‘The other side of the Siege’ — the IDF takes on the Jenin Freedom Theatre

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The narrator of PBS Frontline’s The Siege of Bethlehem — a film documenting the thirty-nine day standoff between armed Palestinian factions inside the Church of Nativity and the Israel Defense Forces in 2002 during the Second Intifada— declares that as the standoff neared its end, the IDF changed strategies. Instead of the “conciliation and trust-building” tactic, the army would be going for “a more hard-line approach” the narrator says. But this really raises the question: what exactly is meant by conciliation and trust-building if it leaves eight Palestinians dead?

The strategy shift follows an incident in which the IDF shoots “pyrotechnics,”or explosives not intended to kill but to wage psychological warfare, on the holed-up militants.

But the explosives do not adhere to “conciliation and trust-building,” and one hits the church, starting a fire in where the Palestinian militants and civilians remain.

Maybe the narrator is referring to a covert, doublethink strategy called “Operation Conciliation and Trust-Building”?

Turns out that is not the case.

The siege of Bethlehem was the culmination of Operation Defensive Shield, a military campaign Israel waged on the West Bank beginning in March 2002. More than 20,000 IDF soldiers invaded West Bank cities like Ramallah and Jenin, both as retribution for a series of devastating attacks on Israelis and to quell Palestinian resistance to the occupation at the height of the Second Intifada.

When soldiers reached occupied Bethlehem on April 2nd, some 200 Palestinian militants and civilians took shelter in the Church of the Nativity and the impasse began. The historic episode is the subject of the Palestinian production of “The Siege” performed by the Jenin Freedom Theatre, which is currently showing in New York to much fanfare.

At an event called “The Other Side of the Siege,” NYU’s Taub Center for Israel Studies screened the PBS documentary for the forty-five people or so that showed up. IDF Colonel (res.) Lior Lotan, the chief Israeli negotiator during the siege and the film’s main character, followed the screening with an hour-long elaboration of events.

During the brief intermission between screening and talk, two men in the back row could be overheard realizing they both had tickets to the Jenin Freedom Theatre production, two blocks away. Not wanting to be late, they slipped out of the room just as Lotan stepped up to the podium.

He began with a joke, off the film’s final scene, in which Lotan mediates between an Orthodox monk, a Franciscan monk and Armenian monk over who will be the first to re-enter the church.

“I believe the director is not Jewish because he would have known [after] negotiating all your relatives at a Seder, who will sit next to who– he would understand that dealing with these monks and priests is…a very simple task!”

The audience, or at least those who laughed, now grounded in their collective Judaism and implied Zionism, listened to the expert negotiator extol the measured practices of the IDF in contrast to the illogical Palestinian militants.

Echoing the film, which showed the bright, young Israeli soldiers steadfast to the zero hour, Lotan explained that understanding your enemy’s point of view is fundamental to negotiation.

“Perception is a tricky thing when you try to understand someone from another culture, other religions or other political views,” he said, clicking to the next powerpoint slide.

It shows an image of children holding guns, allegedly Palestinian children in Gaza despite an absence of identifying factors. Lotan said they are playing a game of hostage.

He contrasted the culture of war to that of Israelis, to whom army service is a mandatory duty with the ultimate outcome of connecting the citizen to the nation.

“But for them, for these kids.” Lotan said, without a hint of cognizance, “this is heroism. This is kidnapping a soldier of the enemy and holding him without any purpose.”

Much of the audience was old and white, and only made older and whiter during the rest of Lotan’s accompanying powerpoint presentation, with its stock images and shoddy graphs.

Lotan is a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary center in Herzliya, where he founded the counter-terrorism institute, and he is a venture capitalist who specializes in Israeli technology. Thus, the powerpoint was an odd choice.

A half-hour into his talk, the crowd had dwindled to about 30 people, at least one of whom was asleep.

At the end of the colonel’s talk, a friend of Mondoweiss who was in attendance asked Lotan if he had seen the Freedom Theatre’s performance of “The Siege”. The play, which depicts the siege of Bethlehem from the point of view of the Palestinians, began showing on October 12 for a ten-day run at NYU’s Skirball Center, just two blocks away.

According to that friend, Lotan said that he went to the play on opening night.

He characterized it as a portrait of six ‘very young men’ mostly concerned with the problems in their own lives and how to solve them. It did illustrate, he said, that the people most involved in such a situation had little agency and that the end of their immediate ordeal was decided from above (a theme he had stressed in his own story).  He had clearly stayed for the post-performance panel discussion as he mentioned that the ‘director’… said he condensed the stories of many into only six characters for the stage. This, [Lotan] said, was ‘art’ and was distinct from the ‘reality’ of the larger world — his subject.

