+972 Magazine » Larry Derfner http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:46:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Against spy revelations, Israel doth protest too much http://972mag.com/against-spy-revelations-israel-doth-protest-too-much/96781/ http://972mag.com/against-spy-revelations-israel-doth-protest-too-much/96781/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 18:18:40 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96781 The nation’s establishment has called the whistle-blowers of Unit 8200 every bad name, but it has no answer to their charge that information deliberately gathered on innocent Palestinians is used to blackmail them into collaborating.

Illustrative photo of digital surveillance. (Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of digital surveillance. (Shutterstock.com)

The 43 refuseniks in Unit 8200, Israel’s legendary high-tech snoops, are this week’s Gideon Levys, this week’s Haneen Zoabis – the focus of patriotic hatred in the land. “Baseless slander” is what Netanyahu called their letter, published Friday in Yedioth Ahronoth, in which they declared they would no longer spy for the occupation.

Aside from being called traitors, the 43 reservists have been called cowards, spoiled brats, cynical political operatives and, as mentioned, baseless slanderers. But neither Netanyahu nor any of the other accusers have answered the whistle-blowers’ most incendiary revelation: that Unit 8200 not only spies on the phones, emails and other devices of militants, but on those of completely innocent Palestinians, hoping to find out their secrets so the Shin Bet can use the information to blackmail them into becoming collaborators.

Interviewing six of the letter’s signatories, Yedioth’s Elior Levy wrote (in Hebrew), “According to them, the Israeli public believes that intelligence is gathered only against those involved in terror. They want to publicize the fact that a substantial portion of the targets they follow are innocent people who are not connected in any way to military activity against Israel, and who interest the intelligence branches for other reasons.”

According to “N.” one of the six dissidents interviewed, “At the base they told us that if we turn up some ‘juicy’ detail, this is something important to document. For instance, economic hardship, sexual orientation, a severe illness that they or someone in their family has, or medical treatments they need.”

“N.” continued:

If you’re a homosexual who knows someone who knows a wanted man – Israel will turn your life into a misery. If you need urgent medical treatment in Israel, the West Bank or overseas – we’re on your tail. The State of Israel will let you die before it lets you go for medical treatment without your first giving information about your cousin, the wanted man. Every time we hook an innocent person who can be blackmailed for information, or to conscript him as a collaborator, that’s like gold for us and for the entire Israeli intelligence community. In a training course we actually learned and memorized the different Arabic words for homosexual.

The army spokesman’s response to these and other specific accusations goes as follows: “The concrete claims made in the report are unknown in the Intelligence Directorate.”

In an interview on TLV1 radio, I asked Noa Levy, a former draft resister who now defends others taking that route, what she thought of the army spokesman’s response. She gave a derisive laugh and said,

That is quite ridiculous, which I can say from my experience as a human rights lawyer. There are many cases of LGBT people from the Palestinian territories who get to Israel and try to get refuge after the Shin Bet blackmailed them, and they get to the point when they are known to Palestinian society as homosexuals or traitors, and [Palestinians] presume they’re informers. This phenomenon was known for a long time, but it was thought to be marginal. What these soldiers allow us to say is that it’s a general thing … a general policy. [Unit 8200]  gathers information on [Palestinian] homosexuals and uses it to turn them against family members or friends.

In Yedioth, Israel’s leading print journalist, Nahum Barnea, fully defended the truthfulness (though not the judgment) of the dissidents:

One would have expected the military to respond to this claim [of spying on innocent Palestinians to blackmail them into collaborating] with a commitment to examine it and correct any failings. Instead we got a wholesale denial – a denial that brought a cynical grin to the face of everyone who is familiar with the reality of the [intelligence-gathering] system. …

The occupation corrupts, say the refuseniks of 8200, and they’re telling the truth. In the best case, the information they pick up prevents terror; in many other cases it serves the malice, arbitrariness and stupidity of the occupation, or it provides a presentable wrapping for some deceitful government policy.

To balance out Noa Levy on the radio program, I asked Eitan Meirsdorf, a reserve Israeli soldier and head of the far-right Im Tirtzu organization at Bar-Ilan University, what he thought of Unit 8200 spying on Palestinian innocents for the purpose of blackmail. Meirsdorf, at least, was candid enough to say what the Israeli establishment is not: that he has no problem with it:

This is not specific to Israel – every single intelligence unit in the world does it. [Unit 8200] is trying to catch terrorists, and at the end of the day, as an Israeli citizen, if there’s a chance that a terrorist is going to blow up my house, my family, then yeah, I would try to do everything I could to stop them. For them to pass up a chance to catch a terrorist and then that terrorist kills Israelis – that doesn’t seem very moral to me.

In other words, in the name of Israeli security, anything and anybody goes.

As for the refuseniks’ charge that medical information on innocent Palestinians is also leveraged by the Shin Bet, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel said, “The testimony PHR gathered from [Palestinian] patients matches the description given by the reservists in Unit 8200. [Palestinian patients] tell of direct and implied blackmail, the latter being in the nature of ‘Help us and we’ll help you.’”

Read PHR’s full report on the practice

Faced with the dissidents’ revelations, official Israel has tried to change the subject, to make the dissidents themselves the subject. The army accuses them of running to the media with their complaints before going to their commanders, which sounds far-fetched, and which some of the reservists have flatly denied, saying they complained first to their commanders, but were rebuffed. The army also claims that only 10 of the 43 signatories, the officers in the group, were part of the “circle of control” in intelligence-gathering on Palestinians. The refuseniks say they were all involved in the work.

The army’s complaints seem beside the point – but that is the point: to distract attention from what these honorable young men and women are saying, because neither the army nor any other part of official Israel has any honorable answer to it.  So they lie, throw mud, threaten and rage – because when it comes to its treatment of Palestinians, Israel can’t handle the truth.

More on the 8200 refusal letter:
Resource: How the Shin Bet holds Gazans’ health ransom
IDF’s ‘start-up nation’ reservists refuse to serve the occupation
Refusal by elite IDF reservists angrily dismissed as ‘political’

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Israel’s watershed moment that wasn’t http://972mag.com/israels-watershed-moment-that-wasnt/96582/ http://972mag.com/israels-watershed-moment-that-wasnt/96582/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 09:05:33 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96582 Liberals abroad seem to think that for Israel, Operation Protective Edge was a turning point — a wake-up call telling this country that it couldn’t keep going on like this, from war to war to war with no chance for peace. +972 speaks to a number of powerful figures in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s inner circle, past and present, to hear their vision of where Israel is headed following the latest Gaza war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. (Photo by Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. (Photo by Haim Zach / GPO)

On the first weekend after Operation Protective Edge ended in a cease-fire, I drove down to Sderot, the original rocket-plagued Gaza-border town and a stronghold of the ruling Right, to hear what people had to say. The idea was to try to gauge Israel’s postwar direction in its conflict with the Palestinians. And since the right-wing calls the shots in this country, the thing to do was listen to right-wingers – on the street, in the media, in the think tanks, in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The car radio was tuned to the Friday morning talk show hosted by Judy Nir Mozes Shalom, wife of Likud cabinet minister Silvan Shalom and a rich, self-satisfied, often-caricatured socialite. She was talking to Boaz Bismuth, deputy editor of Sheldon Adelson’s pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom about his recent trip to Turkey.

“Why did you go to Turkey? It sounds vile,” said Shalom, what with Erdogan and all the anti-Semitism. “I had to get permission to visit the main synagogue in Istanbul,” said Bismuth. “What?!” said Shalom, who seemed to think Jews in Istanbul now needed permission from the government to go to synagogue. No, Bismuth explained, he needed permission from a Jewish communal organization to make sure he wasn’t a security threat. And what about that Jewish couple who got murdered? “Purely criminal,” Bismuth explained; they’d evidently been killed by their housecleaners over money, there seemed to be no anti-Semitic motive. “But the atmosphere is tense. The atmosphere is anti-Israeli, which is anti-Semitic,” said Bismuth. “Why don’t the Jews there move to Israel, dammit,” said Shalom. “I hope everyone wakes up in time.”

