The Guns of November [ssba]

The Guns of November

The calendar is currently full of anniversaries and commemoration of major events that happened exactly 100 year ago, during or in the aftermath of World War I, such as the Balfour Declaration on Nov. 2. A particularly horrendous anniversary is already more than three years old; namely, the outbreak of World War I, famously dubbed “The Guns of August,” by Barbara Tuchman, Unfortunately, recent events force inescapable comparisons to August 1914, with Lebanon playing the role of Serbia and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salmon (MBS) of Saudi Arabia as a far too believable Kaiser Wilhelm II, the chief villain back then, though there was (and is) far more than enough blame to go around. Will things now turn out as they did then?

As anyone who’s looked at the news during the last week knows already, MBS last weekend orchestrated (likely demanded) the resignation of Said Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, a Sunni Muslim who has always been close to the Saudis (he’s even a Saudi citizen). Hariri made the announcement from Riyadh, and is still there, leading to strong suspicions he is being detained, though he denied that a week later. Simultaneously, MBS was “appointed” head of a new anti-corruption agency and immediately arrested perhaps 500 leading Saudis on corruption charges, including 11 royal princes, i.e., his cousins. There is no doubt that MBS is using this to change the kingdom from a comfortable oligarchy run for the benefit of the several thousand descendants of its founder, Abdul-Aziz Al- Saud, into an autocratic dictatorship a la Putin, Erdogan, Xi, Orban, Duterte, and presumably the dreams of Donald Trump.

In fact, MBS resembles Trump more than any of the others, being similarly impetuous and inexperienced, though MBS has a better excuse; he is 31 while Trump is forty years his senior. Trump, clearly still glowing from his Saudi welcome in May and its purchase of $110 billion in US arms, has put himself foursquare behind his young friend. Trump also, like Obama before him, has supported Saudi Arabia’s brutal and seemingly pointless air war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has continued since 2015, turning Yemen into probably the worst basket case on earth, with no discernible political advantage.

MBS clearly sees that war, like several others, as really against Shi’a Iran, which has undoubtedly provided some help to the Houthis but no serious expert considers the Houthis an Iranian proxy, though their brand of Islam is a variant of mainstream Shi’ism. Then last week, a Houthi missile apparently landed near Riyadh, allegedly manufactured in Iran, which MBS declared an act of war, backed up by Trump. (By that logic, US gun manufacturers should be held liable for the damage and death their products cause, which extension Trump certainly wouldn’t approve of).

In June of this year, right after Trump’s visit, MBS, in concert with other Gulf states and Egypt, launched a fullscale boycott against Qatar, claiming it supports terrorists. It was immediately clear that their grievance against Qatar, though no democracy itself, rather stemmed from its support of al-Jazeera and its unflattering coverage of other Arab states, as well as Qatar’s independent foreign policy. While Qatar is not a model democracy itself and al-Jazeera has its own biases, it has been invaluable in bringing an infinitely better class of journalism to the Middle East and the rest of the world. Trump immediately tweeted his support for the boycott, though he’s since moderated that, belatedly realizing Qatar is itself a major American ally.

Of course, all this has transpired against the background of the apparent defeat of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) and the victory of Bashar Asad’s forces, now completely beholden to his allies who enabled his victory in Syria’s bloody civil war, namely Hezbollah, Russia and especially Iran (in the latter case “proxy” probably fits.) Hezbollah suffered considerable casualties in Syria, but undoubtedly burnished its reputation, making it that much stronger in its Lebanese home, where it is both an independent (i.e. Iran-influenced) militia and a part of the governing coalition, which presumably leads us back to why the Saudis are disrupting Lebanese politics.

Israel has, of course, been keeping a watchful eye on both Lebanon and Syria, and has even admitted carrying out some bombings in Syria when fighting got too close for comfort, as well as destroying supply caravans headed to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Despite this interdiction, Hezbollah reportedly has now deployed 120,000 missiles aimed at Israel, many apparently with the range to hit Tel Aviv, not to mention Haifa and most of the rest of Israel. Israel of course has its own defensive and offensive capabilities but under these circumstances, if it a war of missiles, it’s hard to believe it would escape unscathed, perhaps more so than in any war since 1948. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, claims that Saudi Arabia is inciting Israel to attack Lebanon, though no evidence has been provided.

