המפגינים צועדים ברחוב רובסון מלווים בכוחות המשטרה שסגרה את הכבישים הסמוכים בדאון טאון ונקובר (רוני רחמני)
הסכסוך הקשה במזרח התיכון בו מעורבת ישראל בימים אלה כולל ארגון הטרור החמאס, ישראלים יהודים וערבים בישראל ופלסטינים וכוחות הביטחון בשטחים – הגיע כצפוי גם לקנדה. הפגנות רבות משתתפים נערכו בימים האחרונים מצד תומכי הפלסטינים ומצד תומכי ישראל, בערים המרכזיות של קנדה. במרבית הפגנות נשמר השקט והסדר בצורה מכובדת, אך במספר אירועים בעיקר באלה שבטורונטו ומונטריאול, הותקפו אזרחים יהודים תומכי ישראל על ידי אזרחים מוסלמים שתומכים בצד הפלסטיני. המשטרה ביצעה כבר מספר מעצרים והיא מנהלת חקירה מואצת לעצור חשודים נוספים באלימות הקשה שהופנתה נגד אלו שתומכים בישראל.
בחלק מהפגנות התמיכה בפלסטינים החזיקו המפגינים כרזות עם דברי נאצה ושנאה מבישים נגד ישראל והיהודים בכלל, בהם: צלבי קרס, “ישראל פעלת נכון, היטלר יהיה גאה בך”, ישראל=נאצים”, “מוות לישראל”, “מה ההבדל בין ישראלי לנאצים” ועוד.
ההפגנה הגדולה ביותר התקיימה על ידי תומכי הפלסטינים בטורונטו ונכחו בה למעלה מחמשת אלפים משתתפים. באותה הפגנה נעצרו כבר על ידי המשטרה המקומית שלושה אזרחים מוסלמים, שתקפו קומץ של מפגינים יהודים שעמדו מולם, וכאמור מעצרים נוספים צפויים בימים הקרובים. המפגינים היהודים ספגו אבנים ובקבוקים, ואחד מהם אף הוכה במקלות, הוא נפגע בראשו ונזקק לטיפול רפואי דחוף. ואילו בהפגנה של תומכי ישראל במונטריאול נאלצה המשטרה המקומית להפעיל גז מדמיע לפזר בכוח אזרחים מוסלמים, שביקשו לפגוע באזרחים יהודים שהפגינו בעת שנערכה הפגנה בעד הפלסטינים.
ההפגנות של שני הצדדים בעד ונגד ישראל נערכו בין היתר בערים הבאות בקנדה: טורונטו, מונטריאול, ונקובר, קלגרי, אדמונטון, אוטווה, ויניפג, הליפקס וסנט ג’ונס.
אני עקבתי מקרוב אחרי הפגנה של תומכי הצד הפלסטיני שנערכה בוונקובר ביום שבת האחרון. כחמש מאות מפגינים בהם אזרחים מוסלמים, ילידי קנדה, אינדיאנים, תומכי המרקסיזם ואפילו קבוצה של ארגון שמאל יהודי קיצוני “הקול היהודי העצמאי” – השתתפו בה. תחילה התכנסו מאות מפגינים בכיכר שממול האולפנים של רשת השידור הציבורית הקנדית הסי.בי.סי, ברחוב המילטון בדאון טאון. לאחר סדרה של נאומים וקריאות נגד ישראל שנמשכה למעלה מחצי שעה, החלו המפגינים לצעוד באישור המשטרה כמובן, אל עבר הקונסוליה האמריקנית בעיר, שנמצאת ברחוב פנדר בדאון טאון. רחבות שלמים נסגרו על ידי השוטרים הרבים שנכחו במקום, והצועדים ללא התפרעויות עשו את המסלול מאולפני הסי.בי.סי, אל רחוב רובסון, משם לרחוב ג’ורג’יה ומשם המשיכו בהמוניהם עד לבניין בו שוכנת הקונסוליה האמריקנית.
בין סיסמאות הרבות של המפגינים בעד הפלסטינים, לאור פעולת צה”ל בעזה, שנאמרו בהפגנה או שהופיעו על שלטים בהם החזיקו הצועדים: “אין צדק אין שלום”, “לשחר את פלסטין”, “פלסטין תקום בין הנהר לים”, “הפסיקו את שפיכות הדם”, “הפסיקו את ההפצצות”, “הפלסטינים הם מפלסטין”, “יש לעצור את המלחמה”, “יש להציל את שייח’ ג’ראח'”, “רציחת ילדים איננה נחשבת להגנה עצמית”, “הגידו במפורש את השם פלסטין”, “שתיקה היא אלימות”, “יש לחקור את פשעי המלחמה שמבצעת ישראל”, “יש לתת הגדרה עצמית לפלסטינים”, “יש להחרים את ישראל”. על הדלת הכניסה לקונסוליה האמריקנית שהייתה סגורה בעת ההפגנה, נכתבה הסיסמה באדום: “יש לשחרר את פלסטין, יש להפסיק את רצח העם וכן יש להפסיק את הכיבוש”.
