Friday, September 26, 2014

About budgets and growling bellies


The saying ”Prussia is not a country that has an army, Prussia is an army that has a country” is attributed to Count Mirabeau, a leader of the French Revolution. Quite a few of the Prussians of that time and the Germans of later  agreed to this assessment.

This week, the Tanin - new submarine of the Israeli Navy - arrived at the port of Haifa, and at the solemn welcoming ceremony Prime Minister Netanyahu declared it to be “A High Holydays gift to the People of Israel." The German government had built the submarine for the State of Israel, as part of the historical guilt that still affects many of Germany's relations with Israel, as well as a way of a guaranteeing jobs in the shipyards of Kiel. In modern Hebrew “Tanin” is simply the word for "Crocodile" in a foreign language, but in its  Biblical origin the Tanin was a far greater creature. The Bible often refers to the Tanin as a fearsome sea monster, which once fought a big war against God Himself. That is probably the true implication of bestowing the Tanin name on a submarine, which (according to foreign sources) carries nuclear-tipped  rockets and which, if ever given the order, could all by itself totally eradicate Tehran - or any other city in the Middle East.

For the time being, at the solemn ceremony in the Port of Haifa and the Cabinet meeting held on the same day, the military boasted an achievement of somewhat smaller proportions – the killing of  Marwan Kawasmeh and Amir Abu Eisha in Hebron. "ACCOUNT CLOSED: Israel killed the murderers of the three boys" declared banner headlines, followed by endless rhetoric from various politicians and public figures: "We embrace the soldiers who found the killers and risked their lives to restore  Israeli deterrence. Thank God for helping our soldiers perform this deed. Privileged they were to close with these bastards, these murderers, and do Justice unto them just before the  Day of Judgement. Murderers should not be alive. Let every enemy who rises against us know that, as the Psalmist said, “I pursued my enemies and overtook them, I did not turn back till they were destroyed”. A circle of evil had been closed at the beginning of the Jewish New Year, let it be a sweet good year to all the people of Israel”. Western newspapers are supposed to abide by the rule that a suspect is considered innocent until proven guilty in court - but not in the Israeli press and in this case. Anyway, the case of Marwan Kawasmeh and Amir Abu Eisha would now never come before any court.

Still another Israeli military achievement got into the headlines - the shooting down of a Syrian aircraft which penetrated into the airspace of the State of Israel (to be exact, into the airspace of  the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and unilaterally annexed in 1982). True, the Syrian plane  penetrated only some 800 meters across the Israeli border, it turned back after a few seconds, and according to Israeli military sources the penetration was accidental while bombing the positions of rebels opposing the Assad regime who recently took control of the border area with Israel. Was it the best-advised action to bring down one of President Assad’s  planes on the same day that  the United States became Assad’s de facto ally in the fight against the ISIL beheaders? But maybe there is no need to look here for far-reaching political implications and motivations. Months ago, the directive was given to shoot down Syrian planes which would penetrate across the border. The plane did cross the border, there was an officer in charge who had to take a decision within one minute, he did make ??a decision and brought it down. Anyway,  Yediot  Aharonot gathered all three achievements of the Israeli Defense Forces – the submarine in Haifa, the liquidation in Hebron and the plane in Golan Heights – into a single impressive headline: "By Land, Sea and Air”.

But there can be no doubt that the biggest victory won this week by the State of Israel’s armed forces was in the battle against the Ministry of Finance of the same. The headlines announced it: "A compromise between Netanyahu and Lapid: 14 billion to Defence." Just hours before the New Jewish Year  holiday started, the Prime Minister's Office announced an agreements on the budget between Benjamin Netanyahu the Finance Minister Yair Lapid, agreeing that the Defense Ministry will receive another six billions to supplement its basic  budget in 2015, plus seven or eight billions to cover expenses incurred during Operation Protective Edge, so that the defense budget for the year 2015 will amount to 57 billions.

So, is this the end of the titanic struggle over the defense budget? Not precisely. "A senior defense official told Walla News: the approved budget is definitely not enough. That is unequivocal. This amount would force us to stop the army in its tracks already in the first months of the year, It would be very damaging in terms of acquiring and strengthening our equipment, including Iron Dome anti-missile missiles, and there will be no training of soldiers. It is clear to Treasury as well as to us that Defence will need - and will get – supplementary budgets in the course of next year, so why play these games?”

Will the army get this additional funding during the coming year? Certainly they will. The Army's hunger for additional budgets is unlimited, and so it its ability to sate that hunger. But who will not get any extras? The soldiers who serve in this army. A week ago, the topic suddenly burst into the media in big headlines: "Soldiers below the poverty line – they fought in Gaza, and have no money for food." “They risked their lives during the war in Gaza, but at the end of the operation, just before the High Holidays, many of them find it difficult to cope with fighting on another front: bank overdraft, debts and a growling belly.

Defense Minister Ya'alon shaking the hand of an Israeli Navy cadet.
In ten years this young man might have his finger on the nuclear trigger - 
but what will he eat in the meantime? (Photo: walla.com) 

Shahar  (not his real name) is a Combat Engineering conscript and a lone soldier. His mother died, his father went abroad  and cut off all connections, and he has no family assistance. To support himself, his superiors allowed him to work occasionally. But in the past two months, during the fighting in the South, his overdraft in the bank has risen and reached a total of 15 thousand Shekels . As soon as Shahar returned from Gaza, he discovered dozens of angry warning messages on financial obligations and was informed that  attachment orders were issued against his meager possessions. "I don’t know what I'm going to eat. I am totally lost and don’t know where I will celebrate the New Year, "he said in a conversation with the Channel 2 TV news. The army is giving me 700 Shekels (appr. US$190) per month, this is beyond contempt. I have nowhere to turn to, the commanding officer told me there is nothing to be done. The banks don’t care that I fought in Gaza
And Shahar is not the only one. Idan (a pseudonym) serves at an Iron Dome battery and has a completely handicapped father and a mother who is frequently hospitalized at mental health institutions. He is due to end his term of compulsory service in a few months. "I used to work nights at a gas station and then delivered newspapers in the morning. I would return to the army after a night of hard work, nearly sleepwalking, but at least I had money, I would earn some 6000-7000 Shekels per month. But this stopped when the operation started. The officers said it is now war and I can’t go anywhere, nothing to be done about it. They told I had to be a full time soldier and not go to work outside. The war went on and my debts accrued interest, and now I'm in trouble. This is how it is to be a soldier in this country – they use you and throw you to the garbage. All the defense budgets go to the salaries of the senior officers, nobody cares about us. I am being discharged in a few months, I will go out into civilian life with huge debts. Others have parents who pay for their studies, I can’t dream of that.

Shifra Shahar, who heads the "Warm Home for Every Soldier" association which helps soldiers in distress, says that since " Protective Edge" the number of soldiers’ appeals for financial aid rose from dozens to hundreds per day. "Conscript soldiers do not get salaries, they just pocket money which is barely enough for cigarettes. They can’t subsist on that. Soldiers who manage to carry on are those whose parents support them., For more than 40% of the IDF soldiers this is not an option, and they are in a very bad situation”.

In 133 BC, the People’s Tiberius Gracchus came out into the Forum in the  city of Rome and
delivered a speech which went into history: “The beasts of the field have their caves to retire to, but the brave men who spill their blood in our country’s cause have nothing left but air and light. Without houses, without settled habitations, they wander from place to place. Their generals but mock them when, at the head of their armies, they exhort their men to fight for their sepulchers and the gods of their hearths, for among these numerous soldiers  there is hardly one Roman who has an altar that has belonged to his ancestors or a sepulcher in which their ashes rest. The private soldiers fight and die to advance the wealth and luxury of the great. They who are called Masters of the World have not  a single clod of earth to call their own.”

