Monthly Archives: December 2008

Israel Green Movement Q&A

The Israel Green Movement is a vibrant new organisation which is launching as a political party in advance of the upcoming Israeli elections.

With British Green anti-Israel strategists’ arguments in mind (and consequently with apologies for this very singular British welcome to the political scene) I sent the following questions to Daniel Orenstein, a volunteer in the Israel Green Movement. He was good enough to find the time to answer them for Greens Engage.

1) Arabic is the joint official language of Israel. How come there is a link to an English version of your site, but not Arabic?

We are, in fact, currently working on an Arabic site (as well as a Russian site).  We are a volunteer organization and, for the present, work at the pace of the volunteers.  Incidentally, we have Arab members of the party who were drawn to the movement based on its principles and vision, and one very talented Arab individual running on our list.  When party founder Alon Tal made his first statement to attract people to the party, it was translated and circulated in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

2) How would you respond to the statement “Zionism is incompatible with true Green values, because it is nationalist”?

Here I borrow from of my friend and colleague David Paran:

Zionism as a movement for the creation of a Jewish national state in the Land of Israel is no longer relevant since such a state already exists. In Israel and most Jewish discourses, Zionism usually refers to support and loyalty to the State of Israel, although not necessarily support of its government’s actions. Naturally, a political party working within the state’s political system supports and is loyal to the national entity.

Green values, as I understand them, do not necessarily advocate internationalism and the removal of national governments. “Think global, act local” requires maximum participation in decision-making by citizens which therefore requires strengthening local representative and participatory democratic structures at various levels from the municipal, national to the international.

Green Zionism in this sense does not contradict and in fact strongly supports equal rights and involvement for all citizens (and residents, for that matter). Israel is usually defined as Jewish and democratic – this raises challenges and obligations, which include an imperative to full democracy and equal rights – which the Green Israel Movement will continue to demand.

3) You are a “social environmental movement” – what is your programme for the welfare and engagement of minority social groups in Israel?

See above.

4) What are the particular challenges of an Israeli Green movement, and how do you meet them?

We understand that the roots of environmental problems lie in broader societal ills – our fundamental relationship with the earth and our fellow citizens, our economic systems and priorities, our consumption patterns, political conflict, social and economic disparities.  In my opinion, our challenges are to refocus our priorities on people’s well being, invest in education/primary research/health care, protect the commons (coastlines, water sources, urban public space, natural landscapes) from damage and privatization, close economic disparities, eliminate political and economic discrimination, encourage environmentally sound modes of energy production and transportation… The list goes on.

5)  How are you different from previous Israeli Green movements?

If you are speaking of the Green Party in Israel, there is nothing to compare.  We see the Green Party in Israel as opportunists – politicians that were looking for a cause, where as we see ourselves as a cause realizing the need to express itself in politics.  Our party leadership are from the ranks of the environmental movement; their’s are not.  Rami Livni spoke eloquently about this in a recent interview at greenprophet.com.

6) What effect does the international boycott campaign against Israel have on your work?

The Green Movement will continue our work here regardless – our politics are driven by our moral and ethical understanding of situation here, not by a boycott campaign.  Speaking as someone historically associated with the left in Israel, the boycott makes our work harder because we lose the possibility to collaborate with Greens elsewhere, but it also makes our Israeli public less likely to choose to work and vote for us – the boycott justifies the misconception that “the world is against us.”  Boycotts, I think, make people here more intransigent and less likely to work towards a cooperative solution.  And having spoken to boycott advocates, I find many singularly dogmatic and narrow in their focus on Israel (rather than a focus on human rights), although many others who are sincerely pained by Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza and feel that they have no other tools to express their opposition.  I hope the Greens in England and the US choose to engage Israel and our Green Movement rather than cut themselves off.

7) It is early days for you, but what international collaborations might you envision with British Greens?

Leaving discussion of boycotts aside, having a strong international support network would, I think, strengthen everyone’s home court advantage.  Unity on issues that call for international cooperation (climate change policy, ozone policy, international treaties on hunting, GMOs, transportation) would help to influence policies.  And a cultural and educational exchange would be exciting as well.  The IGM hosted Danny the Red a couple months ago and the response was fantastic and empowering.
We wish the Israel Green Movement warm congratulations, מזל טוב and  تهانينا  and every success in their election campaign.
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Gershon Baskin – who owns the water?