In the center of Sderot, none of the people I talk to expect the cease-fire to last. They all supported the war as one of no-choice. They all express sympathy for the civilians killed in Gaza, but blame the deaths and destruction on Hamas. Most want peace negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas but don’t expect anything to come of them. They say many of the people they know shifted to the right during the war. “We don’t believe in a long-term arrangement with Gaza. We also don’t believe in Bibi. I was in the Likud Central Committee. My whole family was for Bibi, but now a lot of them are going to Liberman, to Bennett,” said Jacky Azran, owner of the Tovaleh restaurant.

On the drive home, I listen to the Friday afternoon musings of Yehoram Gaon, one of Israel’s most beloved entertainers and a household name for 50 years, a former Laborite who has grown cranky and conservative in this post-Oslo century. His monologue is thick with sarcasm. “When Africans are slaughtering Africans or Muslims are slaughtering Muslims, the UN doesn’t care. But when Israel fires in self defense – oh no. … Now they’re threatening us with The Hague. What about Boko Haram, maybe the UN should give them a little Hague, no? Syria, 200,000 dead, Islamic State, they cut off heads. How about a little UN debate about that?”

I’m not being selective here: This was the sequence of what I heard that Friday, August 29, three days after the cease-fire. Besides one voice of relative moderation – the owner of the Sderot minimarket, who supports Tzipi Livni and speaks of Abbas as “our only partner” – it was solid right wing, in person and on the air.

And it didn’t stop with Yehoram Gaon. The next host on the program, culture journalist Haim Adar, said the war had reminded Israelis that “we are a people that dwelleth alone, fighting for its life,” and that while Europe rebukes Israel without let-up, “it doesn’t pay any attention to Islamic State cutting off people’s heads.” That night on the Channel 2 news, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon waved off the possibility of negotiating peace with Abbas, saying, “Without the activity of the IDF and the Shin Bet, Abbas would not have survived.” On the news show’s studio panel, Amnon Abramovitch, the leftist in an otherwise completely pro-government quintet of war commentators, finally caved in, giving Netanyahu and Ya’alon a backhanded compliment for “showing restraint” in Gaza.

And that’s the way it was, as Walter Cronkite used to say.

‘Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Liberals abroad seem to think that for Israel, Operation Protective Edge was a turning point, a wake-up call telling this country that it couldn’t keep going on like this, from war to war to war with no chance for peace – Israelis couldn’t stand it, the Palestinians couldn’t stand it, and the world couldn’t stand it anymore. The recent years of Israeli security and prosperity had been an illusion, and it had just popped. Things have to change, the constructive critics have been saying, and now is the time.

That’s not the dominant strain of thinking in Israel, though, not from what I heard. The “national camp,” the Right, led by Netanyahu, is going on just like it did before the war – expanding West Bank settlements, stonewalling the Palestinians diplomatically, crushing any sign of resistance, and blowing off the world’s complaints, notably those from the Obama administration. In terms of policy, nothing has changed.

What has changed, though – and this is always at least half the game for Netanyahu – is the hasbara, the spin, the international selling job he and the rest of the right wing do for the policy of endlessly entrenching the status quo. This new information campaign can be summed up in Bibi’s now-famous saying, “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas.” As military affairs analyst Yoav Limor wrote in a postmortem on the war in Israel Hayom:

The event that was most helpful to Israel in its public relations battle that it waged alongside the military battle in Gaza took place thousands of kilometers from here – the execution of American journalist James Foley. … The Islamic State group is giving us a rare opportunity to tell an attentive audience in the West something that it has thus far refused to hear: Israel is not the problem, but the solution.

Another talking point in the postwar hasbara campaign is the upsurge in anti-Semitism, especially in Europe, that coincided with Operation Protective Edge. That it was Israel’s actions which rattled so many anti-Semites out of the woodwork goes unacknowledged and unmentioned.

One other change in the Right’s postwar approach, one that’s part hasbara and part genuine strategy, is what Netanyahu calls the “new diplomatic horizon.” He and his allies think Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other “moderate” Arab states now see Israel as the “enemy of their enemy,” their primary enemy being radical Islam, including Hamas, and that this could strengthen Israel’s position against Gaza. They also see it as a good argument against the West’s criticisms of Israeli overkill during the war: If your Arab allies are happy – privately if not publicly – why are you complaining?

So the national camp doesn’t see the war with Gaza as the occupation’s last stand, not by any means; it sees the war not only as a military success but as a political advance, too, one that leaves this country freer to pursue its prewar policy toward the Palestinians, which is, as noted, the entrenchment of the status quo.

The destroyed mosque and water reservoir seen in the village of Khuza'a, East of Gaza Strip, September 9, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq / Activestills.org)

The destroyed mosque and water reservoir seen in the village of Khuza’a, East of Gaza Strip, September 9, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq / Activestills.org)

They’re not worried about all the dangers that liberals, foreign and domestic, warn Israel about: losing U.S. and European support, being tried for war crimes at The Hague, getting hit with more and more boycotts, sanctions and divestment (BDS).

At most, they pay lip service to the old, repeated-to-death danger posed by the occupation somewhere down the line – that it will cost Israel either its democracy or its Jewish character. This “threat” isn’t pressing on the national consciousness any more urgently than global warming.

The danger to the economy posed by the current policy, though, is taken seriously; the cost of the fighting in Gaza was enormous, and people here will soon feel it in the deep budget cuts to education, health and every other civilian sector needed to pay for the war, and possibly in higher taxes and recession, too. Yet the Israeli economy has proven resilient after recent wars, at least for the rich and the solidly middle class, while the lower middle class and poor don’t have much of a say. At any rate, everyone understands that wars cost money, so people have to tighten their belts – and people here are not in much of a position to complain, when 95 percent of them, according to Israel Democracy Institute polls, supported Operation Protective Edge.

As for the loss of hope in peace, and the nation’s resigning itself to a future of one war after another – that didn’t begin with this last campaign in Gaza.

“No one believes the cease-fire is going to last, the rockets will start again in another month, another year, another few years. It never ends. We always try to make peace with the Palestinians, and they always choose terror,” said Shai Sofferman, a customer at the Sderot mini-market. “I thought Bibi did a good job during the operation,” he added.

What Operation Protective Edge did was to take Israelis’ apathy and fatalism and deepen it, which is another gain for Netanyahu and the Right. What could be more comfortable for a national leadership going from war to war than a public that no longer expects anything else?

The same way forward

On the night of 9/11, Netanyahu, then out of office, was asked by The New York Times what he thought the attack would mean for Israeli-U.S. relations. “It’s very good,” he said. Then, according to the Times, he “edited himself” and added, ”Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.”

It’s not fair to suggest that Netanyahu was “happy” over 9/11, but he knew, like seemingly all Israelis knew, that it was a godsend for the cause of an embattled Israel. Similarly, there’s no reason to think Netanyahu is pleased by Islamic State’s nightmarish exploits, notably its decapitation of two American journalists, but he knows that they serve his purposes.

In speech after interview after statement, he lumps Hamas together with Islamic State as violent Islamist movements, throwing in Al-Nusra in Syria, Hezbollah, Al-Qaida and Iran – and voila, the slaughter in Gaza was a holy cause, one that all decent people share. On September 1 he told a pair of visiting U.S. congressmen:

What we see is that al-Nusra, Hamas, Hezbollah – backed by Iran, al-Qaeda and these other terrorists groups are basically defying all international norms, breaking them whether in Lebanon, in Syria or in Gaza. … I know that this is part of your common position and I welcome it. It helps that Israel, the United States and the other civilized countries stand together against this grave threat to our future.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and U.S. Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY). (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and U.S. Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY). (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

The next day he told a different pair of congressmen:

We’re fighting not just Israel’s war, but I think a common battle against enemies of mankind – Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, ISIS, supported many of them by regimes that propel terrorism to the front, like Iran. I think this is a challenge to all civilized nations. Israel and the United States stand together …”

And who’s going to argue with him? Who’s going to point out that Hamas, violent, tyrannical Islamist organization though it is, represents 1.8 million Gazans who have lived under Israeli military control since 1967, and that the other half of their country, the West Bank, remains under full Israeli military dictatorship? Who’s going to suggest that this gives Hamas, frightful as it may be, a legitimacy that the marauders of Islamic State, Al-Qaida and Al-Nusra obviously lack?

