What is Hidden in Dimona?

Jonathan Shamir

President Trump’s disdain for the Iran Nuclear Deal, the inflammatory exchanges with North Korea, and new pressure in Japan to respond to its volatile neighbour, have rewritten the nuclear landscape – and it could spell Armageddon. Meanwhile, the arid planes of Dimona are hushed. They are unremarkable and inconspicuous. Even Israel’s mass forestation projects never managed to tame the Negev desert, but these inhospitable conditions make the perfect location for Israel’s worst kept secret.

How did the young state of less than two million people get away with it?

When Israel began nuclear production in the fifties, the fledgling state was under existential threat: it knew that the new lines drawn on the map could be erased just as quickly. The retreat of Israel’s Western patrons from the Middle East did not placate these fears, either. Historically, the Jewish people had always been dependent on other nations, but Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion decided that to survive, Israel had to embrace their newfound independence and pursue the ultimate insurance policy – they had to go nuclear.

It was such vulnerability which contributed to Israeli exceptionalism. As countries were preaching non-proliferation, the components for Israel’s programme came from all over the world: the French, drawn into the project by the doubled-guilt of Vichy and Suez, provided invaluable technology and experience. Norway provided the deuterium oxide, while America and South Africa provided the uranium. Shimon Peres later wrote in his memoirs that half of the money for the reactor, over $40 million, came from Israel’s allies. Against all odds, the inconspicuous sliver on the world map joined the ranks of the most powerful nations on earth in acquiring nuclear weapons: the USA, the USSR, and the UK.

In the next decade, John F. Kennedy would express distaste at Israel’s nuclear activities, but the inspections are circumvented or delayed into farce. The mutually-acknowledged façade eventually turns into acceptance when Golda Meir presses Richard Nixon to halt pressure on Israel to sign the NPT. This unwritten understanding has been upheld ever since. This contrarian accommodation cannot simply be explained by what was sold as existential necessity. After all, diplomacy is governed by interests. For a long time, Israel has been perceived as a stable frontier in an otherwise tumultuous region. Although Benjamin Netanyahu’s abrasive gallivanting has raised questions about the unconditional bipartisan support in America, as well as antagonising many countries in Europe, this status endures.
Therefore, the former speaker of the Knesset Avraham Burg’s description of Israel’s official line of non-disclosure as “childish and outdated” three years ago is wrong. The proclamation of nuclear power from other non-signatories of the NPT, such as an India and Pakistan, forces the hand of diplomatic pressure, but opacity can make this unpalatable truth easier to conveniently ignore.

The same tactic of denial did not work for Iran. Unlike Israel, Iran’s defiant enrichment of uranium prompted international outrage. While the concoction of an unstable regime and unstable weapons elicits the full force of diplomatic pressure, mutual interests can grant diplomatic immunity. After all, on the North Korean Day of Sun and the annual Iranian Quds Day, Israeli and American flags are set alight in common fire. Dimona therefore reveals an unsavoury truth about the nuclear arms race: Israel dilutes the heavy brunt of nuclear responsibility, and many Western nations want to turn a blind eye. The status quo, and the unique blend of historical circumstances, allows them to do so.

For Umm al-Kheir, Awareness is Resistance- By Ben Reiff

Umm al-Kheir is under attack. You probably haven’t heard that the village has been on the receiving end of rocks thrown by settlers for more than 30 consecutive nights, or that Ta’ayush activist Guy Butavia was attacked during a solidarity visit to Umm al-Kheir last month after confronting the settlers about their harassment, or that the IDF came to erect a razor wire fence to cut off the villagers from even more of their own land. And yet none of this is new; Umm al-Kheir has been under attack for a long time.

The Israeli Civil Administration has been threatening this tiny village, home to 150 Bedouins, with demolition for more than two decades, while settler violence here has also been a commonality. What makes Umm al-Kheir such a target for demolitions and violent attacks? The primary factor is geographical: the village sits adjacent to the settlement of Carmel. Or rather, the settlement of Carmel sits on the land of Umm al-Kheir, purchased by the Hathaleen family – 1948 refugees from the Negev – in the early 1960s.

