Your depressing Israel reading for the weekend

Just when things were starting to get more happy around here, these came up.

Numero uno: an article by MK favourite Diaa Hadid on the issue of detaining Palestinian children that has been getting a lot of exposure over the last couple of months. As usual, Hadid presents one of the most balanced perspectives out there and her reporting is appropriately damning of all sides.

There is, for instance, disgraceful treatment of children by the IDF:

Israel policy of detaining kids questioned – The Denver Post.

BEIT UMAR, West Bank—When Mahmoud al-Alami was 9 years old, an Israeli soldier caught him throwing rocks, took him out of his uncle’s arms, slung him over his shoulders and carried him away.

Mahmoud, now 10, says he was subsequently blindfolded and shackled, slapped and ordered to confess to throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and identify other children doing the same.

But then, there is the disgraceful use of violence in protests that Palestinians and their sympathisers try to spin as “peaceful”:

Israel’s military points out that rocks Palestinian youths throw can be dangerous and even deadly. In September, an Israeli settler and his year-old son were killed in a car cash after stones were thrown at their vehicle on a highway that crosses the West Bank.

“It doesn’t matter if it was thrown by a 12-year-old or a 20-year-old if it killed somebody,” said an officer in Israel’s military justice system, speaking on condition of anonymity under briefing regulations. “We still have to take minors to trial. It’s still a serious offense for us.”

Then, of course, we have the disgraceful inculcation of a violent mindset into Palestinian children, which creates this whole cycle in the first place:

Mahmoud denies he was throwing stones at soldiers when he was detained for several hours in February last year. He says he was hurling rocks at friends pretending to be Israeli soldiers—a game the children call “Arabs and Jews”—near a military watchtower in his home village of Beit Umar. Nearby soldiers thought he was targeting them, he said.
“It was just a game,” the fifth-grader said.

And, as usual, we finish by being reassured that nothing will change:

The arrests warp relations in tightknit villages too because children are bullied to confess against their neighbors. Parents fight over whose child squealed on whom, said Fatima Awad, 50, whose son Mohammed was imprisoned for six weeks at age 14 for throwing rocks.

Mohammed, who is now 15, said his mother doesn’t let him attend demonstrations anymore.

“All of us throw stones, it is not one or two children,” Mohammed said. “If they take a few kids, will it stop? No. There will be others.”


Meanwhile, Israeli journalist Dimi Reider has written a piece on Israeli democracy for the New York Review of Books. Reider’s piece does not exactly give a balanced perspective, but nevertheless makes some frightening observations. I feel that I have to point out both what is good and bad about Reider’s piece, so bear with me.

Israel: The Knesset vs. Democracy by Dimi Reider | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.

Consider the following: In January, the Knesset passed an amendment to a fifty-year-old law against “infiltrators”—persons crossing into Israel illegally … The amendment removes the focus on “enemy state,” effectively criminalizing anyone seeking asylum in Israel—including thousands of refugees who have fled the genocide in Darfur and now face a minimum of three years of detention. … Yet despite protests from civil society activists and well-known public figures, who described the law as unbefitting a state founded by refugees, only eight of the Knesset’s 120 members voted against the amendment.

I have previously made it very clear that I believe Israel should do more for African refugees; however I have to say that, as an Australian, to call this law antidemocratic seems a little absurd. If anything, Israel may be modelling itself on Australia by enacting this law and while there are many things to say about Australia’s refugee model, that it is antidemocratic is not one of them.

Furthermore, that last sentence by Reider is extremely indulgent. That a parliament would vote overwhelmingly in favour of a law and go against “civil society activists and well-known public figures” is not antidemocratic; it is, in fact, democracy at work. Whatever self-styled “activists” may say, there is a reason why the Israeli public did not elect them into the Knesset; whereas the people who were, in fact, elected into the Knesset clearly believe that this is good policy.

Throughout the article, Reider continues to label policies that he does not agree with as “antidemocratic”, even when this is not the case. That said, much of the rest of his article did genuinely reflect policies that are eroding Israel’s democratic institutions. See if you can spot the one that he just doesn’t like:

Other recently passed legislation includes a law that prescribes the withdrawal of government funding to any organization or institution marking Israel’s Independence Day as an occasion for mourning; a law allowing communities in the Negev and Galilee regions that are smaller than 400 households to refuse to accept new residents on the basis of race, faith, and other collective identifications; a law that allows any settler who claims economic injury (even if without proof) from a call to boycott settlement produce to sue the organizers of the boycott for damages; and a law binding migrant workers’ visas to their initial employers—effectively rendering them unable to quit a job for fear of being instantly deported. Yet another recent law allows the revocation of citizenship from any person convicted of terrorism or espionage. (The espionage charge was most recently applied to IDF whistle blower Anat Kamm, who passed classified information on what she believed were war crimes not to a foreign agent, but to an Israeli journalist, and now is serving a four and a half year prison sentence; under the new law she could have also lost her citizenship.)

Did you get it? It was the one about the migrant workers being bound to a single employer. There is nothing undemocratic about that and it is not an unusual practise – again, Australia does it too.

He goes on to explain perhaps the most worrying trend – the effort to increase government control over the High Court, which is a very worrying breach of the doctrine of separation of powers that is fundamental to the democratic model.

There is more to say on this, but I did just make a commitment that I would try and have more good news on Major Karnage; therefore, I will end on a positive note. Here is a very promising initiative that I read about on Friday:

Africans in Israel join forces for improvement.

For years, Israel’s array of African communities had little interaction, divided by religious, linguistic and cultural differences. That is changing.

They are facing a common situation in Israel – relegated to bottom rungs, partly because of discrimination over their skin color. That has brought some members of a wide range of communities together, including Jewish Ethiopians, nomadic Muslim Arabs and migrants from Eritrea and Sudan.

“What is said against me is said against my brother,” said Sheik Ayed al-Abed, referring to the derogatory names that he and other members of a newly formed advocacy group have been called.

Al-Abed was among dozens of members of the various communities with African roots who met for three days last week in the southern Israeli desert town of Dimona. They formed a group, the “Middle East African Diaspora Commission,” but offered no specific plans.

The reason that I am particularly encouraged by this is the fact that the Ethiopian Jews are a part of it; this means that the initiative is genuinely breaching racial and ethnic divides. I am often bothered by the disparity in treatment in Israel between the Ethiopian Jews and the non-Jewish Africans, so it is very heartening to see that the Ethiopian Jews think the same way. Hopefully, this is the start of a significant movement and not merely a one-off event.

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  1. The cancer that is eroding the Jewish character of Israel « Major Karnage

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