News that Bugs Bunny may be Jewish sends Gilad Atzmon into a rage

CiF Watch contributor Gidon Ben-Zvi broke the news yesterday for the Algemeiner that a noted Jewish-British cinematic historian has claimed that Bugs Bunny may in fact be Jewish.

bugs

Ben-Zvi:

According to film scholar David Yehuda Stern, Bugs Bunny was created by a Jewish producer, lived in a Jewish neighborhood, has a distinctly New York/Jewish accent and uses his wit and sense of humor to avoid all attempts to eliminate him.

Stern, who watched thousands of animated shorts that feature Bugs Bunny, noted in his presentation that there are Jewish fingerprints all over the smart aleck cartoon character, including the very voice of Bugs Bunny – Jewish actor Mel Blanc.

The New York neighborhood Bugs grew up in is teeming with obviously Jewish characters, such as ultra-Orthodox Jews and other stereotypically Eastern European figures from the turn of the 20th century.

The Algemeiner’s cheeky Christmas ‘revelation’ about the “Wascally Wabbit” was shared widely yesterday on social media sites such as Twitter and, in fact, this writer’s link to the story on Facebook garnered more than few comments by Jewish and non-Jewish friends alike, all eager to dissect this animated genealogical controversy.

However, there was at least one antisemitic extremist who didn’t find the news at all amusing.

atzmon

Writing at Veterans Today, an aggregator for conspiracy-oriented and right-wing extremist websites, Atzmon wrote the following:

On Christmas Eve the ultra Zionist Algemeiner decided to break out the news to the world -“Bugs Bunny might be Jewish”

The Jewish outlet reported today that, ‘a noted Jewish-British cinematic historian has claimed that the world’s most famous rabbit displays prominent Jewish characteristics.” According to the Jewish scholar David Yehuda Stern, Bugs Bunny was “created by a Jewish producer, lived in a Jewish neighbourhood, has a distinctly New York/Jewish accent and uses his wit and sense of humour to avoid all attempts to eliminate him.”

I guess that when we talk about Hollywood’s indoctrination in the context of Jewish Power, we should feel free to refer to the Zionist outlet as well as the ‘noted Jewish cinematic historian’.

Of course, Atzmon’s response to Ben-Zvi’s article wouldn’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog. As we’ve noted previously, Atzmon is a prolific anti-Semite who has engaged in ‘Holocaust Revisionism’ while simultaneously arguing that, if Hitler’s genocide did occur as historians “claim”, the mass murder of six million Jews can at least partly be explained by Jews’ villainous behavior.  On this latter note, he’s claimed that Hitler’s views about Jews may one day be vindicated.  

Atzmon also has explicitly charged that Jews are indeed trying to take over the world, and has endorsed of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, arguing about the antisemitic forgery that “it is impossible to ignore its prophetic qualities and its capacity to describe” later Jewish behavior.

He also once accused CiF Watch of being a “Jewish Supremacist” site after we influenced the Guardian to remove his book, The Wandering Who?, from their online bookshop.

Interestingly, Atzmon ends his piece at Veteran’s Today by posting the following YouTube clip of Bugs ‘shilling’ for what he terms the “USA propaganda machine”.

And, really, what self-respecting Jew hater wouldn’t be outraged by such an insensitive and stereotypical portrayal of Nazi mass murderers.

Finally, in light of Atzmon’s political sympathies, we did some research and found what we believe to be a suitable alternative to the dangerously Semitic toon – a rabbit who definitely could not be accused of being part of the Jewish power structure:

Rabbit120208_468x338

Naturally, the Jews who control Hollywood (and the Zionist lobby) would never allow American TV to air such marginalized genocidal voices.

Execution, Inc.: Quick tutorial for Peter Beaumont on an Iranian moderate’s first 100 days

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi

Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor for the Guardian and Observer, argued in a November 30 article that the interim deal inked in Geneva between Iran and the world’s six leading powers could, “redraw the map of an area that has been gripped by conflict or the threat of conflict for generations.”  Specifically with regards to Israel, Beaumont notes that “An Iran a step further back from conflict with Israel, and potentially minded to meddle less in the region, would be a good thing if Tehran sticks to its part of the deal.”

Beaumont is placing his faith in a regime founded on the systematic suppression of Iranian citizens and dissidents – a nearly thirty-five year record of domestic oppression which has been facilitated to a large extent by a decidedly expansionist foreign policy. Indeed, creating scapegoats - such as Iraq, Israel and the United States - for tens of millions of Iranians to target their rage and misery allows Iran’s ruling clerics to legitimize their barbarity under the cloak of religion.

Beaumont believes that that the “…diplomacy that led to the interim six-month agreement is the first indication that [Iran’s] new president Hassan Rouhani now sees the benefit of negotiating solutions to the region’s problems.”

However, Rouhani’s domestic policy to date is one marked by executions, persecution, torture, denial of political rights and a general assault on the rule of law.

Frequently hailed at the Guardian as a moderate and a pragmatist, the Iranian leader’s actions over the course of his first 100 days in office leave little doubt that – behind the diplomatic window dressing – little has changed. In fact, since Rouhani’s election, the rate of executions has actually accelerated.  Iran’s regime imposed the death penalty on over 200 people during Rouhani’s tenure, including a record number of 50 executions during a two-week period in September. So far in 2013, Iran has executed more than 400 of its citizens.

Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said in a report presented to the General Assembly on October 31 that he’s “alarmed by the spate of executions.” 

And while Rouhani’s rhetoric inspired hope in Geneva, it is not being matched by his regime’s draconian policies vis-a-vis Iran’s minorities. The best hope for peace in our time’s government continues to disregard the rights of its Christians, Bahais, Sufis, Jews and members of other religious groups. Furthermore, homosexuality under Iranian law remains punishable by imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Yet, just when this bloody tyranny was beginning to wobble as a result of a crippling sanctions regime that was battering the nation’s economy, the thuggish Mullahs were handed a lifeline: the release of approximately $7 billion – a sum equivalent to 1.4 per cent of Iran’s entire national income.

As a result of this partial lifting of sanctions, Beaumont postulates that “Tehran’s clerical regime might now see the benefit of negotiating solutions to the region’s problems, rather than its previous angry posturing…”.

Yet the tone inside Iran has been anything but conciliatory. Here’s a direct quote from the state-controlled Press TV: “…but so far with the Geneva joint plan, the knife has scarcely been pulled out [of Iran’s economic back] three inches.”

Has ‘conflict resolution’ ever sounded more ominous?

(Gidon Ben-Zvi is a Jerusalem-based writer who regularly contributes to Times of Israel and the Algemeiner)

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No human being is illegal: The Guardian’s vilification of settlers is immoral & illogical

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi

In an August 12 article the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent Harriet Sherwood reported that, “In highly contentious moves heralding the renewal of Middle East peace talks this week, Israel…authorized 1,200 new homes to be built in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

In response, Palestinian leaders warned that continued settlement expansion could scuttle peace talks.

Evidently, if not for Israeli communities on the ‘wrong’ side of the 1949 armistice lines, peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors would have broken out decades ago. And if large swaths of the “international community” evidently deem the territories seized by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War as illegally occupied, then it must be true.

2013, construction in (eastern) Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo

2013, construction in (eastern) Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo

It is easy to see why such a consensus has coalesced around the perceived relationship between the Jewish State and the West Bank. When you google the term ‘settlement’, pages upon pages of news items, essays, studies and screeds  – nearly all of them equating the Jewish civilian communities built on lands captured by Israel during the Six-Day War with illegal occupation – proliferate.

