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.

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.

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

Walking between the drops while it’s raining death in Gaza

Last Sunday, the Ma’ariv daily did report “At least 15 children killed in the bombing of a mosque and a residential building at Gaza’s Tufah Neighborhood.” It appeared even on the front page, but on the very bottom - and in much smaller characters than the very warlike banner headline on the top - referring the reader to a news item on p.6, where it was more cautiously worded; the killing of 15 children was not presented as a fact, but as something which “the Palestinians assert.” The whole gave the impression of a compromise achieved after a power struggle between news editors.
Three days later, with the killing of the four boys playing soccer on the Gaza beach, there was no room for the ambiguity of “the Palestinians claim that…”. They were killed some two hundred meters from where the representatives of the international media are staying, and TV cameras sent the footage of the small blood-stained around the globe in real time.

And so, the four boys from the beach made it to the Israeli banner headlines. Unnamed diplomatic sources in Jerusalem  bewailed that the mishap of killing the boys on the beach had undone the international credit which Israel amassed due to Hamas rejecting the Egyptian ceasefire proposal. It was probably because of the dead boys that Netanyahu felt obliged to accept the UN proposal for a five-hour humanitarian pause in the bombing of Gaza.

We have decided to go to central Tel Aviv during that pause, reasoning (correctly, as it turned out) that it minimized the risk of being caught by the air raid siren while inside a bus.  In the  bus we encountered the irritated passenger. About forty years old, nothing special about him, he was seated in a back seat, quietly reading his paper.Suddenly he got up, flung the paper violently halfway across the bus and burst out shouting, addressing no one in particular: “The cheek of these Hamas bastards! Making demands in exchange for agreeing to a ceasefire! Actually m aking demands! The release of prisoners, the opening of border crossings, the works! Damn them all to Hell!  And Netanyahu is sending people to Cairo to negotiate with them? What a disgrace! No concessions, I say, no concessions to damn terrorists! Just send in the tanks and smash them all to pulp, crush them, crush them!”

A family visit to Y., an old man who is more mainstream than us – though still rather leftish as compared with the general Israeli spectrum – did degenerate into political debate. “You want to go to this reading of testimonies of soldiers from Gaza? What the hell for? Do you think it will change anybody’s mind?” “No, probably it will not affect anyone who is not convinced already. People nowadays close themselves off to facts which don’t fit the opinion they already have”. “So why are you doing it? Just to provoke people?” “It is not we who are doing it, Breaking the Silence are organizing it. Soldiers’ testimonies are their thing”. “Nonsense! What is the use of that? Nothing!”. “Sometimes  there are things which need to be said, whatever the outcome”. “That’s total nonsense”. We parted on less than cordial terms.

In a small shop with a sign reading “Operation Protective Edge – 50% discount” the radio was blaring into the sidewalk. A small crowd gathered to hear the news bulletin. The news reader informed us in a rather shaky voice that “Aside from the four children killed yesterday, there were also four killed in bombings today – three on the roof of a residential building and a three-year old in the bombing of another house”.  Later on, we found that the three had been playing on the roof as their parents did not realize that the humanitarian pause was already over. 

Two hours until the reading of the testimonies. We met R., an old friend and fellow activist, at our accustomed place, Garcia’s Café on the tree-lined Massarik Square. Chatted with her trying to ban the war from our mind.

Walking along King George Street we passed two religious women with hand-painted placards. One read “Let’s all cry out as loud as we can: How long is it going to last?”. The other one  had “Our Lord God, oh please send us the Messiah right now!” Then turning to Habimah Square, where several hundred people already gathered for the reading of the testimonies.

Just as we came, the testimony of a soldier who had taken part in the 2009 invasion of Gaza was being read. “We were on the roof of a house. We saw somebody walk towards us in the darkness, a light wobbling in his hand. We wanted to fire a warning shot to make him stop, but this would have given away our position. Finally he came very close, close enough that if he were a suicide bomber he could have blown us up. Standing orders were to take no chances, so we opened fire and killed him. We examined the body and found he was an old man, unarmed, no threat whatsoever.”

“How many testimonies like this would come out of the present round?” wondered R. From a bit off, the extreme-right counter-demonstrators were shouting “Death to the Arabs! A Jew has a soul, an Arab is a bastard!”. The Breaking the Silence had taken care to install powerful loudspeakers, and the reading of the testimonies proceeded.  The police did their job (more or less) and there were only minor scuffles.

