Between Tel Aviv and Tehran

Democracy and Geography
Between Tel Aviv and Tehran
By URI AVNERY

Hundreds of thousands of Iranian citizens pour into the streets in order to protest against their government! What a wonderful sight! Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz that he envies the Iranians.

And indeed, anyone who tries these days to get Israelis in any numbers into the streets could die of envy. It is very difficult to get even hundreds of people to protest against the evil deeds or policies of our government – and not because everybody supports it. At the height of the war against Gaza, half a year ago, it was not easy to mobilize ten thousand protesters. Only once a year does the peace camp succeed in bringing a hundred thousand people to the square – and then only to commemorate the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

The atmosphere in Israel is a mixture of indifference, fatigue and a “loss of the belief in the ability to change reality”, as a Supreme Court justice put it this week. A very dramatic change is needed in order to get masses of people to demonstrate for peace.

* * *

FOR MIR-HOSSEIN MOUSAVI hundreds of thousands have demonstrated, and hundreds of thousands have demonstrated for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That says something about the people and about the regime.

Can anyone imagine a hundred thousand people gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest against the official election results? The police would open fire before a thousand had assembled there.

Would even a thousand people be allowed to demonstrate in Amman against His Majesty? The very idea is absurd.

Some years ago, the Saudi security forces in Mecca opened fire on unruly pilgrims. In Saudi Arabia, there are never protests against election results – simply because there are no elections.

In Iran, however, there are elections, and how! They are more frequent than elections in the US, and Iranian presidents change more often than American ones. Indeed, the very protests and riots show how seriously the citizens there treat election results.

* * *

OF COURSE, the Iranian regime is not democratic in the way we understand democracy. There is a Supreme Guide who fixes the rules of the game. Religious bodies rule out candidates they do not like. Parliament cannot adopt laws that contradict religious law. And the laws of God are unchangeable – at most, their interpretation can change.

All this is not entirely foreign to Israelis. From the very beginning the religious camp has been trying to turn Israel into a religious state, in which religious law (called Halakha) would be above the civil law. Laws “revealed” thousands of years ago and regarded as unchangeable would take precedence over laws enacted by the democratically elected Knesset.

To understand Iran, we have only to look at one of the important Israeli parties: Shas. They, too, have a Supreme Guide, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who decides everything. He appoints the party leadership, he selects the party’s Knesset candidates, he directs the party faction how to vote on every single issue. There are no elections in Shas. And in comparison with the frequent outbursts of Rabbi Ovadia, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a model of moderation.

* * *

ELECTIONS DIFFER from country to country. It is very difficult to compare the fairness of elections in one country with those in another.

At one end of the scale were the elections in the good old Soviet Union. There it was joked that a voter entered the ballot room, received a closed envelope from an official and was politely requested to put it into the ballot box.

“What, can’t I know who I am voting for?” the voter demanded.

The official was shocked. “Of course not! In the Soviet Union we have secret elections!”

At the other end of the scale there should stand that bastion of democracy, the USA. But in elections there, only nine years ago, the results were decided by the Supreme Court. The losers, who had voted for Al Gore, are convinced to this very

Under Pressure in the Gaza Strip

Under Pressure in the Gaza Strip
Thoughts on Manhood From the Rafah Tunnel
By EMILY RATNER

Rafah.

Today I went to the tunnels in Rafah. I climbed into a loop of rope attached to a wire on a pulley and was lowered 7 meters to the tunnel floor. When I stood up the man next to me signaled me to follow him into a narrow passage, maybe three times as thick as my torso. Soon I was walking, crouched, behind him. When I turned back I saw some of my friends beginning to follow. But the tunnel must have taken a bend a few meters later, because when I turned a second time I saw only the wire suspending small lights along the tunnel wall. My guide beckoned again, and again I followed, promising myself I would turn back at the next light. But when we got there I saw more lights ahead, and I thought maybe he was taking me to a room, or another chimney out of the tunnel, and I followed further.

We continued this way for I don’t know how many meters, and soon I couldn’t hear anyone behind me, only a murmur that might have been distant voices ahead. Each point of light held the promise of hot sun and desert air, but each time I arrived to find only more tunnel, and a hand imploring me to follow deeper.

Soon my legs were burning with wanting to stand. It became so dark in the long lapses between electric lights that my guide had to take my hand as we felt our way along. So many times I said “Khalas”–I have seen enough. But at each light he would signal that it was just a little further.

