Categorized | Middle East



Dear Friends,

The 6 items below begin with “The JNF again foresting the Negev”—the Jewish National Fund, in other words, attempting to Judaize the Negev by planting trees and thereby dispossessing the Bedouins, who have lived there prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, many of whom proved their ‘loyalty’ by voluntarily enlisting in the Israeli military, but who have been treated as 5th class citizens.  The village mentioned in the item, El-Araqib has been demolished 6 times within the period of a month or two, but each time its residents have immediately rebuilt.  And so it continues. Disgusting!


The second item shows one reason that possibly American Jews are thinking twice about immigrating to Israel: the religious nature of Israel, which would appear to be growing.  It is not unlikely that Israel will in the future, should it exist, become a theocracy.  It is well on its way to that now.  Religion and State should always be separate.  When religion becomes political, then it loses its spiritual nature.


The 3rd item is today’s Haaretz Editorial complaining that today the Israeli army is far from being a “people’s army.”  This editorial is a typical case of Israeli love for Israel’s military.  That is to say, it wants to replace the present military with a better model.  The editorial is a perfect example of Israeli militarism, the type of rationalizing, that is, against which New Profile battles.  If Israel’s leaders and media and much of the population would spend as much time on thinking about how to achieve peace and prosperity here as they do on thinking about how to improve their use of force, we would all be living in a much happier and safer place.  Unfortunately, Israelis have not yet heard of Aesop’s fable of the sun’s and the wind’s argument, or if they have heard of it, they have not absorbed its lesson, that not force but making things pleasant can win people over.


Items 4 and 5 are more or less on the same subject—the revelation of a website with the names, rank, addresses, photos of soldiers who presumably participated on the IOF attack on Gaza in December 1908-January 1909, and presumably committed war crimes.  While it is true that by merely participating in that ugly military campaign makes one suspect, it does not make one ipso facto a criminal.  For that to happen there must be a specific charge.  These are lacking, which is one reason that I refused to send you the link to the website with all this information.  So long as we do not know what a specific soldier is being accused of, we cannot make a judgment.  The latest on this is that the company hosting the website has removed it .


Item 6, In Memoriam, R is from Aya, who, together with Tamar operates Mahsanmilim.  I have added– after her story– an In Memoriam that I wrote some years ago.  These are two very different tales, but both cases were impacted on by the occupation.  Some of you have read my In Memoriam, but that was 5 years ago.  Anyhow, it’s there in case it interests you.  A  huge difference between the two is that in Aya’s story the military is directly involved in the killing, in mine probably indirectly,  in a sense.

All the best,



1. The JNF again foresting the Negev


עמוד הביתאודותEnglish

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) supported by the Evangelical is foresting the Negev.  Protest against JNF has spread to BritainThe Regional Planning Committee: First Destroy – and then Discuss AppealI am from the NegevThe Jewish National Fund (JNF) supported by the Evangelical is foresting the Negev

The residence of El-Araqib [El-Araqib has been demolished 6 times the past few months; residents rebuild} and activists of the Negev Coexistence Forum report that the JNF is once more extensively foresting just north of the village of El-Araqib. There is concern that the forestation will once more be extended onto the village lands.


The tractors and heavy machinery have been busy since Sunday. The lands being currently forested belonged to the Alamat Tribe before 1948, and who have since been refugees in Jordan.

It is extremely cynical that the donations are coming from an evangelical ministry named GOD-TV, who claim to have received “instructions from God… to prepare the land for the return of my Son… Plant a million trees.” (See their video on minute 21:00).  So – the JNF, a Jewish organization, that is “redeeming land for the Jewish people”, is now supporting (and being supported by) an evangelical ministry that wishes to utilize Israel and the planting of trees – to bring about the return of Christ. Anything… that will make sure the Bedouin cannot utilize their ancestral lands for agriculture…



The GOD-TV forest is to be the extension of the Ambassadors’ Forest, and continue on until the outskirts of Beer Sheva.

Photos courtesy of the Negev Coexistence Forum.


2. Ynet Friday, November 19, 2010

14:21 , 11.19.10


Who’s a Jew?


Israeli Jews at odds with liberal US brethren

As descendant of famed Zionist visionary, Hillary Rubin made aliyah to what she thought was her true home. Now she has second thoughts after Israel’s religious authorities refuse to recognize her marriage. ‘It’s becoming a tyrannical Jewish state’,7340,L-3977657,00.html


Associated Press


When Hillary Rubin immigrated from the United States to Israel, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and descendant of a famed Zionist visionary felt that she had finally arrived in her true home.


But now that religious authorities are questioning the 29-year-old Michigan native’s Jewish pedigree and refusing to recognize her marriage, she’s having second thoughts. 


Jewish Identity 


Rubin is at the center of a deepening rift between the world’s two biggest Jewish communities – the American and Israeli. Religious life in Israel is dominated by the strict ultra-Orthodox establishment, which has growing political power and has become increasingly resistant to any inroads by the more liberal movements that predominate among American Jews. 


Many Americans – whose faith is seen by the ultra-Orthodox as blurred by intermarriage and fading adherence to tradition – are feeling rejected and unwelcome. 


