In which I sense the zeitgeist.

Today I ran a piece in Haaretz in which I examine the fact that for many American Jews — maybe not the Famous Jews, but the ones who most often speak in whispers — the current war in Gaza is a huge stumbling block now standing between them and Israel, or (worse yet) them and their Judaism — and oddly enough, two Famous Jews also wrote today about the challenges they now face in that very same regard. I’ll blockquote them (Roger Cohen in The New York Times, and Jonathan Chait in The New Yorker), and then give you the top of my own piece.

Roger Cohen, “Zionism and Its Discontents”

I am a Zionist because the story of my forebears convinces me that Jews needed the homeland voted into existence by United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947, calling for the establishment of two states — one Jewish, one Arab — in Mandate Palestine. I am a Zionist who believes in the words of Israel’s founding charter of 1948 declaring that the nascent state would be based “on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”

What I cannot accept, however, is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the inexorable growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; that has, for almost a half-century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the very West Bank land of any Palestinian state; that isolates moderate Palestinians like Salam Fayyad in the name of divide-and-rule; that pursues policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state; that seeks tactical advantage rather than the strategic breakthrough of a two-state peace; that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its prison and is then surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and that responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.

This, as a Zionist, I cannot accept. Jews, above all people, know what oppression is. Children over millennia were the transmission belt of Jewish survival, the object of what the Israeli novelist Amos Oz and his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger have called “the intergenerational quizzing that ensures the passing of the torch.” No argument, no Palestinian outrage or subterfuge, can gloss over what Jewish failure the killing of children in such numbers represents.

Jonathan Chait, “Why I Have Become Less Pro-Israel”

Netanyahu appeared on several occasions to approach the brink of agreement, but pulled back in the face of right-wing pressure within his coalition. Numerous figures in the story attempt to plumb the Israeli Prime Minister’s psychology — does he truly have it in him to go over the brink and make peace, or is he merely bluffing? — but the exercise turns out to be ultimately futile. Either Israeli politics or Netanyahu’s own preferences kept Netanyahu from striking a deal. And since that failure, the most moderate leadership the Palestinians ever had, and probably ever will have, has been marginalized.

Viewed in this context, the campaign of Israeli air strikes in Gaza becomes a horrifying indictment. It is not just that the unintended deaths of Palestinians is so disproportionate to any corresponding increase in security for the Israeli targets of Hamas’s air strikes. It is not just that Netanyahu is able to identify Hamas’s strategy — to create “telegenically dead Palestinians” — yet still proceeds to give Hamas exactly what it is after. It is that Netanyahu and his coalition have no strategy of their own except endless counterinsurgency against the backdrop of a steadily deteriorating diplomatic position within the world and an inexorable demographic decline. The operation in Gaza is not Netanyahu’s strategy in excess; it is Netanyahu’s strategy in its entirety. The liberal Zionist, two-state vision with which I identify, which once commanded a mainstream position within Israeli political life, has been relegated to a left-wing rump within it.

Me, “Gaza is Trigger for American Jews’ Tension and Dissonance on Israel”

It’s hard to sketch an absence or reproduce a silence. It’s easier to report whispers, but those who whisper often seek anonymity. And anecdotes, of course, are not data.

Yet anecdotally, in whispers and off-the-record comments, in sudden Facebook defriendings or empty chairs at services, Israel’s most recent wave of hostilities appears to be leading to increasing alienation for a number of American Jews, despite the call for solidarity. For many of these members of our community, the sensation comes as a deep, identity-shaking shock.

To read the rest of this, please click through to Haaretz.

ADL Needs To Drop Thane Rosenbaum Right Now.

(Oops! Forgot to post this last week!)

*****

So. Can we talk about Thane Rosenbaum?

You probably already know that Thane Rosenbaum — who likes to talk about being a human rights professor — wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing that the Gazan noncombatants are fair game in this war, because “they” voted for Hamas and “invite [Hamas members] to dinner with blood on their hands.”

