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News from Israel: Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?

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  • Zafar Khan
    Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic? For three decades, the writer and journalist Gideon Levy has been a lone voice, telling
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 28, 2012
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      Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
      For three decades, the writer and journalist Gideon Levy has been a lone voice, telling his readers the truth about what goes on in the Occupied Territories.


      Gideon Levy is the most hated man in Israel – and perhaps the most heroic. This “good Tel Aviv boy” – a sober, serious child of the Jewish state – has been shot at repeatedly by the Israeli Defence Force, been threatened with being “beaten to a pulp” on the country’s streets, and faced demands from government ministers that he be tightly monitored as “a security risk.” This is because he has done something very simple, and something that almost no other Israeli has done. Nearly every week for three decades, he has travelled to the Occupied Territories and described what he sees, plainly and without propaganda. “My modest mission,” he says, “is to prevent a situation in which many Israelis will be able to say, ‘We didn’t know.’” And for that, many people want him silenced.

      The story of Gideon Levy – and the attempt to deride, suppress or deny his words – is the story of Israel distilled. If he loses, Israel itself is lost.

      I meet him in a hotel bar in Scotland, as part of his European tour to promote his new book, ‘The Punishment of Gaza’. The 57 year-old looks like an Eastern European intellectual on a day off – tall and broad and dressed in black, speaking accented English in a lyrical baritone. He seems so at home in the world of book festivals and black coffee that it is hard, at first, to picture him on the last occasion he was in Gaza – in November, 2006, before the Israeli government changed the law to stop him going.

      He reported that day on a killing, another of the hundreds he has documented over the years. As twenty little children pulled up in their school bus at the Indira Gandhi kindergarten, their 20 year-old teacher, Najawa Khalif, waved to them – and an Israel shell hit her and she was blasted to pieces in front of them. He arrived a day later, to find the shaking children drawing pictures of the chunks of her corpse. The children were “astonished to see a Jew without weapons. All they had ever seen were soldiers and settlers.”

      “My biggest struggle,” he says, “is to rehumanize the Palestinians. There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood, and I’m a product of this machinery as much as anyone else. [We are taught] a few narratives that it’s very hard to break. That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us… So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any questions marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard.”

      So he describes the lives of ordinary Palestinians like Najawa and her pupils in the pages of Ha’aretz, Israel’s establishment newspaper. The tales read like Chekovian short stories of trapped people, in which nothing happens, and everything happens, and the only escape is death. One article was entitled “The last meal of the Wahbas family.” He wrote: “They’d all sat down to have lunch at home: the mother Fatma, three months pregnant; her daughter Farah, two; her son Khaled, one; Fatma’s brother, Dr Zakariya Ahmed; his daughter in law Shayma, nine months pregnant; and the seventy-eight year old grandmother. A Wahba family gathering in Khan Yunis in honour of Dr Ahmed, who’d arrived home six days earlier from Saudi Arabia. A big boom is heard outside. Fatma hurriedly scoops up the littlest one and tries to escape to an inner room, but another boom follows immediately. This time is a direct hit.”

      In small biographical details, he recovers their humanity from the blankness of an ever-growing death toll. The Wahbas had tried for years to have a child before she finally became pregnant at the age of 36. The grandmother tried to lift little Khaled off the floor: that’s when she realised her son and daughter were dead.

      Levy uses a simple technique. He asks his fellow Israelis: how would we feel, if this was done to us by a vastly superior military power? Once, in Jenin, his car was stuck behind an ambulance at a checkpoint for an hour. He saw there was a sick woman in the back and asked the driver what was going on, and he was told the ambulances were always made to wait this long. Furious, he asked the Israeli soldiers how they would feel if it was their mother in the ambulance – and they looked bemused at first, then angry, pointing their guns at him and telling him to shut up.

      “I am amazed again and again at how little Israelis know of what’s going on fifteen minutes away from their homes,” he says. “The brainwashing machinery is so efficient that trying [to undo it is] almost like trying to turn an omelette back to an egg. It makes people so full of ignorance and cruelty.” He gives an example. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel bombing of blockaded Gaza in 2008-9, “a dog – an Israeli dog – was killed by a Qassam rocket and it on the front page of the most popular newspaper in Israel. On the very same day, there were tens of Palestinians killed, they were on page 16, in two lines.”

      At times, the occupation seems to him less tragic than absurd. In 2009, Spain’s most famous clown, Ivan Prado, agreed to attend a clowning festival on Ramallah in the West Bank. He was detained at the airport in Israel, and then deported “for security reasons.” Levy leans forward and asks: “Was the clown considering transferring Spain’s vast stockpiles of laughter to hostile elements? Joke bombs to the jihadists? A devastating punch line to Hamas?”

