Analysis News

Israeli president's apology offers a rare hope for coexistence

With his unprecedented and heartfelt speech in Kafr Qassem commemorating the massacre there, President Rivlin has outlined a future of equality, respect and shared identity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Israeli President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin visited the Palestinian town Kafr Qassem in the Triangle region of Israel on Monday to commemorate the massacre of 49 of its residents by Border Police in 1956. He was the first president to attend the formal memorial ceremony, and only the second president to visit, according to Haaretz.

After nearly 15 years of a severe deterioration in relations between Palestinians and Israeli Jews, the visit stood out as a good-will gesture rarely seen on the part of any Israeli leaders. During the vicious climate of the war over the summer, the Israeli public became more accustomed to its elected officials calling Arab citizens terrorists, traitors, and trojan horses and calling to boycott Arab businesses (shouldn’t this be made illegal?).

But even before the war, the previous Knesset passed laws targeting Arabs and debated mean-spirited bills; and the bigot Avigdor Liberman’s star has only risen. These developments topped a dark decade that began with the killing of 13 Arab citizens in October 2000 during demonstrations – a traumatic turning point in relations back then.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin greets an Arab-Israeli elder during a memorial ceremony in honor of the Kafr Qassim massacre October 26, 2014, held in the Arab-Israeli town Kfar Qassem. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin greets an Arab-Israeli elder during a memorial ceremony in honor of the Kafr Qassim massacre October 26, 2014, held in the Arab-Israeli town Kfar Qassem. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The Kafr Qassem massacre in 1956 took place amidst escalation on the eastern border with Jordan and the start of the Sinai campaign. A curfew on Arab towns in the Triangle area – much of the Arab population lived under military rule from 1949-1966 – was changed from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. Anyone violating the order was to be shot. Many of the residents were farmers were out working their fields when the change to the curfew was announced. Military personnel in the other towns realized that residents would be unaware of the new curfew time and concluded that the order was not logical. But in Kafr Qassem,...

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What Israelis really mean when we talk about the Left

It is a shameful lie to make opposition to 47-year military rule an issue of supporters or traitors of Israel.

Palestinian and Israeil flags (Activestills)

Palestinian and Israeil flags (Activestills)

The war in Gaza yielded a large crop of articles about Liberal Zionism. Suddenly numerous authors felt an urgent need to reject, redefine, defend or deconstruct a term that the vast majority of Israelis have never heard of.

However, Israelis are familiar with the same basic concept, except they call it the “Zionist Left,” or national left. They embrace the label “Zionism,” but unlike diaspora-based writers, don’t spend too much time trying to define it.  I can’t recall anything like the floodtide of English LibZi articles in the Hebrew press any time recently.

That doesn’t bother me; as I’ve written, the term Zionism in Israel today has become a shell gutted of meaning, intended primarily to delegimize anyone who is not one. Finance Minister Yair Lapid took this to new heights when, in reacting to a kerfuffle this week over the cost of Israel’s beloved junk-food chocolate pudding – labeled those who sparked the protest “post-Zionists” and “anti-Zionists.” He was reacting to the (literal? figurative?) name of their Facebook group “Move [lit., ‘make aliyah’ - ds] to Berlin!” where the price of a similar product is lower. I wonder if the authors of the English LibZi articles are aware of this particular iteration of the concept in modern Israel as they search their Zionist identities?

Therefore, what I find more troubling is not the meaning Zionism, but the lack of clarity about what it means to be on the left in Israel.

What do Israelis mean when they talk about the “Left”?

In a lengthy Haaretz feature article about the less-savory aspects of Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog’s political past, I noticed that Israel’s opposition leader was quoted discussing the constellation within Israel that supported Ehud Barak in the 1999 elections:  “This camp, the peace camp, which today they like to call Left…”

Whatever he was implying, I’ll take that as a step in the right direction. At least the person who is supposed to offer an alternative makes a rhetorical link between the Left and peace.

Otherwise, standing on a sidewalk in any given Israeli town, one might not know what many...

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Israel's Left forgot what dissent really means

Dissent means going against the majority when you believe the majority is wrong — and not just to be contrary. That means being unpopular almost by definition; the majority will never send us flowers.