Finally, I was finished. I could not remember why I had followed, and why I had continued to follow. I’d lost track of how many lights we’d passed, and had no idea how far the journey back would be. My guide pointed to a light maybe 8 meters ahead, and this light was different. Brighter, and more yellow. I knew this time we’d almost reached our destination, perhaps the end of the tunnel and the relative freedom of Egyptian sun and sand, but I couldn’t continue. “Khalas,” I said, and this time he knew I meant it. I turned and began to feel my way back.

Soon I was tearing through the tunnel, tripping over the uneven floor and scratching my fingers on the packed dirt and sand of the walls. Craggy sections of the ceiling tore at my hijab but I would not slow. My guide grabbed my hips to steady me and force a more even pace, and so I dragged him with me. Finally he pulled me to my knees inside one of the occasional wooden box frames supporting the more than 20 feet of packed sand and dirt above us. He sat down next to me and pushed his open palms up through the air in front of his chest and then down, showing me how to breathe. “Shway,” he said, “slow.”

Nearly everyone I’ve talked to in Gaza has told me that the effects of the siege and the massacre have been worst for women and children and I believe them, but 7 meters below the rubble of Rafah and the rumbling of the tractors that push this endless sand away from the mouth of each new tunnel, my thoughts turn to Gaza’s men.

The guide kneeling beside me, and thousands like him, cheat death every day in these tunnels as they journey back and forth between Rafah, Egypt and Rafah, Gaza, one city divided by a border and a cruel siege. And nearly every day, at least one of these men loses his gamble and does not come home. The siege has kept out everything but a painfully short list of humanitarian items. Building materials, a wide variety of foodstuffs, ink and paper, and so many other necessities are not permitted to enter Gaza. If the people of Gaza are to have anything close to a life, to bathe and eat and rebuild and learn, they must purchase this contraband illegally, and someone must illegally import it.

The Israeli government claims that the tunnels must be bombed because they are used to smuggle weapons, but in reality the tunnels are almost always used for anything but. After the massacre the tunnels brought lions and tigers to replace the ones loosed by the attack on Gaza’s larg

Israeli Firms Accused of Profiting Off Golocaust

Families Battle for Assets in Court
Israeli Firms Accused of Profiting Off Holocaust
By JONATHAN COOK

Nazareth.

Israel’s second largest bank will be forced to defend itself in court in the coming weeks over claims it is withholding tens of millions of dollars in “lost” accounts belonging to Jews who died in the Nazi death camps.

Bank Leumi has denied it holds any such funds despite a parliamentary committee revealing in 2004 that the bank owes at least $75 million to the families of several thousand Holocaust victims.

Analysts said the bank’s role is only the tip of an iceberg in which Israeli companies and state bodies could be found to have withheld billions of dollars invested by Holocaust victims in the country — dwarfing the high-profile reparations payouts from such European countries as Switzerland.

“All I want is justice,” said David Hillinger, 73, whose grandfather, Aaron, died in Auschwitz, a Nazi camp in Poland. Lawyers are demanding reparations of $100,000 for Bank Leumi accounts held by his father and grandfather.

The allegations against Bank Leumi surfaced more than a decade ago following research by Yossi Katz, an Israeli historian.

He uncovered bank correspondence in the immediate wake of the Second World War in which it cited “commercial secrecy” as grounds for refusing to divulge the names of account holders who had been killed in the Holocaust.

“I was shocked,” said Dr Katz, from Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. “My first reaction was: `My God, this isn’t Switzerland!’ ”

In 1998, following widespread censure, Swiss banks agreed to pay $1.25 billion in reparations after they there were accused of having profited from the dormant accounts of Holocaust victims.

Dr Katz’s revelations led to the establishment of a parliamentary committee in 2000 to investigate the behaviour of Israel’s banks. Its report came to light belatedly in 2004 after Bank Leumi put pressure on the government to prevent publication.

Investigators found thousands of dormant accounts belonging to Holocaust victims in several banks, though the lion’s share were located at Bank Leumi. Obstructions from Leumi meant many other account holders had probably not been identified, the investigators warned.

The parliamentary committee originally estimated the accounts it had located to be worth more than $160m, using the valuation formula applied to the Swiss banks. But under pressure from Leumi and the government, it later reduced the figure by more than half.