“I feel like I am caught in the middle of these two worlds,” said Rubin, who was raised in a liberal Jewish home in a Detroit suburb. “On the one hand I’m far too traditional for American society. On the flip side, I am not religious enough for the rabbinate in Israel.”


It’s a far cry from the days when American Jews looked to Israel as a source of pride and inspiration and Israel could rely on America’s Jews as a source of unconditional moral support and fundraising. With ultra-Orthodox Jews the fastest growing sector in Israel, often holding the balance of power in coalition governments, open strains between the communities are now far more common. 


Over the summer, a proposed law that would have consecrated the Orthodox monopoly over conversion in Israel caused an uproar among Diaspora Jews. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to shelve the bill in hopes of finding a compromise. 


Conflict could ‘tear the people apart’

Last week, American and Israeli Jewish leaders held a conference in Jerusalem aiming at ironing out their differences. But the closed-door sessions were tense and all sides stuck to their positions, said one participant, American Rabbi Jerome Epstein, of the Conservative movement. 


He warned that the conflict could “tear the people apart” if no compromise is found. 


“There are a lot of Americans who normally would not get involved in Israeli politics but who are saying, ‘What you are doing is delegitimizing me. It is not enough to want my support and want my money, you have to be willing to recognize me as a human being and as a Jew,’ and they feel that is not happening,” he said. 


The two communities are at odds over everything from religious rituals to gender roles. But the issues of marriage and conversion most concretely raise concern among American Jews that they are judged as not Jewish enough for Israel. 


The more liberal Reform and Conservative movements, which dominate American Jewish life, are more inclusive toward converts and inter-faith marriages. More than half of American Jews marry outside the faith.


Rubin. ‘I feel like I am caught in the middle of these two worlds’ (Photo: AP)


Chelsea Clinton’s marriage last summer to Marc Mezvinsky, who is Jewish, showed just how well assimilated US Jews have become. Many American Jews were quietly proud of their homegrown son, who, in a skullcap and prayer shawl, wed the former First Daughter in a ceremony performed by a Reform rabbi and a Protestant minister. 


But to many in Israel, Mezvinsky seemed to break more than a glass at the wedding. The inter-faith ceremony – held on Shabbat in violation of Jewish law, to boot – encapsulated fears that assimilation is emptying the religion of content and devastating its numbers. 


In Israel, despite its secular majority, ultra-Orthodox rabbis strictly govern Jewish practices such as weddings, burials or conversions and only allow them for those who meet Orthodox definitions of a Jew. Israel grants citizenship to any Jew – Reform, Conservative or Orthodox – but once in Israel, many who consider themselves Jewish cannot get married or have a Jewish burial. 


Rubin’s story shows just how deep the gulf has become.


 When she went to the Orthodox rabbinate to register for a marriage certificate, the authorities wouldn’t accept the documents she produced or the assurances of her American rabbi that she was indeed Jewish, despite her famous lineage. 


The government only recognizes Orthodox marriage and Israel has no civil marriage. So after holding an informal ceremony with a Conservative rabbi, Rubin and her fiancé – who is also Jewish – were forced to officially tie the knot in nearby Cyprus to be recognized as married in Israel. 


“It terrifies me that this is the direction we are going. This is not a democratic Jewish state. It is becoming a tyrannical Jewish state,” said Rubin, whose great-uncle was Nahum Sokolow, one of the pioneers of early 20th century Zionism. 


Seth Farber, an Orthodox rabbi and director of a group that helps Israelis navigate the rabbinical bureaucracy, said the threshold for proving one’s Judaism has risen alongside the rise in ultra-Orthodox power. 


“The biggest danger is that the Israeli body politic will allow the Jewish people to be disenfranchised by giving the ultra-Orthodox all the keys to Jewish identity,” he said. 


The majority of Israelis appear at odds with their religious authorities.


 According to a recent survey conducted for Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, 63% of Israelis believe those converted by non-Orthodox rabbis should be regarded as Jews. The Shiluv pollster questioned a random selection of 507 Israelis and gave a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.


But Moshe Gafni, an ultra-Orthodox lawmaker whose party is a key coalition member in Netanyahu’s government, vows that Israel will not allow what he calls Chelsea Clinton-like weddings and “make-it-up-as-you-go” Judaism.  


“We are not saying that someone who is Reform or Conservative is not Jewish. But they can’t change the order of things here in Israel,” he said. “The average Israeli wants the country to abide by the Jewish tradition … You can’t take the things most sacred to us and tear them to shreds.”



3.  Haaretz Editorial,

November 19, 2010


The IDF, no longer the people’s army, has to change

The army cannot be allowed to fossilize and have difficulty functioning merely because of conceptual rigidity and fear of change.


Haaretz Editorial


David Ben-Gurion’s model of the “people’s army,” on which the Israel Defense Forces was set up, played a central role in shaping Israel’s state and society. The state’s protection was based on compulsory military service, prolonged reserve duty and seeing the army as an integrating agent that brought together people from different countries, from the center and periphery, both rich and poor, secular and religious, Jewish and Druze.


