THE WEEK THAT WAS (We Wish it Wasn’t) [ssba]

THE WEEK THAT WAS (We Wish it Wasn’t)

 

Perhaps never before have Israeli and American Jewish liberals felt so angry, frustrated, and, above all, impotent regarding both Israeli and American policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Our red lines have been repeatedly crossed, our warnings have gone unheeded; we have little influence in Washington and less in Jerusalem and we are reduced, Cassandra-like, to cautioning darkly of inevitable catastrophes that will materialize in the near and medium futures.  Perhaps it is all too appropriate that Tisha b’Av is the next holiday on the Jewish religious calendar.

As the week from May 8 through May 15 unfolded, we were barraged by events we oppose and have warned against for years: Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the glittering and religiously toxic ceremony transferring the American Embassy to Jerusalem and, most horrific of all, the killing of 61 Palestinians and wounding of over 1500 Palestinians at the Gaza border fence as the culmination of the six week ‘March of Return’, led by Hamas, while the ceremony in Jerusalem proceeded.  Israelis supported all of these actions by wide margins.  This is on top of Israel’s biggest air operation in years, directed against the Iranian military buildup in Syria in the wake of Bashar Assad’s apparent victory in the seven-year Syrian civil war.  The other shoe has yet to drop in the latter operation; i.e., whether, when, and how Iran, together with its Hezbollah allies, will retaliate against Israel or maintain its Syrian buildup.

As I sit in a beautiful Jerusalem garden the morning after Shavuot waiting for the heat to drive me indoors, I am forced to contemplate what we on the Left who support Israel but abhor its current policies should do – and what we can do to make our voices heard in effective ways.  While neither Trump nor Bibi will be with us forever, their legacies – and especially the fears they have engendered – will continue to add to the violence and belligerence in the entire region for years to come.

Let’s unpack these issues one by one and see where we are and what we might do about it.

On the Iran deal, there is little we can accomplish.  The question is whether the European powers, together with Russia and China, who also have a stake in a non-nuclear Iran, can make it worth Iran’s while to maintain the safeguards intended to be locked in through the JCPOA.  President Rouhani of Iran is no western-style democrat, but he represents the only effective domestic opposition to the hardline Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC).  We should be empowering him in that opposition, instead of reinforcing the IRGC’s worldview that the West is single-mindedly bent on regime change.  The only hopeful development that can be discerned is that Iran apparently is by no means eager to get into a war with Israel or the US, would prefer to stay in the JCPOA, and may calibrate its actions accordingly, perhaps even including its military activities in Syria.

With regard to Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, they seem to be at rock bottom, which by no means precludes their getting even worse. Nonetheless, it appears that, in the short run, the current Israeli policy of ferocious and murderous response to any Palestinian initiative to change the status quo is succeeding, at least for the moment.  I cannot believe that, at some not-too-distant point, Israel’s almost casual killing of over 100 Palestinians and wounding of over 7000(!) more will not come back and haunt us.

Israel’s actions on the Gaza border have already been raked over from every conceivable point of view and it is hard to add much new to the acrimonious debate, except this, based on years of observing and studying Hamas.  Black-and-white scenarios that separate the “innocent” (ordinary) Palestinians from the “guilty” (Hamas, along with Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other such groups) rarely approximate reality, nor do they lead to effective policy, except in the shortest of runs.  Hamas has now ruled Gaza for exactly ten years and, since Israel makes it virtually impossible to leave, everyone living there must find a way to coexist with Hamas in power.  It seems clear that the “March of Return” was originally planned by independent groups (which should not even exist under the black-white scenario) but Hamas became a major player more recently.

There is no doubt that Hamas members (whether designated as operatives, soldiers, or terrorists) were among the tens of thousands of marchers, but there is likewise no doubt that the vast majority of them were ordinary Gazans, who are utterly fed up with the impossible conditions under which they have lived for more than ten years, and refused to heed the Israeli admonitions to stay home.  Belief that this continuous experience of horrendous living conditions with no realistic hope for change is what brought out the large majority of marchers is invidiously labelled the “Hamas narrative.” The other (Israeli) narrative is that the innocents were paid, forced, or both, and that they were simply a smokescreen for the terrorist arms, bombs, and kites.  In other words, ‘ordinary’ Gazans are solely pawns, to be passively trotted out to be killed or wounded whenever Hamas wishes.

This fantasy defies belief.  As many have pointed out, any self-respecting person cooped up in Gaza for 10 years would almost certainly seize the opportunity to get the world’s attention for their plight, whether fan or foe of Hamas.  And Hamas is eager to come to some sort of open terms with Israel.  Just last week, it offered Israel a 10 year hudna (truce), which was immediately and contemptuously rejected by Defense Minister Lieberman.  Israel, as by far the stronger party, can and must take the lead in trans­forming Gaza’s reality, of course taking into account Hamas’s response as well.  There is no doubt that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and calls for its destruction, but it also appears to accept the two-state solution in Article 20 its most recent ‘Document of General Principles and Policies’.  Israel must try to ‘engage’ Hamas since it knows it can’t destroy it. Instead, it seems to hew forever to its long- failed policy based on hope that Gazans will throw out Hamas if only their situation becomes horrendous enough, and that they will blame Hamas for the death and wounds inflicted by IDF snipers.

