Category Archives: controversy

Imagining the 1973 War

By Diana Saverin

JERUSALEM – This past weekend, I headed to Cairo to see pyramids and ancient ruins. While I did gape at 5,000-year-old artifacts, look into the seemingly boundless Sahara desert, and float down the Nile, my touristy adventure couldn’t escape certain political surprises.

Everywhere in Egypt, people speak of the war with Israel from October, 1973. In Israel, it is called the Yom Kippur War. In Egypt, it’s a national holiday. On October 6th, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel on Judaism’s most holy day, Yom Kippur. While I am no expert on the war, my impression of it from Israelis was that Egypt and Syria were able to get farther than usual due to the timing of their attack on the first day, and it was an intelligence mistake not to know and prevent the war before the attack that led to unnecessary casualties, but that within days Israel was able to take back the lead as usual. Almost three weeks after the attack, Israel was 40 kilometers from Damascus, and 101 kilometers from Cairo. The peace Israel eventually made with Egypt through the Camp David Accords and Israel’s giving back the Sinai is emphasized as an example of Israel’s concessions for peace.

In Egypt, though, the war was a victory. Every Egyptian I spoke with brought up the war. Streets are named after October 6th. It was described to me multiple times as the most proud moment in modern Egyptian history. In the military museum, several murals and descriptions of the war would make one think that the Egyptians slaughtered and humiliated the Israelis. In descriptions, though, Israel’s name isn’t even mentioned. Allusions to the “phantom,” “the enemy,” and “the planes with blue stars” describe the apparently disgraced Israeli army as the valiant Egyptian army showed the world the courage of the Egyptian people, and won back the Sinai after the 1967 6-day war.

While the reality probably lies somewhere in between the two narratives, I was struck by the overwhelming fanaticism with the war in Egypt. In Israel, it’s another war amongst the many in the past 60 years: the War of Independence in 1948, the Suez Campaign in 1956, the 6-day war in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the 1982 Lebanon War, the First Intifada in 1987, the Second Intifada in 2000, the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and the Gaza War in 2008.

As I received a huge hug from an Egyptian after saying that I knew about the victory of the 1973 war, I was inundated with the sense of the impossibility of objectiveness in this conflict. Maybe it’s the same with others as well, but Israel’s 60-year existence has been so densely filled with complicated events, not to mention the history stretching back at least 2,000 years, that one can pick facts to support almost any opinion. It’s impossible to not to have any opinion, I know that my interpretations of events is often clouded by fierce biases, but these systematic and dialectic viewpoints reveal the divides and lack of mutual understanding throughout the conflict.

Egypt and Israel have made peace, but the vastly different narratives reveal a greater trend with Israel and all of its neighbors. These mass inconsistencies pose a threat to any sustainable peace, and put future generations on both sides in danger of growing extremism.

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Municipal Discord: East Jerusalem settlements and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

By Diana Saverin

JERUSALEM-Around the world, the phenomenon of settlements captures headlines. Before coming to Israel, such headlines for me provoked images of Haredi families living in caravans in the middle of the dessert or old-fashioned couples in Oregon trail-esque wagons settling beyond the “green” frontier. My understanding of the situation was an oversimplification of the reality; I thought of a narrative of the greedy, Israeli, extreme right-wingers who wanted to take away any possibility of a Palestinian state. In some cases, especially in the West Bank, this narrative holds, but living here has shown me that, like with most of the conflict, it isn’t always so simple. So far from simple, in fact, that on Friday I found myself amid a crowd of extremely well armed police and protesters screaming “1, 2, 3, 4, occupation no more!” and other various Arabic and Hebrew chants, debating whether the two bangs I just heard down the road were gunshots fired at protesters.

After weeks of seeing the Israeli flags in Arab neighborhoods, hearing from Palestinians and left and right wing settlers (and everything in between), I remained unclear about the nature of settlements in East Jerusalem. Last weekend, though, I spent a day touring these neighborhoods with a human rights organization, Ir Amim. Throughout the internationally unrecognized conquered land beyond the green lines, settlements have continually grown and developed.

