+972 Magazine » Syria http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sat, 05 Sep 2015 08:55:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 No, BDS does not unfairly ‘single out’ Israel http://972mag.com/no-bds-does-not-unfairly-single-out-israel/108825/ http://972mag.com/no-bds-does-not-unfairly-single-out-israel/108825/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 15:00:09 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108825 Ironically, the boycott movement actually expresses some level of faith in Israeli democracy by assuming a little pressure might motivate it to change.

Stock photo boycott activists in France. (Photo by Olga Besnard/Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of boycott activists in France. (Photo by Olga Besnard/Shutterstock.com)

When the most recent flotilla set sail for Gaza to protest Israel’s eight-year blockade, Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote an open letter to the activists. In a tone dripping with sarcasm, he suggested they had taken a wrong turn on the way to Syria. It’s part of a theme repeated obsessively: “there are worse violations elsewhere, but no one ever protests them. Therefore, protesting the occupation on behalf of Palestinians is hypocritical, anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Therefore, it can be ignored.” Nowhere is this argument more prominent than as a response to boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) efforts against Israel.


At first glance, it is a genuinely troubling point. No one who claims to care about human rights should sleep at night knowing what is happening to millions of Syrians who are and have been uprooted, and the hundreds of thousands who have been butchered – for a start.

The problem is not that liberals don’t care. The problem is that the accusations of global indifference are simply false. Whether you support or despise the boycott of Israel, it’s time to stop writing it off as hypocrisy.

Start with sanctions. The U.S. and Europe have both placed sanctions on Iran for human rights violations, not just for nuclear research. International sanctions to end human rights violations began long before the putative “singling out” of Israel, even before the occupation.

In 1965, Britain placed sanctions on Rhodesia; then in 1966, the UN Security Council for the first time in its history authorized international sanctions against the white minority government, for the next 14 years, until Rhodesia created a fairer government and became Zimbabwe. (Israel, incidentally, was one of the countries that did not respect the sanctions – displaying at least moral and political consistency.)

The UN imposed sanctions against Iraq (1990, for its treatment of Kuwaitis during the invasion) and against Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, for its treatment of ethnic minorities. In those cases, sanctions preceded international military intervention, something that has never remotely been on the table in the West’s treatment of Israel.

Numerous other countries perpetrating egregious human rights violations, such as Sudan, Somalia and Sierra Leone have been placed under international sanction regimes. Including, yes, Syria. The charge of “singling out” Israel is dead wrong.

What about boycott efforts that seem to be catching fire among academics and cultural figures? Why don’t they take aim at North Korea, or at ISIS?

ISIS conducting a mass execution in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.

ISIS conducting a mass execution in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.

First, celebrities probably wish to support what they perceive as the underdog, the party in need of attention, which they can bring. For most of the decades under occupation, Israel’s narrative reigned in the West. Palestinian people were essentially ignored, written off wholesale as terrorists, and their claims and experiences of life under occupation misunderstood, if noticed at all. The last decade of attention to Palestinian reality is essentially a pendulum swing in their direction.

Celebrities may not feel the global attention they command is needed on behalf of ISIS victims. We all agree that being drowned, beheaded, pushed off a building or burned with acid is evil.

Second, it’s attractive to work for a cause where there’s a possibility you can actually make a change. North Korea is an impenetrable fortress that scoffs at arguments of democracy and human rights, if it notices them at all.

But precisely because Israel has a democratic ethos, because it is part of the West and in dialogue with it, activists reasonably believe gains can be made. They’re right. If Israel wants to be more democratic toward all the people it controls, it surely has the political culture in place to do so. The claim to democracy also makes the nearly 50-year occupation so much more offensive.

But there’s an even simpler reason why students, celebrities, academics, and some individuals call to boycott Israel instead of other places: Palestinians asked them to.

The Global BDS movement is certainly problematic. There is a gap between its stated policy goals, and the implication supporters sometimes convey that only erasing Israel will suffice. BDS activists can be aggressive and coercive. Boycott efforts – specifically those in the West Bank –  could hurt Palestinians more than anyone else, by taking jobs away from average people on the front line.

Those are major flaws. But just as Israel expects its supporters to “stand with us” despite Israel’s flaws, some Palestinians are asking people around the world for support despite the flaws of its movement. The South African anti-apartheid movement immolated collaborators. That didn’t stop Western governments and corporations, and everyone in my high school, from proudly joining in the boycott of South Africa. We didn’t hate South African whites and boycotters today are not automatically anti-Semites. They just figure solidarity counts, and boycott is how the Palestinians they encounter have asked them to help.

Anyway, what are the other options? Should supporters of Palestinian freedom protest occupation the way the occupying power wants them to? In fact Israel rejects all forms of protest on this issue. Violence is of course wrong. Diplomatic action is considered an anti-Israel plot. Unarmed grassroots demonstrations in West Bank towns week after week are met with tear gas, blasts of putrid water, arrests and sometimes death. Failed negotiations are invariably and entirely blamed on Palestinians. Boycott is called “economic terrorism” – and, of course, hypocrisy.

Pro-Israel protesters hold signs condemning BDS as racist, New York, June 1, 2014. (Illustrative photo by A Katz/Shutterstock.com)

Pro-Israel protesters hold signs condemning BDS as racist, New York, June 1, 2014. (Illustrative photo by A Katz/Shutterstock.com)

If the boycott movement is accused of wishing to erase Israel, aggressive “pro-Israel” messagers seek to erase the occupation from our minds. Defenders of Israel’s policies must answer that charge if they expect a reasonable position from BDS.

Otherwise, activists will continue to view Israel as hypocritical: a democracy that holds people in chains. A country that could change, precisely because it is the “only democracy in the Middle East.” In a strange sense (probably one they didn’t intend), their protests show faith that Israel will ultimately honor its democratic values if pushed just a little harder, or if they can point out the internal contradiction to Israelis who simply cannot see it.

Some activists don’t just wish to mouth off opinions. They want something to do, even if it’s not perfect. For any other cause, we would probably find that commendable.

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First, do no harm: Israel and the Druze in Syria http://972mag.com/first-do-no-harm-israel-and-the-druze-in-syria/108091/ http://972mag.com/first-do-no-harm-israel-and-the-druze-in-syria/108091/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:55:35 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108091 Some Druze in Israel are campaigning for intervention to save their kin on the Syrian side of the border, but the Druze in Syria reject the idea out of hand. Instead, they are demanding that Israel stop supporting the people threatening to massacre them.