בתגובה לתקיפת המפגינים היהודים בטורונטו, ציינו בארגון המרכז לענייני ישראל והיהודים בקנדה: “אנו מגנים בחריפות את ההתקפה והשנאה שהופנתה נגד יהודים. אין הצדקה לאלימות פוליטית ואלה ששונאים את ישראל שונאים גם את קנדה”.
Volunteers help pick olives on a windy day in the fair trade grove of Emek Yizrael. (photo from Yoram Ron)
For thousands of years, olive trees have grown in Israel. Neolithic pottery containing olive pits and remnants of olives have been discovered in Israel’s Mount Carmel region, proving that early people produced olive oil by pulverizing the ripe olives in small pots. Some ancient trees reportedly still exist – in the Palestinian village of al-Walaja, residents claim they have the world’s oldest olive tree, supposedly 5,000 years old. More realistic is Beit Jala’s claim to an 800-year-old olive tree.
Olives for making oil are picked around December or January, so it is probably no coincidence that Chanukah comes so close to the picking season. As you know, Chanukah’s miracle revolves around the story that a very limited amount of olive oil burned in the Temple menorah for eight nights.
While the olive branch is a symbol of peace, the olive harvest in both Israel and the Palestinian territories is a challenging time. For Palestinian olive growers, extremist settlers and Israeli government policy have turned their harvest into an uncomfortable, if not a physically and economically dangerous event. Documented cases show some settlers assaulting Palestinian farmers – threatening them, driving them off their own land, physically attacking them or throwing stones at them. Sometimes, settlers vandalize Palestinian vehicles and damage farming equipment. In other cases, settlers jump-start the harvest, stealing the fruit from hundreds of trees. In the saddest of cases, settlers vandalized hundreds upon hundreds of Palestinian olive trees, in what appears to be a gross violation of Deuteronomy’s 20:19 bal tashchit precept. In this law, we may not uproot or cut down a fruit tree if we do not have an acceptable reason to do so. In the early part of last year’s harvest, the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 25 Palestinians were injured, more than 1,000 olive trees were burnt or otherwise damaged and large amounts of produce were stolen.
Since the construction of the separation barrier, some Palestinian olive growers have ended up with their groves located on the other side of the barrier and farmers must obtain special permits and go through special gates to get to their trees. The B’Tselem Organization has documented situations in which Israeli soldiers have blocked the access gates or held farmers up, and there have been reports that soldiers have used anti-riot material on the growers.
In a few cases, the separation between olive groves and homes means that growers have to travel some 25 kilometres round trip. Moreover, the growers are given fixed times to get to their trees and, sometimes, the periods available are not long enough to finish all the picking. Related, Palestinians are sometimes put into a situation in which they have to pick their fruit while the olives are still strongly attached to the branches. Olive picking is largely a manual procedure, so, to dislodge the unripened olives, growers either hit the trees with a rod or shake the trees very hard. This can result in damage to both the trees and the olives.
The current pandemic has caused financial havoc all over the world, including in Israel. This harvest season, Jewish Israeli olive growers have had tons of olives stolen. In the Emek Yizrael area, the Border Police found about 10 tons of olives in a nearby sheep pen. The olives had already been bagged and the gathering containers were standing to the side. The alleged thieves live in Zarzir, a village some 10 kilometres from Nazareth. Shomer Hachadash (the New Guard) tries to prevent these incidents using dogs and heat-sensing drones for nighttime surveillance. Some very bold olive thieves have even been spotted in daylight hours.
Despite this gloomy picture, however, there are promising things happening in Israel’s olive industry. Kfar Kanna’s Sindyanna is an olive oil producer. The Galilee operation is a certified fair trade establishment. In addition, it is a nonprofit organization with strong social and political commitments. Their olive oil bottles proudly say that the oil is produced by Jewish and Arab women in Israel.
Sindyanna aims to improve the working conditions and livelihoods of local Arab women, a clearly marginalized group. For example, Sindyanna provides employment training for Arab women. On the political level, Sindyanna is committed to inter-religious understanding by contracting Muslim, Jewish and Christian women. Moreover, the growers who sell their olives to Sindyanna, like the population of the Galilee itself, are a mix of ethnic groups.
