A friend wrote to us about a young ill Palestinian mother who was recently arrested in the West Bank, and their efforts to free her. This is the kind of ocurrence that happens routinely, yet is rarely covered in the press. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel documented in 2008 how these kinds of actions are often used to recruit low-level collaborators, as described here. It is very rare to hear directly of the physical and psychological costs on those arrested and their families. See the letter below and click on the link at the end to learn more about this case, and how you can help.
Last Monday my dear friend Hiba was arrested by IDF soldiers in the
Here is a link to the letter:
A picture of tear gas being shot by the Israeli army on unarmed protesters in the Palestinian village of Jayyous, who are holding Friday demonstrations to protest their land being taken by Israel. Photo by Mohammed Othman. You can follow what’s happening in Jayyous here.
Over the past couple of months, there seems to have developed growing disconnect between most of Israel’s political analysts – and the actual dynamics of the campaign for Israel’s general elections, which will take place in only 3 days.
In October when the election was announced, there was near-universal agreement that it’s all going to be one big garbage time. Prime Minister Bibi will cake-walk it to a second consecutive – and third overall – term in office, and the Right-dominated Israeli status quo of the 2000s will continue. I tended to agree with this view, but with this caveat: in Israel, anyone who calls the election results 3 months in advance is a fool.
Then, from mid-November the campaign became more and more interesting by the week. By now, I must confess that for me it’s been one of the most entertaining campaigns to follow. As a non-state-emissary expatriate I cannot vote, and in the 3 previous elections during our stay here I was far less engaged. Maybe it’s Facebook, and the incessant stream of punch lines and visual memes from fellow Israeli progressives (check out the memes in my previous diary from December). Maybe.
But also, my eyes tell me that something is happening. And yet, the dominant pundit line (parroted all over the English-language news universe, too) has continued to be “garbage time, garbage time, the election’s in Bibi’s pocket, the Left’s finished, …. b-o-r-i-n-g ! …”
“King Bibi”? What a Joke.
First, the myth of “King Bibi” is once again (for the umpteenth time) proven baseless. Most Israelis really don’t like Bibi. The massive, unprecedented protests of summer 2011 (now, perhaps prematurely, seen almost as a “Midsummer’s Night Dream” with no sequel) were in a large part personally directed against him.
And now during the campaign itself, Bibi has become more and more vulnerable:
- He launched a bloody offensive on Gaza in mid-November, in a cynical transparent attempt to boost his electoral standing, but emerged with multiple eggs on his face.
- Immediately afterwards, Palestine was accepted to the UN as an observer state, with only Israel, the US and a handful of tiny US satellites voting no – an outcome that Bibi had spent immense diplomatic efforts over more than a year to prevent.
- On the “Bibi’s stable economy” front, the bad news just keep coming. The most recent: the budget shortfall in 2012 was $10B, or 4.2% of the GDP – far more than the government had previously reported. It is my contention, that Bibi’s main motive for calling elections a few months early despite a reasonably stable coalition, was the wish to get them over with – before the bad news and deeply unpopular austerity steps he’ll doubtlessly try to push through. Many Israelis begin to suspect that Israel’s surprising relative resilience during the global crisis, faring far better than most of its trading partners, might have been obtained using Lance Armstrong methods.
On top of this: nobody mentions that, but Bibi is a lousy campaigner. In 4 election campaigns in which Bibi led Likud, his party never emerged the largest. Even in 1996, the country’s first direct-personal elections to the Prime Minister in which he upset Peres 50.5%-49.5%, Likud came in second to Labor in Knesset seats (32 vs. 34, out of 120). Then, in 1999 Bibi was voted out, and Likud fell to 19 seats. He wouldn’t get his hand dirty sitting in opposition, so he “retired” right away… for a couple of years, that is. The next time he led Likud was 2006, and Likud came in fourth with only 12 seats. Last elections – 2009 – he managed to score a come-from-ahead upset loss to the center-right Kadima party (27 to 28), gaining the premiership only via dirty back-room maneuvers.
0 out of 4 is not a coincidence. Not when your side of the political map is the one dominating the nation. Interestingly, the only thing that’s sure about Tuesday’s elections, is that this time – finally – Bibi will emerge as the head of the candidate list that wins the most seats.
