+972 Magazine » Noam Sheizaf http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:00:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Why do Palestinians continue to support Hamas despite such devastating losses? http://972mag.com/why-do-palestinians-continue-to-support-hamas-despite-such-devastating-loses/94080/ http://972mag.com/why-do-palestinians-continue-to-support-hamas-despite-such-devastating-loses/94080/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 09:08:08 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=94080 I know of many Palestinians who do not like Hamas. Yet for them, the Gaza war is about the siege – part of their own war of independence. Israelis refuse to get that.

In The Fog of War, Errol Morris’ excellent documentary, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara speaks about a certain inability to understand the enemy – one that stems from a lack of empathy.

In the film, McNamara, a brilliant systems analyst, who is today associated more than anything with the Vietnam War, says that part of President Kennedy’s successful management of the Cuban Missile Crisis was his administration’s ability to put itself in the shoes of the Soviets and understand their point of view. “In the case of Vietnam,” he says, “we didn’t know them well enough to empathize.” As a result, each side had a completely different understanding of what the war was about.

This understanding came to McNamara only in 1991, when he visited Vietnam and met with the country’s foreign minister. McNamara asked the foreign minister whether he thought it was possible to reach the same results of the war (independence and uniting the south with the north) without the heavy losses. Between one and three million people died in the war, most of them Vietnamese civilians. This does not include the hundreds of thousands of casualties in the war against the French, which took place shortly before. Approximately 58,000 American soldiers were also killed in the Vietnam War.

“You were fighting to enslave us,” yelled the foreign minister at McNamara, who in turn replied that that is an absurd notion. The two nearly came to blows. But as time passed McNamara understood. “We saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War,” he says, whereas what the foreign minister was trying to tell him was that for the Vietnamese it was a war of independence. Communism was not the heart of the matter for the Vietnamese. They were willing to make the worst sacrifices because they were fighting for their freedom – not for Marx or Brezhnev.

Nations will make inconceivable sacrifices in these kinds of struggles. An entire one percent of the Jewish population was killed in the 1948 war. The public accepted it painfully and with a stiff upper lip because they felt, just like the Vietnamese, that they were fighting for their lives and for their freedom. We have become so much more susceptible to loss, not because we went soft, but because we have a deeper understanding that despite all the “we’re fighting for our future” slogans, 2014 is not 1948.

Over 2,000 Palestinians were killed in all three military operations in Gaza, not including the Second Intifada. Most of them were civilians. I’ve exchanged emails with people in Gaza in the past few days. These are people who don’t care much for Hamas in their everyday lives, whether due to its fundamentalist ideology, political oppression or other aspects of its rule. But they do support Hamas in its war against Israel; for them, fighting the siege is their war of independence. Or at least one part of it.

+972′s full coverage of the war in Gaza

The demand that the people of Gaza protest against Hamas, often heard in Israel today, is absurd. Even if we disregard the fact that Israelis themselves hate protests in times of war, they still expect the Palestinians to conduct a civil uprising under fire. The people of Gaza support Hamas in its war against Israel because they perceive it to be part of their war of independence. A Hamas warrior who swears by the Quran is no different from a Vietcong reciting The Internationale before leaving for battle. These kind of rituals leave a strong impression, but they are not the real story.

Israelis, both left and right, are wrong to assume that Hamas is a dictatorship fighting Israel against its people’s will. Hamas is indeed a dictatorship, and there are many Palestinians who would gladly see it fall, but not at this moment in time. Right now I have no doubt that most Palestinians support the attacks on IDF soldiers entering Gaza; they support kidnapping as means to release their prisoners (whom they see as prisoners of war) and the unpleasant fact is that most of them, I believe, support firing rockets at Israel.

“If we had planes and tanks to fight the IDF, we wouldn’t need to fire rockets,” is a sentence I have heard more than once. As an Israeli, it is unpleasant for me to hear, but one needs to at least try and understand what lies behind such a position. What is certain is that bombing Gaza will not change their minds. On the contrary.

A Palestinian crying near rubbles of his home after the latest round of Israeli attacks against Al Shaja'ia, Gaza City, July 20, 2014.  (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian crying near rubbles of his home after the latest round of Israeli attacks against Al Shaja’ia, Gaza City, July 20, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

“But if they didn’t fire rockets or launch terror attacks there would be no siege. So what do they want?” the Israeli public asks. After all, we already left Gaza.

Back to McNamara and The Fog of War. If the citizens of Vietnam would have abandoned Communism, McNamara told the Vietnamese foreign minister 1991, the U.S. wouldn’t have even cared about them. They could have had both their independence and their unity. But in the eyes of the Vietnamese, things looked completely different. As soon as they managed to drive out the French, in marched the Americans. Colonialism simply never stopped. The choice was between a corrupt U.S.-sponsored regime in the south and a horrific war with the north.

For the Palestinians, the choice is between occupation by proxy in the West Bank and a war in Gaza. Both offer no hope, and neither are forms of freedom. The Israeli promise — that an end to armed struggle will bring freedom — is not trustworthy, as the experiences of past years has shown. It simply never happens. The quiet years in the West Bank have not brought the Palestinians any closer to an independent state, while the truce in between wars in Gaza has not brought about a relief from the siege. One can debate the reasons for why this happened, but one cannot debate reality.

Hamas tells the Palestinians the simple truth: freedom comes at the cost of blood. The tragedy is that we usually provide the evidence. After all, the evacuation of settlements in Gaza came after the Second Intifada, not as a result of negotiations. The Oslo Accords came after the First Intifada; before that, Israel turned down even the convenient London Agreement between Shimon Peres and Jordan’s King Hussein.

