“Schlaglicht Israel” offers an insight into internal Israeli debates and reflects selected, political events that affect daily life in Israel. It appears every two weeks and summarizes articles that appeared in the Israeli daily press.
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Main topics covered in this Publication:
- Spectacular Escape From Maximum Security Prison
- Meeting Between Naftali Bennett and Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi
- Israeli Soldier Killed in the Border Area With the Gaza Strip
- Selection of Articles
1. Spectacular Escape From Maximum Security Prison
No to the collective punishment of Palestinian prisoners
The Prison Service has found an easy, ineffective, unjust way to obscure its colossal failure to prevent the escape from Gilboa Prison by six Palestinian security prisoners. The plan is apparently to worsen the living conditions for all security prisoners, to transfer the hundreds of Islamic Jihad prisoners out of their current prisons and disperse them among other prisons (..) along with other measures designed to make their lives miserable. The approximately 4,500 security prisoners and detainees currently in Israeli prisons are discriminated against in the conditions they receive compared to other prisoners. Of this total, 2,500 are serving prison sentences, 1,474 are awaiting trial or still on trial, and 500 are detainees being held without trial, with no charges filed against them and no possibility to defend themselves, which is intolerable in itself. Not one of these thousands of inmates is given the right to go out on a furlough, even after decades behind bars, and phone calls to their families are generally forbidden too. Their cases are tried in the military legal system, which basically functions as an executive arm of the occupation authorities and imposes very harsh, often disproportionate, punishments. (…) by incarcerating thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, the state is violating the international law that prohibits prisoners and detainees from being taken out of occupied territory. (…) The call to collectively punish all of these thousands of prisoners (…) to make the conditions of their incarceration even harsher (…) is outrageous. It (…) is not right and could also heighten tensions and increase the danger of violence erupting inside and outside the prisons. The Prison Service authorities should (…) not punish all of the prisoners for something they did not do. They did not escape. Only their six fellow prisoners did.
Editorial, HAA, 09.09.21
The next prison break is already in the works
The Israel Prison Service’s world collapsed (…) when six inmates (…) managed to escape. The incredible ease with which the six succeeded in breaking out of a prison cell and fleeing without anyone noticing has caused a great deal of embarrassment (…) There’s no denying this was a failure. (…) The need to draw personal conclusions toward those responsible is oftentimes an integral part of the recovery process of learning the necessary lessons from an event. (…) no matter how many heads are made to roll, Israel will not prevent the next escape. The opposite may even be true. This could pave the way for prisoners for whom this thought has only now entered their minds. (…) the truth that is so difficult to swallow is that no one is genuinely interested in the complex and difficult job of managing the microcosm that exits between the prison walls. This is the State of Israel’s complicated and neglected backyard. According to all those “in the know,” everyone involved should be ousted, in a move that would surely cripple the IPS. (…) plans for the next escape from one of the prisons around the country are already being made. Prisoners have all the time in the world. This is a real battle of the minds. (…)
Eli Gabai, IHY,10.09.21
Israel needs to reconsider policy on Palestinian prisoners
(…) The fact that the escaped prisoners found it difficult to survive outside the prison for even one week indicates that they are less sophisticated and connected than they were presented as being, highlighting the extent of the lapse which enabled them to escape to begin with. (…) there should be some renewed strategic thinking about the need to incarcerate so many Palestinians for “security” reasons. The issue of these prisoners is at the bottom of the heap of Israel’s priorities. The breakout and the great interest it evoked provide an opportunity to put on the agenda the issue of incarcerating Palestinians, an enterprise that has become a “conveyor belt of detentions.” (…) It’s hard to assess the frightening number of Palestinians who have spent time in Israeli prisons throughout the decades of occupation. (…) The breakout provides a glimpse of this enterprise and its dimensions, of the conditions in prison and its impact on the Palestinian street. But this is also an important opportunity to bring up the question of this draconian policy of incarceration as a tool for political repression, used as a central mainstay of the apparatus sustaining the occupation and the military control over millions of people.