The siren did sound when we were waiting for the bus on the way back, again on King Geroge Street. A long, long wailing sound, longer then usual. We run into the nearby shop. It was quite big, we could get deep in, far away from the glass of the front display window. Several minutes and we could hear the dull explosion which means interception in the air, different from the heavier sound of ground impact. (How quickly does one gain that expertise!). Since we were in the shop anyway, we bought a small jar of Yemenite hot sauce.

“Did you see how hysterical some of these people were, how they started crying out in panic when the siren started? Don’t they know that the chance of anything actually getting through  the Iron Dome and falling exactly on their heads is astronomically small? It is the people in Gaza who need to seriously worry. Not us.” “Don’t contempt these Tel Aviv people. The danger now might be small, but they get the taste of a less and less secure future. Israel is now less safe than it was twenty years ago. How safe will it be twenty years from now? Especially if the American Empire goes the way of the late British Empire?” “So, what political conclusions will the people of Israel draw from that?” “Each according to his or her taste. We say Israel should make peace and get integrated in the region before it is too late. If it’s not too late already. But others will say we have to dig in and increase the Israeli military power and give not an inch”. “So, what shall we do?”. “As for me, I will come to the demo on Saturday night and pick up the sign ‘Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies’. At least the specific Jews and the specific Arabs in the demo mean it, completely”.

And now – the ground invasion in Gaza. R., was late last night awakened by what she thought was a missile, but turned out to be the sound of a helicopter - and she knew right away that there were Israeli casualties being transported to the nearby hospital. One dead and three wounded up to now. The dead soldier was identified as the 20-year old Sergeant Ethan Barak, killed in the north Gaza Strip when his jeep was hit by a Hams anti-tank missile (or by “friendly fire”). His former school principal spoke on the radio and said what a swell guy Ethan Barak had been, and how greatly he was loved by schoolmates, and how highly motivated he had been to join a combat unit in the army, a dream which he duly fulfilled. “I know all this sounds like a cliché” apologized the principal. Indeed, that is how it sounded.

Twenty-four Palestinians were also killed in the initial stage of the ground invasion. Among them, it was noted in passing, a five-month old baby,  killed when his family home was hit by tank fire. A baby who will remain nameless.
The occupation is killing all of us

Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 8:00 pm
Habima Square, Tel Aviv

It is forbidden to shoot at civilian populations. It is forbidden and still it happens. Both sides do it. Hamas shoots on the population of Israel. The IDF shoots at the population of Gaza.

Two equal sides? Far from it. The State of Israel has enormous military and economic strength. With massive financial assistance from the United States, the State of Israel built the "Iron Dome" system, a great technological achievement  which protects us. Therefore, the missile attacks on Israeli cities are mostly a nuisance. The air raid alarms are irritating, a bit disruptive to the routine of life, sometimes frightening – but not much more.

Gazans have no Iron Dome, no protection whatsoever against the death which falls down on them from the air and the sea and the land. The State of Israel is pounding Gaza, killing and killing and killing. True - The State of Israel has no premeditated purpose of killing innocent civilians, women and men and the elderly and children playing football on the beach. There is no premeditated purpose – but there is a reality. The killing of unarmed civilians in Gaza is going on, day by day and hour by hour. More than two hundred Palestinians have been killed. A large part of them were unarmed civilians, dozens of them were children. And it goes on.

"Why are they shooting at us?" Wondered righteously the outgoing President of Israel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. "Why did they not make of Gaza a flourishing Singapore?". But Shimon Peres forgot to mention that the city state of Singapore, whose population and size are comparable to those of the Gaza Strip, has one of the largest ports in the world. There is no one to block thousands of ships from all over world sailing in and out of that port, maintain the flow of trade on which the wealth of Singapore is built. The minuscule port of Gaza is closed and blockaded. The Israeli Navy is ever vigilant to prevent even the smallest vessels from reaching it, and shoots at Gazan fishing boats which venture  more than a few kilometers from shore.

