Settling the Bedouins: Sad and inevitable

The year is 1887. An American Senator named Henry Laurens Dawes believes that today the Congress will pass the “Dawes Act,” a law which will once and for all regulate the ownership of land by Native American Indians. He begins the task at hand by stating his belief that to be a civilized person means to “wear civilized clothes … cultivate the ground, live in houses, ride in Studebaker wagons, send children to school, drink whiskey [and] own property.”

The responses to the Dawes Act were as diverse as they were fascinating. Alice Fletcher, the Head of a group called “Friends of the Indians,” who participated in the drafting of the law said, “The Indian may now become a free man; free from the thralldom of the tribe… free to enter into the body of our citizens. This bill may therefore be considered as the Magna Carta of the Indians of our country.”

It seemed as though everybody was satisfied with the passing of the law in 1887, except for one marginal and apparently non-relevant group of people called “the Indians.” One Indian from the Nez Perce tribe, who was involved in the legislative debate, stated clearly, “we do not want our land cut up in little pieces….”

Many members of Congress did not understand the opposition of the tribes. Indeed as people of progress and order, they were sincerely trying to improve the life of the Indians. Actually, every head of an Indian family received for the first time, according to the law, the right to possess about 640 dunam (160 acres) of agricultural land. But the Indian opposition was motivated by another aspect, namely the fact that the remaining lands were declared as “surplus” properties, which were immediately sold to white settlers. Consequently, in a single day, the official recognition of tribes and the right to tribal ownership of lands disappeared. Prior to 1887, the Native American tribes possessed over 600 million dunam. Within 20 years after the ratification of the Dawes Act, they had lost over two-thirds of these lands.

On Monday, a vehement debate took place in the Knesset over the first reading of the “Praver Act,” which is intended to regulate the rights of the Bedouins to lands in the Negev, in an effort to settle them in organized communities. Like the Native Americans, the Bedouins do not necessarily view the regulation of land ownership as a positive, or even necessary, phenomenon. It is difficult for our Jewish-Western minds to grasp the reasoning and essence of their opposition.

The trend of distributing land possession by tribal affiliation disappeared from our nation about 2,500 years ago. Nevertheless, the state is currently granting the Bedouins the right to register title over real estate assets worth hundreds of millions of shekels in aggregate, while young couples throughout the country are struggling to acquire even a small apartment.

The anger that exploded on Thursday in the Knesset was an expression of a massive collision of cultures and customs. What the Indians were trying to explain to the US Congress 126 years ago was that it is impossible to put a price tag on a unique way of life, such as theirs. They were unable to convince the American majority and the inevitable result transpired.

I support the Praver Act initiative. We can argue about the quality, the quantity and the location of the lands being offered today for Bedouin communities. These are legitimate arguments, which will apparently last for many years, but it is impossible to stop the progress of the regulated settlement of the land of Israel. By the way, there are still open lawsuits in American courts regarding the interpretation of, and the implementation of, the Dawes Act. Nevertheless, the supposition is that the lack of regulation of title to land will create more friction between Jews and Bedouins in the South, than the inconveniences, which are caused by the current legislation.

Regardless of my support for the law, Monday was a sad day for me. It was sad to see Members of Knesset making laughingstocks of themselves and degrading one another. It was sad to see MK Achmad Tibi and his colleagues tearing up the draft bill and pouring water on it over the podium of the Knesset. It was sad to hear MK Afu Agarbiya call in a formal hearing, from the dais of the Knesset, for civil disobedience and a new intifada. There is no doubt that these Members of Knesset digressed from the rules of proper civil decorum. Anyone who was upset, however, by such behavior was missing the primary source of pain associated with this discourse.

Monday was a sad day primarily because it marked the end of the age of unique nomadic life in the land of Israel. The stunning beauty of the Bedouin culture, from this day forward, will die slowly but surely until it completely disappears. I loathe the thought that a day is coming when there will no longer be people drifting throughout our deserts with their herds of sheep and goats, following the seasonal plant growth and sources of water. It is hard to imagine that after thousands of years of life according to an ancient tradition, “enlightened” Western culture has succeeded in conquering the life of the Bedouin.

The Praver Act is necessary, inevitable and important. However, it is a sad initiative. We can only hope that the Knesset of Israel will soberly consider the true price that the Bedouins are paying today, and will be generous to the maximum extent possible when determining the quality, quantity and locations of their permanent settlements. More than anything, I hope that the interaction with the Bedouin communities will be handled with sensitivity, which ensues from the understanding that their way of life, which is old and old-fashioned to us, is precious to them and is being stripped away. At the end of the day, they are our Israeli Bedouins.

Erdogan’s List of Terrorists

Large demonstrations are currently raging in Turkey against the dictatorial policies of Prime Minister Erdogan. Tens of thousands are taking to the streets from dawn to dusk, waving signs, shouting disruptively, and skirmishing with the police. Hundreds have been arrested. On Thursday, Erdogan stated during a conference in Tunisia that radical elements “including terrorists” are behind the demonstrations. He also condemned the foreigners participating in the protests, who, in his opinion, have infiltrated Turkey to “create provocations”.

 It is difficult to ignore the fact that the protests in Turkey began on May 31, 2013, exactly three years following the day a flotilla including a Turkish vessel named the “Mavi Marmara” sailed from the ports of Cypress towards Israel, carrying 581 activists from an Islamic organization called IHH, intent on breaking Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

 On that same day, the flotilla vessels ignored the warning of Israel’s navy. Israeli Navy Seals boarded most of the ships without problematic incidents. When they boarded the vessel from Turkey, however, they were surprised by a violent ambush. After being attacked by knives and clubs, they responded in self-defense, shot and killed nine Turkish activists, and the rest is history.

 Today, everyone who protests against Erdogan’s government in Gezi Park in Istanbul is defined by him as a “terrorist”. Three years ago, two days after the flotilla incident, Erdogan accused Israel of carrying out “state terrorism”, recalled his ambassador from Tel-Aviv, and called on Israel to immediately cease its naval blockade of Gaza. It is worth noting that this naval blockade was created to protect Israel from elements smuggling weapons to radical Islamic activists in the Gaza Strip.

 I understand from Erdogan’s use of the word “terror” that a “terrorist” is any person who opposes radical Islamic activism. It would not offend me if Erdogan categorized me as a “terrorist”, since I identify with those demonstrating against his government in Turkey.

 If I had the time and the resources, I would organize a naval flotilla of Israeli human rights activists and sail toward the ports of Turkey to support the struggle of those who are suffering human rights abuses by the Erdogan regime. I wonder how the Turkish navy would treat such a flotilla.

 I am at a loss to understand Binyamin Netanyahu’s behavior towards Erdogan and his government. Three years ago, the Prime Minister cancelled his meetings with President Obama, cut short his visit to the USA, and returned to Israel in crisis mode to meet with his Security Cabinet in order to manage the flotilla crisis. Granted, he did not buckle under UN pressure to form an international investigative committee to examine the circumstances surrounding the death of the Turkish activists. Nevertheless, two and a half months ago, during the last day of Obama’s visit to Israel, Netanyahu acquiesced to the President’s request, called Erdogan, apologized for the flotilla events, and pledged to compensate the families of the Turkish activists who were killed. By his actions, Netanyahu yielded and succumbed to the unreasonable demands of a radical Islamic dictator.

 It will be interesting to see how Barack Obama will deal in the near future with what is taking place in Turkey. Until today, the Obama White House has supported all of the elements protesting against totalitarian regimes in the Middle East in the framework of the “Arab Spring” uprisings – from Tunisia to Lybia, to Egypt, all the way to the rebels in Syria.

 So far, Obama has not missed an opportunity to prove his warm friendship towards Erdogan, especially in their dealings with Israel. On the other hand, he has also consistently pledged that anywhere in the world where people are fighting for the values of freedom of expression, freedom of religion, women’s rights, democracy and the rule of law – the USA will stand with them. Will Obama also become a “terrorist” according to Erdogan? We can only hope so.

The Hot-Cold War in Syria

The Cold War of the previous century was not very cold. Just ask the citizens of Korea and Viet Nam. It was hot in those nations, indeed very hot. The USA and Co. and the USSR and Co. chose to go to war with each other. Of course, they preferred to fight a proxy war in someone else’s back yard.

In Korea and Vietnam, the Americans were committed to supporting the democratic side of the conflict, whereas the Soviets supported the communist side. Coincidentally, the geographic alignment repeated itself: South (democratic) against North (communist). In both scenarios, there was a gradual process of escalation. First, each super-power expressed support for its ally by declarations in the media. Then ensued funding of the ally, provision of armaments and military advisors, until in the last stage, soldiers were actually sent into battle.

It is safe to say that the USA and Co. represented the right side of the conflict. These communist dictatorships did not usher in an era of global peace and security, quite the contrary. This is evident, when we view North Korea, one of the last communist bastions, which not only terrorizes its own people, but the rest of the world, as well.  Thus, we can thank the USA for doing everything in its power to curb the influence of such regimes.