In the Western mainstream, which is Israel’s world, not many.

This is the national camp’s postwar defense of those horrific scenes in Gaza, and of its continuation of the policy that led up to them. And since the uproar over the war has largely ended with the cease fire, and the world seems more than happy to forget about Gaza, and even the largest takeover of Palestinian land for West Bank settlements in 30 years, which the government pulled off last week, elicited no more than the usual U.S. whine of “counterproductive,” the national camp’s defense seems to be working.

“The situation in the Middle East and, I don’t like to say it, but what’s happening with ISIS and so on, strengthens our point of view,” Zalman Shoval, a long-time Netanyahu ally and former ambassador to the United States, told me. Asked if he thought the ISIS-equals-Hamas argument was being accepted by the democratic world, Shoval said, “Not sufficiently yet, but that’s the direction it’s going in because if you look at Hamas, the only difference between them and the more extreme Islamist groups is that Hamas wants to work in stages – first is the destruction of Israel, but afterward it has the same goal for the world as ISIS and the others.”

One would never guess that it is Gaza which is actually lying in ruins, and not from the bombs of Hamas or ISIS.

A destroyed quarter in At-Tuffah district of Gaza city, which was heavily attacked during last Israeli offensive, Gaza city, September 5, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq / Activestills.org)

A destroyed quarter in At-Tuffah district of Gaza city, which was heavily attacked during last Israeli offensive, Gaza city, September 5, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq / Activestills.org)

Netanyahu and the Right also believe that having Hamas as an enemy not only gives them a very strong hasbara card, but strengthens Israel in the Middle East by offering it the prospect of an alliance of convenience with Arab states threatened by Islamic militancy – mainly Egypt, but also Jordan and Saudi Arabia. This is Netanyahu’s “new diplomatic horizon.” He said in an August 30 interview with Channel 2:

There are not a few [Middle Eastern] countries that see Israel facing the same threats that they face, and that view Israel not as an enemy but as a potential ally. … The Middle East is changing, mainly for the worse, [but] we have to see if we can go hand in hand with [the changes for] the better.

The anti-Hamas alliance with Egypt’s military regime has already paid off very nicely for Israel; before the Gaza war, Egypt destroyed Hamas’ tunnels leading from Sinai into the Gaza Strip, and the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that ended the war was tailored to Israel’s specifications.

“Egypt is basically on Israel’s side,” said Shoval.

“I don’t know if it’s practical to try to demilitarize Gaza, but it is practical to stop Hamas from getting [additional] weapons, and as long as we’re sitting with Egypt on Gaza’s borders, we can prevent it – even without an agreement,” said Prof. Ephraim Inbar, director of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, the most prominent of Israel’s think tanks aligned with the Right.

How far such an alliance between Israel and the anti-Hamas Arab states can go is up in the air; there is a price to pay on the Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi “street” for siding with Israel against Palestinians. But Netanyahu and the Right believe Middle East politics is breaking their way, and that this will strengthen their hand against Hamas and Gaza. And as no one has ever gone broke overestimating the Machiavellian capacities of Arab dictators, Netanyahu and Co. may be right.

‘What boycott?’

If there’s one thing the world (and the Israeli opposition) is pleading with Netanyahu to do, it’s to try to make peace with Abbas (Abu Mazen). Netanyahu was asked his plans regarding Abbas in that August 29 interview with Channel 2. “Abu Mazen has to choose,” he replied. Between what? Between “Hamas and peace,” said Netanyahu.

This is what the ruling Right believes – that Abbas, whose troops have been fighting violence in the West Bank alongside the IDF and Shin Bet for 10 solid years, and who has little to show for it but humiliation, has not yet proven his commitment to peace.

And so they brush off all of Abbas’ long-standing demands – that Israel freeze settlements, agree to a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with land swaps and with East Jerusalem as its capital – as well as his new demand, that the stalling end and the deal be essentially done in a matter of months. Instead of taking even a step toward Abbas, the most you’ll hear from right-wingers is that the Palestinian leader has to climb down from his “inflexible” stance in the Kerry-sponsored, nine-month peace talks that ended in failure in April, and accept small, incremental deals that wouldn’t solve the conflict, but might, in their view, defuse it.

Inbar, of Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center, doesn’t bother with such notions. Asked if he thinks Netanyahu should be more forthcoming to Abbas than he was before the war, he tells me, “No, I think Israelis in general don’t see the Palestinians as partners for peace, and that we have to continue the policy we had before. We shouldn’t offer the Palestinians any more than we did.”

His prescription for how Israel should deal with Abbas: “Keep playing the game even though we know there’s no solution.”

Abbas’ threat to take Israel to The Hague, the International Criminal Court, doesn’t worry Israel’s powers that be, either. An official in Jerusalem who’s familiar with Netanyahu’s thinking told me, “I think we would know how to respond. Netanyahu talks about the ‘double war’ crime committed by Hamas in Gaza. If Abbas is in a unity government with these people, he’s in control of them, so for him, going to The Hague would be a double-edged sword.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands before a meeting in Paris, France, on February 19, 2014. (State Department photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands before a meeting in Paris, France, on February 19, 2014. (State Department photo)

This complacency might be surprising seeing as how Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch argued even before the Gaza war that the occupation was highly vulnerable to a Palestinian challenge at The Hague. Maybe it’s not so surprising, though, because Israel, the United States and Europe are reportedly threatening Abbas with severe punishment if he dares such a move, which is evidently why he hasn’t made good on his threats yet, and why he may never do so. Here again, on the possibility of war crimes trials, the Right’s blithe attitude toward the supposed pitfalls of their policy toward the Palestinians may be based on a clear-eyed reading of the political map.

Neither does the prospect of a postwar spread of the BDS movement scare the national camp. Yaakov Amidror, formerly Netanyahu’s national security adviser, told me, “The BDS movement exists only on the radical margins. These people are already against Israel, the fact that we hurt civilian infrastructure and civilians in Gaza just gives them one more incentive to attack.”

Added Inbar: “What boycott? Business people buy the best product for the lowest price – politics doesn’t interest them. We’re selling more and more to India, to China. We give too much importance to the reactions of the Europeans.”

And who can say that they’re wrong? Before the war, I was one of those who had high hopes for the BDS movement. But then Israel went and committed such a high-profile, long-running outrage, made itself look so brutal in the eyes of hundreds of millions if not billions of people, and … nothing. For all the anguished statements, no foreign government or powerful entity of any sort has sought to make this country or its leaders pay any price for Operation Protective Edge. Gaza and its people have been trampled, and Israel has gotten off scot-free.

So why should the Israeli political establishment and the broad public that identifies with it feel any need to change?

There is of course a price to the nation for taking this direction, beyond the economic price, beyond the unacknowledged moral price, and that is the periodic rounds of death and injury to Israelis, the anxiety, the darkening hopelessness. But Israelis are ready to pay it, or certainly the ruling right-wing Jewish majority is, because they see no other way this country can survive.

The idea that the Palestinians would stop fighting if Israel took its knee out of their spine, or that Israel’s interlocutor in the West Bank has long since stopped fighting, or that the Palestinians, like every other Middle Eastern nation, would be deterred by Israel’s terrible military might if they, like every other Middle Eastern nation, didn’t have Israel’s knee in their spine – such an idea is swatted like a fly by the national camp.

I asked Yoaz Hendel, a Yedioth Ahronoth columnist and Netanyahu’s former communications director, if he thought this was a sustainable future for Israel, if the country could go on fighting the Palestinians indefinitely.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Hendel said. “As long as the Palestinian leadership doesn’t educate its population to democracy, it won’t be a free society but a fear society, as Natan Sharansky put it. And we will find ourselves in conflict because it’s not in our hands. … I don’t see how there won’t be military conflicts with the Palestinians as long as they embrace Islamic fundamentalism.”