In Ancient Rome, this speech precipitated ??a huge political storm, opening decades of revolutionary social unrest. In the State of Israel of 2014, the soldiers who returned from Gaza into poverty made interesting topic for three or four days before the media turned to other issues. Indifference, not only to the fate of Palestinians.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tsunami management

A few days after the ceasefire several dozen people gathered at Sderot, near the Gaza border - Israelis who have not lost the hope for peace and the determination to struggle for it. There were members of “The Other Voice” who live in the Gaza border area and maintain this struggle under difficult physical and social conditions, together with activists from elsewhere in the country invited by the Peace NGO’s Forum.

As described by Dr. Dan Jacobson, a longtime peace activist whom I've known for more than thirty years, "In discussion groups, participants spoke frankly for hours, seeking to shake free of fixed views. Residents of the Gaza border area showed themselves to be fed up and exhausted with the intolerable conditions they have had to experience in the past fourteen years. Some had severe doubts about their individual and collective future in the Western Negev; others stressed that this region was their one and only home. There were also quite a few expressions of empathy for the suffering of the civilian population in Gaza, accompanied by disgust at the extrajudicial executions in the Gaza city square. The attitude to Hamas ranged from utter disgust to an understanding that, like it or not, this is an organization representing a significant component of Palestinian society and which therefore must be engaged in dialogue, either directly or indirectly via the Government of Reconciliation led by President Abbas. A lot was told of ongoing personal relationships with neighbors across the border fence, maintained even at during the worst of the fighting.

Actually, the perceived draw with which a conflict ended between a regional power armed to the teeth, and a determined insurgent terrorist organization led to the development of a partial consensus on mobilizing and campaigning for a non-aggressive alternative. Despite all, said some of the participants, perhaps unlike previous rounds of fighting, an opening was created for something different, a kind of temporary constellation of forces in which outdated concepts would be discarded and the way opened to a new reality.

The peace initiative of the Arab League has come back from the tunnels and obscurity into which it had been relegated, its initiators holding out their hand to Israel – provided only that it ends the occupation; Israel discovers a common interest with the moderate Middle East countries which feel threatened by Islamic radicalism; the Israeli public, at least in part, starts understanding the limitations of military force and the inability to decide the conflict with tanks and technology, however sophisticated; the price of continued occupation and of the unbridled use of force is becoming unacceptable in terms of casualties, of the economic and social cost and of the erosion of the legitimacy of Israel’s very existence in the eyes of the Western world. In addition there is the increasing tendency towards emigration by young people, who see Israel embarked on a course where its democratic character and its very future seem in increasing doubt. For the moment, residents of the South and of the Gaza Border perimeter enjoy a kind of privileged position in the public opinion, due to the price they paid. They have a kind of immunity from criticism which might enable them to take in the coming weeks a leading position in a campaign of civil grassroots pressure on the government of Israel, to take “a bold political initiative”.

Would this potential be realized? For the time being, it must be noted, there are no signs of serious pressure in this direction among the Israeli public. According to polls, the immediate result of the war - and of the unrest in the region around us – is an increased support for right-wing parties whose programs advocate eternal conflict with the Palestinians.

Last week, PM Netanyahu dropped a few vague few hints about seeking "a political horizon" - which immediately prompted a wave of speculation and unreasonable predictions, even by seasoned commentators who should have known better. At least, unlike the days of the 2009 "Bar-Ilan Speech", when commentators continued to hang their hopes on Netanyahu for a year or more, this time Netanyahu was quick to dispel the illusions and clarify his intentions by means of a large-scale, very conspicuous land expropriation on the West Bank.

On Sunday morning, the Palestinian residents of five villages in the Bethlehem Area woke to find that 4,000 dunams of their land were declared by Israel to be "State Lands” and designated for creation of a large Israeli settler city to be known as as "Gva’ot" ("Hills"). From now on, the Palestinian villagers are no longer considered as the owners of these lands. Attempted entry into them might be considered as “trespassing”, and Israeli soldiers were stationed to guard the new State Lands against such trespassers. During the war in Gaza, Israeli soldiers had become increasingly trigger-happy. No less than twenty West Bank Palestinians were killed by IDF gunfire during this war, and almost unnoticed because of the far greater carnage in Gaza. Netanyahu certainly knew in advance that expropriation of land on this scale would precipitate a wave of strong reactions and international condemnation - but it seems that as long as condemnations remain verbal he considers it an acceptable price.

Judea and Samaria Civil Adminstration, Office of Government Properties – State Land, No Trespassing!

Over the past decade – in fact, ever since Ehud Barak succeeded, after the Camp David fiasco of 2000 to convince the Israeli public that “there is no partner "- the idea of "Conflict Management" became the leitmotif of Israeli public discourse. "We can’t resolve the conflict, we can only manage it." Is this still a viable option, after the fifty days of devastating war and with the upheavals going on all around us? From the commentaries in the weekend papers, it seems Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ya'alon intend to continue in exactly this way. "The lesson from Gaza is that the Army and Security Service must maintain a freedom of action, a freedom of entry to any location, a freedom of prevention, throughout the entire area west of the Jordan River. Otherwise there will develop a threat of mortars and rockets" said Ya'alon at a cabinet meeting convened to sum up the war.

Nahum Barnea wrote in the same vein in the weekend Yediot Aharonot: "To forestall any potential Palestinian diplomatic move, Netanyahu announced this week that he would not release any more prisoners. The Government of Israel just does not play this game. Netanyahu has no intention to go into negotiations with Abu Mazen. His speech on the Political Horizon was no more than lip service, beads to the Indians. The fighting ends and Israel returns to its position on the eve of the operation: in favor of Hamas rule in Gaza, provided that it is weak and suffocating; in favor of Fatah rule on the West Bank, on condition that it is weak and collaborative.”

But is it really possible to continue to "manage the conflict"? Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who will be eighty soon, seems unwilling to continue playing that game. Public opinion polls among Palestinians this week presented a mirror image of Israeli polls. Hamas is more popular than ever, while Abbas’ ratings are at the lowest ebb of his career. More and more Palestinians believe that “Israelis understand only force", less and less think that something can be achieved by political means. Hamas's determination to fight on against an overwhelmingly superior force aroused quite a bit of admiration among Palestinians - despite the heavy toll exacted on the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, it would be difficult to find any Palestinian enthusiastic about the nine months of futile negotiations which Abbas conducted under the auspices of Secretary of State Kerry and which produced expected zero results. If Abbas is still to salvage some prestige among his people he must take bold steps, a diplomatic counterpart to the military daring of Hamas.

According to information leaking out Ramallah, such seems indeed to be Abbas's intention. First, he would call for resumption of negotiations, with emphasis placed on determining the borders between Israel and Palestine, and conditional upon a settlement freeze during negotiations – with Abbas knowing in advance that Netanyahu would reject any such proposal out of hand. Next, there would be an appeal to the UN Security Council to define a time-table for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders. And should the United States veto such a proposal, Abbas would launch a war crimes lawsuit at the International Court in The Hague against Israeli military and civilian leaders implicated in the killing of 2100 Gazans, of whom five hundred were children.

Would the United States indeed impose a veto on a Palestinian Security Council bid to set a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders? There was a time when an American veto would have been taken for granted and no one would doubt that it would come (most especially, two months ahead of the Congressional midterm elections, when the power of AIPAC is at its peak). The very fact that at this moment there is considerable apprehension at Netanyahu's bureau, and that the American veto is far from being counted on, is indicative of the thorough deterioration which the PM’s relationship with the White House had undergone.

