Explaining Refugees

Since the Israeli government is having a very hard time explaining it’s aggressivedefiant and abusive policies abroad, it is losing international public appeal very quickly.

The Israeli ministry of Hasbara (propaganda), recently started a campaign to reach out to Israeli travelers abroad and expatriates, and provide them with resources for “explaining Israel”. They are recruiting citizen ambassadors, if you will. Supposedly, if you are a Hebrew speaker boarding an El Al plane in Israel, they will actually hand you a resource pamphlet that will help you make friends abroad and somehow justify Israel’s abominable behavior.

I finally bit the bullet, and visited the ministry’s resource site.

The first section I perused was titled “Israel Abroad: Myth vs. Reality”.  The first 4 myths were benign, things like “Israel is a large country” or “People only eat falafel and hummus in Israel”. It’s these amusements that get you sucked in, it is also the myths that they highlight in the televised campaign. I scrolled quickly down to find something a bit more controversial than hummus and camel riding.

One supposed myth is that “Israelis don’t really want peace”. First off, by saying Israelis and not Israel, they are off the hook from explaining government policies, and could get away with a vague (and arguable) public sentiment. By following links under that “myth” I got to a page dedicated to the green line. The initial facts were mostly accurate, but then later in the page it digressed into legalistic interpretations of resolution 242 and cherry-picked quotes of Lyndon Johnson.

Did you guys ever wonder what Israel’s official perspective is regarding Palestinian refugees? I know I did. So I was delighted to find a page dedicated to the refugee topic on the site. The refugee issue is seen as a topic with the potential of undermining Israel’s legitimacy, so it is often not touched with a ten foot pole.

Anyway, on the top of the page, they offered the following itemized list:

Arab Refugees: Facts and Figures

  1. 800,000 Arabs lived in pre-state Israel before the war of ’48-’49.
  2. 170,000 Arabs remained after the war.
  3. 100,000 were permitted to return to Israel for family reunification.
  4. 100,000 middle and upper class people were absorbed in their host Arab countries.
  5. 50,000 foreign workers returned to their countries.
  6. 50,000 Bedouins were absorbed by tribes in Jordan and Sinai.
  7. 10,000 – 15,000 were killed in the war of ’48 – ’49.
  8. Total refugees: 320,000.

Wait, what?? If you were reading that like I was and got to item number 8, you probably didn’t understand this as a subtraction exercise either. Did they just take some 8th grader’s homework and post it on the site? UNRWA alone reported aiding 711,000 Palestinian refugees back in 1950, and today has over 4 million beneficiaries – descendants of refugees from 1948.

Also, what is with the 50,000 foreign workers? Who are they talking about?

Before we explain the issue of the refugees of ’48, it’s important you understand this basic fact: Israel’s Arabs from before the war settled in the country as refugees from other Arab countries.

They go on and talk about Egyptian draft dodgers who came in 1831 to Acre, and cite British geographers from the 19th century. I don’t really feel like translating all of this disinformation, sorry.

To the point, I’ll paraphrase Israel’s excuse in a nutshell: We only displaced 340,000 Palestinians. It’s not us who told them to leave, their leaders did. They weren’t really Palestinian anyway.

Good luck with that message, citizen ambassador! I hope you find out sooner rather than later that students on foriegn campuses know full well that you don’t ride camels at home. Growing up in Israel does not provide you with innate historical knowledge, you are confusing that with the indoctrination you received your entire life.

Explaining Refugees


I have been tagged with multiple memes lately, a I have rudely ignored all of them. No more! What better birthday gift to myself than a blog post. I will now answer these memes with my own. I was tagged by Marco and Steve with the “7 things” thing, and by a couple of Facebook buddies with the “25 things” one. So I decided to reply with a “16 things” post, which I believe is the average of 7 and 25. I liked Vince‘s idea of using the top tracks in itunes shuffle mode, so I will be doing that. I will also not tag anybody, since this terrible pyramid scheme needs to die.

Before I begin, if you want to read up on antisemitism on the left, this week The Guardian had some wonderful columns written by lefty U.K. Jews on that topic. One column was followed by a rebuttal, but in my opinion both columns complement each other beautifully.

  1. Miner’s Song – Woody Guthrie
  2. How’s Chances – Ella Fitzgerald
  3. Theme From Rawhide – The Blues Brothers
  4. Pannonica – Thelonious Monk
  5. Girl From The North Country – Bob Dylan And Johny Cash
  6. Hypnotize – The White Stripes
  7. People Ain’t No Good – Nick Cave
  8. Sao Paulo – Morcheeba
  9. Land of 1000 Dances – Wilson Pickett
  10. Pulled Up – Talking Heads
  11. Walk Like an Egyptian – Bangles
  12. עמיר לב – לפעמים אני מאושר
  13. For The Damaged – Blond Redhead
  14. In My Bed – Amy Winehouse
  15. History Of Lovers – Iron And Wine/Calexico
  16. Breathless – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Now What?

The killing, for the most part, has stopped. But the nightmare is not over. This catastrophe is about to be induced into Israel’s hall of fame, right next to other prides such as Operation Entebbe and Tal Brody. The collective Israeli memory is going to remember the bloodshed of the last few weeks as a happy period, when we “let the IDF win”. It does not matter how many rockets fall on Sderot from now on, operation “Cast Lead” will always be remembered as a success, a testimony to our elan. Or at least a step in the right direction. The only dispute now is whether we should have continued the killing.