No, Israel’s direction hasn’t changed since Operation Protective Edge, only the hasbara is different. The world’s policy toward Israel hasn’t changed, either. And that’s the way it is. And as Edward R. Murrow used to say, good night and good luck.

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Fight occupation, anti-Semitism, Islamic State at the same time http://972mag.com/fight-occupation-anti-semitism-islamic-state-at-the-same-time/96294/ http://972mag.com/fight-occupation-anti-semitism-islamic-state-at-the-same-time/96294/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 09:52:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96294 The first cause must not be a rival, or a left-wing alternative, to the latter two.

From what I read and hear, it seems to me the Left is talking about Israel’s occupation and onslaught in Gaza – but not about rising anti-Semitism in Europe or about Islamic State (IS) and jihadism, or at least not about how to combat them. My impression is that leftists see this as a zero-sum game: the more outrage about anti-Semitism or IS, the less about the occupation and Gaza, and since the occupation and Gaza is their main concern (mine too), they pay no more than lip service to anti-Semitism, often to say it’s being exaggerated by the Right. And though they deplore IS and jihadism, they’re also against any Western military response to it, often blaming Western military action in the Middle East for creating the problem in the first place, or at least for amplifying it.

A fighter from the Islamic State stands in front of a tank. (photo: Islamic State)

A fighter from the Islamic State stands in front of an armored personnel carrier. (photo: Islamic State)

The Right, on the other hand, is talking only about anti-Semitism, IS and jihadism, hoping that it will take people’s minds off the occupation and Gaza, or, better yet, convince them that it justifies Israel’s violent domination of the Palestinians, or, best of all, show them that Israel’s violent domination of the Palestinians is an integral part of the world’s fight against IS and jihadism.

I don’t have much to say to right wingers about this. People who think Israel is doing the best it can with the Palestinians, who think Israel was innocent of all the killing and destruction in Gaza – I have no interest in trying to convince them otherwise; by now it’s futile.

But I do have something to say to the Left, to the people who know the occupation is immoral and that Operative Protective Edge was a monstrous crime: anti-Semitism in Europe is a real and growing problem, and so are IS and other jihadi groups in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, and since you don’t like anti-Semitism or jihadism one bit, you should say so. Insistently. It should be clear to the public that the fight against the occupation is not in any way a rival, or a left-wing alternative to the fight against anti-Semitism and IS, but that all three are on the agenda together, even while for the Left the fight against the occupation is at the top. (If for no other reason than that the fight against anti-Semitism and IS is very well-staffed by the Right and the mainstream, while no one in the West is standing against Israeli tyranny over the Palestinians, except the Left.)

The reason the Left should start speaking out on these issues is not to win votes or support, or even credibility. I have no idea how this would play in Peoria, and I don’t particularly care. Instead, there are two reasons why the Left should speak out against anti-Semitism and jihadism: one, because they are both vile and lethal phenomena, and every leftist worth the name knows it. Two, because there seems to be more synergy now – despite the Left’s intentions – between the anti-occupation movement on the one hand, and anti-Semitism and jihadism on the other.

The scenes and stories from the war in Gaza not only cranked up legitimate antagonism to Israel, they also brought a lot of anti-Semites out of the woodwork, especially among young, disaffected Muslims in Western Europe. And while the rise in jihadism seems to be happening independent of what Israel does or doesn’t do, thousands of European Muslims have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq along with a small number of American Muslims (there are more where they came from), and the veterans who survive the wars will be coming home.

All of these people, anti-Semites and jihadists in the West, feed on verbal attacks against Israel’s violent abuse of the Palestinians – and I don’t want to feed them. Yet, I don’t want to soften my attacks on Israel’s violent abuse of the Palestinians, because that is a vile and lethal phenomenon committed by my country and it must be fought as hard as possible.

So, the answer, I believe, is to go on speaking out with full force against the occupation – and start speaking out more often and more forcefully against anti-Semitism and jihadism. The movement that grows out of the pro-Gaza demonstrations during the war should explicitly take up these two issues as well. That would separate the sheep from the goats. That would purify the ranks, which need purifying.

Actually, on second thought, I think the Left’s joining the fight against anti-Semitism and IS might gain support for the anti-occupation movement. To quote from an August 10 editorial in Britain’s The Observer (the Sunday edition of The Guardian):

Israel’s leaders complain of Western double standards discriminating against their country. But it works both ways. It is clear that more and more people across the world – justifiably or not – are asking why Western governments may assert a moral and legal right to mount air strikes in defence of embattled women and children dying in the mountains of northern Iraq, but should simultaneously ignore the plight of those buried under rubble in Gaza. With Israel’s latest, often indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, that question gets harder and harder to answer.

If the Left was to support those air strikes in northern Iraq – which I do – while also raising its voice against attacks on Jews, I think it would be in a much stronger position to challenge the world’s tolerance for the subjugation of Palestinians. But even if the world, in its cowardice and hypocrisy, continued to tolerate the occupation, the fight against anti-Semitism and jihadism would be no less important – for everyone who stands for justice and decency, which is what the Left should always stand for, everywhere.

Related:
Anti-semitism has no place in Palestine advocacy
No, Hamas isn’t ISIS, ISIS isn’t Hamas

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No, Hamas isn’t ISIS, ISIS isn’t Hamas http://972mag.com/no-hamas-isnt-isis-isis-isnt-hamas/95957/ http://972mag.com/no-hamas-isnt-isis-isis-isnt-hamas/95957/#comments Sun, 24 Aug 2014 11:52:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95957 But equating the two is Netanyahu’s latest way of hypnotizing people into supporting the Gaza war. He gets away with it because people are afraid that if they challenge this idiotic slogan, they’ll be accused of ‘defending Hamas.’

Anybody who isn’t a shill for Israel can see through Netanyahu’s new slogan, “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas.” It’s such a crude attempt to brainwash people, to put the most horrifying image in their minds and associate it with Gaza, thereby cleansing Israel of those images of Gaza’s agony. Like he’s been doing his whole career, Netanyahu is insulting people’s intelligence, treating them like children, selling them the war with a short little singsong slogan they can all remember.

And he gets away with it, because people won’t challenge this idiocy for fear they’ll be accused of “defending Hamas.” Well, if anybody accuses me of defending Hamas in what I’m about to write, I accuse them in turn of supporting the war in Gaza because they enjoy seeing Palestinian children killed. One claim is as fair as the other.

A fighter from the Islamic State stands in front of a tank. (photo: Islamic State)

A fighter from the Islamic State stands in front of a tank. (photo: Islamic State)

Just to be clear, I know very well that Hamas is a brutal, dictatorial organization; the term “Islamofascist” is indeed descriptive of its character. So in that limited sense, it’s the same as ISIS.

But the difference between Hamas and ISIS in the degree of their brutality, and in their strength, is so great as to be a qualitative difference.

Hamas is not slaughtering and beheading and crucifying people by the thousands, it’s not committing gang rape, it’s not massacring people because they practice a different religion, or a different variant of their own religion, or because they belong to a different ethnic group.

“Hamas, like ISIS, is persecuting minorities,” Netanyahu said over the weekend. But there are churches in Gaza, Christians attend them freely, there is a seat in the Gazan legislature reserved for a Christian – that’s night and day from the way ISIS treats Christians, isn’t it?

About Hamas’ executions in recent days of some 25 suspected collaborators, it’s a sickening reminder of this organization’s ruthlessness – but the fact is that the prestate Zionist underground organization Lehi, whose military leader was Yitzhak Shamir,  executed many suspected Jewish collaborators. Both Lehi and Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, also deliberately bombed crowds of civilians, hid behind their own civilian population, and had maximalist territorial goals. The Irgun and Lehi, the progenitors of Likud, practiced what could be called “Judeofascism,” and, minus the religious fundamentalism, could be compared to Hamas. But like Hamas, they could not be compared to ISIS.

