Wednesday, April 23, 2014


A graffiti artist paints the face of a Palestinian child on a wall in Beirut, Lebanon

I happened upon both of the pieces I am going to post here a bit ago at +972.  They have to do with Lebanon, Palestinians, Israelis, the Shin Bet, and reality.  I couldn't figure out which to post so I decided, what the heck, let's just do both.

Since they are both pretty lengthy and I really think you should read them, I am going to dispense with my own introduction. Instead I will give you the introductions from +972

The first  article is entitled, "Unafraid: The new generation of Palestinian activists in Israel."  The intro reads:

For decades, Palestinian citizens of Israel lived in fear of the internal security services. But the new generation of political activists are simply not that impressed by Shin Bet intimidation anymore. 

The second article is entitled, "The Shin Bet was very nice, and therein lies their racism."  The intro reads:
Majd Kayyal, the Palestinian journalist from Haifa who Israel detained incommunicado when he returned from Lebanon, speaks to +972 about what it’s like visiting Beirut as a Palestinian, his Shin Bet interrogation and why Israel wants to deter Palestinian citizens of Israel from visiting the Arab world.

Let's get started.

Unafraid: The new generation of Palestinian activists in Israel

By Ala Hlehel / ‘The Hottest Place in Hell
(Translated from Hebrew by Dimi Reider)

 When I was in my second year of university and my father found out I became politically active, he was terrified. “The Shin Bet will snatch you in the middle of the night and throw you out to Lebanon!” he told me. The generation of my parents, who came of age in the shadow of the military regime imposed by Israel over all Arab-majority areas within its  territory, grew up on Shin Bet fairy tales; tales of its tyranny and, most importantly, of its perceived omnipotence. “They can know your dreams before you even dream them,” warned one uncle, who worked as a subcontracted maintenance man with the police and therefore considered himself immune.

The difference between Majd Kayyal and the generation of the military regime is immense; the threat to chuck us out to Lebanon is not that terrifying anymore. In fact it is not threatening at all, and my own feeling, from my own acquaintance with Kayyal’s generation, is that his generation does not really give a damn that much about the Shin Bet. It is a generation bereft of anxiety and devoid of inferiority complexes, a generation that already a while ago changed its strategy. Instead of constantly producing reactions to the activities of the establishment, this generation is taking it own initiatives, breaking new ground in both political thought and political action. The budding campaign against the Prawer Plan marked a new peak in Arab political activity in Israel proper, in a vivid display of the sheer determination of the new activists vis-a-vis the Israeli establishment. Moreover, it amply demonstrated the new ways of thinking practiced by this new generation, which stand in sharp contrast to the tactics of the old, traditional Arab party establishment.
Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate against the Prawer-Begin Plan, BeerSheva, May 12, 2013 (Photo by Yotam Ronen/
Young Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate against the Prawer-Begin Plan, BeerSheva, May 12, 2013 (Photo by Yotam Ronen/
Majd Kayyal is not alone. Thousands of young Arab-Palestinian citizens are no longer afraid to confront the Israeli establishment and its agencies. They are intelligent, passionate and brave, sometimes too brave; but who can really find fault with a 22-year-old woman or a 24-year-old man who look at what is going on in the state itself and in the territories it occupies, and wonder if they will have “a place under the sun” in the world of  Netanyahu and his ilk. Most of these activists make no distinction between the political-national struggle and the internal, social one. They believe you can’t cherry-pick your freedoms, and this is where the secret to their power lies: when Kayyal writes about struggles against the Israeli establishment and the Sisyphean attempt of the Palestinian to survive, he also writes against everything that ails Arab and Palestinian societies from within. He, and dozens like him, do so from every possible stage, and especially in the great arena of our time, the social networks.
On Thursday night, hours after he was released to house arrest from detention, I was sitting with Kayyal and another friend on the porch of his house in the Halisa neighborhood of Haifa. We wanted to hear about what happened in the five days of interrogation, but all he could talk about was Beirut. The spell cast on him by that city from the moment he set foot in had yet to fade. “You spend three weeks there and already you feel you have memories to tell your grandchildren,” he told us. He said, simply, that he walked the streets of Beirut and felt he was walking through the alleys of songs and poems we grew up on, brimming with the names of the streets and the quarters of that bleeding city.
No Jewish Israeli can ever fully grasp that metaphor, or this unbreakable bond – unbreakable even by sweeping, anachronistic laws. While to most Israelis Beirut is a memory of conquest and carnage, to us Beirut is a princess, murdered in cold blood while the Arab regimes watched, impassively, from the sidelines. How can you explain to the average Israeli the immensity of love and sorrow that compose the word “Beirut?” There is an abyss between us and the Jewish majority in Israel in all walks of life, and our desire to be an integral part of the rich Arab culture around us is one of the things of which this abyss is made. When former IDF spokesman and Channel 2 evening news host Oded Ben Ami attacks Kayyal live on air, he does so in the name of the Jewish-Zionist consensus that cannot (but really, cannot) begin to comprehend this incongruity: How is it that an Arab plus Lebanon plus “nationalist newspaper” plus a violation of security laws does not necessarily equal treason, punishable by hanging at Cyber Square?
This incomprehension stems largely from the fact that to most Israeli citizens history, as a whole, begins with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. It is a blind eraser that does not allow an observation of history in any colors beyond black and white. The entire history of this whole country can, to them, be summed up in the eucalyptus trees planted to dry up Hula Lake and military Palmach songs.
The Shin Bet has been after young political activists for years. They are invited for “clarification” chats, and the duty interrogator tries to keep spinning the same yarn that put the fear in all our parents: we know everything about you. And this, frankly, is a bit ridiculous. It’s enough to visit someone’s Facebook page these days to know everything about them. These young people are warned they are putting their futures at risk; that their path is a risky one and that their kind security service cousins are keeping an eye on them. But these young people simply don’t give a damn. This is why the Mukhabarat-style detention of Kayyal is, first and foremost, an attempt to school everyone at Kayyal’s expense. But how do you school someone who’s already an expert on the innermost complexities of politics and life?
This entire pathetic affair peels away yet another layer off the aura the Shin Bet cultivates around itself. It seems it is not omnipotent after all, and that intelligence is not necessarily its second nature. In fact, the one word that keeps bouncing around my head as I write is, rather, stupidity. Can they truly be so stupid, the Shin Bet? Is Captain Abu-Whatever really unable to extract information on espionage from a 23-year-old guy? Or has framing people become too difficult with this savvy generation? Majd Kayyal cruised easily through a Shin Bet lie-detector test; can the Shin Bet itself pass one?
Be that as it may, the anger at this violent, bullying organization is mixed today with a fair bit of gloating and the feeling of a small victory. Some of the little luxuries we can afford ourselves, from time to time, in Securistan.
Ala Hlehel is an author and journalist. A previous attempt to stop him from traveling to Beirut was shot down by Israel’s High CourtThis post first appeared in Hebrew on ‘The Hottest Place in Hell.’

‘The Shin Bet was very nice, and therein lies their racism’
Text by Rami Younis
Photos by Shiraz Grinbaum/

He just sat there. I’d look at him occasionally, taking little sips from his cold beer, looking very peaceful, almost aloof from all the phones and commotion of activists around him. He’d give a piece of advice or share a joke with whoever was beside him, but that’s it. As we were trying to get the rest of the world’s help in freeing all the detainees, Majd Kayyal included, Mbada Kayyal, the father, maintained a cool temperament and nonchalant appearance that I would only learn to understand and appreciate much later.
That was almost three years ago, during the Nakba events of 2011 when Palestinian activists in Syria and Lebanon decided to peacefully march to their southern borders; local activists, Majd among them, were supposed to be waiting on this side of the border. The only democracy in the Middle East decided to preempt this creative, non-violent act of resistance and started arresting people on their way north.
The Kayyal family’s cool temper is not unique to the father and eldest son. Two years ago, in the midst of a demonstration in support of hunger striking Palestinian political prisoners, police brutally beat and arrested 17 activists; Ward, Majd’s younger brother, and yours truly were among them. He was only 16 back then, a minor. While still in custody, police refused to allow his mother, Souhair, to be present with him (as required by law). The latter fought that decision like a lioness outside. Her pressure worked, but Ward, who had been beaten along with the rest of us, refused to leave us behind. Only after his lawyers interfered did he reluctantly leave. The next day, when we were all released following a court remand hearing, Souhair insisted on waiting outside for the very last detainee to walk out. I called her up last Friday and explained that I was interested in interviewing her son, Majd, a Palestinian reporter for the Lebanese newspaper As-Saffir, who was under house arrest, fresh from a five-day secret detention that awaited him back in Israel after he flew to Lebanon via Amman in order to take part in the newspaper’s anniversary convention.
Ahla wsahla,” she said happily. “But I won’t be there to welcome you. I am about to cross to Jordan.”
“For a light visit, I hope,” I tell her.
“You could say that, I guess. I’m on my way to a special activity I have with Syrian refugee children,” she explained.
In recent days, many have tried to understand who exactly is this person capable of such an inspiring act – to travel to Beirut as if it were a short trip to Cyprus. Souhair’s last sentence encapsulated the mindset and worldview of the Kayyal family. Her detained son was just returned to her after five nerve-wracking days with the Shin Bet (Israel’s secret security service), on house arrest, still pending trial, and she was going on as usual.
Saturday Morning
We arrive at the Kayyal residence in the Halisa neighborhood of Haifa. Majd comes down to greet us. “Hamdella Alsalameh, man!” and a hug. We go up and sit on the terrace facing the sea. Mbada, Majd’s father, pours us coffee. To my dismay, it wasn’t Lebanese coffee.
Majd Kayyal (left) sits on the terrace of his Haifa home, discussing what he describes as his unforgettable trip to Beirut, and his detention upon returning to Israel, with Rami Younis (Photo by Shiraz Grinbaum/
Journalist Majd Kayyal (left) sits on the terrace of his family home in Haifa, discussing what he describes as an unforgettable trip to Beirut, and his detention upon returning to Israel, with journalist Rami Younis (Photo by Shiraz Grinbaum/
Let me live (vicariously) through you. Tell me about Beirut.
“It’s crazy, man,” he says while shooting back his coffee like something harder. “There is political mess everywhere there. We all know how Lebanon is divided – Christians, Shiites, Sunnis, Amal Party, Hezbollah, communists, Druze, Palestinians – and you can add to that existing salad, or at least it’s more noticeable lately, the arguments for or against Assad.”
How did they welcome you? Other than at your newspaper’s conference, I assume you took the liberty of presenting yourself as a Palestinian in other places as well.
You know, with all the factions in Lebanon, you get lost in the beginning. You can’t know in front of whom you can safely identify yourself as a Palestinian. Of course it’s easy when you meet communists; their local history is rich with support for Palestinians — in some cases, more than the PLO itself.
Anyway, In Beirut, you get into a store to buy gum or water. You have to know to whom the store belongs – Sunni, Shiite, Amal etc. By knowing who you’re dealing with you can know how far you’re allowed to go in a small talk. Lebanese people always prefer to deal with people like them in daily routine.
Get this story: I’m riding this taxi, I look at the taxi driver’s left hand and see that all of his fingers are cut off. He starts talking to me and it turns out he fought with the Samir Geagea Brigades (A notorious militant leader who commanded several brigades that slaughtered, among many others, Palestinians. R.Y.). He checks me out and notices an unusual accent. I was terrified for the whole ride while he wouldn’t stop questioning me. The moment I got out of the taxi was one of the happiest of my life.
So how would you define most of your experiences?
Definitely positive. Nothing can prepare you for a random encounter with a Palestinian from Haifa, for example. It’s an experience you can never forget.
Where did you meet Palestinians? Were you in Sabra & Shatila, for example?
I was, I visited an UNRWA school there. As I was walking down the school halls and I noticed one of the locals following, and then escorting me. At first, he probably just took me for another outsider, since we all look pretty much alike. We started talking and he asks where I’m from. Turns out he was originally from Haifa, too, from the Saloum family. His joy from meeting a real Palestinian residing in Haifa nowadays was very hard to put to words. I felt like a rock star.
Weren’t you afraid he was a Shin Bet agent or something? Someone they sent to try and incriminate you?
The thought would cross my mind every time someone I didn’t know would come up and talk to me. But then he took me to the local café, to a place called “Saloum Café.” I thought to myself the Shin Bet could easily send me someone, but they wouldn’t build me a coffee shop. I sat down, and word of my presence started spreading. People gathered around, taking photos, asking questions. Funny, but they all looked very similar to the remaining Saloum family members in Haifa today. During the conversation I discovered that the guy’s cousin, the one who brought me in, had died from a direct missile hit in Haifa during the Second Lebanese war in 2006. I decided to be sensitive and not raise the issue until the guy called his cousin from Haifa, the sister of the deceased. So I found myself talking on the phone, from a refugee camp in Lebanon, with someone who lives close to me in Palestine, with whom I have never spoken before. Only a Palestinian could experience such a thing. It was very surreal.
The political complexity of Lebanon is among the world’s most complicated. How did you notice its effects on the public discourse?
Oh, arguments are very different there. Most Lebanese are very politically aware, and I’m not just talking about the educated. I didn’t encounter anyone who claimed the Arabs of ’48 (those who remained in Israel following the 1948 war) are traitors or something, which unfortunately happens in other Arab countries. Debates are on a whole different level there – they’re more deep and profound, and they argue, debate and disagree about pretty much everything.
I enjoyed arguing with Assad supporters. When you live in such a political complexity on a daily basis, you’re forced to never stop thinking. The Israelis go to the army; they know things. The problem is that in Israel, the culture of censorship – due to the military/security culture – is the mainstream; that prevents Israelis from having important and profound thought processes. Add to that the fact we as Palestinians living here are not aware of many things for various reasons, and you get a lower level of debate than the one they have in Lebanon. I say if we’re doomed to have a war, at least have people capable of writing about it properly.
Back to… detention in Israel
Majd shares his experiences from Beirut and Lebanon, and I’m fascinated. His eyes sparkle and it is evident that this was a life-changing experience. He claims he learned a lot and approached even the least-positive experiences with love. But as expected, the end of this story is accompanied by a truly bad part.
Majd Kayyal at his home in Haifa days after he was released from Shin Bet custody. (Photo by Shiraz Grinbaum/
Majd Kayyal at his family home in Haifa days after he was released from Shin Bet custody. (Photo by Shiraz Grinbaum/
Your 20 days in an ‘enemy state,’ as defined by the Israeli authorities, were unforgettable, I presume.
They really were. And I assume responsibility for passing what I’ve learned on to the rest of my people, who are prohibited from visiting Lebanon. When I got arrested on my way back to Israel, I had expected it, so there wasn’t really any fear. But you know what really scared me?
That they would fabricate some accusation, as they did, and manage to dump me in an Israeli jail for an undefined period of time. How do you preserve experiences? Through sharing. You return from abroad and share what you’ve been through with people. I had feared they would take my notes, photos … that I would be put somewhere without the ability to share my mental pictures and stories as I’ve been doing ever since I got out.
(Majd’s fears partly came true. I ask him to show me some pictures he took during his visit. He tells me the Shin Bet took his usb flash drive, where he had stored all of his pictures.)
Do you really think that was one of the Shin Bet’s goals? Secretly detaining a Palestinian journalist who has just returned from Lebanon? Baseless accusation of ‘contact with a foreign agent,’ as they put it?