In the meantime, the EU opened a new front. The European Union Department of Public Health sent a letter to the Chief Veterinary Officer in the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, which stated that all animal products exported to the European market - poultry, eggs and milk – must have a veterinary certificate, and that the Israeli Veterinary Services can provide such certification only to products originating in Israel. The European countries do not recognize an Israeli veterinary approval given to products originating at settlements in Occupied Territories which are not part of Israel, and the entry of such products into the European Market is effectively blocked. Moreover, on July 28 the Europeans announced that the Israeli authorities must ensure that the Veterinary Service will not issue any certification for products originating in settlements. Furthermore, Israel must establish a mechanism to create an absolute distinction between settlement products and those originating within Israel’s legitimate, pre-1967 territory - and provide the Europeans with a convincing proof that such a mechanism exists.

Ma'ariv quoted anonymous senior officials on both sides of the debate. Diplomats at the EU Commission in Brussels: "If we are not satisfactorily convinced that there an effective method of separation, we would be forced to completely ban all imports of animal products from Israel. It must be stressed, however, that there is no boycott of Israel. This is nothing more than a technical procedure”. Diplomats at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem: "The problem of the Europeans is not a veterinarian problem. There is no issue of poultry diseases here. Their problem is political in nature. They are using the veterinarian argument in order to promote their strategy, which does not recognize Israel's control of the Territories.”

Commentator Ben Kaspit added: "An EU decision to completely halt all imports of dairy and animal products from Israel as a whole would be a catastrophic scenario, one which nobody in the Jerusalem corridors of power expected so quickly. It seems to me that the chances it will happen are close to zero, as yet. The Europeans have put this elephant in the middle of the room so they can take it out and leave there a goat – a goat whose presence is quite acute in itself. The goat is the boycott of products originating in the Territories. This is bad news – it will be the first time that a European significant embargo is announced against a product coming from or any way connected or infected with a relationship to all that is beyond the Green Line , including Jerusalem, including the Golan Heights.“

Caspit continues: “The political tsunami is already here. It disguises itself with bureaucratic and veterinary and technical and logistical reasoning, but it lives there, and it is kicking us in the head. One thing should be clear: all this business is planned. It's not just the Europeans. Behind them are hiding the Americans. Ahead of Obama's second term, which the Prime Minister tried to prevent, the US Administration and the European Union decided on a new method of acting action against the Netanyahu Government, should it continue to be obdurate. The United States cannot impose real sanctions on Israel. Congress will not allow it. Since the White House knows the balance of power, the role of imposing sanctions falls on the Europeans. The Americans sting Netanyahu in other ways – cutting off the supply of ammunition during the war, for example, or reducing the umbrella of international diplomatic support hitherto provided to Israel. Things like that. The Europeans accepted.. the job of doing the dirty work, now we see it beginning to happen”.
***

This week, a soldier sat beside me on the bus. He had a large black cloth bag bearing his unit badge and the words: "Hoping for the best, expecting the very worst." Did the unit equip its soldiers with these cases before the recent war in Gaza or afterwards?
***

Meanwhile, yesterday at noon protesters climbed to the top of the hill overlooking Military Prison 6, and unfurled banners reading “Occupation leads to war crimes” which were big enough to be visible and readable from the prison courtyard. It is also possible to hear inside the prison the slogans chanted on the mountain, provided that wind conditions are favorable. The demonstration was held in order to express solidarity and support for two conscientious objectors held there - Uriel Ferera and Udi Segal. They are both 19, both were born long after the tradition of demonstrations at Prison 6 began. The first such demonstration in support of imprisoned refuseniks took place at the beginning of the First Lebanon War in 1982.


Uriel Ferera, born in Argentine to an Orthodox religious family and a resident of Be'er Sheva, is already for six months behind bars. A few days before the date set for his call-up order he explained the reasons for his act: "I refuse to enlist in the IDF because I am opposed to the occupation. Even if I would be sent to a back echelon unit, I would still contribute indirectly to the occupation and to what it causes. I think of the young Palestinians, of my own age, all that they know is the situation of occupation. Soldiers who enter their home late at night, even when there is no reason, who separate men from women, who strip people, humiliate them, all in order to prove who is the boss.

What do you expect? Do you expect them to love us after this? What is to be expected of a Palestinian boy who was arrested by soldiers? That he would admire Israel? My conscience will not let me be a part of this. We have created the Palestinian problem. Instead of allowing the Palestinians to live their lives, we, we have created enemies with our own hands. And what is behind this is that government of Israel's desire to hide the real problems of the society. It is not the Palestinians who are the problem. Poverty is the problem. So the government creates an enemy, in order not take care of the real problems. That is their easiest solution”.

Ferera told the same to the recruiting officers, and was sent on the spot to a month in jail. At the end of the month he was released, got once again an order to let himself be enlisted, and again refused and was again sent to prison, and so on again and again. Now it is already for the seventh time. On many previous occasions, the military authorities had by that stage given up the effort to make a soldier of somebody who had so many times demonstrated his determination, but it seems that this time they are especially persistent in trying to break him.

At the middle of the war in Gaza, Ferrara was joined behind bars by another objector, Uri Segal of Kibbutz Tuval: "I think that now, more than ever, it is important. Important, not only to refuse but also to undertake any act against the occupation. Precisely now, when every day we can see the disastrous consequences with our own eyes on TV, especially now when the government and all the media are trying to silence any voice diverging from the combative Israeli mainstream.”

Seventy-five protesters accompanied Segal on his way to the recruiting office in Haifa. One of them had prepared a sign reading "Eight hundred people killed in Gaza – that is not security." Until the protest actually took place on the day fixed for Segal’s call-up, the number of deaths in Gaza already approached a thousand. The Cease-fire and the final death toll estimated at 2100 was already in the middle of Udi Segal’s second month in prison. There are many months ahead for him, and demonstrators will several times more need to call his name from the mountaintop. 

 Uriel Ferera, Born to be Free
(Dove drawing by Dudu Palma)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Children want to live


Fifty days. Seven weeks and a day. No doubt, many wars in history had lasted longer than that, and there had been worse horrors than what happened in Gaza. "We did it in the least terrible way possible" says today the IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Still, terrible it was.

Throughout  these fifty terrible days, it was the Coalition of Women for Peace  which assumed the task of keeping alight the flame of opposition to the war. To organize demonstration after demonstration, protest after protest – sometimes  in collaboration with others, sometimes alone or almost alone when no other partners appeared. Also last Saturday night we joined their call for a protest march in central Tel Aviv, from the Habima Square and along Ben Zion Boulevard. To the sound of drums and the chants of "The government’s lies/bring no security!", "Occupation is terror / PR will not help!", "End the killing, no more bereavement / the siege must end! "," In Gaza and Sderot / children want to live!". There was virtually no sign of the extreme right thugs who attacked protesters at the early weeks of the war. Only one tomato thrown near  the end of the protest signified their presence.

    

"In Gaza and Sderot / children want to live". This is quite a well known slogan. We have been hearing it on the streets for at least five years, every time that the southern border flared up. But never before was it so relevant and poignant. Never before those terrible fifty days had there been so many children who wanted to live, who very much wanted to live and whose lives were nevertheless cut off. The exact number is still being debated, but certainly there were more than five hundred children killed, some of them along with their parents and entire family. Thousands more of wounded children, some of whom will remain physically disabled for life, all of them will bear a trauma.

