SOMEONE TO HELP

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 AUGUST 10, 2017 19:02

jpost.com

When Islamic State targeted Yazidis for genocide in 2014, Israelis such as Lisa Miara, Idan Barir and Ksenia Svetlova stepped forward to raise awareness and say ‘never again’.

Some Israelis took it more seriously than others.

IDAN BARIR – a PhD student in Tel Aviv University’s history department who researched Yazidi history and culture – vividly recalls August 2014. Islamic State had attacked an area in northern Iraq populated by the Yazidis, a religious minority.

“They [the Yazidis] were in need of someone to help them. They were looking for an Israeli to help and I was the only Israeli they knew. I was bombarded [by pleas]… asking for help.”

At the time, hundreds of thousands of Yazidis were fleeing ISIS to Sinjar Mountain and then onward, often via Syria, to displaced persons camps in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

“Gradually it [the requests for help] stopped. It took me a year to know it wasn’t going to work. Israel has other interests that don’t make it possible for Israel to help,” says Barir.

The genocide of Yazidis in 2014 by ISIS has become a defining moment of this decade. ISIS sold more than 5,000 women and children into slavery and murdered thousands of men. So far, some 45 mass graves containing the remains of men and elderly women have been found scattered across dozens of villages around Sinjar. Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis live in refugee camps and some have sought shelter abroad.

During the genocide and after, many people, especially Jews, were impacted by its similarities to the Holocaust. Like scenes out of the Einsatzgruppen’s 1941-1942 campaign of extermination in eastern Europe, Yazidis were gunned down and buried in mass graves. Similarly to what happened to Jews, captured Yazidis were numbered and moved like cattle and used as slaves; Yazidi women were photographed and recorded before being sold into slavery.

Barir, 37, from Givatayim, is a research associate in the Forum for Regional Thinking, with a concentration on minorities in Iraq, and a member of Maktub, the Arabic-Hebrew Translators Forum at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.

He recently released a book of Yazidi poetry called I Own Nothing Save My Dreams, an anthology of poems written after the genocide. It was released in 2017 with Hebrew and Arabic translations of the poems.

“It all began 12 years ago when I was doing my MA thesis and looking for a subject that wouldn’t bore me to death,” he tells of his fascination.

He wanted to concentrate on minorities, and when he found out about Yazidis, it became an instant interest of his.

“When I started on the project I had an idea to do something related to their religious practices,” he recalls. “After a year and a half working on this, I had heard a lot from them. The Yazidi story and view of the world are so similar to that of the Jews. They suffered a long string of persecutions and attempts at annihilating the entire community and forcibly converting them to Islam.”

Like Jews who suffered expulsions throughout history, Yazidis count more than 70 cases of attempted genocide against them and they recall key persecutors.

Barir, who had spent time interviewing Yazidis who live in Germany, decided to concentrate on collective memory. Through it all he became friends with dozens of community members.

KSENIA SVETLOVA, now a Zionist Union MK, is another Israeli who found herself very much involved in the Yazidi situation.

In 2014 she was a journalist.

“As a reporter I followed news. To my horror, the news spread quickly. We learned that they [the Yazidis] were trapped on Mount Sinjar.”

The whole world knew, says Svetlova.

“It’s not the 1940s when people didn’t know and there was some excuse,” she recalls. “It was televised – a genocide televised – and it made me think.”

For Svetlova, 40, who was born in Moscow and came to Israel in 1991, the struggle to help Yazidis has meant raising awareness in the Knesset, most recently through hosting a conference on the subject last month in the Knesset.

Svetlova has a background in Middle Eastern studies and the Arabic language.

For 14 years she was a journalist in Israel and concentrated often on Arab affairs.

She knew about Yazidis from courses at the university, but the 2014 massacres brought back memories of her own family’s suffering in the Soviet Union during the Holocaust era.

“We know a group is being slaughtered and no one is doing anything; it made me feel vulnerable and I was thinking of ourselves here. What if something like this happens here and no one comes? In the 21st century genocide can happen anywhere.”

She recalls former UN secretary-general Butros Butros-Ghali expressing surprise in the 1990s that the Rwandan genocide was carried out with machetes.

“It was not a huge group [that perpetrated the genocide]; it was not undefeatable. So why did it happen?” But what can Israel do? “We are not a big empire, we perhaps cannot get involved in the Iraq war, but we can do something for survivors, people saved from this hell.” She says it was important to raise awareness and bring the Yazidi cause to the attention of Israelis.

“There is a clause in the foreign budget called humanitarian aid. It’s absurdly low, it’s lower than in the 1970s and 1960s when we were a poorer state,” she says. Why isn’t more being spent to help genocide survivors today? Even a small state can do something.

As a Knesset member she says that it is an obligation to ask the right questions about the amount and direction of aid. She has also sponsored a bill that would recognize the Yazidi genocide.

“No one should object to this.”

However when it comes to a vote later this year, the “true colors” of various Knesset members will become clear. “As far as I know, this is first time we would recognize a foreign genocide. It is a precedent.”

From Jerusalem to Iraq

Lisa Miara, 56, president and founder of the Spring of Hope Foundation, who works to liberate women and children from ISIS and to rehabilitate them, first came face-toface with the Yazidi genocide at a camp in Iraq in 2015.

Miara, who came to Israel from the UK in 1975 and lives in Jerusalem, explains: “I was invited as part of a legal team doing research for litigation against funders of the terrorist regime of Saddam Hussein,” she recalls. “I walked into the Halabja Memorial Museum on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day 2015 and was wiped out seeing another people and group destroyed by gas through fear and hate.”