Hadas Lahav, Sindyanna’s chief executive officer, said the company strongly affirms sustainable farming. Over the years, it has built strong connections with local farmers, buying olive oil directly from about 100 individual farmers and large family groups. Some of the farmers are organized into large family companies, like Al-Juzur’s seven families of the Younis clan. In Deir Hanna, the 2,500 organic olive trees belong to the Hussein family. In the Birya Forest, there are 10,000 organic olive trees maintained by Hussein Hib.
In the Jezreel Valley, there is a non-organic grove that belongs to Sindyanna in cooperation with the landowners, the Abu Hatum family from Yafi’a. In Iksal, the non-organic groves belong to the Dawawsha family. In Arabeh, the non-organic olive groves belong to the Khatib family and, at Moshav HaYogev, they belong to the Ashush family.
As Lahav pointed out, with olives, there are good years and less good years. The 2020 harvest was significantly smaller than the 2019 harvest. In a way, it was fortuitous that 2020 produced less fruit, as, with COVID-19, few permits were given to seasonal pickers entering Israel from the West Bank.
The olives picked for Sindyanna’s products are Coratina (this olive tree is highly adaptable and produces abundantly in hot dry climates, including rocky soils), Barnea (this olive was bred in Israel for oil production, but is also used for green or black table olives) and Souri (olives that are native to Israel and have been the major variety cultivated traditionally under rain-fed conditions in northern Israel). On average, in irrigated groves, a tree produces five kilograms of olive oil and, in a non-irrigated grove, a tree produces three kilograms of olive oil. The olive oil is kosher.
Here are some factoids about Sindyanna. Many of us are familiar with Dr. Bronner’s soaps, but did you know that Sindyanna of the Galilee’s organic olive oil is an essential ingredient in Dr. Bronner’s Magic Pure-Castile Soaps? KKL-JNF is also involved with Sindyanna of the Galilee – in KKL-JNF’s Birya Forest, the organic olive grove was once part of the now-defunct Qabba’a village. Not too long ago, another organic grove in Wadi Ara (planted on a former Israeli army firing range) was threatened by the construction of high-tension wires; following the protests of local farmers and the village council, the course of the power line was diverted.
Sindyanna of the Galilee sells its olive oil on Amazon and, this year, it will start selling its olive oil on select Canadian websites and in certain food stores.
Deborah Rubin Fields is an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
Yaniv Biton as Assi, left, and Kais Nashif as Salam in Tel Aviv on Fire, which screens Feb. 28 as part of the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival. (photo from Cohen Media Group)
Palestinian writer-director Sameh Zoabi achieves something altogether remarkable with his second feature film, particularly at this moment in time: he finds humour in the tattered relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.
“The whole idea of Tel Aviv on Fire is that we have more in common than we want to admit,” Zoabi said in an interview before his movie screened in the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival last year. It screens on Feb. 28, 1 p.m., at Fifth Avenue Cinemas, as part of the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival, which runs Feb. 7-March 8.
“We have to break these stereotypes and talk about what’s in common between us and not what divides us,” he said. “Let’s remind people how humanity can prevail in times where the politics of post-Oslo is, ‘Let’s dehumanize the other to be able to survive.’ I want to do the opposite.”
A sharp, insightful and winning comedy that juxtaposes the delicious absurdity of melodrama with the real-life absurdity of the occupation, Tel Aviv on Fire centres on an underachiever, Salam, who works as a gofer on his uncle’s hit Palestinian soap opera. Through a barely plausible combination of chance, chutzpah and desperation, the shlemiel is elevated to writer. Then he runs afoul of the Israeli commander of the checkpoint he crosses every day, whose wife is a loyal fan of the show.
Salam has to use every iota of guile and cleverness to navigate the opposing agendas that he’s caught between – and to win back the heart of a woman he had dumped. (Even while he’s landing political japes, Zoabi cheerfully seizes every opportunity to lampoon the conventions of both soap operas and movies.)
One of nine children, Zoabi grew up in a village outside of Nazareth, where people went to his grandfather’s barbershop for his humorous stories as much as for a haircut.
“In general, my village is very funny,” Zoabi related. “That’s maybe why comedy has become very easy for me, because I grew up in a place where they don’t take anything seriously.”
Zoabi studied at Tel Aviv University and then at Columbia University in New York, where he discovered the need for Palestinian stories. Returning to Israel, he made a short film, Be Quiet, in 2005 and his feature debut, Man Without a Cell Phone, in 2010. Zoabi’s experience of receiving government funding was the genesis of Tel Aviv on Fire (2018).