The sudden ending of the earlier ceasefire, the one which lasted five days, was  accompanied by an attempt to "liquidate" Mohammed Deif, head of Hamas' military wing – in recent months, the man which Israelis most loved to hate. " Deif had nine souls and avoided earlier attempts, but the Israeli Security Service discovered his weak point - the longing for his family, and used it to set him a lethal trap" bragged the well-known commentator known Alex Fishman on the pages of "Yedioth Ahronoth." The security services of Israel and discovered that Deif’s wife Widad and his eight month old son Ali would be in a “safe house” at  the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza - and assumed that the husband and father will be there, too. Israeli Air Force planes dropped no less than five bombs, weighing a ton each, to make sure the entire house will be destroyed and no one in it would possibly stay alive. Haggai Segal, who once served a prison term for attempting to assassinate Palestinian mayors on the West Bank and is now the editor of the right-wing “Makor Rishon” paper, congratulated the army and security services for having overcome moral scruples and taken the conscious decision to kill the mother and her child.

Two days after this affair, the four-year old Daniel Tregerman was killed when hit by a Palestinian mortar shell, while playing at his home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz near the Gaza border. His tragic death was the main topic in the Israeli news media, and on all the front pages was a photo of the smiling boy whose in his life was so suddenly cut short. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that "Hamas will pay a heavy price for this harsh terrorist attack", and the US Ambassador to Israel sent his condolences .

Hanoch Daum, a veteran columnist who lives in the West Bank settlement of Elazar, wrote, "We are going to win this war, because we sanctify Life while our enemies revere Death. Look how deeply an entire country mourned little Daniel, as if he were a family member to all of us."

One day after the death of the child Daniel Tregerman, there was a Facebook message from John Brown - the pen name of a veteran activist from Beersheba: "In the past 45 days, the IDF is on average killing every two hours  a child under the age of 15 in Gaza. In the past few hours it seems to be a bit above this average. Tanzim Judeh and her three children Ra'ad, Rawiya and   Osama were killed east of Jabalya. They were probably been directly, as the children’s bodies completely disintegrated. A bit earlier the one and half year old baby Bilal Abu Takiya was killed in the northern Gaza Strip ".

The State of Israel does not (yet?) censor Facebook, and anyone can write whatever pleases them, However, the above names have not been published in  Israeli communications media except for "Haaretz". Those who get  their information from *the* more widely circulated media outlets have never heard those names. At the beginning of the war, the B’tselem Human Rights organization tried to publish on the radio, as paid ad, the list of names and ages of Palestinian children killed in Gaza (the list was still much shorter...). The Broadcasting Authority rejected the request, and the Supreme Court upheld this decision, the judges stating that "Publication of the names of the dead children would not constitute the providing of objective information to the public - it would be a political statement."

Seventy years ago, when Zionist Jews in this country had yet to create a state, they established underground movements which waged an intense struggle against  the British Mandate authorities. The most radical of these was Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel). Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir survived the years of struggle against the British and ultimately became Prime Minister of Israel. At official memorial ceremonies,  Lehi veterans still their organization’s  anthem, "Unknown Soldiers":

Unknown soldiers are we, without uniform,
Around us horror and the shadow of death.
We were all called up for life,
Death is our only discharge.

In red days of riots and bloodshed,
In the black nights of despair,
In the cities and villages shall we raise our flag,
On which are inscribed War and Conquest.

"Unknown Soldiers" has five stanzas in all. But in recent years, official ceremonies in which it is sung usually do not come up to the last and concluding one:

The tears of bereaved mothers,
And the blood of pure infants
Shall be mortar for the cadaver building blocks
Of which the edifice of the Fatherland shall be erected.

***
   
During the fifty days of “Operation Protective Edge”, the Peace Bus had travelled several times from Jerusalem to the Gaza border, on the initiative of activists calling for an end to war and bloodshed and collecting humanitarian aid for the residents of the Gaza Strip. Following what we all hope is the end of this war, they have called for a Day of Mourning to commemorate all who perished in the conflict, Israelis and Palestinians alike. The Peace Bus stopped on its ride today at four points: The IDF Square on the borderline between East and West Jerusalem, between the Jerusalem Town Hall and the Jaffa Gate of the Old City; Manger Square at the heart of Palestinian Bethlehem; The Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, and the town of Sderot on the Gaza Strip border.

https://www.facebook.com/events/678843702197246/

"Wearing modest black clothes to express mourning, we light candles and lay down olive branches, flowers, basil and henna powder (a Muslim custom in commemorating slain children). Across the country we create symbolic memorial sites in memory of the people on both sides, who perished as victims of the prolonged and destructive conflict. We hold a Moment of Silence. Those who want to utter a prayer, while others just listen to the whisper of the wind. We express shock and pain at the war and hope to create a common future of peace. We read out the names of the children who were killed and their lives shattered (hundreds of Palestinian children and a single Israeli child). It is not enough to state the numbers - we must read out the names behind these numbers. We speak out, loud and clear: No more war! We are all human, we all suffer!”



   

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Emperor is naked

At 10.30 pm the website of the Palestinian news agency Ma’an bore an ominous headline: “Ceasefire falls apart in final hours, with no renewal in sight; Palestinian negotiators charge Israel has refused to accede to Palestinian requests”. So, the opposing negotiating teams – which had not met face to face, but sat in adjoining rooms with Egyptians passing messages to and fro - left Cairo. Even before the end of the of 72-hour ceasefire three rockets were shot from Gaza at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon and intercepted in the air by Iron Dome. Israeli ground forces were moved closer to the Gaza border, and commanders made dire threats of “a new ground invasion of Gaza – far deeper than the previous one”.

A friend from Luxembourg wrote “I just communicated with my friend in Gaza, they are already in such a desperate situation. Do you think there is still a chance to prevent a new round of bombing?”  I wrote back “It does not look good but we still have an hour until the ceasefire expiry, on Midnight Middle East  time. That would be 11pm in Luxembourg”.  She wrote: “I cross my fingers”.

And then, forty minutes before Midnight came the reprieve. After all, the cease-fire had been extended for 72 hours, which was immediately amended to 120 hours, a full five days. There was still a brief raid by the Israeli Air Force on nine targets in the Gaza Strip to retaliate for these three rockets at 10pm, but the targets were “chosen with surgical precision in order to avoid casualties” (if only they had done that earlier). And then things calmed down, and the ceasefire went into effect. At least for the next five days, the arena would be occupied by the wrangling of diplomats and politicians – Israelis with Palestinians and Egyptians and Americans and Europeans, and also Israelis with Israelis and Palestinians with Palestinians.

Precisely what did happen behind the scenes in these tense last hours? Commentator Yossi Melman today compared it to the Chicken Game made famous by a James Dean film, where two drivers drive towards each other on a collision course and one must swerve to avoid a mutually destructive collision.
So who did swerve?

Already a week ago Melman used Hollywood imagery in order to explain the Cairo talks: “The Head of Egyptian Intelligence is making to the Hamas leaders a Godfather-style offer”, he wrote, “an ‘offer which can’t be refused’: first you have to accept immediately and unconditionally a 72-hour ceasefire and come to Cairo, then we talk about everything else”.

What did happen in the action-packed week between the Godfather commentary and the Chicken Game? A short recapitulation: Hamas representatives came to Cairo, to hold indirect negotiations with the Israelis; they were informed by the Egyptians at the very outset that the issue of a seaport and airport in Gaza was off the agenda and would not be discussed; they made an angry retort, accusing the Egyptians of being “Netanyahu’s stooges”; they refused to renew the first 72-hour ceasefire, let it break off and engaged in several days of renewed exchange of rockets and bombings; after three days of this they consented to a new 72-hours ceasefire; they went back to Cairo – whereupon the Egyptians came up with a new offer, namely that the issue of a Gaza seaport and airport will be on the agenda within a month.

