“Salt and Water” as a German Leader Is Rejected

Posted on Apr 27, 2017

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel arrived in Jerusalem for a prearranged meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Prime Minister canceled the meeting.

by James M. Wall | Wallwritings | April 27,2017

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 sh0p, “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 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 Israeli 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.