Gaza is a big prison for its residents, nearly two millions of them. The State of Israel and its neighbor Egypt – with whom relationship has tightened considerably since General Sisi seized power - cooperate in imposing the siege on Gaza and holding its population effectively  incarcerated, unable to come and go to the outside world. Gazas live on a seashore. They can swim and play on the beach (on days where lethal shots  don’t come at them out of the sea). But they can’t get on a boat and sail into the sea, nor on a plane flying to any destination anywhere in the world. Also the land crossings are almost completely closed. For years, millions of people are locked up in the little, narrow and extremely crowded piece of land called the Gaza Strip.

"We imposed a siege on them because they are shooting at us," say the leaders of Israel. (By the way, the siege on Gaza began long before Hamas took power there). "We shoot because you impose a siege on us. We will not agree to a cease-fire which does not include the lifting of the siege," say Gaza residents this week (not all of them  Hamas members).

There is no point to a ceasefire which would simply restore the situation that existed two weeks ago. The situation of two weeks ago was unbearable - a situation of a tight siege over the Gaza Strip, causing suffering and economic suffocation and extreme poverty for the majority of its inhabitants. The siege of Gaza has spawned several rounds of conflict. Continuation of the siege is a sure recipe for another round in a year or two.

Only the lifting of the siege on Gaza, enabling its residents to come and go by land and sea and air, export and import goods  and develop their economy, can open up for them a hope for the future. Only the lifting of the siege can give a chance for peace and quiet on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.

On Saturday night Gush Shalom will join with peace and human rights  organizations in a protest against the cruel and unnecessary war called "Operation Protective Edge".  Last week, an earlier demonstration on the same location was attacked by extreme right thugs. Organizers of the current protest have taken precautions to make sure this is not repeated - and of course, what happened will not deter us from expressing our position on an issue vital to our future.

As we were informed, demonstration marshals and stewards will be present on the spot, and anyone intending to come should follow their instructions regarding location, conduct of the demonstration and its dispersal, and refrain from taking any violent action from our side.

Transportation from Jerusalem: Parking lot, Liberty Bell Park Registration: Connie 052-6375033

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On the third day

10 am, Thursday July 10

Air raid siren again a bit before 8.00 am this morning. It has already become a routine – rushing out of our fourth-floor apartment, running two floors down, crouching in the second floor staircase along with our neighbors, hearing the dull thuds from above, chatting a bit and then back home to a more or less normal life.

It is not really frightening. So far, the Iron Dome system had intercepted virtually all the missiles shot at populated areas, and no Israeli had been killed. Palestinians shooting missiles out of Gaza and running up the sirens in half of Israel, all the way to Metropolitan Tel Aviv and much further to its north, are in effect engaged in psychological warfare. A convoluted way of reminding uncaring Israelis that they exist and that they have an unsolved problem. Better this way than suicide bombers and exploding buses…

It would be very different to be living in Gaza right now. Early this morning Seffi Rechelvsky set out on Facebook the score as it stood then:

Killed: Palestine – 53, Israel – 0
Wounded: Palestine – 465, Israel – 0

That score did not include a five year old boy killed this morning, he was still alive when this score was made. An Israeli radio broadcast did mention his death two hours ago, but neglected to give his name or any further details.

To be fair, with 400 tonnes of bombs dropped on Gaza in 48 hours, according to the IAF, there could have been many more killed and wounded.  An average of 9 tonnes of explosives to kill one child is not really cost-effective. But then, Netanyahu is well aware that a high Palestinian body count would work against him, and might arouse a now sluggish International Community to say “Enough is enough”.  

The AFP report from Gaza this morning mentions a hit on a coffee shop in the city of Khan Younis, in which six men were killed and at least 15 other people wounded. Were some of the men sitting in this coffee shop specifically targeted by the Israeli security services, or was it just “collateral damage”? We will probably never know. And what about two further strikes on two houses in Khan Younis which killed three women and four children? That was almost certainly not intended. Speakers for the government and the army reiterate again and again that unarmed civilians are not deliberately targeted. But intentionally or not, they are dead all the same.

For what did they die? Defense Minister Ya’alon defined the war aims succinctly at the outset: “To make Hamas accept a cease fire on our terms”. For example, they are not to demand that Israel respect the terms of the 2011 prisoner exchange deal, and that those unilaterally re-imprisoned be set free. Nor are they to make any demand that General Sissi of Egypt, who has very cordial relations with Israel and is implacably hostile to Hamas, will open the Rafah Border Crossing and ease the Strip’s economic suffocation. How many more people will die before Ya’alon gets a satisfactory cease fire offer from Gaza? Probably many.