By Rabah Halabi

File photo of Israeli soldiers patrolling along the Syrian border in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, Majdal Shams. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

File photo of Israeli soldiers patrolling along the Syrian border in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, Majdal Shams. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra are fanatical religious movements that pose a danger first and foremost to moderate and enlightened Islam, then to the Arab world, and humanity itself. These same dark forces are threatening the wellbeing and very existence of the Druze in Syria, because of their religious beliefs, which they have held for nearly 1,000 years. If that threat is realized, the catastrophe that awaits the Druze will be on the same scale as that which struck other minorities in the region — the Yezidi and Christian minorities in Iraq.


Members of the Druze community in Israel are doing everything in their power to ensure nothing bad happens to their brothers. Some Druze citizens and leaders are demanding that the State of Israel intervene to help our bothers on the other side of the border. I am sure that they are motivated by nothing but good intentions borne of sincere concern. But their efforts are not only unhelpful, they are likely to further harm the very people they want to help.

The entire Druze leadership in Syria, as well as Lebanon, has rejected the option of such intervention outright — for reasons that are appropriate for them. Even in the middle of an unavoidable emotional storm, we in Israel, must not make decisions for stake-holders who have proven their ability to deal with their own problems, better than we have managed our own here at home.

But along with rejecting Israeli intervention, the Druze in Syria are astounded — as am I — by what appears to be Israel’s support for Jabhat al-Nusra. Clearly, the State of Israel acts according to its own narrow interests, without taking into consideration its friends and allies. But in this case I have serious trouble understanding what those considerations and state interests are, which have led Israel to actively support a murderous, extremist religious movement sponsored by one of the most regressive countries in the world — Saudi Arabia.

Israeli tanks positioned along the Syrian border in the occupied Golan Heights, January 29, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli tanks positioned along the Syrian border in the occupied Golan Heights, January 29, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel, obviously, denies claims that it is cooperating with Jabhat al-Nusra, but the Druze in Syria insist such cooperation is taking place, and there is significant evidence supporting their claim. One example is that Jabhat al-Nusra fighters are being treated in Israeli hospitals. Another example is the situation in Khader, a Syrian Golan Heights town in the demilitarized zone separating Israel and Syria, which the Syrian army is forbidden from entering according to the cease fire agreement between the two countries. Nevertheless, Israel is not stopping Jabhat al-Nusra from operating freely there.

As Druze and as Israeli citizens, it is our obligation to demand that Israel stop this unquestionably immoral support for Jabhat al-Nusra. For the moment, the Druze do not want Israel’s help. But they are also demanding that Israel stop supporting those people who are threatening to massacre them.

Meanwhile, the “enlightened” Western world’s true colors are once again exposed. Western states, first and foremost the U.S., intervene when their intervention isn’t needed, and refuse to intervene when they are asked or obligated to. Despite the attractiveness of Western enlightenment and morality, the only guiding “moral” is economic self-interest. If catastrophe strikes the Druze in Syria, and if god-forbid they are massacred, the West will not have clean hands.

The truth is that I don’t expect a lot from Israel or the West. I trust the Druze in Syria and their intelligent leadership. They are certainly capable of navigating through this ugly storm. We, the Druze in Israel, and all truly enlightened forces, should be attentive to them and help them whichever way we can without fanfare. This is the time to be silent, silent but not passive, at least not until the Druze are out of danger.

Dr. Rabah Halabi is a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and at Oranim College. Among other things, he is an expert in Arab-Jewish relations and Druze affairs in Israel. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Why not boycott Iran? http://972mag.com/why-not-boycott-iran/107822/ http://972mag.com/why-not-boycott-iran/107822/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 11:54:27 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=107822 The fact that there are human rights abusers worse than Israel should not obscure the fact that the Palestinian-led BDS movement is asking for one thing: solidarity.

Graffiti on the Israeli separation barrier dividing East Jerusalem neighborhoods reads, "Boycott Israel", March 26, 2012. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Belier/Activestills.org)

Graffiti on the Israeli separation barrier dividing East Jerusalem neighborhoods reads, “Boycott Israel”, March 26, 2012. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Belier/Activestills.org)

One of the most common claims one hears against the BDS movement is that it is hypocritical. “Why don’t they boycott Iran/Syria/Hamas/ISIS?” is a question that comes up quite often.

The answer? We actually do boycott other countries and groups. Iran and Syria are facing a harsh sanctions regime. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization across Europe and the United States, and the Gaza Strip is under siege by Israel and Egypt. Nearly every country in the West, the Mediterranean and the Arab world are fighting against the Islamic State. There are sanctions and boycotts on North Korea and Sudan, Cuba was under a U.S. embargo for decades, Russia is now being placed under sanctions, the list goes on.


Israel, on the other hand, is considered a Western, democratic country that is a signatory to major trade agreements, enjoys the status of a European country (in trade, academic relationships, Eurovision, etc.), received enormous, unprecedented sums of money and weapons from the United States, is a member of the OECD, etc.

Boycott activists claim that the same country that contravenes international law and holds millions of people under a military regime with no civil rights should not enjoy all the privileges of belonging to the developed world.

If Israel’s starting point was akin to that of Sudan, Syria, Iran or Somalia’s, it would have been impossible to launch a boycott campaign like BDS, simply because the country would have already been boycotted, its goods would not be sold in the West, artists would not come perform here, foreign banks would not invest in its economy, tourists would not come visit, etc.

Interview: The man behind the BDS movement

“But what about the U.S.? It sends its soldiers to occupy countries across the world, kills many more citizens than Israel, and maintains its rule on at least half of the world. So why don’t we boycott the U.S.?”

Why? Because it is the U.S. Because political activism ought to strive to be practical and realistic. Since there is no practical way to boycott the U.S., there is no way to win enough support for this kind of project — whether by citizens or by states who would sanction the U.S. — in order for it to succeed. The United States may be responsible for heinous crimes, but realistically, neither sanctions nor boycotts are going to change that.

All these comparisons ignore one simple truth: the BDS movement is Palestinian-based. The Palestinians, who have tried pretty much every way to cause Israel to end the occupation — from stone-throwing to the murder of civilians to popular protests to diplomacy — have decided to use the tool of boycott, and now they are the ones asking the world for help. Palestinians, who are struggling for their freedom, are not required to be objective. They do not need to prove that they are boycotting ISIS or the U.S.

The Palestinians are asking for solidarity in their struggle — people around the world will choose whether or not to support them. That is all there is to it. You can agree or disagree with the boycott movement, but these are the reasons Israel is being targeted.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Lifelong refugees: Palestinian boat people search for a new home http://972mag.com/lifelong-refugees-palestinian-boat-people-search-for-a-new-home/106943/ http://972mag.com/lifelong-refugees-palestinian-boat-people-search-for-a-new-home/106943/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 11:15:58 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106943 After escaping the horrors of the Syrian Civil War by boat, a group of Palestinian refugees washed up on the shores of Greece. Now they are wandering the streets of Athens without food or shelter.

Palestinian refugees from Syria fleeing the horrors of war on a boat originally headed to Italy.