How did he manage to guarantee that? In another signature back-room deal, he agreed with his deputy Lieberman (whose personality-cult party “Israel Beitenu” has cornered the market on the “Russian” vote in the past two elections), to run in a single list on a 2:1 alternating ratio. He didn’t bother to ask his party members, who were less than thrilled. Bibi – always the hysterical Basil Fawlty type of decision-maker – just couldn’t bear the thought of failing for a 5th time. Mind you, this is not a party merger: in another one of the endless string of news embarrassments Bibi has produced for himself this campaign, it became known that the parties split their ways, each taking its own marbles, the day after the election, and Bibi will have to negotiate with Lieberman almost like with any other party.
Anyway, together these two lovely parties won 42 seats in 2009. Given that Kadima had disintegrated to smithereens – and it’s a good thing, because it was always more hoax than genuine party, and given that further left, Labor is still picking up its own pieces – there is nothing nearly close to that size around.
But since its announcement, the Likud-Beitenu amalgam has been on a steady gradual decline, losing 1-2 seats per week. It is now polling mostly in the low 30′s. Take out Lieberman’s cut, and come government-maintaining time, Bibi might have barely 20 seats to his name, with which to dominate a 120-seat chamber.
So the election’s real story is Bibi’s deep unpopularity, and the public’s general malaise.
Unfortunately, as I detailed in December, by refusing do draw a contrast with Bibi on any topic except the economy, Labor’s leader Yachimovich has missed a golden opportunity. We might have been talking now about a tightening race; instead, we’ll likely have a fragmented Knesset parliament with no “King” or “Queen”.
Yes, Bibi is still the overwhelming favorite to be Israel’s next Prime Minister. But the odds now seem even greater that he’ll be much weakened, and will face a far more energetic opposition, than in the current term.
It’s all academic, some say; ending the Occupation is not on the menu anyway so the elections are just a game of distraction. I beg to differ. One of the hallmarks of uphill struggles against oppressive systems, is that they seem dominant and even scornful of your feeble attempts – right until the last moment. Then some internal fault cracks open, and it’s over. See under Soviet Union. See under Apartheid. See under U.S. Slavery and segregation.
Similarly, an election whose results are humiliating for Bibi, and after which no one can set up a government that lasts very long, could be such a crack. And given the huge number of undecided or unsure – most polls quote 20%-30% – the crack might open with the bang of an election-night surprise.
Sticking to the Headline, Changing the Bylines?
Pundits don’t like admitting they were wrong. So as the “King Bibi” meme crumbled, Israeli analysts stayed with the bottom line (“garbage time” etc.), but have changed the highlight. They’ve been trying two, in fact: “2013 will be the Right’s biggest victory” and “2013 will be the Left’s worst defeat.”
Wrong and Wrong again. And again.
The Fallacy in “2012-2013 is the Year of the Right and Settlers”
The solid Right + Orthodox bloc of parties consistently emerges with a majority in all current polls. In some polls even 70+ seats (even though most of the recent polls are closer to the halfway mark of 60).
The lazy Israeli pundits compare this to the 65 seats the same bloc had supposedly won in 2009 – at the time, the most ever – and just “do the math” to conclude that 2013 might mark a new record. But they willfully ignore the nature of that 28-seat behemoth of a “party”, Kadima, that is not counted with the Right.
Kadima was founded late 2005 by Ariel Sharon, at the time Prime Minister and leader of Likud. Despite adding to its ranks a few Labor figureheads (most notoriously Shimon Peres), Likud politicians have always outnumbered everyone else there combined, at least 2:1. Sharon’s successors at Kadima’s lead – Olmert, Livni and now Mofaz – all came from Likud. So in 2006 and 2009, Likud pulled the amazing feat of running under 3 brands: “classic Likud”, the Lieberman cult catering to “Russians”, and a moderate-posing “Kadima” brand (headed in 2006 by Tzipi Livni) catering to center and even (thanks to Livni’s gender and campaign style) to left-of-center. And the niche marketing paid off: the 3 arms combined won 70 seats (in 2006 the trio won “only” 52, then poached a few more in post-election wheeling and dealing).
That was the Israeli Right’s electoral high-water mark. I hope that in my lifetime I won’t see anything near that. Seeing two arms of Likud competing for the #1 spot, with one of them suckering votes from left of center, was downright sickening.
By 2013, Kadima has disintegrated. Its two remnants, running under Livni and Mofaz respectively, will be lucky to gather more than 10 seats together; quite likely less. And the number of genuine right-wingers who will enter Knesset under both combined, will almost surely be less than 5. So compare barely 40-45 seats controlled by the various Likud factions, to 70 right now. And compare roughly 70 right-wingers expected in the next Knesset, with about 85 in the outgoing one. The Right has passed its undeserved zenith.