In her report, Sherwood asserts that, “all settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law.” However, the term “occupied” In relation to Israel’s control of these areas has little basis in international law or history.

petition by 1,000 international jurists arguing that Israel’s West Bank settlements are in fact legalrecently sent to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, made the following points:

  • The long-held view of the EU as to the illegality of Israel’s settlements is a misreading of the relevant provisions of international law, and specifically Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is neither relevant to the unique circumstances of Israel’s status in the area, nor was it ever applicable, or intended to apply to Israel’s circumstances in Judea and Samaria.
  • The EU together with other international bodies has consistently ignored authoritative sources, including the 1958 official commentary by International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as the published opinions of prominent international jurists, all of which explain the provenance of Article 49 in the need to address deportations, forced migration, evacuation, displacement, and expulsion of over 40 million people by the Nazis during the Second World War. This has no relevance to Israel’s settlements in Judea and Samaria.
  • The EU totally ignores the very agreement to which it is signatory as witness, the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, in which it was agreed by the parties, pending a permanent status agreement, to exercise powers and authority in the areas under their respective control. Such powers include planning, zoning and construction. The issues of settlements and Jerusalem, as agreed upon between the parties, are negotiating issues, and hence, determinations by the EU undermine the negotiating process and run against the EU’s status as signatory.
  • The legality of Israel’s presence in the area stems from the historic, indigenous and legal rights of the Jewish people to settle in the area, as granted in valid and binding international legal instruments recognized and accepted by the international community. These rights cannot be denied or placed in question. This includes the 1922 San Remo Declaration unanimously adopted by the League of Nations, affirming the establishment of a national home for the Jewish People in the historical area of the Land of Israel (including the areas of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem) as well as close Jewish settlement throughout. This was subsequently affirmed internationally in the League of Nations Mandate Instrument, and accorded continued validity, up to the present day, by Article 80 of the UN Charter which reaffirmed the validity of the rights granted to all states or peoples, or already existing international instruments (including those adopted by the League of Nations).
  • The inference regarding Israel’s borders as recognized by the EU is no less misguided and historically and legally wrong. The pre-1967 Armistice lines (so-called “green” line) were never considered to be borders. UN Security Council resolution 242 (1967), endorsed by the European members of the Council, called for “secure and recognized boundaries” to replace the pre-1967 Armistice lines. The European leaders further endorsed this principle in their 1980 Venice Declaration. By its persistence in referring to the pre-1967 lines, the EU is undermining future negotiation on this issue by pre-determining its outcome.
  • In a similar vein, the repeated use by the EU of the term “occupied Arab” or “Palestinian territories” to refer to the area of Judea and Samaria, has no basis in law or fact. The area has never been determined as such, and thus the continued EU usage of the term runs against the very concept of negotiations to resolve the dispute regarding these areas, supported by the EU, to determine their permanent status. 

And, leaving aside the legal basis for the settlements for a moment, while the geopolitical situation between Israel and the Palestinians is undeniably tense, it is also remarkably ordinary when perceived through a wider, global lens – especially when you glance at the long list of disputed territories around the world which has somehow eluded the attention of the ‘international community’.

Furthermore, the actual area inside the West Bank that’s being bickered over is much smaller than popularly understood. Built-up Jewish settlements account for a tiny fraction of the disputed territories. An estimated 70 percent of the settlers live in what are in effect suburbs of major Israeli cities such as Jerusalem. These are areas that virtually the entire Jewish population believes Israel must retain to ensure its security.

Probably the only net benefit to be reaped from the Oslo Accords is that their failure clarified what the true obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is and has always been. It is not the territories, nor the settlements, nor the settlers – but the very existence of Israel.  Recent history confirms this Arab intransigence: from 1949–67, when Jews were forbidden to live in the West Bank and “East” Jerusalem, the Arabs nonetheless refused to make peace with the “Zionist Entity”.

If it is not the settlements, then what is the true reason for this 45-year-old stalemate? While there are no easy answers, allowing the Jewish population in the territories to grow could arguably even serve as a catalyst for negotiations since the Palestinians would quickly realize that time is on the side of an Israel that is building settlements and creating facts on the ground.

Realizing this, Israel’s peace partners may finally acknowledge that the only way out of its dilemma is face-to-face negotiations, without preconditions such as the demand (met by Israel) to release Palestinian prisoners convicted of murder, attempted murder, or being an accessory to murder - many of whom identify with terrorist movements which reject peace with the Jewish state under any terms.

Ultimately, the disposition of settlements is a matter for final status negotiations. While one may legitimately support or challenge Israeli settlements in the disputed territories, they are not illegal, and demonizing Jews who live in communities across the green line is certainly not moral and does not help the peace process.  

Harriet Sherwood’s ‘obstacles to peace’ have neither the size, population, nor placement to have a serious impact on sincere efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement on all issues related to the disputed territories.

(Gidon Ben-Zvi is a Jerusalem-based writer who regularly contributes to Times of Israel and the Algemeiner)

Harriet Sherwood yawns as Hamas orders closure of Gaza media outlets

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi 

Poor Harriet Sherwood, missing the big picture while obsessively reporting about the latest round of Middle East peace talks that promise to end the six-decade-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a mere nine months.

While Sherwood, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, breathlessly relayed US President Barack Obama’s praising of the rebooted peace process, the Hamas-led government in Gaza – located a mere 50 miles away from Israel’s currently undivided capital city – was shutting down uncooperative media outlets in the territory.

Journalists in Ramallah protest against a previous clamp-down on press freedom by Hamas

Journalists in Ramallah protest against a previous clamp-down on press freedom by Hamas

In a July 29 post by the Guardian’s media blogger, Roy Greenslade, Gaza’s Attorney General Ismail Jaber was quoted as saying that the broadcaster Al-Arabiya and news agency Maan “fabricated news” that “threatened civil peace and damaged the Palestinian people and their resistance” to Israel.

Thankfully for freedom loving journalists such as Sherwood, this latest human rights violation by the demopathic Hamas movement is expected to be temporary – although when precisely the offices will actually be allowed to resume operations remains a question mark.

Sherwood’s unwillingness to shed a bright light on Hamas’ latest crackdown on ‘counter-revolutionary’ voices represents a glaring and dangerous ideologically driven moral blind-spot - denying her significant readership access to uncomfortable facts about the neighborhood bullies who share a volatile border with Israel.

According to the independent watchdog organization Freedom House, the media in Gaza are not free. Following its takeover of Gaza, Hamas replaced the PA Ministry of Information with a government Media Office and banned all journalists not accredited by it; authorities also closed down all media outlets not affiliated with Hamas, whose security forces have allegedly tortured detainees.  Furthermore, Hamas has significantly restricted freedoms of assembly and association, with security forces violently dispersing public gatherings of Fatah and other groups.

Now, none of this is meant to imply that Sherwood can’t find Gaza on a map. Bright, curious and well-read, the Guardian’s intrepid Jerusalem correspondent has indeed filed reports about the goings-on in Gaza. Yet, she seems impervious to any news item that may distract her readers from the Israel-as-Goliath fable – and often fails to adequately fact check claims made by her Palestinian protagonists.

Yet, the broader issue is Sherwood’s chronic myopia vis-à-vis alleged human rights violations by Hamas against its own people.

And when facts prove to be stubborn and persistent, Sherwood simply tortures the English language in an attempt to whitewash any pesky Palestinian human rights abuses. Indeed, it takes an imagination most fertile to conceive of a group a group recognized as a terrorist movement by the United States, the European Union, the UK, Australia, Canada and Japan as merely “conservative“.

Indeed, Sherwood’s selective reporting is taking place at a most inopportune time. Try as she may to turn a blind eye, human rights violations in Gaza – not to mention the Palestinian Authority – are reportedly increasing. According to the Palestinian Independent Commission For Human Rights (ICHR) report, 2012 saw a 10 percent increase in the number of complaints about human rights abuses by the PA and Hamas, compared with 2011.