“You take money from the Israelis, so suddenly you are watched immediately,” he explained. “Israelis are making sure you are not becoming too Palestinian for them. And the Palestinians are watching, ‘He took money, maybe he’s a sellout, he’s doing a comedy.’”
After presenting Tel Aviv on Fire at several international festivals, Zoabi debuted the film in Haifa and in Nazareth. It was equally well received by both audiences, which didn’t surprise him. But he did have an epiphany.
“All the screenings led to this moment,” Zoabi declared. “Finally I understood – people are fed up. People are fed up of the reality that exists, which is managing the occupation.
“[The film] reminds people of the possibility that used to exist, the feeling that we can be normal people and just get along. I think that’s a fantasy that existed among the Israelis, that we can eat hummus together in Damascus one day. But they aren’t able to see the occupation as a major reason for that not to happen.”
It’s a measure of Zoabi’s skill that the current-events commentary in Tel Aviv on Fire goes down easily for viewers across the political spectrum. The means to that success, in large measure, is Salam’s evolution of necessity from hapless underdog to diplomatic savant.
“I’m attracted to people who don’t wake up knowing what they really want,” Zoabi said. “I think they’re more inspirational for me than black-and-white [characters]. Actually, people who know exactly what they want terrify me. You can’t be so certain all the time.”
For his part, Zoabi grew up in a milieu of group interaction and lots of soap operas, because those were the only two channels the family had. He wasn’t exposed to art, theatre and film until his late teens.
“I always say I’m not an artist, really,” he confessed. “I’m probably a barber of a new era in my family.”
Tel Aviv on Fire is in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.
For the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival schedule, visit vjff.com.
Michael Fox is a writer and film critic living in San Francisco.
Last week, we published a story about a group of people gathering outside the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver to hold a Yizkor service for Palestinians who died during the March of Return actions at the Gaza-Israel border.
We are not surprised by the reaction from readers, but we are disappointed in some of it. We have been criticized for covering the event. One commenter on Facebook accused us of supporting Hamas.
We are a newspaper. The fact that a group of Jews – it doesn’t matter how many or how few – organized an event like this is newsworthy. We covered it. It is what any newspaper worth the paper it’s printed on would have done. To accuse the Independent of endorsing the event – or Hamas – because we ran a story about it demonstrates a stunning lack of understanding about the basics of journalism. When a newspaper covers a flood, it is not endorsing the river.
At least one critic suggested our approach should have been to publish a raving tirade against those saying Kaddish. Our approach, generally, is to report events in an unbiased fashion and leave the raving tirades to others.
Just one question, really, for those who didn’t like the inclusion of that story in last week’s issue: Would you rather not know what’s happening in your community?
A dozen or so people gathered outside the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver Monday in a makeshift Yizkor service to commemorate the deaths of Palestinians killed by the Israel Defence Forces in recent weeks. (Click here for story.)
Each one of the people killed was, indeed, a full human being, with a full life, as Rabbi David Mivasair said of the Palestinian dead. And the loss of life is tragic. That is not something we will debate.
However, reports indicate that, of the 60 Gazans killed on May 14, for example, 53 were claimed as members by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Given the IDF’s strategy of deterrence, which includes graduated steps from warning shots, to shooting to injure and, as a last resort, shooting to kill, it is likely that those who died were among the most aggressive and dangerous among the protesters, some of whom were armed with pistols, firebombs and other weapons.
While there were peaceful protesters among the thousands who marched on the Israeli border, depictions of the rally as a primarily peaceful protest are wrong. In some interpretations, unarmed protesters were there merely as human shields for the violent participants, whose aim, in the words of a Hamas leader, was to infiltrate Israel and tear the hearts out of the Jews. Hamas social media channels presented maps to guide people from the border to adjacent Israeli towns, encouraging those who might break through the frontier to head for civilian locations and presumably fulfil the orders of Hamas.
The deliberate strategy of the Gazan leaders, it seems, is to sacrifice their own people’s lives for their PR value. Col. Richard Kemp, a British military official who has become a vocal defender of IDF strategies, said of Hamas: “This is the first government in history that has deliberately sought to compel its enemy to kill its own people.”
In a Daily Telegraph article re-printed in the National Post, he went on to state that, had the thousands of protesters breached the border and headed for those Israeli towns, the bloodshed would have been exponentially worse.