President Trump, of course, has played a menacing, if somewhat offstage role in this. He has made Iran his chief bête noir in the Middle East, almost comparable to ‘rocket man’’ Kim Jong Un in Northwest Asia. He has declined to recertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 JCPOA but, characteristically, left it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions and thus give Iran free reign to move towards a nuclear bomb, though it appears Congress is likely to decline the invitation.

So now it’s back to the 1914 analogy when, it is usually agreed, none of the European powers (with the possible exception of Germany) wanted war, but they found themselves in a horrendous one, nevertheless. Similarly, none of the current players seek a war, with the possible exception of MBS and perhaps Trump, both of whom are anxious to burnish their toughness credentials – and neither of whom has accomplished much in their respective short tenures. Trump has the advantage that a Middle East war would probably not directly involve the US, but you can bet he’d be lustily cheering from the sidelines and supplying as many armaments as he could.

Will cooler heads prevail? In this case, unbelievably, the cooler heads (everything is relative) belong to Bibi Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, the Iranian leadership, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and, perhaps, other Mideast notables such as Turkey’s President Erdogan. None would normally appear on anyone’s list of cooler heads. But here, compared to MBS and Trump, all the others are experienced and, though by no means necessarily adverse to war, probably have a more realistic idea of what war in this context might mean and almost certainly would prefer to avoid it. This is likely in strong contrast to Trump and MBS, neither of whom have any experience with it and don’t seem too worried about its prospect.

I personally think there won’t be a war at this time, though perhaps that is simply wishful thinking. But it is a striking and discomfiting circumstance to find our safety hostage to the ‘cooler’ heads of some of the most dangerous men in the world.

Israel doesn’t need a religious war on the Temple Mount! [ssba]

Israel doesn’t need a religious war on the Temple Mount!

Last week three armed assailants launched an attack on the Temple Mount to ignite a religious war. They killed two policemen. Nevertheless, the State of Israel needs to carefully consider its response. The wrong response could engulf the entire region.

For generations, Jews prayed at the Western Wall and avoided ascending to the Temple Mount. On June 10, 1967, just three days after General Motta Gur had famously declared, “The Temple Mount is in our hands,” the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi said that Halakha (traditional religious law) forbade Jews to visit the site. Two weeks later, the leading Sephardi authority, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, stated that even flying over the site was forbidden. The then Religious Affairs Minister Zerach Warhaftig, a member of the National Religious Party, noted that, “It makes me happy” [that Halakha forbids us from visiting the Mount] “because we can avoid a conflict with the Muslim religion.”

Since the Oslo Accord, the Israeli far Right has been pushing to change the status quo and thus provoke the Muslim world. Why? Because manifesting Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount has become more important than traditional Halakha. For example, in recent years the number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount has grown by 250%. In a survey asking “Why are you going up to the Temple Mount?,” 96.8 percent replied that visiting the site would constitute “a contribution to strengthening Israeli sovereignty over the holy place.”

A few facts:

  • The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is one of the most sacred places for both Judaism and Islam. As a result, it is also one of the most volatile places in the world.
  • In 1967 the Israeli government allowed the Muslim Waqf to continue managing the Temple Mount. This is the status quo. The Waqf is responsible for allowing Muslims to pray and Jews to visit the site.
  • The decision to install metal detectors at the entrance isn’t really about security. It is a continuation of the religious zealots’ attempt to assert Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Do you need proof? Both the IDF and the Shin Bet [Israel’s security service] oppose it. The metal detectors wouldn’t have prevented last week’s attack, because it was done outside the gates.
  • Worse yet, the decision was taken unilaterally without consulting the Waqf. Rather than provide security, these metal detectors are already escalating the situation.

