did not stop with her arrest.
Why was it necessary to confiscate the computer? That is her work tool. She is
not suspected of a criminal offence. That was an unjustified intrusion into the
personal realm. Why did the police prosecutor ask the court to send her for
observation? That is just humiliation. Fortunately for us the judge exhibited
some wisdom and rejected the request.
Natali is the most normal thing in our society and we need more and more
Natalis, radical political artists who oppose the Occupation, war and all forms
of bloody oppression. When she defecates on the flag of Israel she is
proclaiming her disgust at the flag of apartheid that Israel has set up in the
Occupied Territories. What is regrettable is that there are all too many artists
who are willing to entertain the settlers in the territories of apartheid and
too many people who are willing to die for that flag. This is a reality that is
reminiscent of police forces in totalitarian regimes like the Tonton Macoutes of
the former Haitian dictator Francois Duvalier.
As long as freedom of expression has not been eliminated, it is Natali’s right
to defecate on the flag and your duty to defend her and not to prosecute her.
I hope that if you are chosen as general commissioner you will guide the police
in the spirit of this letter.
1. `[I]n the name of the sacrosanct equality principle, Baruch Goldstein`s son
was admitted to a pilots training course in the air force. The IDF is ready to
invest $2.5 million in him - the cost of training a combat pilot - and in
another three-and-a-half or four years, if he excels, he will be able to fly an
F-15-I, known as `Bolt` in the air force, and head into the clear blue sky on a
bombing mission.` (`Mired in the Muqata’a`, by Amir Oren, Haaretz, 4
October 2002. http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/mired-in-the-muqata-