Palestinian refugees from Syria fleeing the horrors of war on a boat originally headed to Italy.

After four days at sea, with no food or fuel, 175 Palestinian refugees were rescued by the Greek navy. After fleeing the horrors of war in Syria for neighboring Turkey and paying huge sums to their smugglers, who promised to bring them to Italy (not to mention ensure they had entry permits, as well as food and drink), the refugees found themselves living in the streets of Athens. Dreaming of reaching Europe on one hand, while facing the possibility of deportation on the other.

Some of those same refugees are members of the Salaime family, from the Palestinian village Sajara, which was destroyed in 1948. My family’s village.


As it made its way to the beaches of Greece, the same boat carrying the Palestinian refugees washed up on the shores of my consciousness. That’s it, I can no longer pretend that that the war in Syria is far removed from me or my children. Now that members of my village, along with other refugees, have escaped from Yarmouk and Al-A’idan refugee camps, there are people who will tell the story. There are photographs of the boat and there are children begging for a piece of bread, after they lost all their food at sea. There are the tears of a helpless mother as she faces her children.

And there is the human trafficking between Syria, Turkey, Egypt and Italy. “War traffickers,” said Abu Ahmad Salaime, a 54-year-old engineer who was chosen to head the group of refugees who left Turkey in an old, rusty boat carrying 175 people.

There was no single whole family on the boat. Everyone has been separated between Syria and Turkey. “They don’t put the entire family on one small boat in the middle of a huge sea,” said one of the survivors. And anyway “who has the money to pay the smugglers, who take between $5,000 and $10,000 per person? This is the equivalent of an entire house in a Syrian camp. So imagine, Samah, binti, what we had to do to get here. We’ll make it where we make it, and then we’ll demand family reunification. This is how everyone does it.”

The photos and horrific stories that have been coming out of Yarmouk would shock anyone. But this is not happening here, not at our door, we’ll be okay. This mantra keeps us Palestinians in Israel calm.

Lifelong refugees

Two years ago, the Arabs in Israel took part in the humanitarian mission for the Syrian Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan, and then came the stories that the Jordanian authorities refused to allow Palestinians from Syria into the camps. I was overcome with rage by Jordan’s decision, which did not allow a Syrian-born Palestinian into the country despite being married to a Syrian woman, after claiming that according to the United Nations, a person can only be a refugee once in their life.

Syria receives world support for absorbing Palestinian refugees from 1948 — this is a status that stays with you your entire life until a solution is found and the Palestinians return to their land, said the Jordanians. Now, when the Syrians have themselves become refugees, it has been decided that there is no “double sale.” Syrians were welcomed with open arms, while the gates slammed shut on the Palestinians.

In this war, half of the Syrian people became refugees. The war, which engulfed the entire country, did not pass over the Palestinian refugees. The smart and lucky ones, who left before ISIS captured Yarmouk, found safety across the world — especially in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands — with friends and relatives. The joke about the new Palestinian capital established in southern Sweden no longer makes me laugh.

The boat that carried several of my family members did not reach Italy, its original destination. After several days, the dates, raisins and drinking water disappeared. There was no bread left, which was meant solely for the children. The fuel ran out in the middle of the journey, and the person who was supposed to come from Benghazi to help them refuel never came.

Palestinian refugees seen in Yarmouk refugee camp, Damascus, Syria. (photo: Walla Masoud/UNRWA)

Palestinian refugees seen in Yarmouk refugee camp, Damascus, Syria. (photo: Walla Masoud/UNRWA)

The Egyptian captain reached a point of desperation and could not make contact with the smugglers. Under pressure from the frightened passengers, he agreed to call for help from the Greek navy. After several hours, a large ship arrived with a helicopter, and pulled the boat toward the nearest Greek island. The entire ordeal lasted 10 hours.

Trampling our dignity

On the beaches of Greece, volunteers from the Red Cross waited for the refugees with a tent encampment. “Finally, food and a mattress to sleep on,” one woman told me. “Thank God, the people in this camp are really very nice. There is food, drink and medical treatment. Everything. We even had access to the internet to call our family members and tell them we were saved.”

And we, Palestinians in Israel and across the world, breathed easy. The photos from the boat were published in the Facebook group dedicated to the villagers of Sajara, and we knew that the group made it to shore safely. Hundreds of family members rushed to “like” the photos and bless the survivors. However, it turned out that they could remain in the camp for no longer than four days. The Greeks kicked them out, since there were more boats on the way, and the group was asked to leave Greece as soon as possible.

The refugees were thrown into the streets of Athens with some clothing, 50 euros per person and a temporary freedom of movement pass. They began to wander, in the streets and public parks or in dilapidated apartments and packed hotels, with nine people to a room for an exorbitant price. “Here is another industry of exploitation in a city suffering from a difficult financial crises,” says Abu Ahmad Salaime, “Everyone wants to make money off us. That’s how it is: those who have money live, and who do not get stepped on.”

The churches and orphanages of Athens are full of refugees. The story of two young children whose parents drowned on one of the boats, hasn’t left me for the past few days. A Palestinian activist in the city, who today is a Greek citizen, said that the Palestinians in the city are collapsing under the load and the requests for help. There is no one to talk to at the Palestinian embassy in Athens, and people across the city have lost all hope.

Sometimes people find food in the street, other times they don’t — everything depends on the kind heartedness of passersby.

“A few days ago a truck came to the park and provided us with food bags,” says Abu Ahmad. “Many people ran over to the truck, but I stood to the side and watched. It pained me greatly. Of course I also wanted to eat, but I felt like my pride was being trampled on. I am an engineer and my daughters are brilliant students who are also studying engineering and computer science. Why should I be in this position? What have I done in my life?

“I was very angry at my parents, who turned us into refugees in Syria, but somehow I managed. I told myself that the most important thing is to remain quiet. The most important thing is a roof, a job, a family and a livelihood.

“And here I am, waiting for a strange man to hand me a bag of food. All of a sudden I think that my parents, who were uprooted from their land, were lucky. Despite their difficult conditions and the war, they remained with the members of their village, all of them from Palestine. They remained together, and their journey ended in an Arab country. The Syrians are just as miserable as us, but could speak Arabic. You know, all of a sudden I miss being surrounded by the Syrian accent. In Turkey they didn’t speak to us in Arabic, and here we’ll have to learn another language in order to receive a single can of food.”

“I chose to flee with my father,” tells me one of his daughters. “Perhaps I will continue to study in Europe. My mother remained in the camp with three brothers and she is waiting for us to call and save her so that we will go back to being together. My sister and I had to leave because we were afraid of being kidnapped by the fighters. Many young women have been raped and kidnapped, and on the way from Homs we passed areas controlled by different armed groups — Nusra Front, ISIS, Al-Ahrar. Every area is controlled by a different group. We paid the rebels to allow us to pass peacefully.”