A fighter from the Islamic State. (photo: Islamic State(

A fighter from the Islamic State. (photo: Islamic State(

If Netanyahu really believed Hamas is ISIS, would he have sent a delegation to negotiate with Hamas and offer it concessions in Cairo? Would he have reached a ceasefire agreement with Hamas after Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012? If Hamas is ISIS, would a “senior Israel Defense Forces officer” have told this to Britain’s Financial Times in March:

Today we can describe Hamas as a much more restrained, much more responsible organisation than it used to be a decade or two decades ago – this all in light of their statehood experience. This has made them much more responsible, much more cautious.

And if Netanyahu thought Hamas is ISIS, would his goal in the current war, at least until now, have been leaving Hamas severely weakened – but still strong enough to go on running Gaza and keeping it out of the hands of ISIS’s global jihadist allies?

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrate in solidarity with the Gaza Strip, Nablus, West Bank, August 15, 2014. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrate in solidarity with the Gaza Strip, Nablus, West Bank, August 15, 2014. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

But for all those differences, the decisive one between Hamas and ISIS, of course, is that Hamas represents a nation under foreign rule, which means Hamas is fighting a war of self-defense against Israel. ISIS is trying to take over a nation, or nations, that are beset by civil war, so ISIS, being the most murderous, totalitarian and feared of any of the factions, is fighting a war of aggression.

Compare: ISIS is a threat to take over all of Iraq (and maybe later Syria); Hamas isn’t a threat to take over a blade of grass in Israel.

And there’s one more answer to Netanyahu’s attempt to justify the war by equating Hamas with ISIS – is the Palestinian Authority ISIS, too? Is Mahmoud Abbas also ISIS? If Netanyahu can’t deal with Hamas, why couldn’t he deal with the PA? If Hamas is the problem, why does Israel maintain a military dictatorship over the West Bank, where the PA has worked with the IDF and Shin Bet for the last decade to shut Hamas down?

For Netanyahu, ISIS is a red herring, and so is Hamas – Netanyahu is fighting in Gaza to defend the occupation, and he would fight to defend it against any Palestinian challenger. Yes, Hamas is an organization of brutal, ruthless fascists, but so were any number of national liberation movements – that didn’t make the foreign occupation of their countries and the wars fought to maintain those occupations any more just. The slogan “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas” is just another cynical ploy by Netanyahu to blind some people to what Israel is doing in Gaza, and to intimidate those who see the horror into keeping quiet about it.

Related:
Netanyahu tweets Foley execution shot to score points against Hamas
Hamas executes 18 suspected collaborators

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In ceasefire talks, Netanyahu is letting Hamas win Gaza war http://972mag.com/in-ceasefire-talks-netanyahu-is-letting-hamas-win-gaza-war/95540/ http://972mag.com/in-ceasefire-talks-netanyahu-is-letting-hamas-win-gaza-war/95540/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 15:08:58 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95540 The great mystery is: Why?

In the Cairo ceasefire talks, Netanyahu is snatching diplomatic defeat from the jaws of military victory. I have no explanation for why he’s doing this and I have yet to hear a convincing one. There must be something Netanyahu knows that no one else does. Otherwise his concessions at the Cairo talks, after blitzing the Gaza Strip for five weeks, leaving Hamas able to do no more than fire short-range rockets over the Israeli border, and being hailed in Israel as a warrior king, make no sense at all.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz at the Defense Ministry. (photo: Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz at the Defense Ministry. (photo: Haim Zach / GPO)

Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On gave an accurate reading of the situation:

This is what Netanyahu promised during Operation Protective Edge: Demilitarization of Gaza, bringing Hamas to its knees, and achieving long-term deterrence. And this is what we now have: Israel is holding direct talks with Hamas in Cairo, has agreed not to demand Gaza’s demilitarization, and is discussing a series of steps such as opening the crossings, bringing in goods and expanding fishing zones, which will be credited to Hamas and to those who side with violence.

Also, the emerging truce calls for talks on construction of an airport and seaport for Gaza to begin within a month of the document’s signing.

Personally, I’m in favor of Gaza getting all those things. But Netanyahu could have offered them to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the Kerry talks, or to the Fatah-Hamas unity government that Abbas forged, and the Palestinian benefactor would have been the non-violent, moderate PA instead of the violent, immoderate Hamas. Oh, one other thing: There wouldn’t have been a war that killed 2,000 people, made much of Gaza look like the Warsaw Ghetto, and traumatized hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the south. Gal-On again:

Netanyahu dragged us to a war of choice and a war of folly, gave Hamas a lifeline to climb out of the biggest hole it was ever in, strongly reinforced the organization’s understanding that it pays to keep digging deeper tunnels and stockpiling deadlier rockets, and it has proved to the Palestinians once again that Israel only understands the language of force.

It’s not just leftists like Gal-On and me who see the Cairo talks in this light. “In the hands of Hamas” was the title of the highly-influential Friday column in Yedioth Ahronoth by Nahum Barnea, the country’s leading print journalist:

If it wants, Hamas will fire on us, if it wants, it will stop. Hamas got out of Gaza with a tie, and triumphed in Cairo.

In the cabinet, meanwhile, the only sure ally Netanyahu has left is Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, his partner in devising the Cairo negotiating strategy. The other ministers, certainly to the right of Netanyahu but even those to his left, are turning away from this deal. Netanyahu, for his part, is barely talking to them. Political correspondent Yossi Verter in Friday’s Haaretz:

By yesterday, [Netanyahu] remained alone in the political arena. All that was left of the collective hug and the broad support from right, center and left, in whose light he basked for 30 days, was a dull fog. Even Finance Minister Yair Lapid announced that he’s not in Netanyahu’s pocket, and that he will not necessarily vote for the agreement when the time comes.

A week ago, Netanyahu seemed to have clear sailing; he didn’t need anything or anybody. With Hamas’ tunnels destroyed, most of its rocket arsenal wiped out and the Iron Dome behind him, he could pull the army completely out of Gaza and all he would have to deal with is the “drizzle” of Hamas’ short-range rockets over the border, which cause much more fear than injury or damage, and for which Israel could make Gaza pay a heavy price. This is how Israel had lived for years. As for the mess it left in Gaza, let the world clean it up. What did Netanyahu need with a ceasefire? Why would he want to negotiate with Hamas as an equal? Above all, why would he want to let Hamas say to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, “We fought Israel, and in the end it lifted the blockade”?

File photo of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Photo: PPO/Thaer Ghanaim - Handout)

File photo of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Photo: PPO/Thaer Ghanaim – Handout)

This seems to go against everything Netanyahu is about, and utterly against the spirit of Operation Protective Edge. So what got into him? Did Obama finally, truly lay down the law to Bibi in their reportedly angry phone conversation a few days ago? That would seem to go against everything Obama is about, so that’s not a likely explanation. Even more unlikely was that Netanyahu had an epiphany, changing from hawk to dove in the space of last weekend. But maybe he thinks he can scam the Palestinians on the terms of the truce, and make promises he doesn’t intend to keep. But then the rockets would resume, defeating the purpose of such a scam, and anyway Hamas has won a moral victory already, so that explanation doesn’t make sense, either. It’s all a great mystery, one that presumably will be solved when more information comes to light.

As things stand, it doesn’t look like the truce coming out of Cairo will be approved by the Israeli cabinet. And it may not get that far – Netanyahu could try to cut his losses and exit the talks in a way that allows him to blame the Palestinians for the failure (not that anybody outside of Israel and the Republican Party would believe him).

Myself, I hope the truce is made. Better an agreement with Abbas than with Hamas, but better an agreement with Hamas – one that ends the war and revives Gaza – than no agreement, which keeps the war going and leaves Gaza for dead.

Related:
The battle over numbers: Gaza conflict is about quality not quantity
U.S. halts transfer of Hellfire missiles to Israel
The world is letting Israel get away with it again

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The world is letting Israel get away with it again http://972mag.com/the-world-is-letting-israel-get-away-with-it-again/95335/ http://972mag.com/the-world-is-letting-israel-get-away-with-it-again/95335/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 12:34:55 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95335 The assault on Gaza has hurt this country’s image, and it doesn’t care.

