Tuesday, August 15, 2006

You can bet your bottom dollar the American tax payers will foot Israel’s $5 billion dollar bill

According to the Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot, the war cost Israel at least $5 billion dollars. The amazing part is that the stock exchange is flourishing in Israel these days and the Israeli Shekel, currency, gets stronger everyday. Still you can be sure that as part of the war against “Islamo Fascism” Israel will ask Bush to pay the bill — or at least a part of it. We never cover our own costs because we know how to play the role of the poor cousin.

As the Congress blindly underwrites any USA-Israel military deals, U.S. citizens will be asked to foot the bill. However, the right wing neoconservative groups in DC are disappointed with Israel’s performance in the war. Americans, I have learned, do not like losers. The neoconservative vision of the “New Middle East” received a real set back.

The neoconservative-Jews and non-Jews alike are ready to sacrifice more Israeli and Palestinian lives for their vision to become true. Their disappointment with Israel’s military performance will not deter some people in Washington to go on with what emerges as a scorched earth policy in the Middle East.

It will take may years after President Bush leaves the oval office for any other administration to recreate any semblance of trust between the USA and the Arab world. The image of the USA being on a crusade for democracy, which can be achieved by using bayonets, is deadly. “You can win with bayonets but you can not sit on them” as the Iraq case has proven.

For us Israelis the difference is that we go on living in the Middle East and will pay a heavy price with our lives for this “New Democratic Middle East” adventure.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The War Process...Arafat's gone...who's to blame now?

David Michaelis

This war has deteriorated at a fast pace, as both sides are driven by people who believe that Arabs and Jews are destined to die together and not live together.

The word ‘peace’ has not been mentioned by anyone yet, because we all realize we’re living between ceasefires, and not in any kind of “Peace Process.” In the last few years, the media in the U.S. has constantly referred to such a process, which is a complete misnomer. It was a pre-war process that prepared people for the next round.

The Israeli media continues to blame Arafat for the muddle in the Middle East. Well, he’s been gone now for some time and things are only getting tougher and more polarized.

So let us look for someone else to blame, but never forget to look ourselves in the mirror and ask how this march of follies happened.

We Israelis are so smug about our army and clever maneuvering. But we do not bother to get a real insight into the Arab world — or for that matter into the Muslim world. We imagine ourselves to be living between Norway and the UK. We call our selves a country that is a “Villa in the Jungle.” If you look at the neighborhood you live in as a jungle of animals, do not be surprised if they want to have you for dinner…

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Israel — Rude Awakening

David Michaelis

I recently returned from my home country: Israel. While I was there was amazed to discover how disconnected the public is from what is happening in the area. After watching TV in my hotel room and seeing the bombing of Gaza, and then walking in the streets of Tel Aviv, I realized that the World Cup was the main matter of concern for most of the people.

The first rockets from Lebanon were therefore a rude awakening from a grand escape plan, which normally enables most Israelis to live with the delusion of normality. Until these rockets landed, Gaza and Zanzibar were of equal interest to the Israelis I met.

After living through four years of suicide bombing the Israelis just do not want to hear about Palestinians or see them on their TV screens. They realize that they live in a constant state of war.

Lebanon is a scar that most of us are still picking at five years after retreating from Lebanon and following our invasion 20 years earlier. The sudden attack and challenge by the Hezbollah has focused many on the military option as the only solution.

‘Peace’ is a term not used in the public space in Israel anymore. No one expects any dialogue on a real practical level. The military always offers a shortsighted immediate way out. The wish to identify with the power of the gun and the uniform is still alive in Israeli tribal DNA. Revenge is a word not used in the open; it is there in the undercurrent of the emotions expressed by the public, our bombardment of Gaza had the same motive behind it.

As the fundamentalists of the Middle East succeed to take the initiative, revenge becomes part of the daily discourse used by both secular and religious people. This is encouraged by the constant brainwashing done by most Israeli and Arab TV channels. Demonizing the other side as totally evil and inhuman.

For the Israeli TV channels to move from Hamas to Hezbollah was very easy. Same Islamist groups who are enemies that can not be talked to under any circumstances. The Gaza headlines disappeared and the new front made much more sense, as it unified the whole nation against the threat of the rockets.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Broadcasting Humanity: An Interview With Link TV's David Michaelis

Originally published in the Intrepid Liberal Journal

Two years ago, David Michaelis, an Israeli citizen and Jamal Dajani, a Palestinian-American traveled to their mutual birthplace in Jerusalem and filmed a groundbreaking documentary called "Occupied Minds". The film originally aired in 2005 and powerfully illustrated the widening gulf between two entangled peoples in pain.