      Yet the absurdity nearly killed him. In the summer of 2003, he was travelling in a clearly marked Israeli taxi on the West Bank. He explains: “At a certain stage the army stopped us and asked what we were doing there. We showed them our papers, which were all in order. They sent us up a road – and when we went onto this road, they shot us. They directed their fire to the centre of the front window. Straight at the head. No shooting in the air, no megaphone calling to stop, no shooting at the wheels. Shoot to kill immediately. If it hadn’t been bullet-proof, I wouldn’t be here now. I don’t think they knew who we were. They shot us like they would shoot anyone else. They were trigger-happy, as they always are. It was like having a cigarette. They didn’t shoot just one bullet. The whole car was full of bullets. Do they know who they are going to kill? No. They don’t know and don’t care.”

      He shakes his head with a hardened bewilderment. “They shoot at the Palestinians like this on a daily basis. You have only heard about this because, for once, they shot at an Israeli.”

      Watch: ESPN documentary exposes Israel’s racist football club
      Submitted by Jalal Abukhater on Tue, 11/13/2012 - 20:34


      A new and excellent 15-minute documentary by the American cable television network ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, aired last week on ESPN’s award-winning primetime sports show E:60, sheds light on the Israeli football club Beitar Jerusalem. Fans of Beitar Jerusalem, a member of Israel’s Premier League and enjoys a large fan base in and around Jerusalem, are well known for their notorious racism and ultra-nationalism.

      During and after their football matches, Beitar Jerusalem fans are likely to be chanting chants like “Death to Arabs” as a form of celebration. Earlier in March this year, a mob of Beitar Jerusalem fans attacked Arab shoppers and workers in Jerusalem’s Malha Mall which is next to Teddy Stadium, Beitar Jerusalem’s home stadium. This football club in specific has never had any Arab player on its ranks and, judging from ESPN’s report, doesn’t seem intent to enlist any player of non-Jewish origin.

      Two Palestinian citizens of Israel who play on Israeli teams describe to ESPN the racism and violence they are subjected to by Beitar fans. Alaa Abu Saleh, who plays for Bnei Sakhnin, says “It’s like war.” ESPN’s footage includes video of Beitar fans who have a special chant for footballer Salim Tuama:

      This is the Jewish state!

      This is Israel, Salim Tuama!

      I hate all the Arabs!

      I hate you Salim Tuama!

      I hate all the Arabs!

      The documentary, which opens with a disclaimer warning viewers of disturbing content, also shows small children chanting “Death to the Arabs!” after a Beitar practice.

      Israel limits Palestinian access to holy site
      Access to Al-Aqsa mosque compound restricted as third day of Egypt-mediated Gaza-Israel truce is tested.
      Last Modified: 24 Nov 2012 12:52


      Israel has restricted Palestinian access to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and arrested six Hamas members, a day after one Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire along the Gaza-Israel border.

      The shooting tested a tenious ceasefire agreement signed by Hamas-led Gaza and Israel on Wednesday night.

      Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party are preparing for a primary on Sunday amid signs its popularity is slipping among Israelis who would have preferred a ground invasion of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

      Tensions on the streets of occupied Arab east Jerusalem were high on Friday, the day after angry demonstrators stormed an Israeli police station in a bid to secure the release of a Palestinian woman who tried to stab a border guard.

      The Israeli army has arrested about 100 Palestinians since the ceasefire was signed.

      Twenty-eight suspects were arrested from the West Bank, including six Hamas members of the Palestinian Legislative Council on Friday night in the wake of a security sweep on Thursday in which 55 "terror operatives" were arrested.

      Israeli authorities said the men had been arrested in connection with a bus bomb attack in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

      "Members of this cell in Beit Lakya linked to Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad admitted during their interrogation having planned attacks against Israelis, prepared a bomb and chosen Tel Aviv as a target," a statement by Israel's security agency, Shin Bet said on Thursday.

      Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said at the time that more arrests were also expected.

      Seperately, Israel has also barred Palestinians under the age of 40 from accessing the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam's third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews.

      The mosque compound has been the focus of past clashes, and the Israeli army says it sought to prevent any repetition that could jeopardise the truce ending eight days of fighting in which more than a 160 Palestinians and five Israelis died.

      Ceasefire upheld

      The Egypt-negotiated ceasefire was however holding, despite one Palestinian having been killed by Israeli fire at the border line between the Gaza Strip and Israel, and rockets allegedly having been fired at Israel from Gaza in the first post-truce hours.

