Analysis News

Protective Edge: The disengagement undone

Israel’s latest operation has brought about an end to the notion that Gaza can be separated from the rest of Palestine.

The current war in Gaza demands we revisit the circumstances surrounding Israel’s “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Supporters of the war often claim that Israel left the territory and “got rockets in return.”

The first rocket was fired from Gaza in 2001, but there is a more important point to be made here: one cannot evacuate a certain part of the occupied territories and expect the problem to be solved – at least in that particular area – while more settlements are being built and there is less freedom elsewhere. The national drama surrounding the evacuation of 9,000 settlers in 2005 disguised the fact that Israel never ended the occupation; it merely rearranged its forces (and some of the civilian population). Just like it did with Oslo.

The events leading up to the siege demonstrate that pretty clearly – Hamas, after all, won the 2006 elections, but Israel denied it its victory. Just like other occupying powers, Israel insisted, and still does, on using its veto power in internal Palestinian politics. The rest is well known: having been left out of the political process, Hamas took Gaza by force and launched attacks on Israel, leading to Israel placing the Strip under siege, which didn’t end even when ceasefires were reached.

A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/

A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/

These events could have been expected, but in a way they served what the Israeli government perceived as its own interest. The object of the disengagement was to prevent the creation of the Palestinian state – relieving the pressure on an area that Israel had trouble maintaining in order to hold on more tightly to other parts. This was no secret; even Ariel Sharon’s top aid, Dov Weisglass, said as much on record in an interview with Haaretz.

The bottom line is that Gaza and the West Bank are a single unit. This was demonstrated again and again in the last decade, including in the run-up to this war, which had much to do with the widespread operation Israel carried out against Hamas’ political leadership in...

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Israel has alternatives to this war

This war can end and the next one can be avoided by lifting the siege, allowing for imports and exports in and out of Gaza, relieving the pressure on the civilian population, and then embarking on a genuine effort to reach a fair compromise with the Palestinians.

This operation feels different from previous escalations. A ceasefire may come soon, but we could also be heading for a long period of violence and instability. Another escalation will not be limited to Gaza: the West Bank saw its largest protest since the Second Intifada last night, with two killed by army fire.

This round of violence should also be understood in the context of regional turmoil. The Palestinians were the only ones not to revolt during the Arab Spring, due to their unique circumstances under Israeli occupation. But one could see Gaza – especially if events spill over to the West Bank – as “the Palestinians’ turn” in the revolution. The Israeli-Egyptian alliance also points to the fact that Israel is no longer a bystander but party to the fighting taking place in the region.

Israel was, however, never a passive observer. It is the regional superpower and has the support of the world’s superpower. At any given moment, the Israeli leadership can choose from various policy options. This was the case following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, the escalation that preceded the military campaign, and this is also the case now.

I would like to discuss a realistic alternative, along with its cost and risks.

Funeral for the 26 members of the Abu Jame' family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Reports indicate that 18 of the 24 killed were children of Abu Jame'  family. Israeli attacks have killed 550 Palestinians in the current offensive, most of them civilians. (Basel Yazouri/

Funeral for the 26 members of the Abu Jame’ family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Reports indicate that 18 of the 24 killed were children of Abu Jame’  family. (Basel Yazouri/

A new policy must begin with a different strategic goal. The current Israeli goal is “peace for peace,” meaning...

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Why do Palestinians continue to support Hamas despite such devastating losses?

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...

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This is a war of choice. Netanyahu's choice

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.


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France Decapitated (again)

[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

 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...

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'They left us no choice': On military escalation and its Israeli rationale

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...

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A premier failure: Where is Israel's leadership?

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...

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How the public was manipulated into believing the teens were alive

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.


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Analysis: The end of the 'cheap occupation' era

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:...

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The end of the hunger strike and mounting pressure on the PA

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 /

Illustrative photo of Palestinian prisoners in an Israeli military prison (By ChameleonsEye /

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...

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When 'The New York Times' embeds its reporters with the IDF

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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Film Review: 'Policeman,' a study of the Israeli alpha male

By leaving the Palestinian conflict in the background, filmmaker Lapid manages to skip over the common ‘shooting-and-crying’ formula, in which Israeli protagonists are portrayed more as victims than perpetrators of the conflict.

The timing of the release of Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s debut, “Policeman,” was very unique in Israel: October 2011, right after that summer’s so-called Tent Protests, which saw hundreds of thousands Israelis take to the streets over social and economic issues. “Policeman,” which was shot and completed before the surprising demonstrations erupted, tells the story of a confrontation between a group of young revolutionaries plotting to kidnap a local tycoon, and a police officer in an anti-terror unit that will be called upon stop them.

When Lapid wrote a script about violent internal struggle over economic issues in a country whose politics had been dominated by the conflict for a century, it must have seemed like science fiction (in interviews, Lapid referred to it as “a fantasy”). By the time the film was released Lapid’s fantasy seemed more like a prophesy, winning the movie a nice turnout and more attention than one could expect from a movie that is very challenging, both in style and in content. And yet don’t be fooled: at the heart of “Policeman” lies a delicate deconstruction of modern Israeli identity, and like everything Israeli, it has a lot to do with the Palestinians.

Yiftach Klein as Yaron in the Israeli film Policeman (© 2014 Corinth Films)

Yiftach Klein as Yaron in the Israeli film Policeman (© 2014 Corinth Films)

I know Lapid pretty well so I got to see “Policeman” in an early screening, and I haven’t seen it since. But the movie, which was screened in New York  last week, stuck with me in more than one way. Right now there aren’t any future screenings listed on the film’s site, but if there are in the future, I recommend checking it out.

The plot is basically broken into two: In the first 40 minutes we get to know Yaron (played by the excellent Yiftach Klein) – a member of an elite police unit, popular with his friends and with women, an all-Israeli alpha male. Two important events take place in his life – Yaron and his unit members are facing an investigation regarding the killing of a Palestinian detainee,...

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