Contrary to my image of them, there’s quite a wide range. There is Gilo, which is beyond the Green Line, but home to 30,000 Jerusalemites and looks identical to West Jerusalem, if not even spiffier. Stone complexes are surrounded with ample parking, sidewalks, overflowing gardens, and more. The area boasts the addresses of many left-wingers, including people I know. Many don’t realize it’s technically a Palestinian settlement; they live there because it’s cheaper, not for ideological reasons. More than half of Jews live in neighborhoods beyond the green lines.

View from the settlement of Gilo (Saverin/TYG)

Moving closer to the headline narrative, enter: clear-cut Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem where Israelis have bought “outposts.” On face value, these unofficial Israeli settlements appear obnoxious. They wave huge Israeli flags, post menorahs the size of houses in their backyards, and offer absurd amounts of money to buy out current Palestinian residents (unless they take over the land illegally). One resident in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan told me about dozens of times settlers have offered up to $7 million for his father’s small plot of land.  Those who sell, though, often face violence if they stick around: a Palestinian who sold his house to a settler on top of the Mount of Olives was found butchered in the back of a car a few years back. Beyond the obvious appearance of invasion, though, the government differential treatment of the two demographic groups becomes stark in such neighborhoods.

A settlement on the Mount of Olives, whose seller was brutally murdered (Saverin/TYG)

A settlement in the Arab neighborhood, Sheikh Jarrah, where Israelis and Palestinians protest together every Friday (Saverin/TYG)

In the Palestinian area, 1,200 schools are missing.  Roads in Arab neighborhoods haven’t been repaved since an American project in 1966 and disallow two cars from comfortably passing each other. They are marked by an absence of sidewalks, and are lined with run-down shops and political graffiti for Hamas, Fatah, and Popular Front.

Most Arab-Israelis refuse to vote because they do not recognize Israel’s occupation of the area, and this leads to little representation in the government. Without representation, trash doesn’t get picked up, schools don’t get built, permits are not given, and the systematic racism perpetuates, but this happens largely within Israeli law. Palestinians are only allowed to be permanent residents, not citizens. Only Jews, spouses of Jews, or citizens can own land.

75% of children in East Jerusalem live in poverty, and seeing such poverty in any context is disturbing. The moment the area becomes a settlement, though, the road becomes perfectly paved with multiple lanes, the previously nonexistent sidewalks arise with perfectly striped red and white paint, and the view is filled with stones and flowers. The suddenness of this change is not something any headline could depict. The difference between this and typical juxtaposition with wealth and poverty is that it is based on systematic racial differences, and thus begets the question: can Israel continue to stake a claim to shared values of liberal democracy and a Jewish state? I had just heard the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem speak a few days back defending the demolitions because the houses are dangerous and illegal. Perhaps this is true, but it is the system based on racial inequities that is causing this.

The poverty and lack of infrastructure that characterizes many East Jerusalem neighborhoods (Saverin/TYG)

The tour ended in a Jewish settlement, which faces the Shuafat refugee camp across the wall. Since it was a Friday afternoon, Muslim sermons filled the air. The amplified Arabic rang off the divisive barrier, and even though all sermons must be approved by the Israeli government to prevent incitement, I felt incited.

Shuafat refugee camp (Saverin/TYG)

The injustices I had just witnessed felt reactionary, and I was compelled to do something. That afternoon, I stumbled upon a friend attending a protest against demolitions in Silwan, and joined. Every Friday, the same group marches to Sheik Jarrah, as reported in Peter Beinart’s explosive article about American Jews and Israel, but this time Silwan residents requested the group’s presence to shed light on the 22 demolitions that were just approved by the local municipality, to move onto more committees for approval.