Then she traveled north to the city of Dohuk, closer to the Turkish border, where there were displaced persons’ camps for Yazidis.

“My journey was to go up and do research on the genocide of Yazidis. We went to the Shariya camp. It was one of the first camps erected by the UN after the August 3 commencement of the genocide, about three months after.”

She says the camp was in shocking condition. It had been constructed without experience, and there was a lack of privacy.

“It was one of the worst camps in that sense. Originally it held 24,000 Yazidis who had escaped from Sinjar area.” There were also women in the camp who had escaped ISIS, who had been sold by multiple male captors and horrifically abused. Miara decided she would stay and work with the victims.

Miara, speaking by phone from the Kurdish region of Iraq, juggles her work with volunteers as she discusses the work her group is doing for Yazidi survivors.

“We have an office and house for volunteers and a storeroom center where we distribute 15 to 20 tons of goods a week,” she says. There are classrooms and her NGO is building a community center on 0.2 hectares of land in the camp.

“It’s a therapy-through-arts center, but we call it a community center, [with concentration on] arts, drama, English – psychological diagnosis through the arts.”

Miara’s journey to Iraq wasn’t predictable.

Born in London, her eldest son was injured in a terrorist attack in Israel in 1998.

Consequently, she established SOHF to work with terrorism victims. Through that she became interested in Saddam Hussein’s crimes.

The sight of the Yazidi refugees crammed into their camps inspired her to devote time to this cause. She says that of the 24,000 originally living at Shariya camp, some 4,000 have emigrated to Germany since 2015.

“I connect it with our work in Jerusalem.

All these years of intifada and we have buried so many [in Israel]. After the bombing at Café Moment [in Jerusalem in 2002], something in me was not able to just keep burying our kids and walk away,” Miara recalls.

She says the work with Yazidis is a form of tikun olam, a Jewish concept of helping others.

“If you touch one person, you can affect a universe.”

But the struggle has been “diabolical” and “overwhelming,” she says. Looking at thousands of people in need of basic services, without international organizations providing aid, she wonders “if the UN can’t do this, who the heck are we?”

A special role

“I was naïve in the beginning,” says Barir about his attempts to get Israel to do something about the genocide in 2014. “I basically thought Israel should take a stand in whatever way possible, in a moral way even, to say that ‘never again,’ which is the Israeli motto, should be applied to the Yazidis, on the moral level.”

Barir says Israel had many other options on the table.

“It could take them all [as refugees] or do nothing,” he argues.

“Between those poles you have endless possible actions. You could symbolically invite 500 Yazidi families or orphans or women who had been captives. Israel could start a plan of offering medical assistance.”

But it didn’t happen, he recalls.

“So I figured out it might be best to work on other options, helping and harnessing not Israel as a state, but harnessing Israelis, people to people – Israeli solidarity, private people.” One way to do that was to harness people’s stories and speak on the media and raise awareness.

Barir also noticed that Yazidis were publishing poems on Facebook in the wake of the genocide. He began collecting poems, sharing them and translating them. That eventually became a book. Many Yazidis speak Kurdish, but they write in Arabic. After years of labor, Barir is now ensuring that this poetry is shared with new audiences.

“It touched people on a personal level. A lot found it similar to Holocaust poetry; it moved them and struck a chord for them. Many Arabs and Palestinians found it similar to their national Nakba poetry and found it touching.”

Miara agrees that Israel has a special role to play.

“We as Israelis have something to offer, and doors have opened because I am Jewish and Israeli and there is respect for Israel, for Jewish people and years of parallel history,” she says. But 2,000 women are still missing, ISIS has not been defeated, and the Kurdish region and Iraq face many challenges ahead. Miara says the lack of long-term commitment by international NGOs and the media still surprises her.

According to Svetlova, everything starts with education. “When teachers talk about ‘never again,’ the message that should be sent is that it should never happen to anyone – not just to us. When we talk about the Holocaust, of course it is unique, but many horrible things happen in the world. Are these things being discussed enough? “We are still at the beginning of this journey of connecting Israel, Jews and Yazidis and raising the world’s awareness.

“I was surprised how many people do not know,” she says.

Kurdish land shouldn’t be treated as enemy territory, Knesset bill proposes

timesofisrael.com

As MKs line up to declare support for Kurdistan, one lawmaker seeks to facilitate contact between Kurds and Israelis

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel’s Arab affairs correspondent.

A picture taken on October 21, 2017, shows a man holding an Israeli flag alongside the flag of Iraqi Kurdistan during a demonstration outside the UN Office in Irbil, the capital of the autonomous region.(AFP Photo/Safin Hamed)

A picture taken on October 21, 2017, shows a man holding an Israeli flag alongside the flag of Iraqi Kurdistan during a demonstration outside the UN Office in Irbil, the capital of the autonomous region.(AFP Photo/Safin Hamed)

A bill introduced in the Knesset and set to be brought to a vote in the coming weeks would see all areas controlled by Kurdish people in the Middle East excluded from the laws prohibiting Israelis from traveling and doing business in enemy states.

MK (Zionist Union) Ksenia Svetlova announced her bill on Wednesday during a rare Knesset conference about relations between Israel and the Kurdish people.

The purpose of the bill, she said, was to ease access to Kurdish-controlled territory for “Israelis who want to be there for academic or commercial purposes, or visiting graves of their loved ones.”

