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Israel: Who is lighting matches around here?

Open letter of solidarity to the Russian peace movement, opposing the Ukraine War

Saturday 5 March 2022, by siawi3

Source: gush-shalom, march 4, 2022

Who is lighting matches around here?

While international attention

Is focused on Ukraine,

Brigadier-General Avi Balout,

Commander of

The Israeli forces

On the West Bank,

Voiced a forceful

And extraordinary

Warning:

"The situation

On the ground

Is close to exploding.

There is already

Plenty of kindling.

All that is missing

Is a match

To ignite

The entire region."

But several days later,

Soldiers under

Balout’s command

Lit one more match,

When they killed

A 13 year-old boy

And justified it

By claiming

That the boy

Was a “terrorist”.

And more

Lighted matches

Followed in

Quick succession:

The killing of

Two Palestinians

In Jenin (“Terrorists”).

And another one

Killed on the same day

At Beit Fajer village

(“He threw stones!”).

And near the Damascus Gate

Of the Old City

Of Jerusalem

A Palestinians crowd

Was dispersed with

Extreme violence

And an 11-year girl

Severely hurt.

A lot of lighted matches

Get thrown around.

Which one will

Set off the

Big conflagration?

Gush Shalom statement

March 4, 2022

Contact: Adam Keller +972-(0)54-2340749

°°°

Ukraine in Tel Aviv

A few days ago, I circulated the following statement to all my contacts by email, Facebook and Whatsapp:

Tomorrow – marching on Rothschild Boulevard in solidarity with Ukraine!

The “Friends of Ukraine in Israel” organization is calling on the general public to come tomorrow at 6.00 pm to the beginning of the Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv and take part in a march in support of and solidarity with Ukraine. I’ll be there, I’ll march all along the boulevard, under the Yellow-and-Blue flag of Ukraine. This is what Israeli citizens - like the citizens of every other country in the world - need to do at this moment.

I’m a little surprised to find myself in this situation. Even a few weeks ago I would not have imagined that taking part in this kind of demonstration. I did not like the Cold War that dominated in our world until 1989, and I am very unhappy about its return. I did not think then, and I do not think today, that everybody in America are angels while the Soviet Union/Russia is an abode of demons (nor the other way around). The United States and its allies bear a large part of the responsibility for the nasty situation in which we are in today.

Expanding the NATO alliance eastwards - contrary to explicit promises made at the time to the Soviets - was an irresponsible decision that stemmed from a an arrogance of power, when American policymakers identified a Russian weakness and decided to exploit it to the maximum. The Russian objection to Ukraine joining NATO is legitimate in itself.

The United States could have taken a completely different approach. It could have disbanded the NATO alliance at the same time that the Warsaw Pact was dismantled. It could also have invited Russia itself to join NATO and thus remove the anti-Russian character of that alliance. And the Americans could have simply left the countries of Eastern Europe as neutrals who do not belong to any military alliance. All these possibilities were definitely on the agenda in the time of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Had one of them been taken, Putin might not have come to power in Russia at all, or it might have been a different Putin who would have behaved differently.

I was far from happy with what happened in Ukraine in 2014. Until then, pro-Russian and pro-Western forces were struggling with each other as rival political factions inside a single political system, competing in (more or less) free and fair elections. It would have been much better for Ukraine, and for the whole world, had it continued this way – rather than being resolved into a civil war between a firmly pro-Western central government and staunchly pro-Russian eastern secessionists. And there had been considerable American involvement behind the scenes in changing the regime in Kyiv, as much as Russia was involved in setting up the separatist republics.

There are in Ukraine despicable and dangerous extreme right organizations and militias – though unlike some propagandistic claims, they are far from being in overall control of the country. Russian-speakers in Crimea and eastern Ukraine had a legitimate reason not to want to live under a government that tried to impose the Ukrainian language on them. The international community had tacitly accepted the fait accompli created in 2014 - the annexation of Crimea to Russia and the establishment of separatist republics under Russian auspices. There is good reason to suppose that the inhabitants of these areas, or at least the great majority of them, did want to live under the rule or tutelage of Russia. I would not have felt impelled to go out to demonstrate on the streets of Tel Aviv in protest of what Russia did in 2014 (and in fact, at the time no one organized any such demonstration). That status quo, which had lasted for eight years, could have gone on indefinitely.

All of these things became irrelevant the moment Vladimir Putin crossed all the red lines and sent a huge military force to invade Ukraine, occupy it, oust or kill a Jewish president elected by the citizens of Ukraine and call this "denazification”. No legitimate grievance which Putin might point to can justify such acts. The citizens of Ukraine, led by their president who chose to stay with his family at the focus of danger in Kyiv, are heroically resisting a brutal invader. They deserve the full support and solidarity of every decent person in the world.