Much has been written about the civil war in Syria, and the fact that it is actually a twenty-first century expression of a cold-hot proxy war, once again raging between the USA and Russia. Each super-power has chosen its local ‘champion’ and is supporting it at this stage by providing both funds and armaments.

Considerable criticism has been directed at the government of Israel recently over its decision to stand against President Assad in the current conflict. The bombing of Syrian weapons storage facilities, followed by Netanyahu’s trip to Russia in an effort to convince Putin to stop providing arms to Assad’s government, have sent a clear message. We are the local ally of the USA in this conflict. In regard to the Syrian uprising, I think that Netanyahu has wisely crafted his policy.

At first glance, it does not seem logical for Israel to support the rebel forces in Syria, a piecemeal army comprised of Moslem factions, which oppose Israel and the Western values we hold dear, such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Furthermore, in recent years, a type of stable yet cold “peace” has existed between Israel and Syria. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that the Assad government is supported by Iran. If he defeats the rebels and remains in power, Iran’s footprint in our region will be significantly enlarged. It is unnecessary to expand on the negative implications of such a result.

The truth is that this discussion is an exercise in futility. Netnayahu has no choice. He cannot ask the US government to assure our security against the Iranian threat, and at the same time support Assad’s government, which is essentially an Iranian surrogate. In addition, Israel’s strong alliance with the USA, as viewed by our neighbors, contributes to our persona of strength and thus serves as a deterrent to our regional enemies.

Regardless of the fact that Bibi has lost altitude in recent polls because of his ‘flying bed’, he has clearly chosen his geo-political bedmates well, and he will remain true to these partners in order to protect the basic interests of the State of Israel.

Dr. Kerry’s Misdiagnosis

Article originally appeared here. 

Have you ever wondered how you would live your life differently if you received a medical diagnosis that you were suffering from a terminal illness and had less than two years to live? Perhaps you would book a flight to an exotic destination, buy an extravagant gift for a loved one, or transfer valuable assets to their name, while you were still alive.

It is impossible to criticize people in such circumstances, who decide to abandon their daily routine, and simply enjoy life. This is exactly what a man in New Zealand, named Frank, decided to do three years ago, after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of heart cancer and given a maximum of two years to live by his doctors. Frank and his wife, Wilma, sold their house, liquidated their assets, and started to live luxuriously. They decided to do whatever their hearts desired without concern for the cost. In so doing, they accumulated credit card debt exceeding $80,000, which they expected to be covered by Frank’s life insurance policy.

Two years after he received the bad news, Frank’s physicians notified him that they had made a mistake. He is actually in perfect health, cancer-free,  and can expect to live for many years to come. The couple, of course, were in utter shock.

In the words of Wilma: “We had a good time. We spent too much money on food, going around New Zealand, and then on a business, which fell down. What would you do in this situation? If he said jump, I would jump … I was putting him first, whatever he wanted, he got. I’m short on my credit cards and the money we had left went on a business and that didn’t work out, so we are broke.”

I was reminded of this story after hearing the analysis of the US Secretary of State two weeks ago, when he proclaimed that Israel’s window for peace with its neighbors is steadily closing, and that there are no more than two years left for a permanent solution to be reached. It appears that John Kerry actually believes that the Jewish state is suffering from a terminal illness, and thus has no time to waste. He is traversing the world, carrying out shuttle diplomacy, meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, negotiating land-swap settlements with the Arab League (with our land), making grand declarations, and appearing in press conferences. Apparently, if he were able to do so, he would sign away our assets to our enemies within the framework of a peace deal, all to save us from certain death.

I turn to our friends in the media and say: you can relax. You can kindly remove the “final journey” of John Kerry from the headlines. Nobody is dying. Our nation faced more difficult situations in the past, and it has a long and full life ahead. I presume that one day we will achieve peace with the Palestinians, but until that happens many US Presidents and Secretaries of State will come and go. It will happen when Israel’s “partners” for peace, are convinced that they truly want it. Presently, it seems that the Secretary of State and his boss are only ones convinced that this is so.

To Mr. Kerry I say: learn a lesson from Frank and Wilma. It’s a mistake to live today as if there is no tomorrow. We have heard declarations that Israel is out of time by many others on many occasions, yet the state of Israel lives on. Even though your career as Secretary of State will probably be over in about two and a half years, presumably you have many years before you in various capacities of political leadership. Do not exhaust all of your political capital, and do not exert all of your energy, on a race against the hourglass, when its very existence is a figment of your imagination.

Open Letter to Netanyahu

This article originally appeared in the Times of Israel

Honorable Prime Minister

Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu

RE: Open Letter Concerning Your Apology to Turkey

Dear Sir,

If we need to apologize for every type of defense to which we are entitled: forward defense, active defense and passive defense, with what are we left? It appears that your recent acquiescence in regard to Turkey has not strengthened our security, but rather compromised it.

I strongly object to the government of Israel paying compensation from my tax monies to the families of those who attacked our soldiers. This proposal lacks moral justification. If anyone in the State of Israel needs to apologize and pay compensation to these families, it should be those who encouraged the provocative actions of the Marmara flotilla: such as MK Hanin Zoabi. Let Zoabi take responsibility for her actions and pay the compensation from her pocket, not from mine.

Mr. Prime Minister, you promised the electorate to strengthen the security of the State of Israel, and not to compromise it by buckling under the pressure of foreign leaders, including the President of the United States. Had you rejected President Obama’s request to appease Turkey, you would have kept your promise to those who elected you, and would not have lost either the support of the American people or their representatives in Congress.

Two weeks before you apologized in our name to the Turkish Prime Minister, he went out of his way to equate Zionism with crimes against humanity. It is clear that our tiny nation is surrounded by Islamic states that speak the language of aggression, and compete among themselves to see who will be the first to break our resolve.

What have we gained from such apologies and acquiescence to foreign pressure in recent years? We were told that peace was attainable if we would simply retreat and dismantle our forward defense in the buffer zones of Southern Lebanon and Gaza. You, Mr. Prime Minister, were wise enough to fervently oppose these moves, understanding that every such concession would only encourage radical elements to attack us again. Unfortunately, you were right. In consideration for these concessions, we attained “peace” in the form of showers of missiles.

After Israeli citizens had suffered through years of omnipresent bomb sirens and missile strikes, you asserted our right to active defense. You sent our best soldiers into Gaza to destroy the missile launching capabilities of the Hamas. In response, Erdogan and his friends in the Arab League and the UN declared that our right to self-defense was a crime against humanity. Nevertheless, you stood the test. In the face of relentless international criticism, you took every step to restore peace, quiet and safety to our lives.

Those who define our right to a forward defense and an active defense as a heinous crime are saying, in essence, that the Jewish State does not have the right to exist. Accordingly, we should not be surprised when these same voices object to our right to a passive defense, such as the use of a naval blockade. The fact that the Israeli Navy seized a number of ships en route from Iran to Gaza with freight consisting of hundreds of tons of military ammunition, certainly does not trouble them. Indeed, it coincides with their goal to peel back, slowly but surely, every layer of defense from the Jewish State, until it will be possible to wipe us from the map once and for all.

How is it possible to delegitimize passive defense in the eyes of the enlightened world? Obviously, by carrying out an act of aggression under the guise of a humanitarian mission. When Turkey sent from her ports a flotilla of armed activists, intent on ambushing and assaulting our soldiers with rods and knives, she instigated a direct attack upon our security. If President Obama was a true friend, he would demand an apology from Erdogan to you, not the opposite.

Two more questions:

Did it not disturb you that on the same day in which you agreed to President Obama’s request to appease the Prime Minister of Turkey, your friend, Obama, exhorted our youngsters to oppose your policies, and to pressure you to abandon critical interests of the State of Israel? This troubled me.

Does it not disturb you that while the government of Israel is negotiating how much compensation to pay the Marmara families, the Prime Minister of Turkey has affirmed his resolve to coordinate a diplomatic visit to the Hamas leaders in Gaza, while ignoring the strong disapproval of the USA towards such a move? This troubles me.

More power to you.

Respectfully,

Calev Myers

Operation Haircut

When we say in Israel that the public “got a haircut”, we all understand that we are referring to the dubious behavior of ultra-wealthy businessmen, who succeeded in diluting our holdings in publicly traded companies. When people talk about “public haircuts” in the Gaza Strip, the terminology is understood in a completely different connotation. In Gaza, the government has recently been cutting its citizens’ (actual) hair by force.

The escalation of violently enforcing radical Islamic values by the Hamas police, which began in 2007 when the Hamas ousted Mahmoud Abbas from Gaza’s government, has recently reached unprecedented heights.

About two weeks ago, a nineteen year old young man, who works as a house-painter and lives in Gaza, named Ayman Al-Sayad, was waiting for a taxi service on his way home after work, when suddenly a police jeep pulled up next to him. Palestinian policemen jumped out of the jeep, grabbed Al-Sayad, threw him in the back of the vehicle and sped off to the Police station. Of what crime was Al-Sayad guilty? His hair was so long it reached his shoulders.