According to, Randa Siniora, executive director of ICHR, many complaints were related to arbitrary and political detentions, as well as torture and mistreatment.  The organization recommends that the PA and Hamas stop violating freedom of expression by interrogating Palestinians who are simply expressing their political views.

Why hasn’t Ms Sherwood followed up on the findings and recommendations of this report? Are not the alleged human rights violations of Israel’s presumptive peace partners of any relevance to the final configuration of a Palestinian state? 

Whilst Sherwood relentlessly reports every slight endured by Palestinians at the hands of Israelis, she evidently sees nothing newsworthy about severe abuses perpetrated by Hamas against its civilian population.

Lying by omission is lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception, and it appears that Sherwood has made a career out of overplaying news stories about every conceivable Israeli miscue, while leaving out information that would detract from the Palestinian victim narrative.

Her ho-hum reaction to the horrific treatment of her cherished Palestinians effectively perpetuates the racist assumption that Palestinians lack moral agency.

And now…back to the negotiating table!

(Gidon Ben-Zvi is a Jerusalem-based writer who regularly contributes to Times of Israel and the Algemeiner.)

Palestinian textbooks erase Israel. Harriet Sherwood erases moral distinctions.

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi

National_Education

1st Grade PA Textbook: “Map of Palestine”

In a recent report for the Guardian (Israeli and Palestinian textbooks omit borders, Feb. 4), Harriet Sherwood exposed Israel’s education system for the world, or at least her loyal readership, to see, noting that: “In Israeli textbooks, 76% of maps show no boundaries between Palestinian territories and Israel.

Once again succumbing to the bigotry of low expectations, Sherwood doesn’t take umbrage with repeated Palestinian incitement against Israel in public declarations, media and textbooks.

Instead, Sherwood serves the cause of absurd moral equivalency by implying that while Palestinian textbooks portray a world without Israel, refer to Jews as “Zionist gangs” and rewrite the Holocaust to ignore atrocities committed against Jews, Israel’s no better since it doesn’t recognize the non-existent borders of a country which doesn’t exist.  

Sherwood’s piece suggests that Israel is teaching hatred by virtue of the fact that its educational system doesn’t propagate the Palestinian national narrative, one which depicts the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 as an original sin that dispossessed the land’s native people. Over the years this Nakba narrative has metastasized into an international coalition of Islamists and leftists which celebrates the Palestinians as the quintessential “Other”, the last victims of Western racism and colonialism.

Sadly for Ms Sherwood and her fellow travelers, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  So, beyond the guerrilla chic appeal of movements for social justice that are only heard if they are loudly anti-Western, and superficially pro-democratic – yet remarkably mute when it comes to the vast majority of crimes against humanity inflicted by the once colonized against their own people – here are some pesky facts to consider:

  •  Palestinian textbooks describe the land (from the river to the sea) as being comprised of Muslims and Christians. No mention is made of Jews or the centuries-old Jewish communities of Palestine. The city of Jerusalem is described as exclusively Arab. Israel is not recognized as a sovereign nation and all maps are labeled “Palestine.”
  • Former United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, a major proponent of the two-state solution, has said that the Palestinian school books do “…not give Palestinian children an education, they give them an indoctrination.”
  • Regarding the idea of a peaceful, demilitarized Palestinian state existing side-by-side next to Israel, Palestinian school books make no attempt to educate for peace or coexistence with Israel. Instead Israel’s right to exist is adamantly denied and the Palestinian war against Israel is presented as an eternal religious battle for Islam.

While Sherwood finds it noteworthy that school books of societies in conflict tend to contradict one another, she finds the following facts too inconsequential to even bear repeating:

  • Israel’s Ministry of Education has implemented many programs where Israeli and Arab students work together on joint projects in an effort to learn more about each other, their heritage and culture.
  • The Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP) issued a report covering the 2012 set of Israeli textbooks. The report showed that many textbooks focus on education towards reconciliation, tolerance and peace.  Peace is presented not only as a Utopian aspiration, but also as a reachable political goal.  The new textbooks give information about the peace agreements between Israel and Arab countries and the Palestinians, in particular on the question of the borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.   The Palestinians’ struggle is presented as that of a national movement whilst not identifying with their aims. The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians continues to be presented as a clash between two national movements, thus legitimizing the existence of the Palestinian national movement. None of the new textbooks contains indoctrination against the Palestinians as a people.  

At its core the Palestinian liberation movement stands neither for the Palestinians nor liberation. It is very much defined by what it’s against: the sovereignty of the Jewish State over ALL lands seized, conquered or liberated (insert your preferred verb here…) from 1948 onward. Sherwood and her political fellow travelers realizes that since Palestinian independence needs to be created Ex nihilo – out of nothing – the only surefire way to do so is by undermining Israel’s legitimacy by a thousand cuts.

Today, it’s Israel’s education system. Rest assured that once school is out for the summer, Sherwood and like-minded fighters for freedom will dig up another half-baked canard, dust it off and fashion it into the latest whip to be inflicted upon Israel and its citizens.

Uprooting the Truth: Olive Trees as the latest ‘obstacle to peace’

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood recently told a tale of Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian olive groves, ‘Israel urged to protect West Bank olive trees after settler attacks‘, Oct. 15.

To lend credence to what appears to be an alarming trend, Ms Sherwood cites the always handy United Nations, which reported that more than 870 trees were vandalised in the first week of [this year’s] harvest, which began in most places on or after 5 October.

Allegedly, such attacks have increased in recent years. Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 7,180 Palestinian-owned trees have been vandalised by settlers, according to the UN’s office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, wasted no time in exploiting the report, charging that settlers were launching attacks under the protection of the Israeli military.

Hanan Ashrawi and Yasser Arafat

To say that there is not the slightest air of reality surrounding these allegations would be to gloss over a more profound truth: Ms Ashrawi is dutifully perpetuating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by failing to address Palestinian “…incitement to hate, promotion of an ethos of violence and struggle, and non-development of a culture of peace.

For while Hanan Ashrawi is frequently presented to the international community as the telegenic, kinder, gentler face of Palestinian politics, it’s important to remember that when Palestinians speak to foreign audiences, they speak quite differently than the way they address their own people.

Sadly, the PA’s decades-long campaign to honor terrorists – presenting them as heroes and role models – has borne fruit.  

According to a recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey (PSR), nearly half of all Palestinians (47.5 percent) support terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians inside the 1949 armistice lines.

And while no one can deny that the amount of settler ‘price tag’ attacks have indeed grown in recent years, the overwhelming majority of Israelis deplore them. In stark contrast, the PA, while quick to condemn price tag attacks on West Bank mosques, simultaneously gives its assent to murder and entices future terrorists with assurances of glory and honor

Sherwood, however, is seemingly enthralled with the Palestinian victim narrative. She evidently holds the Palestinian people and their government in such low regard that Arab violence is perceived as par for the course while Jews behaving badly elicits cries of condemnation that spill over into a questioning of Israel’s moral legitimacy.

Ms Sherwood’s selective fact picking is evident when she cites the UN figure of approximately 10,000 trees in 2012 having been uprooted or vandalized. By whitewashing PA-sanctioned incitement to violence against Israelis in an article whose focus is the deteriorating relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, Ms Sherwood is effectively perpetuating the racist assumption that Palestinians lack moral agency.

For the sake of balance, a few inconvenient truths should be considered at this point.

Jewish residents in the West Bank live in settlements that comprise less than five percent of the West Bank. Furthermore, Israel has started virtually no new communities in the West Bank in years, having withdrawn completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The limited new construction in existing settlements that has taken place in recent years has been within pre-existing boundaries. Under the Oslo Accords, Israel turned over control of all the large Palestinian population centers, leaving more than 95 percent of Palestinian Arabs living under their own leadership.

