Saturday, March 7, 2015

After the elections, the deluge

The Edies family home after the visit of the soldiers - photo ISM

He came. He saw. He made a speech – he made a speech indeed. Did he also win? That remains to be seen.

On Rotschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, there was no clapping to the speech of Netanyahu. Activists of the renewing social protest movement erected a tent camp to protest the rising costs of housing, making the finding of an apartment a nearly impossible mission for hundreds of thousands of young Israelis. They erected a huge sign reading “All my friends have left the country, that is a greater threat than Iran” and invited the public to watch on a large screen the speech from Washington and make their comments: “While he will speak in America, we will remember the real situation of our lives. When the man for the Prime Minister’s Residence will stand in front of the US Congress we will look at both speech and a presentation on the standard and conditions of living here in Israel in the past few years. We will talk of our real problems:  frightening rents, a completely unbalanced housing market, destruction of the public housing and food prices beyond control. He will talk to the Americans,  and we will talk to each other in our own language, about the true problems of our daily life and the way to solve them. Come to the Netanyahu speech  and bring Purim rattles.” It is the immemorial Jewish custom on Purim to make noise with the rattles whenever the name of the evil Haman is mentioned.     
 “Netanyahu has no rivals in his acting ability. It would be very easy to imagine the PM on the stage in Broadway – with his ringing tones, well-timed pauses, changing expressions, eye blinks and hand movements” wrote Sima Kadmon in Yedioth Aharonot. To which can be added that Netanyahu not only plays the main role but also writes and directs the play.
As in any good theater play, there were several preliminary scenes designed to build up tension towards the climatic peak. First, the Wailing Wall and the highly publicized prayer for the success of his mission, which Netanyahu defined with characteristic modesty as “fateful and historic”. Then the photo opportunity of Prime Minister and loving wife boarding the plane.  True, in between there were some disharmonious background noises: Former Mossad Director Meir Dagan declared that Netanyahu’s visit to America and speech in Congress are causing the state of Israel a strategic damage and a long-term undermining of relations with its main ally. Similar things were written in an open letter signed by some two hundred retired senior military officers and security officials.
Netanyahu was not really perturbed: “In this historic mission I represent all citizens of Israel, also the ones who oppose me” he declared at the airport, and after a few seconds’ pause “And I represent the whole Jewish people”. Indeed, an elected Prime Minister can claim to represent all citizens of his country – though two weeks before new elections he might have been expected to wait and see if his mandate would be renewed. As to Jews who are not Israeli citizens, quite a few of them shared the position of the Jewish US Senator Dianne Feinstein, who defined Netanyahu’s claim to represent her as “arrogant and unworthy behavior”. Arrogant or not, whether or not world Jews want to be represented by Netanyahu, he had made up his mind to represent them and speak for them.
 While the Prime Minister’s plane was making its way over the Atlantic, the diplomatic commentator on the Voice of Israel news magazine remarked: “The United States has been in existence for 230 years. In all these years, this is the very first time that a foreign Head of State came to Capitol Hill in order to express open opposition to the policies of the President of the United States and make a sustained effort to foil those policies”. A historic opportunity indeed.  Knesset Member Ze’ev Elkin, PM Netnayhau’s close confidant, made a sharp attack on the Israeli opposition leaders: “The Prime Minister is going on a vital national mission, and instead of supporting him the opposition is  shooting him in the back”. Also Naftali Bennet of the Jewish Home Party, Netanyahu’s partner and rival, elaborated on the “shooting in the back” theme.
And then Netnayhau landed in Washington, and hurried to the warm-up performance at the AIPAC conference, telling sixteen thousand cheering supporters that they were all members of the Family, the “Mishpuche”. And from there to the climax which had been talked about for such a long time in advance, the rising of the curtain at the premiere at Capitol Hill. Until the last moment speculations continued on how many Democrat Senators and Representatives  would boycott the speech, and how many would enter the hall and perhaps even join some of the clapping. In the event there were about sixty boycotters, out of 232 Democrats in Congress. Is that a lot or a little? To be sure, it was more than the zero boycotters at any previous Congress speech by an Israeli Prime Minister.
