Final Words on Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and America

Not being a Muslim or a Jew, I don’t feel any special kinship with the Palestinians or the Israelis. And since I’m not a Christian either, I don’t have any special interest in the so-called “Holy Land”.

Yet I can’t remember being this disturbed by a national or international event since the 2000 Presidential election fiasco and our subsequent fantasy-based invasion of Iraq.

I didn’t mention 9/11. I was in Lower Manhattan that morning and soon thereafter, but that astounding, horrible event didn’t traumatize me as much as the immense fuck-up and scandalous political-judicial decisions that gave us President George W. Bush, and the evil way in which Bush and bastards like Cheney and Rumsfeld used 9/11 to justify their criminal behavior (which, of course, led to much more death and destruction in Iraq than occurred earlier in New York City).

Men (of course it’s almost always us) insist on killing innocent people. 9/11 was another example of that. There were fanatics and ideologues who claimed it was justified, but they were easy to ignore. For some reason, I’m finding it very difficult to ignore what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. It’s so patently wrong, yet so many apparently reasonable people claim it’s completely justified (blind allegiance will have that effect). In addition, writing this blog and trying to be accurate has made me read more about the situation, and the more I read, the angrier I get.

So, regarding accuracy: A few days ago, I cited a United Nations report that said there was an Israeli airstrike on June 11, before the three teenagers were kidnapped, which was followed by someone in Gaza firing rockets at Israel. I’ve since seen another account here that says the rockets were fired before the airstrike. I also cited a Times of Israel article stating that Hamas launched its first barrage of rockets since 2012 on June 30, apparently in retaliation for another Israel airstrike. That implies that the rockets fired earlier in June weren’t fired by Hamas. It’s been pointed out, however, that there are non-Hamas factions in Gaza that sometimes fire rockets (and that Hamas has sometimes stopped them from doing so). The obvious moral here is that it’s often unclear who is doing what in this conflict and who did it first (“truth is the first casualty of war”).

Nevertheless, who first attacked by airstrike or rocket isn’t the main issue. The much bigger story, which many of Israel’s defenders fail to understand or accept, is that Israel provoked this latest round of fighting.

Therefore, as befits an enterprise that Alexa currently ranks as the 13,378,330th most-visited website in the world, I’ll now express my final thoughts on Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, mainly by quoting people who write better and are better informed. Let’s all hope the ceasefire announced last night becomes permanent. (After adding that last sentence just now, I checked and see that last night’s planned 72-hour ceasefire has already been broken.)

Last week, Henry Siegman, a former national director of the American Jewish Congress, published an article called, simply enough, “Israel Provoked This War”.

There seems to be near-universal agreement in the United States with President Barack Obama’s observation that Israel, like every other country, has the right and obligation to defend its citizens from threats directed at them from beyond its borders. But this anodyne statement does not begin to address the political and moral issues raised by Israel’s bombings and land invasion of Gaza: [1] who violated the cease-fire agreement that was in place since November 2012 and [2] whether Israel’s civilian population could have been protected by nonviolent means that would not have placed Gaza’s civilian population at risk.

Siegman quotes a piece by Nathan Thrall, an analyst at the non-profit International Crisis Group, who wrote that:

The current escalation in Gaza is a direct result of the choice by Israel and the West to obstruct the implementation of the April 2014 Palestinian reconciliation agreement [between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization]….Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza…, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt… For many Gazans, and not just Hamas supporters, it’s worth risking more bombardment and now the ground incursion, for a chance to change that unacceptable status quo. A cease-fire that fails to resolve the salary crisis and open Gaza’s border with Egypt will not last.

Siegman also quotes Yitzhak Laor, a writer for Haaretz. Here’s how Laor begins his article:

In the midst of events, with all the TV commotion enveloping the current crisis, one tends to forget the crux of the matter, the continuous chain linking it to previous steps – the foiling of negotiations with the Palestinians, refusal to release prisoners as agreed upon, incitement against their unity government and the expansion of settlements. All of these are part of [Israel’s] right-wing government’s plan to destroy any political entity in the occupied territories, turning the Palestinian people, at best, into a fragmented, marginalized people deprived of their rights.

Siegman concludes that the U.S. needs to exert more pressure on Israel, because the present Israeli government has no interest in a real two-state solution. Halting military aid to Israel would be a great start, of course, rather than resupplying Israel’s military with ammunition, as we shamefully did this week.

More recently, Rashid Khalidi, a professor at Columbia and a former adviser to the Palestinians, writing for The New Yorker called attention to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement at a press conference in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu said:

“I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”

Khalidi concludes that:

What is going on in Palestine today is not really about Hamas. It is not about rockets. It is not about “human shields” or terrorism or tunnels. It is about Israel’s permanent control over Palestinian land and Palestinian lives. That is what Netanyahu is really saying, and that is what he now admits he has “always” talked about. It is about an unswerving, decades-long Israeli policy of denying Palestine self-determination, freedom and sovereignty.