Jaffa flotilla

Several days ago I participated in the “return flotilla” to Jaffa, organized by the Israeli NGO Zochrot. We boarded the “Sababa” ship in Jaffa port, where we listened to an elderly man (also named Abu Ahmad) describe how he was pushed into a boat with hundreds of people without parents and food during the 1948 war. His boat was meant to sail to Egypt, but he found himself on the beach of Gaza, 11 years old, alone. It took him a few more years until he went back to Jaffa.

I thought to myself: “What am I doing on this fake flotilla, on a boat used to sell ice cream and cold drinks, with a group of enlightened Jews who are shocked by what happened to us 67 years ago? The same thing is happening today to the descendants of those same refugees. Today and every day.

This time around, the irony of life took its toll. I couldn’t sit in the restaurant after the tour like everyone else. I came home with pain all over my body, and spoke for hours with the survivors from the boat, only to hear their story, cry and feel their pain.

There is only one question on my mind since then: why didn’t these damn boats, with the new-old asylum seekers, reach Acre?

Samah Salaime is a social worker, a director of AWC (Arab Women in the Center) in Lod/Lyd and a graduate of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he/she is a blogger. Read it here.

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If only there was oil under Yarmouk http://972mag.com/if-only-there-was-oil-under-yarmouk/105344/ http://972mag.com/if-only-there-was-oil-under-yarmouk/105344/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 15:56:06 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105344 As Palestinians are being murdered and starving to death in the refugee camp near Damascus, the Arab world is busy intervening in Yemen, the Palestinian Authority is silent, and Israeli television is talking about where to eat during the Passover holiday.

Yarmouk residents gathered to await a food distribution from UNRWA in January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

Yarmouk residents gathered to await a food distribution from UNRWA in January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

Monday morning, on the morning show on Israel’s Channel 10, which was co-hosted by the station’s military correspondent because the regular hosts are on vacation, they were supposedly discussing recommendations for the Israeli holiday traveler. After describing Israelis on vacation as ugly and litterers and more, the hosts recommended places to see and good places to eat.


As one might expect, most of the restaurants their guest culinary experts recommended represented the Arab kitchen. They went from Acre to the Galilee to Tiberias, and then Or Heller, the military correspondent, asked the two guest chefs for recommendations of places to eat in the Golan Heights. One of chefs, Haim Cohen, thought for a second and then answered, “Syria. But’s a little difficult [to get there],” adding that “the Syrian kitchen is excellent!”

The host, Or Heller, kept the jokes coming. “Yes, in the Yarmouk Camp … well ISIS are the only ones eating there.” Making fun at the expense my people in the camp that has been under siege for three years really got to me. I got up and went to the kitchen without changing the channel and listened to the rest of the program from afar. And then, another half-joke comes out of the television set, this time as part of their map of holiday traffic jams, about what icon Waze should have to indicate where ISIS is in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp. I couldn’t get over the anger and the pain, and wasn’t able to continue by daily routine.

People don’t understand just how bad the situation is in the Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. Tens of thousands of Palestinians, famished and under attack, are sitting prey for a group of fighters/rebels/terrorists/Assad supporters. We, the Palestinians, and the entire world, don’t really know who’s against who or what they are guilty of. There have been more and more reports of bodies, horrifying murders and wounded in recent days.

‘Yarmouk is devastated throughout, with street storefronts and houses suffering the brunt of the physical damage.’ (Photo by UNRWA)

‘Yarmouk is devastated throughout, with street storefronts and houses suffering the brunt of the physical damage,’ January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

When the war in Syria began three years ago, we, the Palestinians here in Israel, were angry at them, with utmost self-righteousness, that they didn’t join the revolution against Assad. Later we understood their immense fear of getting mixed up in it. The reports we’ve gotten in the past three years about what the Assad government has done to Palestinian youngsters in the refugee camp are simply horrible. Later we got mad at al-Nusra Front, which entered the camp as an opposition force to the regime and were angry that the organization was terrifyingly executing people on the streets. Its fighters raped young women and committed other crimes against humanity that are documented and available for anyone to see on the Internet.

And now, news that ISIS united with al-Nusra Front against the poor Palestinians in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear — aside from al-Nusra’s fear that it was losing control of the camp, and joined ISIS to defeat a group of Palestinian youngsters who organized themselves in an attempt to defend the camp. They call themselves “Aknef Beit al-Maqdis” (The Environs of Jerusalem, in Arabic).

Gathered on Yarmouk Street, residents begin hurrying to reach the distribution point.’ (Photo by UNRWA)

Gathered on Yarmouk Street, residents begin hurrying to reach the distribution point, January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

Refugees who fled for their lives to every corner of the world from Yarmouk have described the terror and the smell of death that permeates the camp. “People are eating each other out of starvation,” somebody wrote. There has been no running water since September, and the world is silent.

Palestinians the world over search for snippets of information about their relatives in the camp and, over and over again, see photos of funerals, and that video, in which a boy who hasn’t seen a slice of bread for months tears your heart open with his tears. The descriptions and the photographs that make it out are reminiscent of the eternal photos of concentration camps, or of ethnically cleansed villages in Bosnia.

For we Palestinians who are outside the walls of the Yarmouk refugee camp, our utter and complete helplessness is unbearable. Even organizing a small demonstration in Haifa over the weekend was emotionally trying for the activists, who came with overwhelming despondency, anger and sadness — about the entire world that is simply ignoring what’s happening, about the Arab world that managed to organize a special military force in Yemen overnight, about the silence of the Palestinian Authority, and about the impotence of the international community.

I know that my anger toward the Israeli television presenter who tried to make jokes about my kin in Yarmouk is actually anger about the entire situation. It is anger at the irrationality of it all, the injustice, and the war that is crushing thousands of people — and that nobody cares. It’s a shame. It’s a shame that there isn’t any oil or natural gas under that refugee camp. If there were, I’m sure that an alliance of freedom-seeking nations would quickly come together — with the backing of the UN, of course — to save all those innocent people.

Samah Salaime is a social worker, a director of AWC (Arab Women in the Center) in Lod/Lyd and a graduate of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. She is a blogger for our Hebrew-language sister-site, Local Call, where this article was first published. Read it in Hebrew here.

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Why Israel picks fights with Hezbollah http://972mag.com/why-israel-picks-fights-with-hezbollah/102044/ http://972mag.com/why-israel-picks-fights-with-hezbollah/102044/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 09:38:11 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=102044 And why it will probably pick another one before too long.