There’s no doubt that this past month of heavily televised overkill in Gaza – well, heavily televised everywhere but here – has hurt Israel’s standing in the world. The IDF has killed too many civilians, wiped out too many families, bombed too many UN shelters. Even Washington has used words like “indefensible” and “disgraceful” to describe some of Israel’s acts. And while the world’s powers-that-be don’t like Hamas, they do like the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and they know very well that the Netanyahu government has continuously trashed any chance of making peace with him.

So in terms of high politics, of Israel’s international relations, and considering Israel’s image in international public opinion, Operation Protective Edge has been a great failure. If before the war Israel’s liberal friends had warned that its policies were driving people away and leaving the country increasingly “isolated,” Israel’s behavior over the last month has aggravated that condition badly.

The Al-Susi Mosque lies in ruins in Shati' Refugee Camp following Israeli attacks, Gaza City, August 2, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The Al-Susi Mosque lies in ruins in Shati’ Refugee Camp following Israeli attacks, Gaza City, August 2, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

To which Israel says: who cares? If I may mangle Ben-Gurion’s famous dictum, it doesn’t matter what the goyim say, it matters what the goyim do, and the goyim are doing nothing. Even now, after this month-long horror show in Gaza, which isn’t over.

And since the goyim – along with the liberal Jews who are appalled by Israel’s actions – are doing nothing, meaning they’re not punishing or penalizing Israel in any manner, not holding it in any way accountable for what it has done to Gaza and its people, then Israel indeed has no reason to care what the goyim or liberal Jews say.

The world is shocked by the death and devastation in Gaza, it understands that the “root cause” is Israel’s half-century denial of freedom to the Palestinians, and it knows that the Netanyahu government has no interest whatsoever in setting the Palestinians free – yet the world, even now, is letting Israel get away with it.

Just compare: Russia takes back Crimea, which made most Crimeans very happy, and which got no one killed, and the world immediately imposed economic sanctions on Russia. But after Operation Protective Edge – nothing.

It goes without saying that the United States isn’t going to do a thing to Israel, but neither is “left-wing, pro-Palestinian” Europe. The title of Amira Hass’ column in Monday’s Haaretz, “A European green light to kill, destroy and pulverize Gaza” pretty much tells the story.

The only concrete punishment I’ve heard being discussed by anyone important is the call by major politicians in Britain – though not Prime Minister David Cameron – to curtail British arms sales to Israel. There’s been a lot of backtracking on this demand, though, and at any rate Britain sells no more than about $10 million a year to Israel in strictly military equipment, so we’re not talking about more than a slap on the wrist even if such a sanction were imposed.

Other than that, as far as I know, it’s business as usual.

How many op-eds have been written this month by liberals distraught over Gaza, moaning about the occupation and crying out for the two-state solution? Yet none of them said a word about how this solution is supposed to be achieved. Everybody knows the problem, everybody knows the solution, but nobody will talk about how to get there because that means holding Israel accountable. That means not the carrot but the stick, excuse the expression, and such a notion remains taboo in the Western world. Even now.

The stuff that Israel’s political immunity is made of – American Judeophilia and Islamophobia, especially among the Christian Right; the pro-Israel lobbies in the U.S., Britain, France and other countries; and European Holocaust guilt – must be very, very powerful if it can neutralize the political effect of all those harrowing scenes and stories from Gaza. Short of starting a war that gets masses of Westerners killed, I can’t see what Israel might do to get the U.S. and Europe to finally read it the riot act and say: end the occupation or find yourself some new friends.

I think the American left-wing organizer Saul Alinsky once said that an issue isn’t an issue unless you can do something about it. On that basis, the events of the past month, together with the Western powers’ cowardly reaction to them, suggest that Palestinian subjugation and suffering may have ceased to be a political issue, and become a humanitarian issue of all the more urgency.

By the same token, the brutalization of Israel may have stopped being a political issue, and turned into a humanitarian issue focused on this country’s victims.

Read this article in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
This is what life in Gaza sounds like
Gaza war: It’s about keeping the Palestinians under control

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Why Israel won’t sign any ceasefire that’s fair http://972mag.com/why-israel-wont-sign-any-ceasefire-thats-fair/94372/ http://972mag.com/why-israel-wont-sign-any-ceasefire-thats-fair/94372/#comments Sat, 26 Jul 2014 20:18:27 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=94372 A fair ceasefire would bring major relief for Gaza, which would mean Hamas wins the war.

The ceasefire that the world is now pushing for – one that, as UN chief Ban Ki-Moon put it, not only ends the fighting but also ends Israel’s “chokehold on Gaza” – is one that the Netanyahu government will not accept. It should accept it, because Gazans have the right to be free, but it won’t. Its rejection of John Kerry’s offer on Friday – which reportedly would have allowed the Israeli army to go on destroying Gazan tunnels even during a week-long ceasefire – is a sign of this.

Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 15, 2013 (State Dept. Photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 15, 2013 (State Dept. Photo)

If Israel agrees to end the war on terms that grant major, transformative relief to Gaza, that largely lift the blockade on the Strip and allow Gazans substantial freedom of movement – which is what Ban and even Kerry are talking about – then Hamas wins the war.

And this Israeli government will not allow that, not only because of false national pride, but also because if Hamas wins freedom for Gaza, it will take over the West Bank, directly or indirectly. The Palestinian Authority will collapse – to be replaced by Hamas or the Israeli military, either scenario being a nightmare for Israel – or the Palestinian Authority will refuse to go on playing Israel’s cop and begin demanding freedom for the West Bank, too.

As Noam Sheizaf wrote, Israel could agree to a ceasefire that ended the chokehold on Gaza if it was ready to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories altogether, in the West Bank as well. But it’s not. And so the only ceasefire the Netanyahu government will agree to is one that gains Gaza nothing or, at most, finds Israel throwing it a bone, thereby teaching Hamas and the rest of the Palestinians that firing rockets at Israel – even under extreme Israeli provocation – gets them nothing but a lot more pain.

So long as the Israeli government is committed to ruling the Palestinians, any meaningful  relaxation of that rule as a result of Palestinian pressure amounts to a Palestinian victory, an Israeli loss, and an Israeli invitation to the Palestinians to apply more of the kind of pressure that won them that first victory – in this case, violence. If this pro-occupation Israeli government agrees to anything close to allowing Gazans to control their own coast and airspace, to move to and from the West Bank by land through the Israeli border crossings, and if it releases the 58 West Bank Hamasniks it rashly and wrongly imprisoned again last month, Hamas would almost certainly keep the peace in Gaza – but the West Bank would likely explode. And if that were to happen, Gaza would probably break the ceasefire and join the fighting.

Palestinians march during a protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza in the Qalandyia checkpoint near Ramallah, July 24, 2014. (photo: Activestills)

Palestinians march during a protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza in the Qalandyia checkpoint near Ramallah, July 24, 2014. (photo: Activestills)

It’s really all or nothing – either Israel goes about the business of freeing the Palestinians, or it better clamp down on them good and tight for as long as it can. And since this government is not ready to do the former, doing the latter is its only option.

So when Ban says “this effort – peace effort – cannot be the same as it was the last two Gaza conflicts, where we reset the clock and waited for the next one,” and Kerry says “people in Palestine, the Palestinian territories and people in Gaza have a right to feel free from restraints on their life, where they can barely get the food or the medicine or the building materials and the things that they need,” Netanyahu and his cabinet just tune out. They’re not interested. That’s not the ceasefire they have in mind at all.

The only one they’re interested in is the kind Egypt put forward at first – a return to the status quo ante, with Gaza back in the sewer, and nothing more than vague, toothless assurances to discuss Gaza’s complaints. Hamas didn’t agree to it then, and ever since, with the scenes of mounting death and destruction in Gaza, world diplomacy has shifted toward Hamas’ position (a ceasefire that at least loosens the blockade substantially) and away from Israel’s position (a ceasefire that keeps the blockade in place).

So as the war nears the end of its third week with over 1,000 Gazan deaths and 43 Israeli deaths, the effort to end it is at a stalemate. If and when this will be broken, no one knows. But once again, the ball is in Israel’s court, and once again, Israel is freezing it.