And while Hanan Ashrawi sees IDF footprints in the criminal actions of a few Israeli settlers, the truth is that the Israeli military only reentered PA territory temporarily, during the Second Intifada, in order to protect Israeli citizens by confronting the terrorists at their bases of operation – inside Ms Ashrawi’s beloved Palestinian Authority.

Now, no one can deny that the West Bank is in the midst of an economic crisis. UN figures say that unemployment in the West Bank is 17 percent, a figure that may well under-represent the severity of the crisis, given the large numbers of under-employed in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has paid only partial salaries to its 114,000 civil servants in the West Bank, about 15 percent of the local work force, over the past few months because of a shortfall in its $4 billion budget.

Yet, Ms Sherwood does a great disservice to West Bank Palestinians by implying that their deepening impoverishment is due to uprooted olive trees. For it’s the PA that administers services to more than 90 percent of the West Bank Arabs.

West Bank Arabs apparently know something that Ms Sherwood doesn’t about their leadership.

A poll recently published by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) revealed that the majority of Palestinian Arabs believe their government is corrupt, that there is no freedom of press under the PA and that Arabs living under Palestinian rule cannot freely criticize the PA without fear of retribution.

Ms Sherwood should channel her moral outrage at the true cause of Palestinian misery – and let the olive trees be.

The death of Camp David? On the real world consequences of “Land for Peace”

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

Terrorist in Sinai with RPG

Does “land for peace” work?

Recent developments in the Sinai Peninsula, where the ‘Red Sea Riviera’ has spiraled into anarchy and violence, have put into sharp focus the serious consequences of Israel’s initial decision to embrace retreat as a guiding diplomatic philosophy.

The outbreak of hope that erupted following the signing of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was palpable.

Based on 1978′s Camp David Accords, this first attempt at a comprehensive peace between Israel and one of its neighbors was a valiant attempt to end 30 years of relentless hostility and costly wars.

Did the Israelis truly desire peace?

Well, by withdrawing from Sinai, Israel gave up:

Furthermore, Israel relinquished Taba — a resort built by Israel in what had been a barren desert area near Eilat — to Egypt in 1988. Taba’s status had not been resolved by the Camp David Accords.

In return, what was Egypt’s contribution to peace? A promise to end belligerence and military aggression.

While the Jewish State sacrificed much for the sake of peace, including an opportunity to become energy independent, the Middle East’s most powerful Arab nation reciprocated with a cold, if non-belligerent, shoulder.

While this frigid yet tolerable status quo defined relations between Jerusalem and Cairo for three decades, the 18 months since the Egyptian revolution forced out President Hosni Mubarak – ushering in a Muslim Brotherhood-led government – has transformed the Sinai into a vortex of chaos and violence. And the deteriorating security situation across its southern border has shocked Israel into coherence.

With Egypt firing missiles in the Sinai Peninsula for the first time since the 1973 Yom Kippur war, following an upsurge in Islamist attacks in the region, both Israel and Egypt must come to terms with the phantom peace of 1979 and consider seriously revising the terms of the treaty – for the sake of both countries.

It may well be time for Israel and Egypt to revisit the negotiating table with the aim of developing an action plan to confront and quell the Islamist insurgency that has swept over the Sinai Peninsula.

While Sinai’s spiraling out of control is due in part to such “imports” as global jihadist groups infiltrating the peninsula, the local population has also joined in on the festivities. In her latest Guardian report, Harriet Sherwood asserts that the vast desert peninsula is inhabited largely by Bedouin tribes, who for decades have been marginalised, neglected and impoverished.

Choosing a compelling narrative over facts on the ground, Ms Sherwood significantly downplays the Sinai Bedouins’ contribution to the reign of anarchy that has taken hold of the peninsula.

In truth, the Bedouins of the Sinai have rather cashed in on the lawless state of affairs. Tribesmen have been smuggling in Eritrean and Sudanese fortune seekers who are, along with drugs and weapons, smuggled into Israel.

And post-peace Sinai has inflicted a body blow to Israel’s security in another way. For it is through the peninsula that most of the weapons Hamas has succeeded in stockpiling in Gaza were smuggled in through the tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip with Sinai.

What a difference a peace makes, no? Israel’s original capitulation spawned many others. The pullout from Sinai set the stage for later expulsions and launched a three-decade long period rife with Israeli retreat.

And have all these retreats – Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, and Gush Katif- brought Israel one moment of peace? The grandchild of the 1978 Camp David Accords, the Oslo process, brought only a dramatic escalation in violence and bloodshed.

Necessity being the mother of invention, Israel must take a cold, hard look at the failed promises, dashed hopes and lives lost as the direct result of the strange calculus known as ‘land-for-peace’. Going forward, a new diplomatic paradigm, based on mutual respect, trade, tourism, investment and collaborative efforts in the fields of technology and medicine should be developed. In other words, scrap land-for-peace and replace it with peace-for-peace.

Until then, Israel and its neighbors are destined to wallow in a state of low-level bellicosity, with occasional flare ups as we’ve seen over the last several days in the Sinai Peninsula.

Despite Rachel Shabi’s claims, political culture does affect social and economic outcomes

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

As it turns out, Mitt Romney – and, of course, the rich Jewish donors who support him – are racist.

The presumptive Republican presidential candidate has invoked the wrath of Palestinian officials for suggesting that Israel’s culture is superior to the Palestinians.

By claiming that Israel’s economic prosperity is due in part to culture and “the hand of providence”, Romney is apparently buying into a “… standard-issue, superiority-complex racism,” according to  CiF contributor Rachel Shabi’s latest piece, ‘Mitt Romney’s insult-the-world tour excels on picking on the Palestinians‘, July 31.

Shabi sums things up by writing that “…Romney thinks that Palestinians are screwed because Israelis have a better culture and a better god.”

The sad fact is that much of the Muslim and Arab world is in a state of economic malaise—fueled by high unemployment, massive illiteracy and anemic GDPs. These societies are in the vice-like grip of a cultural hostility toward religious freedom and pluralism . As a result, the potential of  such nations is shackled.

 It can’t be denied that many of the countries with the worst records on religious freedom – Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, the Maldives, North Korea, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, etc. – also have terrible economies.

And the importance of freedom of conscience to the stability and economic well-being of the state is based on historical precedent. Rising prosperity across Europe during the 17th century had a significant impact on religious mentalities. The flourishing of trade and rising living standards occurred alongside the rapid growth of religious sects, undercutting the fear that spiritual disunity invited divine judgment. Whereas prosperity and toleration had once been seen as mortal enemies, the economic dynamism of religiously tolerant states provided a new paradigm: prosperity and religious freedom were now seen as twins.

Yet, despite this strong, documented correlation, Ms Shabi insists on blaming the economic plight of the Palestinian people on “… Israeli restrictions on access to markets and to natural resources [that] continue to be a prerequisite for the expansion of the Palestinian private sector.”

To back up her assertion, Ms Shabi rolls out the big guns: World Bank and IMF. Yet citing these organizations is quite problematic.

The World Bank has had a tendency over the years to base its reports on the state of the Palestinian economy on the claims and allegations of organizations with a long history of one-sided and inaccurate reporting, reflecting political and ideological bias in relation to Israel. Some World Bank reports about the Palestinian economy contain no original research by this august body.

Regarding the IMF, Ms Shabi must have forgotten that it was Israel that in early 2012 sought a $1 billion IMF bridging loan for the Palestinian Authority, but  was turned down because the organization feared setting a precedent of making IMF money available to non-state entities.

As it turns out, it is in Israel’s own national interest to avoid the security deterioration that could accompany a financial collapse of the government in the West Bank.

Now, Ms Shabi is correct in her assumption that the Palestinian economy could get a boost if restrictions on the movements of Palestinians were removed.