The only ascendant force on the Right this campaign has been the Orthodox-nationalist “Jewish Home” party, led by a fresh and charismatic face, Naftali Bennett (son to US immigrants who converted to Orthodoxy, the Jewish analogue of Evangelist Christians). He’s polling around 15 seats, and – together with Ayelet Shaked, the only secular on the list – successfully and effectively hide the remaining dozen-or-so unappealing or even hideous potential members of the next Knesset on their list (Here’s candidate #14 Gimpel, also an American, in a must-see clip designed to encourage the potential far-right nutcase willing to blow up the Dome of the Rock; Gimpel’s the one on the left). On the merits, Bennett seems like a sleazebag who could sell anything to anyone, or at least try (that apparently is how he sold his start-up company and became a millionaire), and whose true views are far less user-friendly than his slang-sprinkled chummy talk.
Admitted, Bennett is a lucky shot for the Right-Orthodox parties, who for years languished under leaders with the charisma and general-public appeal of a rusty nail. But his rise is grossly over-hyped. His main electoral feat so far has been to bring back home the Orthodox votes that had preferred Likud, Shas or some other non-Orthodox party. He seems to be drawing some disaffected Bibi/Lieberman voters as well. My analysis (and also some recent on-the-ground reports) indicate that this is more due to Bibi’s weakness than to Bennett’s supposed magic.
In particular, the idea that Bennett’s popularity (and Labor leader’s Yachimovich’s cowardice about settlements) is an indication that settlers are now the new leaders of Israeli society, with their role widely accepted and respected – an idea promoted even by progressive analysts such as the 972mag website – is downright ridiculous.
A coalition of economically progressive NGOs has just commissioned a poll, asking Israelis what they would rather cut to resolve the huge budget hole. Here’s what they found: (emphasis mine)
82%. Far and away, the first thing nearly all Israelis (including a majority of right-wingers) would cut, is the subsidies to the settlements. So much for these times being “The Year of the Settler”.
Last but not Least: The Fallacy of “The Left’s Worst Defeat”
Granted, the Israeli center-left isn’t looking great these elections and is probably not ready to topple Bibi outright (even though this has become a distinct possibility according to most recent polls). There’s been too much fragmentation for that to happen. But the wailing as if this is a “worst defeat” of any kind, are seriously 180 degrees off mark. In fact, following upon the heels of the 2011 protests, these elections mark the continuation of the Left’s painfully gradual revival.
If this was the Left’s worst year, then for sure the only Zionist party openly running as Left, would have suffered, no? That party would be Meretz, who in 2009 fell to its lowest-ever mark with 3 seats. To make matters “worse” for Meretz, during the November mini-war it had the temerity to oppose, breaking an inglorious tradition of previous leaderships mumbling and reluctantly supporting Israel’s various military adventures. Surely, if this is “the Left’s worst year”, voters would be disgusted with such rampant Leftism, and will do away with Meretz once and for all?
Yes. In all recent polls, Meretz doubles its current strength, sitting on 6-7 seats – and still moving up from poll to poll. This, despite having no new faces and no campaign surprises (except the unplanned one of opposing the war).
The party that’s stuck in the polls is Labor, whose leader vehemently denied being part of the Left or even center-left, and refused to make the obvious settlement-economic connection that 82% of Israelis apparently can. It is no coincidence that labor’s stuck. Voters want a contrast, they want an opposition they can rally behind – not someone running away from herself.
But even so, Labor’s polling around 16-18 seats vs. 13 it won in 2009. And the incoming cohort is far more progressive and reliable than the outgoing one, five of whom (headed by Ehud Barak) are still shamefully sitting in Bibi’s coalition.
So no. 2013 is not a “worst defeat” year for the Left.
The Left’s worst defeat came some 12 years ago, when then-Labor leader, then-Prime-Minister Ehud Barak emerged from a failed round of negotiations with his “No Partner” lie, confirming the stereotype of The Arab as an illegitimate lying crook, and simultaneously letting the military unleash massive deadly fire on the riots that had started spreading. This watershed moment has hurled Israel-Palestine into an abyss, 12+ lost years and counting. The Labor party, in particular, has yet to recover – and in classic Battered Wife Syndrome fashion it invited Barak to lead it into the 2009 elections again, only to be abused by him some more.
Israelis now know who Ehud Barak is: a serial liar, a personally corrupt, deeply unpopular man. Right now he still sits in the Security Ministry, but he’s so unpopular that he gave up running again, and his joke of a “party” (basically, just a theft of 5 seats from Labor) has disbanded itself and will not disgrace the next Knesset with its presence.
