Saturday, October 18, 2014

Diplomatic terrorism and wings over the Iron Wall


Will the Palestinians ever get free of Israeli occupation? Will there ever be peace between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine? If any of these things ever happen, Bahaa Samir Badir will not be there to see it.

 
Bahaa Samir Badir 
Photo: Haaretz

On the night, the day before yesterday, Israeli soldiers entered the village of Beit Laqiya near Ramallah, a routine act such as happens every night in various parts of the West Bank. The village youth resisted the entry of the soldiers into their village, using stones and Molotov cocktails - as young Palestinians do in an increasing number of cases in recent months. Bahaa was shot in the chest and his life ended at the age of 13. Thousands joined in his funeral march. One more name was inscribed in the very very long list of victims and of martyrs for the Palestinian national cause.


Ron Prosor, Israel's Ambassador to the UN, is very angry this week. He is angry at  Palestinian diplomatic terrorism. Yes, diplomatic terrorism which Prosor says is as bad as any other kind of terrorism, a diplomatic terrorism whose aim is "creating unilateral facts on the ground" (A rather odd charge, when Prosor’s own bosses are dedicated to relentless settlements construction...) It was diplomatic terrorism when two years ago the Palestinians asked for the State of Palestine to get the status of an Observer State in the United Nations and 138 countries voted in favor. It is diplomatic terrorism when now they appeal to the Security Council to establish a timetable for ending the Israeli occupation. And Sweden is aiding and abetting diplomatic terrorism with its “irresponsible statement at a very unfortunate timing“ declaring an intention to recognize the State of Palestine. Diplomatic terrorism, in short, is any diplomatic act taken by Palestinians other than sitting at the negotiating table with representatives of the Government of Israel.

Prosor made an impassioned plea to the international community to "prevent the Palestinian cart from rolling off the cliff".  "True peace will not be achieved through unilateral measures, only via direct negotiations, the distance between Ramallah and Jerusalem being much shorter than to New York or Stockholm."
  

What would happen if the Palestinians were convinced by the rebuke of the passionate Ambassador, and would consent to engage in yet another round of direct negotiations with Netnayhau’s representatives?

It so happened that Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon granted this week an extensive and candid interview to "Israel Today.”. As he made clear in no uncertain terms, in Ya'alon's vision of the world there will never be an end to the conflict. The conflict with the Palestinians will continue "until the last of our enemies understands that we are here to stay." But that will probably never happen because "They are not truly concerned with establishing a Palestinian state, but with destroying the Jewish state”. Therefore “we must learn how to manage this conflict without illusions" and to barricade [ourselves] behind “An Iron Wall". Ya’alon showed political acumen in quoting both the term "Iron Wall" - derived from the teachings of Ze'ev Jabotinsky,  spiritual father of the Likud Party -  and also a virtually identical statement by Dr. Moshe Beilinson, prominent among Jabotinsky’s Socialist Zionist ideological rivals.

A Palestinian who comes to the negotiations table has definitely nothing to expect from the government in which Ya'alon is the Defense Minister. Abu Mazen? "He is a partner for discussions, a partner for Conflict Management. I am not looking for the solution." A Palestinian state? "We need to free ourselves of the notion that everything boils down to only one option called a [Palestinian] state. As far as I am concerned, let them call it the Palestinian Empire. I don't care. In practice, it is an autonomy".


Probably, British Parliament Members did not read Ya'alon's special interview, though it was published also in English - but they did see the footage of destruction and devastation which the State of Israel poured upon Gaza, and heard quite a lot about the wave of land expropriations and settlement construction which began immediately after the bombing ended.

There was a prolonged debate at Westminster over the motion to support  recognition of the State of Palestine. Possibly the single most important contribution was of Richard Ottaway, the Conservative Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, who said that before he became a Tory he had already been a supporter of the State of Israel and its right to exist after the Holocaust.