Setting aside the fact that Hamas (being awful) hasn’t held elections since 2006 — and also setting aside the fact that Gaza’s overwhelmingly young population includes hundreds of thousands of people who couldn’t have voted for Hamas had they wanted to — there are of course numerous problems with this analysis, starting with the Geneva Conventions.

To read the rest, please click through to The Forward.

Mike Bloomberg flies to Tel Aviv.

A moment of Israel-Gaza realness, in the form of a screen grab from my Twitter timeline:

bloomberg jul 22 2014

And there you are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel has only ever had two choices.

On Monday, I had a piece about the current round of Israeli-Palestinian violence in The Week:

Israel has only two choices: Eliminate the Palestinians or make peace

Israeli lawmaker Moshe Feiglin is right.

Last week, Feiglin, a member of the Knesset on the extreme-right flank of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, laid out in the ultranationalist media network Arutz Sheva his plan for “achieving quiet in Gaza,” starting with:

One warning from the prime minister of Israel to the enemy population, in which he announces that Israel is about to attack military targets in their area and urges those who are not involved and do not wish to be harmed to leave immediately. Sinai is not far from Gaza and they can leave. This will be the limit of Israel’s humanitarian efforts. Hamas may unconditionally surrender and prevent the attack. [Arutz Sheva]

Feiglin continues from there: “All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for ‘human shields’… Total siege on Gaza. Nothing will enter the area… Civilians may go to Sinai, fighters may surrender.”

Bottom line:

Gaza is part of [the Jewish people's] Land and we will remain there forever… Subsequent to the elimination of terror from Gaza, it will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews. [Arutz Sheva]

Though he urges annihilation, Feiglin stops just short of genocide, differentiating between Palestinians who cede their rights to self-determination and self-defense from those who respond to foreign occupation with violence. Other Israeli voices have not been so measured.

….

And they’re right, these Israelis. If Israel’s goal is to rid itself of Palestinian nationalism and resistance permanently, forever and aye, a plan like Feiglin’s is the only one that might work.

Clearly Palestinians still dream of statehood, and “managing” the conflict has failed.

To read all of this article, please click through to The Week.

A message from a young Israeli woman to the people of Gaza.

 

May Gaza Victims’ Memories Be a Blessing.

We read names. We say names out loud, and hold their souls on our breath. We record names with ink and carve them into stone; we raise them in national squares and on city streets.

When lives are lost, those left behind do what they can to ensure that the names – at least the names – are not forgotten.

Someone in Israel has taken it upon themselves to perform this sacred duty for people very recently dead, not in stone or ink, but spray paint; the letters are Hebrew, but the names are not.

Dunya Mahdi Hamad, who was 16 when she was killed on Tuesday, July 8. Elsewhere her name has been spelled Dunia Mehdi Hamad, or Denil. There’s also Mohammed Ayman Ashour, aged 15. Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra, aged 4. Hana Malakiyeh, aged 27, and her son, Mohammed Malakiyeh, one and a half years old at the time of his death.

There are more names, and they are scrawled on the walls of the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, a place that has seen its own residents scurrying for bomb shelters, and picking through the remains of shattered homes. Beersheva is not safe from this war, and neither are Israel’s citizens. Dror Hanin was 37 years old when he was killed by flying shrapnel on Tuesday; his wife and children are left to mourn, just as surely as are the families of Gaza’s dead.

Yet whoever is roaming Beersheva’s streets with a can of black paint knows that even as Israel’s Jews will remember Hanin’s name, most will try never to know the names of the over 200 Palestinians killed so far in Israel’s most recent attack on the Gaza Strip. Just as we tried to never know their names in 2012. And 2008/2009. And 2006. And every other time in between.

Some of those killed in Gaza were actively involved in trying to kill Israelis when they died; a great many of them were not. Surely Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra was not. Surely Mohammed Malakiyeh was not. In forcing these names before the eyes of Israeli Jews, the Beersheva graffiti artist is making a very simple statement: They were human. They must be mourned.