The film and discussion with Lotan simply proves the need for the Freedom Theatre’s play to reach a wide audience.

As shown by the documentary, Israeli forces controlled the media on the ground entirely. The negotiation team was also a public relations team, deciding what reporters and camera operators saw, who they spoke to and more importantly, choosing when and when not to provide media access.

To hear Lotan tell the same story fifteen years later proves that Israel intends to control the narrative forever.

Except that Sunday night, very few people were listening.

 

About Jesse Rubin

Jesse Rubin is a freelance journalist from New York. Twitter: @JesseJDRubin

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6 Responses

  1. eljay
    October 17, 2017, 3:08 pm

    … “Perception is a tricky thing when you try to understand someone from another culture, other religions or other political views,” he said, clicking to the next powerpoint slide.

    It shows an image of children holding guns, allegedly Palestinian children in Gaza despite an absence of identifying factors. Lotan said they are playing a game of hostage.

    He contrasted the culture of war to that of Israelis, to whom army service is a mandatory duty with the ultimate outcome of connecting the citizen to the nation.

    “But for them, for these kids.” Lotan said, without a hint of cognizance, “this is heroism. This is kidnapping a soldier of the enemy and holding him without any purpose.” …

    Mr. Lotan is correct:
    – Palestinian children don’t know what they’re doing when they imagine that a game of hostage in which they pretend to kidnap enemy soldiers is heroism.
    – Israeli adult soldiers know exactly what they’re doing when they “connect to their nation” by enforcing the “Jewish State’s” decades-long and on-going campaign of oppression, colonialism, (war) crimes and supremacism.

  2. just
    October 17, 2017, 6:00 pm

    Hope that you read Phil’s very good article here, Jesse Rubin:

    http://mondoweiss.net/2017/10/reservoir-cultural-support/

    “…. Here’s the listing for Lotan. Right at the beginning of the run: an event titled, “The Other Side of the Siege”.

    Colonel Lior Lotan, chief Israeli negotiator in the Siege of the Church of the Nativity, will speak on his experiences immediately following the screening [of a PBS documentary on the siege].

    Lotan was till recently a spokesman for the Israeli army. He has argued that Israeli forces should kidnap 200 Palestinian militants for every Israeli soldier captured, so that Israel can have a “full hand” during negotiations for release of prisoners.

    So, just to be clear: NYU can’t stage the Palestinian point of view without needing to counter it with an Israeli military official. Art is answered with propaganda! …”

    I appreciate the pictures of the back of the heads of the attendees! I also smiled at this:

    “… A half-hour into his talk, the crowd had dwindled to about 30 people, at least one of whom was asleep. …Except that Sunday night, very few people were listening.”

    Thanks, Jesse.

    • oldgeezer
      October 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

      Balance is important in this very complex issue….. well not all the time. Only when the situation of the abused is being told. Oppressors have free reign to spew their bile uncontested.

      Israelis are so disconnected from humanity and reality. Brainwashed from birth.

    • Misterioso
      October 18, 2017, 10:13 am

      @just

      “Lotan was till recently a spokesman for the Israeli army. He has argued that Israeli forces should kidnap 200 Palestinian militants for every Israeli soldier captured, so that Israel can have a ‘full hand’ during negotiations for release of prisoners.”

      Lotan’s statement brings to mind the following recent news release:

      https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/austrias-neo-nazis-find-friends-israel
       
      The Electronic Intifada
      October 16/17 

      “Austria’s neo-Nazis find friends in Israel”

      EXCERPTS:

      Photo: “Heinz-Christian Strache, the neo-Nazi leader of Austria’s Freedom Party, left, with Yehuda Glick, a leader of the Jewish extremist movement that aims to replace Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque with a Jewish temple, in Vienna in June.”

      “Austria’s ambassador in Tel Aviv sees nothing wrong with Arab parties being excluded from Israel’s government.”

      “As his own country looks set to put neo-Nazis in power in Vienna, this is yet another remarkable demonstration of the racist values shared by European and Israeli elites.
      Just as in Germany, there are clear indications of ties between Austria’s neo-Nazi far right and Israel’s right wing.”