Tens of thousands of Jewish families were forced to immigrate to Israel from Iraq soon after the birth of the State of Israel in 1948. Today, there are almost 200,000 Kurdish Jews in Israel, about half of whom reside in Jerusalem.

Ksenia Svetlova of the Zionist Union party seen during an introduction day for new Knesset members on March 29, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The bill, a copy of which was given to The Times of Israel, makes no explicit distinction between Kurdish-controlled areas in Iraq — known as the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), where Israelis can travel fairly safely — and other Kurdish areas, whether in northern Syria or in Iran.

The vagueness is intentional, the bill’s author told The Times of Israel. The legislation is currently meant to refer just to Iraqi Kurdistan, though that could change in the future.

Svetlova, who serves as the head of the Knesset pro-Kurdish caucus, gave a  cautious estimate of its chances of being signed into law.

“I’m not saying one hundred percent it will not pass,” she said, adding that she knew many government ministers are “sympathetic” to her initiative.

“But even if it will not pass this time, it will help us put on the table a very important definition: What is Iraqi Kurdistan? Can we continue to treat it just like [the rest] of Iraq?” she said.

Svetlova added: “It’s important for Israeli citizens who are interested in pursuing ties with the Kurds to know that when they come back from Kurdistan they won’t be persecuted by a variety of security agencies, and this is unfortunately what happens now.”

‘We’re happy to be a second Israel’

Wednesday’s conference on Kurdish-Israeli relations was attended by lawmakers from both the ruling coalition and the opposition who expressed deep support for the Kurdish people and their right to self-determination.

The conference was also attended by pro-Kurdish activists from Israel, Europe and Iraq.

In September a majority of voters in the KRG supported independence in a referendum, but opposition from Baghdad and every state in the region but Israel stymied the Kurdish hopes of establishing their own state in northern Iraq for the time being.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly lobbied world leaders to support the Kurdish referendum.

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan echoed a sentiment common among lawmakers at the conference, saying that though Israel has “limitations” in terms of what it can do for the Kurds due to regional politics, “Israeli civil society can give a lot to the Kurdish population.

“There is a huge gap on almost everything” between the opposition and the coalition, said former minister Tzipi Livni, “but when it comes to the Kurdish people, we all feel the same.”

Ben-Dahan chimed in, “I agree.”

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MK Nurit Koren said, “We must do everything we can to help our brothers in Iraqi Kurdistan.”

Svetlova suggested Israel supply the Kurds with agricultural technology that would help wean them off their crucial economic support from Turkey, which opposes Kurdish independence.

Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren called it a “tremendous injustice” that the Kurds, whom he called a “moderate Muslim, pro-Western people deeply deserving of freedom,” do not receive the same amount of international support for an independent state as the Palestinian people, despite being vastly more numerous.

Iraqi Kurds fly an Israeli flag and Kurdish flags during an event to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 16, 2017. (AFP/Safin Hamed)

There are around four to five million Palestinians living between Gaza and the West Bank, while the Kurds are estimated to number around 35 million between Turkey, Syrian, Iraq and Iran.

Iraqi Kurds have publicly expressed their thanks for Israel’s support by waving the Jewish state’s flag at independence rallies, prompting Iraq’s parliament to criminalize it.

Some opponents of the Kurdish referendum, including Turkish and Iranian leaders, have claimed it was just an Israeli scheme to divide Arab states.

Kahraman Evsen, president of the Kurdish European Society and one of the speakers at the Knesset event on Wednesday night, said he didn’t mind criticism over Kurds’ ties to Israel.

“It’s a common idea for the people in Kurdistan to say, okay, you reproach us for being a second Israel, but that is exactly what we want, because Israel is a democracy, Israel is a country that is based on the rule of law that protects minorities, is inclusive and has diversity,” he said. “If people are criticizing us for being a second Israel, then we are happy.”

CATALONIA VS SPAIN: DEMOCRACY TESTED

BY KSENIA SVETLOVA
 OCTOBER 4, 2017

The state doesn’t exist independently of its people. The state is the people, who can demand more rights, more power and even secession.

jpost.com

Students in Catalonia march in support of the region's independence, September 2017

Students in Catalonia march in support of the region’s independence, September 2017. (photo credit:JON NAZCA/ REUTERS)

Anyone who wants to understand the essence of last week’s dramatic events in Catalonia, to acknowledge what the referendum on independence was really about, should come to see the Eternal Flame in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona.

The Fossar de los Moreres is a memorial square, situated close to the Maria del Mar basilica. The monument was built after a communal grave of the defenders of the city, slaughtered following the Siege of Barcelona at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, was discovered. 300 years later the memory is still alive, and fresh flowers are laid there every day.

Two days prior to the referendum, a huge rally took place at Montjuïc. Many thousands of Catalans, Spaniards and Europeans were there to support the referendum and each other, singing hymns of Catalonia and patriotic songs. Many of these songs had connotations of the Frankist period, when the Catalonian language was forbidden and those who tried to spread knowledge about Catalonian history and heritage were persecuted. The grandfather of a friend who lives in Barcelona was fined for speaking Catalonian on the phone sometime during the sixties.

The historical memory of injustice and persecution runs deep in Catalonians, regardless of their support for or objection to separation from Spain. The brutal force that was used by Spanish police against the voters who came to the polling stations was just another link in this historical chain.