However, Ms Shabi’s depiction of a victimized Palestinian populace is grossly lacking in historical context. Like any other country, Israel must balance humanitarian and economic needs with the very real security concerns of its citizens. Barriers, checkpoints and other limitations on mobility are an unfortunate yet vital necessity. 

Until the security dynamics significantly change, however, the best that can be hoped for is the easing of restrictions on movement – dependent, of course, on the diminution of security threats. And Israel has made concerted efforts to oblige.

In 2010, for example, Israel issued more than 651,000 entry permits to West Bank residents wishing to travel to Israel, an increase of 42 percent over 2009. In 2009-10, Israel removed more than 200 roadblocks and reduced the number of manned checkpoints from 41 to 14.

Ms Shabi’s commentary is one part ‘blame Israel’ rhetoric and one part ‘culture of victimization’ doublespeak.

For decades, it’s been an article of faith around Western halls of academe to view the local populations of the Middle East Arabs as the hapless victims of alien encroachment, and to blame the region’s endemic malaise on Western political and cultural imperialism.

Such a warped worldview does a terrible injustice to Palestinians and other oppressed peoples, who must live under the yoke of tin pan dictators and autocrats who dismiss political and religious freedoms as ethnocentric luxuries.

Until a culture of prosperity grounded in freedom takes root across the Arab and Muslim world, hundreds of millions of people will continue to wallow in poverty and intellectual stagnation. The human need to blame someone for this horrific fate will perpetuate the culture of outrage towards the ‘other’ that has been molded and used by corrupt leaders to channel their citizens’ justifiable rage outward.

AccuWeather.com creates a Palestinian homeland in Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut

(This post was revised at 14:05 BST to correct an error regarding the historical boundaries of Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut. CiF Watch apologizes for the mistake)

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind and Times of Israel

It must be a surreal experience to go to sleep in one country and wake up in another – without leaving your bed, mind you.

Yet, this is precisely what happened to the citizens of Modi’in Maccabim-Re’ut, specifically those who may have recently logged on to the AccuWeather.com website.

It turns out, much to the amazement of most of its residents, that Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut is now part of Palestine. Were we asleep at the wheel when the Palestinian Authority pitched its flag over the approximately 75,000 inhabitants currently living in Modi’in Maccabim-Re’ut and lowered Israel’s?

What we appear to have here is a failure to separate fact from narrative. And it’s the Palestinian narrative, a manufactured self-image nurtured since Israel’s founding, that has been picked up, processed and regurgitated as immutable history.

Sadly for those in the throes of delusions about a capital-free Israel, however, history tends to leave fingerprints.

Modiin itself is completely within Israel’s pre-67 boundaries. Parts of Maccabeam and Reut, which were joined to the Modiin municipality several years ago, are over the Green Line, but are located in what was no-man’s land. The city was henceforth known as Modi’in Maccabim-Re’ut.

Now, this is all well and good but doesn’t directly address the central question: whose city is it? Well, a city by definition is a series of complex systems for sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing and transportation. Furthermore, a city’s concentration of development greatly facilitates interaction between people and businesses, benefiting both parties in the process.

Regarding “occupied” Modi’in, it was little more than a pit stop between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv until the decision to was made by the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to break ground on a brand new city, located on the ancient site that was the Jewish Hasmonean seat of power when it ruled Judea in the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE and where the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Greeks started.

Back to our time, it has been Israeli tax payers, not the European Union and not the United States, who have largely financed the flowering of Modi’in. And the results have been staggering: an employment zone extending over 1,300,000 square meters, central railway station and accessibility to public transportation that enables residents to travel to their jobs throughout the center and south of Israel are but three accomplishments that are a source of much civic pride. Modi’in residents enjoy an usually high quality of life and the city continues to develop at a dizzying rate.

In the meantime, the financial problems of real Palestinian cities, that is to say those under the administrative control of the Palestinian Authority, continue to grow. Outside of Ramallah, government spending and living on credit at all levels of Palestinian society is rampant and may prove to be the economy’s undoing.

While aid for the donor-dependent Palestinian Authority has slowed to a trickle, salaries for a swollen public sector again cannot even be paid in full. The productive base for the economy is shriveling while unemployment climbs along with poverty.

And foreign aid continues to wane partly because of global economic conditions and partly in a backlash to the Palestinians’ abortive bid for statehood at the United Nations last fall.

Around these parts, one man’s suburb is another man’s settlement. Ultimately, the final status of the disputed territories is best left for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to iron out. However, it is worth noting that over two-thirds of the Jews in the West Bank live in five settlement blocs that are all near the 1967 border. Most observers believe that these blocs will become part of Israel when final borders are drawn.

While the mystique of objective news coverage has long since faded, the battle of competing worldviews has evidently spilled over into the field of meteorology. After all, if Modi’in is in Palestine, who’s to say whether London is the capital of Northern Ireland, Tibet is a part of the People’s Republic of China or if Northern Cyprus even exists?

AccuWeather.com would be well advised to spend more time on the dazzling Northern Lights and less on remapping Israel.  By politicizing the weather, the website’s own forecast can be summed up as: partly misleading with chance of torrential bias.

(You can Tweet Accuweather.com here)

BBC celebrates with Palestinian prisoners: Reunited, and it feels SO good!

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

The BBC cheerfully announced that dogged defenders of convicted terrorists’ rights were overwhelmed with “indescribable excitement” at the news that Palestinian families from Gaza would be allowed to visit their jailed relatives in Israel for the first time in five years.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), having coordinated the visits, expressed its wish that “…visits by residents of Gaza will [soon] resume in full.”

Beyond the narrative woven of lonesome prisoners being able to see their wives and children after years of separation, there lies a fundamental and uncomfortable truth: while some Palestinians are in jail for relatively minor infractions, others are incarcerated for terrorism-related crimes, including murder.

Israel agreed to the move in May, as part of a deal to end a mass hunger strike by the “newest heroes of the Palestinian cause” -  security prisoners including members of Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups whose entire raison d’etre is to kill Israeli men, women and children in the name of Palestinian liberation.

As part of the deal that was struck, prisoner leaders committed not to engage in militant activity inside jail and to refrain from future hunger strikes.

The BBC’s coverage of this heart wrenching story of fleeting family reunification makes no mention of the murderous acts, mostly against unarmed civilians, that landed many of these Palestinians in Israel’s Ramon prison.

For all its brevity, the BBC news blurb is replete with examples of shoddy research and glaring inaccuracies. Good, credible reportage is based on the conveying of historical context. While the BBC states cryptically that family visits were halted in 2007 “… after the militant Islamist group Hamas came to power in Gaza,” the devil is in the details.

In fact, Israel banned family visits to prisoners from Gaza in 2007, a few months after Gazan terrorists kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, holding him captive until they exchanged him for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in 2011.

Still, why does Israel have to be so cruel to terror suspects? In some cases, Israel will even hold said freedom fighters in prison without trial for lengthy periods of time – surely an abuse of international human rights, no?

Israel’s strangeness among the family of nations is an unshakable belief that’s taken for fact by many an otherwise reputable international broadcasting organization. Yet it is worth noting that administrative detention – the arrest and detention of individuals by the state without trial, usually for security reasons – is used by a large number of countries including the United States and United Kingdom, which has maintained many forms of administrative detention over the years.

Administrative detention is often used in cases where the available evidence consists of information obtained by the security services and where a trial would reveal sensitive security information, such as the identities of informers or infiltrators.

Apparently, the BBC was under a tight deadline and failed to include in its coverage that the legal basis for Israel’s use of administrative detention is the British Mandate 1945 Law on Authority in States of Emergency.

In recent years, Israel’s prisons have become among the most closely scrutinized in the world, which is one reason why the government has allowed representatives of the Red Cross and other groups to inspect them regularly.