Israel police arrest a left-wing protester during a demonstration against settlement in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (File photo by Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Israel police arrest a left-wing protester during a demonstration against settlement in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (File photo by Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

My colleague Mairav Zonszein has written an eloquent piece in The New York Times decrying the state of dissent in Israel, lamenting the persecutions and constraints on those who criticized the latest Gaza war from the left. She points to a number of disgraceful examples.

The article has generated debate, as observed here. However, much of it breaks down along disappointingly predictable lines: those further to the right, such as Tablet Magazine, attack her observations; those on the far left, like Mondoweiss, defend her. The Right rolls out the knee-jerk defense of everything Israeli: lumping the falsehood of the accusation that Israel stifles dissent right along with the falsehood of any culpability for Israel in the conflict at all.

The Left jumps to affirm any critique of Israel, as packaging all criticism together will serve the mission of proving Israel’s culpability in the conflict.

But freedom of expression is a separate issue, and Israelis should analyze it substantively, not as an automatic extension of their “left” or “right”-ness.

Read Mairav’s response to the criticism

No, Israel is not China, not Iran, and not even Azerbaijan. But the Right should take no comfort in that; the Right must not use such unsavory comparisons to justify or trivialize those terrible things that did happen.

But I think some on the Left have mis-characterized these real issues in a distracting way. If Israel was a society that completely controlled or stifled expression, censoring or shutting down websites, closing newspapers or arresting journalists, it would crush both criticism of and information about the conflict. There might be no protest against Israeli policy at all. Although existing criticism has not ended the occupation so far – at least we know that there is a vocal, organized and articulate community of Israelis searching for...

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All Israelis are implicated in the occupation

Rather than an army secret, the systems supporting the occupation include such normal institutions as taxation, infrastructure projects, the education system and, of course, army service.

The debate over refuseniks from IDF intelligence unit 8200 unleashed acrimonious debates all week. While I have already observed some of them, here are a few more that stand out.

Carolina Landsmann has one of the most powerful opinion pieces I’ve read in a long time, in Haaretz. It may yet appear in English, but for now the excerpts here are my translation. Like one former member of Unit 8200 who spoke to me, Landsmann says their act of refusal is a statement that intelligence work and the system of occupation are directly linked, cutting into the belief that only those who hold the guns are responsible.

She then takes this insight to its next logical step. In blunt language, she writes that the refuseniks point to a perspective built into Israeli thinking that is

All of Israeli society, writes Landsmann, supports this system. I find this one of the most essential and accurate observations of Israeli reality that is rarely understood.

Rather than an army secret, the systems supporting the occupation include such normal institutions as taxation, infrastructure projects, the education system and, of course, army service. She concludes with disturbing clarity, “No one can say ‘I have no part in it.’”

I don’t believe Landsmann means that all Israelis are evil, and I reject that idea myself. But the fact that all social and political structures of society support the occupation is true and must be internalized. Not in order to blame individuals; to help them know that stopping this means identifying their personal contribution, through whichever social system they belong, and changing it. The refusal letter, she hopes, may be the first steps of this profound mental shift.

Ironically, the far right has said this repeatedly. They argue that settlers are unfairly demonized, when in fact all of Israel, people and government alike, supports settlements.

Once, at a Nakba commemoration event at Tel Aviv University, I spotted far-right Hebron settler leader Baruch Marzel wearing a T-shirt reading “Solidarity: Sheikh Munis,” the original Arabic name of the Palestinian village where the university now stands. For a fleeting instant I wondered if the world had turned upside down. But simultaneously I knew it was mockery, an extension of the...

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Refusal by elite IDF reservists angrily dismissed as 'political'

Following the public refusal of 43 reservists of the IDF’s 8200 intelligence unit, politicians and other veterans of the unit have openly denounced the reservists, viewing their refusal as an unacceptable politicization of their army service.

Political leaders both from the government and the opposition condemned 43 reservists from Israel’s prestigious 8200 intelligence unit who stated their refusal to take part in intelligence-gathering activities that, they claim, deepen Israel’s military rule over Palestinians. Unlike the issue of refusal during Protective Edge, which was hardly noticed or covered during the war, the 8200 letter grabbed headlines over the weekend, appeared on most major news Internet sites, and was one of the lead stories in television news.

