"The State of Ishmael"

Shay Fogelman wrote in the weekend Haaretz that Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi, a right-wing Israeli politician who was assassinated in an East Jerusalem hotel [the Hyatt Regency] nine years ago, at the height of the second Intifada, by Palestinian gunmen, had drawn up plans in 1967 for … well, not a Palestinian state, exactly… more like what Fogelman called the “state of Ishmael”.

Ishmael was the other son of the prophet Abraham, Patriarch of the Jews and founder of the monotheistic tradition is continued in Islam. Ishmael was fathered by Abraham with his wife’s servant, Hagar. Abraham’s wife, Sarah — who had been believed to be barren — then gave birth to Isaac. [It is believed that the Jewish tribes are descended from Isaac, while Arabs are descended from Ishmael…]

Fogelman wrote that “Ze’evi’s plan to create the state of Ishmael, in the form of a secret four-page document, has been gathering dust in the archives of the Israel Defense Forces since it was conceived. But anyone who examines the details closely will not likely describe it as a dovish project, reflecting a recognition of the Palestinians’ national rights. Submitted to then-chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin five days after the end of the Six-Day War, the plan was entitled ‘Political Arrangement for the West Bank − A Proposal’. Ze’evi begins by noting, ‘The following proposal follows conversations held recently and in light of the task assigned to me to put forward a proposal on the subject’. It does not, he notes, ‘refer to possible solutions for the Gaza Strip, which need to be considered separately’. Ze’evi’s proposal called for the establishment of ‘an independent Arab state in part of the West Bank, which would be tied to Israel by a contract that would ensure the rights of both sides. The new state will be called the state of Ishmael ‏(and not Palestine, in order not to increase its ‘appetite’ and representation‏)’ …

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An Era Passes – Tommy Lapid dies at age 77

A champion of a secular Israel, who opposed the growing influence of the religious-national right but who may have inadvertently invigorated its growing and purposeful strength, has died Sunday in a Tel Aviv hospital.

Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, who suffered a heart attack a few months ago, was admitted to hospital on Friday. He died today of cancer, according to news reports.

He is the man who once said, as Minister of Justice in 2004, that photos of a Palestinian woman trying to salvage something from the ruins of her IDF-razed home in Rafah made him think of his own grandmother who suffered under the Nazis.

Born 77 years ago in the former Yugoslavia, Lapid was a prominent journalist who headed the secular ‘Shinui” (“Change”) party. Israel, Lapid said, should be a Jewish state with freedom of — and from — religion.

“I don’t mind them carrying on their religion but I do mind when they try to impose their views on the secular majority in this country”, Lapid said of the religious-national right. “I think Israel should be a modern, Western civilisation and not a medieval ghetto”.

The current Shinui platform states that Israel should be “Jewish, Democratic, Zionist and Liberal”. It also states that the party will “fight religious coercion”, and believes in “separation of religion and state, without reducing the ‘Jewishness’ of the country. Religious belief will not be legislated nor will it be financed by the state. Our party believes in civil marriages (and divorce) – public transport on festivals and Shabbat and equal rights for the various Jewish religious streams. We will cancel the Tal law which differentiates in the conscription of religious and non religious citizens”.

In this last provision, there appears to be a convergence of aims between Shinui and its religious-national opponents.

Shinui was the largest winner in the 2003 general elections, winning nearly as many Knesset seats as the Labour party — but left the ruling coalition in December 2004 in a dispute over funding of religious institutions. Shinui then spilt in the run-up to 2006 elections, in the aftermath of a major shift of Israeli political alliances that surrounded Israel’s 2005 “Disengagement” from Gaza, and no longer has any representation in the Knesset.

In between, Lapid served as Justice Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, then resigned from political life after Shinui split before the 2006 elections. He then became chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial council. Lapid was himself a Holocaust survivor who had a number of family members, including his father and grandmother, perish in Nazi concentration camps prior to the end of World War II.

As Justice Minister, Lapid made news headlines by opposing, in a May 2004 cabinet meeting, the destruction of Palestinian homes in Rafah during an IDF operation in southern Gaza. After the cabinet session, Lapid told Israel Radio that “I did think, when I saw a picture on the TV of an old woman on all fours in the ruins of her home looking under some floor tiles for her medicines – I did think, ‘What would I say if it were my grandmother?’ ” In the interview with Israel Radio, Lapid said it made him “sick” that the army was considering demolishing as many as 2,000 Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp to expand an Israeli-patrolled zone along the Egyptian border.

Plans to destroy Palestinian homes in Rafah are still alive, as former IDF commanders have explained to journalists on several recent occasions. Reserve Major-General Yom-Tov Samia, former commander of the Southern front, said at a recent briefing to journalists in Jerusalem that he had even been willing to help Palestinian families living in Rafah, which has grown on both sides of the now-walled Egyptian-Gaza border, to move their furniture if they would be willing to move several hundred meters away from the border to create a sort of supervisable sterile zone that could more easily be monitored by the IDF.