On Sunday morning, October 1, I found myself in the midst of a violent and bloody event that felt much more like something that would happen in the Middle East than in Europe. As a part of an international parliamentary delegation of observers on the referendum, I visited a few polling stations in Barcelona, Terragona, Valls and other Catalonian cities.

By 10 a.m. we had already witnessed the Guarida Civil – the national police force – confiscating ballot boxes and other voting equipment, dispersing voters by force, shuttering schools doors and windows.

Then the shooting begun and rubber bullets started to fly. Later these bullets were picked up by plainclothes policeman.

One minute prior to the shooting the young people holding hands and sitting together on the ground were singing beautifully, the next moment they were screaming in pain and horror. Older people around us said that it brought up bad memories from Spain’s recent authoritarian past; the young ones, who grew up believing that human rights and freedom of expression are sacred, were speechless.

Over 850 Spanish citizens were wounded during the day of the referendum, when placards with words “Mes Democracia” decorate the exquisite buildings of Barcelona. Those who beat and shot them were Spanish citizens, too. Blood was spilled in the heart of Europe with very few voices inside the EU condemning the excessive use of violence.

What was being tested there was not only Spanish democracy, but the European way of life, respect for freedom of expression, human rights and the belief that people have the right to self-determination. One must remember that the same EU leaders and officials who suddenly became silent in the face of the violence in Catalonia are usually very vocal when similar misdeeds occur in the Middle East. It’s always curious when one sees the mote in one’s brother’s eye but not see the beam in one’s own.

Today it’s quite clear though that at some point Europe will have to react, as the situation in Catalonia will continue to develop rapidly. The leaders of Europe probably understand today that they can’t hide behind the debate on the legality of the referendum. The state doesn’t exist independently of its people. The state is the people, who can demand more rights, more power and even secession. Many atrocities and wrongdoings in the world were and are still legal, many democratic processes – such as the American Revolution – were labeled illegal in the beginning. When millions of European citizens demand to be heard, Europe – and the world – should listen, otherwise what is the value of such high words as “democracy,” “human rights” and “self-determination”? What should be happening between Barcelona and Madrid today is a political dialogue. Too much blood was spilled in the past over the issues of independence and separation. Neither Spain nor Europe can afford more violence on their soil. After all, this is what Europe is trying to promote in the Middle East – political dialogue, moderation and climb-downs. If Europe cannot successfully meet this challenge in its own home, the world will suffer the consequences.

The author is a member of the Knesset for the Zionist Union and an expert on Middle East affairs.

LOOKING FOR A NEW EQUATION IN GAZA

BY KSENIA SVETLOVA
 JUNE 7, 2017 21:46

jpost.com

Israel and the world should think outside the box

A WOMAN looks out a window in the Gaza Strip.

A few days into the new regional disarray, the Americans, as well as the Kuwaitis and Omanis, are already looking for solution that will allow the re-creation of the façade of unity among the Arab Gulf countries. It’s still early to tell when the expected sulha (truce) will take place, however it’s quite obvious that Qatar – the enfant terrible of the Gulf – will have to give up something. Its support of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist organizations can be one of these concessions, and the expulsion of Hamas leaders from Qatar might be an indication of a move in this direction.

It seems that since US President Donald Trump’s visit to the region the position of Hamas became significantly worse. Hamas leaders complain to their interlocutors that they lose ground quickly in the Arab world and that financially they’ve never been worse off. Egypt destroyed most of the tunnels between Sinai and Gaza and stopped the smuggling of money, weapons and goods almost entirely. Arab donors are tired of Hamas and do not act on their financial obligations to Gaza. In fact, the only major route of supplies to Gaza is the Kerem Shalom crossing in Israel.

The number of trucks that make their way to Gaza through Kerem Shalom grew from 38,000 in 2010 to 178,000 in 2016. According to army sources, every sack of cement, every package of sugar, every grain of rice and every erg of electricity serves the Hamas regime. The Islamists are subjecting the impoverished population to heavy taxes – all merchandise that goes through Kerem Shalom is subject to taxation, and in many cases the cement intended for the rebuilding of civilian houses ends up in new tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border.

Hospitals in Gaza lack electricity, but Hamas has enough (most of it provided by Israel) to supply the tunnels and its military bases.

So attitudes toward Hamas in the region and in world have changed significantly, and the organization has become a lonely pariah, lacking funds and support. Israel is de facto responsible for Hamas’s survival.

This absurd situation must come to an end. The window of opportunity in the region is open now, and the equation in Gaza has to change to exclude Hamas. It’s quite obvious that as long as Hamas clings to power in Gaza, the probability of new round of fighting will grow and the chances of any future agreement between Israelis and Palestinians will decline. The organization, responsible for hundreds of terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings and rocket attacks, never fulfilled the three demands of the Middle East Quartet in 2006 that focused on ending the military struggle, recognition of Israel and recognition of agreements previously signed between Israel and the PLO.

So in order for any future negotiations to succeed, Hamas should be ousted in Gaza and replaced by the Palestinian Authority. No crossing with Gaza should be controlled by Hamas, so that not even one dollar will end at its leaders’ pockets.

Until now it seemed that PA leaders were quite reluctant about getting the control over Gaza back.

However, in the past few weeks it seems that the tone in Ramallah has changed. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has been trying very hard to distance himself from Hamas. In one of his latest decisions he ordered payment for Gaza’s electricity to stop. In order to prevent an escalation, Israel continued to support Hamas with electricity, despite the knowledge that this is exactly what Hamas needs to survive. A few weeks ago, during another electricity crisis angry Gazans were starting to pour into the streets, and a few demonstrations against Hamas took place.