As citizens of Israel, we have special reasons to demonstrate in support of and solidarity with the Ukrainians, fighting against the invaders. It is no coincidence that the Israeli government is hesitant and stuttering in its attitude to the unfolding war. First of all, because a country that itself tramples on and oppresses the Palestinians, under a government which declares explicitly that it has no intention of ever ending the occupation, finds it difficult to raise its voice against occupation and oppression elsewhere.

Moreover, for several years now, Israel has been systematically violating Syria’s sovereignty and sending its air force to bombing raids in the Syrian territory. This is with the consent and permission of Putin and in close coordination with the Russian Air Force, which controls the skies of Syria. The Israeli government has reasons to fear that, if it raises its voice against the violation of Ukrainian sovereignty by Russia, the Russian authorization for Israel to violate Syrian sovereignty will be immediately revoked.

Israeli citizens who oppose the occupation and the policy of brute force and who want to reach peace with the Palestinians as well as with Syria and all our neighbors, today have an important and special reason to come out in support of Ukraine.

And one more point - immediately after the war was launched, thousands of citizens in Russia itself took to the streets to cry out “No to the war!”. It takes a lot of courage to take part in such a demonstration in Russia under Putin’s rule, and many of these demonstrators are still in police custody. When we march tomorrow on Rothschild Avenue, it will be a demonstration of solidarity not only with the Ukrainian people but also with our brothers and sisters, the Russian opponents of the war.

For all these reasons, everyone who can – please come tomorrow to the Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, where we will march for Ukraine.

Adam Keller

°°°

Solidarity demonstration with Ukrainian people

When I arrived at the starting point, there was already a considerable crowd. The few Hebrew language signs have already been taken, and so were the slightly bigger number of English signs.

There were still quite a few signs in Russian. I explained to a young woman wearing an enormous Ukrainian Yellow-and-Blue banner as a cape that I don’t like to hold a sign which I don’t understand. She smiled and translated. I chose a big sign reading “Putin, Ukraine does not need to be liberated – we are free already!”. Except for mass-produced pictures of Putin with a Hitler moustache, no one had prepared printed signs. They had all been made individually, by hand, and by people who plainly invested a lot of work in them. Quite a few had clearly been made by children.

The dominant language everywhere around was Russian (or possibly Ukrainian – my knowledge of Slavic languages is not enough to distinguish between them). People like me, Hebrew speakers with no direct connection to Ukraine and Russia, were clearly in the minority. The Yellow-and-Blue was everywhere – in banners big and small, balloons, and also painted on many faces. Most participants were in their twenties, many of them couples with young children, some older people scattered among them.

The Rothschild Boulevard had been the scene of the Social Protest Movement of 2011, and of many other protests and demonstrations – but never, as far as I can remember, of this section of Israeli society. Back in the 1990s, Israel witnessed a great influx of people from the just collapsed Soviet Union. In Israel, they got classed under the generic name of “Russians” and no one paid much attention to whether they came from Russia or Ukraine. Now, this has become very significant.

They have one well-known grievance – Israeli state law makes anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent eligible for Israeli citizenship, but Jewish religious law recognizes as a Jew only those born of a Jewish mother. Since the rabbis are in full control of marriage in Israel, and there is no civil marriage, there are hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who just cannot get married in Israel. They are understandably bitter and angry about this – but somehow, they never went out on the street for the simple right to get married. It took a brutal invasion of the old homeland, where many of them still have families, to bring them out.

More and more people arrived, the small plaza at the beginning of Rothschild became very crowded – and the march began. Streaming over the boulevard, some of the young people started the cry “Uk-Ra-I-Na! Uk-Ra-I-Na! Uk-Ra-I-Na! Uk-Ra-I-Na!”, shouting loudly and raising upwards a clenched fist. It was soon taken up from hundred of throats. Then it was replaced by “Putin – Kurva! Putin – Kurva!”, roughly translatable as “Putin – Whoreson!”

A group of young women sung the Ukrainian national anthem. A group from Ma’avak Socialisti (Socialist Struggle) distributed leaflets with an even handed demand: “Russian Army out of Ukraine, NATO forces out of Eastern Europe!”. I was not sure all participants really cared about the second part. There were some Israeli national flags flying among the ubiquitous Yellow-and-Blue, and several groups with the flags of other countries: The flag of Georgia (“Putin did it to us, already in 2008”) and that of Belarus (“This is for the real Belarus, the free Belarus, not of that bastard Lukachenko.”).