Both men grew up in Jerusalem just a few miles apart but in entirely different universes. Jamal’s roots in Jerusalem can be traced to the 7th century, while Michaelis was born in Jerusalem to parents who left Germany in the 1920’s because of escalating anti-Semitism.

For Michaelis, “Occupied Minds” easily fits into the tapestry of his career. Born in 1945, Michaelis earned a degree in philosophy and sociology at Hebrew University. He has produced and directed documentaries on social-political issues for the BBC Channel 4 in the UK as well as for ARD and ZDF in Germany. Michaelis also served as a news editor in London and Washington for ARD. The primary focus of the documentaries and talk shows he’s worked on is to legitimize the rights of minorities in Israel.

Michaelis is currently on the Board of Directors for Internews and is the Director of Current Affairs for Link TV in San Francisco. Link TV is a network dedicated to presenting global news, issues and culture. Before co-founding Link TV, Michaelis was the producer of “Popolitika,” the most popular news program on Israeli TV.

At Internews, Michaelis created the first satellite two-way link between Tunis and Jerusalem in October 1993. He also helped produce, with the Jerusalem Film Institute, the Palestinian Broadcasting Conference held in Jerusalem in January 1994.

Michaelis and Dajani met at Link TV six years ago. At Link TV in San Francisco, they are the only Palestinian-Israeli team working together in American media. Dajani, as Director of Middle Eastern Programming, produces the 2005 Peabody Award-winning daily newscast— Mosaic: World News from the Middle East. This program highlights daily TV news broadcasts from the Middle East, including, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Syria the Palestinian Authority, and Iran, among others.

After four years of professional collaboration, Michaelis and Dajani became friends and decided to combine their talents. “Occupied Minds” gives voice to a diverse range of views: a wanted Palestinian gunman, an Israeli soldier who served in the Occupied Territories, an Israeli surgeon who lost his eyesight in a suicide bombing, an Israeli mother who lost her son in the conflict, and a Palestinian activist who lost her cousin are among those interviewed. Their documentary went above and beyond the political leaders to reach the hearts and minds of those existing inside the ongoing conflict.

Michaelis generously agreed to answer questions about his life experience and perspective of the Middle-East:

ILJ: Typically we focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but you've dedicated much of your career to minority-rights in Israel. Are minority immigrants from Africa such as the Sudanese or Ethiopian Jews second-class citizens in Israel?

MICHAELIS: Well I think it would be more correct to focus on the Ethiopians because they have the longer history but also to be sure about their capability to integrate into Israel. Because of a long history they're not really always welcome in every place. It varies from city to city from school to school. The first generation especially doesn't feel like they are totally equal. The second generation, which already is integrated in the army and schools feel they are much more welcome. So there is a generational difference. But legally of course they are totally equal. The issue is social.

ILJ: Is there a racism problem with Ethiopian Jews in Israel?

MICHAELIS: Be careful not to translate into American terms of black and white relationships. Because that is what immediately any American readers or anyone who studies the black/white relationship here would interpret it in this way. It's not that kind of ... there is no background of exploitation. There are issues of color of skin of course. But it varies again from city to city. And also depending on religious background, I'll say that secular people are much more open to receive people from outside. People from a more religious background might have doubts about the Jewishness of immigrants from Ethiopia. So, I'll say there is a difference of attitudes between people with a more traditional religious background and secular people.

ILJ: Why did minority rights in Israel become so important to you? Was there a defining moment during your youth that served as a catalyst?

MICHAELIS: I think it's more about the education that I got at home. And awareness that once you're a majority you have to take responsibility. The most important turning point in my awareness has been the awareness that we have been 2000 years in minority and we were always shouting and screaming about our rights. And once we became a majority we didn't fully internalize the responsibility of a majority to be treating minorities not only on a legal level but also on a social level such as employment and housing as totally equal citizens. It's very interesting what happens when you're so many centuries in the minority and you're still thinking as a minority when you're fully in control of the country that you're ruling. So that has been a major issue for the last forty years especially since Arabs and Israel became aware of their rights, foreign workers became aware of their rights, women became aware of their rights. It didn't always go as it should go - the equal rights perception not only on a religious level but also on the day-to-day level.