Too many Israelis have a hard time letting go of the “No Partner” lie, and can’t seem to connect the dots to what they’ve since learned about the man who invented it. So the road to a full comeback of the center-left camp, to a camp not ashamed to put ending the Occupation and a viable Palestinian state at the top of its policy agenda, is still a rocky uphill one.
But don’t mistake the direction. Regardless of whether Bibi will have the pieces to cobble together a semi-stable government, the next Knesset will have in it a sizable cohort of 35-40 fighting progressives, perhaps even more. Now, this is something Israel hasn’t seen in over a decade.
At last, the direction indicated by the Israeli voter seems to be up, rather than to dig further into the hole we’re in. Unfortunately, most politicians usually lag behind the public, but eventually they catch up. Here’s hoping it happens in Israel-Palestine sooner rather than later.
There is a ceasefire in Gaza. It remains to be seen if and when the promise to open Gaza to normal civilian movement, laconically stated in the ceasefire agreement, will be fulfilled. On Friday, less than 48 hours after its enactment, the first bad sign appeared. In at least two locations near the border fence, Gaza residents assuming that now Israel’s unilateral 500m “buffer zone” inside the Strip was history – after all, it said so in the agreement (read in the link above) – and one man was shot dead, others wounded. It seems that enforcing the ceasefire and its follow-up will demand some engagement from third parties.
But still, we can be thankful.
The last several days of the military operation, renamed “Operation Cast Ballot” by Israeli anti-war bloggers, each cost over 20 human lives. Just the 21-hour balk by the Israeli government, postponing the ceasefire from midnight Tuesday to 9 PM Wednesday, caused at least 24 additional Palestinian deaths for a cumulative total of 172, as well as the sixth Israeli death, an IDF reserve lieutenant.
As I extend my condolences to the dead and wish recovery to the wounded, I am grateful – because the list could have been far, far longer. This operation lasted 7 days and 6 hours, and was cut short before any ground invasion. For comparison, recall two recent Israeli military operations: the 2008-2009 “Cast Lead” lasted 23 days, included a limited Israeli ground invasion and killed over 1,400 people, mostly civilians. The 2006 Lebanon war lasted 33 days, included a full-scale Israeli invasion attempt, and killed many hundreds, possibly over a thousand.
These two wars took place during George W. Bush’s Presidency.
Make no mistake about it: the one man to whom we owe most thanks for this operation’s quick ending, for the prevention of a ground invasion, and for the unexpected diplomatic horizons opened in its aftermath, is President Barack Hussein Obama.
You don’t have to agree; this is my own blog post after all. However, if you delve into my posting history you’ll see that I dig Israel-Palestine pretty well. And living in the US under the Obama presidency, I also know to recognize his M.O. when I see it in action.
(and yes, Secretary Clinton too deserves a serving of thanks for doing the legwork)
If you care to read my description of the typical Obama M.O., hop over to the original post at Daily Kos. Here I just continue to the Gaza operation.
Many of my dear friends in the anti-war community, couldn’t bear to hear the State Department up to Secretary Clinton repeating the Israeli government talking points on this operation. Yes, it was shameful. But I also tuned my ear carefully to what the President said, and he – while still including many of these talking points when speaking about Gaza, always took care to add that he doesn’t want civilian casualties and he doesn’t want a ground invasion.
Consider the Bibi-Obama relationship. Bibi’s political hacks have been hurling propaganda and dog-whistle-laced insults at Obama since 2008 when the latter was only a Presidential candidate. When both took power, Bibi repeatedly defied and fooled Obama’s limited attempts to promote some sort of peace process. He often did it in a humiliating manner, earning many points with his right-wing Israeli base. Come 2012, Bibi injected himself into the US campaign to an unprecedented level, actively advocating for Romney.
Now imagine what would have happened, if the White House and State Department started issuing direct criticisms and ultimatums, telling Israel to stop its reckless Gaza operation. Bibi, himself in the midst of election campaign now (of which, make no mistake, the operation was part and parcel), has already banked on fanning the flames of nationalism. He would love Obama to try and chastise him, to give him the chance to defy Obama again. An open Obama-Bibi rift on the operation would have also caused instant mutiny among Jewish Democratic Senators and House members.
Instead, all Bibi got was a hug.
This is not a coincidence: embracing some of your adversary’s talking points is a classic Obama move. Sometimes it backfires. During this operation, it was spot-on. It denied Bibi the opportunity to defy him.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the phones were working. In fact, Obama took care to tell the world that he’s talking with Bibi on a daily basis. I don’t think these talks included threats – again, that’s not the Obama style – but there was doubtlessly a gradual narrowing of Bibi’s playing field. It became even narrower when Obama sent Hillary over to do shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Cairo, and when it became clear she’s not likely to leave without a deal.