A month is a long time in Middle Eastern politics, and Israeli governments have wriggled out of obligations far more specific and explicit than this. Still, there is some difference between “Out of the question!” and “Let’s talk about it next month”. Enough, it seems, to make even perennially suspicious Hamas  decide to give this diplomatic track another try and spare the people of Gaza the horror of  a new round of bombings. At least for five days.

And more had happened in the past two weeks – especially in the international arena. The images of death and destruction from Gaza were seen on TV around the world and made a profound impression, and even the horrors emanating from north Iraq failed to overshadow them (as Netanyhau may have hoped). On November 9 there was the world-wide series of demonstrations in solidarity with the Gazans. In particular, the one in London drew a crowd of 150,000 – one of the largest demonstrations on any issue which the British capital saw in recent  years. Israeli exporters were alarmed to hear that European supermarkets no longer wanted to have Israeli fruit on their shelves, since the sight of it angered many customers. Moreover, the European Union informed Israeli dairy producers that as of September 1, dairy products originated at settlements in the Occupied Territories would be altogether denied entry to the European market. The Spanish government declared an arms embargo on Israel, which the British threatening a similar step should the fighting in Gaza resume. Then came the disclosure in the Wall Street Journal  that the Obama Administration had stopped a shipment of appropriately named Hellfire missiles to Israel, apparently out of anger at the Israeli military using American arms in the killing of Gazan civilians.
Then, there was the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva deciding to set up an investigation of Israel’s deeds in Gaza, similar to the Goldstone Commission which investigated the Cast Lead Operation of 2009 and which caused Israel great damage on the international arena. Being engaged on a full-fledged campaign to de-legitimize in advance the UN investigation, can Netanyahu afford to restart a full-fledged military assault in Gaza, inevitably entailing further mass destruction and killings? By all sober calculation, he does not really have such an option, whatever dire threats are made by generals and  hawkish ministers.

But  Netanyahu also has no real option of just letting the war in Gaza taper off inconclusively, with desultory shooting going on in the border region. Such an outcome would be intolerable to the inhabitants of southern Israel, who had suffered considerable hardships in the past month – much less than the inhabitants of Gaza, to be sure, but much more then the inhabitants of central Israel. At the moment idolized by the country’s mass media, inhabitants of the South are in a position to exact a prohibitive political prize from Netanyahu.

On the day after the ceasefire was extended by five days, inhabitants of the South streamed  into Tel Aviv to hold a mass rally in the Rabin Square. It was far from a peace-oriented event. Speakers – mayors and local politicians from various towns in the South - demanded that Netanyahu “Solve the problem once and for all, put an end to the shooting and restore calm to the border area, either by military means or by diplomacy”. Had the government sent the army into an all-out campaign to conquer Gaza, these might have become the most vocal of cheer-leaders. But should the military option be taken definitely off the table and a comprehensive political solution for Gaza substituted, some of the same people might lend it their support.

On August 10, Yediot Aharonot published very prominently a letter written by Tomer Bar Gil, a child from Kibbutz Nirim on the Gaza border:

My name is Tomer and I am ten and a half years old.

I live in Kibbutz Nirim, less than two kilometers from the Gaza border. For a month, during the war, I was staying with my uncle and aunt ​​in the North. Three days ago we were told that we could go back to Nirim because the shooting from Gaza had stopped. I was very happy to go home, to my own room, to my games and books. But on the next morning the 72-hour ceasefire ended and there was a Code Red alarm,  and then another alarm, and also mortar shells fell without the alarm sounding. Then I felt we have been told in vain that we can come back to live here, but in fact we have been brought back into an unsafe place. I try to convince my young brother to come out and play football, but he is afraid a missile would fall. Even the steps of my father at home are frightening because they sound like explosions, and I get frightened when a dog is barking, because they sense the Code Red alarms and start barking already before people hear the alarm.

I think we can’t go on like this. On the one hand our life is in danger, on the other hand you can’t just leave your home and run away all the time.

I don’t want this condition to continue. I know that it can be solved and I want the solution to happen already. I am angry with the government for not making a peace agreement with the Palestinians and only attacking them. This is bad for all of us. I want the world to help us make peace with the Palestinians, because then we and they will have a better life.

“(…) The procession went on, when suddenly a little child said "But the Emperor is naked, he hasn't got anything on". And the child’s father said: “Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?". And one person whispered to another what the child had said, "He hasn't got anything on. A child says he is naked." Finally, the whole town was crying “He hasn't got anything on, the Emperor is naked, the Emperor is naked!". The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked on, more proudly than ever.” (Hans Christian Andersen, April 7, 1837).  

"Solidarity with the South and with Gaza"  
 sign at Tel Aviv anti-war demo, Aug. 9

Tomer with his sister Ella, standing in front of 
a protective wall (photo Yediot Ahronot)


Friday, August 8, 2014

How dare they

So, the ceasefire was not renewed, and the war goes on. For how long?

Last night was very restless. Once every hour or two we got up to listen to the radio and look up Israeli and Palestinian and international news websites. There were many rumors and speculations and few pieces of hard news, but past midnight it had become clear that the negotiations in Cairo had collapsed. Or perhaps they had  never been real talks, but rather a  joint Israeli-Egyptian effort to impose terms  which Gazans in general and Hamas leaders in particular found completely unacceptable.  And now the government of Israel declares that it will not negotiate under fire, that the fire must cease in order to make it possible to talk the conditions under which the fire may cease.

Israelis were rather flabbergasted, having been reasonably certain that Operation Protective Edge was over.  More than half of all Israelis consider it to have ended with a draw. With this draw having included 64 dead soldiers, the public did not seem too sanguine about wanting it to continue. Dozens of newspaper articles summed up the military and political and economic and psychological aspects of the war. Economists concluded that war expenses could be covered without major dislocation, if there is no further crisis. The mass circulation papers were preparing to have a few more days of the “Love Our Boys in Uniform” campaign – and after the weekend  the normal staple of gossip and scandals was going to resume. So how dare the  Palestinians, who had already taken such a terrible beating, overturn everything and decide that the war is not over yet?

A few days ago former Knesset Member Yehuda Ben Meir - once an outspoken hawk and nowadays a rather mainstream commentator - made an effort to convince Israel’s citizens that they had indeed won the war: After a month of fighting, Hamas agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire without preconditions; that is, it accepted the original Egyptian diktat – first a cease-fire and only then a discussion on the sides’ demands. The very fact Hamas has agreed to one without getting anything in advance – completely contradicting its stance for about three weeks – is tantamount to a harsh defeat. This isn’t the running of a white flag up a pole, but it’s definitely the raising of one, at least to half-mast”.

Three days later these words turned out to be, at the very least, premature. Rather than a white flag to half-mast, Israel finds itself facing a Hamas determined to go on fighting and holding up a battle flag inscribed with the words “The Port of Gaza”.

Upon their arrival in Cairo, the Palestinians had been informed by Egyptian security chiefs – speaking on behalf of Netanyahu – that the very issue of opening Gaza’s sea port (and airport) is “not on the agenda”. Netanyahu did offer some easing on the movement of goods from Israel into Gaza, some increase in the distance which Gazan fishing boats may move from shore before being intercepted by Israeli gunboats. In short – a bit of improvement in the prison conditions under which a million and eight hundred thousand Gazans are held, but by no means any change in the basic situation of their being held imprisoned by the two closely colluding warders, Israeli and Egyptian, who control all their access to the outside world.