As he told the gathered MPs: “Looking back over the past 20 years, I realise now Israel has slowly been drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank, just a few months ago, has outraged me more than anything else in my political life. It has made me look a fool, and that is something I deeply resent. I have to say to the government of Israel: if it is losing people like me, it is going to be losing a lot of people.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/13/mps-vote-to-recognise-palestinian-state

And so, after five hours of debate, the British Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority of 274 against 12 to for  recognizing the State of Palestine. Several of the speakers had referred to the public call of 373 Israeli citizens, including well-known public figures:

"We, Israelis who worry and care for the well-being of the State of Israel, believe that the long-term existence and security of Israel depends on the long-term existence and security of a Palestinian state. For this reason we, the undersigned, urge Members of the UK Parliament to vote in favour of the motion to be debated on Monday, 13th October, 2014, calling on the British Government to recognize the State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel "


Ninety-seven years ago, British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour issued a famous document stating that "His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” – to which a specific condition was set: “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious' rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

Not even the most staunch of Zionists would dare state that this “clearly understood” condition was actually complied with.  In practice, there did happen during the following century an all too serious “prejudice” to the rights of the non-Jewish communities living in 1917 in the Ottoman province. This week, Her Majesty's Government has made at least a small step to compensate for this damage, when Prime Minister Cameron chose to absent himself from the vote and by his absence facilitate the passage of the resolution.  

The British vote will probably have sequels. According to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius "It is only logical" that France would recognize a Palestinian state. "The only question is what steps will be most effective in achieving peace, we do not want a merely symbolic step. Until now, the concept was that recognition has to be directly linked with negotiations. But at the moment that negotiations are no longer possible, or that clearly they would not lead to any agreement, France would of course not shirk her responsibilities”. For their part, Members of Spanish Parliament are probably going to emulate their British counterparts and call upon their government to recognize the State of Palestine, too. An  especially significant step considering that Spain is about to join the UN Security Council, one of the countries on whom will fall the decision on the Palestinian request to set a date for ending the occupation.

Adding to Netanyahu’s headaches came this week an unexpected public challenge from a group of disaffected young Israelis who had moved, of all places, to Berlin. Some of them left Israel behind with a feeling of despair at the rightward trends in Israeli society, the decreasing and disappearance of the chances for peace, the increase of extreme nationalism and racism, and the lack of hope for a positive change. For others, the last straw was the soaring cost of living, the inability of young people to find an apartment at an affordable price, and the failure of the 2011 social protest movement which brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators out into the  streets but failed to achieve any concrete change in government economic policies. Undeterred by the dark shadows of Berlin’s past, the young Israelis find Berlin of 2014 to be a young and vibrant city, in which democracy is solidly established - and where both consumer goods and housing are incomparably cheaper than in Israel.

Members of this taboo-breaking self-exiled community came up with the subversive slogan "Making Aliya to Berlin". Four words which flagrantly overturn the traditional order of Zionist moral values, whereby a Jew who comes to Israel from any other place is performing a praiseworthy “Aliya” (Ascent) while anyone leaving Israel is guilty of contemptible “Yerida” (Descent).

“Israel of 2014 is a nation state for rich Jews, high-tech workers and generals' children” wrote one of the protest organizers. “A state in which young people have no chance of buying a house and can’t afford to raise a child, where a working person is poor and humiliated and a student lives like a dog.

Elections can change nothing, nothing but the identity of those in power. The policies will remain the same. The politicians know for whom they are working, and it is not for you. “Vote with your wings.” Flock to Ben-Gurion Airport in masses. Let the government chase after us to Berlin and try to convince us to come back. Believe me, if we get 100,000 or 200,000 Israelis in Berlin, we will start seeing some changes in Israel. See you in Berlin!”


Friday, October 10, 2014

From Stockholm to Khirbet Um al-Jimal and back

It was last week that the White House charged that the burst of settlement construction in East Jerusalem was “poisoning the atmosphere”, with Netanyahu riposting by accusing the President of the United States of "Un-American Behavior".  By this week the storm center had shifted to Europe with the newly elected Prime Minister of Sweden devoting to our region a prominent place in his first parliamentary address. "The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law. A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful co-existence" said Prime Minister Lofven.

Official Israel cried out furiously, and the Swedish Ambassador was invited to a disciplinary meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. (This time no low chair for the chastened Ambassador, as had been offered to his Turkish colleague at another occasion...). And Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman managed to publish an article in an important Swedish newspaper, asserting that the country’s new Prime Minister had not intended to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians but appease public opinion in Sweden. (This implies that Lieberman acknowledges Swedish public opinion tends to side with the Palestinians and demands a government action on their behalf - and perhaps not only in Sweden ...). Activists of extreme right groups called for a boycott of IKEA and other Swedish products. For his part, Yitzhak Herzog of the Israeli Labor Party “opposition" was mobilized for an effort to lobby Lofven, his long-time fellow member of the Socialist International, and dissuade him from  recognizing the State of Palestine.