Prime Minister Netanyahu encouraged the unit to continue its important work for the security of Israeli citizens. Haaretz reports that Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon called the letter “an attempt to harm the unit and its activities.” He said the move was a deplorable attempt to assist the “campaign of delegitimization” against Israel and the IDF.

Yariv Levin, the Likud chairman of the governing coalition, repeated a common accusation from the Right equating opposition to the occupation with support for terrorism. In a comment likely to elicit guffaws from Palestinians living under Israeli military rule, Levin, a veteran of unit 8200, told Maariv, “One who refuses to assist in guarding his country crosses the border between those who support Israeli democracy and the freedom it represents, to the terror-supporting Palestinian side, and attacks the innocent citizens of Israel.”

Israeli army soldiers take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank town of Hebron. [File photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli army soldiers take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank town of Hebron. [File photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

However, the members of the opposition and people associated with the mainstream Left also clamored to decry the reservists’ refusal.

Both the current leader of the opposition Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog, also a 8200 veteran, and the former head of the Labor Party Shelly Yachimovich condemned the letter at length.

Herzog stated that he opposes refusal, and said that the citizens of Israel would pay a price for such calls. But Yachimovich went further, lashing out...

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IDF's 'start-up nation' reservists refuse to serve the occupation

One of the most striking points in the unprecedented refusal letter is the forceful argument that Israel’s policies vis-a-vis Palestinians are simply unrelated to defense –and they are a matter of choice.

Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, June 18, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron take part in the search operation for the kidnappers of three Israeli teenagers, June 18, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Forty-three members of the IDF’s prestigious and secretive Unit 8200 have signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating their refusal to serve in reserve duty related to military governance over Palestinians. The document, made available by Ynet, expresses their opposition in blunt language (my translation):

8200 is practically a legendary unit within the intelligence corps of the army. It is responsible for both internal and foreign signals intelligence-gathering, alongside the Mossad and Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. A large unit with various subdivisions, some members are known for their Arabic language skills, used to monitor life and media in the Arab and Palestinian world. Perhaps its strongest reputation is as Israel’s high-tech incubator, developing the cutting edge technology related to communications, focused on hacking, and encrypting, decoding and transmitting information.

As civilians, its highly educated and largely Ashkenazi graduates, particularly the men, have often leveraged their skills in Israel’s high-tech industry and are commonly thought of as the sparky, plucky drivers of the “start-up nation.”

+972 Magazine’s Haggai Matar, writing in Hebrew on Local Call and citing a Yedioth Ahronoth article, described the incidents that the reservists concluded were unjustified (all excerpts my translation):

Haggai interviewed Daniel, one of the reservists who initiated the letter about one year ago – long before Protective Edge.

Daniel also stressed to Haggai that these incidents are not aberrations:

Collective refusal in this elite unit is unprecedented. Haggai notes that the last group refusal from any unit was a decade ago.

A former member of the unit who agreed to speak with +972 Magazine anonymously, although she was not a signatory (nor was she approached), felt that the move was significant in several ways.

On an operational level, she explained, the skills that 8200 members possess are not...

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One or two states, Israelis and Palestinians are bound together

Whether the conflict here is resolved through one, two, three or ten states, Israel will still never be homogenous. Ethnic homogeneity is a nasty and dangerous sham.

As the referendum over the future of Scotland approaches, poll numbers for the “YES” (pro-independence) have suddenly spiked. Many Brits are now panicking that Scots may really decide they are not “Better Together,” as the cheerful “NO” (or polite, “No, thanks”) campaign has tried to portray.

I am reminded of the ubiquitous OXI (NO) posters that blanketed the Greek side of Cyprus prior to the ill-fated 2004 referendum to reunite the island. Although the Annan Plan envisioned two largely separate communities under the principles of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, they would have been more united than before. But three-quarters of Greek Cypriots rejected the plan. Many were simply not convinced they were ready to live (more) together – even in a limited way.