Of course columnist Amnon Lord, the most loyal of Netnayhau’s retainers in the Israeli press, was sitting there in the Congress Gallery. Immediately afterwards he hastened to write an awe-struck report: “Also the Democrat leaders in Congress cheered Netanyahu! The first thing which I tried to see at the beginning of the session was what was going on at the Democrat side of the hall. When Nancy Pelosi  showed up in her brown dress and even Dianne Feinstein in purple, it was clear that those who hoped to see empty places would be disappointed. The hall was packed. Dozens of cheers raised the roof, there were some twenty standing ovations.” 
Indeed, Nancy Pelosi  - majority leader until the mid-term elections and still the leader of a considerable minority – was not among the boycotters. She entered the hall and remained seated throughout the Netanyahu’s speech. But a few hours after Amnon Lord sent his enthusiastic report from Washington, she a bit spoiled the picture for him. As other news channels reported, “Nancy Pelosi  left the hall demonstratively before Netanyahu’s departure, turning her back on him. ‘As a friend of Israel, I was near tears during this speech. I was saddened by his condescension. It was an insult to the intelligence of the American people."
 So what will happen now in Congress? The Republicans have a majority. They will pass a law to tie Obama’s hands in achieving a deal with Iran. Obama will promptly veto it. To overcome the Presidential veto, a two-thirds majority in Congress will be needed. The Republicans don’t have two thirds, to achieve that would require a mass defection of Democrats siding with the Republicans (and with Netanyahu). Would a speech constituting an insult to the intelligence be enough to get the Democrats into a head-on confrontation with an incumbent President of their own party?
So what is left of Netanyahu’s great speech? The net result is a king-size elections propaganda stunt, with the US Congress as a fabulous backdrop, broadcast into every Israeli household two weeks before elections day. The result: mediocre. It seems that the seepage of Likud voters, who had started wandering to other electoral attractions, was halted. By the latest polls, Likud is once again more or less neck to neck with Herzog ’s Labor Party (“The Zionist Camp” as it is now known, in alliance with Tzipi Livni). “If that is the extent of what Netanyahu achieved by a massive salvo of his heaviest artillery, he has some reasons to worry – and there are still a week and half of campaigning left to get through” wrote Yossi Werther, the veteran Ha’aretz commentator.   
And one more thing was left in the wake of the speech – yet another massive and highly emotional calling up of Holocaust, in service of the present-day political interests of the Government of Israel. “This is an existential issue for Israel and for the Jewish people, they want to exterminate us, Never Again!” was the refrain of Netanyahu’s speech, underscored by pointing to his character witness in the gallery, his good friend Elie Wiesel – the man who survived the Holocaust and made of that a quite good career over fifty years.  And since the speech was about Iran and it was the time of the Purim holiday, Netanyahu did not pass up the opportunity to make also an ample reference to the Persian villain Haman, who already 2300 years ago plotted to destroy the Jewish people (that is, assuming that the Book of Esther in the Bible depicts actual historical events …)
Netanyahu elaborated further on the theme of Nazis and Holocaust and the grave existential threat hanging over Israel. “If Iran is allowed to enrich Uranium, even without making bombs of it, that is as if the world in 1939 allowed Germany to construct the facilities at Auschwitz without as yet placing the Jews inside the gas chambers” wrote Orly Goldklang. And the aforementioned Amnon Lord added: “Netanyahu had no other choice but go to Washington and deliver his speech, in order to do all he could to avert this dangerous deal with Iran. His only other option was to do what Czechoslovak President  Benes did in 1938, sit at the edge of his bed and cry bitterly at hearing that the British and French had delivered his country to the Nazis in the Munich Agreement”.  But should Iran ever get nuclear weapons, would there really be nothing left to the Prime Minster of Israel other than bitter crying?
 “There is nothing secret about Iran’s acts and plans. You just need to google, it is all there on the Net” said Netanyahu in his speech. Which is quite true. But there is another subject which can also be found on the Net in great detail – the history of the Israeli nuclear program in the past sixty years. As will be found by anyone bothering to search, the State of Israel became a “nuclear threshold state” already in its first decade. Israel’s Founding Father David Ben Gurion aspired to nuclear arms, the Ultimate Deterrent, immediately upon the foundation of the state, and mobilized talented nuclear scientists to start on the job. As part of the 1956 military alliance with France, Ben Gurion’s disciple Shimon Peres got French aid in constructing the Dimona Nuclear Pile. The State of Israel crossed the threshold and was on a verge of constructing a nuclear bomb in the early 1960’s. U.S. President John Kennedy was strongly opposed to the Israeli nuclear project and made a great effort to stop it, though at the time the confrontation mostly did not get into the media. After Kennedy was assassinated and replaced by Lyndon Johnson, American opposition greatly decreased, and by 1967 Israel was already in possession of one or two nuclear bombs.  