Unfortunately, Hamas is too strong today to be toppled from within.

Considering its dire condition, strong economic pressure and isolation of Hamas leadership by all parties – the Arab world, the international community and Israel – can force it into so-much-needed concessions. Relinquish control of border crossings, agree to the return of the PA without any fictitious “reconciliation” agreement and only then will Gaza receive generous aid to allow rehabilitation and prosperity.

I believe that this move should coincide with a return to the negotiation table with the PA to work out the agreement that will allow the Israelis to set secured borders that will be recognized by the whole world and to separate itself from over four million Palestinians, who will be able to build their state. The Arab Peace Initiative can serve as a base (although some of its chapters should be adapted to create a framework that is suitable to 2017) which will allow many of the Arab countries to support the agreement.

Should Hamas stay in power in Gaza (it’s important to remember that it only got there through a coup d’etat in June 2017), the peace process will remain stuck as it is today, regardless of the international or local efforts, the people of Gaza will continue to suffer since the humanitarian crisis is ongoing, and a new round of hostilities will be inevitable.

Israel and the world should think outside the box and use the favorable regional situation to promote the common interest for all parties who seek agreement and peace advancement in the region. Without solving the issue of Gaza such an advancement will be impossible.

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) is a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. She is an expert in Middle East Affairs and served as a correspondent and analyst on the Middle East prior to joining the Knesset.

Middle East. Personally. Yours.

To date, the region’s prospects are not promising.

huffingtonpost.com

05/24/2017 01:55 am ET Updated May 25, 2017

GETTY IMAGES
Trump in Saudi Arabia with king Salman

 

The United States President, Donald Trump, was all smiles as he strode down the red carpet in Al-Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. He clearly enjoyed the royal welcome, the gold, the glitter, the huge weapon deal and the generous donation made to Ivanka Trump’s new fund for women entrepreneurs.

And so, the idea promoted years ago by former U.S Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, of creating an alliance between Arab states, Israel and the United States against Iran, was brought back to the table. Saudi Arabia assumed a leading role in the alliance, namely, to combat Islamist terrorism worldwide.

It is no secret that to this very day Saudi Arabia invests vast sums of money in spreading Wahhabism – the most puritan and radical of all Islamic Sunni streams – in many countries in African and Southeast Asia, thereby nurturing future generations of jihadist terrorists. One may also recall that shortly before President Trump’s visit to Al-Riyadh, the Saudis effectively blocked a proposal made by the Trump administration to impose sanctions on a Saudi branch of ISIS.

The motion to add the Islamic State’s Saudi affiliate to a list of terrorist groups in the UN Security Council was sabotaged by Trump’s newly acquired best friends. It seems the Saudis did not wish to acknowledge the existence of an ISIS branch in their Kingdom, despite evidence to show otherwise. This was quite a peculiar move for a country that intends on playing a vital role in a newly formed anti-terror alliance. However, this doesn’t seem to bother Donald Trump.

Furthermore, the new American agenda for the Middle East, as presented by President Trump, will greatly impact the region’s ability to attain stability, or otherwise collapse. To date, the region’s prospects are not promising. The conditions that led to the rise of the Arab Spring have remained as they were, including unemployment, frustration, despair, and sparse opportunities for the younger generation, which make up a majority of the population. Top that off with corruption, a failing economy, and incompetent ailing Arab monarchs, presidents and prime ministers, who were forever supported by the United States, and occasionally Europe, and you have an estimate as to how well prepared the region is to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Nearly one hundred years ago, the Ottoman Empire was nicknamed “The Sick Man of Europe”. Today, most countries in the Middle East, excluding Israel and perhaps Tunisia, fall under a similar category. The wave of revolutions in 2011 was sparked from what were possibly the most personal stories in the history of humankind, with figures such as the Egyptian blogger Khaled Saeed, and the Tunisian vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouazizi. People easily identified with their personal suffering and took to the streets in mass protests. However, it appears the leaders of the Arab states, followed by their Western friends, continue to turn a blind eye to the individual needs of their people. They have yet to take a close and careful look at the region and shape their policy vis-à-vis the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the Middle East isn’t only suffering from bloodshed. It is also suffering from insufficient medical care, meagre wages, unemployment, power outages, rising costs of basic staples, rampant corruption, and a constant threat to people’s personal safety. If no one addresses these issues, or takes notice of the next Mohamed Bouazizi or Khaled Saeed, we will find ourselves back at square one. We will witness the chaos that serves the precise dark powers of extremism, which Donald Trump has promised to fight.

Is the Middle East capable of evading such a gruesome fate? The answer can’t be summed up with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but rather a ‘perhaps’. Perhaps with sufficient combined efforts, cooperation and critical thinking that address the region’s problems, a suitable Marshall Plan can be devised for the Middle East.

Perhaps if the American President refrains from sweeping the human and individual rights of the region under the rug and takes a closer look at what’s really going on, the situation will improve. The young people of the Middle East deserve his time, efforts and close attention, so that he truly sees them. A good deal in the Middle East must benefit actual people, real women and men. It must include and apply to individuals. In the words of the Godfather: “It’s all personal, every bit of the business”.