Still, the disease is spreading, and next week the British Parliament is about to vote on the issue of recognizing the State of Palestine. "We feel that now's the time to shout out loud that this should be done," said lawmaker Grahame Morris from the (British) Labor Party. The results of the vote would not bind the British government to change its current policy, but certainly they may influence the climate of public opinion in Britain.

Meanwhile, in East Jerusalem the conflagration which started during the hot weeks before the war in Gaza still goes on. Demonstrations and riots and clashes with police continue and this week the flames touched on the compound of the mosques of Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, one of the world’s most sensitive and volatile spots. And at the same time the government of Israel was forced by international pressure to allow the ministers of the Palestinian Reconciliation Government – to whose creation  Netanyahu had been strongly opposed – get to the Gaza Strip and take the careful first step towards mending the deep rift among the Palestinian people.

Under the media radar wich remains focused on diplomatic storms and conspicuous riots, Israeli soldiers arrived this week at the village of Khirbet Um al-Jimal, east of Tubas in the Jordan Valley. A tiny village which does not appear on any map, since from the official Israeli point of view it should not exist and its continued existence is an error which needs to be rectified. The soldiers told the villagers that all village homes were to be destroyed and presented them with demolition orders duly signed by the   military governor. The soldiers then took photos of the doomed buildings (to be precise, huts and sheds) from all directions, in order to facilitate the demolition crews’ work. The residents were not told the intended date of destruction, the Israeli Defense Forces prefer to keep the advantage of surprise. On some day next week or next month, the soldiers will come back, accompanied by bulldozers and the demolitions will be implemented with alert soldiers holding their weapons ready in case anyone dares to resist.

Why should the State of Israel act so harshly against such a small village which does not pose any visible threat to its security? Well, Khirbet Um al-Jimal is located in the Jordan Valley, and the current Israeli government - like its predecessors - wishes to perpetuate Israeli control of the Jordan Valley in any future agreement (and also if no agreement is ever signed). This tiny  Palestinian village, as well as a few other villages in the same area, is interfering by its existence with the fulfillment of these plans, and therefore the soldiers and bulldozers and demolition orders are sent. But though they are but a handful of desperately poor Palestinian villagers, the inhabitants of Khirbet Um al-Jimal are not completely helpless. Already several times this small village was razed and destroyed, and each time the residents rebuilt their meager huts and sheds as soon as the soldiers and bulldozers departed. It's not so much because they are determined to confront and defy strategic plans of the government of Israel and its armed forces. It is mainly because this  god forsaken small village is their home and they have nowhere else to go.


On the same day and almost at the same hour when the soldiers reached Khirbet Um al-Jimal, the Swedish Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser arrived at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. There, the Deputy Director European Affairs Aviv Shir-On handed to him the official reprimand from the government of Israel: "The statement by your Prime Minister about willingness to recognize a Palestinian State is harmful, and we strongly object to it. It may create an expectation among Palestinians to achieve their goals by unilateral acts rather than through negotiations. "

Khirbet Um al-Jimal (photo: IMEMC)

The Swedish Parliament, Stockholm 
(photo: Wikipedia)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Poisoned atmosphere

A Paper Tiger?

Making a quick search on the Hebrew Google for "Netanyahu" + "Holocaust" I found 204,000 results. A search for the same in English turned up no less than 3,940,000  possibilities. Holocaust references keep coming up in the speeches of the Prime Minister of Israel, in many different contexts.

A thought experiment: suppose the State of Israel had had the great misfortune to go through fifty days of war in the course of which 2100 Israelis were killed, including more than five hundred children, and in which whole neighborhoods in Tel Aviv were razed to the ground and hundreds of thousands left homeless. Assuming all of that, would PM Netanyahu have referred to such a horror in his speech at the UN, a month later? An affirmative answer is virtually certain. Would he have used the very strongest terms in talking of it? That, too, seems quite a safe bet. But would the word "Holocaust" have cropped up in Netanyahu's speech, in such a case? On the basis of known facts, there is a high probability for that as well.

In actual reality, with no need hypothetical assumptions, it was Mahmoud Abbas who mounted the podium at the UN General Assembly on behalf of the Palestinian People and made ​​a speech full of anger and bitterness about what his people in Gaza had gone through last summer. So, he spoke not only of murder and war crimes, but of genocide which is, however horrible the death toll was, too big a word.