The Palestinian policemen stood Al-Sayad on a line with ten other men, including seventeen-year-old Tarek Nakib, who was audacious enough to spike his hair with gel. The policemen partially shaved the heads of the haircut criminals, commanding them to finish the job at a professional barber shop in the neighborhood. According to Al-Sayad, the young men who resisted the head-shaving were severely beaten.

The Hamas Government Police in Gaza recently initiated a violent operation in public areas, which includes assaulting men with long hair, those who use gel, or those who walk down the street with tight or low-riding pants.

Terrorist organizations, by their nature, terrorize not only their enemies, but also those who are subject to their leadership. It appears that to the extent the Hamas government in Gaza receives recognition and rights by the international community, the human rights of the Palestinian people in Gaza are mercilessly trampled underfoot.

Operation Haircut in Gaza started a few days after the Hamas parliament passed a law, which obligates the isolation of boys and girls into separate classes in all schools after the age of nine. The policy of gender separation in schools is also prevalent in the West Bank under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. It is another symptom of Islamic religious coercion of the Palestinian people. Just last month, the Hamas forbade women to participate in a marathon in Gaza, which was funded by the UN. Because of Hamas’ intransigence in this matter, the UN eventually gave up and cancelled the marathon.

The Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird, who was an unfamiliar name to me until last week, succeeded in winning my admiration when he innocently held a meeting with MK Tzippi Livni in East Jerusalem, an act which was heavily condemned by the Hamas. Do not fret, Mr. Baird. If the Hamas is upset with you, you must be doing something right.

But the meeting with Livni was not Baird’s only trangression. He offered during his visit to absorb 120,000 Palestinian refugees into Canada, and to grant them irrevocable citizenship. Canada is one of the only nations, which has come to terms with the fact that Palestinian refugees will never return to Tel-Aviv, Yaffo, Haifa, Safed or Be’er Sheva. This generous offer of the Canadian government was intended to put an end to the terrible suffering of some of the Palestinian refugees, who have lived in Arab nations for sixty-five years without receiving full citizenship or civil rights in their places of residence. The Hamas leaders immediately expressed their indignation with this Canadian offer and declared that it was a Zionist initiative to disenfranchise the Palestinians from their right of return.

Hence, the Hamas proved once again that the importance of destroying the Jewish state is far greater in their eyes, than the importance of advancing the quality of life and welfare of the Palestinian people.

In recent days, the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, an organization that I founded, sponsored “Palestinian Human Rights Week”. We organized events and lectures on university campuses on several continents in order to expose and challenge the primary abusers of Palestinian human rights, the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas.

While holding an academic symposium at the University of Toronto last week, I took a question from a person in the audience, who identified himself as a Palestinian refugee. His question immediately turned into harsh accusations towards the State of Israel. When he finished his statements, I answered him, “No one is more critical of the Israeli government than the Jewish people. I, as a lawyer who fights for civil rights, have been challenging the policy of the Israeli government on issues of civil rights and freedom of religion for the last ten years. What have you done, as a Palestinian, in order to advance human rights in the Palestinian Authority?” His answer was short and simple, “The Palestinian Authority is not the legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people.” I think he may be right.

Granting recognition and legitimacy to the Palestinian leadership, both by the Palestinian people and by the international community, must be based on its ability to properly govern its own people, with protection of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. At present, it is based upon the bond of hatred towards Israel. As long as this is the situation, all of us, on either side of the conflict, will continue to suffer.

Money, Money

The demand for the government of Israel to invest more public resources in medicine, welfare and education, in order to strengthen the socio-economic fabric of the underprivileged, is not a novel demand. The “Yesh Atid” Party cannot copyright the idea. Actually, the prophet Ezekiel warned us 2,600 years ago about leaders who do the opposite, who grow wealthy at the expense of those they govern, rather than caring about their needs.

Woe to the shepherds of Isra’el who feed themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the choice meat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, and you slaughter the best of the herd; but you don’t feed the sheep! You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bandage the broken, bring back the outcasts or seek the lost; on the contrary, you tyrannize them with crushing force. (Chapter 34: 2-4)

We all pray that the Israeli government ministers will take these verses into account as they are setting the public agenda for the upcoming year.

It is difficult to ignore the fact that most world leaders live in a bubble of personal wealth, dwelling in luxurious houses, surrounded by bodyguards and teams of journalists – completely isolated from the people they are commissioned to serve. It is a sad fact that the world’s wealthiest leaders usually stand at the helm of the poorest nations; third world nations, in which an unjust allocation of resources subjects most of the people to lives of abject poverty. In our region, the king of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, comes to mind.  He is the third wealthiest leader in the world (after the king of Thailand and the Sultan of Brunei) with an estimated net worth of 18 billion dollars.

This issue is highlighted for me by the current visit to Israel of the President of the United States, Barak Obama. Mr. Obama, who is ranked by Wikipedia as the 26th wealthiest world leader, with an approximate net worth of 10 million dollars, flew to Israel in a private jet, funded by American taxpayers, will be driven from place to place in a fleet of bulletproof vehicles on roads that have been cleared of people half an hour in advance, will see only what the Israeli government chooses for him to see, and will meet only people chosen by the meticulous screening of our Foreign Ministry.

During Obama’s visit, he will spend most of his time with Benjamin Netanyahu, who in spite of his modest wages, which are about a third of Obama’s salary, can still relate to him as a financial peer. This year, Netanyahu’s net worth surpassed that of Obama’s, reaching according to Forbes’ List, an estimated 11 million Dollars (NIS 41 million).

After these meetings, Obama will proceed to Ramallah, where he is scheduled to meet the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who is not even in the same net worth league as Obama and Netanyahu. He is far wealthier.

According to Mohamed Rashid, a former economic consultant to Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas’ personal net worth is approximately 100 million dollars. A well-known Arabic language blogger, Assad Abu-Khalil, claims that Abbas’ monthly salary is one million dollars per month – 30 times that of Obama, and 90 times that of Netanyahu. Furthermore, Abbas is still relatively young and is expected to remain in his position for many years to come. I would not be surprised if his wealth eventually exceeds that of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, whose personal net worth was estimated at 1.3 billion dollars upon his death.

And we thought that we had a serious problem of socio-economic gaps!

The irony is that, during his meetings with Obama, Mahmoud Abbas will primarily ask for more money, and that is exactly what he will receive. The United States will pour additional hundreds of millions of dollars into the Palestinian Authority, funds which will ultimately flow, one way or another, into the personal bank accounts of Abbas. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Palestinian people will remain in misery and complete and utter poverty.

“How is this possible?”, we all ask ourselves. The answer is simple. Palestinian wretchedness is a lucrative business. Very profitable. At least for one man.

A Glance into the Underworld

This post originally appeared online

Most of us like to view ourselves as normal people. We go through life in a normal world without recognizing that in every place, at every time, there is an alternative world that exists around us; a dark world, a world that functions according to very different rules.

In our world, individual freedoms are paramount. As long as the behavior of an individual does not harm others, he is allowed to act as he pleases. Conversely, the underworld thrives on slavery, the nullification of individual freedoms. The freewill of men in the underworld is enslaved through addictions to certain merchandise. As soon as a man is addicted, he loses the freedom of choice and, as a result, uncontrollably fills the deep pockets of those who market the merchandise. We are talking about a multi-billion dollar economy. It is ironic that the actual suppliers and service providers in the underworld, also frequently act against their will, such as the million women who are abducted each year to serve prostitution pimps, or minors suffering sexual abuse to satisfy the demand of child pornographers.

There are three basic products that serve as the economic base of the underworld: pornography, prostitution and illicit drugs. The distributors of these products constantly market them, directly and indirectly, to law abiding people. Most of us have fallen victims once or twice to the marketing schemes promoting one of these products. Maybe we tried it out of curiosity. Whether we enjoyed it or not, we viewed as a temporal experiment, and continued on with our lives. But some of those who experimented did not escape the trap of addiction. At some point they crossed the invisible line between freedom and slavery to the underworld.

The internet serves as a powerful marketing tool of the underworld, a tool which ensures that the average age of experimentation with these products becomes progressively younger. According to statistics, the average age of initial pornography addiction is 11 years old, while the average age of initial drug addiction is 13 years old. It is also interesting to note the correlation between those who begin as consumers of these products to those who become their providers. According to a poll taken in San Francisco, California, 90% of women working as prostitutes entered into the industry in their mid-teens after becoming addicted to hard drugs.

Western nations approach the problems created by underworld businesses in different ways. Many attempts have been made to restrict and regulate potentially addictive substances and behaviors through the law, in hope that regulations alone will mitigate the negative societal impact of underground businesses. On the other hand, there are nations, such as Germany and Holland, which have legalized and regulated the prostitution industry in an attempt to free it from underground control. Likewise, there are nations throughout the world that lack criminal prohibitions on the sale of narcotics and condone marketing pornography to adults.