ARABIC’S FUTURE AS AN OFFICIAL LANGUAGE IN ISRAEL AT RISK, LEGISLATORS WARN

BY BEN LYNFIELD

JULY 12, 2017 01:54

Arab Mks say that should a bill proposing to eliminate Arabic’s official status in the country pass, it will be a “nakba of our language.”

A road sign in English, Hebrew, and Arabic points to the Israeli settlement of Susiya

 A road sign in English, Hebrew, and Arabic points to the Israeli settlement of Susiya. (photo credit:AFP PHOTO)
Elimination of Arabic’s status as an official language as is being proposed in a draft of a bill recently approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation would constitute “another nakba [catastrophe]” for Arabs, MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said on Tuesday.
“It will be another nakba, the nakba of our language,” he said, using the Arabic term that refers to the mass displacement of Palestinians during the War of Independence.

“It would allow more degradation of Arabic in the public sphere and its disappearance from the public sphere, affecting our identity and status,” Jabareen added.

He made the remarks during Arabic Language Day in the Knesset, which he organized in order to combat the bill and strengthen Arabic’s status together with NGOs seeking to advance equality, including Sikkuy, the Abraham Fund and Mosawa.

In mixed hometown of slain Druse officer, stun grenades thrown at mosques

As part of the day’s events, the Knesset education committee discussed how Arabic is taught in Jewish schools and the economics committee’s subcommittee on public transportation addressed issues related to posting signs in Arabic. The main event was a roundtable discussion of MKs and NGO representatives on “language, identity, and equality.” Only a few Jewish MKs attended the discussion, including Anat Berko (Likud), who came late, made brief remarks on the importance of Arabic study and then left.

Since the state’s inception Arabic has held official language status although in practice it is not treated equally to Hebrew or even English, which is not an official language, said Yonatan Mendel, director of the Center for Jewish-Arab relations at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. Arabic “is treated as inferior,” he said.

Mendel added: “English is a mandatory subject for school matriculation, while Arabic is not mandatory. Many official services are not in Arabic as well as many websites. It’s official on paper only. Israel understands its being official in a narrow way. Its status is fragile and weak.”

Canceling Arabic’s official status might accentuate the problem of government offices not using the language or having it on their websites, Mendel said. “But its worst implications are political and moral. For Arabs the erasure of Arabic will be parallel to erasure of their status as equal citizens. They might understand it as a step toward taking away their citizenship rights. It will not contribute to relations between Jews and Arabs.”

MK Oren Hazan (Likud), who supports ending Arabic’s official status, told The Jerusalem Post there is room for only one official language – Hebrew.

“We need a framework that will safeguard Jewish identity and the [Hebrew] language. The State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people and Hebrew has to be safeguarded as the only official language.” He said he supports Arabic having a “special status” without being official and is promoting legislation that would require the teaching of spoken Arabic in Jewish schools from first grade.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation in May approved a new version of the “nation-state bill” that states “the national language is Hebrew” and demotes Arabic from being official to having a “special status.”

The bill says Arabic speakers have the right to linguistically accessible state services.

Education Committee chairman Ya’acov Margi (Shas) declined to say whether he would support the change of status. “When I get the bill I will formulate my stance,” he said.

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) said a committee had been formed chaired by MK Amir Ohana (Likud) to advance the bill in coordination with coalition partners.

“We are concerned the final version will harm the status of Arabic and that this will be a humiliation for Arab citizens,” she said.

Svetlova addressed the roundtable discussion in fluent Modern Standard Arabic, which she learned 20 years ago as a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

She recalled being asked by a university staffer at the time why she did not study a European language instead.

“We are in the Middle East, all the neighbors speak Arabic, not Italian. The goal is that each child speak the two languages. This will advance peace,” she said.

Referring to Arabic literary luminaries, Svetlova added: “It is not the language of terrorism; it is the language of love and culture; the language of Yusuf Idris, Najib Mahfouz, Emile Habiby and Mahmoud Darwish.”

jpost.com

Middle East. Personally. Yours.

05/24/2017 01:55 am ET | Updated 26 minutes ago

GETTY IMAGES
Trump in Saudi Arabia with king Salman

The United States President, Donald Trump, was all smiles as he strode down the red carpet in Al-Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. He clearly enjoyed the royal welcome, the gold, the glitter, the huge weapon deal and the generous donation made to Ivanka Trump’s new fund for women entrepreneurs. And so, the idea promoted years ago by former U.S Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, of creating an alliance between Arab states, Israel and the United States against Iran, was brought back to the table. Saudi Arabia assumed a leading role in the alliance, namely, to combat Islamist terrorism worldwide. It is no secret that to this very day Saudi Arabia invests vast sums of money in spreading Wahhabism – the most puritan and radical of all Islamic Sunni streams – in many countries in African and Southeast Asia, thereby nurturing future generations of jihadist terrorists. One may also recall that shortly before President Trump’s visit to Al-Riyadh, the Saudis effectively blocked a proposal made by the Trump administration to impose sanctions on a Saudi branch of ISIS. The motion to add the Islamic State’s Saudi affiliate to a list of terrorist groups in the UN Security Council was sabotaged by Trump’s newly acquired best friends. It seems the Saudis did not wish to acknowledge the existence of an ISIS branch in their Kingdom, despite evidence to show otherwise. This was quite a peculiar move for a country that intends on playing a vital role in a newly formed anti-terror alliance. However, this doesn’t seem to bother Donald Trump.