A particularly nasty right-winger who yesterday commented on the Gush Shalom Facebook page wrote: “We should repeat what we did in 1948, just throw the Arabs out and get rid of them”. I wrote him back “The grandchildren of the people which we expelled from Jaffa in 1948 are now shooting at us out of Gaza”.

 Midnight, between Thursday and Friday

Ventured out in the late afternoon for a mixture of political and private business. The streets look superficially the same, the radio reported a sharp decline in the number of people going to cafes and shopping malls, this is not so evident in the street. Adopting a new way of walking – preferable to go through residential areas, where if the siren sounds you can run into a nearby building, better avoid parks for the time being. Also wait with going to the sea shore, too wide and exposed.

Meeting an old friend. He tells of what happened this morning: “When the alarm sounded I saw the young Arab who tends our building’s garden stand hesitating. I called to him ‘Quick, quick, come into the basement with us, it is dangerous out there'. Several other neighbors from the other flats also called him and after a moment he came with us down into the musty old basement. Just for a few minutes, then we all emerged and he went back to the garden”.

(…) “Did you see how the Germans crushed the Brazilians in the semi-final? The Brazilian fans were crying real tears, it was terrible to see”.
- “How can you think of soccer in times like these?”
- “Exactly since all this mess started, I became addicted to the World Cup broadcasts.  It is like an alternative universe, where wars are fought on a green field for ninety minutes and nobody gets killed and in the end the winners and the losers shake hands”.
- “Professor Zimmermann thinks that sport is really a good way of sublimating national aggression and diverting it into harmless channels. It helped the European avoid wars since 1945".

(…) Eating at a fast-food stall bearing the sticker “Our Father, Our King, please take care of Our Soldiers”, three of us get into debate with other customers, a very outspokenly religious young couple. The woman takes the lead: “You are completely wrong. We don’t need peace with the Arabs. We just need peace among ourselves, for all Jews to be united. Then will come the Redemption”.
- “What do you mean, the Redemption?
- “All these missiles are just a test which God set to test our faith. If we all unanimously declare that this is our Promised Land and it is ours because God promised it, then we have passed the test and God will deliver us from all enemies”.
- “You have very much trust in this God of yours. Are you sure he exists at all?
- “Of course He exists! Look at the Earth, the stars, everything! Somebody created it all, there is a Director who directs everything in the world!”
- “I look at the shape the world is in. If it has a director then he is incompetent. He should be fired and a better person found for the job”.

(…) An open TV blaring into the street the ongoing war news and commentary. - “We should have no illusions, there is no real solution. Hamas has a big stock  of rockets hidden underground. They are well organized and can replace losses. There is no way to achieve a permanent victory, either with air attacks or by a short-term ground operation. The only way to really overcome them is to conquer and permanently rule all of the Strip, and that would involve paying a stupendous prize – the conquering, the mopping up and the permanent holding on to it. I am not sure that the Israeli society is willing or able to pay the prize.”
- Moderator: “Is it possible that Israeli society prefers just to have a military operation in Gaza every two or three years rather than pay the price of permanent conquest?”

I asked the shopkeeper who was that. He shrugged: “I don’t know. One of these ex-generals, I did not catch his name”. I would have liked to ask the ex-general if he had ever considered the option of making peace with the Palestinians, but I had not been invited to the TV studio.

- “What shall we do if we come home and find it got a hit?”
- “Why, we should demand of the government to give us a place to stay. They had started all this mess”.

The house stood solid, no missile had landed anywhere around. At the computer a lot of stupid and nasty comments had accumulated by mail and Facebook, but also some supportive messages and news of several good initiatives for action in the weekend.

Looking at the latest news. The war seems to have escalated a notch or two in this afternoon. The Palestinians used the tactic of shooting dozens of rockets at once,  saturating the Iron Dome defenses. Two rockets slipped through in Be’er Sheba and one in Ashdod. There was reported an enormous fireball, but fortunately still no killed Israelis. The Iluz Family, nine of them in all, were highly commended by the police for having followed instructions and got to shelter just on time and getting away with their lives though their house is completely destroyed.