ILJ: Would you say that minorities have viable representation in Israeli politics?

MICHAELIS: Yeah, viable in terms of representation in the parliament - yes. But are they planted really in the power center, the financial power center, the political power center? That's a very different story. When people vote minorities into ... the Israeli Knesset as you know has many different parties and many chances for different voices to be heard. But does that translate into equal treatment? That's another issue.

ILJ: Moving on to another topic. Did your work on "Occupied Minds" make you more or less optimistic for the prospects of peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

MICHAELIS: Well, since the film was actually done during the Intifada when things were in such a situation of regression that it couldn't of led to any clearer position of optimism. It was so bleak during the first four or five years - 2001 to 2005.

ILJ: Right

MICHAELIS: It was so violent that it made me more pessimistic actually in many ways.

ILJ: Are you still pessimistic or has your optimism increased in the past year?

MICHAELIS: No definitely not. Because I think the leadership on both sides is still not talking to each other and not seriously building bridges. And Hamas victory added another complication on top of the ... if it was complicated before, the icing on the cake was the election of Hamas. It's become really very dicey. Both sides are exhausted from the fighting and that is the only positive thing I can say. It is not as violent as it used to be.

ILJ: How do you think the international community should deal with the newly elected Hamas government? Should they wait until Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist and only talk to President Abbas? Or is it better to engage Hamas now?

MICHAELIS: Better to engage them now. But it depends how. Not to make promises but to try to find political inroads through a Palestinian coalition to encourage them to work as one unity government between Abu Mazen and Hamas. So in this situation you can't have an easy solution. It was surprised it won - the Hamas I mean. Until they figure out their act, until they will understand the responsibilities of being in government. This will take time. Everyone is counting weeks and months. I think it will take a year for the Palestinians themselves to figure out how they cope with each party inside the Palestinian social structure.

ILJ: Are the Palestinians poised for civil war between Hamas and Fatah? What would the consequences of a civil war between those two factions be?

MICHAELIS: That would be terrible. It would be a very bad outcome for the democratic process inside the Palestinian Authority territories. I think that "poised" is ... I'm not sure is the right term. I think there is a power struggle but it will shy away from an open civil war. That is my assessment.

ILJ: Until the Palestinians sort out their political turmoil, what options do the Israelis have beyond unilateral disengagement?

MICHAELIS: What they should've done some time ago is to realize that there are leaders such as Abu Mazen and others who are really very keen to talk and avoid unilateral steps. This has not been related too seriously neither by Sharon and not by Olmert. They're not taking any constructive steps really to talk to them. They're walling them off. There is no dialogue. Instead of unilateral steps you can start a dialogue with people you can talk to. And it's not happening.

ILJ: Does Abbas have any political capital in Palestine to be able to deliver peace and be a viable partner for the Israelis to engage with?

MICHAELIS: He has some. I don't know how much. I don't know how much capital he has. He definitely has some because people don't want to starve. People don't want to be cut off from foreign aid. People realize that it's best not to be closed behind a Gaza prison and closed behind an Israeli wall. There is some hope that he would be the only sane guy with the only sane group of people who will try to mediate inside Palestine. But I can't assess how much capital he has.

ILJ: Do you consider yourself a Zionist?

MICHAELIS: Yeah, a minimalist (laughs). I would say I think that Israel should be a land of minimal injustice. Because from the getgo it's obvious that when you fight for the same piece of land there will be injustice. So try to be more realistic and just about what you're doing. It took Mr. Olmert almost forty years to say, excuse me I don't think I can hold all these territories and all these settlements. So, forty years is a very normal pace for the Middle-East. People change very slowly. But if you look at it from a western point of view forty years is a long time to learn lessons. We could have been spared lots of bloodshed if many people gave up their greater land dreams ages ago. But it doesn't work that way apparently in real life.

ILJ: Golda Meir once said there will be peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate ours.

MICHAELIS: Oh my God yeah. It's part of the demonization. Arab leaders would say that when Israelis start to understand what a refugee is ... it's sloganeering. It's demonizing the other side, which has proven to be destructive. So this kind of "they would love" and "they would hate." It's simplification and painting black and white colors about everyone and it's very dangerous and very destructive.

ILJ: Do you have any sources informing you about what is happening inside Iran? Have you heard anything about a viable dissident movement for democracy emerging?

MICHAELIS: First of all I can tell you that my only alternative sources for information that I know there, are bloggers like you (laughs), active in Iran. And they are writing and they are expressing themselves. But I don't really have any special information of how big this movement is and how serious it is.