 As had come out some years ago, during the time of great tension between Israel and its neighbors in May 1967, Shimon Peres and others Israeli decision-makers considered the option of making public Israeli passion of the Bomb and threaten to use it. As is well known, that option was not taken, the Bomb was kept under wraps and instead Israel embarked on the conventional offensive in which the West Bank. Gaza Strip and Golan Heights were captured.  In 1969 Israeli PM Golda Meir and US President Richard Nixon agreed on the “Nuclear Ambiguity” formula, still in force up to the present, under which the US would tolerate Israeli nuclear armament as long as Israel did not officially admit it. A lasting heritage of the most crooked of American Presidents, who amply earned the nickname “Tricky Dick”. 
Ever since, the Dimona Pile continued tireless operation and production of  ever-increasing stockpiles of weapons-grade uranium. Dozens, or possibly hundreds, of bombs were constructed, as well as missiles capable to delivering these bombs to any point in the Middle East and far beyond. Even the location of the bases where these missiles are placed is well known,  and satellite photos of them can be seen on the net. A few years ago, a handful of anti-nuclear activists conducted a protest vigil near the fence of one of these bases, near Moshav Zacharia west of Jerusalem (it did not get any media coverage). To complete the picture, Israel aspired also to a “Second Strike Capacity”, i.e. nuclear-armed submarines which can deliver a deadly revenge also to a surprise attack which would  devastate Israel. Such submarines the US was not willing to provide to Israel, but the government of Germany stepped into the breach.  In 1991, faced with the accusations of German companies having supplied raw materials for Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons, Germany bought an Israeli good conduct certificate by agreeing to supply Israel with submarines capable of launching missiles from mid-sea (it incidentally also helped create jobs at German shipyards facing harsh competition from the Far East…). Apparently, one of these submarines, carrying these missiles with these bombs, is also at this moment cruising deep under the Indian Ocean waters, off the shores of Iran. And such a submarine would also be there in the event of the harsh bad scenario in which by 2025 or 2030  Iran would cross the threshold and obtain one or two nuclear bombs of its own. 
As stated, in all of this there is no new or original revelation of mine. Everything was already said and written and is available on the net to anyone seeking it. Still, any Israeli talking of it must add cover up towards the military censorship with the face-saving formula “according to foreign sources” (as you can see, I am also doing that, Mr. Censor!).  But it would be vain to look anywhere in Netanyahu’s speech for this elephant in the middle of the room (considering the creature’s size, it might be more appropriate to call it a  tyranozaur).  Not can its presence be detected in the enormous volume of debate around the speech, neither in the words of Netanyahu’s supporters nor even in those of his opponents in the Israeli and American mainstream.
In all the history of Israel’s Knesset, there were very few Members who ever dared to try raising at the Knesset House the nuclear issue. It is an issue under a taboo even far deeper than the Palestinian issue. Year after year, the government of Israel renews the prohibition on nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu leaving the country. Evidently, not because he still knows some 1986 vintage secrets which had not yet been revealed, but because if he were to get to Washington and say loudly what everybody knows, he would cause a serious headache to the governments of Israel and the US alike. It is far easier to simply stop him from leaving the country. Thus, hardly anyone hears Vanunu. The whole world heard Netanyahu deliver a speech in which Iran is the one and only Middle Eastern country seeking to obtain nuclear arms and threaten its neighbors with them.
Yes, it should be noted that Netanyahu did mention the dangerous precedent of a country which succeeded in getting nuclear arms though the US President at the time tried to prevent it. North Korea, of course.
So, the elections are in less than two weeks. What is higher on the agenda of the voters – Netanyahu’s struggle against Iran, or the crazy soaring of housing prices and the other problems and difficulties in the daily life of most Israeli citizens? What is certain is that the Palestinian issue will not get to the top of the agenda in these elections. Except for Meretz, which is not doing well in the polls, and the United Arab list, no one seems very eager to place the Palestinians on the campaign agenda.