What Israel is doing in Gaza now is collective punishment. It is punishment for Gaza’s refusal to be a docile ghetto. It is punishment for the gall of Palestinians in unifying, and of Hamas and other factions in responding to Israel’s siege and its provocations with resistance, armed or otherwise, after Israel repeatedly reacted to unarmed protest with crushing force….

As Netanyahu’s own words show, … Israel will accept nothing short of the acquiescence of Palestinians to their own subordination. It will accept only a Palestinian “state” that is stripped of all the attributes of a real state: control over security, borders, airspace, maritime limits, contiguity, and, therefore, sovereignty. The twenty-three-year charade of the “peace process” has shown that this is all Israel is offering, with the full approval of Washington. Whenever the Palestinians have resisted that pathetic fate (as any nation would), Israel has punished them for their insolence.

On a more optimistic note, William Saletan sees promise in a plan to demilitarize Gaza in exchange for $50 billion in international aid. That’s 30 times Gaza’s gross domestic product. The demilitarization would be monitored by neutral observers. Whether either side would accept a plan like that is an excellent question.

My own conclusion is that Israel is reasonably satisfied with the status quo, even though it occasionally requires “mowing the grass” in Gaza, as Israeli pundits and officials often put it. The Israelis occasionally provoke a violent response from somebody in Gaza, as they did this time by conducting an extremely aggressive search for those kidnappers, and then use that violent response as justification for open warfare, all the while claiming self-defense.

Israel has occupied Gaza for close to 50 years, and so long as American politicians support the status quo, the situation in Gaza probably won’t change very much. Meanwhile, the Palestinians of the West Bank, who met Israel’s demands to renounce violence and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, will continue to lose ground to Israeli settlers. For a startling look at how many Israeli settlements have been built in the West Bank on land that once belonged to the Palestinians, you can visit this page operated by Americans for Peace Now.

Peace out, as they say.

Haaretz’s Correspondent for the Occupied Territories and Israel’s Prime Minister Each Have Something to Say

Amira Hass was born in Jerusalem in 1956 and has been covering Gaza and the West Bank for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz since 1993. She lived in Gaza for three years and has lived in the West Bank for the past seventeen.

Below is most of a recent article of hers. Her thesis is that “Israel’s attack on Gaza is revenge for the Palestinians’ refusal to accept occupation”. 

Quote: 

“There is method in madness, and the Israeli insanity, which refuses to grasp the extent of its revenge in Gaza, has very good reasons for being the way it is. The entire nation is the army, the army is the nation, and both are represented by a Jewish-democratic government and a loyal press. The four of them work together to stave off the great betrayal: the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize the normalcy of the situation.

The Palestinians are disobedient. They refuse to adapt….The insistent, steadfast demonstrations in West Bank villages have not even scratched the surface of the Israeli faith in the normalcy of our domination of another people. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement did manage to confuse our ego a bit, but it is still not enough to make Israelis want to get the message. The Palestinian reconciliation government seemed to move us another step forward; it had the potential to embark on the path of rejecting the show of normalcy dictated by Israel, but too many forces within Fatah and Hamas did not support it.

Then it was the turn of Hamas’ rockets to disturb the occupier’s rest. Say what you will about it, but they succeeded in doing what the demonstrations, the boycott of Tapuzina orange drink and the concert cancellations did not….

Nation, army, government and press: You have eyes and ears, yet you will not see and you will not hear. You still hope that the Palestinian blood we have already shed and have yet to shed will win a long-term lull, which will bring us back to occupation as usual….

And boy, are you competent when you want to be. The armed Hamas operatives who emerged from the tunnel shaft on Kibbutz Nir Am on Monday were dressed as Israeli soldiers….“Finally, thanks to an aerial photograph taken by a drone, they were found to be Hamas operatives” because “they were carrying Kalashnikov rifles, which the Israeli army does not use”.

So the photographs taken by the drone can be very precise when its operators wish. It can discern whether there are children on the seashore or on the roof — children who, even for the legal acrobats in the Justice Ministry and the army, are not a justifiable target for our bombs. The drone can also discern that a rescue team has arrived to pull out wounded people, that families are fleeing their homes… But for some reason, the eye of the drone that can tell the difference between various makes of rifles cannot tell that this figure over here is a child, and that is a mother or a grandmother….

The Israeliness of the moment is like that drone. It chooses to see blearily. It clings closely to the good, comfortable life of a master nation, unwilling to allow its subjects to interfere with it. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon translated that into political language when he said, “We will not agree to recognize the reconciliation government, but other arrangements such as controlling crossing points is something we can accept. [Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud] Abbas will control the crossing points, but he will not control the Gaza Strip itself.”