One Palestinian prisoner who was released in the first phase of the Gilad Shalit deal, Samer al-Issawi (a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) has spoken in detail about how he was treated during his incarceration in five different Israeli prisons.

According to Issawi, most prisoners are held eight to a cell that is approximately 25 feet by 15 feet. Each cell has its own shower, bathroom, kitchenette and a TV that receives 12 channels, including Israeli channels and several Arabic-language channels, among them Palestinian TV.

Furthermore, prisoners are allowed into a courtyard to exercise for an hour. For two hours each morning and each afternoon, prisoners may leave their cells to visit prisoners in other cell blocks.

On Fridays, Muslim prisoners may pray together in the prison courtyard. A prisoner serves as the imam, or prayer leader.

As for medical care, the prisoners, according to Issawi, have doctors at the prison and, when necessary, are treated at Israeli hospitals.

And since Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian prisoners is such an ongoing topic of fascination for pro-Palestinian human rights groups, where is the international outcry in response to the treatment of Israelis held captive by Palestinians?

Had the BBC spent a bit more time on old-fashioned research and less on a “total identification with the goals and methods of the Palestinian terror groups”, it may have gotten the facts straight.

Oxfam Distorts, BBC Reports: Jews Stealing land and water from Palestinians

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

On July 5, the BBC published the shocking results of a study recently conducted by the UK charity, Oxfam.

Regurgitating stale stereotypes, the thrust of Oxfam’s report is that Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank live in a ‘wretched reality’ as a result of settlement expansion and the related restrictions imposed on Palestinians on the use of land, water and movement – all of which, Oxfam claims, are destroying the viability of a future Palestinian state.

Oxfam is correct in its assessment of the Palestinian economy as a veritable basket case. Where this integral part of the “global movement for change” veers into tired dogma is in its singling out of Israel for approbation. Blame Israel first, investigate the facts never.

Regarding Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians’ access to water, this is an old myth that’s occasionally gussied up and tweaked for contemporary audiences. Truth is, Palestinians’ share of aquifers actually increased dramatically once control of the West Bank passed from Jordan to Israel in 1967, despite Israel’s limited water supply.  Indeed much of the water related issues in the Palestinian territories are caused by the failure of the PA to implement Israeli approved projects.  Over half of the wells approved for exploitation of the territory’s Eastern aquifer, for instance, have still not been drilled, though Israel approved permits for the project in 2000. (You can read a detailed fisking of the claim that Israel doesn’t supply Palestinians with enough water, here.)

Palestinian swimming pools in the West Bank. See more such images here: http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=12&x_article=1486

Another piece of propaganda passing for fact is the unexamined belief that Israeli settlements are being built on land that has been set aside for a future Palestinian state. While Palestinians can and often do challenge Israeli land seizures in court, the very definitions of private and state land in the disputed territories are a legal morass.  Based on titles and deeds, land that is registered becomes private property. But what if there are no documents to prove ownership?

What’s now commonly referred to as the West Bank is territory that fell under the successive administrations of the Ottoman Empire, the British mandate, Jordan and now Israel. During the Ottoman Empire, only small areas of the West Bank were registered to specific owners. Often, villagers would hold land in common to avoid taxes. The British began a more formal land registry based on land use, taxation or house ownership that continued through the Jordanian period.

Legally speaking, and in stark contrast to the BBC’s assertion that settlements are considered illegal under international law…”, it is worth noting Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a war of survival. In fact, Israel’s seizing of land in 1967 was, arguably, the ONLY legal acquisition of this territory in the 20th century. As such, the ultimate fate of all disputed territory is a matter to be left for the oft-stalled final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

While the 1993 Oslo Accords attempted to find a resolution to the issues of settlements and borders, a settlement freeze was never a precondition for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

With regards to the Jordan Valley, its strategic importance along the eastern border of the West Bank makes Israel’s withdrawal a virtual non-starter in future peace talks with the Palestinians.

Since the end of the 1967 war, every Israeli government has considered the Jordan Valley to be the “eastern border” of Israel with Jordan. Most of the strip lying in present-day Israel and the West Bank has been declared state land by the Israeli government. As part of the Oslo Agreements, the strip was classified as Area C, with the exception of the enclave around Jericho

Next, Oxfam goes for the trifecta by reporting that the Palestinians could generate an extra £1bn ($1.5bn) a year if restrictions on their movements, along with the aforementioned land encroachment and water theft, were removed.

Like any other country, Israel must balance humanitarian and economic concerns (of Palestinians, in Israel’s case) with the very real security concerns of its citizens. Barriers, checkpoints and other limitations on mobility are an unfortunate yet vital necessity. Once a comprehensive peace agreement is signed between the Israelis and Palestinians, such security measures will become unnecessary and summarily voided.

For now, however, the best that can be hoped for is the occasional easing of restrictions on movement – dependent, of course, on the diminution of security threats. And Israel has made concerted efforts to oblige. In 2010, for example, Israel issued more than 651,000 entry permits to West Bank residents wishing to travel to Israel, an increase of 42 percent over 2009. In 2009-10, Israel removed more than 200 roadblocks and reduced the number of manned checkpoints from 41 to 14.

Going forward, Oxfam may want to consider laying off the double standards and obsessive condemnations of reasonable responses to terror vis-à-vis Israel. Continuing to do so only serves to cheapen its stated purpose of building “a future free from the injustice of poverty.”

As for the BBC, its publication of the Oxfam report lends credence to the widely held belief that the broadcasting organization relies solely on the Palestinian perspective, and consistently parrots the narrative of “partisan, agenda-driven” Israeli organizations critical of Israel.

It’s the Settlements, Stupid: Alon Liel’s Fantastic Vision for Peace in our Time

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

The road to peace? A Jewish child sits in front of the rubble of a structure demolished by Israeli police in a settlement outside Ramallah, on Sept. 5, 2011.

A frenzy of sorts has broken out surrounding a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa’s recent backing of international efforts to prevent produce originating in Jewish settlements in the West Bank from being labeled “Made in Israel”.

The goal of such a policy, according to former ambassador Alon Liel, would be to protect and reinforce the pre-1967 border. Liel goes on to commend the decision of South African and Danish governments to delineate between products originating in Israel and those coming out of “settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories…” since such settlements “…are not [in] Israel [but] are built on occupied land outside Israel’s internationally recognised borders and are illegal under international law.”                                                                                                     

While Liel’s piece is loaded down with references to “international law”, the esteemed former diplomat fails to communicate a most basic fact: international law makes a clear distinction between land occupied during a war of aggression and land taken as a result of a defensive war.

Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a war of survival. In fact, Israel’s seizing of land in 1967 was, arguably, the ONLY legal acquisition of this territory in the 20th century. In contrast, Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank from 1947 to 1967 had been the result of an offensive war launched against the fledgling Jewish state in 1948. With the exception of Great Britain and Pakistan, this particular occupation was never recognized by the international community, including the Arab states.

Having delegitimized Israel’s claim to the territory it acquired during the Six Day War, Liel then takes aim at that pesky, perpetual enemy of peace in the Middle East: the settlements. According to the former ambassador: “[t]he continuing settlement expansion threatens to make a two-state solution to the conflict impossible.”

Indeed, concern over Israeli settlement construction is not a new issue. Yet, despite the “the expansionist policy of Israel’s rightwing government led by Binyamin Netanyahu”, serious, concerted efforts have been made to determine and cement the legal status of the outposts in the “occupied territories”.

On July 3rd, 2012, a committee tasked with examining the legality of Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, headed by a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice, concluded that international law does not preclude Israeli construction on land owned by the state. The committee also declared that communities built with government assistance were implicitly authorized.

However, the report that the committee, established by Prime Minister Netanyahu, issued went far beyond merely asserting Israeli sovereignty over the disputed territories. It also made a concerted effort to address lingering legal issues regarding communities which were not built on privately owned Palestinian land, but whose status was still in doubt due to legal bureaucracy.

