Menu lock

Middle East

Jun 6, 2017

5 comments

A street in Hebron in the West Bank. Photo by Bernard Keane

Less than one and a half hours from Jerusalem, Gaza is like a different planet, literally cut off from the outside world. Its 2 million residents, suffering huge electricity cuts, polluted water (a recent Oxfam report details Israel’s refusal to allow vital equipment into Gaza to fix infrastructure destroyed by the Israelis) and high unemployment (affecting both Gaza and the occupied West Bank) are often forgotten, seemingly doomed to be permanently separated from the West Bank and Israel.

The 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem will be celebrated in Israel this week as liberation — biblically inspired. Palestinians remain under an Israeli regime of house demolitions, ever-expanding illegal settlements (there are now an estimated 700,000 settlers living in occupied territory) and strict controls over daily life. The Palestinian, political leadership is old, corrupt, complicit with Israel and out of touch.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is currently in his 12th year of a four-year term. During his recent visit to the White House, both he and President Donald Trump spoke in motherhood statements about peace but offered no concrete path to create it. A just, two-state solution is dead on arrival; decades of Israeli settlement building killed it. The status-quo is one state, with one rule and law for Jews and another, less equal reality for Palestinians. Trump’s recent Middle East tour offered little more than weapons for Arab dictatorships.

[Facts on the ground: the open-air misery of Israeli occupation]

Australia’s role in the conflict is small but significant. Successive governments in Canberra, both Labor and Liberal, though the latter has been more proudly belligerent in Israel’s corner, have offered carte blanche to Israeli actions.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop wrongly questions whether Israeli settlements are illegal under international law (they are, and a UN resolution in December proved that the entire world, except Australia and Israel, knew it). During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Australia, talk of “shared values” was in the air. This was fitting for two nations that ethnically cleansed their indigenous populations and have yet to fully acknowledge, let alone compensate, the victims.

Israel’s “separation barrier” divides Palestinian communities in Bethlehem. Photo by Antony Loewenstein

The effect of Australia’s obsequiousness towards Israel, yet another example of Canberra blindly following Washington’s lead around the world, is the danger of being both on the wrong side of history and out of step with public opinion. Israeli settlement expansion has pushed Palestinians in the West Bank to the brink. Australia and many Western nations have spent decades enabling this policy. Australia’s Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, spends his days channelling Israeli propaganda on social media and palling around with extremist, Israeli politicians. The result is a Jewish state that currently feels no pressure to change.

There are, however, signs of change. The latest poll in the US finds that two-in-five Americans now back sanctions against Israel, and Australian citizens, according to a recent Roy Morgan poll, are both opposed to Israeli settlements and supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

During a recent visit to Gaza, my third since 2009, I witnessed a population more frustrated than ever before. With the threat of another war with Israel always on the horizon, many in the Israeli military and government are itching to bomb the Gaza Strip again. “Mowing the grass” is the euphemism used in Israel to describe this perennial obsession with attacking the area. The people in Gaza are unable to plan their lives because of it.

I met many locals who didn’t know if they’d be allowed out of Gaza. Israel routinely blocks departures for spurious reasons and the Egyptian border is mostly closed (reflective of leaders in the Arab world, who for decades have paid lip service to the Palestinian cause but done little to practically support it). It’s now not uncommon for couples to marry with one partner in Gaza and the other somewhere else, Skyping into proceedings. They hope to be reunited soon after the event.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Gaza today is the desire of so many people there to leave. After years of isolation, it’s an understandable feeling. Not convinced by the rhetoric or actions of the Hamas government, the party operates a police state in the territory, and distrusting Israeli intentions, finding a better home elsewhere is necessary, especially for young people. But the opportunity to depart is mostly blocked by forces beyond their control. Time passes, frustrations grow and lives are stunted. It’s a recipe for future conflict and radicalisation. 

Family in Gaza displaced during the 2014 war with Israel. Photo by Antony Loewenstein

***

Sitting at her desk in Beit Lahia, Gaza, Aesha Abu Shaqfa battles to be heard above the sound of Israeli fighter jets roaring overhead. She worked as the executive director of the Future Development Commission, a local NGO committed to empowering women. It’s a lonely path in a territory devastated by war, Israeli and Hamas intransigence, misogyny and deprivation.