Israelis are convinced they are fighting a terror organization driven by a fundamentalist Islamic ideology. Palestinians are convinced Israelis are looking to enslave them, and that as soon as the war is over the siege will be reinforced. Since this is exactly what Israel intends to do, as our government has repeatedly stated, they have no reason to stop fighting.

Hamas may accept a ceasefire soon. Its regime might collapse. Either way, it is only a matter of time before the next round of violence. Human lives are not cheaper for Palestinians than they are for us. But nations fighting for their freedom will endure the worst sacrifices. Like in Shujaiyeh.

An excerpt from The Fog of War. The part I refer to starts at 11:46 minutes:

Originally posted in Hebrew on Local Call.

PHOTOS: A Gaza funeral for 26 members of one family
The ‘terror tunnels’: Another Israeli self-fulfilling prophecy
‘Cast Lead was a joke compared to this’
Mourning death wherever it strikes

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This is a war of choice. Netanyahu’s choice http://972mag.com/this-is-a-war-of-choice-netanyahus-choice/93767/ http://972mag.com/this-is-a-war-of-choice-netanyahus-choice/93767/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 21:43:30 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93767 Netanyahu is no hero, and the tragedy is our own.

Prime Minister Netanyahu fired Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon on Tuesday, after the latter criticized Netanyahu for holding fire, and even called him “a lefty,” which is probably the worst thing you can say to someone in the current political atmosphere. Sacking Danon is not a risky move (Danon is a far-right politician with little parliamentary support), but firing him helped Netanyahu present himself as “moderate” and “restrained” leader. Yossi Verter says similar things in Haaretzas does Ron Ben-Yishai in Ynet; even I wrote a few good things about this aspect of Bibi’s persona in the past. It’s time to revisit this idea.

Bibi may seem restrained in times of war when compared to leaders like Ariel Sharon (the first Lebanon War), Shimon Peres (Lebanon, 1996) and perhaps Ehud Olmert (Lebanon 2007, Gaza 2008), as all three believed that one can re-shape geopolitical realities through military campaigns. Netanyahu is a little more suspicious of this theory, which is one of his positive qualities. Yet the dead bodies he is leaving behind are beginning to pile up, and frustration over the army’s failure to stop the rockets in the current campaign result in carrying out terrible ideas, such as forcing 100,000 people out of their homes, or moving from using guided missiles to field artillery in this heavily populated area. Fish in a barrel have nowhere to run to; neither do civilians in Gaza. It’s enough for one Israeli bomb to fall on a crowd of those new refugees in order for a moral and political catastrophe to take place. In fact, this is already taking place.

Palestinians inspect the damage of destroyed homes, Gaza City, July 14, 2014.

Palestinians inspect the damage of destroyed homes, Gaza City, July 14, 2014.

But the heart of the matter is this: Netanyahu has a major stake in the process that has brought us here. This is something the national conversation in Israel completely ignores. Throughout his career, Bibi has simply been unwilling to take any concrete measures vis-à-vis the Palestinians that do not include military force. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas are pretty much the same. Any gain by either one of them is a loss to Israel. It’s always a zero sum game.

It’s only logical that there will always be someone on the other side that will conclude that the only way to penetrate this curtain of denial and indifference is also through violence.

Hamas is not stupid. It understands all too well that Israel can cause Gaza unimaginable damage. It knows that targeted assassinations conducted by Israel make survival rates among the heads of the party fairly low, and that their families are also at risk. But Hamas has its back to the wall. For two months, Israel has been preventing the transfer of funds that would go to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in Gaza; the party’s political leadership in the West Bank was arrested following the murder of the three Israeli teens; and even prisoners who were released as part of the Shalit deal found themselves behind bars. At this point, the cost and benefit balance for Hamas begins to change, and opening fire on a much stronger adversary becomes a reasonable choice. Then Israel has the right, even the duty, to retaliate; and this is how we end up where we are.

> Click here for +972′s full coverage of the Gaza war

I heard several security experts and pundits say this week that Abbas should be the solution for Gaza; that a way should be found to give him authority there. The head of the Institute for Strategic Studies, retired Gen. Amos Yadlin, said as much on Channel 2, and news analyst for the Arab world, Ehud Ya’ari, seemed to agree. Shlomi Eldar from Channel 10 wrote something similar on Al-Monitor. Incredible. Two months ago the Palestinians formed a Hamas-supported government that rejected violence and recognized Israel. Instead of giving it a chance, Bibi boycotted it. Now they think that sending Abbas to Gaza on an Israeli tank is the way to go. Well, good luck with that.

At least Netanyahu is consistent. In his first term as prime minister he stopped the Oslo process and refused to meet Arafat. After three days of shooting between Israelis and Palestinians in 1996, he changed his mind and signed the Wye Memorandum (then failed to deliver on his part in it).

Bibi stopped the prisoners’ release that he committed to during talks with Abbas this year, but delivered more than 1,000 prisoners to Hamas in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier who was captured in an attack on a military station near the Strip (then he broke that agreement too, and started rounding up those very same prisoners). It was the Mavi Marmara incident that made Israel allow more goods into Gaza, while some other restrictions were lifted after the November 2012 military escalation. A pattern emerges. Don’t be surprised if this round will end in similar gestures. Maybe not right away, but it will.

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Now, imagine Netanyahu using the political space Iron Dome’s success bought him (due to the relative lack of Israeli casualties) to take a few risks in the diplomatic process. Imagine him loosening up the siege a bit on his own, and perhaps giving the other side something to lose – and something to hope for. Imagine him, just once, taking a step forward without someone twisting his arm first.