All of the attempts to break the monopolistic hold of the underworld on these industries through legalization have failed. There are leaders in Holland today who are publicly confessing the failure of their regulatory approach, and are calling for the illegalization of prostitution. According to recent statistics, approximately 80 percent of the prostitutes in Holland are working against their will. Furthermore, the majority of these underworld businesses continue to function in the black market, thus thwarting the government’s expectations of increased tax revenues through legalization.

Most people, who are aware of the dimensions of underworld business, prefer to turn a blind eye to the phenomenon. Only when certain nefarious acts, influenced or instigated by underworld activity, cross the line and can’t be ignored, due to their intrusion into the lives of normal people, is a cry heard for the intervention of law enforcement agencies.

An incident like this occurred recently in a school on the outskirts of Jerusalem during the Purim holidays. A high school student filmed a video clip of his sexual organ and sent it to the girls in his class. Some of the girls complained to the school administration, which took the appropriate measures of expelling the boy from school and informing the Israeli police. I do not know this boy personally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he acquired his photographic expertise while surfing pornographic websites.

There is a clear public interest in constructing a strong and solid regulatory wall, to protect the normal world from the underworld. In its previous term, the Knesset made commendable progress in doing so, by approving a bill, which criminalizes prostitution clients. This bill was approved both in the Minister’s Legislative Committee and in its preliminary hearing in the General Assembly (unanimously). I would urge and encourage the current Members of Knesset to pick up where their predecessors left off, and finish this crucial job. It is about time to delegitimize the prostitution industry by law in Israel, thereby creating a negative stigma around those who purchase sex services, and by doing so, fund the sex slavery of many women.

By the way, I had the opportunity to speak a few days ago with an Arab Christian who lives in area “C” in the West Bank. This jurisdiction is nearly devoid of law and order. He told me that brothels are opening on every street corner in his neighborhood, and there is nobody to whom he can address a complaint. The Israeli police are not interested in endangering the lives of their policemen by sending them into West Bank Arab villages to enforce anti-human trafficking laws, which are criminal rather than security offenses. Even if the Palestinian Authority wanted to do something to address this problem, its policemen are not allowed to venture into area “C”.

This reality emphasizes the necessity of Israel officially annexing area “C”, giving citizenship to all of its residents, and taking complete responsibility for law and order therein. Currently, the West Bank is like the “Wild West”, a jurisdiction, which does not clearly fall under the policing responsibility of any government, thus becoming fertile soil for underworld businesses. These corrupt businessmen will continue to take over any geographic area, which is neglected by the normal world. They are driven by immense economic interests, and thus never neglect opportunities to expand their nefarious enterprises.

The neighboring Kingdom of Mahmoud Abbas

This article originally appeared in the Times of Israel.

Anas Awwad, a 26 year old Palestinian Authority resident, was recently sentenced to one year in prison by a Palestinian court in Nablus. What was Awwad’s heinous crime? He dared to upload a post to his Facebook page displaying a photo of Mahmoud Abbas kicking a soccer ball, with the caption, “Real Madrid’s New Striker.” The Palestinian court found Awwad guilty of breaking a Jordanian law, which forbids “cursing the king.”

The Palestinians aren’t the only ones who should be concerned about this denial of Awwad’s freedom of speech regarding “King Abbas”. We should all be alarmed. We should consider the fact that a serious punishment was just imposed upon an innocent man; a man who was born, educated, worked and lived a few dozen kilometers from Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.

Those who think that the government of Israel should immediately recognize a Palestinian state need to carefully consider the implications of such a move upon human rights and the quality of life in our region. If the State of Palestine was to be established today, it would not be a peaceful, democratic nation. It would continue to be the same militaristic dictatorship that persists to terrorize both its neighbors and its own citizens.

The deafening silence surrounding the sentencing of Awwad by MKs Ahmad Tibi and Hanin Zoabi, who failed to publicly condemn this action, was particularly interesting in light of their claim to be proponents of freedom of speech. In contrast, just five days after the pronouncement of his judgment, these same MKs vociferously attacked the State of Israel for placing a gag order on the Ben Zygier case, regarding an Israeli who carried out serious crimes against the security of our nation.

Tibi, Zoabi and their cohorts never miss an opportunity to criticize Israel’s actions and challenge the legitimacy of the State. They did, however, miss an excellent opportunity to establish their own legitimacy as genuine defenders of the Palestinian people, by not issuing a stern condemnation of the infringement upon Awwad’s freedom of speech.

If we hope to achieve a peace settlement, which will last in the long run, we need to first recognize the facts on the ground. Twenty years ago, the Palestinian Authority received administrative authority over large areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Likewise, they also received enormous financial aid from the international community (primarily the US and Europe) in excess of 25 billion dollars. What have they accomplished so far with this authority and these resources to improve the daily lives of their citizens? Ask Anas Awwad.

In the framework of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the historic rights of each of the parties are frequently raised. There are Palestinians who are requesting to turn the clock back and restore the situation that existed in 1948 or 1967. There are Jews who base their current objectives on the facts on the ground 3,000 years ago. I assert that looking towards the past will not help us reach the goals that the future requires. Like sitting backwards in an automobile and trying to drive forward, it is a recipe for disaster, particularly in light of the obstacles and pitfalls that lie on the road before us.

The only way to reach a lasting peace is to look clearly at the conditions, as they currently exist, and to proceed forward on that basis. The right of the Palestinian Authority to receive recognition as an independent state should be based on its ability to currently demonstrate governance, which upholds values of separation of powers, rule of law, individual freedoms and human rights. The Palestinian leadership must prove, by protecting these values, that it actually deserves to be a state.

Today, these basic tenets of democracy are sorely lacking in the Palestinian governing bodies. The PLO in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza vet and approve every appointment of every civil servant to every public position, from teachers in schools to judges in courts. Both of these organizations have been recognized in the past by the US government and other Western nations as terrorist organizations.

Palestinian human rights activists explained that Anas Awwad received a harsh sentence for his benign exercise of freedom of speech, primarily because he is known to support the Hamas movement. In a court in the “kingdom” of Mahmoud Abbas, where judges are appointed by the PLO, being a Hamas supporter is considered to be a crime. It would behoove those who claim to advance Palestinian human rights, including the right to statehood, to start by soul searching a bit closer to home.

Valuable Lessons in Eastern Diplomacy

Today in North Korea there are at least 12 concentration camps for political prisoners, which imprison between 150,000 to 200,000 detainees, their spouses, children, and in some cases, their parents. The existence of a slight suspicion that a person either publicly or privately expressed criticism of governmental policies or leaders is at times sufficient for him or her and family members to be arrested and imprisoned, without any chance for judicial review. Some of the political prisoners have been detained for merely espousing religious views that are contrary to the state’s hardcore communist ideology.

The political prisoners in North Korea are completely isolated from the outside world, work day and night in strenuous manual labor, and endure severe conditions. It is estimated that approximately 40% of the prisoners die each year from malnutrition, starvation or torture. In addition to these camps, there are another 20 “education camps” in North Korea to which non-political criminals are sent. These prisoners are subjected to similar conditions, with the additional requirement of memorizing speeches of communist leaders, and participating in daily self-criticism ceremonies. The experts believe that the death rates from torture are even higher in these camps.

In light of the recent nuclear tests, sanctioned by Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s young leader, many journalists have compared him to the President of Iran. This comparison is appropriate. It is true that North Korean-type concentration camps do not exist in Iran, but that is because the Iranian government considers it more expedient to simply execute criminals, rather than imprisoning them for long periods of time.

Under Iranian law, a person can be executed for a variety of crimes including rape, burglary, apostasy, heresy, narcotic trafficking, adultery, prostitution and homosexuality. The preferred method of execution is hanging, although stoning is also used occasionally, particularly in cases of adultery or incest. A substantial number of criminals executed over the last few years in Iran were minors under the age of 18.

In addition to brutally trampling the human rights of their own citizens, these regimes and their leaders employ nuclear armament as a means of intimidating the Western world. This tactic creates a psychological suspense that causes Western powers to continually question and anticipate their next move.

The most prevalent question asked is whether or not we are dealing with rational leaders. If they are rational, then all of their saber rattling is an empty threat. In other words, they would not really “press the button” because they value themselves and their nations, and thus would not risk a holocaustic destruction of everything they hold dear. In light of their day to day actions toward their own people. I believe that the question of their rationality and humanity is superfluous. These leaders are no less sadistic or callous than Adolf Hitler. We cannot try to understand them through a humanistic liberal perspective.

In the worst case scenario, they actually intend to carry out an apocalyptic nuclear war. In the best case scenario, they are creating a cold war and using the nuclear threat to allow them to continue abusing millions of people under their administration, without fear of intervention by the international community.

Those who believe that the government of Israel needs to focus solely on socioeconomic issues, while procrastinating over the Iranian threat, have chosen to bury their heads in sand. While the international community is wasting time with investigations, committees, research, condemnations and economic sanctions, Iran’s rogue leaders are laughing on their way to joining the club of nuclearly-armed nations.

