Between south Hebron, the Jordan Valley and Israeli democracy

A couple of West Bank incidents from the last few days, and one final thought:

1. Israeli singer Ehud Banai, who was due to perform in the archaeological, Jews-only site of Susya in the south Hebron Hills, cancelled his gig following left-wing protests, then canceled the cancelation, stating that his decision (not to perform) “fanned the flames of hatred for nothing.” His performance is due to begin as I write this post.

In his statement, Banai used the Jewish expression of Sinat Hinam (שנאת חינם, “hatred for nothing”), which in Jewish tradition refers to the internal quarrels that brought about the destruction of the Second Temple and the final deportation of the Jewish people from the land of Israel. The Israeli debate over his performance, Banai wants to say, has gotten out of hand.

The south Hebron Hills in general — and particularly in Susya — is one of the ugliest places in this land right now, a site of ongoing injustice against the poorest people in the region, many of them living in tents and in caves. Those Palestinians are subjected to constant harassment by the army and the settlers, 1,500 people face an immediate threat of eviction, their homes are destroyed every now and then and their water holes are covered with dirt and stones — all in an effort to clear the area of its Palestinian residents so it can be used by the army and the Jewish settlers.

The residents of Susya were deported from their homes to make way for a tourist site. There is a nice 15-minute documentary (below) by a couple of Israeli filmmakers who tried to get them to visit their old homes, before they were thrown out by the army.

The story is all the more disappointing since Banai is one of the heroes of modern Israeli songwriting, and one of his first hits from the eighties actually talks about a day worker from Gaza who works in a construction site in Tel Aviv. Anyway, the well-documented dissonance between artists and their work is not the topic of this post. Right now I’m thinking more about the way the entire debate was portrayed in Banai’s mind, and in the Israeli public debate: as an internal dispute between two groups of Israelis. A touching letter that a Palestinian resident of Susya wrote to Banai received little attention, and in the name of understanding between Jews, the singer decided to perform as promised.

2. On Friday, Dimi Reider reported on an incident in which the army prevented a group of activists and diplomats from reaching the site of a village that was demolished in the Jordan Valley a few days earlier. A French diplomat, Marion Fesneau-Castaing, was pulled out of a truck and held by the soldiers, stun grenades and tear gas were used. Later, it was revealed that Fesneau-Castaing either slapped or pushed one of the soldiers. The army was upset with the diplomats who, according to Israel, “took sides” and acted like “activists,” as the IDF Spokesperson kept calling them in its press releases.

Much like the South Hebron Hills, the Jordan Valley is the site of ongoing, government-led efforts to push Palestinians from large stretches of land with various bureaucratic excuses. Everyday, Israel is chipping away at more of the West Bank, creating more “facts on the ground.” Later, in rounds of negotiations, Israeli officials will demand the borders of any solution recognize “the new reality” and will not impose an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders.

The Palestinians don’t really have any way to object to this process: they don’t vote, so they can’t get any political representation; the courts are run by Israeli judges and they set an extremely high threshold for Palestinian land claims; grassroots political activity is met with great violence by the army, and so on. This is the most important justification for international intervention on behalf of the Palestinians – they are people stripped of other defenses and are deprived other forms of political representation.

Yet in the minds of Israelis, such intervention is a breach of our sovereignty. Haaretz reported today that Israel is now considering deporting the French diplomat, Fesneau-Castaing, as it often does to activists and even aid workers who come to work in the West Bank. The government in Jerusalem views Palestinians like prisoners who can be approached by visitors only on our its terms. Most of the world abides by those rules, and when they don’t – well, you see what happens.

3. I was invited to take part in a couple of panels at the J Street Conference next week in Washington DC. The first one deals with Israeli democracy, a topic I’ve tried to avoid in the past year or two as I began to rethink some of my old narratives and writings on this issue. Obviously, there is no escaping anymore. So in light of the events mentioned above, I suggest the following definition: Israeli democracy means two Jews arguing over the fate of a Palestinian.

‘Performing in my stolen home’: An open letter to Ehud Banai
PHOTO: French diplomat at the feet of Israeli troops
Two state vs. one state debate is a waste of time, political energy