Ben-Gurion believed in the uniform’s power to turn a migrant people into a new, Israeli, Hebrew-speaking nation that would fight for Israel’s survival in a hostile environment.


The model had its limitations and never achieved total equality, but as long as the compulsory service encompassed the overwhelming majority of Israeli youth, the army preserved its central status and benefited from a reserve of combatants and volunteers to the career army and elite units.


In recent years, following demographic changes, the rise in the ultra-Orthodox community’s power, dwindling immigration and shifts in social priorities, the army has found it difficult to keep the ethos of comprehensive service and equality.


These changes are making it hard for the army to fulfill its goals and is showing the people’s army ethos as a fiction. On Wednesday, Anshel Pfeffer reported in Haaretz that the IDF was freezing the quotas of draft postponements for fear of falling short of combatants (though the decision was later reversed ). The army’s original move to block volunteers for social service – most of whom eventually join combat units and take up command posts when they enlist – should serve as a wake up call to the defense establishment and state leadership.


It is time for a penetrating debate on the IDF service structure. Ben-Gurion’s old model must be adjusted to narrow down the growing gap between conscripts and draft evaders and between soldiers in combat and service roles.


We must not give up the value of military service, but we should consider giving those who serve a more fair reward and expanding enlistment options for parts of the public that avoid it.


Israel needs a high quality army. The army cannot be allowed to fossilize and have difficulty functioning merely because of conceptual rigidity and fear of change.


4.  ikun Olam-תקון עולם: Make the World a Better PlaceEssays on politics, culture and ideas about Israeli-Arab peace and world musicTwo birds


Correction: Lt. Col. who covered up possible war crimes–Yehuda HaCohen


CORRECTION: On closer examination of sources it appears that Lt. Col. Aliyan left his position as Rotem commander in May 2008, six months before Operation Cast Lead. Therefore, he is not the Rotem commander who suppressed the death report in the following post. My apologies for not vetting the source more carefully. But thanks to two other Israeli sources we’re all convinced that we now have the right guy.


Lt. Col. Yehuda HaCohen, Rotem battalion commander, covered up possible Gaza war crime (Yehoshua Yosef)

In what is likely the first use of the IDF Dirty 200 list for further investigation and analysis of specific potential war crimes incidents already known, an Israeli reader has done some excellent forensic research, connecting dots between Israeli media reports and the list to expose the previously unknown identity of a senior Israeli commander accused of covering up a military investigation of the killing of a Gaza woman during Cast Lead.


As is the Israeli media custom, they refuse to identity by name soldiers accused of crimes.  They will usually use an initial to name someone.  But in this particular case, they didn’t even do that.  Here’s what happened:


During Cast Lead some 30 members of the Abu Hajjaj family, bearing white flags approached an outpost of the Rotem battalion (a unit within the Givati brigade, which was one of the main units that served during Cast Lead) after being ordered by another IDF unit to evacuate their homes.  Soldiers fired “warning shots,” which somehow managed to kill two of the group, Majeda Abu Hajjaj (35), and Raya Abu Hajjaj (65).   A surviving family member and witness said this about the killings:


Salah Abu Hajjaj…was among the targeted group: “My mother was shot and injured. The bullet went through her arm and into her chest. After 15 meters my mother fell down. Majeda, was also shot. She died immediately.” Salah’s mother and sister were the only two individuals killed in the incident.


Somehow in the immediate aftermath of the incident the IDF managed to claim that not two women, but a man was killed.  As a result of the supposed confusion investigators decided they couldn’t clarify what really happened and refused to pursue the matter farther.


In a subsequent investigation, Staff Sergeant S., accused of killing the women, claimed he shot only at their legs when he deemed this group of composed largely of  women and which was totally unarmed was a “threat” to his comrades.  Somehow he managed to shoot the women in the chest instead.


A battalion-level report was written on the incident but it was suppressed and never filed with the proper authorities…until two months later, a reserve officer received a laptop on which he found the report titled, “Normative Incident–killing of innocent civilian during Operation Cast Lead.” The officer deliberated for eight months what he should do with the report.  Finally, he decided to take the matter up the chain of command and wrote letters to the Givati Brigade senior command, the IDF southern command, and the IDF military prosecutor.


As a result, a complaint was filed against Staff Sergeant S. in the killing this past June.  Alongside this, the IDF launched an investigation into the cover-up of the original incident and the burying of the report. Neither the Haaretz report or any other Israeli source has named the senior officer being investigated.  But a close examination of the Dirty 200 List clearly indicates he is number 174 on the hit parade, Lt. Col. Yehuda HaCohen, Givati 453 Rotem commander. Now, it becomes more difficult for the IDF to sweep Lt. Col. HaCohen’s misdeeds under the rug.  Let it be a lesson to all other commanders when soldiers under their command kill a Palestinian in cold blood that there will no longer be impunity.


HaCohen is 35, married and the father of two children.  One wonders whether he thought of either of them at all when he buried that file in his laptop which concealed the cold blooded murder of a Gaza mother and daughter, whether he thought: that could’ve been my wife and daughter.  Foolish me.  Of course, he didn’t think of that.