No such luck to the eight-year-old Abdul Rahman Khattab, killed in an airstrike on his home at al-Hakar area in Deir al-Balah, and the four-year-old girl Yasmin Muhammad al-Mutawwaq who succumbed to wounds sustained in an earlier  airstrike, and eight members of the al-Hajj family killed at their home in Khan Younis.

Many more names could be found by glancing at the reports available on the Palestinian news websites - which I have done a minute ago and which very few Israeli citizens would dream of doing. Netanyahu would answer that it was all the fault of Hamas which was “using them as human shields”. Netanyahu announced this evening that Operation Protective Edge
is proceeding well on schedule and further stages are to be expected.

Suha Hamad, a 25-year old mother, died while saving her  children during an Israeli air raid on the family home. She brought three of them to their grandmother's room, the safest in the house. When she went back for the fourth - a four-month-old baby - she was hit by shrapnel and killed on the spot. Had she been an Israeli mother, this would have been classic headline material for the Israeli mass-circulation papers. But she was a Palestinian, so very few Israelis will ever hear of her.

At least ninety Palestinians had been killed since the operation started, possibly by this hour the number  already passed the hundred number. Which means that the kill rate  had doubled on the third day compared with the earlier two. And on the fourth day?


Tomorrow there will be a demonstration on the mountain overlooking Military Prison 6 in Atlit, in solidarity with Uriel Ferera. He had refused to serve in an army of occupation and already four times is sent to prison and out and in again, and the army seems determined to continue this game.

We have already for several months known about Uriel Ferera and greatly appreciated his struggle. Sami and Nader Rahal have caught us by surprise.
They are two brothers, military doctors who happen to be Muslim Bedouin citizens of Israel, and who had served long enough in the IDF to become officers.

On hearing of seven members of a Khan Yuneis family – adults and children - being killed in the bombing of their house on the first day, the two brothers went away from the army. From their home they informed the military authorities that they consider the IDF to be an immoral army.

The authorities informed the press that they regard the Rahal brothers’ act with grave displeasure, since that is not at all the way soldiers are supposed to act – all the more officers, and all the more in time of emergency. As far as it goes, this is entirely true. Soldiers are supposed to be obedient cogs in the machine, that is how armies are supposed to work.  

Photo: "Gaza Youth Breaking Out"

"Stop shooting! Stop shooting!" - photo Combatants for Peace

Video: a protest against the war in Gaza, Tel Aviv, July 9, 2014
Photographer: Israel Futerman

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Macabre prophecies coming true

 "Together against racism", "Together in pain, together in hope", 
"Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies" (photo: Avigail Shaham)

Pardes Hanna. A nice sleepy town with a bit over 30,000 inhabitants, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Saturday night, several activists who live in Pardes Hanna went off to participate in a demonstration against racism in Haifa, but on that evening racism burst into their own hometown.

"I sat with the family in the McDonalds at the Big shopping mall and suddenly they arrived. Fifty or sixty people, aged 15 to 30, waving Israeli national flags and singing the anthem and shouting 'Death to the Arabs! Death to the Arabs!'. They run shouting and flag-waving in front of the shops which have Arab employees and Arab shoppers, at every shop entrance shouting 'Death to the Arabs! A Jew has a soul, an Arab is a bastard! Hanin Zoabi is a whore! '. They stopped every car which had Arabs in it, knocked on its windows and made killing gestures to those inside. A police patrol car went after them. We asked the police why they did not stop them, the police told us they did not have the manpower for it."

Yasmine Halevi, who was that night at the demonstration in Haifa, told: "On Sunday morning at nine o'clock I got an sms message: How about organizing  a protest about the mini-pogrom yesterday at the Big? Honestly, I felt weak in the knees. Just at the start of a new week, amid tons of work and deadlines to meet and a dirty kitchen and laundry, and while transporting children to summer camp and passing just at the signs of that same Big mall. Protest, exactly now? Why, who has the time and energy, and anyway I was quite frightened.  But I could not let go, I realized if I did not do it nobody will.

After two phone calls to people whose opinion I value, I did it in the simple way which is possible nowadays: set up an Event on Facebook. Let come who will, I told myself, just let them be no less than a hundred, because I was really frightened. Without a megaphone, no handbills, the most a-political text I could manage. But soon I was surprised. The event started picking up momentum, I got positive comments, supporting and even joyful.