I’m not saying it is all Obama and only Obama. There were other key factors at play in preventing an Israeli ground invasion:
The Arab Spring. As flustered Israeli officials leaked after their government’s initial ceasefire balk, this is not Mubarak anymore. Hamas is originally an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which is now in power in Egypt and owes the US far less than Mubarak ever did. Egypt and other Arab nations showed far greater involvement from day one. The parade of Arab officials in and out of Gaza helped keep Israeli actions in check, relatively speaking.
The preparedness of Hamas. Just as Obama has an M.O., so does Israel’s military. One step on their checklist seems to be “Always underestimate your opponent”. They really believed that the initial shock and awe in assassinating Jabari and the accompanying airstrikes, will throw Hamas off balance, and that within a couple of days of such strikes the organization will be in shambles. Didn’t happen. Besides increasing the operation’s price tag, this preparedness might have raised Israeli suspicions that Hamas might have an effective and intact game plan for ground invasion defense.
The opposition inside Israel. Over the past 12 years, the Israeli public has reliably – and for anti-war gadflies like myself, depressingly – always fallen in line behind all of its leaders’ military adventures great and small. So Bibarak might not have even considered the option of internal resistance. The vast majority of Israel’s Jews supported the operation. But a significant minority opposed, and was not willing to shut up about it. Most notably, Israel’s progressive Zionist party Meretz, led by the brave MK Zehava Gal-On, spoke out against the operation in general and a ground invasion in particular, from day one. Progressives also flooded social media with texts, posts, tweets and memes resisting – and perhaps even more effectively, mocking – the ill-conceived operation. The last time a similar level of resistance was seen during military action was in the 1980′s – during the First Lebanon war and then again during the First Intifada. In both cases, once the shit hit the fan (militarily speaking), the resisting minority was quickly joined by half the nation.
Finally, The Goldstone Effect. Many on the Left put this one front and center. What they mean is, that due to the world public-opinion backlash to Cast Lead, with the Goldstone report as its centerpiece, the Israeli government and IDF are a bit more careful and choose their targets less indiscriminately. I’m sorry, I don’t see much of that. The Palestinian casualty list already has at least 56 positively-identified women, children, elderly and journalists. And one can sadly assume that quite a few of the remaining victims were not combatants by any stretch of reality. Furthermore, the rhetoric coming out of Israeli cabinet ministers and other senior figures was, if anything, even more rabid than during Cast Lead. Finally, we should not forget that Goldstone himself was ostracized and brought to his knees in a humiliating recantation, while no Israeli official or officer has been brought to justice over Cast Lead. Not exactly a deterrent in my books.
But even with the Arab Spring, even with Hamas stronger than expected and internal resistance stronger than expected, even assuming the existence of some “Goldstone Effect”, the IDF was dominant enough militarily and Bibarak dominant enough politically to carry out the plan as probably intended: air-war shock and awe, call up reserves, and invade 5 days or so after the beginning. Moreover, the massive and criminal Hamas response, namely launching missiles far and wide into civilian Israeli cities and killing 3 civilians on the first day, created a sense of urgency and panic in the Israeli public, which served as pressure on the government to escalate and finish the enemy off. This was a pressure that Bibarak probably anticipated and counted on to push them forward.
Now operationally, head-on from the southeast, Downtown Gaza City is only 4km from the border. Coming along the coast from the northeast, it is 6km over mostly open space. With the huge 75,000 reservist call-up (the IDF later reported it called up “only” 58,000), the IDF had more than enough brute force to think they can try and strike a beeline to downtown from both directions (while blocking the escape route on the southwest), reach the place where Hamas PM Haniyyeh and other political leaders sit, and physically pluck them from there for a humiliating check-mate. They didn’t need to conquer and occupy the entire Strip, or even all of Gaza City. This symbolic decapitation stunt would have sufficed.
The Israeli rhetoric during the first couple of days gave all signs that this was more-or-less the plan. One senior minister talked about “reformatting Gaza”. Another about “returning it to the Middle Ages.” Everyone from the top onwards said it is about time to “finish Hamas for good.” Other people who definitely have access to inside information – Ariel Sharon’s son Gilad comes to mind – used even more disgusting, eliminationist-genocidal rhetoric. And they were very confident about it.