Friday protest of the 22 Silwan demolitions (Saverin/TYG)

This situation is complex, and deserves no oversimplification, but for Israel to hold the party line that it is legal ignores the flaws in the current system. It is unsustainable. Following the protest, Israel’s blatantly false coverage of the event reveals its unwillingness to face the current situation in Israel and its territories. Before change or peace can be brought about, there must be truth, and mutual understanding. How can two viable states coexist, when their representations of one city differs so dramatically? There is the Israeli settler Hebron, and the Palestinian Hebron where Israel is mysteriously missing from the map.

I would like to disagree with Foreign Minister Liberman and believe that peace is possible soon, but the settlements reveal to me what stands in the way. Extremists on both sides block peace.  However, I don’t think they’ll have enough power to deter it if the majority of both populations commit themselves to a solution.

The settlements clearly provide a physical barrier to peace as their scattered nature makes dividing the city in the case of a two state system nearly impossible. They reveal a larger wedge between the two groups, though: the unwillingness to acknowledge the truth, whether it is Israel writing off settlers as extremists that have nothing to do with the state and pretending Jerusalem is a united and equal city, or Hamas and other groups holding onto hope that Israel will evaporate from the Middle East. To get to a point where peace is possible, there must be open dialogue at every level from the entire spectrum on both sides.

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Culture and the Cup, Dispatch 4: Paris

algerian flag

One of France's spirited supporters of the Algerian team is interviewed after France loses to South Africa on June 22. (Parker/TYG)

By Charlotte Parker

PARIS — “Defeated by chaos,” “Disaster,” “Journey to hell and back.”

The headlines would be funny if their meaning didn’t carry real implications for France. They reference, of course, the country’s humiliating first-round elimination from the World Cup, an outcome caused by a Molotov cocktail of big egos, large salaries, and lack of national pride on the part of the players. World Cup fever still reigns in France, but alas it’s not the delirium of dreams. Instead, it’s a frenzy built of disillusionment and vituperative bitterness. Newspapers are just the beginning; even President Sarkozy called a special meeting to discuss the situation.

The flop potential of Les Bleus was first hinted at in their third preparatory match before the actual Cup began, when they lost to China. My host father turned off the match in disgust and said something along the lines of, “this doesn’t bode well.” Indeed, France went on to tie Uruguay, and then lost to Mexico.

I watched that match on a giant screen at the “FIFA FanFest” area set up under the Eiffel Tower (nice view). The place was absolutely packed, but among the rowdy crowd there almost seemed to be more Mexican that French supporters. Even more surprising was the number of Algerian flags, knotted around young men’s necks like capes. Here they were, in Paris, presumably born in France, watching France — and yet they didn’t root for France.

By the time les Bleus faced off against South Africa on the 22nd, most people had already lost interest and pride. I don’t totally blame them — the team had imploded, refusing to practice as protest against the expulsion, by Coach Raymond Domenech, of one of its players (I won’t go into much detail here, as the story is all over the media). The captain refused to sing the national anthem.

Nonetheless, I found it rather upsetting that the public at the FanFest arena booed when the camera panned to Domenech. When South Africa won, most of our fellow match-watchers erupted in joy.

What happened? In 1998, the team was fondly referred to as “Black-blanc-beur,” or “black-white-arab,” a nod to its diverse makeup. When they won the Cup, it seemed a victory for the new, ethnically varied French identity. A friend’s host mother said she couldn’t go out into the streets for weeks without being hugged by her joyful countrymen. Now, the comportment of the players — 13 out of 22 of whom are from immigrant backgrounds — brings into question how strong that national identity actually is. I suppose it remains to be seen if the lack of patriotism belonged simply to one group of bratty football players, or if it is an indicator of the situation of immigration and society in France in general.

Since the Cup started, I’ve been fascinated by the “Algeria Factor.” As I’ve mentioned, Algeria fans (until Algeria’s elimination — thanks to a last-minute defeat by the US!) were by far the most visible fans of any team, arriving at the FanFest arena hours before matches, faces painted and flag capes waving. Of the 5 or 6 Algerian men I talked to, all barmen at various cafes where I watched a few matches, every one — whether born in France or Algeria — supported Algeria. My friend’s host brother, born in France of a French mother and Tunisian father, and calling himself French, was also supporting Algeria. I’m sorry Algeria is out of the running because I would have loved to see how an Algerian victory was greeted by people here; it would have made an interesting contrast, I think, to the utter failure of France.