Israel is in a political conflict with the Palestinians; not a religious one with the Muslim world. Zealots on both sides want otherwise. They are eager to bring a religious war to end all wars to the Middle East. We must do everything in our power to prevent them.

The last thing Israelis – or Palestinians – need is a religious war on the Temple Mount. The decades-long political one between them is bad enough. For both sides.

The text was inspired by a Hebrew Peace Now Facebook and Tomer Persico’s wonderful piece, Myth and Modernity: The End Point of Zionism

Have you heard of ‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield’? [ssba]

Have you heard of ‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield’?

‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield’ exemplifies how wedded Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank is to its devastating economic policies toward its own citizens.

In March 2002, two days after the terrorist attack on a Seder dinner in Netanya’s Park Hotel killed 30 and injured 160 people, the IDF unleashed ‘Operation Defensive Shield.’ The largest military operation in the West Bank since 1967, the operation sought to retake Palestinian cities in area A and shield the Israeli public from terror. For the first time Israelis in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem felt the consequences of Occupation on a daily basis. Restaurants, buses and clubs were exploded all around. Suicide bombers killed 21 teens in the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv, 16 in the Matza restaurant in Haifa, and 11 in Jerusalem’s Café Moment. Everyone feared a loved one could be next. And the Israeli public was willing to pay any price to end this nightmare.

At that very moment Ariel Sharon’s government also declared ‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield.’ The plan sought to support the growing defense budget to combat terrorism (not only for the IDF and security services, but also the police), while reducing the national deficit.

How? Austerity: a series of drastic cuts to the National Insurance Institute, eroding the social safety net, education, health, welfare, and housing services. Within a year, the poverty level among families increased from 18% to 20%. Read More »

Israeli Progressive Millennials Speak about the Occupation [ssba]

Israeli Progressive Millennials Speak about the Occupation

Bar Gissin, the co-chair of Young Meretz, 28, says her generation, was raised amid continuous conflict with the Palestinians. She was 10 years old when the Second Intifada erupted in 2000. Her generation has no direct memory of glorious years of Oslo. Yet, rather than engage the reality of the Conflict, the leadership of the progressive camp remains stuck in the political rhetoric of the 1990s.

“They refer to the 1990s as a relevant point of reference,” she says about how Israeli’s leftwing leadership confronts the Occupation, “and that’s insane! It happened 25 years ago! All the leaders who were involved are dead and there is no peace. The [peace] process didn’t succeed!”

Her generation, she says, deeply distrusts their party’s leadership. Party leaders refuse to soberly examine the current political conjecture and think they can miraculously win elections and end to the Occupation by relying on the voting patterns from the 1990s. And though they lose time and again, they continuously wax about the glorious years of Oslo.

Gissin stresses the historic role of Israeli Millennials is to rebuild a left that is political relevant and confronts the challenges Israelis experience in 2017 head on. This New Left is a progressive network consisting of labor unions, grassroots social movements, and NGOs. Only such a broad network of activists and organizations, Gissen and her allies stress, can take power and bring an end to the Occupation.

Gershon Shafir – Israel maintains the occupation by denying it [ssba]

Gershon Shafir – Israel maintains the occupation by denying it

Gershon Shafir is the author of the recently published: A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict

In these timely and provocative essays Gershon Shafir inquires “What is the occupation?” “Why has this occupation lasted so long?” and “How has the occupation transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?” in order to figure out how we got here, what here is, and where we are likely to go. He expertly demonstrates that at its fiftieth year, the occupation is riven with paradoxes, legal inconsistencies, and conflicting interests that weaken the occupiers’ hold and leave the occupation itself vulnerable to challenges.

Gershon Shafir is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author or editor of ten books, among them Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882–1914. He is also the coauthor, with Yoav Peled, of Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship, which won the Middle Eastern Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Award in 2002, and the coeditor, with Mark Levine, of Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel, 2012, a collection of life histories.