Wearing a red hijab, Shaqfa recently told me that one of her main goals was to reduce the prevalence of childhood marriage. “In our culture, girls having sex at 14 is not rape so we try and educate the girls about the challenges they will face [when married]”, she said. “Girls at 14 do not know about sex and they think marriage is sweet words, a pretty dress and make-up. The divorce rates of 14-18 year olds, for boys and girls, are rising.”

Domestic violence and sexual abuse against minors and adults are worsening because of regular Israeli attacks, social instability, conservative Islam and high unemployment.

Shaqfa, who is divorced from her second husband, acknowledged the huge challenges in Gaza for achieving gender equality. “I have three brothers and a father and only one of them can make sandwiches and tea,” she explained. “Here, women serve men.”

But she told me that big changes had occurred in the last years, a sentiment I heard echoed across Gaza, despite three wars with Israel since 2007, a repressive Hamas government and suffocating, 10-year siege imposed by Israel and Egypt. “More women are now finishing education, getting work and we’re trying to educate young girls at secondary schools about women’s rights,” she said.

***

I’ve been living in Jerusalem since early 2016 and returning regularly to Israel and Palestine since 2005. My first book, My Israel Question in 2006, challenged the myopic racism of the establishment, Jewish community and in 2013 I co-edited a collection, After Zionism, that outlined alternatives to discriminatory Israel.

Palestinians are rarely heard in the Israeli media as anything other than a security threat. Arab voices are almost invisible and most Israelis never meet a Palestinian except when they’re serving in the army.

[No free lunch: what journos learned on their Israel junket]

Jerusalem is a divided city, with Palestinians in East Jerusalem subject to discrimination and constant house demolitions. Tel Aviv is a beachside city that’s known as a bubble away from the conflict. Decades of conflict, privatisation and disaster capitalist policies have resulted in poverty being one of the highest in the developed world.

Racism is state-backed and encouraged by the highest levels of the Israeli government, knowing it’ll receive domestic support. Bigotry and incitement against African refugees, Palestinians and minorities is common, reflective of a country that was light years ahead of Trump’s war on Muslims. Trying to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel, or Christian rule in the US, requires discrimination and exclusion. Such policies are the antithesis of liberal democracy. Far-right groups in the US and Europe, traditional enemies of Jews, are increasingly enamoured with Israel due to its hardline against Muslims. Israel often welcomes these new friends.

The Oslo peace accords, signed more than 20 years ago by then-US president Bill Clinton, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian head Yasser Arafat, sealed Palestine’s fate, entrenching Israeli occupation as state policy. Today, Israel works hand in hand with the private military industry to sell and promote “battle-tested” weaponry for the global market. Privatising the occupation of Palestine has allowed the Jewish state to perfect the art of military control, assets for nations fighting refugees or insurgents.

This is not without controversy, with Israeli human rights lawyers pushing for transparency over arms sales to repressive states such as South Sudan. When I lived there in 2015, in the capital Juba, I regularly heard about Israelis visiting the country to liaise with South Sudanese officials. Its government stands accused of genocide.

The Qalandiya Checkpoint, between Jerusaleum and Ramallah and the northern part of the West Bank. Photo by Bernard Keane

The 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War will be marked in illegal, Israeli settlements, a perfect place to commemorate colonial acquisition. A recent poll found that Israeli settlers are the most satisfied of all Israelis with their lives. Many liberal Israeli Jews I know are disillusioned with the situation and looking to leave; they have no hope that Israel’s future will be anything other than a far-right theocracy.

From the beginning of the 1967 occupation, voices of dissent were rare. Euphoria was in the air and dominating the Palestinians without full civil rights was defended as necessary. Little has changed since.

During extensive time with Jewish colonists in the West Bank last year, I found arrogance but surprising insecurity about their long-term situation. Yair Ben-David, living at Kashuela Farms near the Gush Etzion settlements, told me that, “the Western world is at war with radical Islam”. He said Palestinians under occupation “know that Israel is the best place to live,” compared to the rest of the Arab world, and they should be grateful for their situation. “Only Israel is helping the Palestinians,” he claimed. We spoke on a hot day while sheep, goats and rabbits roamed around the settlement. Ben-David always carried a loaded gun.