It was Binyamin Netanyahu who immediately set out for New York to make a furious rebuttal to Abu Mazen’s “speech of lies and incitement". He had come  to the General Assembly to tell the world the truth and nothing but the truth: The Israel Defense Forces are the most moral army in the world bar none; it is the  Palestinians and only them who are guilty of war crimes in Gaza; Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas and Iran is both Hamas and ISIS, they are all the same, they are all malevolent Muslim extremists and enemies of humanity against whom all-out war should be fought. And since Mahmoud Abbas had established a Government of Reconciliation jointly with Hamas, he is actually also Hamas, which essentially means he is ISIS too, and anyway he is a Holocaust denier and certainly is not a partner. How nice and pleasant not to have a Palestinian partner any more, no one to whom occupied territories have to be given up.

Unlike previous years, in this year’s UN speech, Netanyahu did not bother to include – even as  a lip service - the words "A Palestinian State." But he did utter these words at the meeting with President Obama in Washington two days later, and there he also reiterated his sincere wish and aspiration to achieve peace with the Palestinians. It can be assumed that neither Netanyahu nor Obama took these words very seriously.

Obama was probably considering the meeting with Netanyahu as a piece of nuisance, unavoidable especially in view of the proximity of the critical mid-term Congressional elections – to be gotten through so that he could get back to the very urgent business of the war in Iraq and Syria into which he had very reluctantly entered. But just during that meeting there arrived across the ocean an urgent message from the Peace Now movement in Israel, which is regularly monitoring the fine print of the bureaucratic processes involved in approving construction. Precisely on the eve of the Prime Minister’s visit to the White House, the Jerusalem Municipality promoted the creation of a large new settlement neighborhood at a key position in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

Furthermore, just ahead of the meeting in the White House, dozens of Israeli settlers accompanied by a heavy police escort, invaded dozens of Palestinian homes in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, south of the Jerusalem Old City wall. One of the residents who tried to prevent their entry got beaten up by police who told him "Go to Gaza".

The settlers claimed that they had legally bought the houses from their owners - an assertion which is very difficult to validate, as the alleged sellers have disappeared.

Anyway, Housing Minister Uri Ariel did not really care about the problems of legality. Just at the time when the Prime Minister sat down in the White House, expressing to the President his desire for peace with the Palestinians, his Housing  Minister conducted a visit of his own to the settlers in Silwan, “in order to strengthen and encourage them". With his own hands the Minister affixed a mezuzah to the doorpost of a house which had been a Palestinian residence twenty-four hours earlier, so as to express that it would be a strictly Jewish home henceforward. "Now dozens of new families can come and significantly increase the Israeli grip and sovereignty over the City of David and its environs. Settlement in Jerusalem will continue full force, throughout the city. Abbas had never been a partner and is not a partner now, instead of engaging in the pursuit of peace fantasies we should sustain the settlement effort all over the country. We are ready to immediately offer for sale  thousands of housing units in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and I expect it would become possible on the PM’s return from his visit to the United States."

Two hours later, the White House spokesperson published a statement of strong condemnation summing up the Israeli Prime Minister's visit:
“Israel’s plan to continue construction in a sensitive area of East Jerusalem is poisoning the atmosphere - not only with the Palestinians, but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations. This leads to serious doubts as to Israel's commitment to peace. I can say that the United States is deeply concerned. Israel might face international condemnation, even from its closest allies, if it proceeds with this massive new housing project in East Jerusalem.”

Veteran commentator Sima Kadmon made some skeptical comments at her column in the weekend Yedioth Ahronoth. "In the beginning of his term, Netanyahu was very apprehensive about a confrontation with Obama and the potential implications of such a conflict on Israel-US relations. But after several such confrontations, including one in which the Israeli PM lectured the US President in the White House itself, Netanyahu revealed that the sky did not fall. On the contrary, in some such contests Netanyahu emerged the winner".

This week, the Palestinians implemented the plan they had been talking of already for some time, formally presenting to the UN Security Council the text of a draft resolution which would require Israel to end the occupation within two years, thus preventing Israeli military rule from reaching its fiftieth anniversary in 2017. When this text comes to a vote in a few weeks, will the American Ambassador's hand be raised once again to cast an automatic veto on behalf of Netanyahu?

The term "paper tiger" is an ancient Chinese expression. In the West it had become known especially due to a statement of Mao Zedong in 1956: "In appearance America is very powerful, but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of. America is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand wind and rain."

And in 2014?

Friday, September 26, 2014

About budgets and growling bellies


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tsunami management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Children want to live


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

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

    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



   

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Emperor is naked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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