      The first post-conflict casualty, Anwar Qdeih, was killed when Israeli soldiers reportedly opened fire on a group of farmers near the Gaza border on Friday. Nineteen other Palestinians were injured in the village of Khuzaa.

      "This is the first Israeli violation of the truce," Sami Abu Zuhri of the Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza told AFP news agency.

      No reprisal rockets were fired by Hamas but Abu Zuhri said he would raise the "violation" with Egyptian mediators.

      Another young Palestinian was announced dead on Friday after having "inhaled a poisonous gas" during repairs of a tunnel damaged in an Israeli air strike on the southern sector of Rafah, bordering Egypt, the Hamas health ministry said.

      One of Israel's great leftist warriors wants peace with Hamas and Gaza - but does the Knesset?
      Our correspondent meets the legendary Uri Avnery, who roars out against Netanyahu and his government and foresees growing ethnic strife in Israel


      Old Uri Avnery is 89 but he’s still a fighter. In fact, the famed writer is still one of the great old leftist warriors of Israel, still demanding peace with the Palestinians, peace with Hamas and a Palestinian state on the old ’67 borders – give or take a few square miles. He still believes Israel could have peace tomorrow or next week. If Netanyahu wanted it. “The misfortune of being an incorrigible optimist,” is how he describes his predicament. Or perhaps an illusionist?
      He’s still the same guy I last came across 30 years ago, playing chess with Yasser Arafat in the ruins of Beirut. White hair and white beard now, and roaring his words – he’s a wee bit deaf these days – with the same rage and humour as ever. I ask Avnery what Netanyahu and his government are doing. What was this Gaza war meant to achieve? The eyes sparkle and he spits out his reply.

      “You are presuming you know what they want and you presume they want peace – and therefore that their policy is stupid or insane. But if you assume they don’t give a damn for peace but want a Jewish state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river, then what they are doing makes sense up to a point. The trouble is that what they do want is leading into a cul de sac – because we already have now one state in all of historic Palestine, three quarters of it the Jewish state of Israel and one quarter the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

      Apartheid in Israel
      Avnery speaks in perfect sentences and my pen skids over the page until it runs out of ink and I have to steal one of his.

      “If they annex the West Bank as they have annexed East Jerusalem,” he says. “It doesn’t make much of a difference. The trouble is that in this territory which is now dominated by Israel, there are about 49 per cent Jews and 51 per cent Arabs – and this balance will become larger every year because the natural increase on the Arab side is far greater than the natural increase on our side. So the real question is: if this policy goes on, what kind of state will it be? As it is today, it is an Apartheid state, a full apartheid in the occupied territories and a growing apartheid in Israel – and if this goes on, it will be full apartheid throughout the country, incontestably.”

      The Avnery argument goes bleakly on. If the Arab inhabitants are granted civil rights, there will be an Arab majority in the Knesset and the first thing they will do is change the name ‘Israel’ and name the state ‘Palestine’, “and the whole exercise of the past 130 years has come to naught.” Mass ethnic cleansing is impossible in the 21st century, he says – or hopes – but there is no discussion about the demography.

      “There is a suppression. We are supposed to push this out of our consciousness. Not one single political party speaks about this problem. The word ‘peace’ does not appear in any election manifesto, except for the little Meretz party – neither the Opposition or the Coalition. The word ‘peace’ has completely disappeared.

      “And The Left in Israel? They have been more or less hibernating – since the Left was killed off by Ehud Barak in 2000. He came back from Camp David – as self-proclaimed leader of the ‘peace camp’ – and told us ‘we have no partner for peace’. This was a death blow. It was not Netanyahu who said this, but the leader of the Labour Party. This was the end of Peace Now.”

      Then the optimist resurfaces as the clouds darken the sea beyond Avnery’s seventh floor apartment in Tel Aviv. “When I met Arafat in 1982, the terms were all there. The Palestinian minimum and maximum terms are the same: a Palestinian state next to Israel, comprising the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as a capital, small exchanges of land and a symbolic solution to the refugee problem. But this lies on the table like a wilted flower. It is looking at us every day… we have already given up the Gaza Strip – but in order to take hold of the West Bank – the same way (Menachem) Begin gave up all of Sinai in order to get all of Palestine.”

      Avnery is convinced that Hamas would accept the same – he lectured to them in Gaza in 1993, “standing there, facing 500 black-bearded sheikhs, speaking to them in Hebrew – I was applauded and invited to lunch.”

      He has met other Hamas delegates since. For them, Palestine is a ‘waqf’, it cannot be handed over, but a truce can be sanctified by God. “If they offered a truce for 50 years, that is personally enough for me.” Sure, says Avnery, the Hamas manifesto wants to destroy Israel. “But abolishing a manifesto is a very difficult thing to do – did the Russians ever abandon the Communist manifesto? The PLO did theirs.”