Israel’s leaders also thought they had a fighting chance to pull this stunt off without major losses. Sure, it was a gamble and the odds were decreasing by the day. But this entire operation was one huge gamble, so why not carry it to the end? Also considering this was launched during an election campaign, the humiliation of stopping short becomes an even greater incentive to up the ante and complete the gamble (and indeed, right now Bibi is facing an opinion backlash from the right and even parts of the center for having come out “the wimp”).
As late as Tuesday, even as the Egyptian mediators were reporting that a ceasefire is near, the Israeli air force dropped thousands of leaflets on Gaza’s outlying neighborhoods – precisely along the routes I described above. The leaflets told the residents – some 150,000 of them – to leave their homes and concentrate in a prescribed area in downtown Gaza.
Didn’t happen. Instead of ground invasion, we got a ceasefire. And Obama more than anyone else is the man who stopped it. There is simply no other logical explanation. Denying this explanation, in my view, is like refusing to revise the theory of matter after the Rutherford Experiment. In that experiment, alpha particles shot at a thin gold leaf bounced almost straight back from the leaf. This meant there was something very massive inside the leaf stopping them, marking the birth of the theory of atomic nuclei.
Like in that experiment, there is simply no force other than the US Presidency, that could have so quickly and so thoroughly stopped Bibarak’s plan from going forward. I listed all the other options above, I acknowledge their contribution – but they just don’t add up.
Now, here’s the sweetest part. In their ceasefire press conference, according to some observers Bibarak and Lieberman, even as they tried to declare victory, looked more like “three sixth-graders called down to the Principal’s Office, counting the minutes until the humiliation was over.” And they had to thank the very people who just ran all over them!
First, Egyptian President Morsi. Last year on the Knesset podium, Bibi said of the Arab Spring that it moves the Arab world “not forward, but backward”. That his own neocon forecast that the Arab Spring would turn into an “Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli and anti-democratic wave” turned out to be true. Now Bibi had to thank Morsi personally and describe him as a regional leader.
But that’s nothing compared to his words to President Obama, expressed repeatedly both in the presser and on Bibi’s Facebook page: (translation mine)
To quote Bubbanomics: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
That’s the Obama revenge. It is served cold, with no anger, and in style.
Yes, Obama as the sitting US President is complicit in the continuation of Israel’s Occupation regime over the Palestinians and in particular in the decades-long imprisonment of Gaza. Like so many other problems, he inherited these problems in an especially bad shape (remember, Cast Lead took place during Bush’s lame-duck period and ended days before Obama’s inauguration).
Obama still needs to fix that. But this week, he was the man who could stop the slaughter of hundreds of people, maybe even thousands, and he stepped up and did it. He also laid down, for the first time in many years, a practical workable framework for improving the life of Gazans. This gives me more hope for the coming 4 years.
Thank you, President. And a Happy Thanksgiving.
Part of expatriate life is worrying for the health of elderly overseas parents. My father-in-law’s health is bad enough to worry about, even without this recent crap. My wife’s parents live in Moshav Shahar, Israel, some 15km from the Gaza Strip as the missile flies. Their home has nothing even remotely resembling a shelter; some government functionaries going from house to house told them the best place in case of a missile alert, is to crouch under the staircase. Fortunately for them, they live a rural area and not much of a target.
Thursday, morning, however, found them going to my dad-in-law’s doctor’s appointment in Ashkelon – the largest town in the Strip’s vicinity, and one of the missile launchers’ favorite targets. The appointment was disrupted four times by missile alerts. My father-in-law, one of the kindest, most inspiring men I have ever known, is not mobile enough anymore to evacuate so rapidly (I think it’s 30 seconds in Ashkelon, maybe 15). But the building itself wasn’t hit, and what’s more – perhaps for the first time, my dad-in-law’s deteriorating lucidity worked in his favor: he didn’t stress out, just wondered why everyone keeps disappearing and leaving him with the security guy.
I don’t think my wife asked her mom about her opinions on the recent bloody flare-up. Frankly, there’s hardly a need to ask: since Fall 2000, she – one of the strongest, most impressive women I have ever known, and never formally a right-winger – has become as patriotistic as they come. Or rather, as patriotistic as most Israeli Jews have become. It is really hard to resist the right-wing brainwash there, or even to *notice* that you are being brainwashed. It is even harder to resist the social pressure that brands you as “deluded” or even “traitor” if you dare express dissent. Just visualize being in the same mental state most Americans have been in right after 9/11, for 12 straight years and counting.
But we, sitting outside the present Israeli consensus both physically and mentally, remember other times, and disturbing chains of events.