The report also criticized Israeli government action in the territories, stating that “dozens of new neighborhoods have been erected, without government authorization and at times without a contiguous link to the mother community… several were built outside the legal jurisdiction allotted to the community.”

Having whitewashed the existential threat faced by Israel that precipitated its military response in June, 1967 – against Arab nations openly committed to the destruction of the Jewish State - Liel then proceeds to demonize the Jewish inhabitants of homes that were subsequently built in these territories.

Liel aims to shock with his presentation of the old and intellectually fuzzy demographic time bomb argument: 550,000 Jewish settlers now squatting in the “occupied” lands. Truth be told, over two-thirds of the Jews in the West Bank live in five settlement “blocs” that are all near the 1967 border.

Most Israelis believe these blocs should become part of Israel when final borders are drawn.

Furthermore, built-up settlement area is less than two percent of the disputed territories. An estimated 70 percent of the settlers live in what are in effect suburbs of major Israeli cities such as Jerusalem. These are areas that virtually the entire Jewish population believes Israel must retain to ensure its security.

In short, the main obstacle to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors has never been the territories, or the settlements, or the settlers – it has been the very existence of Israel. From 1949–67, when Jews were forbidden to live in the West Bank and “East” Jerusalem, the Arabs nonetheless refused to make peace with the “Zionist Entity”.

It is worth considering that the growth in the Jewish population in the territories may actually serve as a catalyst for peace since the Palestinians now realize that time is on the side of Israel, which can build settlements and create facts on the ground. Realizing this, Israel’s peace partners may finally acknowledge that the only way out of its dilemma is face-to-face negotiations, without preconditions. 

Ultimately, the disposition of settlements is a matter for final status negotiations. While one may legitimately support or challenge Israeli settlements in the disputed territories, they are not illegal. Furthermore, Alon Liel’s favorite obstacles to peace have neither the size, population, nor placement to have a serious impact on sincere efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians on issues of disputed territories.

The danger of Western projection: Egypt’s ‘Spring’ devolves into atavistic authoritarianism

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, an Anglo-Israeli writer who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

Egyptians are choosing between a radical Islamist and Hosni Mubarak’s former prime minister in the second day of a presidential runoff greatly dominated by the country’s military.

Two days before the second round of the country’s first “free” presidential elections, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled to invalidate the parliamentary election there. With parliament, 75 percent of whose members were Islamists, being dissolved, the military has taken over total authority.  

Egyptian protesters chant slogans against country’s military ruling council & Presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, as one holds a poster with merged photos of Mubarak and Ahmed Shafiq with stars of David, at Tahrir Square on Thursday.

The highest court in the land also ruled that the army-backed candidate, Ahmad Shafiq – the last president to serve under Hosni Mubarak- could stay in the race, in what was widely seen as a double blow for the Muslim Brotherhood

The decision was denounced as a coup by opposition leaders, who fear that they will lose much of the political ground they have gained since Mubarak was ousted 16 months ago. 

What do these latest developments mean for the much ballyhooed ‘Arab Spring’? Does the West now find itself in the awkward position of condemning the Egyptian military and simultaneously demanding that the Muslim Brotherhood be put into power?  

This thoroughly misunderstood revolution has laid claim to the hearts and minds of many an erudite Western observer. Did not the awakening that flowered with the removal of Hosni Mubarak usher in a new dawn of social cohesion, economic vibrancy and political democracy

Evidently not. In a country woefully unprepared for democracy, the apparent choice for the good citizens ofEgypt is now between a Sharia state and a military junta. 

One reason that that the West got it wrong was that it fell under the spell of several tantalizing myths, including the one that attributes Mubarak’s ouster to the Facebook generation. While the young and wired up may have played a role in sparking the Arab Spring, they have not been its main beneficiaries. 

The West also overestimated the significance of the democratic secularists and the degree to which demonstrators across Egypt were committed to Western-style democracy rather than a quasi democracy that represented Islamist values.  

Indeed, pro-democracy activists may have induced a gullible Western public to swoon, but they never succeeded in generating a grass-roots following inside of Egypt, which in the end is more important.

Grossly underreported in the media coverage coming out of Tahrir Square was the rise to prominence of the highly organized Muslim Brotherhood. The leading Islamist party in Egypt, which had been banned from participating in national politics by Mubarak, reaped the benefits of a suddenly open political system. 

Last Thursday’s decision by the supreme constitutional court -whose judges were appointed by Mubarak - brings into sharp focus the old regime’s complete lack of public support.

Such machinations bode ill for the Arab world’s newest ‘free society’. In fact, Egypt remains a ‘fear society’ – whose rulers lack the legitimate support of the people. In order to remain in power, Mubarak’s coterie must apparently resort to extraordinary judicial maneuvers. 

As such, despite the West’s infatuation with the image of pro-liberty demonstrations and protests occurring across the Arab world, there’s actually nothing new taking place underneath the Cairo sun.  

In fact, the rise of religious revolutionary forces that drove a nation’s strongman to leave his country bears a striking resemblance to the events leading up to 1979’s Iranian Revolution. 

Once the Western powers realized that Iranian society was on the verge of a fundamental change, they chose to accommodate this change. After recognizing the opposition groups, they facilitated them with opportunities such as media coverage. Through this action, changes accelerated with an unexpected speed.  

It appears, then, that the West is once again on the wrong side of history. What’s behind this chronic inability to get it right? Besides buying into a few unexamined assumptions about the ‘Arab Spring’, Westerners have also tended to lean heavily on the Eastern European revolutions of 1989 as point of reference. Indeed, the unpopularity of these regimes in 1989 is comparable to the loathing expressed across theMiddle East at inert and intolerant authoritarian rulers in 2011. 

However, the role of foreign forces in 1989 and 2011, respectively, is strikingly different. The unpopularity of regimes swept out of power by in 1989 originated in the fact that they were imposed from the outside – from the Soviet Union after World War II — and the governments were seen as tools of a foreign government.  

The Arab Spring was different. The regimes did not come into being as foreign impositions. Nasserism, the ideology of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who founded the modern Egyptian state, was not imposed from the outside. Indeed, it was an anti-Western movement, opposed to both European imperialism and what was seen as American aggression. 

Until the West learns to read and interpret events on the ground with better accuracy, it will continue to find itself waking up in bed with Iranian Mullahs and Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Ultimately, such diplomatic naiveté only serves to arouse public suspicion in these countries towards Western intentions in the Middle East. 

Israel boots Wagner: Harriet Sherwood chides state for uniting behind its Holocaust survivors

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, an Anglo-Israeli writer who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind.

German Composer Richard Wagner

On Tuesday June 5th, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent Harriet Sherwood reported that Tel Aviv University had denied the request of the Israel Wagner Society to have an Israeli symphony orchestra perform works by Hitler’s favorite composer Richard Wagner (Tel Aviv Wagner concert cancelled after wave of protest).

The university announced that it would not permit a scheduled Wagner concert to take place on its campus after vehement public protests.

Tel Aviv University accused Yonathan Livni – the founder of the Israel Wagner Society – of deliberately concealing the intention to perform Wagner compositions. The university also claimed that Livni did not mention the name of the organization he represented.

 Ms. Sherwood’s reporting of this story is riddled with subtle distortions and logical fallacies which should be examined.

First off, Ms. Sherwood repeatedly used the term ‘boycott’ without further elucidation. The ‘boycott’ is not official and in fact the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that it is not illegal to play Wagner in Israel. Rather, the ban is merely a custom that goes back to the founding of the Jewish state.