The Israeli government began the construction of several settlements in the South Hebron Hills (including Carmel, Maon and Susya) in the early 1980s, with no regard for the rights of the Palestinians in the region whose lands it was expropriating. The subsequent division of the West Bank into Areas A, B and C at Oslo saw the villagers of Umm al-Kheir’s misfortune double; due to the cluster of recently constructed settlements, many of the small, rural Bedouin communities in the region found themselves under full Israeli control in Area C.

Hence, by the mid-90s, the villagers of Umm al-Kheir had lost not only a large chunk of their land but also the ability to build on that land, for with Oslo came an almost total prohibition on Palestinian construction in Area C, despite some 50% of that land being privately owned by Palestinians. According to B’Tselem, stated Israeli restrictions automatically block Palestinian construction in 70% of Area C (with 36.5% designated as “state land”, 30% firing zones etc), but this doesn’t mean the remaining 30% is available for unrestricted construction; the Civil Administration has exclusive authority over planning processes, and has refused to approve any master plans for more than 90% of the Palestinian villages in Area C. As such, it is almost impossible for Palestinians there to obtain building permits, making all construction (even on their own land) illegal and thus liable to demolition. Meanwhile, expansion in the settlement of Carmel continues.

What does the international community have to say about all this? The efforts of activists (for example the recent Center for Jewish Nonviolence-led Global Shabbat Against Demolitions to pressure the government into ending the demolitions in Umm al-Kheir and Susya in the West Bank as well as Umm al-Hiran and al-Araqib inside Israel, or the ongoing attempts to restore life to Sarura) have helped to raise the profile of these villages and put them on the international agenda somewhat. The Obama Administration was critical of the demolitions but failed to apply any real pressure on Netanyahu’s government, while the EU has funded structures to replace those that have been demolished. Still lacking the Civil Administration’s approval for building, however, these face the same risks of demolition as Palestinian-built structures, and Israel doesn’t hesitate to destroy these too.

In an attempt to add a carrot to the sticks of demolition threats and settler violence that are pressuring the residents of Umm al-Kheir to leave their lands, the Civil Administration has fully connected another village, a kilometre or so away, to the water supply and provided building permits for construction on site. Presently, Umm al-Kheir’s residents are unable even to dig water wells since this would constitute construction, forcing them to illegally tap into the system at the nearby village in order to fill up their own tanks. The settlers of Carmel have regularly been flying drones over Umm al-Kheir to spy on any secret construction the Palestinians might be attempting, ready to report any developments to the Civil Administration. But even in these conditions, the villagers see acquiescing to Israeli pressure as completely unfathomable, refusing to allow the government free rein to expand Carmel further onto their lands.

Regardless of their desire to remain, the situation for the residents of Umm al-Kheir, much like the situation for the residents of nearby Susya, is very grave. The recently erected fence cutting them off from their lands is another obstacle to grazing sheep, with settler harassment already preventing them from wandering freely with their flock. The reduction in the size and health of their flock that this has provoked has taken its toll on the villagers’ ability to be self-sufficient, forcing them in recent years to adapt to a new way of life.

One manifestation of this change has been a focus on education for the younger generation in the village, which in turn has led to a greater ability among residents to tell their story to a larger, global audience. With the Jewish Agency deciding that it doesn’t want young diaspora Jews collaborating with Palestinians on their programmes anymore, it is even more important to ensure that the story of Umm al-Kheir (and the many others like it) doesn’t fall on deaf ears.

A week with family and friends in Israel

Anonymous

Jerusalem 11am

Glossy orange bags of expensive coffee line the shelf. Underneath, the dreadlocked cashier tongs shiny sufganyot into paper parcels for Chanukah-giddy customers. We’re still sitting with our empty mugs and croissant crumbs gazing keenly through the big windows onto the endless stream of hats, sticks, buggies, and shades. Every three minutes a silver tram glides past, dispatching the hats, sticks, buggies and shades to Mamila, the Old City, and Machane Yehuda. Inside, our excitable nattering competes with infant squeals and rapid-fire Ivrit from neighbouring tables. We’re revelling in old stories until one of us lowers her glasses and interrupts the familial niceties:

“You know… I hate driving there. The Arabs, if they don’t kill us with bombs they’ll get us on the road!”

