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