I wonder if names will continue to blossom on Beersheva’s walls, or the walls of other cities. There are so many left to write. Maybe someone will pick up a can of Tambour Black #465-450, the kind that withstands the heat, and spray the names and ages of Ahed Atef Bakr, aged 10; Zakaria Ahed Bakr, aged 10; Mohamed Ramez Bakr, aged 11; and Ismael Mohamed Bakr, aged 9.

They were cousins, and they were apparently playing soccer when Israeli ordnance rained down on their heads.

May their memories be for a blessing.

This post originally appeared earlier today at The Forward.

Gaza vs. Israel: The never-ending rematch

Targeting enemy civilians is a war crime. Let’s not entertain any doubt about that. Hamas and other Palestinian militants have targeted Israeli civilians with rockets for years; the fact that these rockets are crude and their aim poor doesn’t mitigate the simple fact: Targeting civilians is a war crime.

Trying to determine who “started” our current state of conflict is not quite so simple, though, unless we accept ideology as fact. For some Jews, the Palestinians started it by refusing to accept our nationalism as ascendant to theirs; for some Palestinians, the Jews started it, in precisely the same way.

If, however, we’re trying to uncover a chain of discrete events leading to the seemingly permanent state of war between Israel and Gaza, the waters are muddy. Did the latest round of rockets come in response to an IDF incursion, or the other way around? Did it start when Israel neutralized a terrorist infiltrator, or was that terrorist a farmer trying to gather crops? Both sides play into the provocation-response cycle, each conveniently forgetting that actions have consequences, often beyond those we first imagined.

Each society brings to this process its own dysfunctions, as well, picking and choosing which events support which narrative, often to paradoxical ends. Israel’s paradoxical storyline goes something like this: We control the West Bank, and Gaza’s borders and airspace, but only because we have no choice, because we’re victims facing annihilation, but/and our military (which we love and are very proud of because it’s the region’s most powerful) can be trusted to pound our enemies (armed with crude rockets and a shattered society, but that goes into the “forgetfulness” file) into submission. Just let the IDF win - t’nu l’Tzahal lenatzeah!

As problematic as any of our cognitive inconsistencies might be (and I can only assume Palestinian society has its own), the biggest discrepancy appears to be all but invisible: The IDF has, actually, been pounding Hamas for some time, and oh hey, look – here we are again.

Let’s go to the tape:

Israel officially withdrew from Gaza nine years ago; the following months saw both rockets and air strikes. On June 24, 2006, Israeli forces entered southern Gaza and kidnaped two suspected Hamas members from their homes. Hamas retaliated the next day with a cross-border raid in which two soldiers were killed, and Gilad Shalit captured.

Israel then launched Operation Summer Rains. Prime Minister Olmert was clear about the operation’s goals: “to release the kidnapped soldier and eliminate terror.”

In the course of hostilities, the IDF seized 64 Hamas-linked Palestinian officials, flattened Gaza’s power plant, razed several bridges, and by October, had killed 256 Palestinians, including 60 children. Two Israeli soldiers were also killed, and 31 civilians injured.

In the winter of 2008/2009, we saw Operation Cast Lead.

To read the rest, please go to Haaretz.

Hot off the presses.

Here’s my latest, hot off the presses! (If you’re willing to count both today AND the last couple of weeks as “hot”).