Don’t hold your breath. Netanyahu only understands force and threats. This is true in his relations with the White House, and even more so with the Palestinians.

This is “restrained” Netanyahu. This is the “moderate” Bibi. Step by step, with thoughtfulness and sound judgment, he makes the entire system explode, and then pretends to be the reasonable adult – the one who won’t give in to the radicals; the one whose every action is both legal and legitimate. And while doing all that, he poisons relations among Israeli citizens, Jews and Palestinians, right and left. Take a look around and see where “restrained” Bibi has brought us. Verter called him a “tragic hero.” Netanyahu is no hero, and the tragedy is our own.

This is a war of choice, and it has Netanyahu’s name all over it. Israel is not a helpless victim; it is a regional superpower. The Israeli leadership can chose from many geopolitical options at any given moment – more than any other leadership in the region, and certainly more than the Palestinians. Yet the result is only one course of action.

What does Israeli ‘acceptance’ of ceasefire really mean?
Why I object to this military campaign, even as missiles fall on my city
‘They left us no choice’: On military escalation and its Israeli rationale

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France Decapitated (again) http://972mag.com/france-decapitated-again/93261/ http://972mag.com/france-decapitated-again/93261/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 12:52:16 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93261 [Completely off topic]

The New York Times’ Roger Cohen recently traveled to Paris and didn’t like what he saw. His latest op-ed is titled “France Decapitated,” and it predicts a dark future for The Republic.

My favorite Francophile, former Haaretz Editor in Chief Dov Alfon, who now publishes a great Hebrew-language magazine called Alaxon, adds some figures from the NYT’s archive (on his Facebook page):

Year in which The New York Times first described France as “a state in decline”: 1852

Number of times the “decline” of France was described in The New York Times since then: 35,400

Date of the first appearance of the word “malaise” in a Roger Cohen’s article about France: August 23, 1992

Number of articles about France in which Roger Cohen used the word “malaise” since then: 16

Percentage of articles about France by Roger Cohen including the word “problems”: 76%

Percentage including “huge problems”: 23%

Number of articles in which Roger Cohen predicted the downfall of France in The New York Times archive: 546

Number of times his prophecy was fulfilled: 0

Alfon told me that some numbers could be a bit off – he didn’t read all of Roger Cohen’s pieces; this would be too cruel to ask of him. Happy July 14, French readers!

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Why I object to this military campaign, even as missiles fall on my city http://972mag.com/why-i-object-to-this-military-campaign-even-as-missiles-fall-on-my-city/93246/ http://972mag.com/why-i-object-to-this-military-campaign-even-as-missiles-fall-on-my-city/93246/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 11:45:41 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93246  On prisoners, guards and misunderstandings.

Young Palestinians wave at an Israeli military tower in the 'No-go zone' area, near the border close to the Palestinian village of As Siafa in north Gaza, May 30, 2014. The Israeli army classified broad swaths of land adjacent to the Green Line, in which soldiers are allowed to open fire at anybody who enters, even if the person poses no threat. In early 2010, the army disseminated leaflets in the Gaza Strip warning residents it is forbidden to go within 300 meters of the fence, and that all means, including gunfire, will be used against those who violate the prohibition. The lax rules of engagement in these areas endanger farmers and residents who live nearby.

Young Palestinians wave at an Israeli military tower in the ‘No-go zone’ area, near the border close to the Palestinian village of As Siafa in north Gaza, May 30, 2014. The Israeli army classified broad swaths of land adjacent to the Green Line, in which soldiers are allowed to open fire at anybody who enters, even if the person poses no threat. The Israeli power plant in Ashkelon is seen at the back

Even today, when rockets are exploding above the city I love most in the world, even when we rush into our apartment building’s stairwell and march downstairs along with the neighbors to the bicycle room that has been turned into a makeshift bomb shelter. Even now, I oppose this military operation wholeheartedly. The sight of the IAF’s attack helicopters crossing the sky, going south along the Tel Aviv coastline does not fill me with pride or gratitude – it horrifies and depresses me.

Even after operations such as Defensive Shield, Summer Rains, Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense and the Second Lebanon War, I still cannot get used to the unshakable consensus that takes hold of the Israeli public. I would still like to believe that this whole thing is a misunderstanding, and that if my own people would only give some more thought to the reality in the occupied territories, they would change their mind overnight. I want to believe that they don’t fully grasp the nature of the occupation, which is why they are so enraged by whatever the Palestinians do. This mindset leads to yet another violent Israeli response, which only paves the way for the next escalation. I do not know if this line of thinking is more naïve or more patronizing on my part, but what other explanations are there?

I keep running into Israelis who don’t know, for example, that we still control Allenby Bridge (which connects the West Bank to Jordan), and with it each entrance and exit of a every Palestinian into the West Bank; or they don’t know that the IDF still operates in Area A, supposedly under the full control of the Palestinian Authority; or that there is no 3G network in the West Bank because Israel doesn’t permit the Palestinian cellular providers to use the necessary frequencies; or that we imprison of Palestinians hundreds without trial for months and years; or any other factual, undeniable aspect of the occupation. If all this is unknown, then perhaps this is all just a big misunderstanding.

Most of the time I try to correct misconceptions and argue over such details, but if I had to explain the whole thing briefly, I would use the following metaphor: we’ve built two giant prisons. Let’s call them “West Bank Prison” and “Gaza Prison.” The West Bank Prison is similar to a minimum security facility, where prisoners get to run their own affairs as long as they behave. They are entitled to vacations from time to time and once a year they are even taken to the beach. Some lucky people get below-minimum-wage jobs in nearby factories, and when you consider the low prices in the prison canteen, it’s actually not a bad deal.