David Friedman is a trigger on Jerusalem’s Ticking Bomb [ssba]

David Friedman is a trigger on Jerusalem’s Ticking Bomb

avid Friedman’s confirmation hearing is fast approaching and we must stop it. Since the U.S. ambassador to Israel isn’t a policy making position, why is it so important to stop it?

Because Mr. Friedman will not be perceived as a fair broker

As a known advocate of illegal West Bank settlements, Mr. Friedman will only develop relationships with the Jewish ultra-right. By confirming his appointment the U.S. will indicate that it has disqualified itself from fulfilling a role as fair broker or mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Because by supporting illegal settlements Mr. Friedman effectively trashes international law.

The Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) prohibits countries from moving population into territories occupied in a war. Should the U.S. change its position on the legality of settlements, it will defy the U.N. and abrogate an international consensus that has held for almost 70 years.

Because by appointing Mr. Friedman the U.S will embolden Israel’s pro-Greater Israel forces and open the door for the annexation of parts of the West Bank.

This is already happening. In the last few days the Israeli government is openly discussing the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim.

Because Mr. Friedman disregards the dangerous consequences by insisting on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Ever since Congress mandated the embassy’s move in 1995, every president has invoked an executive waiver stating that moving the embassy is not in the America’s national interest. But why not?

· Moving the embassy potentially will bring about an explosion of violence. As Danny Seidemann puts it “The fact is, we have never witnessed a geopolitical move as potentially shocking and infuriating to the Palestinian sector as moving the embassy. Such a move will tell the Palestinians: “Abandon hope. Political processes – negotiations, diplomacy, and the like – will not only not help you, they will harm you.”

· And experience teaches us that violence that begins in Jerusalem very rarely stays in Jerusalem.

· Islamic terrorist organizations will rally support around what they will argue is a threat to Al Quds. U.S. embassies around the Muslim world could be targeted.

· Moving the embassy will prejudge the permanent status issue of Jerusalem, in direct violation of the Oslo accords, which states: “It was understood that several issues were postponed to permanent status negotiations, including: Jerusalem…”

For the case against moving the embassy to Jerusalem read Danny Seidemann’s report and Hussein Ibish’s piece in Foreign Policy.

Three Reasons Not to Move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem [ssba]

Three Reasons Not to Move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

Since Congress mandated the American embassy relocate to Jerusalem in 1995, every US president has invoked an executive waiver stating that such a move is not in America’s national interest.

To be clear: opposition to the US embassy in Jerusalem is not to deny Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Rather, keeping the American embassy in Tel Aviv is a strong symbolic statement in support of a peaceful, mutually agreed resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Currently, no country has its embassy in Jerusalem. The last two nations to quit Jerusalem were Costa Rica and El Salvador, which relocated their embassies to Tel Aviv in 2006.

But why?

Read More »

Enough with the Kabuki Dance in the United Nations [ssba]

Enough with the Kabuki Dance in the United Nations

Egypt granted Obama’s administration some breathing room by withdrawing its resolution to the U.N. Security Council demanding an end to Israeli settlement expansion. Over the last 24 hours, foreign policy experts have been debating whether the US would veto a U.N. resolution containing Obama’s own positions, or weigh in one last time to express its dismay at Israel’s utter disregard for international law.

When the Israeli and American right-wing evaluate President Obama according to whether he is “Israel’s friend” or not, they elide the responsibility of Netanyahu’s government for putting the US administration in such a terrible position. Like a child reacting to being caught stealing by accusing his mommy (in this case the President of the United States) of not loving her, Israel evades the question: are you guilty of the charges against you? Instead Israel prefers to displace its guilt with “If mommy truly loved me, she wouldn’t say such bad things about me.”

The real issue here is that Mr. Netanyahu’s and President-elect Trump’s kabuki dance urging Obama to veto the resolution only unmasks the irresponsibility of Netanyahu’s continued settlement expansion.