More recently, Lapid said in a weekly commentary on Israel Radio in early 2007, after airing of video footage showing a Palestinian woman being viciously verbally attacked through the iron bars on the veranda of her downtown Hebron home by a neighboring Israeli woman settler – who among other things called the Palestinian woman a “Sharmuta”, (“whore”), that what was happening in Hebron reminded him of persecution endured by Jews in his native Yugoslavia on the eve of World War Two. “It was not crematoria or pogroms that made our life in the diaspora bitter before they began to kill us, but persecution, harassment, stone-throwing, damage to livelihood, intimidation,
spitting and scorn,” Lapid said in his radio commentary.

After the widespread airing of this footage, Israel’s mainstream politicians, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then also chimed in to denounce the Israeli woman settler’s behavior as “shameful”.

But, Israeli religious-nationalist commentators have accused Lapid of “shamelessly playing on sterotypes similar to those which appear in Nazi and other anti-Semitic press”.

Meanwhile, the religious-national right has been organizing. It has moved away from a preoccupation with religious life and a study of the scriptures, and sent many of a generation of yeshiva students – not a few of whom are American by birth, and for whom a pioneer ethic has a doubly patriotic resonance — out to settle the West Bank, and the same time to serve into the Israeli Defense Forces, where a number have now reached high ranks.

These soldier-settler-scholars appear to have been inspired in part on the transformation in the American military, which formerly chose generals who relied on their charismatic personalities and “seat-of-the-pants” instincts, but which in recent decades has been sending its most promotable (and certainly more compliant) officers off to become more multi-dimensional leaders by doing stints of academic study in post-graduate and doctoral institutions, in American service academies and internationally.

The current stated aim for these soldier-settler-scholars is to take over the government in Israel – and they are gaining in strength and political power.

Movement and Access?

Nobody can write this like Haaretz’s Gideon Levy.

In his latest article, Blaming the Victim, he explains what happened to a man who had to carry his new washing machine home on his head, because his home is in a closed area of Hebron:

“Ghassam Burqan’s wife was tired of doing all the laundry by hand. With five children at home, the couple decided to buy a washing machine. Now, says Burqan with a bitter smile, had he known what buying a washing machine would get him into, he would have passed on this particular luxury, and his wife could have gone on doing all the laundry by hand forever. Because of that washing machine, Burqan is now holding a plastic bag containing his bloodstained clothes, the result of the night of terror he says he was subjected to after some soldiers, and Border Police officers especially, attacked and abused him for an entire night, while he was bound, blindfolded and bleeding from a blow to the head from a rifle butt … Meanwhile, the upshot is not what one might expect: An indictment was issued against Burqan for assaulting Border Police officers. They also tried to accuse him of attempting to steal their weapons, but this charge was immediately rejected by the judges in the military court. Get the picture? Burqan tried to assault the Border Police officers, with a washing machine on his head, and to steal their weapons while he was at it. And so the victim became the accused. Still, even the military judges had their doubts about the prosecution’s version of events, and the military court, in two different forums, in an exceedingly rare move, decided to release on bail a person accused of assaulting our forces. The trial will begin next month. Not of the Border Police officers – of Burqan. Burqan, 31, is a marble cutter who lives with his family in Hebron’s Old City, which is under the control of the IDF and the settlers. No Palestinian vehicle is permitted to enter, which is why he had to carry the new washing machine home on his head …

On Friday, March 7, the family was visiting the grandparents. In the afternoon, they drove to nearby Beit Awa to buy a new washing machine; prices are lower there. They looked around, chose one and paid for it, loaded the washing machine onto the car and returned to the grandparents’ house. At around 8.30 P.M., after dinner, they prepared to return to their home, not far away, just past the IDF checkpoint that blocks the passage of Palestinian vehicles. Burqan hefted the cardboard box with the washing machine onto his head and the whole family – father, mother and five children (ranging in age from 1 to 12), along with Burqan’s brother, headed out. Tomorrow they would put the first load in the machine.

Six jeeps were parked by the concrete blocks next to the checkpoint, some from the IDF and some from the Border Police.

‘What do you have there on your head?’ the Border Police officer, a Druze apparently, asked in Arabic. ‘A washing machine’,” Burqan replied. ‘I want to check’, said the officer. ‘What is there to check? It’s a new washing machine, still in the package’, said Burqan. The officer (according to Burqan): ‘Then I’ll open it and wreck it’. N ow Burqan was afraid of what might happen to the washing machine, which the family had spent months saving for … The court would find that at most, he struck the Border Police officer on the hand. But other forces immediately poured out of the parked jeeps and started beating the two brothers with clubs and rifle butts, even after they were sprawled on the ground. According to the court hearings, which we will get to shortly, several army officers were present, including a company commander, but no one bothered to collect their testimony. Soon the two brothers had their hands bound behind their backs, and one had a rifle pushed against his throat and his neck stepped on…” and so on…

This Gideon Levy article can be read in full on Haaretz’s website here .