IAF fighter jet during an exercise (photo: IDF Spokesperson)

IAF fighter jet during an exercise (photo: IDF Spokesperson)

After Hezbollah’s fatal attack on Israeli soldiers Wednesday, the two enemy sides are in a rare configuration: they’re even. Israel killed six Hezbollah guerrillas and an Iranian general on January 18, so Hezbollah killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven more, and now they’re quits, for the time being. They each told UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon that they didn’t want to escalate things anymore, they wanted calm, and that clearly seems to be the case today.

What an opportunity. From this point forward, Israel and Hezbollah could start fresh, they could each decide not to attack the other, and, in theory, this unofficial cease-fire could last indefinitely.

I believe Hezbollah would go for that, for one simple reason – they know Israel is the incomparably stronger side (which is why they absorbed so many Israeli attacks in the last couple of years with very little response, until Wednesday). They know that starting up with Israel would get them bashed up badly. I think Hezbollah’s ally Iran would go for an indefinite, unofficial cease-fire too – for the same reason – and so would their ally Syria.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Israel would accept that arrangement. The strong in this world get away with things the weak wouldn’t dream of trying, and Israel flies spy jets and drones over Lebanon regularly, it blows up sophisticated weapons on their way from Syria to Hezbollah, and it assassinates Hezbollah and Syrian military officers as well as Iranian nuclear scientists and generals.

Would Israel be willing to give up all those prerogatives in return for Hezbollah unofficially putting down its weapons? I don’t think so, because Israel is filled with too much fear and aggression to trust its deterrent power; instead, it trusts the use of force.

And lately Israel has been zooming in on a whole new Hezbollah “threat” it must “defend against”: the organization’s recent military build-up on the Syrian Golan Heights, across the border from Israel.

After the Hezbollah attack, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “For a while, Iran has been trying, through the Hezbollah, to form an additional terror front against us from the Golan Heights. We are acting with resolve and responsibility against this effort.”

This is Israeli paranoia at work. Hezbollah isn’t gunning for Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights, it’s defending the territory – and its own survival as well as that of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime – from ISIS and the Nusra Front, the latter an Al-Qaeda offshoot.

Even superhawk columnist Guy Bechor made this point in his Yedioth Ahronoth column on Thursday:

This is the last territory still in the hands of the Syrian regime, and this is where Hezbollah has set up a command post and concentrated its forces. What are they doing there? They’ve decided to defend the area at all costs, because if Nusra Front gets across it, they’ll be able to continue north to the Shi’ite and Hezbollah strongholds in the Lebanese valley, turn west toward the Shi’ite areas in south Lebanon, or turn east toward Damascus. …

The sectarian war is more important to these terrorist groups than Israel, and from the standpoint of both the Sunnis [ISIS and Nusra Front] and the Shi’ites [Hezbollah], we are the less threatening enemy.

Yedioth’s center-left star columnist Nahum Barnea made a similar point about Israel’s knee-jerk alarm over Hezbollah’s new deployment. He wrote that Netanyahu’s message that Hezbollah was spreading out across the Syrian side of the border with Israel, and that Israel would carry out all military actions necessary to prevent this, was “adopted immediately by every politician and analyst,” Barnea wrote. He continued:

Let’s assume Hezbollah intends to do this. Is it so terrible? Is it preferable for Israel to sit on the Golan Heights across from the forces of ISIS and Nusra Front? After all, we’re sitting across from them today, from Quneitra [on the Israeli-Syrian border] south, and I haven’t heard that Israel has launched a war against them. Why are we able to go on living across from Hezbollah in Hanita, Metulla, Misgav-Am, Dovev, Kiryat Shmona and Shlomi [near the Lebanese border], but we can’t live across from Hezbollah  in Merom Hagolan [near the Syrian border]?

It’s always about us, we’re always the target, goes the Israeli view, which is why we can’t leave Hezbollah alone even when it’s preoccupied with fighting global jihadists. And out of this same paranoia grows another misperception that causes us to pick fights: the view that the enemy’s weapons are always offensive, meant for attacking us, and never defensive, meant for deterrence or counterattack.

Ari Shavit, star center-left columnist of Haaretz, inadvertently provided a window into this way of thinking in his piece on Thursday.

It’s meant to be a pretty dovish column. He writes, “We must not provoke, we must not act recklessly in a way that could lead to an uncontrollable deterioration. We must not take war-generating steps that could force a dangerous war on Israel.” But at the same time, he sees Hezbollah as being ideologically and perpetually bent on war with Israel:

While many Israelis may harbor understandable guilt over the national Palestinian movement, this is not the case when it comes to the sub-state Shi’ite army in Lebanon. There’s no room for comparison between our peace-seeking democracy and their terrorist totalitarianism. There’s no similarity between our desire to live in peace and their desire to enforce their religious faith by the sword. If we’re forced to go to war against Hezbollah, it will be a war of the sons of light against the sons of darkness, a free society against a fanatical order that threatens freedom.

And because of what he sees as Hezbollah’s scorpion-like nature, Shavit’s conclusion is that “sooner or later a third Lebanon war will break out.” At the same time, though, he says it is “our duty to make every effort to put off the war’s outbreak.”

But the fatal contradiction here is this: If you believe that Hezbollah’s practical goal is to destroy or enslave Israel – an unlikely one considering the imbalance in power between the two sides, which Israel continually demonstrates – then will you forgo the opportunity to bomb the convoys bringing them advanced weapons? Will you pass up a chance to assassinate their key people? Will you stop invading Lebanese airspace to spy on them?

No, you won’t. It wouldn’t make sense. If you believe Hezbollah is working toward conquering or destroying you – that this is not merely their wish, but their concrete goal – it would be suicidal to let them go about their business. So you attack. And by attacking, you violate your principle that “we must not provoke … we must not take war-generating steps that could force a dangerous war on Israel.”

Whatever Israel may say about not wanting to provoke another war with Hezbollah, its superior military strength combined with its bottomless fear will likely lead it, sooner or later, to do just that.

Israeli soldiers killed in Hezbollah retaliation attack
Israeli air strike in Syria: Lies, aggression — at what cost?

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Israeli soldiers killed in Hezbollah retaliation attack http://972mag.com/israeli-soldiers-killed-in-hezbollah-retaliation-attack/101976/ http://972mag.com/israeli-soldiers-killed-in-hezbollah-retaliation-attack/101976/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:25:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101976 Two Israeli soldiers are killed in a cross-border attack on an Israeli patrol road with anti-tank missiles. A Spanish soldier serving with UNIFIL is reportedly killed by Israeli retaliatory shelling. Israeli politicians call for harsh response. Israel killed a Hezbollah commander a week earlier.

File photo of Israeli soldiers patrolling the northern border. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

File photo of Israeli soldiers patrolling the northern border. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Two Israeli soldiers were killed in a cross-border attack on the Lebanese border Wednesday morning, for Hezbollah quickly took responsibility. A Spanish soldier serving with UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, was killed in Israeli retaliatory shelling.