Until 2002 we lived not far from my in-laws, in Nehora which is even a bit closer to the Strip. Compared with other parts of the country, that southwest corner of Israel was fairly quiet at the time. The only disturbance was the sound of helicopters flying overhead en route to pounding the poor residents of Gaza. We just happened to be below the route.
Then in July 2002, our Air Force liquidated Hamas military chief Saleh Shehade, using a gentle one-ton bomb on a Gaza apartment building that killed 14 other human beings. The Air Force chief infamously said about the liquidation and its human toll, “If I’d flown that plane myself, all I’d feel was a little tug on the wing as the bomb drops.” He was rapidly promoted to IDF Deputy Chief of Staff, then to Chief of Staff. In that role, he engineered the 2006 Lebanon War – a Shock and Awe display designed to gently, again, nudge Lebanese into dismantling Hizbullah. And his gemful mouth then said, “We will turn Lebanon back 20 years”. Well he tried – bombed the crap out of the Beirut Airport, bombed a power plant leaking oil into the Mediterranean and causing immense damage to natural beaches, and killing some 1000-odd people. Then, the brave, brave Chief of Staff was disgraced twice: once by not winning the war, and once by the discovery that on the morning of the war, just before it was launched, he had found the time to call his broker and tell him to sell.
But enough with General (retired) Halutz. Back to Hamas military chief, and that 2002 one-ton assassination. They told us it had to be done: not only did Shehade have blood on his hands, but the killing dealt a blow to several ongoing attack plans and literally saved many lives. The Troubadour reminded us yesterday, that his wife was injured in a Jerusalem bombing that was a direct revenge to Shehade’s killing. And despite all prognostications by Israel’s pundits and ass-licking military-affairs journalists, Hamas maintained its strength, especially around the Gaza Strip. Rockets on nearby Sderot gradually turned from a rare event to a common occurrence. Attacks on military and settlements inside Gaza gradually rendered the maintenance of both untenable.
So in March 2004, the IDF assassinated the political leader of Hamas, the aging wheelchair-bound Ahmed Yassin. And a few weeks later we also killed his successor Abd El-Aziz El-Rantissi. Hamas in Gaza was definitely dealt a mortal blow. So much so, that only a couple of months later the IDF completely lost control of the situation, and got embroiled in bloody incursion centered on Rafah. The following year Hamas beat the crap out of Fatah in the Palestinian municipal elections, and was in Gaza in full force, to declare ownership on the victory when the IDF and settlers finally left the Strip’s interior. In January 2006 Hamas won the parliamentary elections, and the rest is a more widely known, and very, very, *very* sad history.
All the while, Israel’s pundits and ass-licking millitary-affairs journalists keep telling us, after every assassination and bloody military operation, how Hamas is getting weaker. How the Palestinians are now learning their lesson. In reality, of course, Hamas has turned from nearly-irrelevant status in summer 2000, just before Prime Minister Barak decided that “Arafat is not a partner for peace” and chose the Military Option instead – to a movement who in 2012 controls Gaza Strip’s interior, plays on the regional and international stage, and is able to launch missiles from the Strip to Tel Aviv. (Update: AND JERUSALEM (1st time since 1970)
Anyone who claims that assassinating Hamas leaders is a reasonable strategy, belongs not in the reality-based community but on Planet Unskewed Polls. And anyone daring to claim that there was really no choice, right now, to do anything else except liquidate Hamas’ military chief…. I seriously have no words to describe such a claim. Such a claim is beyond craven, beyond stupid, it is Dick Morris ridiculous.
Not only has the Hamas-leader-assassination strategy backfired spectacularly; its basic premise is outlandishly stupid. Hamas is a broad-based movement, with political, military, social and other branches. The Palestinian struggle’s dynamics rarely revolve around one person. Not even Arafat. As long as Hamas is large enough and has a military wing, killing its head is little more than a temper tantrum or a PR stunt.
And trash talk about “wiping out Hamas” is eliminationist and genocidal. If Israel wants to weaken Hamas or turn it away from terror, the best way is to undercut Hamas’ cynical and corrupt strategy of gaining power through violence – by instead, granting respect and tangible victories to the nonviolent elements of Palestinian society. Of course, anyone who even briefly follows Occupation news knows that Israel does the exact opposite. As The Troubadour wrote so cogently yesterday, nothing terrifies Israel’s powers-that-be more than a nonviolent, determined, principled and unified Palestinian uprising. Therefore, they quash and frustrate nonviolent protest, treat moderate leaders like worthless lackeys, and bait the militant movements in order to keep them popular, dominant and hungry for revenge.