Despite his knowledge that the Israeli army protected his settlement, and without them he would be unable to survive, he said that he was “greening” the environment for the sake of the Israeli state. If he were forced to leave, because of a peace deal with the Palestinians, he would “resist, though not with a weapon. I would eventually go.”

[Does DFAT support Israeli settlements?]

The situation feels hopeless on the ground but there are rays of hope. Israeli attempts to destroy the global Palestinian solidarity movement has failed. Jewish dissent in the US and beyond is surging, no longer content being associated with a Jewish establishment that offers uncritical backing of the Israeli state. A major step towards change will involve educating Jews and others that occupying the Palestinian people for 50 years isn’t the actions of a normal, healthy state. Without outside pressure, as many Israelis and Palestinians tell me, the situation will never change. Israel’s biggest supporters are increasingly the Christian far-right and far-right fanatics.

Occupying nations never give up power voluntarily. Remember, South Africa was economically squeezed for years before it capitulated and ended political apartheid. Israel is facing a growing global movement aiming for a similar transformation.

*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe

Middle East

Jul 31, 2012

5 comments

Talk of the Syrian crisis in the past week has taken a sharp shift away from internal dynamics and towards foreign military intervention. Grabbing headlines has been the growing anxiety of Syria’s large stockpile of chemical weapons, amid threats and counter threats from regional powers of an all-out war.

Israel has been leading the chorus of concern, issuing almost daily threats of military action against Syria and Lebanon should the Syrian regime transfer its arsenal to Hezbollah, or if they fall into the hands of Qatari and Saudi-backed Islamist insurgents leading the fight against President Bashar al-Assad.

Israeli threats of intervention were countered by warnings from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who recently stated his arsenal is capable of hitting targets across Israel, as well as Syria, which said it will only use its chemical weapons in case of “external aggression”.

Iran also stepped into the fray, with a senior commander of its elite Revolutionary Guards warning that the Islamic republic would respond to an intervention in Syria by delivering “decisive blows” to “hated Arabs”, referring to America’s oil-rich Gulf Arab allies.

The focus of the Syrian crisis has now taken the dangerous turn observers have been fearing for the past 16 months — towards the prospect of regional conflict. While chemical weapons appear to be Israel’s stated concern, it disguises Israel’s true interests in Syria, which is to take advantage of a rare opportunity to weaken its old foe. A transfer of Syria’s ballistic missiles to Hezbollah is improbable simply due to the Lebanese group — experienced in guerilla warfare — lacking the sufficient infrastructure and know-how to operate them. A senior Israeli defence official even sought to calm the rhetoric of his country’s political leaders by stating that Assad was “responsibly” safeguarding Syria’s chemical weapons. Russia has issued similiar reassurances in a bid to nullify an excuse for intervention.

What the past week of rhetoric reflects is continued manoeuvring between the two world powers, Russia and the United States, both engaged in a fight for influence in Syria. The West has all but given up hope of pursuing tougher action against Assad via the United Nations, and is now mulling alternative options to bypass the UN, Russia and China.

Israel’s increased rhetoric began over a week ago, when The New York Times reported that Pentagon officials held talks with Israeli defence officials on a possible Israeli military intervention in Syria. The discussion was followed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Israel, her first trip to Washington’s most important Middle Eastern ally since September 2010. While subsequent media reports have talked of US attempts to dissuade Israel from launching unilateral action in Syria, the sharp tone from Tel Aviv since Clinton’s visit suggests otherwise.

The threat of a war with Israel coincides with a failure by Syrian rebels to make serious gains on the ground. Rebels have failed to transfer the momentum gained from the assassination of Syria’s top four security officials into concrete results. A major rebel offensive on Damascus last week, which, according to various sources, drew thousands of fighters from the north as well as the western border region with Lebanon, was successfully repelled by the Syrian army.

Following the failure in Damascus, rebels launched a second offensive in Aleppo, which is still ongoing, with army claims that is starting to recapture key districts. The capture of border posts by Islamist groups has been met with a closure of the gates on the Iraqi and Turkish frontiers. Sources in Syria say that rebels, largely operating in rogue militias and without a central command, have managed to hold territory in fringe regions along the Lebanese, Turkish and Iraqi borders, but have failed to make significant inroads. The Syrian army continues to hold ground in the country’s principal centres, while rebels work with supportive networks along the border regions to sustain their fringe strongholds.