Editorial, HAA, 12.09.21
Wanted: Someone to take responsibility for Gilboa prison break
(…) Six dangerous prisoners tunneled their way out through a hole that wasn’t sealed for seven years while the prison guard near their cells was sleeping, the watch tower was unmanned, no one answered the phone, and the structure’s blueprint was published online year prior. So yeah, we should really examine whether it was systemic neglect or just a bad day at the office. They never know, they never hear, they never see but most importantly they never take responsibility, ever. That’s the number one rule of Israel’s public officials. (…) From a lowest ranking officer up to a minister, every official in Israel knows very well who wins over the public. The first one who faces the camera with a tragic look, which he practiced with his media advisers, and says: I feel for the families in these difficult times, we will investigate and learn the lessons from the incident. Or in other words, we are all responsible, but none of us bears the responsibility. And when an Israeli public figure announces that he or she takes responsibility, they usually don’t mean it, because you don’t need to announce it, you just need to accept the blame and its consequences and resign. But for many years no one in Israel’s public sphere would take responsibility and resigned over national disasters caused by human error, and over time they stopped being ashamed. (…) In every workplace in the private sector, the norm is to resign or get fired after a major failure. But (…) in places where accountability is not the norm, no one will take responsibility. And where there’s no responsibility, something is broken, and it will forever be that way.
Raanan Shaked, YED, 12.09.21
Where there’s a will there’s a way
(…) three issues (…) represent the depth of the civilian conflict Arab Israelis currently experience. (…) The first issue touches on the sympathy for the fugitives among Arab Israelis, and the ridicule expressed toward the Israel Prison Service, Israel Police and Shin Bet security service. The IPS is already notorious in the eyes of most Arab Israelis, who see it as rotten to its core, and many social media users wondered how a country that can get its hand on the Iranian nuclear archives can’t keep prisoners behind bars. The second issue touches on participation in the manhunt for the fugitives, which eventually led to the capture of four of them so far. Dozens of Arab Israeli policemen and scouts took part in the search, sparing no effort to assist in the manhunt and facilitated the eventual capture of four of the prisoners. The “golden tip” received by the police on Friday saw the Palestinian public harshly criticize Arab Israelis – the same Arab Israelis that spends almost every day in Jenin, Nablus and Hebron and became “Israeli” in their eyes, but also remained Arab in the eyes of the Jewish majority in Israel. The third issue touches on how law enforcement – and especially the police – actually handle crime in the Arab sector. One cannot help but compare the mishandling of the former to the massive efforts invested in the search for the six fugitives that, if anything, prove that when the police set their mind to it – they can absolutely get the job done.
Surging crime in the Arab sector is a burning issue. Over the last 20 years, rising crime has claimed 1,600 victims – 80 of them in 2021 so far – while the police fail time and again to get the situation under control, citing “lack of civilian cooperation in the fight on crime.” In the eyes of many in the Arab public, the canvass for the fugitives, especially by the police, revealed its neglect in dealing with crime in Arab society in a clear and decisive way. As far as Arab Israelis are concerned, if the police really wanted to track down criminals who do as they see fit in Arab localities – shoot, terrorize, murder, and extort – they could land them behind bars, if not within a day then within a week or a month. (…)
Jalal Bana, IHY, 13.09.21
The fascists who justify terrorism
Israel’s fascist right-wing has thrown around a lot of serious accusations in recent days following the escape of six Palestinian security prisoners from Gilboa Prison last week. Some accused the entire Palestinian nation of being bloodthirsty. Are some of them bloodthirsty? Probably. Are all of them bloodthirsty? Of course not. How are we supposed to treat a person who utters such racist bile? Despicable as it may be, those who voice their support for the six fugitives, who all have blood on their hands, are even worse. (…) A struggle for freedom, for liberation, for independence, can certainly evoke empathy, even when it comes to one’s opponent. The problem is that the struggle of Zakaria Zubeidi and his compatriots was and remains a murderous one meant to eliminate the Jewish entity from Israel. (…) Palestinians continuously rejected any and all offers for independence. (…) They could have easily established a state in the two decades between the War of Independence (1948) and the Six-Day War (1967). Back then there was no such thing as the Israeli “occupation”. And yet, the Palestinians did nothing to establish a state for themselves. Instead, they always fought against the Jewish entity and the very existence of the State of Israel. (…) the Palestinian struggle is not against something Israel is doing, it is a struggle against the very existence of Israel. (…) It is true that we have fascists on both the right and the left. Anyone who shows sympathy for Jewish terrorism, whoever encourages and justifies it, is a fascist. Anyone who shows sympathy for Arab terrorism, encourages it and justifies it, is also a fascist. (…)