I continued to study the enormous variety of signs. The young woman who had helped in the beginning had disappeared in the crowd, but a bearded middle aged man agreed to help me keep up with translating the slogans:

“No War! No War! Yes to Ukraine!” / “Putin is new Hitler” / “Putiler” / “Putler” / “Wherever I stand, I stand with Ukraine” / “Ukraine will stand, no matter what - will YOU stand with Ukraine?” / “Russian ship fuck off!” (the already legendary defiance of the defenders of Serpent Island) / “If Israel does not help Ukraine, who is going to help us?” / “Peace for Ukraine - stop the war!” / “Putin is everybody’s problem” / “I love Kherson” / “Help, Stop Russian aggression, Stop World War III! “ / “Bennet, send the Iron Dome to Ukraine!” / “Stop the War” / “Putin out of Ukraine” / “Ban Russia from the world” / “Well, Putin, let’s cut the crap and get to the final scene where you commit suicide alone in your bunker” (this one was in colloquial Hebrew) / “Russia, hands off Ukraine” / “Stop the war!” / “The face of Satan” (under a photo of Putin) / “Pray for Ukraine” / “Pray for cancer to Putin” / Stop Russian aggression – we all stand together!”

And so we walked through the whole of the long boulevard and to the Habima Theater plaza at its end. Some participants decided to go on to the Russian Embassy. Others objected “It is no use, the bastard police blocked it off, you can’t get anywhere near the Embassy”. Still, some were determined to head there: “Even from far off we can shout, loud enough that Putin’s lackey diplomats will hear us!”.

Others remained in the plaza, where a young woman waved a small red booklet “Look, I am going to burn my Russian passport! I need to make a strong gesture, to show that I am a Russian but I am hundred percent with Ukraine and against Putin!”. As the flames consumed the passport she recounted “I called my parents in Moscow and told them I was going to do this. My father objected very strongly, and I had a nasty quarrel with him. I am ashamed that my own parents have come to regard Ukrainians as their enemies!”. The gathered demonstrators cheered as she took great care to let all pages of the passport get consumed, till noting was left.

And so, we are committed. The Ukrainians are holding on against the worst which Putting can inflict, though they are paying a terrible price which will mount further and further with every day. So there is no choice for any decent person but support them in every way we can. That also means endorsing the heavy economic sanctions which will certainly hurt many Russians who had no part in and no influence whatsoever on Putin’s policies. But it does not oblige one to be enthusiastic about the return of the Cold War with its belligerent rhetoric, and the return of that hypocritical term “The Free World”. Most hypocritical if this Free World is assumed to include Israel, whose occupation and oppression of the Palestinians is at this very moment reaching a dangerous escalation which the outside (free?) world fails to notice.

The most obvious historical analogy which comes to everybody’s mind is Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. But however nasty, Putin is not really a Hitler. It might be more appropriate to compare him with an earlier villain of Western propaganda, Kaiser Wilhelm of Imperial Germany, and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine with the 1914 German invasion of Belgium. In 1914 Belgium, as in today’s Ukraine, Western opinion was outraged by the brutal trampling of a small nation by an overwhelming military might. Solidarity with the valiant struggling Belgians had impelled Britain to send a whole generation of its youth to die in the trenches of the First World War. At that time, nuclear weapons did not yet exist. In today’s world, the sending of American troops directly into the fray in Ukraine might have far more drastic consequences. Biden is wise to stick to economic warfare.

If preferring to draw our parallels from 1939, it might be more useful to look at another event of that year – Stalin’s invasion of Finland. Like Putin now, Stalin greatly underestimated the determined resistance which his army would meet in the invaded country. How did it end? Well, after the various vicissitudes of the Second World War, Finland had to make some painful territorial concessions and to observe strict neutrality, foregoing any option of joining NATO. Still, following that war Finland had many quiet and prosperous decades. This seems the best that Ukraine can hope for.

°°°

Israelis in solidarity with Russian opposition to Ukraine War

Open letter of solidarity to the Russian peace movement, opposing the Ukraine War

Dear friends, We are writing to you as citizens of Israel who oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, and are committed to the struggle against Jewish supremacy and for the rights of the Palestinian people. Many of us have experience in resisting the occupation through actions such as refusal to serve in the military, public testimony regarding its crimes, street protests and public pressure; and within left-wing, feminist, anti-militarist and other organizations.

Like you, over the last few days we have watched with dismay and disgust as the Russian army launched its criminal invasion of Ukraine, but besides the firm resistance of the Ukrainian people, the striking activity of the anti-war movement in Russia has also been a great light in the darkness. Without comparing our situation to yours - and the differences are many - we take inspiration from your resistance.

The courage with which you are acting proves that the Putin regime has not been able to break the spirit of Russian society, which continues to harbor real hope for an immediate homecoming of the troops, a return to the negotiation table and a peaceful solution. We wish you success and promise to do all we can to amplify your voice in the public sphere in Israel and abroad. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if we can be of any assistance to you.

In solidarity,

To sign, enter here: https://tinyurl.com/russia-peace