      And so it goes on. Peace groups, small but hard-working – Gush Shalom, the Peace Now project monitoring the settlements, the Fighters for Peace (ex-Israeli soldiers and ex-Palestinian fighters) and bereaved parents – are preparing for the January elections. Interestingly, Avnery believes that the damning – but very damned – Goldstone report on the bloodletting of the 2008-2009 Gaza war was what prevented a ground invasion this time round.

      “Goldstone can be very satisfied – he really saved a lot of lives.” There are more than a few liberals in Israel who hope that Uri Avnery lives for another 89 years.

      Three Israelis killed in Gaza rocket strike as violence escalates


      Militants in the Gaza Strip pounded southern Israel with rocket fire today, killing three people as the Israeli military continued with a second day of intense air raids and naval attacks on militant targets.

      With Israel threatening to invade the Palestinian territory, the heaviest fighting between Israel and Hamas in four years showed no signs of letting up.

      Thirteen Palestinians, including four civilians, have died since the fighting began yesterday when Israel assassinated Hamas' military chief, said Palestinian medical officials.

      The clashes brought life to a standstill on both sides of the border.

      Gaza's streets were mostly empty as the Israeli air force continued to strike targets. Residents across southern Israel remained huddled indoors or close to home, ordered by authorities to remain close to a network of public bomb shelters.

      The deaths in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi were the first in Israel since it launched its operation and raised the prospects of even fiercer Israeli retaliation.

      Israeli leaders have said they are prepared to broaden the operation to a ground invasion if necessary, though there were no signs of extraordinary troop movements along the border.

      "The military will continue acting to establish deterrence against Hamas and to return the calm," Defence Minister Ehud Barak said during a tour of southern Israel. He praised citizens for coping with the "tough moments to come".

      Following the assassination of Hamas mastermind Ahmed Jabari, Israeli tanks, gunboats and aircraft struck dozens of sites across Gaza. More than 100 people have been wounded, say officials. Among the dead were two children.

      Explosions rocked Gaza throughout the day today as well. Few in the territory's largest urban area, Gaza City, came out following the call for dawn prayers, and the only vehicles plying the streets were ambulances and media cars.

      Most Gazans remained in their homes, following developments on Hamas-run TV and local radio stations. Many also provided updates on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, providing news about airstrikes and rocket launches. Others shared prayers and called for militants to stand tough against Israel.

      "My little four-year-old boy keeps asking me to pray with him every 10 minutes, saying, 'Mama. Let's pray together to Allah in order to be safe,"' one woman, Ghadeer Ahmad, wrote on her Facebook account.

      While streets were quiet, bakeries and groceries remained open. No food shortages were reported, and electricity, which suffers frequent cuts even during normal times, remained sporadic. Many families keep home generators to maintain power.

      Thousands of people, including top Hamas officials, braved the threats to attend the funeral for Jabari, who had long topped Israel's most-wanted list for his role in deadly attacks and building up Hamas' formidable arsenal. Dozens of residents stood solemnly outside their homes or on their balconies as the procession walked by.

      "We want to kill in the name of God," chanted mourners as angry gunmen fired automatic weapons into the air. Hundreds of people raised their index fingers in the air, chanting, "God is great."

      "This crime will not weaken us. It will make us stronger and more determined to continue the path of jihad and resistance," Hamas MP Mushir al-Masri said in a eulogy. "The enemy opened the battle and shall bear the consequences."

      Israel said Jabari's assassination was the start of a broader offensive, launched after days of rocket fire from the coastal territory. It was Israel's most intense attack on Gaza since a full-scale invasion four years ago, also in response to rocket fire.

      Israel and Gazans in tit-for-tat attacks
      Tentative ceasefire holding after Israeli air strikes kill four in Gaza, following Hamas rocket attacks.
      Last Modified: 25 Oct 2012 08:38


      Tensions remain high around Gaza after Israeli raids killed four Palestinians and two Thai workers were seriously wounded by rocket fire, with Israel's defence minister vowing to punish Hamas.

      Reports indicated that a tentative ceasefire was holding on Thursday morning, after the intervention of Egypt to help mediate between the two sides. The Israeli military said that no rockets had been fired from Gaza after 17:30 GMT on Wednesday.

      Israeli schools near the border were operating as normal, public radio said, after being closed for the day due to heavy rocket fire which began on Tuesday night and sparked a brief but deadly confrontation between Palestinian fighters and the Israeli army.

