Monday, March 22, 2010

South of Jerusalem, North of Prague

My friend Y the Spy is now writing for a huge daily newspaper. A few days ago she was sent on assignment to Hebron. She returned strongly affected. I wasn't surprised.

Yesterday, while putting final touches on her piece, she rang me up and asked a quastion: "What's the name of the area in Hebron with the narrow streets and the little shops, where the Jews live on one side and the Arabs on another?"

"Little shops? Open shops?"


"That's strange, in Hebron wherever the settlers live the shops are closed by order of the army."

A little bit of questioning taught me that she was referring to the Casbah. "but how come you went through the Casbah?" I asked her, "Israeli visitors are not allowed in there."

"Not allowed?"

"No. Who guided you?"

"The soldiers."

"I guess with them you can go there. Anyway, that's what they pointed out? that Jews live on one side and Arabs on the other?"

"Well, among other things."

"You know, those windows you saw over the Casbah are the back of the selttlements. Did you also see the front side?"

"I think so. Yes."

"So you did see the parallel street, Shuhada street, where all the businesses are closed and the Palestinians are not permitted to walk."

Y the Spy seemed baffeled. "That area did seem pretty dead, but wait, not permitted to walk?"

"Yeah, only Jews and tourists are allowed to walk there, the army welded the doors of the Palestinian houses. They can only leave through the roofs and make their way down to the Casbah, where they may walk, and that's only the beginning. Are you seated?"

Y. the spy went to Hebron to write about the "Shimshon" regiment. When I first visited the city, the soldiers at the deserted street corners were from "Nahal" units, mostly kids from north Tel-Aviv suburbs who were raised to respect human rights. Seemingly, they brought up too many hard questions and were eventually replaced with soldiers closer to the political right. "Shimshon" soldiers made news during their taking of oath ceremony. They presented a banner claiming they will not participate in the evacuating of settlements. These pro-settler soldiers were seen as just the right stuff for maintaining order in Hebron's H2 sector, where several hundred settlers are terrorising a population of nearly 30,000 Palestinians.

"What did they say about their relationship with the settlers?" I asked.

"Not much. They said the settlers give them pizza sometimes."

"This is problematic, they don't get pizza from the Palestinians, if they did, they wouldn't be allowed to eat it, but the settlers are their friends. That's how come they let them do whatever they want, even beat up schoolgirls on their way home.

"They said they have an order to interfere when settlers are harrassing Palestinians" Y the spy said.

"Well that's as may be, but the taste of the pizza is still in their mouths. There's an olive still stuck between their teeth! who will they protect?"

Y the Spy is not naive, and her research of the Shimshon-Hebron question is to be thorough. I'm confident. But I was left upset. Avi Benayahu, IDF's spokesman, who arranged the tour, is the deciple of some great teachers.

When the Nazis allowed journalists and members of the red cross to visit the ghetto at Terezin (Theresienstadt), they were taking them to the only ghetto in Europe where kids were well fed and the Jews' dignity was preserved. Directly across the mountains was Poland and its horrors. Those were not mentioned on the tour. There's no need to lie, half-truths work just fine.

The IDF spokesman's unit piled obstacles before Y the Spy and her paper. Only barely did she recieve a permit to visit Hebron with the soldiers and speak to them (and even then, only to a chosen few). I assume that the Germans were equally smart, "not wanting" for journalists to visit Terezin and finally giving in.

Mr. Bnayahu should be very careful about where he gets his inspiration. As for us, we should be careful about where we get our information. Israeli journalists are dependent on the IDF's spokesperson unit. Brig. Gen. Benayahu is known to have put pressure on papers not to publish material he considered problematic. That material, such as exlposive evidence about the Gaza war that was minutes away from appearing in prime time, vanishes. When it boiled down to it, the reporters could not afford to lose Bnayahu's cooperation and be denied access to information. All media sources, including the paper for which I write, are faced with this threat.

In this case the newspaper cooperated by sending to Hebron a reporter with no knowledge of the city. It's a smart move as far as its relationship with Brig. Gen. Benayahu, the article will not be harsh, but we all end up with less information in our heads and a strange taste of pizza in our mouths.

P.S. one day later:

I'm naturally getting a fair bit of criticism for "comparing to the Holocaust". This is not a comparison. I am drawing an analogy, and the difference is great. If my little sister draws an angel and I say it reminds me of an angel painted by Michelangelo, that does not imply that I consider her as great an artist as Michelangelo was, nor that I think we're living in the Italian Renaissance. However, if she does have the potential to become a new Michelangelo, we'd better be aware of that and nourish her talent.


Anonymous said...

These links maybe of interest
Palestinian life: Splits and barriers

What hope for Hebron?

Fiction meets fact in Hebron film

Anonymous said...

Yes its seems common practise for the IDF to enjoy enjoy the hospitality of settlers and to quote from a blog of one person serving "our team covered two settlements, both of them really nice. i was hosted by a family for friday night dinner and not only was the food great, but the people were really friendly and interesting. the only issue was meeting them all for the first time, unfortunately sitting down directly under the spotlights next to the littlest daughter.

"he's sweating, daddy".
thanks, sweety, that made me a whole lot more comfortable.

i finally learned all the words to amazing grace (the original version), and i also learned not to engage in any debate that may at some stage include drugs. i seriously pissed off the guy i was guarding with when i tried to explain that part of the freedom that we fight for is the freedom to make mistakes."