‘There’ is a religious Jewish settlement located midway between Ramallah and Nablus. The drive is straightforward: an hour and a half north of Jerusalem on Route 60. ‘There’ is where her son lives with his wife and five children. Once I am over the delicious irony of an Israeli critiquing somebody else’s driving, a series of questions dart across my mind: is her fear of Arabs in cars extrapolated from recent ramming attacks? Is this an ill-judged quip or concerted racism? Can such an endearing woman be capable of concerted racism? Is there genuinely a paucity of quality driving instructors in the area? Did she think we’d laugh? Did she think we’d sympathise? Should we? Why does this son—my cousin—choose to live in a place too dangerous for the grandmother of his children to visit, a place presumably dangerous for his young family too? In a flash we’re onto somebody’s fiancée’s job and I swallow my questions.

Tel-Aviv 8.15pm

The English menu is an iPad and its black leather case is thick. Amid the standard options on the screen—Starters, Pizza, Fish, and Salads etc. — is Vegan. A finger’s punch transports you to a grid of guiltless dishes that make up in colour for what they might lack in calcium. It’s midweek and mid-winter but we’re wedged in, abreast the crowd, at a slender rectangular table. If this is the last supper I’ll pass on the vegan options. The Azrieli Towers glint above the restaurant. They loom behind me, two above my shoulders like good and bad consciences, the third skewering my head. With two big hands on the table one of us, an English-born Israeli, opines:

“Soon contemporary English will become Old English, and Arabic will be what’s known as contemporary English!”

This time somebody conjectures that this might be a bit racist; swiftly somebody else, perhaps averting confrontation, rules out the possibility. The comedian cum demo-linguist is an intelligent man with a big heart; his jest is all the more perturbing for these reasons. In the moment’s pause when I’m expected to laugh but unable to muster the faintest of chuckles, questions bubble: Does the joke reflect his fears about Israel’s demographic course? Is this even related to Israel: maybe he’s parroting xenophobic British relations living among large immigrant populations? What gives him the idea that Arab-directed prejudice suffices as comedy? Is Arab-directed prejudice his best means of finding common ground? The arrival of dessert diverts my attention to waffles.

Suburb near Jerusalem 5.30pm

Here we have the luxury of placing a Chanukia outside the front of the house, as well as on the windowsill. A spread of quiche, salads, cheeses and latkes endure small prods from the children cramming their paper plates. The antics of the various nieces, nephews, children, and grandchildren are a welcome distraction. They mitigate the awkwardness of language barriers and meeting relations that you last saw before puberty. The oldest in the room, swelled by the coming together of his progeny, speaks from his armchair:

“The whole world is against us… Anything is better than Barack Obama ”

At last, I can stop teasing political prejudice and social conclusions from off-hand remarks! This is a bold critique of UN Resolution 2334, and a Trump-accepting disavowal of the USA’s 44th President. The statement reflects analysis I’ve heard all week, and matches multiple headlines and Facebook posts I’ve seen. Yet, it shines in its own light, framed by, and adding colour to, the fragments I have already picked out.

From coffee shop, to restaurant, to lounge; and from Jerusalem, to Tel-Aviv, to Suburbia: casual racism, and a sense of having one’s back against the wall, pervades innocuous social interactions. Each of the comments I have extracted, lie somewhere on a spectrum between caution and paranoia; battle-hardened know-how and exaggerated, even fantasised, victimhood.

I did not conduct any surveys nor did I organise any samples. The conversations I had do not represent the varied and complex pockets of Israeli society. But, I think there are two general points we can draw. Firstly, the oppositions we are used to: legal and illegal; tolerant and racist; good people and bad people, are not clear-cut (and I’m not talking about when these lines are intentionally blurred for political reasons). In Israel, tolerant people live in illegal places, and good people say racist things. The web of conflict is tortuous and sticky; it is hard to wriggle every limb free. This leads me to the second point: hostility and fear, whether substantiated or not, grip like pliers on the mind. It will take more than the UN Security Council to abate this, on both sides of the Green Line.

We Need to Talk About (Talking About) Israel

Jake Berger

Recent events at King’s Jewish Society have reignited the seemingly never-ending debate about the relationship between Jewish Societies and Israel on university campuses. On an issue so prone to polemic, I want to discuss the issue in a more nuanced way than has been done previously, and set out my vision for the big Israel question on campus.

It’s necessary to start by dispelling a myth: the notion that it is possible to surgically cleave a person’s Jewishness from their relationship with Israel. This myth is pervasive, both amongst anti-Zionists accused of anti-Semitism, and amongst Jews who personally do not identify with Israel.