Indeed, Netanyahu government’s polices strike at the most vulnerable in both the Occupied territories and in Israel. Settlement expansion ensures continued violence against Palestinians and the deprivation of their human rights. For example, according to Military Court Watch, as of August 2016, the Israeli military has detained at least 2,364 Palestinian children, a monthly average of 394.  Of that total, 591 are between 12-15 years old. This is to say nothing of the 60,000 Palestinian adults the Israeli military detains, the majority of which are in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Is subjecting children to illegal military detention really the values Israel wants to communicate to the world?

But that is not all. To do all this, the Netanyahu government sacrifices the most vulnerable of its own citizens on the altar of settlements. This week it cut billions of shekels from the education, welfare and health budgets to cover the cost of the evacuation of the illegal outpost Amona. The same week, the National Insurance Institute published a report stating there are more than 1.7 million poor Israelis, some 21.7% of the population. Such is the regard the Netanyahu government has for “Israeli security.”

This, of course, is to say nothing about how Israel’s sacrificing of someone else’s blood and its own treasure for settlements perpetually erodes its international standing and, as a result, its own security.

As a Molad report concluded, the Israeli leadership must take responsibility for the violence it has committed against the most vulnerable outside and within its legal borders and the dangers exposed by this rift with its allies. Simultaneously, it must internalize the notion that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must fall in line with the values of Western democracies, and that a continued deferral of such a solution will result in ever-increasing costs for Israel and its citizens.

The kabuki dance has long outlasted its performance date, and the audiences in international community are quite fed up with it.

[Image: the Uprooted Palestinians’ Blog]

Noam Shuster-Ellaisi is Challenging Traditional Peace Camp Assumptions and Methods [ssba]

Noam Shuster-Ellaisi is Challenging Traditional Peace Camp Assumptions and Methods

During the summer 2014 Gaza war, Noam Shuster-Ellaisi went to a peace rally in Tel Aviv. “Maybe I looked too Mizrahi, maybe I looked like an outsider. I don’t know. But I was forbidden from joining the demonstration.” Across the street, Noam’s family member, the fascist rapper known as the Shadow, held a counter rally for his supporters. They held “disgusting signs,” she said, and sought to beat up leftists and Arabs. Noam, who was raised in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (Oasis of Peace), the only community in Israel where Jews and Palestinians choose to live together, wanted to be with people who shared her desire “to end the madness of that summer.” But the self-appointed guardians of the antiwar rally did not recognize her as one of them. This story in a nutshell, she says, demonstrates the problem of the Israeli peace camp. “Who is allowed in this camp that talks about peace? Who is allowed to hold the word “peace” and say what it means? We have to do serious soul searching and ask how exclusive our camp has been.”

Speaking with Partners for Progressive Israel, Noam argued that pro-peace activists in Israel and the US have been so focused on solutions that they’ve left the Israeli public behind. They’ve been blind to the fact they were mostly engaging Ashkenazi-secular-liberals living in the privileged center. They haven’t reached beyond those lines. As a result, the peace camp became an cliquish club of the educated Ashkenazi middle class. So exclusionary that its self-appointed guardians instinctively identify a young brown woman as the “other” and assume she came to cause trouble.

The failure to engage diverse communities has undermined the peace process and brought its demise. For example, Noam says, the peace camp failed to engage religious leaders even though, “a political process in Israel cannot be successful without serious spiritual backing. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in 1979, when he was Israel’s chief Rabbi, gave a religious ruling saying that the value of life is higher than the value of land. This gave a spiritual backing to the peace agreement with Egypt. It allowed settlers to evacuate the Sinai.” “Who are the spiritual leaders who could potentially support a future peaceful solution?”

Noam is the program coordinator of Interpeace Israel. It’s her job to work with strategic populations in the Israeli society who were previously excluded from the peace process. She engages former soviet Jews, Palestinians, ultra-orthodox women and Likud center officials among others. “It’s very difficult. It takes time and a lot of compromise,” she said. But “how do we know that there aren’t people out there who are our partners? Have we tried? Did anyone ensure that the resources given to the peace camp would be allocated to target diverse populations?”