Abdelbasset Sida, the head of the Syrian National Council (SNC) — Syria’s external opposition — said that the regime has also allowed anti-Turk Kurdish rebels to take the reins in the country’s north east, withdrawing Syrian forces from the predominantly Kurdish area. This prompted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to warn his country might intervene to strike Kurdish guerillas. While Assad’s forces continue to thwart advances by rebels on the ground, he is also preparing deterrent forces in the event of a military intervention from either Israel or Turkey.

Israel’s warnings of war may be a confirmation from Western powers that Syria’s insurgency is ultimately incapable of toppling Assad short of intervention. Washington is acutely aware that any Israeli intervention will undoubtedly kill the Syrian revolt and bolster support for Assad. The decision now is whether the revolt is so hopeless on its own that Israel, with US support, moves to take matters into its own hands, crippling the Syrian state, and knocking out Iran and Russia’s most important Arab ally.

The threat of Israeli intervention may also be a means by Washington to coerce Moscow to compromise on a transitional government. Russia has everything to lose and the US everything to gain from the Syrian revolt. Syria is Russia’s ally, and host to Russia’s only naval base in the Mediterranean. A Saudi- and Qatari-sponsored Islamist victory in Syria will inevitably weaken Moscow’s influence in the country, and ultimately, the Middle East.

A source close to the Syrian government confided that Russian officials in meetings with Syrian leaders had originally backed an “iron-fist” approach to crush the rebels. But Western and Gulf Arab sustenance of the rebels has prevented the Syrian army from total victory. Continue reading “Syria solution needed to prevent regional war”

The World

Feb 15, 2011

5 comments

A week after the Egyptian uprising sent the Right into disarray, they appear to have regrouped somewhat more successfully than the leader they once favoured, Hosni Mubarak. In the final days of Mubarak’s reign last week, the neocons suddenly remembered their conservative side, and started sounding like Edmund Burke.

Pundits who had greeted the chaotic looting and violence of the early days of the Iraq invasion with Donald Rumsfeld’s insouciant remark — “stuff happens” — suddenly became wary of disorder and the mob, as a substitute for authority.

The early attempt to claim the uprising as a knock-on effect of the Iraq invasion died by and large died early, collapsing under the weight of its own absurdity, and most of the neocons at FIXED news and elsewhere switched to an obsessive fear of the Muslim Brotherhood, and an orientation of the whole region to the effect on Israel. “Meteor Will Destroy Earth — Implications for Israel”, will be the final Fox news headline.

The spuriousness of seeing the Egypt uprising as having any positive connection to the Iraq invasion is so multiple and ridiculous as to beggar belief, but it’s probably worth briefly recapitulating. The Egyptian uprising was a popular grassroots uprising sparked by multiple events and conditions, organised by multiple networks of people, and involving a substantial self-regulation of force.

The Iraq invasion was an external invasion of one state by another, based on a spurious intelligence scare about WMD, and justified as a human rights intervention propter hoc. Even those who conceived it as that first and foremost had an utter indifference to any demonstrated will of the Iraqi people.

They were not different methods of achieving the same thing. They were utterly different types of things.

That difference came to the fore after the invasion, and of January 25 in Egypt respectively. After the Iraq invasion, social solidarity was zero — there was simply a vacuum of order created by mass violence.

Into that vacuum rushed the genuinely nihilistic and individualistic — thieves, looters and sectarians with scores to settle. Since the invading force was nihilistic as well — with planning to protect the oil industry, while leaving the National Museum, whose collection contains the roots of around half the world’s civilisations, to the wolves — the invasion was a perfect void, filled with PR photo opportunities.

After January 25, protesters worked together not only to control outbreaks of armed violence, but also — sometimes with the army — to protect museums and libraries.

The utterly different character of the events has been so marked that the right has had to come up with a different angle. The one they’ve chosen — as if all dribbling for the one bell — is the question of “Arab democracy”. This was the debate between neocons and realists as to whether democracy could “take root” in the Arab world, or whether its culture was inimical to the possibility.

The “realist” answer to this usually took a blatantly chauvinist form, muttering about Arab and Eastern dependency, etc, etc, conveniently ignoring the fact that democracy had been snuffed out by the West, in establishing the Shah, the Saud family and others as client rulers in the ’40s and ’50s. The neocon answer was, to quote the ever-wrong Mark Steyn, that Iraq would look like Connecticut in 18 months, and any doubts as to whether an imposed system could establish legitimacy was just racism.