Ben-Dror Yemini, YED, 13.09.21
2. Meeting Between Naftali Bennett and Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi
Another escalation on the horizon
The meeting between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (…) touched on many things – diplomatic relations, trade agreements, and regional and international issues – but the most important topic of discussion was dealing with the Gaza Strip. Both leaders understand that tensions between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist group controlling the Gaza Strip, are bordering new hostilities. Egypt is highly invested in its efforts to broker a ceasefire and it has been partially successful in defusing tensions over recent months, but it seems that it is facing a greater challenge than before. (…) Gaza’s rulers are very frustrated over their inability to leverage its attacks on Israel in May, during Operation Guardian of the Walls into actual achievements. (…) At the same time, Islamic Jihad also wants to seize an opportunity posed by the Gilboa Prison break. (…) Israel would be unable to contain such an escalation and may choose to focus its counterterrorism campaign only on Islamic Jihad, as it did during Operation Black Belt in 2019, which followed the elimination of Baha Abu al-Ata, Islamic Jihad’s “chief of staff” in Gaza. Back then, Hamas chose to not to join the fray but its current situation is more complicated and it will find it difficult to restrain its operatives when the reason for an escalation is Palestinian security prisoners. This is a matter of consensus on the Palestinian street. Sinwar himself is a former prisoner who was released in the 2011 Schalit deal, and he has sworn to do everything to free his friends who are left behind. On the other hand, Hamas would prefer to avoid fresh hostilities, especially as Sinwar knows that he may pay for it with his life. This is where the Egyptians come in. They will most likely try to find a way to de-escalate the situation. (…)
Yoav Limor, IHY, 14.09.21
Israel’s Ties With Egypt Are On The Upswing
(…) Israel’s mercurial relations with Egypt seem to be improving. (…) On the day Bennet and Sissi met, the Israeli media disclosed that Egypt’s national airline, EgyptAir, will operate four weekly direct flights to Israel starting early in October. (…) Bennett’s meeting with Sissi was significant because a decade has elapsed since Israeli and Egyptian leaders last met publicly. (…) Like his last four predecessors, Sissi has advocated a two-state solution. Nonetheless, unlike the Palestinian Authority, Sissi welcomed Israel’s normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates last August, saying he supports “any steps that will being peace” to the Middle East. (…) Bennett, an opponent of Palestinian statehood, made no mention of this issue. But he thanked Egypt for its role in maintaining “security stability” in Gaza. (…) The Israeli ambassador in Cairo, Amira Oron, whose appointment was announced just over a year ago, will doubtless work on this issue to ensure that Israel’s bilateral relations with Egypt grow a little warmer in the years ahead.
About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner, TOI, 14.09.21
Israel’s government of change is taking commendable diplomatic steps
(…) the government of change is continuing to take its first commendable diplomatic steps. The meeting between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Sharm el-Sheikh (…) was the first official and public visit by an Israeli prime minister to Egypt in the last decade. Benjamin Netanyahu and Sissi met many times over the years, but these meetings were unofficial and mostly undercover. Moreover, Egypt went out of its way to publicly broadcast its respect for the diplomacy of Israel’s new government and for the person heading it, placing Israel’s flag behind Bennett for the photo of their meeting, a gesture never made for Netanyahu or, before him, Ehud Olmert. The relations between Israel and its neighbor Egypt are important in and of themselves, and any step that could bring the two nations, not just their leaders, closer, is significant and desirable. But Egypt is also important as a mediator between Israel and the Hamas leadership in Gaza, and as the leader of the international community’s efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip. (…) The meeting between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the chairman of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas also heralds a change. This was the first official meeting between an Israeli minister and the chairman since 2010. (…) One should also note the secret meeting between Bennett and Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman last July. This ended years of a rupture between the leaders of both countries, a rupture also bearing Netanyahu’s mark. (…) One can only hope that the government of change continues with the diplomatic road it has taken while ignoring background noise.