That is the routine we are cultivating. Gaza and the West Bank are cut off. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, but under conditions that we dictate, just as Fatah and the Palestinian Authority “rule” in their pockets in the West Bank, in accordance with our conditions. If the Palestinians need to be tamed at times, we will tame them with blood and with more blood. And peace be upon Israel.”

End quote.

Concurrently, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu brought up Nazi Germany, comparing Israel being bombarded by those troubling but generally ineffective Palestinian rockets to England’s suffering at the hands of the Germans in World War II. From Jerusalem Online:

PM Benyamin Netanyahu met British Foreign Affairs Minister Philip Hammond and compared Israel’s condition in these days to the condition in Britain in World War 2. “Israel’s condition is similar to Britain’s when it was bombed as well”, said Netanyahu, clarifying that Israel’s intention is to go forth with the operation: “There is no guarantee of a hundred percent success, however IDF has shown impressive achievements in the field and we are moving forward with this operation… We aim our fire at those who fire rockets at us”.

An estimated 40,000 people died in England during the Blitz. Since the latest hostilities began, three Israeli civilians have been killed by Hamas and fewer than 30 in the past 14 years. The Palestinian death toll just this month is now over 1,000, mostly civilians, with bodies still being recovered during the temporary cease-fire.

If we’re going to talk about the Nazis, a more apt comparison is to their infamous response to resistance movements in occupied countries. From Wikipedia:

The Kragujevac massacre was the murder of Serbian, Jewish and Roma men and boys in Serbia by German Wehrmacht soldiers on 20 and 21 October 1941. All males from the town between the ages of sixteen and sixty were assembled by German troops and [Serbian collaborators]  and the victims were selected from amongst them.

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel had issued an order on 16 September 1941, applicable to all of occupied Europe, to kill 50 communists for every wounded German soldier and 100 for each German soldier killed.

The victims have become victimizers.

beit hanoun

Unorthodox Views on Israel and Gaza

Below are some unorthodox views on what’s happening in Israel and Gaza. They’re not necessarily unorthodox in the religious sense, and they’re definitely not unorthodox in most of the world, but they’re out of the mainstream with respect to public opinion and government behavior in both Israel and the United States. 

To back up a little: I’ve been struggling this week to write another post about the massacre in the Gaza Strip. “Massacre” is a more appropriate term than “war” given the numbers published today by Haaretz (Israel’s oldest daily newspaper):

In Gaza, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge surpassed the 800 mark, most of them since Israel entered Gaza a week ago. Israel military fatalities stand at 35 since the operation commenced.

It should also be noted that at least one Israeli civilian has been killed as the result of a Hamas rocket attack.

I’m not sure why this subject has got such a hold on me, since people are being massacred in other places, but I think it’s because so many apparently sensible people insist on defending what Israel is doing. For example, here are selections from three letters printed in The New York Times a few days ago (two other letters were critical of Israel’s behavior):

As to Israel’s response to Hamas [the “Islamic Resistance Movement” voted into power in Gaza in 2006], it is proportional to the number of missiles launched against us. Whether these missile attacks are successful or not is not the point… They have the potential to wreak havoc…So far Israel has been concentrating on destroying tunnels that cross the border and missile stockpiles. I consider that a “proportional” response. As in any war, sometimes people are hurt or killed. Israel has nothing to apologize for.

It is a credit to Israel’s moral stature that it is doing everything it can to limit the killings of innocent civilians in Gaza…

Please report about the civilian bomb shelters in Gaza. Wait, there are none. Instead, Hamas uses its citizens as human shields for munitions and to increase Israeli casualties for the media.

It’s true that Hamas has launched thousands of rockets toward Israel in the past 14 years, which is clearly a violation of international law, but those rockets have caused fewer than 30 civilian deaths. That’s why the author of the first letter only claims that Israel’s actions have been proportional to the missiles launched and not to the actual effect of those missiles, which are unguided and usually don’t hit anything. 

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Force (the IDF) announced a few days ago that it had already struck more than 3000 targets in Gaza using its very high-tech weaponry. Since Gaza is about the size of Philadelphia, that’s more than 20 targets per square mile. And since 1.8 million people live in Gaza (300,000 more than in Philadelphia), it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the bulk of the Palestinians casualties have been civilians and a large percentage of those civilians have been children. 

Stating that “sometimes people are hurt or killed in war”, as the author of the first letter does, obviously (I’d say “obscenely”) downplays the extent of this massacre. If the Israeli armed forces are truly doing everything possible to limit civilian casualties, as the second author claims, their efforts are clearly failing. As for whether it’s all Hamas’ fault for not building bomb shelters and storing weapons near people (remember, we’re talking about an area the size of Philadelphia but with a bigger population), the powers that be in Hamas are certainly at fault. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the Israelis who have chosen to proceed with their massive assault anyway.