Of course the dichotomy between “peaceful, unarmed marchers” and “terrorists invading Israel” is simplistic and false.  Among the thousands of unarmed marchers there clearly were some who were determined to kill or capture Israelis if the opportunity arose – and it was indeed the IDF’s responsibility to prevent that opportunity.  But the other dichotomy – the one between killing and wounding thousands, on the one hand, and watching passively while the marchers invade Israel, on the other – is equally absurd.  The IDF and Israeli police have successfully and nonviolently confronted numerous Haredi marchers in Jerusalem and evacuated settlers from Gaza in 2005, so it is not exactly without experience in this area.

Finally, there is the specious argument that because the marchers’ official slogan called for the ‘Right of Return’, they were therefore bent on Israel’s destruction and that justified anything the IDF could do to stop them.  The fact is that the 1948 refugees and their descendants, who comprise the vast majority of Gaza’s population, will continue to demand RoR until some realistic alternative is presented to them, such as a genuine Palestinian state.  Those marchers were not in any way an existential threat to Israel, and should have been dealt with as protesters, not invaders.

So I want to invite all those who feel like I do about these calamities to do what they can, whether working on the midterm elections, supporting the many active and progressive Israeli NGO’s working for positive change, or helping to convince their friends and neighbors that this is not the way, and Bibi’s Israel can and must be changed.  And also, please support Partners for Progressive Israel in our educational activities that demonstrate a different way to support Israel, that does not involve lining up behind Bibi.


Paul Scham, President

Meet Israel’s Bernie Sanders: MK Ilan Gilon [ssba]

Meet Israel’s Bernie Sanders: MK Ilan Gilon

The original article was written by Nir Yahav and published in Walla Magazine on December 22, 2016. We thank Dana Mills for translating and Peter Eisenstadt for editing.

In early December, to the surprise of Israel’s right-wing government, the Knesset passed MK Ilan Gilon’s bill on a preliminary reading making disability benefits at least equal to the minimum wage. In effect the bill would more than double the monthly allowance paid to the disabled to equal the minimum wage. Currently disability benefit is 2,341 shekels ($616), while the minimum wage is 5,000 shekels ($1,315). Read More »

Zehava Galon, They Stopped Trying to Show They Care [ssba]

Zehava Galon, They Stopped Trying to Show They Care

Two children were orphaned on Friday. In a split second the few memories they had of their father became the only memories they will ever have of him. They’ll have to make up the rest from stories and photos, and from the void in the lives of his relatives.

I don’t know what happened near the Ofra Settlement on Friday and why the Iad Zacharia Hamid was shot to death. Yedioth Ahronot explained that the soldiers felt threatened because Hamid got too close to the secured booth in which they were stationed. It might be true. But two children lost their father, and someone, probably an 18 year-old, has to live with it now.

Just recently Reserve General Uzi Dayan described how he had covered up the killing of five unarmed Palestinians, and everyone was fine with it. This week an unarmed Palestinian was killed in El Fawaar and 32 were injured, mostly in the knees. Some will never walk again. Perhaps the soldiers felt threatened there too. It is hard to judge a kid who enters a Palestinian village and fears for his life. But the media and politicians gave this incident almost no attention.

We and the Palestinians live in an insane routine. Both sides pay a hefty price. Though there is no doubt that the Palestinians pay a heavier price. Over the last few weeks we’ve gotten reports of more raids and more injured. Not all the injured were armed. I understand that people have given up on solving the conflict, but too many times it seems that politicians have given up as well. Every week more people die and more get injured. Every year or two we have a military operation in Gaza. But at the moment the only thing the government cares about is a scandal involving the Minister of Transportation. They’ve stopped even trying to show that they care.

You can find the original post here.

Translation: Dana Mills

Tomer Persico, Ariel Sharon is Smiling in Hell [ssba]

Tomer Persico, Ariel Sharon is Smiling in Hell

It’s the month of Av again, and we again “remember” the Gaza evacuation and the destruction of Gush Katif. Why “remember”? Because memories are always selective. They tell us now that the “disengagement” was a leftist idea, supported by leftists, and implemented by other leftists. They tell us that though Leftists claim to oppose the violation of human rights violations, the left did not prevent it.

So let’s put speak truth to the lies.

Disengagement?

It was not a “disengagement,” which is a nice name for a horrible deed. It was a military withdrawal from an occupied territory, the evacuation of over 8,000 people from their homes and the destruction of twenty-one settlements. The process included directing the state’s resources—the military, police, judiciary and media—to suppress and silence any opposition. The entire state apparatus was mobilized to carry out a controversial operation while violently silencing—yes, violently—opposing voices. The settlers, and occasionally the entire religious Zionist, became public enemies, “threats to democracy,” and the media, the legal system, and the politicians treated them as such. Read More »

Bar Heffetz, The 2014 Gaza-War was Netanyahu’s Soft Underbelly [ssba]

Bar Heffetz, The 2014 Gaza-War was Netanyahu’s Soft Underbelly

It’s been two years since the end of Operation Protective Edge (2014 Israel–Gaza War) and we must admit that we failed.