A restitution company was created in 2006 to search for account holders and return the assets to their families.

Meital Noy, a spokeswoman for the company, said it had been forced to begin legal proceedings this week after Bank Leumi had continued to claim that its findings were “baseless”.

The bank paid $5m two years ago in what it says was a “goodwill gesture”. Ms Noy called the payment “a joke”. She said 3,500 families, most of them in Israel, were seeking reparations from Bank Leumi.

The bank was further embarrassed by revelations in 2007 that one per cent of its shares — worth about $80 million — belonged to tens of thousands of Jews killed during the Holocaust.

Mr Hillinger, who was born in Belgium in 1936 and spent the Second Wold War hiding in southern France, today lives in Petah Tikva in central Israel.

He said before the outbreak of war his father and grandfather had invested money in the Anglo-Palestine Bank, the forerunner of Leumi, in the hope it would gain them a visa to what was then British-ruled Palestine.

Although his parents escaped the death camps, his grandparents were sent to Auschwitz and died in the gas chambers shortly after arrival.

Mr Hillinger said he had only learnt of the outstanding debt from Bank Leumi after his father, Moses, died in 1996. Papers showed the bank had paid his father “a pittance” in 1952 when he closed his account and that it had never returned his grandfather’s money.

When he

ALL for the sake of ISRAEL

A New and Revealing Study of the Influence of the Neocons
The Making of Recent U.S. Middle East Policies
By BILL and KATHLEEN CHRISTISON

Stephen J. Sniegoski, The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel, Enigma Editions, Norfolk, Virginia, 2008

Not a few honest political analysts have long recognized the tight relationship between the Israel-U.S. partnership and the disastrous Bush administration adventures throughout the Middle East, including its backing for Israel’s systematic oppression of the Palestinians. Stephen Sniegoski has had the persistence to ferret out mountains of impossible-to-challenge evidence that this Israel-U.S. connection is the driving force behind virtually all Middle East decisionmaking over the last eight years, as well as the political courage to write a book about it.

Sniegoski’s new book demonstrates clearly how U.S. and Israeli policies and actions with respect to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the other Gulf states, and even most recently Georgia are all tied together in a bundle of interrelated linkages, each of which affects all the others. The right wing of Israeli politics, the neoconservatives in the U.S. who strongly support Israel, and the aging Israel lobby in the United States all have worked together, and are still doing so, to bring about more wars, regime changes, and instability, specifically the fragmentation of any Middle Eastern states that might ever conceivably threaten Israel.

In addition, one purpose of such wars and other changes is explicitly to intensify the discouragement of Palestinians as the latter’s potential allies are knocked off one by one, making it easier for Israel, over time, to finish off the Palestinians. That’s the theory. Those who believe it is vital to improve the human rights situation and the political outlook for the Palestinians must not only work to reverse present Israeli policies, but it is probably more important that we in the United States work even harder to reverse U.S. policies.

This is a long but quite splendid book. After a foreword by ex-Congressman Paul Findley and an introduction by Professor of Humanities Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., the text itself has 382 pages covering the entire history of the neoconservatives from the 1960s to 2008. The author has clearly spent untold hours reading all the writings he could find by not only the top few neocons but also numerous others who are far less well known but still important figures in the movement.

The neocons, by the way, are by and large not conspiratorial. They prefer to write voluminously and act openly with respect to their philosophies and actions. The word “transparent” in the title of the book emphasizes this very point. On the other hand, the neocons are also very skilled propagandists and are more than willing to spin “facts” in many situations in ways that often do not leave readers with an honest, unvarnished version of “truth.”

Sniegoski states his own main argument as follows:

“This book has maintained that the origins of the American war on Iraq revolve around the United States’ adoption of a war agenda whose basic format was conceived in Israel to advance Israeli interests and was ardently pushed by the influential pro-Israeli American neoconservatives, both inside and outside the Bush administration. Voluminous evidence, much of it derived from a lengthy neoconservative paper trail, has been marshaled to substantiate these contentions.” [Page 351]

The author then points out that

“… what was an unnecessary, deleterious war from the standpoint of [“realists” in] the United States, did advance many Israeli interests, as those interests were envisioned by the Israeli right. America came to identify more closely with the position of Israel toward the Palestinians as it began to equate resistance to Israeli occupation with `terrorism.’ … Israel took advant