The recent North Korean nuclear test has taught us an important lesson. President Obama and his advisors were naively surprised, and observed with mouths wide open, as Eastern leaders declared one thing and proceeded to do the exact opposite. American diplomacy has proven to be an ineffective deterrent against this type of shameless duplicity. Our government needs to take full responsibility for the security of our nation, and to take every measure necessary to prevent Iranian nuclear armament, without counting on our American allies.

A Practical Solution

Last Tuesday evening, after we visited the ballot booths, something interesting occurred. While the preliminary election results were being presented, there was something unusual in the atmosphere; mixed emotions. Even at the celebration of the “Yesh Atid” Party, which achieved an impressive victory, the joy expressed was combined with a feeling of solemnity, as a realistic understanding of the challenging tasks awaiting the victors in the upcoming days, suddenly fell upon them.

I am not referring here to the socio-economic challenges, which lie before us. There is no question that deep reforms must be implemented to curb the high cost of living, advance equality of military service, and restore dignity to the middle class. Nonetheless, the greatest threat to our future as a sovereign Jewish State, is not economic. Our survival as a legitimate regime in the eyes of the international community depends primarily on the way we address the Palestinian issue.

We cannot afford to go through another term without realizing progress in this area. The world has already lost its patience. Our leaders have to set a substantive goal and advance towards it. In other words, they need to embrace a practical solution, rather than marking the revival of negotiations, as a goal in and of itself. After the government determines its geo-political goals, it will decide whether or not the best way to achieve such goals is through negotiations, or alternative unilateral actions. Our Palestinian counterparts have already jettisoned the idea of negotiations, opting instead for unilateral actions. Therefore, it is currently unrealistic for us to cling to the concept of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.

In my opinion, it is more important that the solution be acceptable to our partners in the Western world, than to the Palestinian Authority. This is because a Palestinian leadership with the public consensus required to make even the slightest concessions for the sake of peace, does not exist.

If we want to create a geo-political settlement that is acceptable to the United States and Europe, there are three clear guidelines: first, the solution to the dispute must be one that honors, to the greatest extent, the human rights of all citizens on each side of the conflict. Secondly, the solution must be one that does not require the forceful uprooting of any people – neither Palestinians nor Jews. Otherwise, blood will be running in the streets once again. Thirdly, the solution must require each party to grant equal rights, democracy, and freedom to the populations living within its jurisdiction.

In a perfect world, we could set as a goal the building of a Swiss-type federation in the land of Israel, which possesses separate cantons based on ethnic homogeneity; sovereign regions with significant public powers, joined by a joint federal government, which oversees only broad national areas, such as protection of borders, national security, and the collection of customs. Because it has never been, and most likely will never be, a realistic option to establish such a relationship between Jews and Palestinians, the only realistic option left is this: the unilateral annexation by Israel of all areas designated as “C” under the Oslo accords.

This solution will grant Israeli citizenship to between 50,000 to 150,000 Arabs living in Judea and Samaria (the accurate number depends on whether you ask Naftali Bennet or Ha’aretz Newspaper), a population which constitutes roughly 0.7% to 2.1% of our population. This is not a significant demographic threat. Furthermore, as soon as the State of Israel gives the Arab residents of area “C” full citizenship, we can start demanding that the international community apply pressure to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt to grant full citizenship to the Palestinian refugees, who reside within their borders. As a result, we will weaken the “right of return” claim, which is the greatest obstacle to any peace agreement.

Since all of the Jewish settlers in the disputed territories, who number approximately 350,000, live in area “C”, the annexation solution does not require the removal of any Jewish settlements, and will leave strategic areas such as the Jordan Valley in our hands. In any case, half of the world recognizes areas “A” and “B” as a Palestinian State. All that remains is to recognize area “C” as the State of Israel.

The second stage, after the nation of Israel has assumed governing responsibility for area “C”, and granted equal rights to every person living within its jurisdiction, we can start discussing Israeli recognition of the Palestinian Administration, as a state. As a human rights activist, I believe that the Palestinian Authority will deserve to be recognized as a state, only after it establishes a society, which recognizes the value of life more than the value of land, and honors individual freedoms, the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

The question is, will the next Prime Minister of Israel have the vision, the wisdom, the courage and (perhaps most important practically), the coalition partners necessary to carry out this plan? The answer to that question will become clear in the upcoming days.

Yarmuk Bombing

Airplanes bombed a Palestinian refugee camp on Sunday. Tens of refugees, who were gathering in a mosque for shelter, were killed in the attack. The mosque was completely demolished. A graphic video tape which showed bodies strewn on the staircase of the destroyed mosque, was posted on the internet.

Why didn’t the UN Human Rights Council call for an urgent session to issue a condemnation and appoint an investigatory committee? The answer is clear: the planes that bombed the Yarmuk Refugee Camp, located in the southern district of Damascus, belonged to the Syrian Air Force. In other words, no opportunity presented itself to vilify Israel.

For the purpose of threatening Israel with the Palestinian right of return, the whole world views the relevant Palestinians as miserable refugees. However, for the purpose of counting the bodies of people who fell as victims of Asad’s systematic murder, they become merely transparent statistics. The fact, that in the last two years, more Syrian citizens have been murdered by their own government than all of the Palestinians killed in all of the wars with Israel over the past 100 years, really doesn’t interest anyone.

The attack on Yarmuk is just one example of a wave of violence against Palestinian refugees in Syria, as part of the civil war currently taking place there. In August 2012, military forces flooded the Al-Ramal Refugee Camp, adjacent to the city of Latakia, forcefully expelled 8,000 refugees, and hounded those who stayed behind.

Today about half a million people, categorized by the UN as Palestine Refugees, reside in Syria. Even though their ethnic-religious background (Arab-Muslim) is identical to most Syrians; even though they have been living there for more than three generations; and even though their refugee camps have long since been urbanized and melded into the adjacent towns and cities – they, their children, and their children’s children are still identified as “refugees”.

Contrary to the treatment of all other refugees in the world, for which the international community invests huge resources and efforts to assimilate them into their new surroundings and transform them from refugees to citizens, enormous funds are still being invested to preserve the refugee status of the 1948 “Palestine Refugees” and their descendents.

Let’s assume that the grandson of such a refugee, who arrived in Syria in 1948, is fortunate enough to make his way to a Western nation like the USA, perhaps for academic studies, falls in love with an American woman, gets married, raises a family and settles there – he will still be defined by UNWRA as a “refugee”. If he is lucky enough to establish a prosperous start-up company and to carry off a successful exit that transforms him into a multi-millionaire American citizen – he, his children, and his grandchildren, will still be defined by UNWRA as “Palestine Refugees”. This norm is non-existent regarding any other people group in the world.

Why doesn’t the UN grant this same status to descendants of World War II concentration camp refugees? Why do they not continue to invest in their education, medical needs, and social rights? There is no doubt that what we are dealing with here is racial discrimination. This is the reason that the number of Palestinian refugees continues to climb, the threat of the Palestinian right of return continues to grow, and the world continues to cynically use these poor and destitute people as pawns on the big chess board called the Middle East. The deafening silence of the international community regarding the bombing of the Yarmuk camp exposes the true face and indifference of the Arab nations to the real needs of the Palestinian people.

The continued killing of Syrian citizens, among them Palestinian refugees, is an integral part of the regional upheaval coined the “Arab Spring”. At this very time, new governmental structures, borders, and public agendas are being forged across the Middle East. It is about time that the international community demands that Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt take full responsibility for the Palestinian refugees, start treating them with equality, grant them full citizenship and honor their “right of absorption” in their places of residence, rather than their “right of return” to Israel.

Kids with Guns

Two horrific tragedies have occurred recently because of young men handling firearms. A 17 year old boy was killed in Hebron for waiving a fake handgun at a soldier, and 26 people were murdered in cold blood in Connecticut by a 20 year old assailant. There is nothing comparable about the scope or magnitude of these two tragedies. Yet they both accentuate the fact that loss of life could have been avoided if firearms, fake or real, had not have been placed into the hands of kids.

These recent tragedies bring to mind the death of another young man, Jamie Gonzalez, who was killed by police in January this year after pointing a toy handgun at a classmate during a fight.  The Police who were called to the scene shot and killed Jamie with three rounds, exactly like the three bullets which killed the boy from Hebron last week. In Texas, however, the event did not spark violent demonstrations of the Hispanic community against the local police force.

No one doubts the fact that the Texas Police acted lawfully in response to a perceived threat. Most parents would feel reassured knowing that if someone aims a handgun at one of their children, there are law enforcement officers around who are trained to defuse the threat with minimal collateral damage.

The public dialogue in Texas, following the killing of Jamie Gonzalez, was focused on whether or not life-like toy firearms should be sold to children. I assume that whoever bought the toy gun for Jamie was unaware that it would ultimately cost him his life.