There is no question that the entire situation is a tragedy. And there is blame to go around. The narrative purveyed outside the JCC Monday and in much of the media commentary – that the Israeli military wantonly kills human beings – is as unfair and inhumane an assessment as the alternative extreme, which finds satisfaction in the loss of life.
As for Monday’s gathering, the combination of a Jewish religious ritual with a political agenda that arguably makes common cause with those seeking the destruction of the Jewish state is a dubious choice, but this is a free country and Judaism is a big tent.
To be clear, the people of Gaza are suffering, due in part to the Israeli blockade, in part due to the repressive kleptocracy of Hamas and in part to their own self-defeating actions, like burning down the main border entry point for supplies.
Palestinians receive more humanitarian aid per capita than any other people in the world. Where much of that money ends up, sadly, is in the mansions of Hamas and Fatah leaders and in pensions and rewards to terrorists and their families. This fact, of course, does not bring the dead back to life.
Palestinians, Jews and everyone who cares about human life are struggling with recent events. Each of us is confronting the multiple dimensions of the violence, which seems to be a repetition of seven decades (or more) of recurrent conflict. Respect for human life – on all sides – should be what we seek. Tallying up the dead like they are goals in a sports match does not demonstrate respect. Indeed, it may be precisely what Hamas wants us to do and, as such, may encourage them to put at risk even more Palestinian lives.
Gabor Maté reads the names of Palestinians killed by the Israel Defence Forces during the Great March of Return protests in Gaza. (photo by Matthew Gindin)
“Each one of them was a full human being, with a full life,” said Rabbi David Mivasair, addressing a dozen or so people, most of whom were Jews, outside of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on May 21, the second day of Shavuot, for Yizkor, the traditional memorial service for the dead.
Organized by Independent Jewish Voices, the group gathered to commemorate the Palestinian protesters who had been killed by the Israel Defence Forces during the Great March of Return protests in Gaza, which began on March 31 and ended May 15 (which Palestinians observe as Nakba Day). They gathered, according to the event’s Facebook page, for another reason, as well: “We will also publicly denounce the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs for its continual dishonest manipulation of Canadian political leaders and media sources to silence and minimize Israel’s brutality toward Palestinians and, in this case, shift the blame for the killings to the very people who were killed.”
Those present included Gabor Maté, a physician, author and member of the Jewish community. He and others took turns reading the names of Palestinians who had been killed. Afterwards, he told a story from an article that Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist, had written days before. In the article, Avnery described how he, as a teenage member of the Irgun, had done similar things to those of the Palestinian protesters when demonstrating against the then-occupying British forces for Israel’s independence, but the British shot over their heads, not at them. Maté also criticized the JCC for not being inclusive enough of all Jewish voices, saying that, in practice, it was more like “the Zionist community centre.”
“The confusion between Zionism and Judaism is a tragedy,” said Maté. “I’m just glad to be here to bear witness along with the rest of you.”
Shawkat Hasan, a member of the Palestinian community and the B.C. Muslim Association, whose family lost their home in the war of 1948, also spoke, emphasizing that the conflict was not between Jews and Muslims but between Zionism and its “victims,” and calling for widespread resistance to violence against Palestinians.
The group carried out their service peacefully. The idea for it came about only days before, and the organizing of it was rushed to coincide with Shavuot. One sign read, “Murdering innocents is not a Jewish value.” Some passersby stopped to join or listen, as members of the group chanted the names and recited Kaddish, and some to express their opposition.
Mivasair told those assembled that the location had been chosen to protest CIJA, who have their offices inside the JCC. CIJA had launched a campaign calling for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to apologize for remarks Trudeau had made that the “reported use of excessive force and live ammunition is inexcusable” and his call for “an immediate independent investigation” after a Canadian doctor was shot by the IDF while treating protesters.
“Hamas has left Israel no choice but to use force to protect the tens of thousands of Israelis who live close to Gaza,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CIJA’s chief executive officer, in a statement May 16. “We are outraged and saddened that Hamas is again using civilian human shields. For Israelis and the Jewish community, Palestinian casualties are painful tragedies. For Hamas, Palestinian casualties are sickening public relations achievements.”
“Everything that CIJA says is contestable,” Mivasair told the Jewish Independent following the service. “The situation in Gaza is desperate enough, due to the policies of the Israeli government, to explain the actions of the Palestinian protesters without imagining that they were primarily orchestrated by Hamas, which they were not. Why are organizations that purport to speak for the Jewish community suppressing discussion in Canada about what is really going on?”
The Yizkor service at the JCC followed weeks of protests by Palestinian solidarity groups outside of federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s Vancouver constituency office.