Israel’s government didn’t fail. It was actually quite successful. It’s easy to be successful if your only goal is to survive, live through another month, and make it to the next election without a war. In the period between elections, the government can ramble on about the construction of dangerous tunnels, checkpoints, the Turks, and occasionally play “who has the bigger cock” with Hamas.

The media also met its goals: everyone knows that Gaza isn’t sexy, the Gaza envelope is far away, and people don’t want to know or understand. At least until there’s a war. And wars are good for ratings. Next time we’ll also all unite around our screens, declare “Quiet, we’re at war,” and fake collectivism.

The IDF might have failed a little. But there’s a new Chief of Staff, and there’s new tech to deal with the tunnels . . . So what if a few residents on the Gaza border no longer believe a word the army says?

So who really failed? Read More »

Zehava Galon, Two Years after Operation Protective Edge [ssba]

Zehava Galon, Two Years after Operation Protective Edge

It is terrifying to think that next time it might be you. You’ll open the door and a military officer will be standing there with a death notification. This time it will be you who has to figure out how to live with the loss. How to get out of bed into a world where the person who was supposed to be with you is no longer there, realizing you will never argue again or share private jokes. We all suppress this fear, perhaps because we cannot otherwise go on. But we all know – that there are those among us who pay the price of wars, military operations and terrorist attacks. Any name can be drawn up in this terrible lottery including yours and those closest to you. And we also understand that when a bereaved parent says that s/he has “paid the price” only a few fully understand what s/he means. Read More »

Avi Dabush, Building Rainbow Coalitions [ssba]

Avi Dabush, Building Rainbow Coalitions

We had a wonderful conversation with Avi Dabush yesterday. Avi is a dynamic community organizer. He has lead a variety of social and political struggles in Israel. In the last elections, he ran for Knesset as part of Meretz. Throughout the campaign Avi was a leading voice on issues of Mizrahi identity and social justice.

Until recently he was the program director at SHATIL, the New Israel Fund’s initiative for social change. Avi left in January to devote his time to building what he calls “Rainbow coalitions.” He spoke to us about sectarianism which divides Israeli society, and the attempts to build grassroots movements uniting people and focusing on their shared interests. Avi argues that focusing on shared experience allows people to transcended identity differences and focuses on commonalities.

He told us his motto is the African Proverb – “If you want to walk fast walk alone, if you want to walk far, walk together!”

Michael Manekin, Sitting on the Fence: The problems with Herzog’s Disengagement Plan [ssba]

Michael Manekin, Sitting on the Fence: The problems with Herzog’s Disengagement Plan

Mikhael Manekin is the executive director of Molad, the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy. Yesterday he posted the best response I have seen to Isaac Herzog’s Disengagement plan. In essence, he argues that plan looks more like a PR stunt than a real policy. Herzog avoids discussing real issues and does not offer solutions to most problems. But Manekin’s most significant contribution is his observation that Herzog simply fails to perceive himself as an alternative to Netanyahu. He cannot imagine a universe in which Netanyahu will not be Israel’s Prime Minister. This is an interesting psychological failure – one I had not expected of the leader of the opposition.

Translation by Maya Haber from The Hebrew original: Read More »

We Can Stop the Next Gaza War Now! [ssba]

We Can Stop the Next Gaza War Now!

The next war with Hamas in Gaza is around the corner. Reuters reports that Israelis near Gaza fear Hamas is tunneling beneath them. And Benjamin Netanyahu warned the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza on Sunday that his country will retaliate with “greater force” than deployed in the 2014 Gaza war if cross-border tunnels are used to attack Israel.

MK Tamar Zandberg posted this on Facebook in response:

In the last few days, it seems like the next Gaza war is around the corner. Like a foretold accident that no one is trying to prevent.

It starts with a “trickle” that has fallen (a euphemism for missiles). The Gaza envelope residents are complaining about the noise of tunnel construction under their homes. Netanyahu is threatening to bomb ‘More than in Operation Protective Edge.” And Buji Herzog, proving he is on Netanyahu’s right, suggesting to bomb earlier and more powerfully.

On the other side there is Gaza. Gaza is experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis, shortage of water and electricity, its sewage spills into the Mediterranean and tens of thousands of families are homeless. But simultaneously Hamas continues investing resources in preparing an attack on Israel. Read More »

Podcast: Life Around the Gaza Strip [ssba]

Podcast: Life Around the Gaza Strip

Before setting off for my journey through Israel and Palestine I wanted first-hand accounts of life in this region. I have always thought it was not enough to read news articles and books and call myself ‘aware of issues’. Therefore, this episode is simply two people telling of their lives as they surround Gaza. Both of them have very different experiences as Roni is an Israeli who maintains friendships and volunteers with Gazans whereas Ahmed lives in Gaza, but they come to similar conclusions.

Below is the text from Ahmed Gamal’s story to help follow along. He wrote this last year when his frustrations were peeked by the war; there are minimal edits, despite his limited command of English, to preserve the authenticity of his voice: Read More »