The week in brief, 20-26 December – a summary of recent postings

December 26, 2010
Richard Kuper

jfjfpBetween 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, over 1400 Palestinians were killed by Israel in a brutal and illegal attack on the Gaza Strip, destroying lives and infrastructure. Two years on the ruins are still with us. The most important assessment of that war appeared in the United Fact Finding Mission report, commonly known as The Goldstone Report, which was presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 29 September 2009. We have carried many analyses of the report itself and of its reception including the personal vilification of its author Justice Richard Goldstone. This week we reproduce an adapted excerpt of the Editors’ Note from The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict to be published on 11 January 2010. The collection includes a substantial abridged version of the Report itself and about a dozen wide-ranging essays, critical and supportive. Contributors include Raji Sourani, Jules Lobel, Moshe Halberthal, Jerome Slater, congressman Brian Baird, Henry Siegman, Ali Abunimah, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Laila el-Haddad and more. It is awaited with anticipation…

In the meantime, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has released a new report on the situation in Gaza. It provides a searing account of the ongoing situation in Gaza and a damning indictment of the international community for allowing it to continue.

Breaking the Silence has released its new publication, Occupation of the Territories – Israeli Soldier Testimonies 2000-2010, as part of the organization’s wider goal of increasing access to information on the daily reality in the Occupied Territories. The 431-page volume is made up of testimonies from 101 male and female soldiers who served in the Territories over the past decade. It’s often understated reports provide insights into, and an indictment of, what Joseph Dana headlines as the moral corruption of Israeli society.

The rabbis in Israel have stirred up a hornets’ nest and the question of what it is to be Israeli is firmly on the agenda. Israeli society is rapidly closing in on itself and voices that anywhere else in liberal democracies would be mainstream are becoming more and more dissident in Israel. But the naked malice and racism of the recent 300 rabbis’ statement has encouraged many to speak out and reflect, particularly in the pages of Ha’aretz. We reproduce four recent discussion pieces on the interrelated themes of what it is to be a Jew, and Israeli, a citizen and indeed a mensch:

* Gideon Levy’s The farce of a secular and democratic Jewish state, argues “The time normalcy, for joining the enlightened world, in which immigration laws are determined solely by civil criteria. Not entry for all – there’s no such thing anywhere in the world – but criteria of a state and society, not of God and religious law.”
* Zvi Bar’el’s Is Judaism a race? Ask Israelis, seems to be saying that there is an Israeli race, defined by its Zionism and based on the fear of external threats; and that the rabbis and “popular opinion that supports them” “aren’t inciting, they are establishing norms, defining who is a true Israeli”…
* Bradley Burston’s We all owe Israel’s racist rabbis a vote of thanks, believes that the rabbis are so outlandish  they have “lost the franchise” and “put an end to the very notion of rabbinic authority. They have freed us to be Jews on our own terms.” It is, says Burston “hard enough already to be Jewish in this world, and a person who cares about Israel in this world, without having to run the gauntlet of self-elected Torah Jews whose Judaism is a product of, by, and for, a stateless people…”
* Finally, Daniel Blatman’s 1932 is already here, makes for sobering reading. Blatman is no maverick but a holocaust scholar and director of Hebrew University’s Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry. “Millions of people in Germany who would not have defined themselves as anti-Semites and certainly not as Nazis were swept up in the messianic and pseudo-religious public atmosphere [in a mood that Saul Friedlander defined as ‘redemptive anti-Semitism.’]. “Israel today,” says Blatman, “is becoming slowly and increasingly swept up in ‘redemptive xenophobia’.” “In the Israel of today, we can observe quite a few conditions whose presence in other societies and among other peoples led to racial separation, ethnic cleansing and even genocide…”

Time magazine carries an interesting report by Tony Karon who writes that “Israel is worried, according to press reports in the country, that the United States will not ‘rush to veto’ a planned U.N. Security Council resolution condemning ongoing Israeli settlement construction…” But whatever the outcome of this particular initiative, he argues, Palestinians are seeking new forms of leverage: “And that, combined with hardening Israeli positions, suggests that a winter of discontent awaits the Holy Land.”

Finally, in Differing perceptions of the greater middle east conflict, Paul Rogers, professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford, looks at what is “an era of war and conflict” in the region: Iraq with at least 120,000 civilian deaths and still deeply violent; an Israeli-Palestinian conflict remaining a source of anger and tension across the middle east; and ongoing war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He shows these conflicts are reported very differently to various audiences, with western sources tending to emphasise coalition successes, while channels such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya include an extended accounting of civilian casualties. Rogers argues how, “ based on an ineluctable reality”, civilian suffering is capable “of being made into a narrative of western aggression and injustice that linked the occupation of Iraq in particular to the interests of Israel and Zionism”; and how such considerations “can help to explain, if they cannot remotely justify, the actions or attempted [individual jihadist actions] actions in Stockholm, Portland, Baltimore and elsewhere.”

There will be limited postings over the next ten days, and no weekly summary at the end of next week. We wish all our readers of all religious persuasions and of none a happy new year for 2011.

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