And this, without mentioning the elephant in the room: the people of Gaza, how they got there and what Israel had done to them over the years. In Planet of Slums, Mike Davis lists the Strip among the world’s 10 most populous slums. Its origins are not so different: just like Gaza, many of these slums are the result of war and displacement. Gaza is singled out because it is the victim of a nation who’s the darling of Western elites, a nation that has gotten so used to getting a free pass, it is insulted at the very idea of paying the price for anything. Instead, the West has chosen to villify and demonize all Gazans, men women and children, and to condemn them to live not only in a slum, but in the world’s largest de-facto open air prison slum.
Does anyone in the West really think they have the moral authority to wag a finger at Gaza’s residents? They don’t need hypocritical Western politicians and pundits to tell them lobbing missiles at other people is bad. They know it’s bad. But they also know that the rest of the world is perfectly sweet and easy with dishing them far-worse-than-bad, every day, every month, every year, for decade after decade.
Have you ever envisioned what it is to live in a small confined region, not knowing how you’ll feed your family, not knowing whether your family will survive the next air bombing or shelling, having enemy drones, helicopters and jets zoom overhead at all times of days and nights without any defense against them – no defense at all? And nowhere to go. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade. And with all that, the Beautiful People of the world look at you and see a monster, a primitive, a blood-thirsty menace that should be placed in this situation forever, you, your children, your grandchildren. With no end in sight. Have you really imagined that?
The Israelis around Gaza are now traumatized too. It is sad. It is a ripple effect of what we have inflicted on the people inside.
If you claim to care about Israel-Palestine but have not yet lifted a finger to end the travesty that is Gaza’s forced imprisonment and impoverishment, then the blood of the people dying right now in Israel-Palestine is on your hands too.
And I haven’t even mentioned the Glorious Leaders who are spearheading this cynical burst of bloodshed. Prime Minister Bibi was here just recently, trying to meddle in the US election campaign and making an ass out of himself in front of the entire world. Bibi is a combination of corrupt, douchebag, racist and granny-robbing prick that even the 2012 GOP has not produced the likes of. And he is joined by people even worse than him – Barak and Lieberman. People with no worldview except their own self-aggrandizement, methods and consequences be damned.
A needless round of mutual killing, in order to manipulate public opinion for January’s Israeli elections, is so not beneath these criminals.
Don’t mistake the cowered show of “unity” in Israel once the guns blaze, with genuine support. The Israeli public and its center-left politicians have internalized the Battered Wife Syndrome. And after every new round of war and violence, our politicians emerge more corrupt, more brazen than before. I’m not talking just “Wag the Dog” corrupt. I’m talking about steal-money corrupt. Each of them – Bibi, Barak, Lieberman, Olmert, the comatose Sharon, and countless others – has a personal portfolio of corruption scandals. Like the Mob, they largely escape justice through a legion of sleazy millionaire lawyers, webs of criminal loyalty, and fear.
Or maybe you suspect the politicians but still trust the generals, respecting the uniform they wear. Silly, these are the same people! Nowadays, IDF top brass get embroiled in corruption and abuse scandals even before they make the convenient hop from the general’s office to the Israeli cabinet or the big-corporation boardrooms. Gen. Halutz above is a typical example. Beside the fact that after 40 years of calling the shots wrong and failing to see any writing on any wall, it is about time to doubt the judgment of Israel’s security-state apparatus
If you are liberal or progressive, and you believe these politicians and generals, that Israel’s best interest has demanded the liquidation of Hamas’ military chief, right now – then we are in serious trouble.
What many American progressive-liberals who do get it, are still not aware of, is that your voice means a ton. Especially now.
Unlike previous operations, this time there are visible cracks in the faux wall of Israeli unity. For the first time in some 30 years, one Israeli Zionist party, Meretz, is dissenting from the start. The language its leaders are using are a bit more nuanced than what I wrote here, but still strong enough. Its leader MK Zehava Gal-On called Bibi and Barak pyromaniacs. Bingo. Quite a few mainstream journalists have expressed skepticism at the timing and motives, and publishing disturbing information (h/t heathlander).
Whether these rays of dissent turn into a full blaze, or are swallowed by jingoistic darkness, depends to a large degree on what Israelis hear from the West and especially America.
So please let President Obama know how you feel, both online and by phone, (202)456-1111.
Contact your local elected officials. Write about it in the local press. In blogs. Tweet about it, share it on Facebooks (Israelis love these social media).
It does matter. Any day by which we shorten this murderous mad-dog game, literally saves lives.
If you have other links or action ideas, please post them in the comments.
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