This has been a bitter lesson for me. Since 2006, I have been in dispute with this country regarding the war in Lebanon. I was outraged when it started, both at the government and the gullible public. During those summer weeks there was nobody I knew in Israel who was thinking sensibly and not repeating the hasbara ex-general pundits were feeding everyone over the tube. The entire venture was a failure. A commission was formed, politicians were forced to quit public life, and the army practically purged it’s entire senior command.

I was not expecting Israel to apologize, to knock on my door and say “we were wrong, you were right”. I was pessimistic on one hand, Israel’s military was going to look for the first chance to redeem it’s lost esteem, but optimistic in on the other, the public will not eat this kind of bullshit again. I was hoping that the 2006 experience would cultivate some healthy scepticism that would not allow generals to get away with anything.

I was wrong. The war in 2006 was a failure, and everybody took it upon themselves to make it “work” this time, not just the army and government, but the public too. I naively believed that the disproportionate destruction and civilian death in Lebanon tickled the public, just a bit, but it didn’t. Lebanon turned into an unpopular war because of the shoddy intelligence, the rusting equipment and the hesitant commanders. The national disgrace was not the carnage, but the amateurish way in which it was carried out.

By those standards, this last episode was an outstanding success. The intelligence was good, the raids were potent and demoralized the enemy, the reservists recieved modern and lubricated equipment, and the expectations were low. The dying and suffering civilians in Gaza did not play a role in the metrics of this operation’s success. The disfigured children in overcrowded hospitals were a setback only in the sense that the world was watching, and it was getting awkward. The public here did not blink.

Do you want your children to learn that narritive in history class? It is a mark of Cain, not a victory. We can’t let it go down as one.

Now What?

Shampoo Queen #2

I hope this does not turn in to a wartime tradition. After the last Lebanon war, I posted a rough translation from a song that was featured in Shampoo Queen (or Queen of The Bath), Hanoch Levin‘s provocative satire about the Israeli consensus surrounding militarism and national schovinism, specifically following the 1967 victory.

A lot of these themes remain relevant today. Because of the illegal nature of our actions in Gaza, I thought I would share the following song. Please excuse my rough translation:

The Ten Commandments

On a sunny and pleasant spring morning
We all rose as one man
Strong and invigorated people
Of good stature and brave
We rose and we climbed mount Sinai
Where we received the word of The Lord
We climbed proud with song and poem
The word of The Lord to return.

First conclusion, for security needs
We tossed to the sky the first commandment
After that we also tossed the second commandment
It too, because of the security situation
After the second, the third came next
An understood act of a state under siege,
And this naturally includes
In the same package the fourth commandment

The fourth commandment, and the fifth with it
Because ‘If he come to slay thee, forestall by slaying him’
And with a similar cause of the struggle for existence
Will throw the sixth away with urgency
It was necessary and so justified
That the seven commandment was tossed too.

After it the eighth and the ninth with it
Both for reason of battlefield morale
And to finish with an even number
The tenth commandment was sent with the others.

On a sunny and pleasant spring morning
We all returned as one man
Strong and invigorated people
Of good stature and brave
Our heads held high
Our shoulders light
Filling our lungs with air.

I found on the internets a video about the Shampoo Queen scandal. It features the song above. If I had all the time in the world, I would have translated it. My favorite quote there comes after a high-school student asks the IDF’s chief of staff, Bar-Lev, if “The Queen of The Bath” has hurt the army’s morale. Bar-Lev replies “A week ago I went to an IDF outpost in Sinai and asked the soldiers ‘what is your opinion regarding The Queen of The Bath?’ they answered ‘Bring the queen, we will give her a bath over here!'”. I love that quote because it plays so well into Levin’s critique of a militarized society.

Shampoo Queen #2

Extreme Moderates

Tzipi Livni framed the current conflict in Gaza during her address to the Knesset, “The world is divided between peace-loving moderates, and war-mongering extremists”.

On Saturday the moderates carried out a strike that left over 200 dead in less than 5 minutes. The body count is growing, we are past 300 Gazans killed, Saturday and today brought the first two Israeli civilian casualties. The peace-loving moderates vowed not to stop the overwhelming destruction until “the reality on the ground changes”.

Livni continued and said “We expect the world’s support for those who fight the free world’s struggle”. On this point all agree, Gaza is not part of the free world.

Dalia Itzik, the Knesset chairperson said “this is not a time for politics, we must stand behind the army”. Similar statements were heard across the political spectrum from left to right. Besides a Tel-Aviv minority, the only bitter cries of descent are coming from Palestinian-Israelis. The media has been quick to point it out, and the threat of this fifth column.

The pattern is familiar, the Israeli street is proud of the IDF’s potent use of force: The smart bombs, the effective intelligence gathering, and the cool-headed generals. A true Israeli moment. As Gideon Levy wrote “Operation Cast Lead, it will end with a Kleenex”. In a country where corruption and incompetence reign supreme in the halls of government, it’s citizens trust their future in the professional and war-hardened hands of the defense establishment. The IDF had some low-points, but it never stopped being a winning brand. What pride would we have left without it?

I voted for Labor in ’99, maybe I was foolish. In the last four years I have vowed not to vote for Labor many times, but here is another reason: The few Knesset seats that it will win in the general elections will have been procured with blood.

Extreme Moderates