      In Gaza, Palestinians officials also confirmed a quiet night without any air strikes.

      "The contacts Cairo made resulted in a verbal promise by Hamas to calm the situation down and Israel said it was
      monitoring calm on the ground and would refrain from attacks unless it was subject to rocket fire from Gaza," an official close to the talks told the Reuters news agency.

      Amos Gilad, an Israeli defence official, confirmed that Egypt had intervened to mediate a calming of tensions, but asserted that there was no direct agreement between Israel and Hamas.

      "It can be said categorically that there is no agreement with Hamas, there has never been and there will never be. ...
      The only thing that has been set and said is that there will be calm. We are not interested in an escalation," Gilad added.

      The latest violence began on Tuesday evening when Palestinian fighters fired six rockets at Israel shortly after a high-profile visit to the coastal enclave by the Qatari emir.

      Several hours later, Israeli aircraft killed two fighters from Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, in northern Gaza, sparking more rocket fire.

      An early-morning raid near southern city of Rafah killed a third fighter from the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), and later in the morning, a Hamas fighter hurt in the evening strikes died of his injuries, medics said.

      Al Jazeera's Nicole Johnston, reporting from Gaza City, said: "Four Palestinians killed in a day is spike in numbers, with the killings and also the rockets there is an increase in tension, things currently are really tense in Gaza as border crossings are also closed."

      The Israeli military said armed groups had fired 79 rockets and mortar shells over the border since midnight local time (22:00 GMT), injuring six, two of them seriously.

      Police said two Thai nationals were "seriously to critically wounded" while a third sustained light injuries.

      Fighters from Hamas and the PRC claimed responsibility for the rocket fire in a statement.

      Hamas accused Israel of stepping up air strikes in the Gaza Strip, a move it said was meant to convey Israeli anger over
      Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani's visit, and pledged to "continue to hold a gun ... until Palestine is liberated".

      "Hamas will receive its punishment for what has happened here," said Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister.

      "No terror element responsible for causing damage in Israel, or to Israelis, will be spared," he said on a tour of the area around Gaza, hours after the two Thais were severely wounded and four others were lightly hurt by the rocket fire.

      Referring to "the battle against Hamas and other terrorist organisations," Barak said he hoped the military's targeting of armed groups would "calm them down."

      "If they cannot be calmed, and the rockets continue, then the IDF (military) will act," he said, noting that since the start of 2012, nearly 600 rockets and mortars had been fired at southern Israel.

      But he warned it was likely to be a long campaign.

      "The issue is far from over. The struggle has not come to an end and it will not come to an end here in the next week."

      An Israeli military statement said: "Israeli Air Forice aircraft targeted a rocket launching site in the northern Gaza Strip. In addition, tank shells were fired towards terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. Hits were confirmed."

      Two loud explosions also shook Gaza City shortly after the attack that killed the Hamas gunman, but no casualties had been reported.

      Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Israel "bears full responsibility for what happens to our people in Gaza."

      Robert Serry, the UN's peace envoy, deplored the escalation, calling on all parties to exercise utmost restraint.

      Blockade-busting bid

      Meanwhile, Israel on Wednesday expelled 15 international activists who had tried and failed to reach Gaza by boat at the weekend in a bid to breach the maritime blockade on the territories, a spokeswoman for Israel's immigration service said.

      "Fifteen foreign activists were expelled. Only two Norwegians are still in detention and awaiting expulsion," Sabine Hadad told the AFP news agency.

      There were 30 pro-Palestinian activists and parliamentarians on board the Finnish-flagged Estelle which was intercepted by the Israeli navy on Saturday in international waters some 38 nautical miles off the 45km-long Gaza Strip.

      Of that number, three were Israelis and 27 were foreign nationals. Ten were sent home on Sunday and Monday.

      Among those on board were 79-year-old Canadian and former lawmaker Jim Manly, as well as five members of parliament from Norway, Sweden, Spain and Greece.

      Israel says its blockade of the Gaza Strip is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the coastal territory, home to 1.6 million people.

      Israeli poll finds majority would be in favour of 'apartheid' policies
      Two-thirds say Palestinians should not be allowed to vote if West Bank was annexed, while three in four favour segregated roads
      Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 October 2012 21.14 BST


      More than two-thirds of Israeli Jews say that 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank should be denied the right to vote if the area was annexed by Israel, in effect endorsing an apartheid state, according to an opinion poll reported in Haaretz.

      Three out of four are in favour of segregated roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, and 58% believe Israel already practises apartheid against Palestinians, the poll found.