The “Arab democracy” argument has returned as a way of trying to refute the argument that the left made at the time of the Iraq invasion — that people can only meaningfully liberate themselves, and that the Iraq invasion actively prevented that.

That it did, there is no doubt. In 2005, the Bush administration made some noises about no longer tolerating autocracy. In 2006, Mubarak cancelled municipal elections, and banned presidential candidates other than he and his son. Concerned by the enthusiastic way in which the Muslim Brotherhood had taken up the notion of “no longer tolerating dictators”, and facing chaos in Iraq, and Hamas in Gaza, they, well, this photo is from 2008.

January 16, 2008

Desperate to head this off, the right has tried to turn the Egyptian process into a neocon one. Thus Tom Heidi Switzer in The Drum, stages a debate between his conservative realpolitik self, and a “smug metropolitan” neocon buddy, the latter representing the only possible alternative interpretation. Melanie Phillips goes further suggesting that “the left are all neocons now”, arguing that the only rationale for supporting a popular uprising (Egypt) and opposing an invasion (Iraq) is hatred of the US.

Phillips — a pro-settler Zionist, climate-change sceptic, intelligent design advocate and proponent of the “MMR causes autism” theory — wrote a hilarious blog post on The Spectator arguing that Obama had been “jaw-droppingly incompetent” in handling the matter and that his efforts had “backfired: at time of writing Mubarak is digging in his heels against this American pressure and is refusing to step down”. It’s particularly funny when you see the date: Thursday February 10. Barely 18 hours later, Mubarak was gone. Phillips was so incapable of seeing Muslims as agents of their own lives, it never occurred to her that Friday — prayer day — might bring a renewed pushback.

It’s clear that no event will convince the Right that they need to look clearly at the world, without projecting their fantasies onto it. In the process over a decade, they’ve managed to discredit themselves across the Middle East and West Asia, to lose most of South America to the Left, and to see China spread itself deep into Africa through investment, while the US spent a trillion or two on futile wars.

Still the neocons did do one good thing in Egypt — they helped the resistance form a few years ago. The group Kefaya (“Enough”) that in turn formed many of the current uprising’s leaders came together around 2003, protesting against the US invasion.

The World

Feb 8, 2011

5 comments

While the Egyptian masses are uprising in unprecedented ways across the country against a Western-backed dictator, Israel fears the worst.

The country’s President Shimon Peres said last week that, “no matter what they say, we owe Mubarak true gratitude for being as steadfast as a rock and for working towards peace and stability in the Middle East.”

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told CNN that Mubarak was “immensely courageous and a force for good” for the Israeli/Palestinian “peace process.”

The Israeli mainstream media is filled with apocalyptic visions. Ben Caspit writes in Maariv that, “Al-Jazeera has become the greatest enemy of the old world, the world of stability and moderate Middle Eastern regimes.”

Truly free speech in the Arab world threatens Israel because a wide diversity of views, including Islamists and critics of Zionism, will be more loudly heard and necessarily incorporated into the political mainstream.

The American media and our own are filled with neo-conservative doomsayers who argue the Muslim Brotherhood is on the verge of taking over Egypt though there is no evidence for this.

Indeed, Washington and Britain have a history of working alongside Islamists in their battles against Communism and the years after September 11, 2001.

Israeli-connected “experts” routinely feature in our media despite having no success in bringing peace to the Middle East. Here in Australia, last week’s ABC TV’s Lateline interviewed former American ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk though he wasn’t once asked about Israel.

What we are seeing is nothing less than a profound identity crisis for the Zionist state. The region is awake and Israel fears losing its mantle as the “Middle East’s Only Democracy” Inc.

Naomi Klein tweeted last Wednesday: “Israel, call your brand managers, the whole world sees your claim to being ‘only democracy in ME’ relies on supporting dictatorship.”

Jewish Israeli blogger Magnes Zionist articulated the sentiment well a few days ago :

“For if the price to pay for a Jewish state is acquiescing in tyranny and injustice for reasons of realpolitik – as Israel did with apartheid South Africa – then arguably that price is too high…”

Washington, via its mouthpiece the New York Times, has essentially acknowledged that the Egyptian crisis for them is all about Israel.

Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, told The New York Times what was keeping Washington up through the night: “It really can be distilled down to one thing, and that’s Israel.”

For decades Israel has maintained regional hegemony through a combination of US protection and bribery. Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are relied upon to take American money to maintain the fiction of peace with the Jewish state while abusing the Palestinians living within their borders.

Indeed, mainstream Jewish writers in the US have been continuing this delusion, stating that Egypt’s “moderation” under Mubarak allowed Israeli/Arab peace to develop. Leslie Susser wrote in JTA that President Obama was sending the wrong message to “moderate” Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia that they “might be as peremptorily abandoned in time of need.”

Women can’t work or drive in “moderate” Saudi Arabia.

Middle East “stability” has led to this: the West Bank occupation has deepened, fascism has gone mainstream within Israel, the siege on Gaza continues (with Egyptian help) and Israel’s Jewish mainstream increasingly turns away from democratic norms (a new study found more than half polled would limit media freedom if Israel’s image was being threatened).

Mubarak has provided false comfort for too long. He was feted by every Israeli Prime Minister since the 1980s, happy to collude with the ongoing degradation of the Palestinian population because he was paid to do so. He wasn’t an independent actor – alongside Jordan and Saudi Arabia’s leaders – because he knew his role and received countless billions to fulfil his mission.

Egypt has been the second highest recipient of US aid after Israel for years and money has bought him Western political elite legitimacy. But his people largely loathed him (something I heard time and time again during my various visits to Egypt). Continue reading “Does Israel believe that Egypt deserves democracy?”

Federal

Oct 20, 2010

5 comments

To be an Arab in Israel is to be a second-class citizen. While in theory Arab Israelis are treated equally, the reality of everyday life is vastly different. The Association of Civil Rights in Israel says that more than half the poor families in Israel are Arab families. And several new laws passed by the Israeli Parliament, including a controversial oath of loyalty, are designed to further alienate Arab Israelis.

It’s a grim life, but according to a recent decision of the Refugee Review Tribunal, such systemic discrimination does not necessarily amount to persecution.

The tribunal refers to Article 1A(2) relevantly defines a refugee as any person who:

“…owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The decision, handed down on October 1, considered an application by a Muslim man (let’s call him P) who was born in Lebanon, but lived in Israel from 2000 until last year when he came to Australia.

According to the evidence he provided the Tribunal, when P moved to Israel in 2000 with his family he immediately suffered discrimination. The residents of the block of flats P lived in objected to his presence on the grounds that not only were P and his family not Jewish but they were also Muslim. At school, P says, other students stared at him because he was “a stranger and they knew he was Muslim and not Jewish”. P was subjected to verbal and physical abuse and the situation did not improve when he and his family moved to another town.

When P left school, he changed his name to a Hebrew name but he was harassed when his employer found out he was a Muslim Arab. “On one occasion, he was travelling to work on a bus when he heard an Israeli soldier saying to his colleagues how he had violently assaulted a Muslim woman in Gaza, how he hated Muslims and how he loved killing them,”  the Tribunal notes in its decision.

P told the Tribunal he had “…wasted nine years of his life in Israel. He could not practice his religion or express his political opinion. He wanted to return to Lebanon but he could not because his father is wanted in Israel and he could be arrested for carrying an Israeli passport. Eventually, the applicant and his brothers decided to leave the country and come to Australia.” P told the Tribunal that did not wish to return to Israel because there he “faced the kind of racism he could never have imagined.”

He did not wish to return to the “nightmare” he was living in Israel.

But the Tribunal, despite accepting that discrimination against Arab Israelis such as P in Israel is well documented, found that P did not fit the status of a refugee.

“The Tribunal appreciates that regular and petty acts of discrimination of the kind described by the applicant are most unpleasant, undesirable and psychologically uncomfortable. However, whilst persecution involves discrimination that results in harm to an individual, not all discrimination will amount to persecution … Without wishing to understate the unsavoury nature of the applicant’s experiences and having considered his personal circumstances, including his young age and lack of any evidence to suggest any kind of frailty, the Tribunal is not satisfied that the discrimination the applicant faced and its psychological impact, assessed cumulatively, reaches the standard of persecution within the meaning of the [Refugees] Convention,” the Tribunal ruled.