Gershon Baskin is the CEO of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information, and is also running as a candidate on the Israel Green Movement’s list for the Knesset in the upcoming elections.

In the Jerusalem Post, he writes firmly of the need for the Israeli water negotiators to depart from an “occupation mindset” and cooperate with the more enlightened head of the Palestinian Water Authority:

“The water negotiations between the sides are still controlled by Israelis who are stuck in a mind-set of continued occupation. Uri Shani, the head of the Water Authority, is a professional, non-politician who was appointed by Tzipi Livni to head the water negotiations with the Palestinians. In reality, the talks are controlled by Noah Kinarti and Baruch Nagar. Kinarti is an old-time kibbutznik, a friend of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who holds fast to the old Zionist ideology of control and occupation. He is stuck in the Zionist ethos of making the desert bloom (which everyone now knows is no magic – all you need is to waste huge quantities of water) and for him every drop of water in Israel is Jewish water, Zionist water and if we compromise, we are compromising on our very existence. Nagar is essentially the water commissioner of the West Bank – he is in charge of protecting the interests of the settlers in the West Bank who enjoy about seven times per capita more water than the Palestinian majority who live there. Kinarti and Nagar are the commissars who make sure that the liberal minded Shani does not give in to the logical and reasonable approach taken by the Palestinian water negotiators.

THE HEAD of the Palestinian Water Authority, Dr. Shaddad Attili, presents an approach to water that diverts from the traditional Palestinian approach of demanding that Israel recognizes Palestinian water rights, which usually translates into the entire mountain aquifer – or all of the water underneath the West Bank. Attili speaks about the need to develop joint water management that takes responsibility for supply, demand, conservation, planning and development. He makes the logical claim that in this small piece of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, all of the water resources are shared. The water flows underground in the aquifers without any regard for political borders. There is no Green Line on the aquifers. How can anyone justify that Israelis and Palestinians should have such extremely different amounts of water available to them.

It is true that in this joint water pool that we share, there is a zero-sum game. Whatever one side gets is at the expense of the other. Today when the water deficit is more than one full year of rainfall, division of the water resources or it reallocation is a reallocation of the deficit. If we fight over water, everyone loses. Instead, if we cooperate, everyone can benefit.

Cooperation means changing the “hard disk” in our minds regarding the Palestinians. The occupation mind-set that guides the talks on water led by Kinarti and Nagar can only lead to bad agreements or to conflicts. It simple terms – “it’s the occupation – stupid!” There can be no agreement with the Palestinians with that attitude, not on water, and not on any other issue on the negotiating table.”

Read it all.

Complicating narratives about Israel and Palestine

quique_06_lCross-posted on Engage.

Two joint Israeli and Palestinian visual documentary projects – Frames of Reality and Gaza/Sderot – complicate the usual narratives about Israel and Palestine.

“Frames of Reality”, a joint initiative of the Peres Center for Peace and “Local Testimony”, aims to cultivate personal and professional dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli photojournalists. The six-month project culiminated with an exhibition at the Amiad Gallery in Jaffa, the photographs from which you can see in the online gallery. Luay Sababa’s work captures the claustrophobic containment of Palestinians at borders and crossing points. Yehuda Raizner photographed the Shvut Ami outpost settlement in the West Bank, populated by ultra-nationalist boys and girls in their early to mid teens. He writes, “In the 10 months of its existence, the outpost was evacuated about 12 times; the last time the police stayed there to prevent settlers from going back. The youth set up a similar outpost on the other side of the road and are waiting for the policemen to leave, before they go back to “their home” as they define it.” Tess Scheflan’s pictures are of the small boys who work in the Machne Yehuda market on the east side of Jerusalem’s Old City. Yesterday while reporting from Hebron Tess Scheflan was punched in the face and beaten by an IDF soldier (who is now under investigation). Muhammed Muhaisen’s work documents the squalor and exhaustion of forced child labour. Veteran conflict photographer Quique Kierszenbaum photographed ‘equals’ – pairs of Jewish and Arab children and teachers at a bilingual school in Jerusalem. And there are many more beautiful, provoking photographs than I can do justice here.