Even if it is possible theoretically, the evidence demonstrates that, in practice, an overwhelming majority of British Jews’ association with Israel constitutes part of their identity as Jews. In a recent survey conducted by Yachad, 93% of British Jews took this position. For 93% of British Jews, it is impossible to separate their Jewishness and their identification with Israel. That’s a staggering proportion, rendering the claim that it’s possible to totally separate a person’s Jewishness and their identification with Israel simplistic, and, for the most part, wrong. The 7% should recognise this fact.

So where does this leave our JSocs?

On the one hand, this invalidates the idea that our JSocs should be ‘Israel free’. If we want JSocs to be collective expressions of our Jewish identities, then it makes no sense to exclude Israel from them. Whilst JSocs should aim to be as inclusive as possible of all Jews, including the 7% of Jews who do not identify with Israel, that 7% should not be able to dictate the terms of the JSoc for the remaining 93%.

Conversely, we often hear that given the strength of Jewish student identification with Israel, JSocs should be advocating for Israel and countering any anti-Israel sentiment on campus. However, this answer too has its problems. What is often overlooked is the multifaceted nature in which these 93% do identify with Israel.

Making JSocs ‘do’ Israel too often means, in practice, a narrow form of (usually) right-wing advocacy that doesn’t fit the way many Jewish students identify with Israel. Some Jewish students identify politically with Israel or Zionism, and it could be a part of their Jewishness that they want to challenge the delegitimisation of the Jewish state. For some Jewish students, their identification with Israel leads them to campaign for the two-state solution and against Israeli settlements. Others identify nationally and religiously with Israel, and it could be a part of their Jewishness that they feel a national connection to their homeland. Or one could identify culturally with Israel, and it could be a part of their Jewishness that they take pride in Israel’s cultural achievements. Or one could identify with a combination of these ideas, or none at all.

The point is that within the 93% who identify with Israel as a part of their Jewishness, identification with Israel is hugely varied. Identification with Israel doesn’t always entail support for policies of Israel, nor does it pertain to a desire to campaign politically for it. It may do for some people, but it also may not for others.

Jewish Societies must reflect the diversity of Jewish identification with Israel, both within and beyond the political arena. Accordingly, Jewish Societies are never going to be the paragon of Israel advocacy that some seem to desire. And I don’t think they should be. Jewishness, and by extension identification with Israel, is too complex and too multifaceted for that to be the case. Like it or not, the complexity of Jewish identity means that one person’s manifestation of their Zionism is not going to be the same as another’s.

It is important to note that this principle extends to other issues related to JSocs and Jewish identity. We would never expect our JSocs to only cater for one religious strand of Judaism, and the same principle should apply to how JSocs approach Israel.

I want to stress that this should not be seen as a negative thing. Rather, I think this diversity strengthens our collective Jewish identity. There are a lot of things we share, but also differences that should be engaged with and discussed. This is what makes us greater than the sum of our parts as a community. I don’t think these differences should be ignored or swept under the carpet – to do so would be both an injustice to the value of our Jewishness, and would result in a watered-down Jewish experience. Part of the beauty of being Jewish is that in a room of two Jews, there are three opinions.

This all links in to what the purpose of a Jewish Society on a university campus is. This is sometimes ignored or forgotten about. A Jewish Society should be there to serve all those on a campus who identify as Jewish, and provide an outlet for them to express their Jewishness. This is not an easy thing to do, and the ‘Israel issue’ demonstrates why it is so hard. But it upsets me to know that there are Jews on some campuses who want nothing to do with their Jewish Society, because the politicised nature of some of the society’s activities makes them feel alienated.

What does my vision look like in practice? I believe that the key to a successful JSoc, on Israel and on other issues, lies in an active and engaged pluralism. Inclusivity is achieved by embracing our issues of difference rather than by pretending they don’t exist. JSocs should not take a singular position on Israel, but cater for a multiplicity of views and identifications. This means JSocs should be able to hold cultural events like Israeli Friday Night Dinners, and support Israel charities such as Leket or Save A Child’s Heart. JSocs should host speakers from both StandWithUs and Breaking The Silence. But for narrower and more overt political advocacy, I would suggest Israel Societies take on that task.