Noam argues that in our obsession with the solution, we’ve failed to see that the battle lines have shifted dramatically since the 1990s. Israel is experiencing a collapse of the Left/Right paradigm. “Ironically,” she told us, “a funny thing happens” when Israelis watch a debate on television about a resolution to the conflict. On the one hand, there would be “a very traditional centrist-left, maybe a Labor [Party member], Tel Aviv, secular politician, who talks about the importance of separating from the Palestinians to maintain the Jewish and democratic character of Israel. And next to him, there is a member of the current coalition, a rightwing religious Zionist MK, Yehuda Glick, saying, ‘but we want equality. We can continue having a Jewish-democratic and give the Palestinian equality.” Noam says that the camp that perceives itself as the left-center secular Zionist is proposing a resolution that “might be more militaristic, more militant, or at least look like a more rightwing agenda than what the right wing is proposing.”

“Who are we kidding?” she asked. “How can we make twenty-two percent of Israeli citizens divorce their cousins behind the wall?” On the other hand, she says, she cannot empower “an ultra-national-religious activist who aspires to a state of Jewish superiority.” “Where am I between these two failing agendas? There is a dangerous vacuum in the middle.”

Noam is not arguing that the two-state solution is dead. Rather, she challenges traditional peace camp preconceived assumptions of who are “the good guys” and who are “the bad guys.” She demands that they stop seeing every settler, every religious person, and every Russian immigrant as the enemy. She asks that peace activists engage others in their community, judge less, and ask more questions. And she asks that we do the same in our Jewish communities.

This is a fascinating conversation and one you will not regret listening to. If you find it interesting, consider joining our Israel-Study tour in January which will focus on the cultural, economic and social forces promoting and hindering a peaceful resolution to the conflict. You’ll have a chance to meet Noam and others who fight for peace often against conventional wisdon The trip’s goal is to enhance participants’ advocacy tools and discuss how we, Americans, can help steer Israelis and Palestinians toward peace. Underlying the tour is the question why Israelis and Palestinians don’t choose peace and what forces on the ground that can help change this.

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Avi Buskila, Peace Now’s new director is a different kind of leftist [ssba]

Avi Buskila, Peace Now’s new director is a different kind of leftist

Avi Buskila, the new director of Peace Now, is the opposite of a stereotypical leftist leader: his parents emigrated from Morocco, he grew up in the periphery, and he served as a combat soldier in the IDF.

“The left has a hard time understanding me,” Buskila tells Yedioth Ahronoth’s weekend magazine Hamusaf Leshabat. “They want to continue doing the same things that brought nothing but failures.”

Buskila talks about the kind of posts he encounters in left-wing groups on social media. For example one person wrote: “We’ve gathered the savages and brought them to Israel, and now they are destroying us,” meaning Jews of Mizrahi descent. “After all, right-wingers equal Mizrahim, equal religious,” he says.

But Buskila says has no intention of being the “left’s pet Mizrahi.”

“I won’t apologize for serving in the IDF longer than Naftali Bennett or for living in the periphery longer than Miri Regev,” he says defiantly.

“The portrayal of the left as old and Ashkenazi is accurate. There are a lot of people in the (peace) camp who would rather see us fail than give up their control. They refuse to recognize that it’s time they retire and leave. But I have news for them—they are going to lose control and if they don’t, we’ll take it from them, both in the political parties and in organizations. The left, in many ways, failed to speak to the people. For years, it just told everyone why they are wrong.

“The left doesn’t respect the painful narrative of fear. I don’t doubt my mother’s fears. She spent most of her life in shelters under the threat of rocket fire. Speaking their language means I’m not preaching, and I’m not constantly explaining to someone why he’s wrong. It’s not about coming from Tel Aviv to tell a Netivot resident that his fears and the discrimination he feels are nonexistent bullshit. I accept what they’re telling me.”

Maya Haber’s translation of the article was published in Ynet. Continue reading.