Another must-see is the Gaza/Sderot video documentary project set up by ARTE (French-German cultural TV station), which is currently showing 60 two-minute videos shot in Gaza and Sderot. The videos are organised by day and shown in pairs – Gaza on one side of your screen and Sderot from the same time on the other – so you get a sense of the two populations as contemporaries as well as neighbours. The Gaza and Sderot in these videos are not the Gaza and Sderot of the news nor of the anti-Israel campaign we comment on at Greens Engage. When Israel and Hamas interfere with the supply of power and fuel, Gaza at night is a land of dark homes, naked flames, effort to accomplish simple domestic tasks, and conversations about food – so it was on December 5th. On the other side of the screen a Moroccan-Israeli couple prepare for the wedding of their daughter and reminisce about when they first met. And you can go back, day by day, for two months. On the 4th a Gazan father called Amjad managed to make brief video contact with his friend on the web. “What has happened to your hair?[??]”, his friend asks incredulously. “You go bald quickly in this country” Amjad laughs. On the other side a father and daughter take an evening walk in the hills outside Sderot, talking about the daughter’s draft to the IDF and their sense of embattlement and picking up bits of shrapnel from the ’67 war. On the 3rd two Gazan students shop for clothes talking about their imminent exam and speculating about when and whether the electricity will come back. On the 2nd, a Sderot babysitter takes her charges to the world’s only bomb-sheltered playground – the shelters are giant yellow snakes. On the 1st a disconsolate Gazan market gardener gazes at her strawberries in despair that she will be able to make a living from them. Gaza/Sderot – go and have a look.

More on Caroline Lucas’ Any Questions response on Mumbai

Further to David Hirsh on Caroline Lucas’ Any Questions response about Mumbai, Howard Jacobson has an interesting and apposite piece in today’s Independent and see also Petra Marquardt-Bigman on Jerusalem Post Blog.

From Jacobson’s piece:

“There is no hierarchy of the dead. The slaughtered are the slaughtered. This is not always what the slaughterers think. For those who kill in the name of religion their killing answers to deserts – a casual bullet in the face if you’re a poor Hindu, a more selective punishment if you’re American or British, a slow, luxuriating torture if you happen to be a Jew. In reward for which, their religion tells them, they themselves will be arranged according to degree in heaven: the more assiduous their killing in God’s name, the closer to His right hand they will sit. They are cruelly mistaken. No rewards await them in another world. Just as no restitution according to degree of suffering awaits their victims. In death there is no hierarchy.

So I mean nothing hierarchical when I talk about the Jewish victims of the Mumbai massacre. I sorrow no more for them than I do for the impoverished Bihari migrant workers waiting to catch trains home, innocent of any involvement in the mythical cause the gunmen had been brainwashed into believing they must kill for. I allude to the Jewish aspect of this tragedy, not because I am Jewish myself and know a little about the outreach programme in which the murdered Jews were involved – the provision of kosher food and a place of prayer for Jewish tourists in Mumbai – but because it bears on the blame game which, with the usual unseemly haste and ignorance, has already begun in this country.

“The Chabad Centre in Mumbai was a Jewish organisation, not an Israeli one. Its occupants were tortured and killed for being Jews, not for being complicit in the “strangulation” of Gaza, unless all Jews are held to be complicit in the strangulation of Gaza, in which case Caroline Lucas must be very careful where and in what language she lays blame. If she is right that the perception of a great wrong in Palestine motivates such murders as those in Mumbai, then it behoves her, as one who influences perception, to be scrupulous in her observations.

Scrupulous, I say, not discreet. I would not wish her, in caution’s name, to speak other than the truth. But truth is hard to find. I have visited Israel several times recently, making a documentary about Jesus, travelling in the company of Israelis of all parties and persuasions. The “Green” view is that there are good Israelis and bad Israelis, the good being those who oppose the occupation. Nothing could be more simplistic. I encountered extreme left-wingers who could not bear what their government was doing, but understood its sometime necessity; I met right-wingers who had no sympathy with settlers, and could not wait to live in peace with Palestinians; all wanted change, all were frightened, all loathed the naive, ahistoric sentimentalism that paints them as brutal invaders of a foreign land, and not as fellow combatants in a long and tragic struggle for safety and self-determination.”