Furthermore, the new American agenda for the Middle East, as presented by President Trump, will greatly impact the region’s ability to attain stability, or otherwise collapse. To date, the region’s prospects are not promising. The conditions that led to the rise of the Arab Spring have remained as they were, including unemployment, frustration, despair, and sparse opportunities for the younger generation, which make up a majority of the population. Top that off with corruption, a failing economy, and incompetent ailing Arab monarchs, presidents and prime ministers, who were forever supported by the United States, and occasionally Europe, and you have an estimate as to how well prepared the region is to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Nearly one hundred years ago, the Ottoman Empire was nicknamed “The Sick Man of Europe”. Today, most countries in the Middle East, excluding Israel and perhaps Tunisia, fall under a similar category. The wave of revolutions in 2011 was sparked from what were possibly the most personal stories in the history of humankind, with figures such as the Egyptian blogger Khaled Saeed, and the Tunisian vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouazizi. People easily identified with their personal suffering and took to the streets in mass protests. However, it appears the leaders of the Arab states, followed by their Western friends, continue to turn a blind eye to the individual needs of their people. They have yet to take a close and careful look at the region and shape their policy vis-à-vis the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Middle East isn’t only suffering from bloodshed. It is also suffering from insufficient medical care, meagre wages, unemployment, power outages, rising costs of basic staples, rampant corruption, and a constant threat to people’s personal safety. If no one addresses these issues, or takes notice of the next Mohamed Bouazizi or Khaled Saeed, we will find ourselves back at square one. We will witness the chaos that serves the precise dark powers of extremism, which Donald Trump has promised to fight.

Is the Middle East capable of evading such a gruesome fate? The answer can’t be summed up with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but rather a ‘perhaps’. Perhaps with sufficient combined efforts, cooperation and critical thinking that address the region’s problems, a suitable Marshall Plan can be devised for the Middle East. Perhaps if the American President refrains from sweeping the human and individual rights of the region under the rug and takes a closer look at what’s really going on, the situation will improve. The young people of the Middle East deserve his time, efforts and close attention, so that he truly sees them. A good deal in the Middle East must benefit actual people, real women and men. It must include and apply to individuals. In the words of the Godfather: “It’s all personal, every bit of the business”.

CALLS MOUNT FOR PROBE INTO UMM AL-HIRAN OPERATION

Jerusalem Post

BY BEN LYNFIELD
24 JANUARY 2017 05:09

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) said the Post report and other reports emerging about the incident appear to show that the scene of the police operation was a “complete mess.”

 Umm-al-Hiran
 Police in Umm-al-Hiran. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Eyewitness accounts published in The Jerusalem Post in which residents of the Negev Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran said police fired at a police vehicle during the January 18 demolition operation there have sparked sharp criticism by an opposition lawmaker of the government’s handling of the incident.

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) said the Post report and other reports emerging about the incident appear to show that the scene of the police operation was a “complete mess.” She also blasted Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan for rushing to say that it was a terrorist ramming attack that killed Sr.-St.-Sgt.- Maj. Erez Levi and wounded at least one other policeman.

The accounts published in the Post contradict the police version of events that led to the deaths of Levi and driver Yacoub al-Kaeean during the court-ordered demolition operation.

In remarks to the Post, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld implied that the eyewitness accounts of Sabri Abu al-Kaeean and Tayseer Abu al-Kaeean, which were reported in the Post on Monday, were not credible. “The incident is being looked at and examined. It has nothing to do with Beduin who were there. Beduin also said there were no stones [thrown during the operation] and we know that there were stones thrown at police.”

Asked if police had fired on fellow officers, Rosenfeld said: “The incident is still being examined and looked into, but in terms of the Israel Police, they responded based on the threat, the incident and what was taking place at the scene.”

A policeman who was injured during the incident is recovering in Soroka-University Medical Center, where staffers described him as “lightly wounded.” The policeman, whose identity is not being revealed, may have information about what happened during the operation, but Rosenfeld said that he is barred from giving interviews to the media.

He added that the incident in which the policeman was hurt “is still being looked into and examined, but as far as I know, he wasn’t hurt by ‘friendly fire.’” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel Police Commissioner Insp-Gen. Roni Alsheich and Erdan have all said it was a terrorist ramming attack by Yacoub that killed Levi and wounded other policemen. Police said they are investigating whether Yacoub was a member of Islamic State. Umm al-Hiran residents dismiss this and say Yacoub’s car went out of control only after he was shot by police. Police aerial footage from a drone appears to support that conclusion.

On Monday night, the High Court of Justice ordered police to release Yacoub’s body to his family for his funeral to take place on Tuesday. The court rejected the state’s position that “due to tensions in the Negev area” the body should be returned only if the family agreed to a nighttime burial with a limited number of participants.

Svetlova said the Post’s report underscores the need for an independent commission of inquiry into the Umm al-Hiran affair.

“The matters revealed now and coming out to the press and public, and the report that it’s possible police fired on a police vehicle and that there was a complete mess there, points at how much Likud ministers and other irresponsible politicians rushed to draw premature conclusions.

“Who will pay the price for their incitement against the Arab public and who will bear responsibility for the things that were said?” she asked. “It was said with complete certainty that it was a terrorist attack and it was also attributed to ISIS. But the more we learn, a much more complex picture emerges. Mahash [the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation’s Department] is investigating it, but I would prefer an independent inquiry commission that will arrive at the truth. The citizens of Israel deserve to know the whole truth.”

The Public Security Ministry declined to comment.