      A third want Arab citizens within Israel to be banned from voting in elections to the country's parliament. Almost six out of 10 say Jews should be given preference to Arabs in government jobs, 49% say Jewish citizens should be treated better than Arabs, 42% would not want to live in the same building as Arabs and the same number do not want their children going to school with Arabs.

      A commentary by Gideon Levy, which accompanied the results of the poll, described the findings as disturbing. "Israelis themselves … are openly, shamelessly and guiltlessly defining themselves as nationalistic racists," he wrote.

      "It's good to live in this country, most Israelis say, not despite its racism, but perhaps because of it. If such a survey were released about the attitude to Jews in a European state, Israel would have raised hell. When it comes to us, the rules don't apply."

      The poll was conducted by a public opinion firm, Dialog, which interviewed 503 people out of an Israeli Jewish population of just under 6 million.

      Talk of the possible annexation of the West Bank, or the main settlement blocks within it, has increased in recent months as expectations of a negotiated settlement to the conflict have sunk to an all-time low. Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, recently argued for the annexation of land between the internationally recognised Green Line and the Israeli-built separation barrier.

      The poll results will bolster the claim of Israel's Arab citizens, who make up 20% of the population, that they suffer from racist discrimination. Almost half the poll's respondents said Israeli Arabs should be transferred to the Palestinian Authority, and a third said that Arab towns in Israel should be moved to the PA's jurisdiction in exchange for Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

      According to the Haaretz report, the survey found that ultra-Orthodox Jews held the most extreme views about Arabs, with 70% supporting a legal ban on voting rights and 95% backing discrimination against Arabs in the workplace.

      • The headline on this article was amended on 30 September 2012. The original said: Israeli poll finds majority in favour of 'apartheid' policies.

      The new Israeli apartheid: Poll reveals widespread Jewish support for policy of discrimination against Arab minority
      47 per cent of respondents would like to see Israel's Arab citizens stripped of their citizenship rights


      A new poll has revealed that a majority of Israeli Jews believe that the Jewish State practises "apartheid" against Palestinians, with many openly supporting discriminatory policies against the country's Arab citizens.

      A third of respondents believe that Israel's Arab citizens should be denied the vote, while almost half – 47 per cent – would like to see them stripped of their citizenship rights and placed under Palestinian Authority control, according to Israel's liberal Haaretz newspaper, which published the poll's findings yesterday.

      About 20 per cent of Israel's nearly eight million people are Israeli Arabs, Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship and live within the borders of Israel proper. The views echo hardline opinions usually associated with Israel's ultranationalist and ultraorthodox parties, and suggest that racism and discrimination is more entrenched than generally thought.

      The poll, conducted by Israel's Dialog polling group, found that 59 per cent out of the 503 people questioned would like to see Jews given preference for public-sector jobs, while half would like to see Jews better treated than Arabs.

      Just over 40 per cent would like to see separate housing and classrooms for Jews and Arabs. The findings "reflect the widespread notion that Israel, as a Jewish State, should be a state that favours Jews," wrote Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist and blogger. "They are also the result of the occupation … After almost half a century of dominating another people, it's no surprise that most Israelis don't think Arabs deserve the same rights."

      Human rights groups have long decried existing Israeli policies that discriminate against Arabs, citing classroom shortages, smaller municipal budgets, and unequal property ownership rights as proof of Israeli Arabs' status as second-class citizens.

      That many Jews believe that Israel has adopted "apartheid" policies is surprising, given that the term is usually deployed only by Israel's most vociferous critics, and suggests that the government-led narrative that the Jewish State is the only democracy in the Middle East is unconvincing to some.

      But such self-awareness does not mean that Israelis are ashamed of it. Nearly 70 per cent of those questioned would object to the 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank obtaining the vote if Israel was to annex the Palestinian territory, suggesting that they effectively endorse an apartheid regime. Nearly 75 per cent favour separate roads there for Israelis and Palestinians – although most view such a step as "necessary," rather than "good." Although nearly 40 per cent support annexation, that remains a distant prospect for the moment.

      The survey "lays bare an image of Israeli society, and the picture is a very, very sick one", wrote Gideon Levy in Haaretz in a piece to accompany the poll. "Now it is not just critics at home and abroad, but Israelis themselves who are openly, shamelessly, and guiltlessly defining themselves as nationalistic racists.

      "If such a survey were released about the attitude to Jews in a European state, Israel would have raised hell. When it comes to us, the rules don't apply."