Six thirty pm. We stayed at the entrance, more and more came and joined us. I expected 150 people but we were several hundreds. Opposite us there began to pile up the mass of the local hooligans, exclusively male with their flags and anthem and shouting and hand gestures, confined by the police. On our side there were some familiar faces and less familiar. Some of them had hardly ever been in a demonstration, perhaps some only in the Social Protest of summer of 2011. Individuals who tend to stay away from groups, political camps and shibboleths. But more and more of them came, with their signs and children. They understood what we are facing. This community, where I am living several years, moved me deeply today. Even if people here are not always politically coherent, they know what we are facing. They know when is the time to come out and stand our ground and say: You are not going to conduct any manhunts here!"

Pardes Hanna is a microcosm of the state and society and country which is fast spinning out of control. Just a bit more than two months have passed since the final collapse of the mediation efforts led by Secretary State John Kerry. There were commentators who wrote at that time that the situation cannot remain static, that if we don’t move forward to peace we would fall down into an abyss of violence and bloodshed, that the atmosphere was very volatile. Probably even those commentators themselves were surprised at how much and how quickly their prophecies came true.

A day before yesterday, on Sunday this week, the Israel Police Headquarters announced  the apprehension of six young Jewish Israelis, charged with  having kidnapped the Palestinian boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir and burning him to death. But in order to “counter-balance” the police simultaneously also announced the arrest of an Arab taxi driver, charged with having stabbed to death a young Jewish woman, two months ago, Shelly Dadon, who boarded his taxi. Maybe someone thought that balancing the horrors against each other will help lower the flames and emotional turmoil of riots and counter-riots and revenge for revenge for revenge. It did not exactly work out this way.

And today, a stronger anodyne is used: all-out war in Gaza.  The Israeli Defense Forces announced the launching of “Operation Protective Edge”, the  youngest sibling of “Cast Lead” in 2009 and “Pillar of Defence” in 2012 and various other operations in and around Gaza. PM Netanyahu announced sternly that “The gloves are off”. With Israeli combat planes flying non-stop bombing missions over Gaza, and Palestinian rockets launched into Israel, and tens of thousands of ground troops mobilized and poised to invade. Perhaps the tensions and passions of Jewish and Arab civilians would be swept under the carpet – there to fester untended until the next outbreak.

Just as I wrote the above, the air-raid sirens sounded over the metropolitan Tel Aviv area. One rocker, successfully intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome system made us run for safety to the staircase. There will probably be more in the coming days.

To be fair, Netanyahu had been far from trigger-happy, as far as Gaza was concerned. Under another PM (for example the “dovish” Olmert) this operation might have been underway a week ago already.  In the past days, Netanyahu had undertaken a conspicuous policy of “restraint”, which caused him to be accused of “weakness” and led to an open rift between him and his longtime partner, the hardliner Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Netanyahu had been willing to reach a ceasefire with Hamas, under Egyptian mediation, and for some days it looked like something might be worked out. But he was completely unwilling to relax in any way the siege of Gaza, which had been increasingly suffocating what is left of its economy. Gaza’s Rafah Border Crossing to Egypt was supposed to open after the Palestinian Unity Government came into being (in fact, that was the main reason why Hamas made that deal in the first place) but Egypt’s General Sisi  - implacably hostile to Hamas and on excellent terms with Netanyahu – reneged on his part and kept Rafah closed. And so Hamas did not agree on a ceasefire, holding out for an end to the siege – and Netanyahu responded by reducing the area, where Gazan fishermen may venture, from six miles to three tightening the rope around Gaza’s neck another notch. And the cross-border exchanges escalated day by day and night by night, and here we are in a war which nobody really wanted. It can be said that both the Government of Israel and the Hamas leadership played brinkmanship, and we all fell in.

At the worst possible timing, Ha’aretz newspaper on this very day launched its long-prepared “Ha’aretz Israel Conference on Peace”, inviting various VIP’s to come and speak about the possibilities and prospects of achieving peace in this troubled country and region. Unsurprisingly, many of the speeches reported from there were far from offering real hope.

In fact, when the Ha’aretz editors initiated this event half a year ago, they had expected Kerry to keep his timetable and achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by the April 29 deadline. In that case, the conference in July would have provided the newborn agreement with public backing from inside the Israeli society. As things are, Ha’aretz still placed prominently at the top of its front page a specially-commissioned article from the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Obama repeated all the nice words and catch-phrases which he made at his speech in Jerusalem, a year and a half ago – again reiterating an American commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians and to the two-state solution. Some activists which I know did not bother to read it through. The operative sentences were tucked in towards the end: “We remain determined to work with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President  Abbas. When the political will exists to recommit to serious negotiations, the United States will be there, ready to do our part”.