  1. Obama’s Peace ‘Pause’ Spells Victory for Bibi (The Forward 4/27/14): “There’s a lot of talk about what Barack Obama and John Kerry should, or can, or might, or won’t do in support of the two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace that has been a stated American policy goal for many, many years, following the collapse of talks. On Friday morning, we learned that Obama has suggested a “pause” in negotiations, to give the parties a chance to consider their futures without an agreement. If history is any guide, though, we know exactly what the U.S. will do at this juncture: Nothing.”
  2. Israel Hires Psychic Uri Geller To Fight Rockets (The Forward 4/23/14): “Really, can you blame them? Faced with ongoing rocket fire on the citizens it’s meant to protect, Israel’s military has done the only truly reasonable thing it could do: It hired a spoon-bending mentalist named Uri Geller.”
  3. “Breakout” – What It Is, And What You Need To Know (Ploughshares Blog 4/23/14): “Whenever the topic of negotiations with Iran comes up, the word “breakout” isn’t far behind. But what is “breakout,” and why is it so important? Breakout time estimates are both a barometer of the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon and an indication of diplomatic progress to prevent that possibility.”
  4. Annexation Was Always Naftali Bennett’s Plan A (The Forward 4/10/14): “On Wednesday, the multi-portfolioed Naftali Bennett – Israel’s Minister of the Economy, Minister of Religious Services, and Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs – sent a letter to his Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In that letter, according to Israeli Army Radio, Bennett called for a cabinet meeting “to begin the process of imposing Israeli sovereignty on the areas of [the West Bank] that are under Israeli control.” This he called “Plan B,” saying Plan B is necessary because negotiations with the Palestinians have failed – because “the Palestinians have broken new records of extortion and rejectionism. Now. It must be acknowledged that this is some phenomenally well-honed and impressively brazen Orwellian doublespeak. Truly.”
  5. Cross-Border Conversations: Discussing #Irantalks in Israel (Ploughshares Blog 4/8/14): “Given regional tensions, much of the discourse surrounding Iran’s nuclear capacity centers not on the countries negotiating, but on the security needs of Israel. The vital and diverse discourse around this subject was on display last week at a Jerusalem conference on regional security and foreign policy hosted by Ploughshares Fund grantees The Center for American Progress and Molad: The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy.”

On Ariel Sharon and Gaza.

The Gaza Strip.

The Gaza Strip.

News came out of Israel last week that the health of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (who has been in a coma since January 2006) had begun to deteriorate; it’s been reported in the past few hours that he’s now in critical condition. It really is just a matter of time before the media will have to start publishing obituaries — and if they’re anything like last week’s proto-obituaries, it’s a good bet most will get the story of Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza wrong.

So before that happens, a few quick notes.

The way this story is generally told is some version of the following: “Ariel Sharon, a hawkish former general known throughout Israel as ‘the father of the settlements,’ surprised the world when he left the rightwing Likud to form a centrist party, Kadima, and took the difficult if pragmatic decision to withdraw Israel’s military from the Gaza Strip in 2005, despite fierce backlash among his once fervent supporters.”

The reason this version of the story is inaccurate is because it is incomplete.

The decision to withdraw from Gaza was fiercely contested, it did come as a surprise, and it was pragmatic — but not because Sharon had become somehow less hawkish. It was pragmatic precisely because Sharon was still a hawk, and he had understood that he had to lose Gaza in order to save the West Bank.

As former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies Yossi Alpher pointed out soon after Sharon announced his plan to pull out of Gaza, “the advent of the Geneva Initiative and the frenzied response of the Israeli right – with every senior political figure espousing his or her new plan, and most advocating disengagement – precipitated this development.”

One characteristic of Sharon’s approach has not changed at all: He did not present a realistic strategy for peace. First he “hijacked” the [security] barrier and distorted it by transforming it from a legitimate means of self-defense into a political tactic for creating a Palestinian bantustan. Now he has hijacked the idea of disengagement and the dismantling of settlements – which was originally intended by the left to rescue Israel demographically… and seeks to reconstitute it as a rationale for fencing in the Palestinians and grabbing the rest of the West Bank.

Alpher’s reference to the Geneva Initiative is the key element here. The Initiative (also frequently called “the Geneva Accord”) is a draft plan for a two-state peace along the 1967 borders with a shared Jerusalem. Launched by a group of Israeli and Palestinian thought leaders in October 2003, the ideas represented by the Initiative quickly gained significant support among the Israeli public — by the summer of 2004, that support had reached as high as 76%.