      In the three years since Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party took control of the Knesset in an uneasy coalition with religious and ultranationalist parties, rights groups have charted a shift to the right that has accompanied a stalemate in efforts to find a solution to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

      Many now see the two-state solution, even though publicly backed by Mr Netanyahu at the outset of his term, as an increasingly distant prospect, given the expansion of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem – territories that along with Gaza the Palestinians want as their future state. That leaves the prospect of a one-state solution, an outcome favoured by some Palestinians, but anathema to Israel as it would threaten the country's Jewish majority.

      Many Israelis also fear such an eventuality because it would undermine the Jewish State's democratic values if it were forced to adopt discriminatory policies to retain its Jewish character.

      59% want preference in public jobs for Jews over Arabs

      49% want the state to treat Jews better than Arabs

      33% object to Israeli Arabs having the right to vote

      69% object to giving Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank

      74% support separate roads for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank

      42% object to their children going to the same schools as Arabs

      Israel's cranes reprove Barack Obama's failure to pursue two-state solution
      In the West Bank's Jewish settlements, 'facts on the ground' entrench divisions between Israel and the Palestinians
      Harriet Sherwood in Ariel
      The Guardian, Monday 22 October 2012


      At the eastern tip of the Israeli settlement of Ariel, cranes and earth-movers are at work on the college campus, which stretches across a hill overlooking the villages and valleys of the West Bank. Eleven miles from the internationally recognised Green Line separating Israel from the Palestinian Territories, construction is under way of buildings to accommodate a projected growth from 13,000 to 20,000 students over the next 10 years.

      In September, the college passed a significant milestone when the Israeli cabinet voted to upgrade the college to a university as a matter of "national importance". Backing the move, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the cabinet that Ariel was "an inseparable part of Israel" and would remain so in the future.

      The decision, concerning a settlement which is illegal under international law and whose future is a key determinant of a viable Palestinian state and the peaceful resolution of a decades-old conflict, was not universally acclaimed. Urging Israel to reconsider, British foreign secretary William Hague said it would "deepen the presence of the settlements in the Palestinian territories and will create another obstacle to peace".

      Deeper inside the West Bank, a few miles east of Ariel, construction workers are also busy. Earlier this year, Israel approved plans for 600 homes in the settlement of Shiloh and its outpost, Shvut Rachel. "This community has doubled in size in 20 years, and there is no question that there will be further growth. The demand for homes is much greater than supply," said Shiloh's former mayor, David Rubin.

      Further south, Israel a year ago announced plans for a settlement across the Green Line close to Jerusalem. The 2,600 homes of Givat Hamatos, plus expansion of neighbouring Gilo and Har Homa, will increase the separation of Palestinian areas of the city from the West Bank, reducing the likelihood of East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state.

      These three places illustrate a pattern of settlement growth that mocks Barack Obama's demand, issued early in his presidency, that Israel should halt expansion as an impediment to peace.

      Entrenchment of "facts on the ground" has led a growing number of people, on both sides of the conflict, to declare that creating a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state to resolve the conflict is now impossible. The "two-state solution", they say, is dead.

      In June 2009, less than six months into his presidency, Obama addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his keynote speech on the Middle East in Cairo. Restating US commitment to a two-state model, he said the Palestinians must abandon violence, and develop their capacity to govern. By most reckoning, the Ramallah leadership has ticked both boxes.

      On the Israeli side, Obama said the US did not accept the legitimacy of Jewish settlements. "It is time for these settlements to stop," he said bluntly.

      There followed protracted negotiations between the US and Israeli governments which resulted, in November 2009, in Netanyahu reluctantly acceding to a temporary construction freeze in West Bank settlements. East Jerusalem was exempt, with the completion of any buildings whose foundations were already laid. In anticipation of the moratorium, the number of construction starts rose significantly in the run-up to November.

      Critics denounced the freeze as a farce, but the settlers were incensed and relations between Netanyahu and Obama nosedived. Relations between the two allies were "in the state of a tectonic rift in which continents are drifting apart," Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the US, memorably said in mid-2010. The freeze ended in September 2010, despite US efforts to secure an extension. Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians swiftly broke down as settlement construction resumed, since when the "peace process" has been in a catatonic state.

      Obama was heavily criticised for his early focus on settlements. But, according to one observer, "the problem was not Obama's identification of the settlement issue as a critical obstacle to the resumption of talks and, beyond that, to the two-state model itself – it was his failure to stick with it in the face of Netanyahu's intransigence".

      In the past two years, US officials have issued routine condemnation of settlement expansion plans but real pressure from Washington has eased. In June, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics reported that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank had risen by 15,000 over the previous 12 months, to a record 350,000. Most of the growth was in small hardline settlements deep inside the West Bank. An additional 200,000 Jews live in settlements in East Jerusalem. In the New York Times, s ettlers' leader Dani Dayon pronounced the Jewish presence across the Green Line "an irreversible fact". Predicting the numbers in Jewish colonies in the West Bank would top 400,000 by 2014, he wrote: "Trying to stop settlement expansion is futile." The international community should relinquish its "vain attempts to attain the unattainable two-state solution".