ILJ: Regardless of whether you supported President Bush's war in Iraq or not, is a sovereign democracy truly achievable there as well as a positive ripple effect for the Mid-East? Or has President Bush condemned the Iraqis to decades of sectarian violence and terrorism?

MICHAELIS: Very risky venture because he walked into a society and didn't understand what their rules are and what their history is. And by walking into something where you're like an elephant in a china chop you create a whole mess, but I don't know if he "condemned" them to it. That's a strong term. But he definitely created a tribal and nationalistic and religious based mess that will take a long time to resolve. You can't transplant democracy into tribal societies by force or by torture or through the gun. You know there is an old saying, that you can fight with a bayonet, you can't sit on it. So, basically he's trying to sit on a bayonet which is really impossible. Not advisable for you to try.

ILJ: What is the most common misconception you encounter about Israel and the Mid-East?


Two different kinds of misconceptions. Misconception that is the easiest to point out is that the Israeli-Palestinian fight is a symmetrical conflict -which is totally wrong. I come from a country that has nuclear power. Very well financed armed forces. And science is far ahead. And is fighting a country with a third world economy and third world weapons. And it's totally a fight between ... it's not equal. So I don't say who is just or unjust but just in terms of force and power, the misconception I hear many times is "oh this side is this," "this side is that," as if the fight is equal. But it's very unequal.

And about the Mid-East the biggest misconceptions are more in terms of ignorance. Knowing what the Muslim religion is about. What the differences between the Muslim countries are. When I tell people the Iraqi president is actually friendly to Israel they say, why? Why would an Arab be friendly to Israel and I say he's not an Arab. He's a Kurd. And the Kurds have a long relationship with Israel. And people don't realize what it means. The internal divisions in terms of not just tribes but in terms of history of people. The Kurdish people have a long history. They are part of Iraq now because of the British division of making borders on the map. And it's very unclear if Iraq can function like that. And people just don't know.

I think many people believe Iran is an Arab country, which it isn't. It has 5000 years of Persian history. So the misconceptions are more in the direction of ignorance and understanding the cultural, political, linguistic and religious differences between the different groups in the Mid-East. It's not one blob (laughs). It's not just one big mess. You have to know who's who. And why.

And I think we Israelis often many times always talk about "the Arabs" It's not such a simple a thing to talk about the Arab world.

That's the work I'm doing on television in the Mosiac program. We compare every day for thirty minutes different points of view on the conflicts and the issues as broadcast by secular young women on TV in Lebanon and deeply religious preachers in Saudi Arabia. So it's the way someone might say the Canadians and Americans and all the North Americans are all the same. It's ignorance if you don't' see the different colors. It's not all one color.

ILJ: You mention the Mosaic program. It's fascinating and I'm providing a link for it on this posting (click here). Watching the recent broadcasts about Zarqawi I was struck how Jordanian television almost seemed like Fox News in a way.

MICHAELIS: Yeah. (laughs)

ILJ: The anchor was going out of his way to explicitly say Zarqawi did not represent the principles of Islam. And so forth ...

MICHAELIS: Well he was clearly an enemy of the king and the kingdom and the concept of Jordan as it is. He was an enemy of the state. Grew up in Jordan. When someone from your own country turns against you, you become even more hostile than usual. He wasn't an outside enemy. Someone who knew Jordan very well. Someone released from the prisons a few years ago. So they were definitely very, very hostile to him. So you were struck in the right way. This is more than Egypt but I don't know who you were comparing it to. But for Jordan, Zarqawi was a major target because he would also encourage the people of Jordan to rebel. And that's the last thing they wanted.

ILJ: Do you believe there was sympathy for Zarqawi among the people of Jordan?

MICHAELIS: I really don't know. Basically in it's tone it's a very moderate country. Fanaticism is not welcome there. But I'm sure he had some people who sympathized with him either because they don't like the king or they liked to side against the Americans. So I'm sure he had some followers. But I can't tell you how big or small.

ILJ: How have your views about Israel's place in the world changed during your life? And how has your views of the Palestinian people changed during your life?


Oh! You have to read my biography. Three volumes! (laughs). I'm joking but it's a big question. Basically, I don't know if you saw some of the "Occupied Minds" film ... my views have changed mainly after '67. Because before '67, I believed all Arabs are the same and they're our enemies and and there is no one to relate to. And in '67 they came under our occupation and I was part of the occupying army in the West Bank ... I went into the villages and I went into the homes of people. Of course it was in my army service but then also as a journalist and I learned who the Palestinian people are and what their story is.