Nor should the 7% of Jews who don’t identify with Israel be ignored – but given that Israel only encompasses a small amount of what JSocs do, there are plenty of other avenues for their Jewish identities to be expressed through JSocs.

The precise calibration of what a JSoc puts on each year is down to the individual JSoc. The people who know what works for their campus are those students who live on it every day during term time, and it would be wrong for some overbearing power to dictate how things should be done. Some JSocs may find that there is a remarkable consensus of opinion on Israel; others may not. But each JSoc should cater to the full range of identity and opinion within its Jewish community.

Therefore I don’t think that discussion of Israel at a Jewish Society should be censored. Israel clearly forms a part of a majority of British Jews’ Jewish identity, and this should be respected and explored. It is important, though, to recognise that differences of opinion exist, together with differences in Jewish identity, and our JSocs should serve this diversity. To ignore it would be against what the Jewish student experience should be about.

Jake is running for President of the Union of Jewish Students in the UK.

Demystifying Israel

Chesney Ovsiowitz

If you have never been to Israel, this is for you. If you have, this is for you too. If you have a flat in Tel Aviv, cousins in Jerusalem, and grandparents in Beit-Shemesh, this is for you. If you have never met a Jew before, this is for you.

I have been to Israel many times, and have been in Israel for a lot of time. As the product of a Jewish secondary school I was taught to love the Jewish homeland unconditionally, to turn towards Jerusalem when I pray, and to ask G-d for peace in the world. I felt as though I understood Israel, its culture, its people, its language; I had experienced it. Zionism was intellectually ingrained within me.

Yet when I went to Jerusalem for a month this summer, these certainties were violently undone. I wrestled between the most natural part of me, my Jewishness, and something that now felt artificial, Zionism. None of the narratives about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in mainstream media were able to help me reconcile these two sides to myself. And then I met a Palestinian of my age, and where I once saw culture, people, language, I saw cultures, peoples, and languages, and ‘Israel’ as a topic felt foreign.

Unlike many, I have never claimed to be an expert on Israeli-Palestinian relations. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been a fan of politics. Debating policies, scandals, exclusion zones, budgets, and death tolls whilst engineering cults of personality in order to win elections does not appear to me as an effective way of catering to the needs of individuals affected by the headlines. By no means is politics ineffective, but it is sometimes easy to feel that it is both a means and its own end; it can override and cloud the truths behind the issues.

Yet when I met the girl from East Jerusalem, politics became a plain and simple background upon which humans were messily scribbled.

She asked me to order a coffee for her before she showed me around the Arab Quarter of the Old City. “Don’t you speak Hebrew?” I retorted with careful we’ve-just-met sassiness. She pulled her face and laughed: “Ew no”. In that moment I felt incredibly naive: I couldn’t understand how someone who lived the city where I’d been living, where I’d been speaking Hebrew, could be so out of touch with what I had experienced. Yet as we walked east and spoke and took in the sights of a familiar city through new eyes, it started making sense. She showed me a side of Israel that I had never seen before outside of carefully-planned, executed, and biased educational trips.

As Ramadan came to a close for the day, the streets around the Damascus gate flooded with people buying food from the vendor stalls. The image didn’t fit into what I’d been taught to expect. Looking at West Jerusalem from the outside for the first time, from the borders of its Eastern neighbour, it began to seem grotesque, with its modern architecture and gaudy Mamilla mall.

“That’s not my country, why would I learn its language?” My first instinct was to try to talk to her about politics and the two-state solution, about government and democracy — even though these are self-professed weak-points of mine — to somehow try to fit her into readymade paradigms and frames of reference. She didn’t want to talk about politics, but she did want to tell me that she was upset, and angry, and hopeful.

We talk about perspective as if Israel is just a series of essays, different news stations, or different theories. It seems obvious enough, but perspective is above all else human. My short and by no means extreme or unique experience of perspective felt like a coming of age. This new friend of mine destabilised my outlook on Israel, and left me feeling confused. Maybe I don’t like this place? Does this make me a liberal Zionist, or an anti-Zionist, or what? Am I ‘allowed’ to call myself anti-Zionist? What would my parents say? The dismantling of my Jewish education on Israel that took place during my month in Jerusalem gave me the strength to say ‘I don’t know’. When the only voices that can be heard around you are screaming either yes or no, it is hard to side with either (or both). Extreme opinions are always easier to defend than nuance or confusion.