It seems that Gazans would have to fight – and fight hard – in order to gain an open sea port, by which they could start building up their own direct relations and contacts in the wider world and break free of Israel and Egypt alike. A true War of Independence, though no one uses the term. And so, the war is once again escalating, as I write this.

***

On the second night of the 72-hour ceasefire, we were walking along a side street in a city which had emerged without a scratch from a month of war, thanks to the Israeli technological ingenuity and the American taxpayers’ money which had gone into Iron Dome. There was suddenly piteous mewing. A stray kitten was crying his heart out, under a parked car. About a month old, the time when mother cats stop caring for their children and they have to take care of themselves. Not all of them survive. There was an all-night shop nearby which sold milk, and the sympathetic young attendant provided a small plastic bowl which we placed as near the kitten as we could.

When coming home half an hour later, there was waiting on the computer a harrowing report published in the Christian Science Monitor and sent by an American friend. A detailed eyewitness report of what happened in the neighborhood of Khuzaa between July 21 and 25. The unimaginable gulf separating the two sides of this terribly unequal war.

“Faten Qdeih and her six children had fled Israeli shelling of their home. Her seven-year-old son Anas dashed outside in fear just as another strike landed. Qdeih followed him and found his lifeless body. (…)  A group gathered, and men took off their shirts and shoes to avoid being mistaken for militants. The men  raised white cloths and yelled “peaceful!” as they walked. “We were not expecting to get out alive”. (…) Wael Abu Erjala says he'll be haunted by a boy, dying in the street and calling for help. “I was carrying my aunt so I couldn't go to him… I don't think I'll ever sleep after what I saw.”

Are we going to have more of this in the coming days? On this first day after the resumption of fighting, “only” five Gazans were killed, a far cry from the three-digit death toll which characterized the days of last week – which is no guarantee of anything. But possibly, the outcry at the terrible things broadcast from Gaza to TV viewers worldwide, though not in Israel(!), might have some deterrent effect on the political and military decision makers. Also the firm words of the UN Secretary-General, and the incipient moves towards war-crimes charges. 



CHANGE DIRECTION - NO TO THE WAY OF WAR
Change direction – move towards peace!

The next round of fighting can be prevented.

No to the way of wars - we must have a political solution!

Mass rally – Saturday, August 9, 2014, at 8.00 pm, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv.

On Saturday, Israel’s Peace Camp will rally at the Rabin Square.

After an agonizing month of war and death, in face of mounting waves of incitement and hatred which increasingly tear up the Israeli society, we stand up to demonstrate for peace and for democracy.
The next round of fighting can be prevented. It is far from inevitable that we continue the descent into an abyss of ever more cruel wars, of extreme hatred and the destruction of our neighbors and of ourselves.

There is another way: an immediate dialogue with the Palestinians – for a fair peace and for the reconstruction and opening of Gaza; a determined joint stand of Jews and Arabs against racism; a struggle for a future of Life.

Only a political solution of two states, Israel and Palestine side by side, will ensure independence, justice, security and hope for all who live in this land.

On Saturday night we will stand together – Jews and Arabs, residents of the South and of the whole country. Together we will call for an end to the cycle of bloodshed. The next war can and must be prevented, Israeli society should be healed.

Mass rally – Saturday, August 9, 2014, at 8.00 pm, Rabin Square

Organizations sponsoring this rally include: Meretz, Hadash, Peace Now, Combatants for Peace, Gush Shalom, Peace NGOs Forum, Young Labor in Tel Aviv and many others.

Transportation: Be'er Sheba Merakaz Ha'Morim near the University - 18.00 Contact: Immanuel 054-6480024 Jerusalem: Gan Ha'Paamon 18.15, Binyaney Ha'umma 18.30 Contact: Neta 054-4792073 Haifa Migdal Hanevi'im, Hadar (Al Middan Theatre) 17.45 Contact: Eyal 054-7843210


Now - Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Friday, August 1, 2014

Physical and mental tunnels

On Wednesday afternoon I went into our neighborhood pizzeria and noticed that their TV was no longer tuned to the non­stop 24­hour war channel. Rather, there was a non­Israeli music channel featuring a Spanish guitar player. That evening came the news that the army had presented to the Inner Cabinet a detailed plan for the complete conquest of the Gaza Strip, forecasting months of fighting and hundreds – possibly thousands – of dead Israeli soldiers. Even the outspoken cabinet war hawks Lieberman and Bennet shied away from supporting that plan.

So, it looked like the tide was turning and that the State of Israel has come up against the limitations of its mighty power. The atmosphere seemed to be improving a bit, with some fissures in the "war mania consensus", and such staunch mainstream commentators as Nahum Barne’a and former Mossad Director Efraim Halevy started to change their tune a bit.

The maverick Ari Shavit tried to analyze seriously how the past month affected us. The unexpected fighting abilities exhibited by Hamas, which had spent years preparing for this war, have broken up the complacency in which Israel had lived in the past decade. Feeling secure in overwhelming military superiority, Israeli society had shrugged off Kerry’s feeble attempts of peace­making, confident of an ability to “manage the conflict” without solving it. Israel was to go on indefinitely as “a villa in the jungle”, a prosperous high­tech enclave splendidly self­isolated from the stormy region all around. But it was a wafer­thin false security, as evident by how easily it was shattered and replaced by a deep­seated anxiety.


The success of Iron Dome in deflecting the missiles shot from Gaza, making it
possible for life to outwardly continue as normal in the cities of central Israel, was far from making Israelis feel truly secure. The panic around the Hamas cross-border tunnels was understandable for inhabitants of a kibbutz two kilometers from the Gaza border: “They could at any moment burst out of the earth and kill us all!”.  From Tel­-Avivans the same outcry probably refers to issues far deeper and profounder than physical tunnels dug in the sandy soil of the Gaza border zone.

Israel might count itself lucky that the war with Iran, towards which Netanyahu was pushing for years (and on preparing for which he spent a great deal of money) is (hopefully!) not going to happen. It might have been an even more rude and painful wakeup call.

Yesterday night I went to bed hoping that the tide was truly turning, that a UN/US brokered 72­hour ceasefire would be the beginning of long­overdue negotiations, with our side woken up from the illusion of omnipower and ready to talk rather than dictate. This morning had seen a new rude awakening, the Gaza avalanche not stopped but gathering an even greater destructive momentum. The prime minister’s nightmare has come true – once again an Israeli soldier is in the hands of Hamas.

Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers had been introduced into the Hamas’ home ground of the Gaza Strip, and Hamas managed – as they announced in advance they would – to use the opportunity and capture one of them (“kidnap” as official Israeli statements put it). Until now, Israeli society had
been extremely sensitive to soldiers held in captivity, and ready to pay very high prices in order to get them back. Would that still hold with regard to Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin?

Who has broken the ceasefire? During the night, Israeli forces had advanced into the Rafah area so as to create a fait accompli before the 8.00 ceasefire deadline and take possession of several square kilometers of ground they had not held before. Strictly, that would not be considered a ceasefire violation, though it would not exactly be an act in good faith. (Good faith is in extremely short supply on either side to this conflict...) Israeli forces then proceeded to uncover and prepare to destroy a Hamas tunnel discovered in this same area. And then, apparently, the tunnel disgorged Hamas fighters who killed two soldiers and captured one and carried him with them back deep into the earth.