Here are some words of wisdom from our proud warrior published in Bibiton (where else?) which should tell you a lot about why he would cover up the killing of a few white-flag waving Gaza ‘terrorists:’


HaCohen moves from a faith in the righteousness of Israel’s path as reflected in its policies and military action, to a strong human sense of the tragedy caused by war.  He doesn’t hesitate using the slogans of Zionism and appears to be someone who believes in them.


He completed tens of operations in Gaza and speaks of the place almost romantically.”There isn’t any place in Gaza I haven’t been.  The best times for me are those when I am on the border [with Gaza].  The times that are even better are those when I cross the border [and enter Gaza].  It’s something that’s hard to explain.  As someone who spent years in Gaza, HaCohen felt the Operation [Cast Lead] approaching.  ”It was clear that this was about to happen.”


Before they left on their first mission, HaCohen exhorted his soldiers, telling them they would complete it at all costs, even if there were wounded or dead.  ”We wouldn’t stop till we had conquered our objectives.  In recent years in our nation, we have allowed ourselves to become confused as we count the dead,” he says critcizing the level of psychological prepardedness of Israeli society.  ”The key measure in war is not the number of dead.  That’s a price that we have to grapple with.  The people of Israel have to learn the lessons of history and understand that if we don’t defend ourselves through war–we will pay.


HaCohen has reveals no signs of regret or second thoughts about the conduct of the war. “The IDF doesn’t have to apologize.  We have the most advanced technology and therefore we are strong.  The other side decided practically not to resist because we came in such strength.  Where there was resistance it was was quickly ended and they paid a very high price.”


Regarding the claim that disproportionate force was used, he dismisses the notion out of hand.  ”I don’t know what this means: using disproportionate force.  You must understand mentally that you are facing a threat and that you will not lose.  At any cost.  You must respond aggressively so that the other side will not succeed in doing what he wants.  It’s very hard to to create a situation in which no civilians will be harmed and in the course of the Operation, to my regret, they were [gee, d’ya think?].”


HaCohen points a finger of blame at the enemy.  ”I greatly criticize Hamas for fighting behind the disguise of [civilians], and the one who should criticize this is the Palestinian people.  They should decide whether they are prepared to be human shields and, if so, they make things difficult for us.  Nevertheless, we know how to deal with this [indeed you do].”


His greatest criticism he reserves for our “friends” in the outside world.  He blithely dismisses the claims found in the Goldstone Report about war crimes.  ”I don’t think we have to get excited about this Report so that we don’t feel we can explain why we protected our own citizens.  It’s not a question of morality [!].  There is a conflict between two peoples, one of which kidnaps soldiers and fires on civilians [!!!!].   This is war and civilians are harmed in it.  On our side too civilians were harmed.  Goldstone has to understand that we evacuated Gaza so they could lead their own lives.  The ball is in their court.”


“I think other countries should examine themselves first [before blaming us].  The British should reflect on what they did in Ireland and Afghanistan.  And the Americans should reflect on the nature preserves they built for the Indians.”


HaCohen also criticizes the effort to detain Israeli officers abroad: “If they believe in London there are senior IDF officers who are war criminals I wouldn’t want to visit there [little likelihood of that now, I’d say].  There are other nice places.  At the end, the only test we have to pass is the mirror test.  I can look in the mirror and say that I am at peace with what I did.  Everything was done according to the spirit of the IDF and for a higher purpose–to return quiet to the South.”


All I can say in HaCohen’s defense is that he didn’t pull the trigger in this case.  His subordinate did.  But if he can look himself in the mirror after covering up such wanton killing and still be at peace, then maybe someone in the IDF or the attorney general’s office has to step in and tell him that they don’t like what they see in the mirror: the image of an officer covering up a war crime.


Haaretz also exposes HaCohen’s identity though it does not disclose how it put two and two together.  Given the timing, it had to be through the Dirty 200 list.  The fact that Haaretz appears unwilling to admit that it at least in part may’ve used the list to confirm the officer’s identity is hypocritical.  They’re afraid of being linked to a list which many Israelis hate, but not so afraid as to refuse to exploit the list’s existence and what it contains.



Related posts:


1.IDF Officer Accused of Manslaughter in Cast Lead


5.  Haaretz,

November 19, 2010


The Internet, Facebook are placing IDF soldiers in the crossfire

An online list of Israeli military personnel who took part in Gaza fighting is putting regular Israeli conscripts under threat of global arrest and harassment.


By Amos Harel


Almost two years after Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza Strip continues to haunt the Israel Defense Forces. An American or European website, with the likely aid of Israelis, hit the IDF’s underbelly on Thursday after releasing a list of “war criminals,” soldiers and officers who took part in the Gaza war. On the home front, meanwhile, the trial of a soldier from the Givati Brigade, charged with the most serious allegations thus far, kicked off with a media flurry as the defense uncovered what they claimed was an attempt to cover up the affair.


Attempts by left-leaning groups, both in Israel and abroad, to list those commanders who took part in the Gaza fighting began as soon as the Gaza war ended. But the list published on Thursday, which included 200 names in both English and Hebrew, is a project on an entirely different scale. Apart from the names one would expect to see on such a list (the IDF chief, his incoming successor, the head of military intelligence, the Israel Air Force chief, and others) the register also included battalion commanders, company commanders, platoon commanders, and even conscripted soldiers.