It is a shame that a similar discussion was not at the center of public dialogue in the Palestinian Authority recently. I was extremely saddened to see the video clips showing Palestinian children no more than 10 years old, practicing firing Kassam rockets from Gaza into Israel. It was also difficult to ignore the toddler who appeared on stage next to Ismael Haniyah and Khaled Mashaal, at the Hamas celebration last; a child no more than 4 years old dressed in military uniform, waving a toy rifle and calling for the destruction of Israel.

Every sovereign nation not only has the right, but the responsibility to protect its citizens from violent crimes, including terrorism, which is considered by many jurists today to be a crime against humanity. The “responsibility to protect” is a basic principle established firmly in the international legal framework.

There was no reason to demonstrate in the streets of Hebron last week against Israel. Surely those who view Hebron as part of the “State of Palestine”, which was recently promoted to a new status in the UN, cannot claim that the existence of police manned border crossings into Israel are illegal or unnecessary. Every nation has the right and the responsibility to protect its borders from the infiltration of dangerous individuals.

The death of the young man at the border crossing in Hebron was a terrible tragedy; a futile tragedy which could have been avoided. As a person who holds human rights dear to his heart, I urgently call upon the Palestinian Authority to place the wellbeing of its children at the top of its agenda, to prevent the arming of children (with real or fake guns), and to stop encouraging children to provoke IDF soldiers at our checkpoints into taking action.

Palestinian Hasbara

This article originally appeared in Times of Israel here.

The image of the State of Israel is deteriorating in the eyes of the world, while anti-Semitism is on the rise. Students are demonstrating on campuses against us, people are marching in the streets of major cities in protest of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Last week, the UN General Assembly approved a decision by a large margin that calls for Israel to immediately expose its nuclear plans for international supervision.

The similarities in the deterioration of Israel’s image are almost identical everywhere. It starts with the legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies, turns into the vilification of Israel and it eventually evolves into a campaign to delegitimize our very existence. All of our attempts to reverse this process have completely failed. We have reached such a dire situation that in March 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to create the Ministry of Public Diplomacy or “Hasbara” as we call it in Hebrew. Unfortunately, this unique ministry funded by the Prime Minister’s Office, has been unable to counter this increasingly worrisome trend.

In my opinion, all of the efforts to advance hasbara throughout the world are destinedto fail for this simple reason: hasbara is a defensive action. The literal meaning of the word “hasbara” means explanation, and this entire initiative isbased on an effort to explain ourselves. We are attacked with outrageous accusations,  in international journalism and academia, and our response to these assaults is too often unconvincing explanations.

Simply put: anti-Semites attack, and we explain. Palestinian activists attack, and we explain. We have become experts in answering difficult questions in a desperate attempt to justify our very existence. As long as they are attacking, and we are explaining, the right to define the boundaries of the debate is left entirely their hands. Eventually, we find ourselves in ridiculous situations. Why should the state invest public funds to explain why Israel is not an apartheid? Why Zionism is not racism? How IDF soldiers don’t actually murder Palestinian children in cold blood and harvest their organs? Please, do me a favor.

Everyone knows that on the battlefield, just like the basketball court, or a court of law: the best defense is a good offense. The only way to win the battle for the public image of the State of Israel is to create a line of offense in the enemy’s territory, to locate and strike at its weakest point. In other words, it is time to jettison the concept of diplomatic hasbara, and embrace a policy of diplomatic offense. We, as Israeli citizens should demand that the Palestinian leadership and activists start explaining themselves. I want them to hear some hasbara from them.

The Arab leadership in the Middle East should have to explain why after 65 years they are unwilling to grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees, their children or grandchildren, despite a common ethnic and religious heritage. Let them explain to the world why a Palestinian apartheid exists in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Why Palestinians in those nations cannot vote, hold public office, own property, learn in public schools, and in some places many need to receive special permission from the government to leave their respective refugee camps.

The Palestinian leadership who is demanding statehood, should explain to the world why they violate Palestinian human rights on a daily basis. Let them explain arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions without trial, the routine discrimination of minorities, silencing of journalists and the non-prosecution of honor killings to name a few.

Mahmoud Abbas should explain how he claims leadership of the “State of Palestine” when he cannot even enter Gaza for fear of his life, and why accordingly he is prevented from visiting 40% of his coveted state. Furthermore, most of the social services of the Palestinian people are not provided by the Palestinian Authority, but by an international organization called UNWRA. Let this organization explain why it is unwilling to transfer these responsibilities to Abbas’ government. Is it simply their unwillingness to let go of billions of dollars in aid money per year?  Is this what proper administration of a sovereign state looks like?

The Palestinian Authority needs to be held accountable by the international community for more than 25 billion dollars that has been given to the Palestinian people since the Oslo Accords, and should explain why the vast majority of Palestinian people still live in abject poverty. This aid money designated to build the socio-economic infrastructure necessary for an independent state has been squandered irresponsibly. Widespread corruption has ensured that the massive fiscal investment into the Palestinian economy and sustainable infrastructure has been embezzled into private bank accounts, financed terror networks, the purchasing weapons and has sponsored an educational system that teaches intolerance, hatred, violence and anti-Semitism.

They should explain themselves.

At the core of the Zionist movement is the decision to take our destiny into our own hands, and not to remain subject to the whims of other peoples. Fortunately, this task does not require an extraordinary level of creativity. We do not have to create something from nothing, or to promote half-truths and fairy-tales like those who hate us consistently do. The facts are in front of us and we must use them effectively. It is time to take up the challenge and initiate an effective diplomatic offensive.

Where’d all the Money Go?

The Oslo version of the “two states for two peoples” vision is dying, but it is not completely dead, at least not amongst the Palestinian leadership. Former Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin, may his memory be blessed, came to the negotiating table at Oslo in a courageous attempt to reach a peace agreement. His Palestinian counterpart arrived with a different plan altogether: the step-by-step plan for the annihilation of the State of Israel. Although both leaders succeeded in signing the agreements, neither fulfilled their goal. Unfortunately for the Israeli camp, we still have not attained peace with our neighbors who live among us, and unfortunately for the PLO camp, the State of Israel still has not been destroyed.

Even though both local parties understood quickly that the Oslo Accords were not worth the paper they were written on, foreign governments continue to believe in them to this day, by investing significant funds for their advancement, while the Palestinian Authority laughs all the way to the bank.

According to a calculation carried out by the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, the Palestinian Authority has received 25 times* more money per capita than all of the money given to Europe under the Marhsall Plan. Simply put: we could have reconstructed the European economy 25 times over with all of the money transferred to the Palestinian Authority over the past 18 years.

So where did all of the money go? Why are so many Palestinians still living in poverty? Why, instead of creating a strong economy and infrastructure, has a fertile field for fundamentalist terrorism been planted? Why in such times of acute international economic hardship, has no party come forward to supervise the billions of dollars that are being pumped into the Palestinian Authority each year?
It is obvious where the money has not been invested. Unlike the Marshall Plan, these funds have not been used to create jobs, modernize Palestinian industry, ensuring economic independence.  So where is the money? Due the lack of monitoring by the international community, millions of dollars have flowed into the personal bank accounts of Palestinian leaders, paid excessive security personnel salaries, used to stockpile missiles, and have promoted an educational system which advances hatred, racism, and anti-Semitism.

The Palestinian Authority routinely violates the rights of their citizens by  carrying out arbitrary arrests, torture, executions without trial, as well as restricting basic rights such as freedom of speech, religion, conscience and political association. Unfortunately, their blatant disregard for human life has only been strengthened by the huge amounts of financial aid given by foreign governments.

None of the international aid has helped the Palestinian Authority to deal with its internal social problems, or build one centralized government. Today, three de facto Palestinian governments exist: the government of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, the government of Haniya in Gaza, and the government of UNWRA which cares for the needs of all Palestinians wherever they are, and grants them most of their social services. None of these governments is willing to give up any of its power for the creation of a unified and single administration.

Now the international community finds itself in a dilemma. Nations that fly the banner of freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law are being required to vote on behalf of a Palestinian “non-state state”, an entity where human rights are systematically abused. This dilemma underscores the fact that those bodies who finance the Palestinian Authority have the responsibility to monitor its use of funds. If this does not happen soon, the “two states for two peoples” vision will breathe its last breath. Pouring money into a system without supervision only worsens the status of Palestinian citizens, and instead of helping them, it postpones the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for a few more decades.

*Adjusted for inflation

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

This article originally appeared in the Times of Israel here. 

The Eritrean asylum seekers who made their way to Israel via Egypt last month, found themselves trapped between the two countries for days in severe heat and without food or water. This tragic situation, reminds us of the difficult situation that Israel faces. Despite diplomatic sources which estimate that up until the completion of the Sinai border fence, more asylum seekers will be infiltrating Israel than will be deported, there have been no mass demonstrations taking place like we saw earlier this year.  It’s as if this issue has fallen off of the public’s radar.