Last week I attended a workshop about the two-decade-long unresolved conflict between  Armenians and Azerbaijanis over Nagorno-Karabakh. The predominant working assumption among some participants – self-defined as advocates of a peaceful solution – was that the sides should seek the greatest possible separation, as living together is bound to cause trouble.

The conviction that separation is more natural for different groups in society runs down to the level of individuals in daily life. Can police be trusted to protect the “other”? Serbs in northern Kosovo think not and the people of Ferguson, Missouri are sure they cannot. Is it okay for people to marry the “other”? Many Israelis and Palestinians say no, and some Israelis even won the right in court to protest such a wedding recently.

Lately I find myself asking, who in the world is this mythical ‘other’? After years of engagement with dialogue and co-existence programs, this summer I suddenly couldn’t tolerate the word “other” at all. Each initiative means well, but they feel so artificial – usually I don’t have many disagreements with the participants. Often, I know them all, sometimes for years. Lightning bolt: they aren’t the other!

Is the “other” my friends in Gaza, who like me, wish to live openly and freely, in peace and constructive, creative human endeavor? Is my “self,” my “in-group” my national representative Moshe Feiglin, who wishes for ethnic cleansing; my foreign minister who calls to boycott Arab shops in Israel? Is the “self” my...

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A Palestinian ultimatum to end occupation?

In a diplomatic surprise, the Palestinians have threatened to turn to the International Criminal Court if no date is set for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders – a move that +972 writers predicted more than a year ago.

The PLO will demand that the UN Security Council announce a deadline for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, to the 1967 ceasefire lines, reported Haaretz today. Ma’an News Agency writes that Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah figure and veteran negotiator, has said the bid will be submitted on September 15, 2014. If it is not accepted, he told Ma’an that the PLO will continue with long-rumored plans to pursue accession to the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), so that it can bring claims against Israel’s actions in Gaza.

With every other attempt to shake off Israel’s military rule proving futile, the idea of a simple ultimatum for withdrawal – with or without an agreement – ought not to come as a surprise. In fact, Noam Sheizaf and I not only predicted it, we advocated it over a year ago.

Netanyahu and Abbas in Washington, September 15, 2010 (State Dept. Photo)

Netanyahu and Abbas in Washington, September 15, 2010 (State Dept. Photo)

The move marks the third time in four years that the Palestinians have undertaken a major diplomatic effort for statehood in the 1967 territory. In 2011 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for UN membership, and submitted a bid to the General Assembly, but a vote was never held due to the certainty of a Security Council veto. In late 2012 a vote was finally held in the General Assembly. It passed, granting Palestine the status of non-member observer state in the UN, but made little difference on the ground.

Two further diplomatic attempts to achieve statehood and recognition happened before and after those: In 1988 the PLO first declared its independence along the 1967 ceasefire lines. That marked a major shift away from Fatah rhetoric, which up to then called for a single state from the river to the sea. Most recently, as the Kerry-led negotiations were falling apart, Abbas advanced applications and acceded to a number of international treaties and organizations to make...

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As violence rises, Muslim moderates must do more

My colleagues at ‘Let Us Build Pakistan’ and I have discovered various overlapping interests on certain issues and we occasionally cross-post material that we think our audiences would find relevant. Here is one such article I found interesting.

Against the background of a fresh wave of violence in the Middle East, a Muslim writer calls for introspection.

By Asif Zaidi

The following book review in The Telegraph addresses two recently published books mainly defending British Muslims. A friend sent me the article, hoping that it will help me “see the light.” But I believe the review downplays some significant problems.

[A book by Arun Kundnani ] dispels myths, pointing out that “there is no Islamic doctrine of ‘kill the unbelievers’ as anti-Islam propagandists often maintain. Islam, like other religions, provides a broad moral framework for thinking about questions of violence.” Again and again this book challenges your assumptions. It is worth reading for its examination of the word “extremism” alone. Martin Luther King, Kundnani points out, was denounced in this way.