Gaza, on the other hand, is a maximum security facility. It is difficult to visit and impossible to leave. We allow in essential food, water and electricity so that the prisoners don’t die. Apart from that, we don’t really care about them – that is unless they approach the prison fence; or the “forbidden” perimeter, where anyone who wanders too close is shot; or if they try to throw something over the fence.

Indeed, they occasionally throw some homemade bombs made of things they’ve managed to smuggle into prison, and when they fall on our heads it really is unpleasant. So we send our snipers to the watchtowers built around the prison and shoot them like fish in a barrel until they calm down. And when they finally do calm down, we cease firing because we are not the kind of bastards who shoot people for fun.

In the last five years, the minimum security prison has been pretty calm, but there have been some riots in the maximum security one, which we have managed to control with the usual routine. Still, even when both facilities were calm, we obviously didn’t open the prison doors. Rather, we made the walls higher and decreased the size of the prison yard; after all, we needed some of it for ourselves.

When we are asked why don’t we free the prisoners we explain that they refused to sign their parole papers because they don’t like our terms. For example, they don’t like that the release will be gradual, lasting 10 years or more, or that they will have to allow us to keep all kinds of items that we took from them when they were first locked up.

In addition, the head of prison intelligence compiled a report, which unequivocally states that every prisoner, each and every one of them, hates the prison guards. And as long as that is the case there is really nothing to discuss as far as we are concerned.

The prison facilities now hold a total of 3.5 million people – an entire nation – all sentenced to life. Under such conditions, prisoners can turn to desperate measures, such as suicide missions, digging long tunnels or swimming miles and storming our tanks with their old rifles. Often it ends up with a killing that looks like it was taken from some old video game. On the rare occasions that they do kill one of the guards, they hold celebrations in the prison and we become even more sickened by them. This, of course, also causes us to fear the day that they find a way to break down the walls.

I believe the prisoners will never love those who have locked them up, but there is a good chance that their children might be able to forgive – if for no other reason than a desire to move on with their lives. Naturally, there is only one way for this healing process to begin, and it has nothing to do with the fish and the barrel approach.

Hold your fire. Tear down the prison walls. Set the prisoners free.

Originally posted on my Hebrew blog at Local Call

Live blog: Escalation in Gaza – July 2014
Dispatch from Gaza: You can never be emotionally ready
[ARCHIVE - 2012]: Gaza operation will be declared a success, until the next war

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‘They left us no choice’: On military escalation and its Israeli rationale http://972mag.com/they-left-us-no-choice-on-military-escalation-and-its-israeli-rationalization/93183/ http://972mag.com/they-left-us-no-choice-on-military-escalation-and-its-israeli-rationalization/93183/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 10:57:21 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93183 The alternatives to military action shouldn’t only be examined when things blow up, but rather in the context of the months and years that preceded this latest round of fighting.

When it comes to using military force, I find Netanyahu to be one of the most restrained prime ministers Israel has ever had. I don’t think Bibi wanted this escalation, nor does he believe that it serves his immediate political interests. He did give Hamas a chance for a ceasefire, and the army is escalating its attacks on Gaza very gradually – unlike in Operation Cast Lead for example, in which it adopted the notorious “shock and awe” doctrine.

Once rockets fall on Israeli cities, the government’s response immediately enjoys local and international legitimacy. I would have liked to see the army use more restraint, but it is clear that responding to rockets is the norm in the international system, regardless of the “who started” debate. When Hamas or any other organization fires rockets on Be’er Sheva or Tel Aviv, it supposedly doesn’t leave Israel with much choice but to retaliate. At least that’s how the argument goes.

But things also have a certain context that the Israeli public simply ignores. Hamas is weaker than ever. The tunnels to Gaza were destroyed and Egypt closed the border. Israel is preventing Hamas government employees from receiving their salaries, and has even threatened to deport the UN official who tried to solve the latest crisis. In recent weeks, Hamas’ politicians in the West Bank were also arrested.

Hamas isn’t just a militant organization. It is also a movement that represents half of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and runs the lives of 1.8 million people in Gaza. Leaving Hamas with its back to the wall gives the organization an interest for this kind of escalation, despite the fact that Hamas knows that Palestinians will pay a much greater price than Israelis.

Some questions need to be asked: maybe the months and years of relative calm before this escalation were a good time to lift the siege on Gaza? Perhaps Israel should have recognized the new Palestinian technocratic government? Maybe there was a way for Hamas to undergo a process of politicization, similar to that which Fatah went through?

All these issues were never discussed in Israel; raising them now, in the current atmosphere, is seen as “giving in to terror.”

Palestinian women mourn the death of Mahmoud Raed Saddllah, a 4-year-old child, killed in a bombing attack on Jabalia, Gaza Strip, November 16, 2012.

Archive photo: Palestinian women mourn the death of Mahmoud Raed Saddllah, a 4-year-old child, killed in a bombing attack on Jabalia, Gaza Strip, November 16, 2012.

“They left us no choice” is the ultimate Israeli argument. Yes, it makes sense that when Palestinians hurl stones on Israeli cars at night, in the West Bank or within the Green Line, Israeli security forces will be sent to make them stop, just as they are sent to treat any issue of law and order. When a protester throws a stone at a soldier near the West Bank village of Bil’in, the soldier is left with no choice but to respond. But what was this soldier doing on the village’s confiscated land in the first place?