Editorial, HAA, 15.09.21
3. Israeli Soldier Killed in the Border Area With the Gaza Strip
The cynical exploitation of a soldier’s death
The death of Border Police soldier Barel Hadaria Shmueli is being cynically and outrageously exploited. This is happening in a two-pronged approach, with one side fixated on seeking disproportionate revenge for his death, and the other seeking to return Benjamin Netanyahu to power by undermining the legitimacy of Naftali Bennett’s government. Shmueli’s death resulted from a tactical error in the Gaza Division’s deployment. A Hamas man took advantage of this error and caused the tragic result. The online campaign begun by soldiers and reservists in the wake of the episode seeks to “free the hands” of IDF soldiers, so the fighters won’t be risking their lives due to the restrictions imposed on them. This is a dangerous campaign that blurs the fact that the IDF killed more than 200 Palestinians in incidents along the Gaza border in 2018-20. Many of the victims were killed or wounded with no justification. (…) So rather than “freeing the hands” of Israeli soldiers (…) the campaign’s real goal appears to be to avenge Shmueli’s death in a disproportionate way without the need for any military, national, or moral reckoning. These soldiers’ and reservists’ desires to “free their hands” for revenge is being disgracefully exploited by political activists who support Netanyahu. (…) Not only have these activists not been denounced and singled out for posing a danger, they have received support from a number of politicians who are trying to exploit the momentum to deal a blow to Bennett while promoting Netanyahu’s return. (…) Barel Hadaria Shmueli was killed in the line of duty. His death must not be exploited for political capital at the army’s expense. (…)
Editorial, HAA, 01.09.12
Leave bereavement out of politics
(…) By the nature of war, the IDF is not free of operational errors. Those have a price and sometimes it is a heavy one. We are committed to investigate them and learn from them.
The death of Border Police St.-Sgt. Barel Hadaria Shmueli pains us all – from the chief of staff down to the troops on the ground and, of course, the family, who have lost its son.
However, Shmueli was not murdered. He was a brave Border Police officer who was killed in the line of duty by terrorist fire while defending the residents of southern Israel.(…) Shmueli’s death cannot be used as a tool in petty political bickering at the IDF’s expense. We have the finest military commanders but they are people, not robots, and therefore they are not infallible. But they do know how to scrutinize their actions and learn the necessary lesson. (…) Our need for social resilience, solidarity, and a supportive home front is a condition for success on the battlefield and without them, there can be no triumph and no security. We owe this to our soldiers and commanders – to Israeli fathers, mothers, and children – we owe them this simple thing – backing. (…) I call on my fellow politicians; I demand of you – leave bereavement out of politics. It is greater than any dispute. Leave the IDF to its natural sphere – long our borders and on the battlefield to protect us, to ward off war, and – if we must fight one – to win. (…)
Benny Gantz, IHY, 06.09.21
The silence of the commanders
The inquiry into the incident in which Border Policeman Barel Hadaria Shmueli was killed in action on the Gaza border is still underway. (…) What really happened doesn’t matter, what counts is the golden opportunity the incident provides. (…) A variety of interested parties promote the narrative that soldiers are afraid to shoot, don’t understand the open-fire orders or, worse still, understand them and realize they are being led like sheep to slaughter. (…) when the Israel Democracy Institute conducted a survey among combat soldiers, more than 60% responded that meticulous compliance with the law as dictated by the IDF Advocate General’s Office hobbles the IDF and makes it more difficult for it to perform its military missions. These results did not emerge in a vacuum, but rather are the product of the persistent, aggressive repetition of that message. So now go and explain to the authors of all the tweets and those who reply to them, that the open-fire orders have not been changed. IDF commanders insist these orders are precisely what they should be and that there are no cases of soldiers who don’t shoot because they are afraid of the Advocate General, but they are not exactly shouting the message from the rooftops. Maybe the IDF has simply decided to lie low until the storm passes. (…) It seems, however, that the horses have already bolted from this stable and are galloping full-speed ahead, threatening to trample what remains of the IDF’s values. This is too high a price to pay. The late response on behalf of the IDF, emphasizing that the IDF would never turn its back on its guiding principles and ideals is dubious. When they want to, senior commanders can write letters, publish columns, or add specific statements to otherwise standard speeches. When a soldier freezes on the spot instead of charging the enemy, the IDF stands tall and insists on the importance of carrying out the mission. The brigade and division commanders, and even the Chief of Staff – no one keeps silent. Insistence on an uncompromising commitment to the IDF’s code of ethics may not project a life-and-death message. Speaking out about moral fortitude doesn’t win popularity points. But one must display courage and a fighting spirit against bullies – even when the rabble is homegrown.