      He said: "Our presence here has now passed a point of non-return. It's irrevocable, a fait accompli." The status quo, while not ideal, was "immeasurably better than any feasible alternative".

      In the face of the "facts on the ground", others are proposing alternative courses of action. Some on the Israeli right have called for annexation of the West Bank. The Palestinian population can either accept living under Israeli rule with limited rights or leave, they say. Critics say this would be akin to apartheid and make Israel a pariah state.

      Others have called for a more modest, but unilateral, annexation of the 9.4% of the West Bank which will lie between the Green Line and Israel's separation barrier when it is complete. Defence minister Ehud Barak recently proposed that settlers outside the three main blocs – Ma'ale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel – should be evacuated or choose to live under Palestinian rule. The barrier would become what its critics have always charged – Israel's new border. "It would be best to reach agreement with the Palestinians but, barring that, practical steps must be taken to begin the separation," he said in a newspaper interview.

      Blue White Future, a relatively new organisation, also argues for "constructive unilateralism", by which it means Israel withdrawing to the security barrier, with voluntary evacuation and compensation for those in settlements beyond. "Once Israel announces it has no sovereignty claims east of the fence, most [settlers] will move westwards," said Orni Petruschka, co-chairman.

      Some have even suggested the "cantonisation" of the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority would be given autonomy in five cantons around the main West Bank cities of Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron, with Israeli sovereignty over the rest of the territory.

      There are also growing Palestinian voices declaring the end of the two-state model. "The two-state solution died long ago, with Israel's refusal to confront the settlement movement," said Palestinian analyst Diana Butto. "Unless this colonial project is addressed completely, there cannot be two states, only apartheid." The battle now, she said, was for universal rights within the one state that is in de facto existence.

      Among those still fighting for a two-state model are European diplomats in Jerusalem who have identified a handful of West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements as "game changers". Significant growth in these places would signal crossing a red line, they say. "There's a year, or 18 months maximum, before it's over," said one.

      Molad, a young leftist Israeli thinktank, says it is fighting an "irreversibility thesis". According to director Avner Inbar, "talk of the end of the two-state solution is irresponsible. The two-state solution is not only the best framework, it's the only one that will work. None of the advocates of one state talk of the likely consequences. It would result in dramatic and possibly catastrophic violence."

      Barring the unexpected, the most likely course is continuation of the status quo – Netanyahu's preferred option and so, it seems, Republican candidate Mitt Romney's, judging by a recently leaked video. But as many analysts and diplomats point out, the "status quo" in practice means the entrenchment and growth of settlements.

      A reinvigorated second-term Obama presidency could change that. In an interview with ABC in July, the president was asked if there was anything he believed he had failed at, that "has you desperate to get that second term to atone for?" There were "a bunch of things that we didn't get done that I think were important," replied Obama. On foreign policy, he said, "I have not been able to move the peace process forwards in the Middle East in the way I wanted".

      Faith, as well as time, has been lost. "Obama has learned this is not an issue that will win him any votes. I am not someone who believes a second-term president will act any differently that he did in his first term," said Butto.

      According to Dayon, "Obama has learned the limitation of his powers to make change here. President Obama of 2012 will not be the same as President Obama of 2008 because he now realises he cannot deliver."

      Back in Ariel, students are hurrying between classes at the start of term. At the Moskowitz School of Communications, named after the US bingo magnate Irving Moskowitz, who has spent millions of dollars funding the settlement enterprise in the West Bank, 24-year-old Adi said she was thrilled at the institution's new university classification. "It will give graduates better status and better job prospects. Yes, of course, we are situated in the middle of a conflict, but a city like Ariel is very valuable to Israel. We cannot give it up."

      Down the road in Shiloh, David Rubin dismissed the idea of evacuating any settlements. "We're supposed to hand over our heartland? This is my country, where my roots are, where my history is, where my destiny is, where the Jewish people were born, exiled from and returned to. This community will never be destroyed. There will never be a deal with the Palestinians."

      Israel pressured to act on hate crimes
      Religious leaders want the state to strengthen its blasphemy laws, but legal experts say that will threaten free speech.
      Last Modified: 25 Sep 2012 13:57


      Some religious leaders in Israel are calling on the state to strengthen its blasphemy laws.

      But legal experts say tightening the law is unlikely because it risks limiting free speech.

      Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford reports from Jerusalem.
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