Nearly 200 people died in the recent terror attacks in Mumbai. They included husband and wife Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holzberg, who ran a centre where observant Jews visiting Mumbai can pray and eat kosher food, along with Leibish Teitelbaum, Bentzion Chroman, Yocheved Orpaz and another unnamed hostage. There are reports that the Jewish victims were tortured particularly severely before they were murdered. During those attacks those of us who cared to see observed how, for the terrorists and some commentators, the distinction between Jew and Israeli disappeared completely. Perhaps the most obvious illustration of this was the murder of Leibish Teitelbaum, a rabbi and kosher supervisor of an orthodox persuasion of Judaism which doesn’t recognise the state of Israel in any way.

This is confusing. That’s because it’s confusing. For a way into understanding why, listen to Michael Walzer [MP3].

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions whether extremists could ever be defeated, Caroline Lucas passed lightly over the terrorists themselves to concentrate on the causes of terror. To the disappointment (slight or in my case deep) of an unknown number of Greens, and although it was known that the terrorists in Mumbai belonged to an organisation whose stated aim was to liberate and Islamise Kashmir and had been highly trained, probably in Pakistan, Caroline Lucas omitted these things from her reckoning about the causes of extremism. She mentioned only Israel and the circumstances of the Palestinians.

Going on past experience, it is going to be difficult to persuade Greens who don’t understand what was wrong with Caroline Lucas’ response. Caroline Lucas’ deep focus on Israel caused her to neglect the issue of Kashmir and Pakistan on Any Questions. It also caused her to ignore the fact that while the jihadis obscenely punished US citizens and UK citizens for the policies of the US and UK, when it came to punishing Israel the distinction between Israel and Jew completely disappeared. It is obvious, if elementary, that “you don’t bring peace through the barrel of a gun” (Howard Jacobson observes in The Independent that – I paraphrase – it’s more than a little funny when the barrel of a gun invigorates attempts to understand the terrorists, while ignoring the victims of terror and their responses). It is also elementary that there are underlying, poorly-understood political problems which must be solved as a requirement of peace. But the news that Jews who died in Mumbai were sought out, and not as Israelis but as Jews, rocked Jews around the world with insecurity and a sense of conspicuous Jewish life as a potential target. Just one example close to home – a Jewish friend of mine went to a wedding last weekend at which the guests were asked to consider themselves fortunate that they themselves had not been targeted as Jews.

To respond, then, to a question about defeating extremism by seeking in such a singular way to concentrate listeners’ attentions on the perceived iniquities of only Israel is not only wrong, it is oblivious. Two of the central objections of Greens Engage to the dominant narrative about Israel which emanates from the Green party is this singular treatment of Israel and the long  failure to even attempt to get to grips with the complex relationship between Israel and Jews, roughly half of whose global population is Israeli.

I think there is probably a place for Israel in an explanation of the radicalisation of these young men from Pakistan, and others who share their views.  Certainly Israel is used by jihadis – who view it as a Jewish and Western outpost penetrating into what they believe should be Muslim lands – as a pretext for terror. And there is certainly popular outrage stoked both by the occupation itself  (which is often outrageous), by the blockade of Gaza, and by the media coverage of these things.

But they are certainly not the main, let alone only cause, or even cause “in particular” of the Mumbai attacks worth mentioning on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions.

Separate but related, Eamonn McDonagh on Z-Word Blog comments on William Dalrymple in The Guardian. David T is horrified by Richard Silverstein.

Caroline Lucas on Any Questions

On last weekend’s Any Questions Caroline Lucas, as noted by David Hirsh on Engage, encouraged us to understand Israeli policy as being one of the causes of the extremism which last week deliberately sought out and murdered, along with the citizens of selected countries, Jews in a religious centre. For good reason the Holzbergs had been worried about this. For jihadists it’s open season on Jews.

As a commenter on Engage noted:

“Where do you choose to break the chain of causation?

Mumbai is the fault of Israel because Israel makes Muslims angry by its ‘strangulation of Gaza’.

Israel’s ‘strangulation of Gaza’ is the fault of Hamas, who push Jew-hating propaganda and who continually target Jewish civilians for murder.

Hamas’ antisemitism is a result of Israel’s bad behaviour.

Israel’s bad behaviour – indeed its existence – is the result of European and Middle Eastern antisemitism.

Every event can be “understood” in terms of previous events.

Although this kind of mock “understanding” is usually prefaced with a disclaimer, it is actually a way of apologizing for and defending terrorism – and of attacking those who speak about the need to defend themselves against terrorism.”