Enlisting in a campaign without noticing

As Israelis, we get used to the idea that our very existence is relentlessly threatened.  When the media presents us with a new threat, we tend to react apathetically. So what made hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets recently to demonstrate the threat that the refugees in Israel present to Israeli life?

After returning from a trip abroad this spring and looking closely at the photographs taken at the demonstrations, I realized that many of us fell for a slick PR campaign without even noticing.

My professional background has allowed me to participate in the organization of several protests and demonstrations both in Israel and abroad.  I have come to recognize a notable difference between a spontaneous outburst of public frustration and an organized, sponsored demonstration.

Each demonstration we witnessed earlier this year, regarding illegal workers, would have easily cost anywhere between 80,000 and 100,000 Shekels. Someone had to foot the bill for the organizers, publicists, stage, sound system, municipal approval, and signs. So who was it that organized, financed and mobilized these demonstrations? Let’s see if we can identify the sponsor from the messages printed on the giant banners distributed:

“Let Eli Win – Eli Yishai people with you”

 “Yishai was right – Eli Yishai the people are with you”

 “We have no other country – Eli Yishai the people are with you”

Some of the signs seen at this year’s protests

So what exactly drove our Minister of Interior to spend hundreds of thousands of Shekels on a campaign against illegal immigrants and asylum seekers?  On June 20th , the State Comptroller’s office released a 506 page report on the 2010 Carmel forest fire, determining that Eli Yishai (along with Finance minister Yuval Steinitz) bear “special responsibility” for the outcome of the fire which claimed 44 lives.  The report implicates Yishai for failing to oversee operational readiness of Israel’s firefighting services.  Yishai invested sizeable amounts of money to divert the public’s opinion away from his considerable negligence.

I am far from one to make up conspiracy theories about our government, but it seems all too convenient that Yishai’s witch hunt of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants culminated on the 17th of June when he was photographed at the airport during operation “Returning Home” holding the hand of a Sudanese deportee upon his departure from Israel.

Where is the real fire?

Three days later, the State Comptroller published his final report on the fire citing operational failures and personal negligence were major contributing factors to the devastating aftermath of the fire. Three days later, Yishai said in response: “My heart goes out to the bereaved families on this difficult and painful day. The report proves that ministers’ demands on life-saving issues must be taken seriously… what is most important now is to learn lessons that will prevent a similar disaster in the future. I intend to request a discussion in the cabinet to ensure the lessons of the report are learned and new rules are set for dealing with life-saving issues.”

Naturally, we all forgave our Interior Minister for his remarkable failure, since, after all, he is delivering us from the catastrophe of the illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in Israel. I cannot help but wonder if he will actually “request a discussion” on the matter or if he has even bothered to read the report. Regrettably, the whole world watched as African immigrants become the scape goat for Yishai’s failure to upgrade and equip Israel’s firefighting infrastructure. I suggest that the next time our Interior Minister is “saving us” from a perilous threat that we ask where the real fire is burning.

Letter of Apology

To:
Rina and Eugene
Yana and Alexei
Olga and Ilya
Natalia and Sergey

Re: Letter of Apology

Dear friends,

A few days ago I noticed in a newspaper a public announcement regarding your request to be registered for a civil union in Israel.

Firstly, allow me to offer you my congratulations. Although we do not know each other, allow me to participate in your joy on your decision to officially formalize your relationship.

Secondly, as a citizen of Israel, I feel a deep need to ask for your forgiveness. I apologize that we are a country that has drafted you to the army, where you contributed three years of your life, is now treating you as second-class citizens. I apologize that in our country you cannot marry whomever you want; and that you’ve been forced to undergo a prolonged, complicated and degrading bureaucratic process.

You have immigrated to Israel because you identify with the Jewish people, and  I am ashamed that the state does not allow you to choose your own religious affiliation, but rather, has classified you as “non-religious.” Ironically, the Jewish state is the only country in the world where citizens are required to sign a legally binding document stating that they are not Jewish so that they can marry whomever they choose. Regrettably, the country in which you live, work, and pay taxes does not give equal rights to all its citizens. Israel is the only democratic country in the world with no civil marriage; and in this regard we join the ranks of countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

I apologize that that we, the citizens of Israel, are not meeting the standards we set for ourselves in our Declaration of Independence when we promised to create a state with equal social and political rights for all, regardless of religion, race or sex. The “non-religious” category that gives individuals a different legal status not only creates a religious caste system but deepens the divisions that are already too prevalent in our society. Although the vast majority of the Israeli public believe that we need to create an option for civil marriage, our leaders continually ignore this. It seems that they forget us, the voters, and forget for what and for whom they were selected for their job.

Please also send my apologies from the bottom of my heart, to your “non-religious” friends who were not fortunate enough to find a mate also lacking religious affiliation; those who fell into love with someone registered as a Jew and therefore cannot be married in Israel. I am deeply sorry that they have no other choice then to travel abroad to get married.

Finally, let me wish you – Rina, Eugene, Yana, Alexei, Olga, Ilya, Natalia and Sergey – a successful life and a healthy and blessed family. I hope that your children will know a different reality, and will never find themselves as second class citizens in the land in which they are born. I believe that we can and should improve this embarrassing situation, by building a strong and just Zionist state that will treat all citizens as equals.

I wish you all the best,

Calev Myers

Facing Uncertainty in Sinai

Until recently, there was no significant government presence or control of public order in the Sinai Peninsula. Anyone associated with “marijuana tourism”, for example, knew that the region was an attractive destination where one could leisurely sit by the Red Sea, purchase marijuana and smoke joints without fear of interference by the local police. They would seldom arrest tourists for drug offences, and on the rare occasion, that they did, it was only really for protocol. The threat level was certainly nothing compared to the level of law enforcement for drug offences in Israel.

However, the Israeli spliff culture is far from being the most critical problem in the Sinai.  The same vacuum of law and order that allows for non-existent narcotics enforcement, also allows, among others, for the trafficking of human beings and smuggling of weapons into Israel via the Sinai border.

According to statistics, as of March 2012, approximately 60,000 illegal African asylum seekers entered Israel through the southern border (and this is only the official count), however, the economic and social problems created by their immigration into Israel have already been expounded upon sufficiently.

Many may think that the Israeli public is the primary victim of the consequences from the disaster on the Israeli-Egyptian border; however the African immigrants who do not succeed in crossing the border and entering into Israel, are routinely experiencing a hell on earth. For several years, international human rights organizations have reported on the existence of torture camps run by groups of armed Bedouins just south of the Israel-Sinai border. These groups systematically abduct African asylum seekers en route to Israel and hold them in appalling conditions, torturing them, demanding ransom for their release (amounts range from $30,000 – $50,000 per person), sexually assaulting them, harvesting their organs and executing them. Many reports have also surfaced about smugglers who traffic kidnapped women into Israel and sell them to local pimps who employ them against their will in the prostitution industry.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Additional published data regarding the conduct of Bedouin smugglers in Sinai is appalling. In 2009 alone, 1272 kilograms of hashish, 3,000 kilograms of marijuana, and 159.5 kilograms of heroin was seized on our southern border, these astronomical amounts of narcotics are the only the amounts that the authorities were able toseize.

The current Israeli government strategically decided to invest a billion Israeli shekels into building a fence along the southern border. Yet, the truth is that without a stable government on the either side of the border, the fence in itself will prove to be ineffective. The southern border is the longest continuous border of Israel, and our troops are not capable of guarding every kilometer of it constantly.

I am probably a naive optimist, and perhaps I am not seeing the big picture. However, it’s hard for me not to positively view the new order that the current Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, recently imposed in the Sinai. He has taken responsibility and fired senior officers who have failed in maintaining security and order.  Unlike Mubarak, he didn’t turn a blind eye to the activities of terrorist groups operating in Sinai, and he has made it clear who is in charge – a new master of the house who does not tolerate lawbreakers.

Morsi’s motivations are up for interpretation. Is he just trying to allay the fears of the international community who are concerned with the potential aftermath of the “Arab Spring” and the implications of a government run by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? Or is it simply a reflection of local political competition by his faction, to show that no other Islamic party will dictate the agenda in Egypt? Indeed, he has a well-trained and equipped military, and he has now proven that he is not ashamed to use it.  Is this a potential warning sign for Israel? A silent message of sorts; warning Israel not to change the current status quo otherwise he’ll turn his army against us?  As always, I presume that there are a number of motivations, and there is not one single, correct interpretation for his actions.

No matter what Morsi’s motives truly are, as long as he continues to use his power to tackle terrorist organizations, and clean up the Sinai by removing unofficial armed militias and smugglers from the region, Israel and the humanitarian community have something to gain from his rise to power. As long as Morsi does not intend to go to war with Israel, then I prefer him as a ruler who is strong and engaged rather than a ruler who is weak and indifferent.  Even if Morsi does not exemplify an olive leaf in the mouth of a dove, I expect that he will reduce the amount of rolled green leaves protruding from the mouths of youth in Israel.