      “Last week Avi Gabbay, the leader of Israel’s ostensibly dovish Labor Party, declared that he would not join a coalition along with members of the Joint List, a grouping of parties made up predominantly of Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

      “At the same time, Gabbay indicated he could team up with Yisrael Beiteinu, the far-right party led by Israel’s notoriously anti-Arab defense minister Avigdor Lieberman.
      Lieberman believes Palestinians like Odeh should eventually be stripped of their Israeli citizenship altogether.

      “Gabbay’s racism is unremarkable in the Israeli context. It has long been a consensus among Zionist parties that the fifth of the country’s citizens who are Palestinians should have no real role in decision-making.

      “Gabbay followed up with more belligerent comments on Sunday, declaring that ‘the Arabs have to be afraid of us’ and that Israel need never evacuate any of its settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law.”

  3. JosephA
    October 18, 2017, 1:12 am

    Thank you for the summary, it was very interesting to read. I am constantly amazed by people who believe their own lies, be it Donald Trump or your run-of-the-mill hasbara-regurgitating zionist.

  4. lonely rico
    October 18, 2017, 3:59 pm

    While the bitter siege of Gaza goes on and on and on …

    Recent Freedom Flotilla Coalition open letter to UN secretary general Antonio Guterres –

    To: Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General United Nations
    United Nations
    New York
    October 4, 2017
    Dear Secretary General,
    On your recent visit to Gaza, you saw with your own eyes some of the deplorable and inhumane conditions suffered by the Palestinians living in Gaza. You called it “one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises” that you had seen. We hope that, backed by the strength of the United Nations, this experience encourages you to bring maximum pressure on the State of Israel to lift the illegal and inhumane blockade the people of Gaza have been living under for ten years.
    We want to remind you that there are many civil society and religious groups around the world who are watching the worsening situation in horror. We are depending on the United Nations, under your leadership, to work at the international level to increase the pressure from all nation states to use every economic and political measure to remind the State of Israel of the standards expected of the civilized nations of the world.
    We are also pleased that you noticed specifically that the blockade on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt is upheld by that Arab state in defiance of both international resolutions and a sense of solidarity with a fellow Arab people. Israel is imposing the blockade not only by land, but also by air. They have destroyed Gaza airport, which was financed with international aid (including from Spain). At sea, Israeli forces attack Palestinian fishers from Gaza on a daily basis. They also illegally attack international vessels that challenge the blockade non-violently in the Freedom Flotilla missions that have taken place since 2010.
    There are political reasons that make a resolution to the crisis of Gaza imperative at the international level. But even more important are the humanitarian reasons to release an entire people from the appalling situation in which they are currently forced to live.
    Your own officers and researchers have concluded that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. Many other reports, including those by the UN, have documented the many threats to the health and even the survival of people in Gaza. The UN has drawn particular attention to the power deficit. Since April 2017 access to electricity is often for four hours or less per day and always unpredictable. Power cuts make sewage treatment impossible leading to pollution of the beaches. Attacks on inshore fishers deprive the people of access to the nutritional value of fish. Your own research has shown up to 57% of Gaza people are ‘food insecure’. Not only is the Gaza economy paralyzed by the blockade, but restrictions on entry of building materials makes it very difficult to reconstruct bombed schools, for example.  The blockade also restricts entry of school supplies and other goods that pose no threat to Israel whatsoever. This entire generation of children and young people in Gaza are growing up without the minimum to develop into educated and well-nourished adults.
    The situation is so serious that you have announced an emergency grant of $4 million. But the Palestinians of Gaza do not want to have to take emergency payouts; they want – and need – a cessation of Israeli aggression and real international peace-keeping to prevent further aggression. The so-called “Middle East Quartet” has been a disaster, accomplishing nothing and whitewashing Israeli violation of international law and the breaking of numerous agreements. The State of Israel has also ignored countless UN resolutions aimed at curtailing its activities, as well as continuing the illegal blockade of Gaza and the harassment of its fishing fleets.
    In other words, despite its good intentions, the UN has a deplorable record in effectively safeguarding the Palestinians of Gaza and in promoting their security and independence.
    We call on you to immediately:

    Demand that the State of Israel complies with all UN resolutions, with the threat of sanctions if it does not do so.
    Disband the Middle East Quartet and replace it with an effective oversight body.
    Resume real peace keeping and effective protection of the civil population of Gaza.
    Insist that the State of Israel respects and conforms with all UN resolutions that relate to its relations with Gaza.
    Ensure that the world knows that the blockade is illegal and should demand that it be removed immediately.

    Sincerely and persistently
    [list of signers, available at https://freedomflotilla.org/news/43-letter-un-secretary-general ]

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