Criticism of the operation also emerged from the Right on Monday.

Former defense minister Moshe Arens termed the demolitions “a human tragedy that should not have been permitted to occur.

“We are in the process of having the Beduin population become loyal citizens of the State of Israel and that doesn’t move things in that direction at all,” he told the Post. “From a human point of view, it’s a very unfortunate incident, something that should not have been done. Even if the High Court of Justice gave its okay, it should not have been done.

“Although there are many differences with Gush Katif, there’s a common denominator of people living in their homes for many years and suddenly being forcibly uprooted. There are High Court decisions that don’t take into account the suffering involved in carrying out the decision, and in Umm al-Hiran, it led to loss of life as well.”

Arens said of Yacoub: “He could be innocent. There’s an investigation, so I’m trying to keep an open mind, but right from the beginning it was not at all clear exactly what happened. I can see that in this situation maybe mistakes have been made and possibly, [Yacoub] Abu al-Kaeean had no intention of hurting anyone, and people misinterpreted the movement of his car as an attempt to hurt the police.

“It’s quite possible there was a misunderstanding there, a mistake was made and two lives were lost in the process.”

Meanwhile, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel and Adalah, the Arab rights organization, have asked the police to investigate the circumstances of the wounding of Joint List leader Ayman Odeh during the demolition operation. Police said at the time that Odeh was injured by a stone.

But in a letter to the Justice Ministry, the two rights groups wrote that when Odeh and other activists heard gunfire, they tried to make their way to the scene of the shooting to understand what happened. “They were blocked, however, by police officers who cursed and struck them even after it was made clear an MK was among the group,” they said in a press release.

“One officer sprayed MK Odeh in the face with pepper spray at point-blank range. Subsequently, as MK Odeh and the activists were retreating from the village, police fired rubber bullets and illumination flares at them, at which time MK Odeh was struck in the head and the back.”

Umm al-Hiran resident Aga Abu al-Khaeean, whose house was demolished in the January 18 operation, told the Post that day that she saw policemen hitting and shooting at Odeh.

Insights from an Israeli Member of Knesset – A Frank Discussion with MK Ksenia Svetlova

04.07.2016

 

 

“Israel has strayed from the route”

 Ksenia Svetlova

Ksenia Svetlova. Photo Twitter

“I am a product of this country,” 38-year-old Knesset member Ksenia Svetlova exclaims proudly, “I have been living here for 25 years.” A Russian-born immigrant to Israel, she studied Middle Eastern History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and went on to become a respected Arab affairs correspondent for a number of international media. She speaks four languages and is currently completing a doctorate. Her decision to enter politics, as a member of the Zionist Union party, was the “intolerable” diplomatic and socioeconomic situation in the country. “The time came for me to roll up my sleeves and try to improve the situation from the inside.” Listed in 21st place, she found herself in the Knesset when the party won 24 seats in the March 2015 elections.

Svetlova’s story is an amalgamation of parcels of history of Jewish immigration to Israel. Israel comprises many immigrant communities, yet her story stands out for its remarkable achievements. She explains that her mother decided to move to Israel when she was 14, feeling “something bad would happen in Russia”. She alludes to the fact that they were Jewish. They immigrated to Israel to reach their motherland. “You always lose something when you leave a place,” she says of her native Moscow.

A leftist and a reformist, Svetlova is considered a ‘rare breed’ of a politician at a time when being in the opposition is not easy. Yet she has remained true to her instincts. She opposes religious coercion and endorses progressive denominations of Judaism. She does not subscribe to the non-egalitarian nature of Jewish orthodoxy in Israel, and believes that people should be able to choose a pluralistic form of religion. This outlook evolved after she was refused a divorce for two years by the Chief Rabbinate. In Jewish religious law, a husband must present his wife with a “get” (divorce) document to effect the divorce, a system perceived by some as favouring men and being open to abuse. “I am trying to raise awareness of how intolerant the religious parties can be towards those different from them.”

“We cannot give up. It is not easy to be in the opposition but I am an optimist. Today, we have more hate for the other than we have love for ourselves,” she says of the current climate of racism and xenophobia.

She recently returned from a J Street conference in Washington DC. “It was the highlight of my trip,” she says of the annual event organized by the US-based lobby group that seeks to end the Israeli-Arab conflict through diplomatic means. “Although in 2015 there was gloom at the J Street conference after the Zionist Union, a centre-left party, lost the elections, our position has not changed.” She stresses the shared values between her party and J Street. “I have no magic solution,” she says honestly about the ongoing conflict, “but hope comes out of despair.” She supports the two-state solution and regional discussion towards peace with all of Israel’s Arab neighbours.

Her decision to study Arabic at university stems in part from the fact that her father was an art historian and she was impressed in her youth by Islamic architecture and the art of Ancient Egypt. “How can we live in a region and not understand the language which is spoken there?” she wonders, incredulously. “We must try to learn history and not just through the eyes of the conflict.”

As a mother of six-year-old twins, she ponders what type of country she is leaving for her daughters. She hopes that they will be able to live in Israel and not be “forced to leave in 20 years’ time. We should not lose our humanity or empathy due to the conflict. We should not forget who we are.”

She continues: “Israel is in free fall. Look at who our allies are today: Saudi Arabia and Russia.” She believes Israel should draw inspiration from more democratic allies. She recognizes that no country is perfect but believes there is a lot to fix in Israel. One thing is certain, she and her regional parliamentarians have their work cut out for them.