Bowen’s book is at bottom gentle and optimistic. She suggests that over time there is no fundamental contradiction between Islam and the modern Western state…”

In fact, most members of most religious communities in Britain are patriotic and law-abiding but it is only Muslims who require constant reassurances like those in the review above. Why? The answer is simple: because most radicals have been Muslims and people like Anjem Choudary get their mug all over the television. To me, rather than constantly looking for reassurances, Muslims in Britain should be arguing against the likes of Choudary and protesting against incendiary pronouncements and actions. It is normal that in the absence of such posturing, suspicion grows. Not all Catholic priests are pedophiles. But hasn’t the fact that many cardinals turned a blind eye to those who are has drawn more opprobrium than the pedophiles themselves?

ISIS fighters ride through the Syrian city of Al-Raqqa. (photo: Islamic State)

ISIS fighters ride through the Syrian city of Al-Raqqa. (photo: Islamic State)

The silence or acquiescence of the so-called Muslim ‘moderate’ majority reinforces the perception of Muslims as a group of people who cannot, or will not, control their extremist fringes. I think this is an accurate reflection of the reality and see no problem with it....

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Wedding crashers: Do anti-miscegenation protesters hate or love Judaism?

With chants of “Death to Arabs” and “Mohammed is dead” in the background, the 30-something couple spoke earnestly, their faces worried. “As far as I’m concerned,” said the woman, an economist who didn’t want to be named, “I came to a funeral. The father is in mourning. I’m here to support the family in their pain with our presence.”

They have come to a grimy parking lot outside a tacky mall in Rishon LeZion, deep in the center of Israel, to protest the wedding of an Arab Muslim Israeli and an Israeli woman born Jewish, who converted to Islam. The wedding is in a hall about 200 meters away from the protest, as per a court order. About 200 protestors have gathered in the thick, hot air. The couple talking to me come from Rishon; they say they are secular.

Right-wing activists from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest outside the wedding ceremony of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman in Rishon LeZion. (photo: Activestills.org)

Right-wing activists from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest outside the wedding ceremony of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman in Rishon LeZion. (photo: Activestills.org)

The band of youth who have been chanting close by start jumping, in formation, screaming: “There are no classes in Gaza/because there are no kids in Gaza!” – referring to the hundreds of children killed by Israeli forces during Operation Protective Edge – and “Jews have souls; Arabs are sons of bitches!” The secular husband gestures towards them. “I don’t agree with that ‘death to Arab’ stuff. It’s too bad this has become a platform for extremism.” He bounces a giggling, pigtailed toddler. “We are here to give the bride’s family hope, to remind them: it’s reversible.”

The ingredients are all there for an explosion. Large placards with elaborate slogans, such as “what future can there be for someone who forgot her past?” are spread on the ground for participants who might want one. A 15-year old girl in a long skirt holds a huge canvas sign speaking of shame. The core of the protest is a group of wild-eyed teenage boys, dotted with far-right stalwarts such as former MK Michael Ben Ari and Kahanist Hebron settler Baruch Marzel. A left-wing counter-protest in support of the wedding is taking place across the way; one...

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IDF reservist sentenced to military prison for refusing draft

Update: The reservist has since decided to expose his identity. He is Gilad Halpern; the name has been updated here.

An IDF reservist was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport Wednesday upon returning to Israel after fleeing call-up orders to serve in Operation Protective Edge. He was later sentenced to 21 days in military prison.

Gilad Halpern, one of three reservists who spoke to +972 Magazine recently for an article about refusal (before he left the country), spent 15 days abroad following a military order to appear for active duty. When he received the order, just as the ground operation was starting, he communicated with his superiors for several days about his intention to refuse on ideological grounds. But the army insisted he report to his unit, and finally told him he must appear within the hour. Instead, he left the country. An IDF representative came to his house just after he had left the country.

An Israeli artillery fires a shell towards the Gaza Strip from a position near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on Augost 1, 2014 after the proposed three-day truce that began at 0500 GMT collapsed amid a deadly new wave of bloodshed and the apparent capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli artillery fires a shell towards the Gaza Strip from a position near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on August 1, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

Gilad stayed with friends in the Netherlands, then traveled to France where his family, including his wife and two-year old son, met him. When he returned on Wednesday he was stopped at passport control. Along with the border guards who actually arrested him was a “deserter catcher” – a permanent role within the IDF. It was the same person who had come to his apartment the day he had left.