The border attack comes a week after Israel assassinated a Hezbollah commander and an Iranian general in the Quneitra area of the Golan Heights in Syria. In the past 24 hours, two rockets hit the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan Heights and the IDF responded by striking Syrian military positions.

Read also: Air strike in Syria: Lies, aggression — at what cost?

Late Wednesday Wednesday Israeli army vehicles traveling on a patrol road along the Lebanese border fence near Shebaa Farms and the village of Ghajar, which is half in Israel and half in Lebanon, were hit by Kornet anti-tank missiles.

Photos and video obtained by Israeli media showed two vehicles along the border fence completely engulfed in flames.


A statement by Hezbollah taking credit for the attack said it had been perpetrated by its “Quneitra Martyrs unit,” a reference to last week’s Israeli attack in Syria.

In response to the attack, the Israeli military attacked southern Lebanon with artillery and air strikes, killing a Spanish UNIFIL soldier. An IDF Spokesperson said that the army’s response was not over.

A senior IDF source told Ynet that the Spanish UNIFIL soldier was hit “by one of the mortars we fired. We were immediately in contact with the UN, we regret the incident and will examine it. We will draw conclusions, we have no intention of harming UN forces.”

Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 following a similar cross-border attack against a patrol jeep in which two soldiers’ bodies were captured by the Lebanese militant group.

File photo of an Israeli soldier directing a tank. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

File photo of an Israeli soldier directing a tank. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hezbollah has been active in the Syrian civil war and many analysts have indicated that the group is hesitant to enter into a new war with Israel due to being overstretched in Syria.

Israel is less than two months away from general elections. Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah not to test Israel following the attack. Netanyahu pointed to the recent war in Gaza as warning of what could come.

Netanyahu’s main challenger in the elections, Labor’s Isaac Herzog responded to the attack supporting a harsh response, saying: “If somebody in Hezbollah thinks that they can threaten and divide us during elections is badly mistaken — in the fight against terror there is no coalition and no opposition.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for a “harsh and disproportionate” response to the attack.

Israeli air strike in Syria: Lies, aggression — at what cost?
Retired Israeli general suggests Syria attack timed for election effect

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Israeli air strike in Syria: Lies, aggression — at what cost? http://972mag.com/israeli-air-strike-in-syria-preemption-or-aggression/101733/ http://972mag.com/israeli-air-strike-in-syria-preemption-or-aggression/101733/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 11:38:05 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101733 From close up, the assassination of a Hezbollah commander and an Iranian general was probably preemption. In the big picture, it was definitely aggression.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israeli Air Force pilots' course graduation ceremony, June 26, 2014. (Photo by Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israeli Air Force pilots’ course graduation ceremony, June 26, 2014. (Photo by Haim Zach/GPO)

During the Second Intifada, (late 2000-2004) Israel made a habit of carrying out “targeted assassinations” of Palestinian militant leaders. The Palestinians, in turn, had a predilection for blowing up buses and cafes. After an assassination of a high-up Hamasnik or Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades man, some Israelis and many foreigners would question whether it was a good idea, whether it was worth the risk, given the likelihood that the Palestinians would be out for revenge. The routine response from the national leadership was that these Palestinian terrorists are always trying to kill as many Israelis as they can, no matter what Israel does or doesn’t do, so targeted assassinations do not put Israelis in any more danger than they’re already in.

Yet after every targeted assassination of a major Palestinian figure, the political, military and intelligence heads would warn the public that the threat level had just gone red, so they should be on high alert, keep their eyes open.

And I would wonder: if Palestinian terrorists are not influenced by Israeli targeted assassinations, why do Israel’s authorities put the public on high alert after each one?

The answer was that Israel’s authorities – the prime minister, defense minister, IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad – were bullshitting themselves and the public. They wanted to kill big-time terrorists, and they didn’t want to be put off by the risk of major revenge attacks, so they decided that there was no risk, and peddled that bullshit to the public.

Which brings us to Israel’s air strike on Sunday in the Syrian Golan Heights, which killed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general and six Hezbollah fighters, including Jihad Mughniyeh, son of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah military chief whom Israel assassinated seven years ago.

Another head-on contradiction

The security establishment and “Western intelligence sources” immediately put out the word that Mughniyeh “was already planning, and had prepared, more major murderous attacks against Israel in the Golan Heights. These attacks include rocket fire, infiltrations, explosive devices, anti-tank missile fire, etc., with the goal of killing soldiers, hitting Israeli communities in the Golan Heights and killing Israeli civilians,” according to Yedioth Ahronoth, echoing the general coverage.

At the same time, though, Israeli authorities were saying that Hezbollah was not expected to try to strike back too harshly for Sunday’s assassinations because it didn’t want a full-scale confrontation with Israel, certainly not now when it is so heavily preoccupied with fighting on Assad’s side in the Syrian civil war.  “Hezbollah doesn’t want a full-fledged war. It has a number of possibilities to respond in different arenas. We assume that it currently does not want full contact,” former IDF counter-terrorism head Yoram Schweitzer told AFP, in line with the Israeli assessment in the immediate aftermath of the air strike.

Once again, there is a head-on contradiction here: if Hezbollah is not likely to strike back too hard at Israel for fear of a war, why was Jihad Mughniyeh planning to light up the north with rockets, bombs and deadly infiltrations?

They can’t both be true – if Mughniyeh was planning such attacks on Israel, then Hezbollah is not afraid of war with Israel, and would be looking to hit back extremely hard for the assassinations. But if Hezbollah’s response really was likely to be muted out of fear of conflagration with Israel, then it makes no sense whatsoever that Mughniyeh was about to try to kill lots of Israelis.

So which line of bullshit was it? Was the Israeli establishment 1) artificially inflating Mughniyeh’s intentions because it wanted to kill some Hezbollah men and an Iranian general just because? Or was it 2) artificially deflating the likelihood of a major Hezbollah/Iranian retaliation because it wanted to convince itself and the public that the air strike had carried little risk?

I think the answer is 2). I find it hard to believe Hezbollah was not planning to hit Israel hard at some point because Israel, after all, has blasted Hezbollah and Syria repeatedly for the last two years, bombing convoys of Syrian advanced weapons headed for south Lebanon as well as Syrian weapons depots, and killing Syrian and Hezbollah officials along the way. In return, Hezbollah, despite its best efforts, hasn’t managed to do more than injure a few Israeli soldiers with explosive devices on the border, while Syria and Iran have done nothing.

In recent years, Israel has been trashing Hezbollah, Syria and Iran as it pleases, with the only severe counterattack being Hezbollah’s 2012 assault on a tourist bus in Bulgaria, which killed five Israelis and a local bus driver in retaliation for the Mossad’s assassination of Imad Mughniyeh and five Iranian nuclear scientists. The following year Israel began its series of aerial strikes in Lebanon and Syria, the most recent of which took place last month.