The West Bank has been relatively calm for the past five years, yet Israel has never bothered to conduct a much-delayed national conversation on ending the occupation. Instead, it waged propaganda wars on the Palestinians, built settlements and confiscated more land.

Almost five years after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s Gaza policy – from the naval blockade to the “no go zone” it maintains at the edges of the strip – has never been questioned. Five years in which people have been warning this government that things will eventually blow up, and when they finally did, the same government responds with military force, because “we are left with no choice.”

Technically its true, but on a more substantial level, this is no more than a deception.

       Live blog: Escalation in Gaza – July 2014

The same thing happened this week in the Negev desert, where dozens of Bedouin were arrested for blocking roads and hurling stones. In recent years, Israel stepped up its “enforcement” policies, which is a euphemism for massive home demolitions. It got to the point where the person in charge of implementing the Prawer Plan, retired Gen. Doron Almong – by no means a leftist – wrote a public resignation letter in which he warned that without a constructive plan for the unrecognized villages, enforcement on its own will end in disaster.

Did this change anything for the government? The Bedouin still don’t get zoning plans, their homes are declared “illegal” and many are destroyed, and when a hundred people throw stones one night, the media warns of “riots.” The police arrested minors and adults alike “because we were left with no choice,” and because no other country would accept stone throwing on its highways.

But there is always a choice. The state could offer the Bedouin a fair solution, which recognizes their rights as indigenous people of this land. The village of Bil’in could get its land back. Israel might accept the fact that the Hamas is part of Palestinian society, and start dealing with it politically. The siege on Gaza could be lifted. Hamas’ government employees could get their salaries and buy food for their families. Perhaps then Hamas will feel that it has something to lose from another escalation.

And more than anything, the Israeli leadership could start dealing with the root causes of those various problems, rather than waking up when everything is on fire, scoring some easy points by manipulating the public’s rage, and, once more, declaring that they left us no choice but to go to war.

* * *

One personal note: I was 16 when the First Gulf War broke out. Ramat Gan, the city I grew up in, suffered the worst impacts in Israel. A girl in my class had her entire home destroyed. Even my grandparents’ home suffered some minor damage. Yet me and my friends couldn’t care less, spending hours at each other’s homes or in the empty streets. I remember being the only ones in a movie theatre, just us with our gas masks.

One cannot really compare the small Hamas rockets to Saddam Hussein’s fearsome Scuds, not to mention the fact that we now have the Iron Dome system, which intercepts most of the rockets. But having my own kids at home – a baby and a three year old – makes the entire experience way more stressful. My thoughts are also with the people of Gaza, whose suffering is way greater than ours (life pretty much goes on in Tel Aviv). This exchange of rockets and bombs is a morbid and pointless ritual; the sooner a cease fire is negotiated, the better for everyone.

This is a slightly modified version of a post on my Hebrew blog at Local Call

Live blog: Escalation in Gaza – July 2014
Dispatch from Gaza: You can never be emotionally ready
[ARCHIVE - 2012]: Gaza operation will be declared a success, until the next war

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]]> http://972mag.com/they-left-us-no-choice-on-military-escalation-and-its-israeli-rationalization/93183/feed/ 18 A premier failure: Where is Israel’s leadership? http://972mag.com/a-premier-failure-where-is-israels-leadership/93029/ http://972mag.com/a-premier-failure-where-is-israels-leadership/93029/#comments Sat, 05 Jul 2014 15:18:14 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93029 With Netanyahu’s hints at revenge, his imperviousness toward the rage surrounding the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir and his complete absence in the Israeli media, the prime minister is a party to the growing Jewish-Arab animosity.

Instances of violence between Jews and Arabs are piling up: the video from the bus in Tel Aviv, reports of ‘price tag’ attacks, police violence, continued protests in Shuafat, protests in Wadi Ara and the Triangle, and there, overnight, a few Jewish drivers were reportedly attacked.

In contrast to the Palestinians, the Jewish public hasn’t been exposed to the horrifying details of Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s murder because of a court gag order. As usual, consumers of Hebrew-language news media are spared the context and the other side simply becomes rioters.

It’s not a deterioration on the scale of the events of October 2000 but things aren’t headed in a good direction; the weight attention news and social media are giving a few incidents contributes to a sense that things are getting out of control, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anybody sitting in front of Facebook all day will likely be convinced that marauding rioters are on ever corner and that people are being lynched on an hourly basis.

Read +972′s full coverage of the kidnappings

The most remarkable phenomenon, however, is the complete absence of any leadership on the Israeli side — especially the prime minister and the police brass. As Raviv Druker pointed out, if the Israel Police had carried out its investigation into the murder of Abu Khdeir as transparently and publicly as possible, the Jewish public would understand why the level of rage among Palestinians at the moment is the same that the Jews are feeling, and the Palestinians would at least be a feeling that the case was getting some attention. But instead of all that, the police helped spread rumors blaming the victim. It couldn’t have been any worse.

The prime minister has lots of tools at his disposal — from giving a speech to the nation to a paying a condolence visit to the Abu Khdeir family — that could have been used irrespective of the killers’ identity. Netanyahu has not even condemned the Jewish violence and calls for revenge; instead he mumbled something about Israel being “a nation of laws.” It feels like a bad joke, on both sides. Netanyahu hasn’t answered a single question from an Israeli reporter since the kidnapping. The Israeli public just doesn’t interest him.

Netanyahu is known as restrained prime minister, and it is possible that somebody else in his chair would have already sent tanks into Gaza. When it comes to relations between Jews and Arabs, however, he is an expert at administering poison. His use of a Chaim Bialik quote, “vengeance for the blood of small child,” after the discovery of the teens’ bodies and his subsequent silence surrounding the current deterioration in Jewish-Arab relations is just one example.