Did all this happen at 7.00 before the ceasefire was to enter into effect, or at 9.30 when it was supposed to be in force? Did the ceasefire terms entitle Israeli forces to go on blowing up tunnels in the areas of Gaza presently under their direct control? Did the ceasefire terms entitle Hamas fighters presently inside these tunnels to do something about the possibility of the tunnels and themselves being blown up? Did the ceasefire terms refer at all to these complicated issues? Diplomats might long argue about all this, and a Professor of International Law might eventually set it as an interesting thorny problem to his students. To thirty-five Palestinian inhabitants of the Rafah area, killed in the immediate massive Israeli retaliation, all this would no longer make any difference.

The madness goes on.

***

Demonstration: 
Saturday, 2nd of August. 20:00, Habima Theater Square, Tel Aviv

We continue to call for an immediate cease fire, putting an end to the war and bloodshed, while simultaneously seeking a political solution

Stop the attack on Gaza!

War does not lead to security, it merely claims more and more causalities.

Say yes to a political solution that will make possible a secure life for both people.

*** There will be assigned stewards. Please follow their instructions as for the location of the protest, the conduct during the protest and the dispersal***

We ask that all participants will avoid any violent conduct.

Coalition of Women for Peace & The Da'am Workers’ Party

Lighting candles at the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, 
in memory of all Palestinians and Israelis killed in the Gaza War.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A tsunami of pent-up animosities


In Gaza and Sderot, children want to live

The 17th day - Friday, July 25, 2104, 3:30 pm

Two and a half weeks into the horror in Gaza. Netanyahu convenes at noon the Inner Cabinet. According to the radio news, the agenda will include both a possible cease-fire and "expanding the operation". Reportedly, some IDF generals have become tired of “pussyfutting at the margins of Gaza” and prepared plans for penetrating deeper. The number of fatalities in the Gaza Strip passed the eight hundred mark. As long as the State of Israel employed in Gaza only its Air Force, the number of dead was making double-digit increments. Since the artillery came on the scene, the jumps are in three digits. Also today the newsreader mentioned in passing "continuing heavy artillery shelling in northern Gaza".  Artillery had been sowing death in civilian populations centuries before the airplane was invented.

After the air raid alarm yesterday morning, the radio reported that heavy shrapnel fell on the main streets of Tel Aviv. Sharp steel fragments are the bigger danger. Most of the rockets fired from Gaza are intercepted in the air by the Iron Dome system, and only few of them land. But the sharp debris is falling down after each interception, and a sliver of the Iron Dome counter-missile can kill you just as dead if it falls down on your head. So, it is advised to stay under cover for ten minutes after hearing the alarm and the blast of interception.

Yesterday afternoon came the news of the killing at the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun.  Fifteen killed, and horrible footage was broadcast on TV around the world (except, of course, in Israel.) The IDF announced that it was investigating the unfortunate incident. Government and military speakers repeatedly reiterated that it is in no way the policy of the State of Israel and its armed forces  to kill unarmed civilians, that there is no intention to perpetrate any such act, and that we are deeply sorry when it does happen. And in reality it does happen again and again – always accidentally, always without intention and indeed despite all the army’s good intentions to the contrary, and the army is always very sorry when it happens. In the UNRWA school at Beit Hanoun were not only students of the school itself but also refugees who fled their homes elsewhere in Gaza, responding to the warning issued by the IDF telling them that their homes were under threat. But for the Palestinians in Gaza there is no safe place to escape to, death can come at them at any place and any time and from any direction.

“The Siege Goes On" stated a big headline in yesterday's paper. The reference was to the decision of international airlines to stop landing at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport because one of the rockets fired from Gaza fell quite close to the airport. Many Israelis were left stranded at various locations all over the world. Israel’s national airline, El Al, continued flying but raised prices. However, after the paper was already printed and on the stalls, AIPAC exerted  its influence and American companies resumed flights after a break of two days, and enabling the launch of an airlift to return the stranded Israelis before the weekend.  

Elsewhere in the same paper, the political correspondent noted that the government does not intend to accede to Hamas' demand to lift the siege on Gaza in the framework of the ceasefire. First they should stop shooting and then we'll see. The International Airport in southern Gaza which the Palestinians built during the Oslo years was closed down by the State of Israel after two years of operations. In 2001 Israeli tanks and bulldozers arrived and plowed down the runways. Will aircraft ever take off from there again? Certainly not any time soon.

Earlier this week, after the bombardment which left dozens of killed civilians lying in the streets of Shujaiyeh, Gush Shalom published an emergency ad in several papers: “Enough! The bodies of civilians are piling up in the streets of Gaza. Dozens of children were killed. Israel is sinking into a new swamp in Gaza. Enough! We must end the bloodshed and lift the siege of Gaza.
There are no military solutions. Only negotiations can achieve a quiet border.”

On the following day we got an angry phone call: "How dare you write such things? Don’t  you see how they are slaughtering us?" "Are they slaughtering us? Are you sure you are not a bit confused? Are you sure you do not have confusion?" "Certainly they are slaughtering us. Every day they shoot hundreds of missiles at us." "In case you have not noticed, Iron Dome is intercepting these missiles." "So, we have to apologize for knowing how to protect ourselves?" yelled the caller and hung up.

The majority of Israeli citizens are indeed effectively protected by their government. Under the Iron Dome protection, we in Tel Aviv we can lead an almost normal life. War enters our daily lives only with one or two alarms per day and a bit of nervousness for the rest of the time. It is only the “unrecognized villages" in the Negev, home to some eighty thousand Bedouin citizens of Israel, which are not covered. The Iron Dome computer system defines the Unrecognized Bedouin villages as open empty spaces.  In normal times they do not get water and electricity, and in times of war they do not get protection from missiles.

One of the rockets which was not worth the Iron Dome’s effort to intercept fell and exploded last week near Dimona, precisely on the spot where some 200 members of the Jenayeb Tribe, citizens of Israel, live in tin huts (more solid houses they are not allowed to build, and if they try to build them anyway the State of Israel takes care to demolish what they built) . Shrapnel thoroughly pierced the tin hut next to which the rocket exploded and killed the 32-year old Ouda Lafi al-Waj, seriously injuring in the head his three months old daughter, Aya - now anesthetized at the pediatric intensive care unit at Soroka. The rocket was fired from Gaza in this general direction because the Jenayeb Tribe happens to live near the city of Dimona which gave its name to the Dimona Nuclear Reactor which is well-known worldwide, also in Gaza. But Hamas's rockets are inaccurate weapons. As is the Israeli artillery this morning heavily and inaccurately shelling northern Gaza.


Dov Koller, peace activist from Karmiel in the north and an old friend, sent me this morning a communiqué: “Out of our duty to speak out in shared citizenship, we hold a protest vigil at Noon today in the Karmiel West Junction. We, Jews and Arabs in the Galilee, will stand there to jointly call for an end to  the bloodshed, for stopping the war. Jews and Arabs do not want to be enemies!".

At this time that I am writing, the "Peace Bus" is making its way  Jerusalem to the Gaza border, for the second time since the war began. "We set out from Jerusalem towards Gaza in a bus full of flowers and adorned with slogans of peace. Because - it will not end until we talk" wrote the initiators. "We are going to convey a message of dialogue and solidarity. Put an end to  the war. Start talking about peace. Out of the bus we will be making a live broadcast. Love of humanity. Speaking to the people of Gaza. Protest. Singing. Hope. Craftsmanship."

Tomorrow night we will all gather for a demonstration against the war at the  Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, which hopefully will be bigger than pervious demonstrations. And yet, there can be no illusion - we, opponents of the war, are isolated in the Israeli society (at least, in the Jewish Israeli society). Opposition to this Gaza war is the business of a radical, determined minority. It is unlikely that a mass protest movement could be precipitated in the Israeli society, such as flourished during the First Lebanon War.