So why wouldn’t Hezbollah’s Jihad Mughniyeh, with Iran’s backing, have been planning to hit Israel now?

War of choice

It didn’t have to be this way though. Israel could have a quiet northern border if it wanted to get off the fear-and-aggression treadmill. It taught Hezbollah a very harsh lesson in the 2006 Second Lebanon War; after that it could have adopted a hands-off policy toward Lebanon, Syria and Iran and trusted its military might to deter Hassan Nasrallah’s guerrillas from any further provocations, such as the kidnapping of two soldiers that set off that war. Instead, after the war, Israel went on the offensive and stayed on it, calling this policy – what else? – self defense.

Since Sunday, the popularity of the air strike and credibility of Israel’s leadership have been going straight downhill. First, Knesset candidate and retired IDF general Yoav Galant spilled the beans by saying that such military adventures during election campaigns are not coincidental. Then “security officials,” probably Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon or IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, said out of one side of their mouth that they didn’t know Iranian Gen. Mohammed Allahdadi had been in the ill-fated convoy, while out of the other side saying that Israel did not take responsibility for the attack at all. After that, the claim that Israel didn’t mean to kill Allahdadi stopped being taken seriously.

As did the assurances that Hezbollah will probably limit its counterattack. The North is now on high alert; tanks, soldiers and Iron Domes have been pouring in; a false alarm one morning led roads to be closed and communities to be told to stay indoors; and Gantz and the commander of the Air Force have cancelled their trips abroad.

“The scene envisioned in Israel is of an especially cruel assault,” wrote Yedioth’s very astute and well-connected defense analyst Alex Fishman on Friday. “Hezbollah and the Iranians want to see blood, and lots of it. The assessment is that they will aim the attack at soldiers to extract a painful price from Israel – as many deaths and injuries as possible – to punish, avenge, teach a lesson and deter. The targeted assassinations … put them in a position of having almost no choice.”

Indeed, the weak side that is continually under attack sooner or later has no choice. But the strong side that is continually on the attack does.

Retired Israeli general suggests Syria attack timed for election effect
Israel’s ‘war between wars’ backfires
It seems Israel just picked another fight beyond its borders

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How a Galilee Palestinian beat the odds to become an Arab Idol finalist http://972mag.com/how-a-galilee-palestinian-beat-the-odds-to-become-an-arab-idol-finalist/99998/ http://972mag.com/how-a-galilee-palestinian-beat-the-odds-to-become-an-arab-idol-finalist/99998/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 18:09:41 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=99998 On his way to the finale of one of the most important shows in the Arab world, Haitham Khalailah had to deal with the Shin Bet, restrictions on the movement of Palestinian citizens and the fraught connection between Palestinians in Israel and the rest of the Middle East. Will he be the second Palestinian in a row to be crowned winner?

By Yael Marom and Henriette Chacar

Haitham Khalailah, a 24-year-old Palestinian singer from Majd al-Krum, competed Friday night in the finale of Arab Idol – the most popular singing competition in the entire Arab world. Hundreds of millions of viewers will have to decide by Saturday night whether Khalailah — who was able to unite Palestinians in the occupied territories, Israel and around the world — should win. The other two finalists are Hazem al-Sharif of Syria and Majd al-Madani from Saudi Arabia.

Haitham sang two songs in the semifinals, the first of which was Saber Ruba’i's “Ahla Nisaa al-Dunia” (“The most beautiful women in the world”), followed by “‘Ala Dal’ona,” one of the most important and well-known Palestinian folk songs, which had the entire studio audience on their feet.

Khalailah performs “‘Ala Dal’ona” during the Arab Idol semifinals:

Khalailah began his Arab Idol journey alongside Manal Moussa, another contestant from the north who caused quite a bit of controversy and was subsequently voted off in the quarterfinals. Moussa took a different approach than Khalailah, and succeeded in angering just about everyone.

Moussa started off strong, and seemed like she had a very good chance of reaching the finals. But something happened along the way, likely due to her political, pro-Palestinian rhetoric – which may have been used to get more votes – and the rhetoric of her family members, which contradicted her stance.

Two months ago we wrote about the complexities of Manal and Haitham’s appearance on the show, which included dealing with the Shin Bet, restrictions on the movement of Palestinian citizens of Israel and the fraught connection between Palestinian in Israel and the Arab world.

Read more: Representing Palestine, not Israel: Arab Idol’s contestants from Israel

While the songs and performances are the most central element of the show, Arab Idol also serves as the political focal point of the Arab world. And Khalailah is the shining hope of the Palestinians, who have experienced unrelenting attacks in the past months — from a full-scale operation in the West Bank, to the brutal assault on Gaza to full-blown hate speech and racism against Palestinians in Israel. Khalailah’s presence on the show emphasizes the connection between Palestinians that exists across the world.

’48 Palestinian Arab Idol contestants Manal Moussa and Haitham Khalailah. (Screenshots from Arab Idol, MBC)

’48 Palestinian Arab Idol contestants Manal Moussa and Haitham Khalailah. (Screenshots from Arab Idol, MBC)

But Haitham’s support should not be taken for granted. Until several years ago, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were seen as near-traitors among other Palestinians and much of the Arab world. This time, even during the initial stages of the show, Gaza’s Mohammad Assaf, who was crowned last season’s Arab Idol (and the first Palestinian to win the competition), openly supported the Palestinians contestants. He did not question their identity and did not hesitate from treating them as his natural successors.

Haitham Khalailah and Mohammad Assaf:

The fact that Haitham made it to Arab Idol is in itself a clear-cut political declaration on the part of the Arab world, as well as by Palestinian contestants who insist on maintaining their connection to the Arab world. Haitham, like Majd Kayyal before him, is part of a group of young Palestinians in Israel who are crossing borders and refusing to give up their identities, as well as their cultural and national connection to Arabs across the globe.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was the first to grant legitimacy to Manal and Haitham. The leader of the Palestinian Authority took an unusual step by giving each of them official Palestinian travel documents, which allowed them to reach Beirut. It is well-known that Abbas does not generally insist on maintaining a connection with Palestinian citizens of Israel, and that he doesn’t see them as an integral part of his political decisions. His decision to support Manal and Haitham shows that the connection between Palestinians is stronger than any peace process or border. Abbas is also contemplating opening free Palestinian phone lines for open voting, just as he did when Mohammad Assaf competed in the finals.

Palestinians within Israel have been campaigning for Haitham over the past week, and have even launched an online campaign that brings together artists, media personalities, lecturers, soccer players and business people in support of their representative on the show.