Thousands of years ago, a prophet living in this country sounded a stern warning to those putting their trust in a super-power of that time:” Now, behold, thou dost trust upon this broken reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it; so is Pharaoh, king of Egypt unto all that trust in him.”

With little to expect of the world’s powers, the Tel-Aviv based Coalition of Women for Peace took an initiative for action within hours of the Army announcing its Gaza operation.

Stop the Killing, End the Occupation! 

We will not remain quiet as the bombs are falling!

Wednesday, July 9th at 18:00
Habima Square, Tel Aviv
(Note: this time and place replace those originally published here)  

 In the past month, Israel raided several thousand homes, and arrested over 600 Palestinians, including women and children. 

Also in the last few weeks, everyday forms of racism and violence, by the state and its officials, have escalated exponentially. 

Thousands of hate-filled Israeli citizens poured into the streets, seeking revenge, destruction and violence. 

Ongoing occupation, daily oppression, house demolitions, destruction of lives. The Israeli government is relentless - demolishing in Hebron, expropriating lands in the Naqab/Negev, brutally suppressing popular protests, attacking Gaza. 

Once again, Israel launched yet another irresponsible and unnecessary military 'operation,' at the expense of the residents of the south, who, together with Gazans, deserve to live in dignity, without constant and daily threats. 

Bombardments and casualties lead nowhere, except for further bombings, rockets and blood. Stop militarism, end the occupation!

Coalition of Women for Peace
3 Yegia Kapayim Street, Tel-Aviv-Jaffa

Gaza today (photo AFP)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Politics of madness

"An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." 

It is becoming clear that the government, army and security services assumed from the start that the three boys were no longer alive.  Probably, it was no surprise for them that there did not come any claim of responsibility, and no proposal of negotiating their release. The soldiers who conducted the searches on the ground were instructed to turn every stone, quite literally, and also to empty water holes and search their bottoms. The soldiers were sent to look for dead bodies, not for hostages. But on the media were imposed gag orders, preventing them from publishing information pointing to the death of the boys. The Israeli public was called to take part in mass prayers and rallies on city squares with the call "Bring back our boys" and one gets the impression that also the three families going from hope to despair were not informed to the full.

To whom was it worthwhile and why? It is not difficult to guess. Long before Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel took their fateful ride, Binyamin Netanyahu already marked as a primary target the Palestinian Reconciliation Agreement. He was determined to drive a wedge and break up at any price the "Technocrat Government" created jointly by Fatah and Hamas. From the first day the government of Israel declared Hamas to be responsible for the kidnapping - a clear proof, if it exists, has not been published until this moment.

Under cover of the great outcry "Bring Back Our Sons" the army started a widespread detention campaign, which had no direct connection with the kidnapping. Operation Brother's Keeper was mainly directed against "the civilian infrastructure" of Hamas - starting with the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislature down to grassroots activists of Hamas-linked educational institutions and charity associations. It was clear that the people detained knew nothing about the kidnapping, and nobody expected them to know. But, as was noted with satisfaction by knowledgeable commentators such as Alex Fishman of Yediot Achronot, the kidnapping created "a rare window of opportunity" in which the world kept silent about a massive detention campaign which under different circumstances would have caused a wave of international protest. Nor was there much ado about the killing of several Palestinians, among them boys of the same age as the Israelis which the army supposedly was searching for.
And Netanyahu made the propaganda most out of the "moral high ground" of searching for innocent kids, kidnapped on the way home from school.  It was pushed to the background that the school happened to be in a settlement and that the three students were hitchhiking in the heart of an occupied territory.
It came eve to sending the three mothers to The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, followed by a chorus of  protest in the Israeli media against the "hypocrisy and cynicism" of the Council members  closing their ears to the mothers' heartfelt outcry. Indeed, the UN Human Rights Council is an easy and convenient target of criticism. It is not staffed by Human Rights activists but by official representatives of governments - some of which are themselves responsible for severe violations of human rights and all of which have many political and economic interests and hidden agendas. Hypocrisy and cynicism there are in plenty, but what could compare with the cynicism of giving mothers false hope.