In the conflict at Israel’s border with Gaza, the IDF faced some 50,000 protesters. More than 100 Palestinians were killed and between 8,700 and 13,000 wounded, depending on the source of the data. The IDF’s actions, in particular the use of live ammunition, has been condemned by organizations including B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. According to Israel, most of those killed were members of the terrorist group Hamas, which, the Israeli government says, organized the protests.
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
In a speech to the governing body of the Palestine Liberation Organization last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rambled off a host of textbook antisemitic myths. He reiterated the refrain that Jews have no historical connection to the land of Israel, unearthed a legendary trope about Ashkenazi Jews actually being descended from Khazars and accused European Zionists of collaborating with the Nazis.
Abbas went on to say that the tragedies of Jewish history were not a result of antisemitism, but of Jews’ own behaviours. “The Jewish question that was widespread throughout Europe was not against their religion,” he said, “but against their social function, which relates to usury and banking and such.”
One of the things Abbas has in common with other elected leaders is the willingness to try to get away with something and then to apologize when called out. Though his wasn’t much of an apology: “If people were offended by my statement … especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them.”
The speech gave Israeli and other commentators the opportunity to once again insist that the Palestinian leader is no partner for peace, something that is no more or less true today than it was last month. Abbas has been saying things like this most of his adult life. His doctoral dissertation, which was later published as a book, quibbled over the number of Jewish victims of the Shoah and advanced the perverse conspiracy theory he returned to last week: that Zionists were Nazi collaborators for whom six million (or, on Abbas’s abacus, fewer) Jewish lives were a small price to pay for advancing the Zionist cause.
Inherent to most antisemitic suppositions is the defence that Jewish particularities, habits, traditions, identities – in other words, whatever stereotypes the purveyor is advancing – are the legitimate causes of Jewish woes. In Abbas’s telling, all European Jews were usurers and bankers. (Consider the corollary: That, if true, being bankers and usurers would seemingly justify genocide.)
It is appalling that a man who is accepted as a legitimate figure on the international stage can claim, with minimal consequence, that Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves. So, the most salient point from this terrible incident may be what it says about his audience.
Consider this in the context of the widespread global interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. One can disagree with the policies or approaches of an Israeli government or any number of historical and contemporary developments. But, by no fair reading of history can the full blame for 70 years of conflict be laid at the feet of Israelis. Yet, at almost every point in history – when a pizzeria blows up in Tel Aviv or Jews are stabbed walking down the street in Jerusalem or when Hamas sends thousands to the Israeli border and floats firebombs that set the Israeli landscape aflame – there will be a sizable number of people who will conclude that Jews brought it on themselves.
Whatever else his speech may have accomplished, and despite his apology, Abbas has succeeded in bolstering the stereotype that cunning Jews will sacrifice whatever is necessary to reach their devious aims, and that any horrors that befall them are their own fault. That suits the contemporary popular narrative neatly.
For weeks since March, each Friday, thousands of Gazans have rallied at the border with Israel, leading to violent confrontations with the Israeli military. The objective is to build up to an incursion of such proportion that Israel’s military is unable to prevent an invasion into Israeli territory. The stated goal of the so-called March of Return is to catalyze the movement toward a “right of return,” which would have the not coincidental consequence of demographically threatening the Jewish nature of Israel.
Of course, even tens of thousands of Palestinians trying to breech the border will not result in this goal. Instead, there is an unstated goal: Hamas seeks to turn global opinion (further) against Israel. Shamefully, it seems that a few dozen Palestinian lives is a small price to pay, in Hamas’s worldview, for the PR benefits they deliver. As the New York Times reported Sunday, at least some of the protesters believe that they have nothing to lose. “It doesn’t matter to me if they shoot me or not,” said a 22-year-old protester interviewed by the paper. “Death or life – it’s the same thing.” That attitude will suit Hamas just fine.
To overseas audiences, march proponents depict it as an unarmed, peaceful, civilian-led mass action – and a peaceful protest is something we could accept, if not agree with. However, evidence shows that it is stage-managed by Hamas and anything but peaceful. Flying swastika-festooned kites with petrol bombs are sent over the border, massive tire fires are set to obscure the view of Israeli soldiers and tug-of-war lines are formed to pull down the border barrier, while crowds simultaneously hurl projectiles. At this past weekend’s action, there were reports of a few protesters armed with pistols.
Writing in the Times two days earlier, Fadi Abu Shammalah, executive director of the General Union of Cultural Centres in Gaza and a documentary film producer, insisted that he loves life, but that he is prepared to risk it to give his children a future with dignity.