Information on events in the territories under Israel’s military rule is available to anyone interested. Sometimes it even gets into the Israeli mass media – though as long as there are no Israeli casualties, it usually makes only the back pages. After the big snow in Jerusalem, the sluices were opened to let out the water from melting snow, causing a flood in the Aida Palestinian Refugee Camp  in north Bethlehem. The Palestinian model city of Rawabi was built west of Ramallah, to provide better housing to middle class Palestinians seeking to improve their life – but for a year the new tenants could not move in because Israel refused to link them to running water. The Israeli Electricity Company twice cut off the current to Palestinian cities of Jenin and Nablus, each time for half an hour without warning.  While arresting Palestinian youths who confronted settlers, Israeli soldiers set dogs on a 16-year old Palestinian. At Deheishe Refugee Camp Israeli soldiers conducted a routine raid, camp youths tried to block them, and the soldiers shot to death a 19-year old Palestinian. Economic hardship in the Palestinian territories grows since Israel confiscated the tax money which it collects on behalf of the Palestinians. In April, the Palestinians intend to start a first judicial proceeding against Israel at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. And so on and so on. Bits and pieces of all this get occasionally to the TV news broadcasts. In the elections broadcasts of the rival parties, seeking to attract the voters, the word “Palestinians” is hardly ever heard.
One of reports which the International Solidarity Movement sends to those interested in what happens in the Occupied Territories included a detailed report of the raid conducted by the army at 2.30 am on the night between February 22 and 23 this year, on the home of the brothers Yichya and Salah Edies in the Hebron neighbourhood of Tel Rumeida. The soldiers called on a loudspeaker: “If you don’t open within five minutes, we will break open the door!”. When the door was opened, the soldiers demanded that all family members including small children concentrate in one room. After a long debate one family member, who is heavily handicapped and finds it very difficult to move, was allowed to stay in his bed while the search was going on. For about an hour the soldiers searched the house, overturned and destroyed furniture, threw everything in complete chaos on the floor, and finally departed. International activists alerted by a family member counted some thirty soldiers leaving the house, and made some photos of the conditions which they left. What were they looking for? Did they find it? Israeli soldiers on the wild West Bank need not produce search warrants in order to enter wherever they choose, nor are they obliged to give an account of their actions. There was nothing special or remarkable in this search, except that usually there are no witnesses to report to the outside world. It was one of twenty houses searched in the city of Hebron on that night, one of hundreds a week and thousands per month. Every Palestinian family under Israeli rule has already undergone this experience, usually more than once.

The Tel Rumeida Neighbourhood of Hebron is the abode of a group of particularly extremist and violent settlers, who often harass their Palestinian neighbors (though in this case, the serach was by soldiers alone). Also Baruch Marzel, a faithful disciple of the notorious late Rabbi Meir Kahane, lives there. Marzel is a candidate in the current Knesset elections, with a good chance of getting in. The Hebron Palestinians of course have no vote in these elections where the government ruling over them will be elected. Yesterday Baruch Marzel and his fellows conducted a festive procession to mark the Purim holiday, under a tight military escort. Soldiers prevented Palestinians from leaving their homes so as not to disturb the settler’s procession. Baruch Marzel was in a good mood when interviewed by Israeli TV news. He said: “My program is very simple – to put a smile on Jewish faces and wipe the smile form the faces of our Arab enemies”. He himself was smiling broadly when saying this.
This week the IDF conducted a giant surprise exercise, ordered by incoming Commander in Chief Gadi Eisenkot who also took personal charge of it. Nearly the entire regular combat strength of the army took part, as did 3000 reservists who were called up in their homes and commanded to show up immediately in their units. Another 10,000 reservists were told to hold themselves in readiness to join immediately upon order. As stated in the military communiqué “The IDF conducts constant activitity aimed at improving and increasing the capacity and preparedness of the forces on all echelons and operational levels. Taking part in this two-day exercise are regular and reservist battalions of the various Infantry strength, including Special Forces. This is an exceptional exercise, with one of the largest deployments of forces seen in recent years, including all the operational forces of the Judea and Samaria Sector, with laison established with the Air Force, Intelligence Corps and the General Security Service (Shabak). The forces arrived at the same areas where they are scheduled to be in charge of ongoing security activity. As part of the extensive exercise the regular and reserve forces simulate various scenarios such as kidnappings, the hurling of Molotov cocktails, significant disturbances of public order and the apprehension of suspects wanted for interrogation”.
The generals, unlike the politicians, give a lot of thought to the Palestinians. They estimate that the hot time will be at the end of March or the beginning of April. But that will be after the elections. Après nous, le Déluge.