Photographs were also attached to many of the names, as well as the soldiers’ ID numbers and even updated home addresses.


The senior officers who oversaw the operation are already used to threats and irritations. Many of them avoid travelling to countries such as England or Belgium, where legal actions have been weighed against IDF officers since the Gaza war ended. From now on, however, European travel may entail some risk even to a young platoon commander from the Paratroopers Brigade, who may have in the meantime been released from the IDF and was considering studying abroad. Beyond the threat of arrest, a publication of this nature may trigger some very unpleasant responses with which Israelis may have to contend.


Anyone who was surprised to find his name on the list on Thursday could have a shot at a libel suit against the site, considering that the information will most likely not be taken off the Internet.


Who’s responsible for the publication? While the list is riddled with inaccuracies, such as the inclusion of soldiers who never participated in the Gaza fighting, it remains clear that Israelis – maybe even soldiers – were part of the long-time effort to gather meticulous details concerning those listed.


Some of the data (birthdates, places of residence, certainly of those higher up in the command) is not information that is readily available to the public. Considerable proficiency is in play here: even the names of those who replaced wounded battalion commanders during the war are named.


The IDF was visibly embarrassed as a result of the publication. Head of the IDF’s personnel directorate, Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir vowed to “support soldiers and officers” whose names appear on the list, but the situation probably calls for something more, perhaps even an investigation into whether soldiers aided the list’s compilers.


As a side note, it is interesting to note that technology and the Internet have again worked to the detriment of the security forces, as was the case earlier this year with the assassination of Hamas’ Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, which local police has blaming on the Mossad. In the case at hand, ordinary soldiers have left digital footprints (Facebook pages, blog entries, photographs, media appearances) which allowed allegations to be hurled against them. Members of the Givati and Paratroopers brigades, who were interviewed more frequently during Operation Cast Lead – or are more active on Facebook – have a much larger stake in the list, compared with other units.


Back at the home front, the trial of Givati’s sergeant S., accused of killing a Palestinian in Gaza, has opened with a bang when it was revealed how the whole affair came to light. Apparently, a document had found its way to a reserves officer who, after a long deliberation, reported it to IDF prosecutors. The document was an internal probe by battalion commander Yehuda Cohen. An investigation is now ongoing to try and find out if there was a deliberate attempt to silence the affair by keeping it in the unit.


The trial represents yet another sensitive affair that Givati has experienced recently, with three other brigade soldiers facing criminal trials and a brigade commander still being investigated in a separate case. During the first Intifada, over twenty years ago, the Givati A and Givati B trials opened a painful wound regarding the IDF’s conduct in Gaza. It seems history is repeating itself, albeit differently, following the latest round of fighting.


6.  In Memoriam R.


He was nineteen then, and had just begun work in the Palestinian police force, and was terribly proud. And I wondered why guys just love uniforms and guns so much, and was also a bit saddened because I wanted at least the victims – even just because they are victims of gun-bearing uniform-wearers – to be different, but I was also glad for him that he finally had a job and congratulated him, and meant it.


At that time Qalandiya Checkpoint was filthier than it is now, and less built-up, and there were no loudspeakers or clearly demarcated tracks or fences and green and red lights that go on and off intermittently, and the Israeli soldiers were not behind reinforced glass windows. And although, just as they do now, orders were arbitrary and kept changing as a rule so that one would not be able to get used to anything, even to things getting worse, still one could say in hindsight that as they were, they were better back then even though at the time it didn’t seem things could get any worse than they were. Perhaps because there was more laughter and because the improvised and neglected nature of the checkpoint held some illusion that it was not meant to stay there forever.


And first and foremost, of course, because back then Palestinians could at least theoretically sometimes get across the checkpoint, even at the price of being humiliated, and not just the Jerusalemites among them. Differently from the present, now that no one except Jerusalem residents can get through, except those whose “right” the Security Services have cleared and approved. And even they are treated by the soldiers like cattle, screamed at and scolded while this or the other track is closed so that the victims can scurry from to and fro like animals in a cage, because for the various Occupation forces a Palestinian is after all a Palestinian, regardless of the color of his ID, of his identity.


Because it just could not be any different. Because all of these soldiers have already crossed a moral line by the mere fact that they are standing there at the checkpoint, obeying and maintaining and carrying out racist apartheid laws, and all the rest of their harassment is just an extension of the inherent. Otherwise, they would simply not be there.


I used to go to Qalandiya Checkpoint back then, just as I go there nowadays, with the ease of those who are over-privileged there and anywhere else between the (Jordan) river and the (Mediterranean) sea, namely anyone not Palestinian, be their origin what it may.

I like going there also because of the people I have gotten to know over the years and am happy to meet.

As well as to see and know and then tell about it outside. Tell about it – also – to people who do not want to know and to hear.

Because of my inherent over-privilege I have an obligation, or so I feel at least.

Anyway, back then, in those days when it seemed that nothing could be worse,

I met him, R.