A more effective means to ensure that Palestinian children live a life of dignity would be for Shammalah and others like him to write opinion pieces in the New York Times and to agitate elsewhere for the Hamas leadership to abandon both violence and their refusal to live in coexistence with the Jewish state. These are the two prerequisites to Palestinian self-determination. But such actions could well get Shammalah and others killed faster than marching against the border with Israel.
A sovereign country has the fundamental right to protect its borders from invasion. Ideally, this could be achieved without the use of live ammunition, and should minimize casualties as much as possible. Killing unarmed protesters is not acceptable.
Exclusively blaming Israel, however, is unjust. But this is more than misplaced blame: it has the precise consequence of rewarding Hamas’s strategy of sacrificing its own citizens. The more world media and activists condemn Israel and reward Hamas, the more Palestinians will be pushed toward the border. In such a scenario, the blame lies not solely with Israel or even with Hamas. The blame must be shared by these overseas enablers who, by rewarding Hamas, truly deserve part of the responsibility for the deaths and injuries.
The Russia- and Iran-backed Assad regime in Syria employed chemical weapons against its own citizens again last week. It’s hard to imagine that the atrocities in Syria could be any worse. Indeed, it is chilling to imagine what Syrian forces would be doing right now had Israel not neutralized that country’s nuclear capabilities in 2007.
Despite the horrific images coming out of Syria, much of the world’s attention, including that of the United Nations, was focused on Israel’s response to rallies on the Gaza border. It was striking to hear the outrage about Israel’s reaction to the Gaza events while a few hundred kilometres away the most atrocious acts were being perpetrated on a people by their own government. That said, the loss of life in Gaza is startling and we hope that the Israel Defence Forces can find non-lethal ways to defend against the protesters.
At the same time, it has been difficult not to be frustrated about the placement of blame. Portrayed by apologists as a peaceful rally – the so-called March for Return – the Friday events, for the second consecutive week, were a violent assault on the Israeli border. The planned action featured Gazans burning hundreds of tires in order to obscure the visibility of IDF soldiers. While tallying up the number of dead – 26 have been killed, according to the Associated Press Monday – it’s clear that the associations of some of the dead have been lost on most audiences, as at least 10 have been reported to be known combatants in the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, Islamic Jihad and Hamas’ terrorist wings.
On Friday, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yehya Al-Sinwar, was employing what outside observers will likely dismiss as flowery rhetoric for domestic audiences when he exclaimed on Al-Jazeera that “We will take down the border [with Israel] and tear out their hearts from their bodies.”
Whether the actions of the IDF are deemed justified, the Diaspora community must continue to press for a non-military solution where possible and demand that the IDF remain restrained when demonstrators are unarmed. With a video surfacing that allegedly shows an IDF sniper shooting an unarmed Palestinian man while other soldiers cheer, there are calls for an investigation within Israel from across the political spectrum. As one Israeli politician said in the Times of Israel, “The battle isn’t just between us and Hamas; it is also for ourselves, for our values and for the identity of Israel society.”
It was, however, a leading figure in the Fatah government of Mahmoud Abbas, which runs the West Bank, who pointed out what should be obvious to the world. Dr. Mahmoud Habbash, a supreme judge in the Palestinian Authority Islamic court and Abbas’s adviser on religious and Islamic affairs, accused Hamas of “trading in suffering and blood, trading in victims” to get sympathetic headlines worldwide.
It seems to be working. “Solidarity” marches around the world included chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will soon be free.”
Against this backdrop, it may seem odd to raise the issue of Israel’s treatment of African refugees. As a Jewish newspaper, we feel it is our obligation to defend Israel from unjust accusations and attacks, and it is our duty also to condemn actions by Israeli governments or others that betray what we believe to be the just course.
Last week’s flip-flop by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was a disgrace and an insult to the values on which Israel prides itself.
A week ago Monday, Netanyahu announced an agreement with a United Nations refugee agency to alleviate a conflict about what to do with 38,000 African asylum-seekers currently in legal limbo in Israel by relocating about half of them to Western countries, including Canada. The next day, after getting pushback from right-wing members of his coalition and some aggressive residents of south Tel Aviv (where most of the migrants live) who want few or no migrants to remain in Israel, the prime minister reneged on the deal, seeking again to eject all 38,000.
As we have said in this space previously, it is ludicrous to suggest that 38,000 Africans – or half that – threaten the Jewish nature of the state. Neither, contrary to Netanyahu’s allegations, would the acceptance of these refugees – who fled violence and war – create a precedent.