When the three bodies were discovered after 18 days, the gates of hate were opened wide. It was not the mothers, or the families that opened them. Exactly they did not demand anything but that those who killed their sons would be caught and punished. But there were enough others who were blowing on the flames of hatred, starting with the Prime Minister himself who used a famous poetry quote "Satan himself has not created a fitting revenge for the blood of a small child." Like most of those who quote this, Netanyahu forgot the other words of Bialik's poem: "Cursed be the one who cries 'take revenge' ."

In the cabinet resolution it was stated "they were murdered by human beasts", and this was quoted in banner headlines. From the official speech at the mass funeral on the following day the media quoted the words: "we sanctify life, while our neighbors sanctify death." In the night in between, between human beasts and life sanctifiers, another Palestinian youth was killed by army fire at the Jenin Refugee Camp, but his death was only marginally reported.

"A whole nation and thousands of years of history demand revenge" proclaimed Rabbi Noam Pearl, general secretary of the National Religious Bney Akiva Youth Movement. He demanded the formation of "a corpse of avengers, which will not stop at the mark of 300 Phillistine foreskins," referring to one of the most barbaric acts which the Bible attributes to King David. The words of Rabbi Pearl aroused many protests,  also inside the traditionally right-leaning Bney Akiva movement itself, and several of its branches broke away, altogether. Still, the inflammatory calls for revenge spread with a speed which would not have been possible before the creation of electronic social networks. In the "revenge page" created on Facebook there were numerous selfie photos: soldiers pointing the gun at the viewer with the words "let the army smash", and girls carrying the sign "to hate Arabs is not racism but a moral principle".

From Facebook it was but a short distance to the streets of Jerusalem where hundreds were rampaging and shouting "Death to the Arabs!" and "Revenge! Revenge!" and were running all across the city, searching for Arabs to beat up. The police announced that it had mobilized large forces on Jaffa Street and the Machaneh Yehuda Market taking, credit for succeeding in preventing Arab passers-by being killed. But at 4am on the same night two unknown persons came to the Shuafat Neighborhood in East Jerusalem and found there a 16 year old boy named Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was studying to become an electrician and who was on his way to the neighborhood mosque because of Ramadan. These unknowns dragged the boy into a car and  later on that morning his burnt body was found in a West Jerusalem park.

The authorities of the State of Israel, which were so clear and decisive about the responsibility of Hamas in the case of the previous kidnapping and murder showed themselves very hesitant in this case. Was it the act of people who were influenced by those very strong calls for revenge, looking for a Palestinian 16 year old boy? That certainly sounds plausible. But from the police came an alternative - i.e. that Mohammed Abu Khdeir was maybe a homosexual murdered by Palestinians and that just by coincidence this happened exactly on the night of the mob attacks on the streets of Jerusalem.

Israeli politicians and columnists who refer to this murder are taking very good care to note that the circumstances of the murder and the identity of the perpetrators are still unknown and that one should patiently wait for the results of the police investigation. But it would be difficult to expect the inhabitants of Shuafat to also show such patience. In the last days the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem burst out in demonstrations and riots whose like was not seen there even in the days of the first and second Intifada, and during the boy's funeral 35 people were wounded from police fire.  A voice of compassion came from the bereaved  Fraenkel family: “There is no difference between blood and blood, There is no justification, no forgiveness and no atonement for any murder.”

Yesterday evening those who still try to keep their sanity in the madness around gathered for a rally on Habima Square in Tel-Aviv. Thousands of people turned up, and carried the signs "There is no consolation in revenge!" and "No to revenge! Yes to a political solution!" and "Political solution - a deathblow to terrorism!" and "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind" with a picture of Mahatma Gandhi. They chanted: "We will not let extremists run our lives!" / "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!" / "Government lies will not bring security!" / "All government ministers are part of the incitement!" / "Government of settlers and tycoons has no solution!" and "This is not an extremist minority, it is a racist government!" Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now called for silence in order to let speeches of Knesset Members be heard, of Meretz and the Labour Party and the Hadash Communists, and also Amra Mitzna of Tzipi Livni's party, on whom hacklers called to withdraw from the government coaltion.

We went home with the feeling that not everything is lost, but also with anxiety about the increasing escalation on the Gaza Strip border.