Related:

What does Israeli ‘acceptance’ of ceasefire really mean?
Israel has alternatives to this war
Why do Palestinians continue to support Hamas despite such devastating losses?

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Israel during wartime: Loving our soldiers to death http://972mag.com/israel-during-wartime-loving-our-soldiers-to-death/94251/ http://972mag.com/israel-during-wartime-loving-our-soldiers-to-death/94251/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:11:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=94251 War brings out the best in Israel, and the worst. But it’s the worst qualities that allowed this war to happen in the first place, and that are preparing the ground for the next one.

I’ve always thought, and still think, that if I were in real trouble somewhere, if I were being mugged in Miami, say, and I could choose the nationality of the nearest bystander, I would choose Israeli. They are brave, and they don’t hesitate to help someone in danger, even at risk to themselves. It’s a worn-out cliché, and I’ve found it to be very true.

And the war going on now, from an Israeli Jewish vantage point, is sort of that quality played out on a national scale. First of all, of course, there are the ground troops going into Gaza. As wrong as this war is, the young combat soldiers going in to fight are risking their lives, and some of them are dying or getting very badly wounded. They are brave. And they are ready to die to save their fellow soldiers. (And I don’t blame them for this war; they were born and bred for it.) I don’t think there can be many Israeli Jews today, no matter their political opinions, who, if they think about these soldiers, can help being moved by them and caring for them.

Funeral of Israeli soldier Banaya Rubel, Holon, Israel.  Rubel was killed during clashes in Gaza. (photo: Activestills.org)

Funeral of Israeli soldier Banaya Rubel, Holon, Israel. Rubel was killed during clashes in Gaza. (photo: Activestills.org)

And Israelis’ instinctive readiness to help in a time of need is coming out abundantly across the home front, across Israeli society at large. One tiny example: This morning I went to the neighborhood grocery store and they’ve got a box for people to donate sanitary wipes, underwear and other items for the soldiers stuck for days and nights in the field. They have another box to donate nuts and cookies and stuff for the shiva, the seven-day Jewish mourning period, for a soldier in Modi’in who was just killed.

This is a very emotional experience. Most Israeli Jews have family members or friends in Gaza; I do, too. But even for those who don’t, everyone is just surrounded by this story of young guys going in to risk their lives, and not a few of them dying, and seemingly the whole country truly, to one degree or another, everyone in his or her own rhythm, worrying for the living and mourning for the dead. You see 30,000 people going to each of the funerals of these two “lone soldiers” from America who had no family in this country, Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli – it is stunning. This society is glowing with tears. Hearts are bursting.

And this is sort of the problem: It’s like the agony of love – it’s the worst but it’s also the best. This is Israel at its best – brave, sacrificing, caring, loving. The tears. It’s so warm. We are a great big family. We are.

And when do we know it best? In war. And because we have so many wars, we have so many of these great national lovefests, these tragic/heroic communal sagas. We’re good at it, very good, great. And it’s not a show – the media may kitsch it up, but they don’t have to – this is real. The soldiers are real, the deaths are real, the reactions of people are real. For an Israeli Jew, it’s extremely hard to resist being part of it. And at the emotional level, why should one try?

But there are at least a couple of conditions attached to this communal experience: One, there can be no reminders of what we are doing to the people in Gaza. The media have to give it a little bit of time or space, tucked away, for appearance’s sake; they seem clearly apologetic about this. Nobody, but nobody, in the communal embrace wants to see or hear about the Palestinians in Gaza.

Soldiers and relatives mourn at the grave of Israeli Sergeant Banaya Rubel during his funeral on July 20, 2014 in Holon, Israel. Sergeant Rubel was killed along with another Israeli army soldier on the twelfth day of operation 'Protective Edge,' when Hamas militants infiltrated Israel from a tunnel dug from Gaza and engaged Israeli soldiers. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Soldiers and relatives mourn at the grave of Israeli Sergeant Banaya Rubel during his funeral on July 20, 2014 in Holon, Israel. Sergeant Rubel was killed along with another Israeli army soldier on the 12th day of operation ‘Protective Edge,’ when Hamas militants infiltrated Israel from a tunnel dug from Gaza and engaged Israeli soldiers. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The other condition is that no one may ask whether the cause these soldiers are fighting for – this war – is right or not. Whether we, Israel, could have prevented the deaths. Whether we, especially we parents, are even just partly responsible for getting more than a few of our soldiers killed.

Nobody can ask that question, not in public; he will be shouted down angrily. He will be silenced.

And so this display of what’s best in Israel goes hand-in-hand with the demonstration of what’s worst in it: The conformism, the robotic thinking, the blind obedience, this fucking lemming-like quality. You hear people repeating it in the media like an oath – we believe in our soldiers, we believe in the mission, we believe in our leaders.

We believe in the mission. We believe in our leaders.

War brings out the best in Israel, and the worst. But it’s the worst qualities that allowed this war to happen in the first place, and that are preparing the ground for the next one. Wouldn’t it be nice if Israelis could devote a little of their courage to the contemplation of breaking ranks, and give a little of their compassion to the Palestinians? Maybe then they could find a better arena for their awesome bravery and generosity than one war after another after another.

Related:
‘Finish the job’
This was a war of choice. Netanyahu’s choice
How can you possibly oppose this war?

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‘Finish the job’ http://972mag.com/finish-the-job/94114/ http://972mag.com/finish-the-job/94114/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:01:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=94114 This is the watchword in Israel today, no matter the price.

Late last night (Monday), I was driving home from work and listening to the talk show hosted by Jojo Abutbul, who is sort of an old-time folk hero in this country – a Mizrahi Jew with down-to-earth wisdom. An Israeli common man. He speaks mainly to an older, Likud-oriented Mizrahi crowd, which is still very reflective of Israeli mainstream views, and is disproportionately represented in Sderot and some of the other towns near the Gaza border that have taken the brunt of Hamas’ rockets. Jojo Abutbul and his callers are an important voice in Israeli public opinion, especially now, during the war. They’re thought to be on the right wing of the mainstream.

They were speaking after a day in which seven Israeli soldiers had been killed, and a family of 26 had been killed in Gaza. The first tragedy overhung everything they said; the second was not mentioned. And the phrase that kept being repeated was, “Finish the job.” Abutbul said, “It hurts me, the number of soldiers who have fallen. But I think I’ll be able to withstand any number if they finish the job. But if even one soldier meets his fate and they don’t finish the job, then I’m going to find this impossible to take.”

A mourner carries the body of a child among 24 members of the Abu Jamea family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip.

A mourner carries the body of a child among 24 members of the Abu Jamea family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip.

I thought, well, that’s an “authentic” Israeli voice today, but it’s not the only one, and it’s probably somewhere to the right of the center of gravity. I still believed there were a lot of Israelis who are saying “enough” – not just left-wingers but centrist Israelis who cannot take anymore Israeli soldiers getting killed and want the fighting to end now. This, after all, is supposed to be a basic truth about the Israeli political mentality – that they won’t stand for large numbers of casualties in war. And seven soldiers were killed yesterday, and 13 the day before, and now 27 Israelis have been killed all told. This morning the news is that a soldier is missing in action, which means a whole agonizing bargaining ordeal again.

All the things Israelis were warned about if the fighting went on too long – international outrage over the scenes of Palestinian civilians being slaughtered, large numbers of Israelis being killed, soldiers being captured – have now happened. I would expect that a lot of people, not just leftists, would be echoing the world by calling for a ceasefire right now.

Then this morning I picked up a copy of Yedioth Ahronoth, the “newspaper of the nation,” what I consider to be the clearest window there is into Israeli society. The front-page commentary is by Yuval Diskin, the former Shin Bet chief and conscience-ridden star of “The Gatekeepers,” the incessant critic of Netanyahu’s hardline policies – and the title of his commentary is “Don’t Stop Yet.”

We need to expand the ground operation because the operation must not end with the status quo. The home front is prepared to pay the price so that the problem of the rockets will be solved for the long term. The operation to destroy the tunnels is absolutely vital.”

Actually, the main price for the home front now is not the rockets, but the deaths of the soldiers. Are we prepared to pay that price? Evidently.