R.’s house was in A-Ram where he lived with his parents and younger brothers and sisters, but his work in the Palestinian police was in Ramallah and he had to cross the checkpoint on his way home. A checkpoint located between one part of his life and the other. And there was that day when he was waiting in line and we were chatting and laughing, because the line was long and he was young and optimistic and without hate, only wondering why they were like that, those soldiers his age, with whom he so very much wanted to make friends, and whom he forgave, and again and again he recoiled from their tough faces, yelling ‘get back!’ or ‘go away!’, or some other checkpoint words which were the only words they could utter in Arabic, except – of course – for ‘hand over your ID’ and ‘the checkpoint is closed!’, words they were taught, I think, just as they were taught to fire a rifle, and all the other things that soldiers are taught.


Anyway, at some point I must have walked elsewhere, while he was still standing in line, and didn’t notice what was going on with him. And then I suddenly saw him walking back, away from the checkpoint, his face fallen, and he said: “I wasn’t allowed through”. I asked, “Why not?” Not because there is any reason, no way is there a reason with any measure of justice or logic, for there is no logical or just reason to cut people’s lives in half and condition their passage from one part to another.

And also because the lack of reason – even in the sense of the Occupation – is an end in itself, just as the words on the plaque at the headquarters of the former head of the civil administration, Ilan Paz, said it, the motto for his soldiers: “The Palestinians must be held in a state of constant uncertainty”.

So, not that I thought there was any reason in the world that could justify why R. is not allowed to go home to the other side of the checkpoint at the end of a workday. But I asked, in order to say something, In order to hear what they had chosen to tell him.

“The soldier said that only people working in the Palestinian police are allowed to pass, and I told him I am in the Palestinian police, and he didn’t believe me”, he said, disappointed. And I didn’t say anything, for there is nothing to say, and after a few moments more we parted ways. And he didn’t look too depressed. Because this was so usual. And had happened so many times. And I knew that he would proceed through the quarry. Or at least try. Because he had to get back home somehow, after all.

And the wall was not yet built back then, and although it was dangerous, it was rather easy to try and get through, and I was hoping that he’d be lucky and no soldiers would be there waiting to catch the dozens of rejects who the soldiers knew would try to get through there, because they had no choice, because their home was on the other side of the checkpoint.


And so several days went by and every now and then I wondered whether he had managed to get through, and I wasn’t too worried, because he was nineteen, and even if he hadn’t managed, he had family in Ramallah and could sleep over.


And then that Wednesday. I remember it was a Wednesday although it’s been a few years since then, perhaps because everything that day was etched, singed and hard.

I was at Qalandiya Checkpoint again and from afar I noticed R. who waved at me, and was also waving something that looked like a sheet of paper, and he ran towards me, and I saw he was in a good mood and I smiled. He reached me, asked how I was, and said “look”, and was beaming, because he had a printed certificate confirming that he was a member of the Palestinian police. With his picture. A handsome nineteen-year old, smiling.

Because he is young, and he is in the police force, and that’s something to be proud of.

And because, so he thought, now he could get through without any trouble.

And I already had this gut feeling and I cringed but said nothing. And we talked on a bit, and then R. stood in line. And I got closer. Maybe I foresaw what actually did take place. It took a long time, it always does, and finally he got to the head of the line, and handed the soldier his certificate confirming that he belongs to the Palestine police, smiling to the soldier, to the Jewish youngster his age whom he didn’t hate, because he is young and in uniform like him, and he understands him, or so it seemed.

The soldier looked amazed at the certificate that R. handed him. With a look of slight disgust that turned into light derision he said flatly, “get back”. And R. didn’t move, he just couldn’t believe it. And then the nineteen-year old Jewish youngster with his uniform and rifle raised his voice and said, “Get back, I told you. Get back”.

And I saw R. cave in at once, like a tower of cards collapsing, turned around and left, bent over in spite of his youth, walking slowly, his eyes quenched, turned in and lost. He passed by me without seeing me, and I said to him, “R.”, and he stopped, looked up at me with his beautiful soft eyes, under his thick lashes. Right at that heartrending point between the final moment of childhood and the start of adulthood, in this captivating wordlessness, and didn’t say a thing, nor did I, because everything was obvious.


After all when the soldier had told him before – that same soldier who now drove him away, or perhaps it was another – that only Palestinian police gets through, in all likelihood he had made up that instruction on the spot just to drive the fellow away, to humiliate him, and maybe there was such an instruction, indeed, and even if it was issued officially, the point was the same: to be arbitrary and detached and confusing, and leave the Palestinians in a state of constant uncertainty as that senior commander had once put it, and could have been that order as well as any other.


And I knew again that he would probably be able to get through to A-Ram, but I also saw, even though I didn’t want to see it, that something momentous had happened.

Something momentous had happened in the life of young R.

Not because there was anything exceptional in this event, the likes of which had already happened before. But I saw that for him this event suddenly marked everything anew.


There are such moments.


For all of us. Moments when even if that which happens is just like whatever happened often before, still something happens as a result which is different. Just as this small instance, the extra one, in spite of its resemblance to others before, suddenly signifies and defines everything anew.