Maybe the hit he’s taking in the polls will change something.

Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.

Why this isn’t a ‘new’ intifada
Israeli police are exacerbating the violence with gag orders
Analysis: The end of the ‘cheap occupation’ era

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How the public was manipulated into believing the teens were alive http://972mag.com/how-the-public-was-manipulated-into-believing-the-teens-were-alive/92865/ http://972mag.com/how-the-public-was-manipulated-into-believing-the-teens-were-alive/92865/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 19:10:12 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=92865 Details under gag order could have suggested early on that the abducted teens were murdered. The government-led campaign calling for their release helped the legitimacy of Israel’s military operation in the West Bank. Local and even international media played along.

The following issue is not the heart of the kidnapping affair, the Israeli military operation or its aftermath — but it does carry an important lesson, especially for journalists. The bottom line is this: the Israeli public has been manipulated.

Details of the ’100′ call (the local equivalent of 911) and what investigators discovered in the car used for the kidnapping of three Israeli teens earlier this month were well known by security service heads, top ministers — and even journalists — early on in the affair; but not by the public because it was all placed and kept under a tightly held gag order. The blood found in the car, the sound of gun shots in the emergency call, evidence of live ammunition and the fact that there hasn’t been a single instance of two or more people being held hostage in the West Bank in decades – all that led to a single logical assumption: the teens were no longer alive. Yet at the same time, the Israeli public was told the teens were being held by Hamas, and a public campaign calling for their return was launched.

The result was the shock most Israelis felt once the bodies were discovered – terrible disappointment that could be avoided only by those with knowledge of the details under gag order.

Every other day or so, senior officers briefed the media and reiterated that the army’s working assumption is the abducted teens were still alive, sometimes adding that there is no evidence which suggests otherwise. This was a deception. On one of those days, Finance Minister Yair Lapid went on live television and said the 100 call is “impossible to decipher.” That was a deception too. And here is the most absurd part: while those sources were feeding the public with misconceptions, they added warnings against “spreading rumors on social media.” Well, I have news for you: the next tragic event will see many more such rumors because the public will take for granted that there are secrets which shed light on the events – as if we don’t have enough conspiracy theories here as it is.

I am not saying the call itself should have been made public or that the army should have operated under the assumption that the teens were dead. The effort to find them needed to be conducted with the same urgency as if they were alive. Yet there is a great difference between a “working assumption” and a “logical conclusion”; that line was deliberately and recklessly crossed.

The government even went a step further and initiated the “Bring Back our Boys” campaign. In schools across the country, including one near my home, signs were hung with the teens’ names and slogans like, “looking forward to your return.” If the teachers knew about the blood in the car, the bullet holes and the sound of gunshots, would they have let their young students paint those signs or have their photos taken with them and posted on the Internet?

As for the media, in case you read Hebrew, I invite you to take a look at the front pages below (h/t Tamir Cohen), full of emotional quotes from parents waiting to hug their kids again. Editors and correspondents knew better, yet they went ahead and printed them anyway. Even worse is the way some international reporters echoed these stories, despite not being bound by censorship and gag orders the way Israeli media is. (Censorship applies to foreign press in Israel but the state has fewer ways to enforce it with them. The coverage largely depends on the willingness of the media organization to play along).

Front pages of Israeli dailies covering the kidnapping of three Israeli teens, June 2104

Front pages of Israeli dailies covering the kidnapping of three Israeli teens, June 2104

What’s behind this large-scale public manipulation? Readers can make their own guesses. Maybe someone thought that hiding those facts would help the investigation. But this is very unlikely, especially since at a certain points details began to emerge in independent media abroad. Perhaps the government felt that maintaining the impression that the teens were alive would boost the legitimacy of its military operation. Perhaps security officials wanted to save themselves the embarrassment of the details being revealed now – not only the 100 call from the abducted teen, but dozens more calls from the worried parents to the army’s emergency lines which were ignored. Or perhaps it was just the way that Israeli security forces tend to operate: publicly reveal only those facts that serve the system’s own interests.

The Israeli public, it should be said, puts its complete trust in the country’s military and security services. Those institutions abuse the public’s trust time and again. This case is especially grotesque because it duplicated, step by step, the aftermath of the 2006 abduction of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. The government knew well that in all likelihood the soldiers couldn’t have survived the attack on their patrol jeep, and yet they started the Second Lebanon War promising “to bring the boys back home.” One can only conclude that in the next affair lying will be too easy an option for decision makers to pass up.

My only hope is that those district judges who approve the gag orders without giving them a second thought – be that incommunicado arrests, details of an investigation or a fact that might embarrass the chief of staff – might learn something from this affair. I hope that in the future, local and foreign journalists think twice about the way they serve the interests of those in power, as opposed to the interests of their own readers. (An exception during this affair was Haaretz’s Amos Harel, who tried to hint, without violating the gag order, that the government was creating false expectations among the public, UPDATE: Another good piece by TIO’s Mitch Ginsburg) ) But more than anything, I wish that Israelis become a little more critical of the information they are being fed by those “senior military sources.”

Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.

More on the kidnappings:
Three kidnapped Israeli teens found dead in the West Bank
Our problem with selective sympathy for young victims
Analysis: The end of the ‘cheap occupation’ era

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Analysis: The end of the ‘cheap occupation’ era http://972mag.com/analysis-end-of-the-cheap-occupation-era/92754/ http://972mag.com/analysis-end-of-the-cheap-occupation-era/92754/#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 13:54:26 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=92754 Israel may soon have to say goodbye to its tight-knit cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and the relative calm that comes with it. 

The discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teens who have been missing for the last 18 days, along with the public calls for vengeance heard in Israel today, could mark the beginning of a new era in the West Bank – one that is considerably less stable. This might not be a third intifada but it is also not the relative calm or the close military coordination Israel enjoyed over the last five to six years.

While the public rage in Israel is understandable, it could turn into hate crimes and other violent attacks on Palestinians. There have been initial reports on such incidents already, although luckily they have not resulted in fatalities.

I believe that the Israeli government has no interest in a violent escalation right now. Netanyahu’s nationalistic rhetoric was always at odds with his relative restraint when it came to the use of military power; his record on this issue is much better than any of his predecessors. Most chances are that Bibi will take some very public measures while keeping things under control. His real goal will be to score points on the diplomatic front, especially against the new Palestinian unity deal. The legitimacy of Hamas participation in the PA and PLO has already suffered from the kidnapping, and the fatal blow might come if Israel is able to present significant evidence that links Hamas decision makers to the murder.

Read +972′s full coverage of the kidnappings and ‘Operation Brother’s Keeper’

Surely, events might spin out of control (a Palestinian teenager was killed by IDF forces in Jenin last night) but even if the Israeli government does not initiate large-scale military action, the proximity of the kidnapping to other major developments – the collapse of the diplomatic process, the growing pressure on Hamas in Gaza and the attempt to form a Palestinian unity government – may bring about a new era in the West Bank.

Israeli army officer next to the site where the bodies of three missing teens were located, June 30 2014 (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli army officer standing near the site where the bodies of three missing teens were located, June 30 2014 (photo: Activestills)

In previous years, Israel enjoyed unprecedented calm in the West Bank, largely due to tight military coordination with the Palestinian Authority. The PA’s main policy objective was preventing attacks on Israelis. This coordination reached its peak in 2012, a year in which not a single Israeli was killed in the West Bank. This was the era of the “cheap occupation” – when the PA was financed by the United States and the European Union, and Israel benefited from its work.

One Palestinian I spoke to called it “room service occupation,” meaning that “Israel could pick up the phone and the PA would hand it a wanted man on a plate.” Under such circumstances, the Israeli right was able to market the West Bank to the public as the local Tuscany, and consider the comfortable status quo to be a legitimate, long-term solution.

Israeli Right: Hit Palestinians hard in response to abductees’ murder

Yet what justified the existence of the Palestinian Authority – let alone its policies – was a promised endgame in the form of a Palestinian state. Now that it is clear a state is not around the corner — and may never be established at all. The unity deal and caretaker government was an alternative achievement by Mahmoud Abbas that was meant to prepare the ground for a renewed diplomatic effort. However, this government’s fate is also unclear.

If Palestinian politics have no goal, no unity, no elections and certainly no state, then the rationale behind supporting security coordination with Israel also collapses. I do not believe that the PA will cease coordination on its own – and certainly not as the result of an order from above – but I do think it will become less and less effective. Perhaps this is happening already: settlers have been claiming for some time that there is a considerable rise in stone throwing and even Molotov cocktail attacks on Israeli cars, and just recently security officials claimed that there have been numerous abduction attempts and other attacks that were thwarted.

Many have speculated in recent months on the possibility of a third intifada breaking out should American-led negotiations fail. I don’t think such a scenario is very likely. The Palestinians are still traumatized by their losses during the Second Intifada, between 2001 and 2004. It could be that the kidnapping suggests a different, more likely scenario: a dramatic spike in the number of isolated incidents, from abductions to attacks on Israeli cars.

The Israeli government is likely to respond the only way it knows: with force. The Right will try to convince the population that a harsh response is the only solution to terror. Blowing up houses and settling new hills – the settlers are already demanding both – will increase the pressure on the PA. The Israeli government would be forced to take on more responsibility, and the days of the cheap occupation will be over.

Three kidnapped Israeli teens found dead in the West Bank
Israeli right demands punitive measures against Palestinians
When the canons roar, the Israeli Left remains silent

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The end of the hunger strike and mounting pressure on the PA http://972mag.com/the-end-of-the-hunger-strike-and-mounting-pressure-on-the-pa/92554/ http://972mag.com/the-end-of-the-hunger-strike-and-mounting-pressure-on-the-pa/92554/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 16:53:30 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=92554 The PA’s lack of support for hunger striking prisoners, together with its security coordination with Israel during ‘Operation Brother’s Keeper,’ are further deteriorating its credibility among Palestinians.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian prisoners in an Israeli military prison (By ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of Palestinian prisoners in an Israeli military prison (By ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

Reports on a deal that would end the hunger strike by some 70 Palestinians prisoners broke in the Hebrew media on Tuesday night and has been confirmed in the two days that passed since. According to Ynet News, the prisoners will return to eat, and in return, some punitive measures that Israeli Prison Service placed on them, such as separation from each other and fines, will be cancelled

Assuming that there are no other articles to the agreement – and according to the PA’s minister for prisoners, there aren’t – this is a complete victory for the Israeli government and the tough line it has maintained throughout the strike. It’s not only that the strike ended without any achievements for the hunger strikers, one can’t imagine a similar protest breaking out in the coming months, or even years.

The prisoner issue is one of the most painful for Palestinian society, and with this deal Israel has bought itself relative quiet on this front for some time to come. One might speak of a Palestinian success in creating some awareness on the issue of administrative detention, but even this achievement is balanced by the success of Israeli hawks, who believe that every Palestinian action must be met with a forceful response.