Next, she refers to this “unofficial boycott” of Wagner and draws an elegant parallel between it and the BDS Israel campaign which, after all, also has the word ‘boycott’ in it. Specifically, Sherwood quotes Mr. Livni, who responded to Tel Aviv University’s decision thus:

“The issue is that here is an academic institution that is threatened daily with boycotts because of Israel’s policy in the occupied territories doing exactly the same thing: imposing a boycott.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote the following:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

While the BDS Israel movement seeks to purge Israel, both inside and outside of the ‘Green Line’, of every last vestige of Jewish character and sovereignty, Israel’s unofficial Wagner ban serves as a crucial reminder that ideas have consequences — and that those who spread evil ideas should be held responsible for their consequences.

And this dovetails into Ms Sherwood’s next logical evasion.

The tired “divide man from his art” cliché’ is invoked in this quote, once again courtesy of Mr. Livni:

I have no regard for the composer – he was the worst kind of anti-Semite and I despise him. But God gave him a wonderful gift with which he wrote this beautiful, sublime music.

Simply put, none of this is about Wagner’s music. Rather, it’s about the strength and corrosive influence of his ideas. While Richard Wagner lived decades before the birth of Nazism, his influence on the National Socialist movement and especially on its leader was enormous.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that Wagner was one of “the great warriors in this world who, though not understood by the present, was nevertheless prepared to carry the fight for their ideas and ideals to their end.”

Wagner’s music was prominently featured at Nazi Party functions. And the operatic festival that he founded at Bayreuth in 1876 became a citadel of racism and reaction, and the cultural showpiece of the Third Reich and Hitler’s artistic centre.

Upon coming to power in 1933, Wagner’s works were used by the Nazi regime as part of its plan to ‘Nazify’ German culture.

In some Nazi concentration camps prescribed music was forced on the inmates by way of radio or gramophones that played over permanently installed loudspeakers.

The music, which included the works of Richard Wagner, was used along with propaganda speeches in order to re-educate the inmates. As such, the argument can be made the Wagner’s music served as soundtrack to many who lived through, and died during, the Holocaust.

Later in the article Ms Sherwood once again cites the eminently quotable Mr. Livni:

It was hypocritical of Israelis to boycott Wagner but ride on German-built trains and drive German-made cars, and for the state to buy German submarines…

The Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany  was signed in 1952 in order to:

“…address the calling for moral and material indemnity … The Federal Government are prepared, jointly with representatives of Jewry and the State of Israel … to bring about a solution of the material indemnity problem, thus easing the way to the spiritual settlement of infinite suffering.”

Although public debate in Israel was among the fiercest in the nation’s history, the aim of the reparations was undeniably to address and perhaps begin to come to terms with one of the great human tragedies ever known. While a blunt and highly controversial tool, reparations that sought to seek a smidge of redemption for an irredeemable act of cruelty were guided by a higher moral imperative.

What does this have to do with Wagner being performed in Israel?

Those who advocate for Wagner compositions being performed in the Jewish State usually rely on the ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ argument.  Whether or not one concurs, this focus on the aesthetically pleasing attributes of Wagner’s works is devoid of any appeal to redemption, forgiveness or spiritual healing.

By politicizing history in order to bludgeon Israel into illegitimacy, Ms. Sherwood does a disservice to the discipline, whose purpose is “…to reconstruct the past as accurately as the intelligence of the historian and the fullness of the historical sources permit…”

Growing Pains: the Birth of Israel’s Illegal Immigration Crisis

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, an Anglo-Israeli freelance writer

A recent piece in the Guardian, Isareli PM: illigal African immigrants threaten identity of Jewish state, May 20, describing the simmering issue of Israel’s African migrants, included the following passage:

“Amid the anti-immigration clamour, some Israelis have argued that, in the light of Jewish history, their state should be sympathetic and welcoming to those fleeing persecution.”

To quote the sadistic prison captain in ‘Cool Hand Luke’:

“What we’ve got here is…. failure to communicate.”

To diffuse the powder keg that Israeli cities with relatively high African populations are now sitting on, the intellectual cobwebs regarding refugees and migrants need to be swiftly cleaned out and a rapidly metastasizing groupthink ought be remedied by way of a realistic appraisal of alternatives.

Unlike the situation in other relatively well-off countries, Israel’s illegal immigration challenge is a recent phenomenon. The influx of Africans can be traced to 2005, after the Egyptian police attacked Sudanese refugees who were camped out in Cairo and demanded asylum. Jerusalem proved generous and word spread that migrants would be greeted hospitably and provided with job opportunities upon arrival in the State of Israel.

Since Hosni Mubarak was swept up and out of power during the twilight of moderation known as the ‘Arab Spring’, government authority has all but collapsed in the Sinai Peninsula. One byproduct of this lawless state of affairs has been a spike in the rate of illegal immigration to Israel from Africa. Over the last several months, Israel’s southern border with Egypt, by way of the Sinai, has turned into the primary point of entry for thousands of work-seeking migrants.  

While some of these fortune seekers are refugees, the vast majority are illegal infiltrators who are, along with drugs and weapons, smuggled into Israel by Bedouin tribesmen. Furthermore, while many illegal immigrants seek asylum status under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of the United Nations, only a fraction of all the illegal immigrants are actually eligible for this status.

In response, segments of the Israeli political establishment have been roused into action. Knesset member Danny Danon is pushing for a bill that would lead to the deportation of half the illegal migrants within a year and 80 percent within two years. And Interior Minister Eli Yishai recently proclaimed that most of the African refugees should “…be put into holding cells or jails…and then given a grant and sent back…” to their countries of origin.

Is this any way for the Middle East’s only true democracy to treat the most vulnerable segment of its society?  And doesn’t Israel have a special moral obligation, in light of Jewish history, to be sympathetic and “..welcoming of those fleeing persecution…”?

No, it does not.

For one thing, it’s important to consider the impact of illegal immigration on Israeli society’s most vulnerable members: native-born Israelis and legal immigrants with low skills and low levels of education.

Academics, media elites, lawyers, human rights activists and other professionals have the sweet luxury of claiming the moral high ground on the illegal immigration debate: their livelihoods aren’t on the chopping block; their opportunities for advancement aren’t being increasingly scuttled.

The plight of immigrants seeking refuge from some of the most forsaken corners on earth is a moveable tragedy worthy of our sympathy and outrage. Yet, Israeli society’s first and primary responsibility is to its legal citizens and immigrants.

Furthermore, the economics of allowing illegal immigrants to remain under the charge of local municipalities in particular and the Israeli government as a whole, which would have to maintain services such as law enforcement, health care, housing, and schooling, is prohibitive. Israel is not France and it simply doesn’t have the means to provide for the welfare of tens of thousands of migrants.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that African refugees will be treated with humanity, explaining that “… we will continue to care for refugees, but they make up a minimal part of the human wave. Entire populations are starting to move, and if we don’t act to stop this we will be flooded.”

Yet, how does Israel counteract this ‘human wave’?

There has been much talk and uneven implementation of plans to complete the Egyptian border fence, expand detention centers and increase policing of companies that do violence to the law by hiring undocumented workers.

The concept of detention camps in a Jewish state has been greeted with grave misgivings and gratuitous moralizing by large swaths of the international human rights community.

However, it bears reminding that these facilities will include classrooms, places of worship, community centers, medical centers and outdoor recreation areas.

No solution will be comprehensively effective and every solution will likely evoke the slippery law of unintended consequences. Yet, Israel’s much touted economic miracle, given official sanction when the country joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2010, has apparently brought with it a slew of ‘first world injuries. Israel’s high standard of living and open society, in a region distressingly devoid of both, has ignited the imagination of fleeing Eritreans, Sudanese and citizens of other economically deprived peoples.

In the name of true moral equivalence, Israel should be allowed to deal with this internal crisis without being held to a unique standard that is apparently the special legacy of Jewish history to the modern Jewish state.