In love, there’s that moment in which nothing happened that hadn’t happened before, but after it suddenly you’re no longer placed softly in the eyes of the beloved, and that’s that. And like other crossroads in life where there is that moment when suddenly the system can no longer contain something although it could before, and the irreversible happens, the point of no return is crossed.

And this is what happened to R. that day, I saw it.


I never saw him again after that.

Occasionally I thought about him. And then I didn’t and I wasn’t really worried. Or I didn’t want to worry. And sometimes I worried. And the years passed, and my memory of him got swallowed up in the whirl of others, and at some point I stopped thinking about him altogether.


Then a few weeks ago while I was at the Qalandiya Checkpoint and just began to walk towards the refugee camp because I had made a date to see a friend of mine there, I suddenly noticed a young man and thought to myself, Wow, that’s R.! and I was so glad, and wanted to run to him, and then I thought it actually couldn’t be R. because R. must be older than this fellow now, who looks just like R. did back then. Or maybe it’s his brother, I thought, and again I was glad because I meant to ask him about R. whose memory flooded me again, and as I took a while to deliberate whether to ask or not, and whether this could be R.’s brother or not, the young man vanished.


At home that evening I got online and looked for R.’s name which I don’t fully mention here on purpose, even though now perhaps it’s possible.

I read that Israeli undercover agents went into a cafe in Ramallah a few years ago and murdered a wanted man who had been on the list for three years. I also read that Israel had announced that he’d belonged to a terrorist ring that meant to blow itself up in Jerusalem, and that this wanted man was R.


The first – or nearly first – thing I thought was that I don’t believe them. Israel’s spokesmen. I don’t believe he wanted to blow himself up and kill and die. Because it’s R. And because they distort everything. And because what they say always serves the system, usually warped and false and purposeful, and it simply cannot be, and that’s that.

But I also knew that whether Israel sent its skilled murderers to a cafe in Ramallah to shoot an occasional Palestinian, free game that happened to be R., or because they claim he was about to go blow himself up in Jerusalem and murder others who hadn’t necessarily done him any harm, just because they happen to bear the same identity as others that had harmed him, it’s not true that what they are saying is impossible.


And then I thought again. God. He’s dead. He was alive and now he’s dead. R. is dead. And I recalled his beaming, proud, happy young face.

And I also tried to recall the faces of those soldiers back then, the guy who told R. that only the Palestinian police gets through that day, only to humiliate him or because of blind obedience to cruel arbitrary orders which he naturally followed, or the one who told him, after seeing his police service certificate, ‘get back’, and I couldn’t recall them. Nor was I sure whether these were two different soldiers or the same one.


And all I want is to drip into the past, and peel away time, and tell that young Israeli soldier, the guy with his gear and gun and insolent smile, who today is already in his mid-twenties, it’s your fault.


Not the Occupation, not the State, not your parents who raised you to want and desire and go and be proud of that wrong thing, joining the army, no matter what the army does, as if this were the nature of things.

You are to blame for R.’s death.

You, the soldier whose name I don’t know, whose looks I cannot recall, you are the guilty one.

You are to blame for R. having lived the way he did, he and his family, trampled and caged and humiliated and deprived of human rights. You are to blame for the fact that at one certain moment something in his life had been cut and split, subsequent to which he died. Because of you. Murdered by the likes of you. And you are to blame for the possible death of those he may have intended to murder, and had he murdered them, they too would have been murdered by you.

You, the soldier from back then, you and only you are to blame.


But I know that even if by mere chance that soldier would read my words, he would probably not even remember or realize that he was the one.

He wouldn’t remember that he was the soldier who had once told one Palestinian that ‘today only Palestinian police get through the checkpoint’, or said ‘get back’ some days later, because what he did was so very routine and normal and unexceptional, and that was what he had been sent to do there.

To harass.

Just like everyone else.


Aya Kaniuk. Translated by Tal Haran 






Wafa: January 1.1974-October 11, 2005

In Memoriam

I first learned of Wafa in January 2004 when Abed, her brother-in-law, phoned to ask if I could drive Wafa or arrange for someone else to for 6 weeks, 5 days a week, to receive radiation therapy at Assuta, a hospital in Tel Aviv.   I don’t remember my response, but it probably was that I would try. He asked if the family would have to pay.  I responded, “No.”

It was incredibly easy to find drivers for Wafa.  One email request produced about 30 people willing to help, some of whom lived too far away for the effort to be practicable.  About 25 remained, .  Enough to carry out the task.  Wafa did not miss a day.  Five days a week for six weeks, she was met at the entrance to her village, Kief el-Hares, a Palestinian village in the West Bank, just across the road from the settlement of Ariel.  The round trip could take from 3-5 hours, depending on the weather and the wait at the hospital.

The first day, I chose to drive her, so as to report back to the others in case of unexpected hitches. There were none that day.  But there was bad news.  Wafa had had chemotherapy in Jordan, two series of treatments, apparently, during the preceding two years.  On this my first day with her, following the radiation treatment, the technician told me that during her many years of experience, she had never seen so bad a case as Wafa, who had no chance to survive; the radiation could only reduce her pain, not prolong her life.  Some months later, a doctor told me that Wafa was suffering from a particularly aggressive form of cancer, eating her life away.