Chances are that Haitham will compete head-to-head with the talented Syrian contestant, who has also received a great deal of support. The Saudi contestant, who some say reached the finale due to his strong financial backing, will most likely not win. Despite the tragedies that have befallen the region, Arab Idol and its finalists prove that life goes on, and that people must find ways to keep struggling. The Arab world will have to make both an artistic and political decision. Perhaps this will be the second year in a row that a Palestinian is crowned winner.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew.

Born and raised in Jaffa, Henriette Chacar is an aspiring journalist. She is fascinated by Palestinian identity on local, regional and global levels. Aside from writing, she is active in various regional cooperation and community development initiatives. Follow her on Twitter: @HenrietteChacar.

Representing Palestine, not Israel: Arab Idol’s contestants from Israel
After ‘Arab Idol’ win, Gaza goes to sleep with hope
‘The Shin Bet was very nice, and therein lies their racism’

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Does a strengthened Hezbollah make Israel safer? http://972mag.com/does-a-strengthened-hezbollah-make-israel-safer/97455/ http://972mag.com/does-a-strengthened-hezbollah-make-israel-safer/97455/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 08:48:57 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97455 The catastrophic outcomes of another Israeli-Hezbollah conflict  for both sides is likely deterring escalation into all-out war. 

By Aaron Magid

Since the Gaza war ended, Israeli media quickly shifted its focus to the next conflict – with Hezbollah. Channel 2 aired an extensive interview with a senior Israeli military officer under the headline “The 3rd Lebanon War” detailing the immense costs such a clash would incur, as if another conflict with Hezbollah is a pre-determined fact.  Referring to the threat, longtime Israeli journalist Ben Caspit warned, “not since the War of Independence has the sovereignty of the Jewish State been in such peril.”

Ironically though, Hezbollah’s increased strength significantly reduces the chances of another war between the two parties.  Even during the clandestine battle between Israel and Hezbollah on Syrian territory which has led to losses on both sides, each leader realizes the outcome of a full-scale war would be unbearably catastrophic. This has caused both sides to scale back their responses and created a formidable mutual deterrence between the adversaries.

In multiple briefings with local press following the Gaza war, senior military officials have warned about Hezbollah’s strength. Hezbollah possesses approximately 100,000 rockets, 10-times the number in Hamas’s arsenal. In contrast to previous battles fought in Lebanon, the Israeli military believes that Hezbollah is now prepared t o send well-trained fighters across the border to conquer an Israeli town. The far more intense conflict could even last up-to four months, cautioned the senior Israeli officer. Any Israeli government understands that these nightmare scenarios must be avoided.

Daniel Sobelman, Research Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, notes that Hezbollah’s ability to provoke such fear is especially impressive given that Hezbollah is a non-state actor and much weaker militarily than Israel. Nonetheless, in a “calculated way,” Nasrallah has managed to establish a “fierce military deterrence vis-à-vis Israel,” Sobelman explains.

During the height of the Gaza war, the IDF presented the Security Cabinet with the estimated costs of a full-scale invasion: hundreds of soldiers killed, tens of billion of shekels lost and gruesome battles in the heart of Gaza City. After this frightening briefing, even Israel’s most hawkish minister Naphtali Bennett rejected a complete re-occupation of Gaza. If Israeli ministers shied away from a battle with the weaker Hamas, one can only imagine the Israeli government’s caution before engaging in a war with Hezbollah, which could inflict horrific damage on Israel.

Yet, the fear on both sides of an all-out war has not prevented the lower-intensity incidents in “grey-areas” away from the Israeli-Lebanese border. Bulgarian officials implicated Hezbollah in the 2012 Burgas attack that killed 5 Israeli tourists. Reputable analysts confirm that Israel assassinated senior Hezbollah leader Hassan Laqqis in a covert operation last year. These conflicts have spread to the Golan Heights where Israel has accused Hezbollah of planting an explosive near the Israeli-Syrian demarcation line.

What unites these strikes is the ability of both sides to credibly deny their roles.  These ambiguous attacks lead to long investigations, allowing the other side to refrain from quickly responding across the volatile Israeli-Lebanese border. Even when Israel or Hezbollah suffer a painful covert strike, its fear of the other’s military strength prevents a direct confrontation, forcing a more limited covert response.

Hassan Nasrallah (delayedgratification/CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Hassan Nasrallah (delayedgratification/CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has voiced the dangers of another war. In a startling admission after the 2006 fighting, which began with the kidnapping two Israeli soldiers, Nasrallah exclaimed, “Now if you ask me if there was a 1% chance that the kidnapping would lead to the war, would you go ahead with the kidnapping? I would say definitely not.”

In this devastating war, Over 1,000 Lebanese were killed, including hundreds of Hezbollah fighters. Severely damaging much of the country’s infrastructure, Israel also left approximately 1 million unexploded ordinances in southern Lebanon, more than one for each of the area’s 650,000 residents.

If these attacks were not enough to deter Hezbollah against launching another war, senior Israeli officials have cautioned that they will use even greater force next time. Israeli Army Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkot warned that in a future war with Hezbollah, Israel would exercise “disproportional force” causing massive damage in Lebanon. “What happened in the Dahiyah quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village to which Israel is fired on,” Eisenkot said. He clarified that “this is not a recommendation” but a “plan that has been approved.”

Increasingly, Nasrallah has been stressing the importance of deterrence in his speeches. “Deterrence is the only way to protect Lebanon and its resources,” he announced in a May 2014 address. The Hezbollah leader understands the importance of deterrence given the imbalance of power between the two parties. As Nasrallah admitted this year, “Israel has one of the strongest armies in the world.”

Hezbollah also faces a completely different regional context compared to the 2006 war. In an August 2014 address, Nasrallah emphasized that Lebanon faced an “existential threat”, not from Israel, but rather from the Islamic State in Syria.

The two most important strategic priorities for Hezbollah now are “preventing the Assad regime from imploding” and “maintaining the status quo in Lebanon” despite a tenuous political climate, explained Randa Slim, Lebanese analyst at the Middle East Institute. Slim also highlighted the organization’s limited capacities after sending so many of its fighters to Syria. A full-scale war with Israel would severely distract Hezbollah from the “existential threat” in Syria and its domestic standing in Lebanon.

Only a few months ago, Israeli Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz conceded that Hezbollah is stronger than any other Arab army. Although many Israelis are frightened by this realization, Hezbollah’s power ironically has played a major role in preventing a future war. Covert operations between the adversaries have raged during the past years and will continue. Yet, both sides’ credible fear of the other’s formidable military capabilities deters Netanyahu and Nasrallah from escalating the conflict to a full-scale war.

Aaron Magid is a graduate student at Harvard University specializing in Middle Eastern Studies. He has written articles on Middle Eastern politics for The New Republic, Al-Monitor and Lebanon’s Daily Star. He tweets at @AaronMagid.



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