If Israel wants to create a situation where it can avoid unwanted refugees while ensuring that it meets the obligations of a democratic state, it must develop the systems to appropriately adjudicate refugee claims. At present, situations like this – affecting the lives of 38,000 individuals – are being addressed arbitrarily and inappropriately. Israel, like Canada, Germany and other democracies, needs to have a standard by which the world’s homeless, who happen to find temporary refuge within its borders, are assessed and treated fairly within clearly defined legal parameters that recognize both the rights of individual non-citizens and the necessities of Israel, from the perspective of both the security of its citizens and the Jewish nature of the state. These are not incompatible objectives.
There is no shortage of challenges facing the Middle East. The situations in Gaza and Syria seem intractable. The fate of 38,000 migrants should not be so difficult to resolve.
Adel Karam as Toni, left, and Kamel El Basha as Yasser in The Insult. (photo from Cohen Media Group)
Ziad Doueiri was born in Lebanon, studied filmmaking at San Diego State and worked nonstop for more than a decade in Los Angeles as an assistant cameraman shooting Quentin Tarantino’s early movies, among others.
“One of my favourite films of all time, I looked at the film and said, ‘One day, I hope I make a movie like this,’ is Judgment at Nuremberg,” confided the impassioned director of Lebanon’s official Oscar submission, The Insult.
Inspired by Stanley Kramer’s 1961 courtroom drama, Doueiri set out to make a deeply felt moral saga using a familiar American genre that would connect with an international audience. The catalyst that sets The Insult in motion is an altercation on a Beirut street between a Lebanese Christian mechanic and a Palestinian construction supervisor. They are unable to resolve their disagreement for personal reasons – male ego and pride, to start – compounded by the overriding political context. The Insult unfolds against a backdrop of half a million Palestinians living as refugees in a country with a population of four million.
“The Palestinians came in 1948,” Doueiri noted in an interview during a visit to San Francisco late last year. “They never returned, they could not return. They were not given green cards. They were not given the right to settle in Lebanon, or the right to work.”
The Lebanese government’s logic, according to the Paris-based filmmaker, was and is “if we give you jobs, you’ll start making a good life. And if a Palestinian settles down in Lebanon and does not go to Palestine, the Israelis are happy.”
Meanwhile, the dispute between the antagonists escalates into a court case that, unexpectedly, turns into a penetrating historical inquiry exposing the depths of simmering resentment between the Lebanese and Palestinians. The elephant in the courtroom, of course, is Israel.
“The Insult is not about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” stressed Doueiri. “It’s a story of two people, one who is seeking justice and the other who doesn’t believe in it. The film is also about [how] you cannot have exclusivity on massacres. The Palestinians, in the last 20, 30, 40 years, they have kind of gained a monopoly on their suffering. The Insult is a way of saying, ‘You can’t blame Israelis all the time.’”
Doueiri acknowledged that his emigration to the United States in 1983 began a process of dissipating the hatred he grew up with for everything that’s Jewish and Israeli. Another important turning point was shooting The Attack – his first-rate thriller about a successful Arab surgeon in Tel Aviv whose world collapses after his wife commits a terrible crime – in Israel in 2011.
“The dedication of the Israeli crew on my film was fantastic,” Doueiri said with his characteristic intensity. “How could that not change you?”
Doueiri took a huge risk shooting The Attack in Israel.
“Not only is it a moral dilemma for the Lebanese that one of their compatriots went to Israel, it’s a legal problem,” he explained. “I violated Law 285. It is incontestable.”
When Doueiri flew to Beirut in September last year after premièring The Insult at the Venice Film Festival – where Kamel El Basha received the best actor award for his portrayal of Yasser – he was arrested at the airport. He claims he was released due to the direct intercession of the prime minister, but, regardless, he had to appear the next day before a military judge who specializes in cases involving Israeli collaborators and ISIS terrorists.
“The judge was really bothered by this case,” Doueiri said. “He knows that I did not collaborate with the Israelis. I did not share military information. I just went to do a movie. And I’m an American citizen.”
Fortunately for everyone concerned, Doueiri’s lawyer discovered a loophole: the five-year statute of limitations had expired.
“Isn’t it great?” Doueiri said with a smile. “This is how I was acquitted. It’s a movie. Isn’t it a movie?”
The Insult generated a lot of debate when it screened in Beirut in the fall, according to Doueiri. A truly happy ending would be if it gets a wide release in the Arab world.
The Insult opens Friday, Feb. 23, at Vancity Theatre (viff.org).
Michael Foxis a writer and film critic living in San Francisco.