And that changed me radically in my way ... and I thought well I have to coexist with these people. They're not anonymous people or Jew haters as Gold Meir defined them. They are people on the same land and we have to give them a rising chance to exist. And I with other people, since '68, immediately like, a year after the war we said if we start settling in this land it means we have ambitions for land and not for peace. And so I have not changed one inch since '68 to today. I still think and as I said it took Olmert 40 years ... it was one of the biggest mistakes that we're paying for until now. To not relate to them as equals with rights and settle on their land beyond the '67 borders. This was a turning point for me in a major way.

The ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians is a flash point for all that is wrong with humanity. Two aggrieved peoples are unable to peacefully co-exist on a small piece of land. As Michaelis pointed out, this conflict is not equal in terms of force. Israel clearly holds the upper hand militarily. Both societies however appear to lack an indispensable ingredient for peace: empathy for the other. Without empathy, a just and peaceful resolution appears beyond the grasp of my lifetime.

Perhaps, one may find hope in the example of David Michaelis himself. As he noted, Michaelis served in the Israeli army in 1967. The experience however did not dehumanize him. Instead, he became an advocate for human rights. As Americans are learning, soldiers of an occupation can be dehumanized very quickly. Also, the example of his partner Jamal Dajani merits respect. Dajani became friends with someone he easily could've viewed as an occupier of his people. Both men learned to see the other as more than clichéd abstractions but as individual human beings. They built a visceral bridge, which is far stronger than any diplomatic piece of paper, or agreement could ever be. It is the bridges of individuals such as Michaelis and Dajani that must become the building blocks for peace.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A New View of Israeli-Palestinian Prospects

Originally published in the SFGate Culture Blog

Jonathan Curiel

For those who wanted a glimpse of peace in the Middle East, the Delancey Street Foundation was the place to be the other night. There, an Israeli and a Palestinian got together on stage to talk about their friendship and their ability to make a film together. Perhaps David Michaelis and Jamal Dajani are an aberration. Perhaps, as Michaelis says in their movie, "Occupied Minds," "Jews and Arabs can co-exist in California," but not -- the implication goes -- in the Holy Land. Still, it was possible to imagine a day when Israelis and Palestinians interact as partners, albeit after they negotiate long-festering enmities and divisions.

Let's back up a bit. Dajani and Michaelis work together at Link TV, the San Francisco-based satellite network whose best-known show is "Mosaic," the daily roundup of outtakes from Arab (and Israeli) news broadcasts. Dajani (whose title is Director of Middle East Programming) and Michaelis (Director of Current Affairs) have toiled side-by-side for five years at Link TV, agreeing to disagree when necessary. In "Occupied Minds," differences in their outlooks are obvious throughout. The 58-minute film revolves around their visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories; Dajani grew up in East Jerusalem, Michaelis in the western part of the city.

"I'm the optimist of the two of us," Dajani says in "Occupied Minds," where he advocates a one-state solution that would have Jews and Palestinians living in a country that included the West Bank and Gaza. Dajani and Michaelis meet lots of Jewish Israelis who oppose a one-state solution; one settler says all Palestinians in Israel should consider moving to Jordan or the Sinai desert. An Israeli doctor, who was blinded in one eye by a suicide-bombing, says, "We must differentiate between what is needed and what is real. In reality, we're (Palestinians and Israelis) not so good."

Dajani's and Michaeli's film is subtitled "A Palestinian-Israeli journey beyond hope and despair." The documentary has Dajani interviewing many of the Jewish Israelis, and Michaelis interviewing many of the Palestinians. It's a kind of counterintuitive approach, but it works, even if it produces some uncomfortable moments, as when a prominent ex-Israeli official yells at Dajani, "I dictate the rules of the game, not you!"

The San Francisco screening of "Occupied Minds" came one week after the film aired on Link TV, which is available in more than 26 million homes in the United States. Link TV will air it again soon, but don't despair if you haven't got a satellite dish. At the Delancey Street screening, it was announced that KTEH, San Francisco's PBS affiliate, may air "Occupied Minds" in the fall. And a 9-minute trailer is available here. Dajani's and Michaelis' film is a window into the realities, and the imposing barriers, that need to be overcome in a land that hasn't had calm for many years.