Sharon had seen the writing on the wall, and knew full well that a two-state peace meant the loss of the West Bank and an end to any notion of Greater Israel. Always a very savvy politician, he grabbed some of the Intiative’s ideas and vocabulary in order to stem the tide.

Or, in the words of his close adviser, Dov Weissglas, in October 2004:

The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political [diplomatic] process with the Palestinians.

…The American term is to park conveniently. The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. It legitimizes our contention that there is no negotiating with the Palestinians. There is a decision here to do the minimum possible in order to maintain our political situation. The decision is proving itself…. It compels the world to deal with our idea, with the scenario we wrote. It places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. 

The “disengagement” also included a withdrawal from four small Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank, which Weissglas described thus:

The withdrawal in [the West Bank] is a token one. We agreed to only so it wouldn’t be said that we concluded our obligation in Gaza.

…Arik [Sharon] doesn’t see Gaza today as an area of national interest. He does see Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] as an area of national interest. He thinks rightly that we are still very very far from the time when we will be able to reach final-status settlements in Judea and Samaria.

And finally, it’s very important to remember that Sharon refused to actually negotiate the pull-back with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, insisting instead that the withdrawal be unilateral — which in turn meant that two-state minded Palestinians had nothing to show for a decade of negotiations, and Hamas, which during the same decade had waged a brutal terrorist campaign, was able to claim victory.

The withdrawal from Gaza was a unilateral act intended to freeze out the Palestinian leadership and put the peace process itself on ice, so that Israel could deepen its hold on the West Bank.

And guess what? It worked.

UPDATE 1/12/14: Haaretz ran a report today suggesting that newly revealed documents show that Sharon was already thinking about further territorial concessions in the West Bank at the time of his death. I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions the writer draws, and will blog about it sometime this week, but I thought I should link to the report in the meantime — to read it, click here. [h/t and thanks to Brent Sasely].

What it means for gravel to enter Gaza.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn international affairs as in life, it’s often the little things. As little as a pebble perhaps, or, more specifically: gravel.

Supporters of Israel’s right-wing government like to insist that the Gaza Strip is no longer occupied, the argument being that once the IDF left Gaza’s interior, the occupation ceased—but consider if you will the following information, released on Wednesday by Israeli human rights organization Gisha:

For the first time since the [blockade] was imposed on the Gaza Strip in [September] 2007, Israel has allowed the entry of gravel for the private sector.

Which is to say: For more than five years, a foreign power has determined that Gaza’s commercial interests may not have access to little rocks.

It’s true that some 1000 trucks’ worth of gravel have been allowed into the Strip in recent months, but it was all bound for international organizations (who had to undergo a lengthy application process to obtain the gravel), and absolutely not for local businesses.

I’ve never had to rebuild a war-shattered economy or infrastructure, but I think it’s a safe bet that without gravel, such rebuilding might be a fair bit tougher. Yet for five years, Israel has kept that resource from any Gazans who have needed it, along with a long and varying list of other items, the fate of each item resting, of course, with Israel’s military bureaucrats. At various times the list has included concrete, paper, musical instruments, and nutmeg. Indeed, as Gisha recently forced the government to admit, at a certain point Israel calculated just how many calories Gazans need in order not to starve.

Israel’s official reason for disallowing gravel and other construction materials is that they’re “dual use,” meaning that they can also be used for military purposes. I’m not sure how nutmeg fits into this calculus, but leaving spices aside for the moment, there’s a special kind of knowing obfuscation that insists that the State of Israel may reasonably prevent Gazans from obtaining, well, anything—and may furthermore make decisions about how much food Gazans need—but Israel is not an occupying power.

And of course it’s entirely possible that gravel and concrete can be, and in fact are, used to produce weapons. I’m pretty sure that Israel’s busy producing weapons even as I type—the difference is that no one’s in a position to stop them.

But here’s another thing that’s likely to produce weapons: Treating human beings this badly.

I don’t know if Israel’s noticed, but human beings who are told how much food they may eat and where and whether or not they may build have traditionally chosen to fight back.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

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