A woman’s honor is her safety

I cannot help but wonder what caused retired prison guard Eliyahu Yihya who is described as a perfectly normal man, to draw a gun last week, shoot his wife along with her son, and then end his own life. What causes men like Eliyahu to turn the home, a place which is meant to be safe haven of warmth, love, peace and protection – into hell on earth?

Violence against women is a global epidemic, which is spreading rapidly and threatening the wellbeing and lives of women worldwide, from gender-selective abortions, to sexual abuse of young girls, to husbands’ systematic physical abuse against their wives; not to mention “honor” killings and female circumcisions which are all too prevalent in our region. Studies show that between 25% to 50% of women worldwide have experienced physical violence during their lives, and according to international statistics: some 55% of women murdered worldwide are murdered by their partner.

Unfortunately, many people attempt to justify violence against women in cultural terms. Earlier this year, in a document submitted to the Knesset, MK Nissim Zeev (Shas) wrote that “tough legislation that seeks to impose minimum sentences on domestic violence offenders, particularly affects Sephardic Jewish families who may be unaware of the significance of their actions because it’s considered culturally acceptable.” In Zeev’s document, he made it clear the he was not referring to “stabbing with a knife or severe violence,” but rather “a slap or an isolated incident of violence under difficult circumstances, for example, when the head of the family is unemployed.”

Firstly, myths of that nature are inconsistent with empirical studies which consistently reveal that domestic violence occurs in all cultural, religious and socio-economic groups. Secondly, if I was of Sephardic heritage, I would be very angry with MK Nissim Ze’ev. None of my Sephardic friends beat their wives, and I was certainly unaware of this “tradition”.  If I were a woman married to a Sephardic man, I would be twice as angry at MK Zeev.  As far as I am concerned, he is not reinforcing existing stereotypes. Rather, he is creating them. According to Zeev, Ashkenazi men must refrain from beating their wives, but when it comes to Sephardic men – what else can you expect?

We live in a world that turns women into objects. We see this portrayed every day in the movies, on television and in advertisements. And what do we do with objects?  We buy, sell and trade them, and once an object is no longer needed, we get rid of it.

It doesn’t matter anymore what exactly caused Eliyahu Yihya’s violent outburst resulting in the murder of his wife.  This tragic and irreversible story is a result of a process which likely began long ago deep in his consciousness. Perhaps it began the day when Eliyahu began to believe that women are the exclusive property of their husbands, and therefore, he is entitled do whatever he pleases with his wife. For men like Eliyahu, these ideas and notions of women are only further reinforced by the society around them.

Prostitution is a clear example of the denigration of women by society. Women serve as nothing less than a sexual object designed to meet the needs of men. Today, approximately 15,000 women in Israel work in prostitution, of which a third are minors (the vast majority of women enter prostitution at around age 14). This enormous industry facilitates more than 1,000,000 visits to prostitutes per month and an annual turnover of $3.5 billion a year.  Roughly 90 percent of women involved in prostitution were subject to violence and sexual abuse as young girls (particularly from family members) and the chances of early death due to violence and murder among prostitutes are 40 times higher than among the general population.  In addition, evidence shows that a married man who regularly purchases sexual services from prostitutes becomes more violent at home, since he is used to getting his sexual needs met on command; and God help the woman who does not obey him.

We must call upon our leaders to take heed. It is necessary for Israeli authorities – legislative bodies, law enforcement agencies, and judicial systems alike, to deal more severely with incidents of violence against women. Moreover, the education system must educate our children regarding the issues of sexual exploitation and dangers of pedophilia which lurk beyond every street corner and online chat-room.

A legislative bill which calls for the criminalization of clients of prostitution passed its first reading in the Knesset in April 2012. It seems that this initiative is currently buried somewhere in a pile of bills that never went on to a second or third reading. While the shocking case of Eliyahu Yihya is still very fresh in our collective conscience, I hope that this bill reaches its second and third readings in the Knesset, becomes law, and ultimately restores a measure of dignity to women, while significantly reducing violence against women in Israel.

Minister of Financial Rhetoric

I recently attended a conference of lawyers and businessmen where Israel’s Finance Minister, Dr. Yuval Steinitz spoke. He gave an impressive presentation explaining the economic policies of the Israeli government through the use of fiscal terms (that in the best case scenario, he and a few other individual economists in the Finance Ministry understand their meaning), all of which he recited by heart with great confidence and without looking once at his notes

He nearly made the audience believe that out of a myriad of educated people in the room, he was the only one who really knew and understood the complicated state of the economy. So there is nothing to fear – the treasury is in good hands. The finance minister has a strong vision for the treasury, and yes, he himself can solve the problems, which came to the forefront recently by the middle class protests, without compromising Israel’s economic growth.

However, it seems that the one mistake he made was choosing to open the conference to questions from the audience. When the audience began asking simple practical questions such as: “But who will build the affordable apartments for young people?” (a reasonable question indeed since Israel is deporting all the foreign workers, and Israelis no longer really work in construction), the Finance Minister seemed quite thrown off guard. His initial calm and collected demeanor suddenly faded, as he began to blush and stammer, trying to avoid the questions, ultimately destroying his whole facade.

By the end of the conference, we were left with the impression that Steinitz actually has no idea what he is talking about.  If for a moment he deviates from the speech prepared for him by his assistants (most likely economics doctoral students), then the Finance Minister is certainly in over his head. He has no clue regarding the implementation of economic policy and possesses no understanding of business; at best, he serves as the spokesman for the real finance minister – PM Benjamin Netanyahu. At worst, he is a puppet on strings controlled by young economists in the Finance Ministry who received various degrees in economics and business administration, but who have little practical experience in these areas.

In all actuality, we cannot complain about the Minister of Finance since we don’t really expect him to manage anything. He certainly has no background in economics. He has a Doctorate in Philosophy, and if anything, he is most well-known for his public position in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Bibi Netanyahu apparently looked for an articulate and distinguished speaker who could attend conferences, in his place, and give impressive presentations on the economic policy which the government executes. This formula can work during periods of routine market calm. During such periods, you raise some taxes and reduce others, and everything soars in the right direction, like a pilotless drone, that eventually reaches his target. The problem is that this formula does not work in times of economic crises, periods that require an experienced fighter pilot who can make decisions quickly and conduct the necessary maneuvers in the moment of truth.

The strongest indicator of Yuval Steinitz’s incapability to make important decisive and timely decisions is based on facts recently published in a report issued by the State Comptroller, which revealed that Israeli citizens are in debt to various government agencies by more than 120 billion shekels. Approximately half of this sum was considered by the state treasury as “uncollectable debts.” In other words, there is about 60 billion shekels of debt that the government is able to collect, yet no one has bothered to do so. We are referring to debts to the Ministry of Justice in the form of corporations’ annual fees (1.5 billion NIS), debts to the Ministry of Interior due to renewal of licenses for firearms (1 billion NIS), medical clinic debts (kupot cholim) to the Ministry of Health (1.8 billion NIS), and other debts including levies to the Israel Lands Administration (5 billion NIS).

At a time when the State is in a deficit of around 15-20 billon NIS, it is inconceivable that Steinitz would speak of increasing the deficit (since someone must pay for all of Bibi’s new ministers), when we already owe the State 60 billion NIS, none of which is being collected. The truth is, is that the government has attempted to do something. Over the past few years, the Finance Ministry executed tenders for private collection companies, (those who have proven track records in collecting taxes owed to local authorities with a success rate of 80% – 90%) and selected four collection agencies which would be made available to all government agencies without cost. That was in 2009, and these approved companies are still available to government agencies. In the words of the Director of the Collection and Enforcement Authority (hotzaah l’poal), David Medioni, “We can rightfully ask: how are more taxes being collected when money is lying on the floor, and you need only to pick it up.”

According to statistics of the private collection agencies, collecting debts for municipalities usually goes as follows: 10% -15% of the debt is collected within a month, while another 10% to 15% within two months, and an additional 10% to 15% within six months (all without taking legal action). So, within six months, between 30% and 40% of the debt can be collected and deposited into the national treasury. Apparently, it would be possible to eliminate the deficit and still remain with a budget surplus; a surplus that would make it easier for the middle class and create a more reasonable and just welfare economy. Yet, it takes someone who can make a decision.

Some argue that government agencies have no incentive to deal with debt collection since the money collected goes into the account of the treasury and not into the account of the corresponding agency. Therefore, they see no immediate reason to invest time or energy to begin rummaging through piles of papers, to collect information on individual debts and cooperate with professional collection authorities. This is precisely where a Finance Minister who understands business management could have solved the problem. Such a Finance Minister could actually amend the budget laws to stipulate that disbursement of part of governmental agencies’ budgets would depend on their debt collection practices. Alternatively, the Finance Ministry could take on the debt collection directly.

We can assume that there are countless less-creative solutions to solve the problem.  These days, we do not need fiscal and philosophical rhetoric to manage the national treasury. With a little rolling up of sleeves and some good old common sense, the situation could improve dramatically. Unfortunately, so far, there no sign of a response from the Minister of Finance, at least not in words we can understand.