Idit Shafran Gittleman, TOI, 06.09.21
4. Selection of Articles
Eviction of the Bedouin Village of Khan Al-Ahmar Suspended Again
Khan al-Ahmar is an issue for too long, time to make a choice
(…) The story of Khan al-Ahmar, a small encampment of Bedouin, just off the road past Ma’aleh Adumim on the way to the Dead Sea, is one of disputed narratives and questions of ownership, just like other areas of Bedouin settlement that have become endless court cases. Khan al-Ahmar consists of some 180 Jahalin Bedouin who might have moved there in the 1950s, but that “fact” is dependent on who you talk to. The issue of where they came from and when is largely irrelevant today. (…) Regardless of the details of how the people got there and whether they were expelled before, what matters is that this small community of rural people living in shacks near a highway has become an endless dispute. The dispute involves the state’s desire to raze the village and relocate its residents. (…) Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is correct in asserting the bulldozing Bedouin tents and removing kids from their school isn’t good for Israel’s image. The new government’s initiative to work with Jordan, Morocco, and other countries, host leading Democratic US Senators, and engage with liberal voices in Europe again would face a huge obstacle if it okays bulldozing a village. That argument doesn’t hold water, however, with those who want Khan al-Ahmar gone. (…) Of course, there are laws, but a look at the country’s history shows a pragmatic view that has often strove to find a middle ground between law and necessity. Israel’s laws are often not even carried out in the Negev, where there is mass illegal Bedouin settlement. So why must the law be carried out for a few dozen people in shacks in the West Bank? Assuming the Bedouin would even be amenable to the idea, wouldn’t it be better to build homes for them and standardize their living standards than pretend, every year, that tomorrow the bulldozers will come?
Israel needs to decide what it wants to do. Continuously postponing the removal of Khan al-Ahmar is not a strategy. It is kicking the can down the road. A country should know how to do better.
Editorial, JPO, 05.09.21
The Khan al-Ahmar show must end
(…) former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used to talk a lot about his desire to evacuate the village and his intention to do so, but in practice his successive governments didn’t evict a single resident. And that’s in spite of the fact that the High Court – to its great shame – upheld the decision to raze the village back in 2018 and even urged the government to implement it. Time after time, Netanyahu’s government fudged its positions to the court and bought more time to delay the eviction. The Netanyahu government’s “left-wing” behavior on Khan al-Ahmar spurred rightists to criticize its leader, including several who depicted themselves at the time as the Israeli right’s authentic representatives – Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Gideon Sa’ar and Avigdor Lieberman. Now, all four are members of the cabinet, and Bennett, the settlers’ representative, sits in the Prime Minister’s Office. Yet they, too, are seeking to buy time, just like Netanyahu did. (…) this government (…) need to be told the following: Enough hypocrisy, enough hiding behind the High Court’s skirts. Lapid, Benny Gantz, Merav Michaeli, Nitzan Horowitz and Mansour Abbas – the leaders of five of the eight parties in the governing coalition – need to use their political power to push through a decision to leave Khan al-Ahmar in place, take the plan to evacuate it off the agenda and allow its residents to live their lives without uncertainty. The Khan al-Ahmar show must end.
Editorial, HAA, 06.09.21
On this Rosh Hashanah, let’s try to be more thankful
(…) This year (…) try a different approach. One that focuses on Israeli society’s achievements over the past year rather than its shortcomings. Instead of ripping into one another, let’s applaud the citizens who took personal responsibility and went to get vaccinated against coronavirus to keep small businesses afloat. Let’s celebrate the teachers who went out of their way to educate our children with a warm hug, those who had to reinvent themselves and teach in the schoolyard and or in the park just so the education system could stay open.
Let’s look in the eyes of the doctors and medical teams who give their everything and fight for every patient. They didn’t see their homes and families for days on end at the peak of the pandemic, who held every patient’s hand and made sure each and every one will get the best treatment. (…) Let’s say a good word about our lawmakers. You read it right — those who spent night and day in parliament and made the tough decisions. Let’s celebrate the Israeli volunteer spirit which is like no other around the world. (…) Let’s make sure to say a good word about the local authorities who have demonstrated endless resilience in the face of the pandemic and security situation. Let’s praise the journalists and commentators in the studios who gave us all a sense of security to express our opinions fearlessly and impartially. And lest we forget, let’s thank those who keep us safe — IDF, Israel Police, Shin Bet, Mossad, and all the brave men and women who chose to dedicate their lives to the protection of the State of Israel. Many of them will not get to sit around the holiday table like us. They will be guarding our cities, our borders and guarding us on missions overseas. (…)
Nurit Dabush, YED, 06.09.21
HAA = Haaretz
YED = Yedioth Ahronoth / Ynetnews
JPO = Jerusalem Post
IHY = Israel HaYom
TOI = Times of Israel
GLO = Globes
Published: September 2021.
Dr. Paul Pasch,
Head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel