“Salt and Water” As a German Leader is Rejected

by James M. Wall

Ma’an reported Thursday that a general strike has begun in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

As part of the strike, Palestinians shut down their shops and businesses in solidarity with the more than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners now enduring the 11th day of their “Freedom and Dignity” hunger strike.

The Arabic graffiti above means, “Salt and Water,” the only nutrients striking prisoners allow themselves. Placed on the locked door of a Palestinian shop, “salt and water” signals support for the strike which was organized by imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi.

The general strike calls for a Day of Rage on Friday, April 28, during which Palestinians are expected to show their solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners’ movement.

The deserted streets and closed shops evoke memories of the First Intifada, which began in 1987, when Palestinians held general strikes as part of a civil disobedience campaign against Israeli forces.

A few miles away from those deserted streets an entirely different drama unfolded when German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel arrived in Jerusalem for a prearranged meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Before his meeting with the Prime Minister, the German Foreign Minister first met with the Israeli NGO, Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli army combat veterans against the occupation.

Gabriel’s planned meeting with Netanyahu was immediately canceled.

The Prime Minister’s Office defended the sudden cancellation with an official statement, reported by Anshel Pfeffer, in Ha’aretz:

The United States or Britain wouldn’t meet with foreign diplomats who met with NGOs calling American or British soldiers war criminals.

The last part of that defense was a lie.

Breaking the Silence does not call its fellow IDF members “war criminals”. What the organization does is tell their stories of having served as soldiers in the occupied territories.

Breaking the Silence also take visitors to the West Bank. One of their earlier visitors, Irish writer Eimear McBride, reported on her first visit to the occupied territories for the Irish Times, a report shared in an earlier Wall Writings posting.

In that report she wrote: “All that is human in me recoils from this.”

The headline over the Ha’aretz story carried the revealing and stinging title, “Israel Not a Regular Democracy”. Pfeffer agreed with the first part of Netanyahu’s rationale:

Foreign leaders visiting Washington and London don’t meet with those kinds of NGOs − not because Israeli soldiers are worse offenders than any offenders in those countries, but because Israel isn’t the United States or the U.K.

When foreign ministers, prime ministers and presidents of democratic nations, visit “functioning democracies”, as Pfeffer puts it, it is not unusual for the visitor to meet with the host country’s “opposition leader”. The only times they meet with “leaders of civil-society and human-rights groups” is in countries where “there is a special concern over these issues that they want to emphasize”.

The problem for Israel is that on the issue of the occupation, there is no opposition political party. 

The U.S. has a consistent record of visiting with dissident groups on trips to countries which are not functioning democracies.

Barack Obama made a point of this on his historic visit to Cuba last year to meet with Cuban dissidents at the U.S. Embassy. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry did so often as well, making a point of this on visits to the capitals of Egypt and Russia, for example.

As a Western diplomat once stationed in Israel says, “these are the kind of meetings we have only in nondemocratic countries. So you can understand why Netanyahu is angry”.

Israel doesn’t like to be reminded that while it thinks of itself as a functioning democracy, it also has this unusual issue of the occupation.

So true, Israel does have this occupation thing on, which just happens to echo an exchange in the Coen brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Everett: (George Clooney) Pete’s cousin turned us in for the bounty.

Pete: (John Turturro) The hell you say! Wash is kin!

Wash: (Frank Collison) Sorry, Pete, I know we’re kin, but they got this depression on. I got to do for me and mine.

Pete: I’m gonna kill you, Judas Iscariot Hogwallop!

Pete was angry. Cousin Washington Hogwallop had allowed three escaped prisoners to sleep in his barn. Then he notified the sheriff.

Netanyahu was also angry, Pfeffer acknowledged, not just because German Foreign Minister Gabriel met with an organization critical of the occupation, but because Netanyahu realized he was not being treated with the respect he desperately wants as the prime minister of a democracy.

The problem facing Israel and the U.S., is that they do not want to acknowledge that a democracy is not acting as a democracy when it militarily occupies and controls an entire population for more than five decades.

Israel and the U.S. want the world to accept Israel as a functioning democracy, but Israel refuses to allow open discussion of the occupation, the single factor which is plunging Israel deeper into international isolation.

The graffiti picture is from Maan.  The Israeli soldier pictured is on occupation duty, patrolling a Palestinian road. It was taken by Connie Baker. The picture of Foreign Minister Gabriel is by Sebastian Scheiner/AP. 

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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6 Responses to “Salt and Water” As a German Leader is Rejected

  1. Samia Khoury says:

    This is excellent James, and it is the story that has been highlighted in the Israeli papers this past week. Not surprising that Netanyahu would not want the German foreign minister to meet with representatives of those Israeli NGO’s, and especially Breaking the Silence when they are all hot notch officers, and all they are concerned about is Israel itself because of what the occupation is doing to the spirit of the country, the “only democracy in the region.” The problem with the PM is that he does not like to hear the truth. He is so arrogant that he thinks he can get the world leaders to bow to his demands. Unfortunately so often he gets away with it. So Bravo to the German Foreign Minister.

  2. AWAD SIFRI says:

    Thank you, Jim. Yes, Germany is very conscious of its Nazi past of over 70 years ago, and, as a democracy, today, is understandably very hesitant to criticize, let alone condemn, a state that (falsely) claims to represent Judaism. This is particularly the case when Israel commits crimes against humanity, that bring back memories of colonial atrocities. However, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel’s visit with Israel’s army veterans against Israeli occupation whose allegiance to the Israeli state is not questionable is the minimal appropriate slap on Netanyahu’s blood-soaked wrist.
    Let the Day of ‘Water & Salt’ alert the world of the tyrannical Israeli occupation and the fact that freedom cannot be suppressed forever. Let the world note that Israel is only a democracy when it comes to its “Jewish” population, not the Palestinian natives of the land who were “forcefully reduced” to become a “minority” of 20%, in Israel ‘Improper’, down from a majority status of 95%..

  3. Patricia says:

    Recognizing ISRAEL is Evil!

  4. samijoseph says:

    I recommend watching a brief clip at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aB0iUD3LlM titled “The Speech That Killed Sharon”

  5. Enjoyed the article. One point I would like to make. Although Israel, and western nations, repeatedly refer to the Zionist state as a democracy’, it is not. It is, however, a gerrymander with an engineered Zionist (aligning closely with the Jewish population) majority.

  6. Robert Assaly says:

    Samijoseph: interesting clip! In context, if even the Butcher of Beirut thinks continuing “occupation…is not right,” Jim’s point about no opposition in the Knesset to it makes it a stunning moral problem.

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