Perhaps the most debatable issue raised by the Tribunal’s decision was that it argued that while the entrenched discrimination against Arab Israelis is a reality, this does not necessarily amount to persecution.  “While [P] may not have the same opportunities and may not be treated as Israel’s Jewish citizens by the authorities or other citizens, the Tribunal is not satisfied that his treatment would amount to persecution if he were to return to Israel,” the Tribunal found. To some this might sound very much like persecution.

The Rest

Aug 30, 2010

5 comments

Guns, lots of guns. All the cool kids have them. On Sundays and Thursdays, young Israelis can be seen on the streets of Tel Aviv, carrying machine guns to and from their mandatory army service, with extra clips strapped to their barrels or carried in bulging pockets. Weekends in Israel are from Friday to Saturday, in time with the Sabbath.

Soldiers in Tel Aviv are part of daily life. They are not manning checkpoints or setting up roadblocks, they are just going to and from work like everyone else. Which means when you walk through Tel Aviv, it doesn’t feel like the country is surrounded on all sides by enemy nations. The city feels peaceful, like most cosmopolitan cities. Some reminders of danger exist — bags are searched before entering shopping centres and train stations, for example, but the city feels remarkably normal most of the time.

But there are moments when danger feels closer. Walking along the beach I noticed a building that looked like it had once been a nightclub or restaurant. Except now it’s derelict, looking very conspicuous along the beachfront. “What happened to that place”, I asked my friend. She replied, “Oh, there was a suicide attack there, in the nineties”. I am told there hasn’t been an attack in the city for about five years.

Israelis tease me about the apparent triviality of Australian political issues — a few hundred asylum seekers, climate change, public transport, WorkChoices (“there is so much news in Israel”), then I get reminded that this triviality is in fact a good thing. It is a sign of a peaceful country. I am also told it’s good I cannot tell or do not think about who is Arab and who is Jewish, because it makes me immune to the tension that exists with such awareness.

I was not expecting Tel Aviv to feel safer than Melbourne (where I live) but it does. The city lacks the menace of Melbourne after dark. No large groups of young men sizing you up, looking for a fight. The city is more convivial, there’s more laughter in the air. I just can’t tell if the appearance of safety is real or not.

The Rest

Apr 8, 2010

5 comments

News

Jan 7, 2009

5 comments

Over the weekend I was watching the 6.30pm edition of SBS World News at a friend’s place. The newsreader mentioned that “there are no Western journalists reporting from Gaza”. Is SBS seriously suggesting that “non-Western journalists” are incapable of reporting news?

Then this morning The Australian carried a report from AP/AFP stating that “Israel yesterday scrapped arrangements to allow the first foreign reporters into Gaza since it launched an all-out war against Palestinian militants, adding to mounting media frustration at being locked out of the war zone”.

When are allegedly authoritative Western newsagencies going to get off their high horses and acknowledge that the English language service of Al Jazeera has beaten them to it? A large number of my friends have discovered that the satellite dish on their roof picks up Al Jazeera English, which boasts such non-Western journalists as Sir David Frost, Rageh Omaar (formerly of BBC World) and Riz Khan (formerly of BBC World and CNN). Quite a few Al Jazeera English reports hail from such third world journalistic backwaters as New Zealand and Australia.

Israel clearly isn’t happy with Al Jazeera. Then again, the newsagency has frequently fallen foul of the Iranian, Afghan, Egyptian and Saudi governments. One Al Jazeera photo-journalist, Sami El-Hajj, was captured by the United States and spent years at the Guantanamo gulag.

Al Jazeera has four reporters on the ground in Gaza, including from Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, carrying interviews from European volunteer doctors working for a variety of NGO’s. Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland reports from both sides of the Israel/Gaza border. Suffice it to say that their reports don’t exactly confirm claims by senior Israeli leaders like Tzvipi Livni that there isn’t a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Al Jazeera also has’t spared senior HAMAS leaders like Osama Hamdan in Beirut from tough questioning about why they don’t just promise not to fire further rockets into southern Israel.

The AP/AFP cited above reports that “Israeli officials are unapologetic about the ban, saying many foreign reporters are biased against Israel and easily manipulated or intimidated by Hamas”. It doesn’t help when Israeli Defense Forces kill family members of Western journalists like Fares Akram.