All of which finally brings me to the other unorthodox opinions I wanted to share.

First, after seriously considering the consequences, an Israeli named Etgar Keret wrote an article for his fellow citizens that’s been translated and reprinted by The New Yorker (the full article, which isn’t long, is well worth reading):

In the past week I’ve seen and heard the popular statement “let the I.D.F. win” more and more frequently. It’s been posted on social media, spray-painted on walls, and chanted in demonstrations. Lots of young people are quoting it on Facebook, and they seem to think it’s a phrase that arose in response to the current military operation in Gaza. But I’m old enough to remember how it evolved: first formulated as a bumper sticker, …it contains within it the twisted world view that has been guiding Israel for the past twelve years….

Twelve years, five operations against Hamas (four of them in Gaza), and still we have this same convoluted slogan…. In each of these operations there have been right-wing politicians and military commentators who pointed out that “this time we’ll have to pull all the stops, take it all the way, until the end.” Watching them on television, I can’t help but ask myself, What is this end they’re striving toward? Even if each and every Hamas fighter is taken out, does anyone truly believe that the Palestinian people’s aspiration for national independence will disappear with them?

It’s an awful thing to make a truly tragic mistake, one that costs many lives. It’s worse to make that same mistake over and over again….The only thing that actually changes is Israeli society’s tolerance for criticism. It’s become clear during this operation that the right wing has lost its patience in all matters regarding that elusive term, “freedom of speech.” In the past two weeks, we’ve seen right wingers beating left wingers with clubs, Facebook messages promising to send left-wing activists to the gas chambers, and denunciations of anyone whose opinion delays the military on its way to victory….This road is not a circle, it’s a downward spiral, leading to new lows….

More optimistically, Peter Beinart, an American Jew who is a professor at New York University, suggests a way out of this situation for both Israel and the Palestinians in an article for Haaretz called “Israel’s Best Weapon Against Hamas”, which is also well worth reading in full:

The short answer is that I’d treat the [Hamas] rockets as military symptoms of a political problem. That doesn’t mean Israel shouldn’t return fire. If Hamas and Islamic Jihad can attack Israel with impunity, they may never stop. But returning fire—or even invading Gaza—will never make Israel safe….

So what would I do? First, I’d seek a cease-fire that eases those aspects of Israel’s blockade that have no legitimate security rationale. (That doesn’t mean acceding to Hamas’ cease-fire demands but it means recognizing that a cease-fire that does nothing to address the blockade – as Israel wants – won’t last). [Note: Israel has maintained a land, air and sea blockade of Gaza since 2007. Most observers, including officials representing the United Nations and the Red Cross, consider the blockade to be illegal.] 

Since 2010, Israel has made it easier for goods to enter Gaza. But it still makes it extremely difficult for goods to leave….Essentially barring Gazan exports to Israel and the West Bank — historically Gaza’s biggest markets — is both inhumane and stupid. It’s helped destroy the independent business class that could have been a check on Hamas’ power, and left many in Gaza with the choice of working for Hamas or receiving food aid. In addition to goods, Israel should make it easier for people to leave Gaza, too.

Second, I’d let Hamas take part in a Palestinian unity government that prepares the ground for Palestinian elections. That doesn’t mean tolerating Hamas attacks, to which Israel should always reserve the right to respond. But it means no longer trying to bar Hamas from political participation because of its noxious views.

Without free elections — which means elections in which all major Palestinian parties can run — Palestinian leaders will never enjoy authority in both Gaza and the West Bank nor the legitimacy to make painful compromises on behalf of their people….

Finally, Israel should do everything it can — short of rigging the elections — to ensure that Hamas doesn’t win. Already, polls show that [Palestine President Mahmoud] Abbas would defeat Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh easily…. But Israel could also help ensure Hamas’ defeat by showing Palestinians that Abbas’ strategy of recognizing Israel, and helping it combat terrorism, actually works. It could do so by freezing settlement growth and publicly committing to a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines with a capital in East Jerusalem. That would give Abbas an instant boost.

Hamas’ great ally is despair…Nothing would weaken Hamas more than growing Palestinian faith that through nonviolence and mutual recognition, they can win the basic rights they’ve been denied for almost half a century. Israel’s best long-term strategy against Palestinian violence is Palestinian hope.

By the way, the unemployment rate in Gaza is roughly 50%. Malnutrition is widespread and the water supply is contaminated.

If you’d like a more complete view of what’s happening in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, and also be exposed to a broader range of opinion than what generally appears in American media, Haaretz was recently offering a one-month subscription to its website for one dollar. There is a much more vigorous and critical debate regarding the Israeli government’s policies in Israel than in the United States, even though the U.S. contributes billions of dollars in military aid to Israel (a practice that should stop right now).