No. It was simply incidental to the detention. As far as the Israeli establishment is concerned, all contact between ‘48 Palestinians and the Arab world is criminal and a danger to national security. Their goal is to intimidate and try to cut us off from the Arab sphere in which we live; they really do not want us to be in contact with our brothers abroad.
Why? They fear it will hurt their efforts to integrate us in their mainstream of Israeli security-patriotism? It will hurt our ‘loyalty’?
No doubt. They are afraid of setting a precedent. They do not want more journalists or activists to travel. We were educated as a Palestinian minority that the Shin Bet wants to scare us through persecution, as if they “decide” when and how to haunt us. But what we do not understand is that the Shin Bet has no will, they cannot see us as anything a security threat. It’s a clearly inflexible mechanism; you cannot change its character, thinking and modus operandi. There isn’t a government decision to prevent Arabs from traveling to Lebanon; that’s not the Israeli government’s policy so we do not have a problem of policy. Other problems, occupation and settlements, are not resultant from a flexible, changeable policy. The problem is of a racist regime, so it does not really matter if Netanyahu or someone else is running the show, it’s all the same.
So how was detention? How you were treated?
I’ll surprise you. They were very nice, and therein lies their racism.
Nice and racism don’t not sound like two things that go together.
On the surface, but every behavior has a reason, and here, the reason is conceptual: how they see me. In front of them sits a “white boy” with green eyes from an educated family, and in their understanding, I am closer to them on the human scale, the same Zionist scale that categorizes people in Israel. Though I’m not a whole person like them, I’m more of a person than a detainee or a prisoner who arrived from Gaza or the Occupied Territories, for example. Think of the “not-so-nice” attitude the rest of our people get from them and there you have racism at its best.
How were the five days in a closed room without a window and a tiny mattress for you? How were the interrogations?
“I had coffee! All the time!” Majd says out loud and then bursts into laughter.
The conditions were tough evidently, but not unbearable, especially since I was expecting it. So I was mentally prepared. The interrogations were a bit silly. They kept mentioning the name of a girl and asking if I met her. I did not have the slightest clue who they were talking about. I answered that I did not know her and had never met her, then another investigator would come to ask the same question. At some point I realized that they had nothing to ask and the whole thing became a bit pathetic. They realized that they had no material to work with. You wouldn’t believe what they started to ask me!
Don’t tell me they asked about past arrests.
Exactly! I was shocked. They asked me about the flotilla I was involved in (after theMarmara, Majd was on a flotilla from Turkey to Gaza that the Israeli navy stopped on the way and apprehended its activists), and previous demonstrations I attended, in Israel! I found myself reminding them over and over again that I’m suspected of contact with a foreign agent. I’m the detainee, reminding my investigators what to ask.
So you did get the feeling they knew exactly whom you met and where you’d been?
It’s hard to answer. They probably won’t tell you. If I had to rely on my instincts, I’d say it’s 50-50. They might have known, and it’s also reasonable to say that they did not know. Not that it matters though – I’d happily share [it with them].
Where you surprised by the support of Israeli journalists, such as Itai Anghel, who claimed your arrest was racially motivated?
Not really, for several reasons. The first reason is that it is clear the arrest stemmed from discrimination and racism and you have to be blind or stupid not to see it – and many Israeli journalists are aware of how the establishment works. Another reason is the camaraderie that exists between journalists. It bothers me, too, to hear about the arrest of a journalist, no matter who he is and where it happens.
(During the interview I occasionally sneak glances at Shiraz, our photographer. The interview was conducted in Arabic, and Shiraz, an Israeli, made out half sentences. However, I see that she was mesmerized and inhaled every word that came out of Majd. The passion in which Majd has spoken must have pinched her heart. I wonder whether she would like to travel, too. R.Y.)
Majd, I have to ask you. What do you have to say about the claims directed at you? Journalists aside, that Israeli Jews can’t travel to Lebanon either.
I’ll answer that in the Zionist method of answering questions, with my own question: What about our right of return? We do not ask for any millennia-old, irrational historical right; the last 60 years is enough. Where is our right?
Given another chance, would you do it again and go?
Majd Kayyal leans back in his chair. His little grin becomes the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on him.
“Hell yeah. If I could, I would go tomorrow.”
The author is a Palestinian activist and writer.

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