One lesson learned from the approximately 14 hours of soccer I have watched over the past week: “football” really does have the power to both divide and to unite, to humiliate as well as to burnish national pride. I’m sad for France, and concerned by the cracks in what has seemed to me (from my Metro observations of cultural co-existence, at least) a society that welcomes immigrants, and in which those immigrants are happy to belong.

But I have also been made proud of my own country, which is not a feeling I have often experienced. The spark with which the US played these first two rounds of the Cup brought us a little closer to the rest of the football-obsessed world, I think. I will always remember the feeling of quiet satisfaction that passed over me when one of the Algerian men with whom we were watching the US-Algeria match began to root for the US towards the end of the game, when the determination to win on their part was just so gloriously evident.

If we can get them to root for us in soccer, maybe there’s hope…

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British Budget: Progressive or Regressive?

By Nikita Lalwani

LONDON — This past week has been an exciting one for British politics. On Tuesday, George Osborne – the youngest ever Chancellor of the Exchequer – unveiled the emergency budget to much media attention and public debate. As many expected, the budget responded to the economic crisis with fiscal austerity. From the New York Times article on the budget:

The steps outlined to the House of Commons by George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, would cut the annual government deficit by nearly $180 billion over the next five years, shrinking Britain’s public sector and instituting tough reductions in public housing benefits, disability allowances and other previously sacrosanct aspects of the country’s $285 billion welfare budget.

Only time will tell if these cuts will herald a new era of prosperity and smart spending or catalyze a double-dip recession. What was readily apparent from the post-budget debates, though, was the way in which the three parties interacted with each other and the strategic way each chose to portray the coalition.

Conservatives seem pleased with the budget. They argue that cuts were necessary, and they constantly remind Labour that they are at fault for Britain’s financial predicament. The numbers, they say, show results – the increase in value-added tax alone will raise $18 billion by 2012. Of course, the budget suits Conservatives ideologically as well, as it puts them on their way to small government and to a smaller public sector. To counteract this, Conservatives have highlighted Liberal Democrat contributions to the budget, emphasizing their commitment to protecting the most vulnerable in society.

Not surprisingly, Labour MPs have claimed just the opposite: they have criticized the extensive budget cuts, claiming that Tories are trying to bring back Thatcher-era reforms while harming society’s poorest and most vulnerable. They have criticized Liberal Democrats for compromising their ideals in support of a budget they perceive to be quintessentially conservative. Labour’s strategy seems to be to undermine the coalition at all costs. They constantly refer to the “Tory budget” – although the budget is a combination of Conservative and Liberal Democrat policy – to portray Liberal Democrats as an insignificant and ignored part of government.  Their rhetoric seems designed to create a rift between the two coalition parties. In Thursday’s budget debate, for instance, Labour MP Edward Miliband all but urged Liberal Democrats to unite against Conservatives in next week’s vote.

Liberal Democrats, by contrast, are quick to point out their contribution to the budget, which most seem ready to support. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, in a letter to the party, emphasized the more progressive elements of the budget. Liberal Democrats are right that their contribution is apparent, from an increase in Capital Gains Tax that will target the wealthy to an increase in state pensions that correlates to earnings and inflation. So far, Liberal Democrats have stuck to their line that the budget will result in a fairer Britain for all. Ultimately, Liberal Democrats are smart not to rock the boat. The coalition is still new, and the two parties are still learning how to work together. It is best for the success of the coalition if the two parties seem to be on the same side, at least for now. But how much compromise is too much? Many Lib Dem voters may feel betrayed, particularly when they start to feel the effects of the budget in the coming years (I have already opened several derogatory letters at the office). Britain’s third party must walk a fine line between sticking to their Liberal principles and effectively compromising with the Conservatives. It is a tough balance to strike.

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