Because Gilad had communicated his intention to refuse by fax rather than reporting to his unit in person, and then left the country, he was considered AWOL rather than a soldier refusing an order. Gilad says he didn’t realize that the means of communication mattered, and he now believes that had he formally reported and then declared his ideological refusal, the army would have been less likely to give him a severe punishment. He is not an officer, and the IDF might...

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Who are the Israelis refusing the call of Protective Edge?

On Saturday evening, another anti-war demonstration was held in Tel Aviv. A few hundred people marched and chanted and hoped that rumors of a drawdown were true.

With minimal numbers and attention, the demonstrations have had little impact. But there doesn’t seem much else that those opposed to the war can do.

Soldiers and reservists have another option: civil disobedience, refusal to participate.

Israeli tanks on the Israel-Gaza border. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israeli tanks on the Israel-Gaza border. (photo: Activestills.org)

It is a huge taboo. The idea of avoiding IDF service in a society whose mythical founding narrative is about protection from existential destruction is anathema even in normal times.

To refuse a draft order in wartime is practically incendiary. When I posted a status asking for contacts to refuseniks, a friend shot back “Why would anyone refuse?”

Refusal then and now

Back in 2005, when some soldiers refused service in order to avoid evacuating settlements from Gaza, I thought about when refusal is seen as legitimate.

I revisited those words now, to assess the thoughts of few individuals who refused to participate in Protective Edge. They asked that details about them be kept vague as a condition for being interviewed. Their names have been changed here.

‘You can’t change things from the inside’

Tamir is a 28-year old who served in a combat unit and as a reserve soldier. He fought in the previous Gaza war, Pillar of Defense, in 2012. But his doubts began already during his regular service. “I wasn’t politically active before being drafted. I thought the occupation wasn’t good, but I thought we had to control the Palestinians so they wouldn’t blow up buses. The army caused me to become political, when I was confronted by the occupation in the West Bank, and also when I served in Gaza and saw what happened there.

He thought that it was important to do reserve duty in order to change things from the inside. But “Little by little I realized it doesn’t matter. You can’t change things from inside, only from the outside, by voting or demonstrations. And then I realized that that doesn’t work either.”

By Pillar of Defense, he confronted a growing gap between the portrayal of army missions versus reality. “What was being described in media was not reflective...

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Who are the Israelis fighting this war?

This is Israel. These are the people I live with – children who become soldiers, and adults who have been soldiers. I want to see what became of those children, and what happened to make the adults around me who they are. This is a snapshot.

****

An improvised IDF camp in southern Israel. I drive down to visit my cousin, taking his girlfriend with me, who has come by bus from Jerusalem so I can give her a lift from Tel Aviv. It is 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit), hotter in the dusty, beating sun of the south, even at 5:30 p.m.

The camp has the atmosphere of parents’ day at summer camp, or a Scouts retreat. There are clusters of people camped out under scraggly trees and mesh-net green tarps. Soldiers are directing cars of visitors to parking areas linked to each battalion.

Girlfriends kiss boyfriends at length, parents look on adoringly. Ecstatic followers of Rabbi Nachman of Uman park a van blaring techno music, their wild-eyed missionaries shove boxes of popsicles at passing cars, offering them for free. One of them walks among the groups of soldiers in flowing robes, blowing a long, winding shofar.

An Israeli tank is seen before entering the Gaza Strip near Israel's border with the Gaza strip on July 24, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli tank is seen before entering the Gaza Strip near Israel’s border with the Gaza strip on July 24, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

We ask a few soldiers if anyone knows my cousin, C.

“Which C?” says one.

“The American,” I say.

“That one! Sort of blond, always cheerful? Red cheeks?”

“That’s him.”

“His group is over there.” He points to a clearing with more trees, tarps and clusters of green bodies lying around on black yoga mats.

We pick our way through sleeping soldiers, lounging soldiers, boxes of half-eaten pizza. It could be the morning after a frat party except there are too many parents and no alcohol – one soldier triumphantly pulls an energy drink from a backpack and dangles it in front of the others. The rest are lying among heaps of packs and equipment, communication devices, guns, helmets, baggy helmet netting, boxes of canned food, food in boxes, whole fruit and fruit rinds. Garbage.

We find my cousin but he is in...

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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