Funeral of Israeli soldier Banaya Rubel, Holon, Israel.  Rubel was killed during clashes in Gaza. (photo: Activestills.org)

Funeral of Israeli soldier Banaya Rubel, Holon, Israel. Rubel was killed during clashes in Gaza. (photo: Activestills.org)

But there was also a column inside by Shimon Shiffer, who wails away at Netanyahu’s rejectionism toward the Palestinians; his commentary was titled “The Next War.” Ah, he’s going to provide a little balance, he’s going to say the war is futile, that either we change our approach to the Palestinians or the next war is on the way.

Shiffer slammed Netanyahu alright – but for failing to be warrior enough, for bending to international pressure.

As has happened in past military campaigns, so it threatens to happen again: the operation against Hamas ends with a sense of missed opportunity, with the knowledge that the mission and objectives of Operation Protective Edge were not fully achieved. … It can be assumed, without cynicism, that Netanyahu will find a way to sell us the successes of Protective Edge.”

Well, he took it to Bibi, anyway, so he earned his paycheck from Yedioth.

The front-page headline, beneath the photos of 10 soldiers who were killed, reads “Model Commanders.” The tone of the paper is not tragic, it’s heroic. The message is that the deaths of the soldiers has only increased our will to fight to the end, to finish the job.

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It’s pretty much in line with what I’m hearing from the people in my “social circles.” They’re not mainly leftists, they’re mainly center-leftists – they’d like Labor leader Isaac Herzog or Tzipi Livni to be prime minister. They’d love to be rid of the settlements. They’re completely heartbroken over the soldiers’ deaths, and they’re sorry for the Palestinian civilians’ deaths, too. But as far as I can tell, they believe in the necessity of this war, they see it as a war of self-defense against Hamas. And if the army says it needs to finish the job and that now is not the time for a ceasefire, which is what the army is saying, they’re not going to disagree.

I wasn’t here in 1982, but it is said that 400,000 Israelis protested in Tel Aviv’s Malchei Israel (now Rabin) Square against the Lebanon War. What happened? I know what happened, but the contrast between then and the way things are now is still uncanny.

At the beginning of this war, when it was impossible to call it a war, when the “kill ratio” was 200 to 0, I was filled with loathing at this country, at the complacency in the face of what the air force was doing to people in Gaza. But now that Israeli soldiers are dying – mainly young soldiers, of course – I don’t think I have any anger left in me.

Sunday morning, after a day in which 13 soldiers were killed and 100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, mainly in Shujaiyeh, I thought, That’s it. Israelis are not going to tolerate so many soldiers being killed, and the world is not going to tolerate so many Palestinian children getting killed. Putting aside the world reaction, I thought Israelis, as deadened as they are toward the evil we do to the Palestinians, would save the situation with their finest quality: their inability to withstand the deaths of their own, especially their young.

I was wrong. Evidently, if they believe that the war is serving a purpose, in this case to bring long-term security to Israel, at least from Gaza, then they will put up with the deaths of their soldiers.

They’re not callous – far, far from it. Israelis really do have good hearts, and they love their own, especially their young, as much as any people on earth. The problem is their minds, or rather their collective mind, the mind of this society – it is geared like a sports car engine to war.

Related:
PHOTOS: A Gaza funeral for 26 members of one family
Mourning death wherever it strikes
Why Palestinians continue to support Hamas

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The ‘terror tunnels’: Another Israeli self-fulfilling prophecy http://972mag.com/the-terror-tunnels-another-israeli-self-fulfilling-prophecy/94053/ http://972mag.com/the-terror-tunnels-another-israeli-self-fulfilling-prophecy/94053/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:08:21 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=94053 There were non-lethal ways to preempt Hamas’ underground attacks, but the Netanyahu government rejected them all.

Here is the current, ostensibly airtight rationale for whatever the IDF chooses to do in Gaza: armed Hamas militats are coming up out of tunnels that start in Gaza and end not far from kibbutz and moshav communities on the Israeli side. So if the IDF doesn’t go as far into Gaza as necessary to destroy the last of these underground passages, sooner or later Hamas will succeed in carrying out “catastrophic” terror attacks, as Netanyahu puts it. The army has stopped several of them since Thursday night’s ground invasion of the Strip; today (Monday) soldiers were wounded in Israeli territory stopping another one.

Funeral of Israeli soldier Banaya Rubel, Holon, Israel.  Rubel was killed during clashes in Gaza. (photo: Activestills.org)

Funeral of Israeli soldier Banaya Rubel, Holon, Israel. Rubel was killed during clashes in Gaza. (photo: Activestills.org)

An unnamed IDF commander put the case very well to Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea:

The IDF’s war to wipe out the threat from the tunnels is not an aggressive operation. It’s a preemptive attack, a completely defensive operation. … Imagine if someone in Hamas makes the decision to send out on some dark night, by surprise, teams of commandos through all the tunnels, and they go on a killing spree in the communities near the Gazan border. …

It’s true that many soldiers [13 – L.D.] were killed tonight. It’s likely that more will be killed. But think of the alternative. How could we look kibbutz or moshav members near Gaza in the eye if a commando unit were to infiltrate and kill dozens of their people? Now that we know the tunnels are there, we can’t allow ourselves the luxury of doing nothing about them.

It sounds entirely reasonable – Hamas is using tunnels to try to kill Israelis on Israeli territory, so the IDF has to go into Hamas’ territory and wipe out those tunnels. And it might be reasonable – if there were no other way Israel could avoid being attacked through those tunnels. It might be reasonable if Israel wasn’t choking Gaza and the West Bank for 47 years. It might be reasonable if Israel hadn’t provoked the war that led to these underground attacks (after a year-and-a-half in which Hamas not only didn’t lift a finger at Israel, but also reined in, to varying degrees, rocket attacks by other Gazan armed groups). Going after the “terror tunnels,” even at the cost of Gazan and Israeli lives, might be reasonable if Israel wasn’t rejecting any cease-fire terms that would allow the 1.8 million people of Gaza to breathe for once.

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Israel could have preempted the tunnel attacks by ending the occupation; and failing that, by not provoking this war; and failing that, by accepting a ceasefire on humane terms. But Israel’s answer is no, no and no, so truly, the only choice it leaves itself if it wants to protect its citizens near the Gazan border is to send Israeli soldiers charging into Gaza, killing and getting killed.

Israel provokes Hamas into a war that escalates to the point where Hamas is fighting a war of survival, using everything it’s got, including tunnels for attempted terror attacks in Israeli territory – and Israel says, “Look what they’re using! My God! We can’t let them have that kind of capability – they’ll use it to kill dozens of people!”

If somebody hasn’t said it already, I don’t think it will be long before we hear, “Lucky for us that Hamas forced us to invade; otherwise we wouldn’t have known about all those tunnels.”

          Read +972′s coverage of the latest round of violence

Israel can play this game with any of its enemies. Hezbollah has 100,000 rockets and missiles pointed at this country; they haven’t fired a single one in eight years, since the Second Lebanon War. But let’s go provoke a war with Hezbollah, they’ll start firing thousands of rockets at us – Iron Dome can’t shoot them all down – and we’ll say, “You see? They’re firing thousands of rockets at us, we have to go into Lebanon and destroy them all.” We can play the same game with Syria, with Iran, with anybody.

Instead, why don’t Israelis ask themselves: if Hamas has this network of tunnels that leads into Israel, and which took them years to build, why didn’t they use them before? For that matter, why didn’t they use their long-range rockets before? Why were they sitting on 10,000 rockets and not firing any of them?

Could it be that they weren’t so eager to use everything they’ve got, to invite Israel’s wrath, to fight a war of survival?

But very few Israelis have any interest in questioning Operation Protective Edge. Israelis generally don’t ask a lot of questions about matters like these even between the wars, so they’re certainly not going to ask them now.

Related:
‘Cast Lead was a joke compared to this’
Mourning death wherever it strikes
PHOTOS: Scenes of devastation from deadliest day in Gaza
WATCH: Dozens of bodies strewn in the streets of Gaza

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