There is nothing surprising about seeing the more powerful side winning over the weaker party. But there are lessons which are in line with other trends on the ground.

The hunger strike included roughly 100 prisoners, and around 70 of them were and still are hospitalized. Some stopped eating for over two months, sustaining themselves only on water and minerals. This was a tremendous human effort, carried out simultaneously by dozens of people, and under the toughest of conditions. The prisoners were handcuffed to — and isolated in — their hospital beds.

I think that the strike failed for three main reasons: the line the Israeli government took, which made it clear the government would let prisoners die (or force-feed them, a procedure which also puts the prisoner’s life at risk); the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, which took the media’s attention away from the strike and removed whatever willingness to compromise Israel might have had; and the lack of support for the prisoners from the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the swearing in ceremony for the new unity government, Ramallah, June 2, 2014. (Photo: Mustafa Bader/Activestills.org)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the swearing in ceremony for the new unity government, Ramallah, June 2, 2014. (Photo: Mustafa Bader/Activestills.org)

The latter is worth paying attention to. A common complaint Palestinians make against the PA has to do with the “double game” it plays with non-violent resistance to the occupation: in public the PA endorses it but in private it contains it. It’s clear that the PA didn’t make any serious effort to back the hunger strike or to promote its message in the world. That allowed the Netanyahu government to conclude that even if a prisoner dies, mass protest wouldn’t erupt and the overall price Israel pays would remain relatively low.

This is also true on other fronts of the popular struggle. The Palestinian Authority has supported and even financed protests and other direct action initiatives, but at the same time it has been very careful not to allow them to spread. Demonstrations of several dozen people in the same villages – Bil’in, Ni’ilin, Nabi Saleh, Al-Ma’asara etc. – are welcomed because they maintain an appearance of resistance to the occupation. But mass protests, especially in the cities, would make things much more difficult for the PA, and could threaten its existence even before it ever challenged Israel.

The PA is (also) an agent of the status quo. Mahmoud Abbas wants to continue his diplomatic chess game with Israel, but anything that goes beyond that – like the prisoners’ strike – threatens him politically and therefore remains undesirable. (Abbas is right about one thing though – widespread, active resistance will take a deadly toll on the Palestinians long before it brings them any gains.)

The problem with this modus operandi is that there is growing anger at the PA, as last weekend’s protest in Ramallah clearly showed. With every crisis like the prisoners strike or the security coordination during Israel’s crackdown on Hamas, the legitimacy of the PA takes another blow. We might be closer to the Authority’s collapse than people think, and even if it doesn’t collapse, its ability to effectively carry out its role as Israel’s traffic cop will diminish more and more.

One thing created along with the hunger strike is still around, however: a new Israeli bill allowing doctors to force-feed prisoners. This piece of legislation might be completed in the Knesset now or it might be frozen until the need for it arises again, but the ground has been prepared and a parliamentary majority secured. Another draconian measure has been added to the tool box Israel uses to control the Palestinians.

And here is another bitter irony. Due to operation “Brother’s Keeper” the amount of administrative detainees in Israeli prisons – namely, people who are held without trial for weeks, months or years – has doubled. At the same time, we learned that Israel has reinstated the notorious practice of destroying terror suspects’ homes.

Thus Israel registers more and more violent, tactical victories on its way to an overall defeat. The need to control millions of people who lack political or human rights will not disappear. On the contrary, maintaining it will become more and more costly, both politically and morally. The descent down the slope of occupation continues, and there is no end in sight.

Administrative arrests: Months or years without due process
Palestinian detainees agree to end months-long hunger strike
Force-Feeding: Israel takes a page from the Guantanamo playbook

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When ‘The New York Times’ embeds its reporters with the IDF http://972mag.com/when-the-new-york-times-does-embeds-its-reporters-with-the-idf/92472/ http://972mag.com/when-the-new-york-times-does-embeds-its-reporters-with-the-idf/92472/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 12:52:13 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=92472 Embedded journalism is a controversial issue. Many claim that it replaces oversight and criticism with propaganda. I tend to agree. This admiring tone was evident in the pieces published by embedded Israeli reporters this week during the IDF’s crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank. It must have also been part of the reason why Haaretz chose not to run such a report.

The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren had no such concerns. Just like reporters from Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth, Rudoren was embedded within an army unit conducting searches for the missing teens.

Halhul, West Bank, 16.6.2014

The report she filed is not a news item—it’s a PR piece. Despite the fact that the recent military operation has been criticized for targeting Hamas’ political arm, Rudoren has chosen (or perhaps sent by the IDF Spokesperson) to join the searches, not the arrests. This is not where the news is happening. When Rudoren mentions the more controversial aspects of the IDF operation, she takes a jab at the “human rights chorus.” And when she describe the trackers she accompanies, the story lacks all context – historical, political or social. Bedouin volunteer rates in the IDF are dropping, which has to do with the increasing alienation Bedouin feel, especially surrounding the issue of the unrecognized villages. You won’t find any of this in the piece; the Times‘ interest in the Bedouin is limited to their role in the IDF at a time of military escalation.

Don’t let Netanyahu’s hostility to the Times confuse you. Like other correspondents before her, Rudoren writes pieces like a mainstream Israeli—even when her work can be construed as critical of the Israeli government, it is always done on Israeli terms. The Palestinian context—the issue of prisoners, for example – is absent to nonexistent. The entire interest in the Palestinians is minimal. I am not sure that a Times journalist would have filed such a report from an embedded mission with the U.S. military. Not after Iraq. With Israel it is different.

What happens when the IDF embeds Israeli reporters
‘The New York Times’ investigates a Palestinian hobby

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