This was not my first experience with cancer.  My mother (among others in my family) died of it at the age of 66.  I spent the last 3 months of her life with her in the hospital caring for her.

But that was in the US.  Caring for her did not require my running after permits for mom and for family members to visit her; being with her did not involve being told when requesting permits that she was ‘prohibited,’ i.e. was not allowed into Israel.  I did not have to battle the powers to get a permit for other family members to accompany us, e.g., a doctor brother in case she fainted or vomited or just needed a hand to hold on to.  It was also important for Wafa’s doctor brother to come to speak to the oncologist to know how to follow up treatment.  Had things been ‘normal,’ her brother would have come as a matter of course, not as a matter of the General Security Service (shabak) permission.

My mother wanted desperately to live.  So did Wafa, at half my mom’s age.  But mom was surrounded by loving family and friends.  Wafa was isolated.  She had to depend on Israelis.  True, I usually managed to convince the people in charge of handing out permits to give one to her mother (in her 60s), and also, as I said, to her doctor brother.  One of the two usually accompanied her, along with the Israeli volunteer driver.

It might sound wonderful, so humanitarian, that many Israelis volunteered to drive Wafa and to help her. 

But it is not at all wonderful.  Had there been no occupation, her brothers could have driven her.  Had there been no occupation, she’d not have needed permits.  Had there been no occupation—–but there was and is.  So Wafa had to depend on us, even though I’m sure that she would have preferred to have her illness remain a quiet family affair.  I became very close to her and her family over the nearly 2 years that I accompanied her, and I care very deeply for her, and it was reciprocal.  But not even the best friend can replace family.

After the initial 6 weeks of radiation treatment ended, there was a month or two that I heard nothing.  Then Abed again phoned.  Wafa was suffering terribly.  Her pain was unbearable. 

This began another period of examinations and treatments for Wafa, now at a second hospital in Tel Aviv, and under the careful eye of an oncologist.  The Palestinian Authority paid for her care.  I accompanied her to most of the hospital visits.  On those few occasions when I couldn’t, there was always another Israeli who offered to replace me.  Tagrit came several times to translate, since not all the doctors knew Arabic, and neither did I.  Wafa never lacked for the little help that we could give her.

But had hospitals in the Occupied Palestinian Territories been adequate, she could have gone to one in Nablus, which is about ½ an hour from her village, if one did not have the checkpoint at Huara. But the checkpoint exists and can prolong the trip by hours.  And the hospital in Nablus is not adequate, at least not for her kind of cancer.  This, too, results from the Occupation rather than from lack of talent.  Palestinians are no less capable than are Israelis, if given a chance, and if allowed to have proper equipment.

Finally, after 2-3 months of examinations and treatment (including another round of radiation therapy), the head of the hospital ward (in Israel) in which Wafa had spent a night informed me that there was absolutely nothing more that anyone could do for her except to keep her as painless as possible.

From then, I tried to visit Wafa once a week, or at least once every two weeks. And even managed to fulfill a request, i.e. to take her on a visit. About 2 months ago Wafa asked me to take her to visit Amina, Lina’s mother, with whom Wafa had gone to school.  Wafa’s doctor brother, Husam, drove us.  It was an enormously hot day, but Wafa dressed in style.  She was too weak to stay for more than an hour.  Yet her effort was not pathetic.  The visit satisfied a need she had, and I was glad that we could do that.  My mother had had a like longing a few weeks before she died.  She wanted to go shopping.  Even though her legs could barely hold her thin body, we went.  I could not give her life, but could at least fulfill that yearning in her.

The final month of her life, Wafa suffered badly.  She died in the hospital in Nablus on the morning of October 11.  She would have been 32 years old on January first, 2006.

Today was the first opportunity I had to visit the family. When Israel (my spouse) and I arrived this afternoon, the family was picking olives, but was almost done for the day. Wafa’s brother came to pick us up, and to take us to the trees.  There, Wafa’s mother and I hugged long and hard and cried together.  After sitting for awhile, I suggested we continue with the olive picking.  It was easier than just thinking.  All that remained for the day was to gather the olives that had fallen from the tree or the canvas on to the ground.  Afterwards we returned home and sat on the porch for a time. 

Wafa’s parents sleep downstairs in her brother’s apartment, unable yet to face the rooms where Wafa once lived.  Her mother is in great emotional anguish. On our way back to our car (which we can’t drive into the village because of the road block), we learned from a neighbor that this was not Wafa’s mother’s first loss.  Israeli soldiers shot and killed her17 year old son in the village several years ago. That devastated her and almost ended her life.  And now, on top of that, Wafa.  How many children can a mother bury and remain sane?

I don’t know if the occupation killed Wafa.  Had she had better medical care from the beginning, might she have lived?  Perhaps not.  But we will never know.  Nor will we ever know how many thousands of Palestinians die because of insufficient medical care.  They are the silent witnesses of human inhumanity to humans.  Noone can bring them or Wafa back.  But we can continue to work hard to end the occupation, so that others do not suffer a like cruel fate.





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