In the first week of that war in June 1982, the missiles fell on Kiryat Shmona and the communities of Northern Israel, and peace demonstrations were very small and isolated. But after that first week, the IDF crossed the Forty Kilometer Line - at the time marking the maximum range of Palestinian missiles. The shooting of missiles stopped, but the army continued racing northward to Beirut, promoting the schemes of Defense Minister Sharon to create “A New Order in the Middle East”. That was the point when the crowds began to take to the streets and protest, and the soldiers who were killed in increasing numbers on Lebanese soil seen as having fallen in vain at a foreign country where Israel was sinking in a swamp. Eventually mothers organized and demanded to bring the boys home, and ultimately they succeeded.

Nowadays,  the firing of missiles continues over large parts of Israel, and the country’s leaders have warned the public that the shooting will continue until the last moment of the war, and that this is not the measure by which victory will be defined. Precisely when I wrote these words, the daily alarm sounded and we ran to the staircase to sit in the building’s most stable part, and strengthen our ties with our neighbors in this four floor building. And then I returned to the computer, to continue writing and note that Hamas was able apart from shooting missiles to organize effective guerilla warfare and that the IDF forces entering the Strip suffered far more losses than the High Command expected. An infantry soldier who was there told Yedioth Ahronoth: "There were no face to face battles. We entered Beit Hanoun on foot, they shot at us with anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles and small arms. We were searching for them. Sergeant Major Ben Sira was killed right next to me."

In 2014 Israel these soldiers are seen as fighting and falling "to defend out homes", their deaths in a worthy cause and not in vain. Tens of thousands came last week to attend the funerals of “lone soldiers” whose families do not live in Israel. The initiative for this did not come from the government or the army, but from an organization of soccer fans who had sent out via Facebook the call to attend the funerals.

At my neighborhood supermarket today, I found a large carton box at the cash register where customers were asked to put in gift packages for soldiers. The supermarket management took care to save the customers’ time and provide  them with a ready-made dedication letter: "To the Soldiers With Love! Dear Soldier! We are proud of you! We salute you and think about you a lot. To make things easier for you, if only slightly, we have prepared for you a package full of personal warmth and love. Take care of yourself and of us, and most importantly, return home safely. "

Amnon Abramovich, a well known Israeli media, embarked on his career as a  very staunch and outspoken opponent of the First Lebanon War. Yesterday he expressed his support for the current war in Gaza: "The cross-border tunnel system established by Hamas is truly horrifying. They could have come at night and taken over Kibbutz Nir Am, of which my parents were among the founders. I find it hard to stop imagining the nightmare scenes of what horrors they might have perpetrated. The French philosopher and writer Albert Camus, a Frenchman born in Algeria, objected to the way France maintained control of Algeria. But he said that ‘those who oppose French rule are placing bombs on  buses. These are the buses on which my mother is travelling. If that is Justice, then I choose for my mother." And so, it seems, does Abramovich. In fact, in all cases where Hamas made use of these tunnels, its members who crossed the border clashed with soldiers rather than attack civilians - but somehow this is not registered.
Near to us at the suburb of Holon lives a man named Perez, whom from time to time we run across in the street and talk about politics. He had been originally  a supporter of the extreme right, but over the years he mellowed and moved to the political center. In the last election he voted for Tzipi Livni. Monday night, a little after the alarm, we met again and talked about the current situation. He  surprised us a bit in understanding the situation of the Palestinians under siege in Gaza: "If someone had locked me up in the bathroom and prevented me from reaching other parts of the apartment, it could well be that I would start  rampaging and running wild. But make no mistake, I'm with my people. I'm not the man in the bathroom. I am the man in the living room who is a bit  afraid of that man in the bathroom and of what he might do if he broke out."


When yesterday I cleared up old files clogging up my computer I came across an article written a bit less than four months ago in Le Monde under the title "If Kerry fails, what then?." The Jewish-Palestinian co-writers - Tony Klug and Sam Bahour - started with the words: “Suppose Kerry fails to cajole the Israeli and Palestinian leaders into finally ending their conflict. What would happen next? A tsunami of pent-up animosities is likely to be unleashed, with each side holding the other responsible for the failure and calling for retribution. Attempts to indict and isolate each other would gather pace and violence might return with a vengeance. The toxins let loose will inevitably have global spillover.” Few prophecies were fulfilled in such a swift and chilling manner.


And here John Kerry is back - this time with a more modest goal. Not an end to the conflict but just putting off the immediate combustion in the Gaza Strip. "The tireless Kerry has drafted a ceasefire proposal somewhere in between the Egyptian proposal, which was designed to grind Hamas to the ground, and the Qatari proposal aimed at giving Hamas a grand triumph" writes Nahum Barnea today. "It would offer a temporary respite, during which all the demands of Hamas will be taken up. Israel will have to negotiate about all these issues  under the eyes of Kerry and the Europeans - a bitter pill for Israel to follow." At least hawks in Netanyahu's cabinet consider it far too bitter, and they are yelling and screaming and demanding a continuation of the operation and a deeper and deeper penetration into Gaza. Which suggests that  there  just might be a reason to take it seriously. And so we come to the meeting of the Israeli Inner Cabinet which is still going on as I write, and has already gone on for a long time. And presumably, an equivalent meeting of the Hamas leadership somewhere to deal with the same issue.

If we do have a ceasefire, it will be too late for Sergeant First Class Yair Ashkenazi, 36-year-old reservist from Rehovot. Like all the soldiers killed, the media is filled with his photos and the story of his life and the reactions of his grieving family members and friends. And the cease-fire would also come too late for the fifteen killed at the UNRWA school yesterday, and for more than eight hundred Palestinians whose names will never be heard and their faces never seen in the Israeli media.

The Human Rights group B'Tselem tried in vain to place a radio spot giving the names  and ages of more than a hundred children, ages fifteen or less, who were killed in Gaza in the past seventeen days. In response, B'Tselem posted the censored spot on Facebook, where it got quite a wide attention.


So, what can be hoped for, may this list be definitely closed and no further names added to it. And that the siege of Gaza be truly opened, not just in empty promises, and the people of Gaza get some fresh air. And then perhaps there would be no countdown to the next round of fighting.

Meanwhile, we continue preparations for the rally of tomorrow night.

GET OUT!
Stop the War Demo – Saturday, 8pm, Tel Aviv, Rabin Square

We Are Not Afraid Of A Political Solution!

On Saturday, the peace camp takes a stand at Rabin Square
The war is taking a heavy toll in lives and injuries on both sides, in destruction and horror, in bombings and rockets. We answer this by taking a stand and making a demand: end the war now!

We must end the war and start talking with the recognized Palestinian leadership of the West Bank and Gaza, to end the occupation and the siege and to achieve independence and justice for both peoples – in Israel and Palestine.

Instead of being drawn, again and again, into more wars and more military actions, it is now time to lead the way to dialogue and political settlement.

There is a political solution. What price must we pay – the people of the South and the other residents of Israel, and the people of Gaza and the West Bank – until we reach that solution?

Together, Jews and Arabs, we will overcome occupation and war, hatred, incitement and racism – and offer a path to life and hope.

Transportation:
Haifa-17:45 Al-Midan Theater (Migdal Haneviim), contact: Danny (0525655542)
Jerusalem- 18:15 Gan Hapaamon, 18:30 Binyanei Haouma, contact: Sahar: 0545683419