Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sane Voices from Israel III

This beautifully written piece appeared in the Washington Post. My thanks to my friend, Shammai Leibowitz, for sharing it with me. Here is the link:

But first, a word to my readers. Today is New Year's Eve. I pray for a better year to come, when both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, live in dignity and peace. This year, as usual, there is no peace for either side -- but only one side robs the other side of its dignity, and dictates to it the terms of co-existence. This is not a war in Gaza; it is an assault on a the sovereign right of the Palestinian people to determine its destiny, and it began when one side refused to recognize the results of democratic elections.

Only when we Israelis view the Palestinians as equals – as possessing no less a right to a state, no less a right to security, no less a right to self-defence as we have – will there be the possibility of peace.

Happy New Year


Darkness in Qassam-Land

By Julia Chaitin

Wednesday, December 31, 2008; A15

In the winter, the Negev becomes quite beautiful. Though it rains very little here, the rain we get turns everything green, and there is a cleanness in the air that we don't have during the dry summer months. But since Saturday, when a major Israeli offensive began in the Gaza Strip, less than 20 kilometers from my home and less than two kilometers from the college where I teach, all we have had is darkness, despair and fear.

This war is wrong. It is wrong because it cannot achieve its manifest goals -- long-term "normal" life for the residents of the Negev region. The war is morally wrong because most of the victims are Palestinian and Israeli civilians whose only "crime" is that they live in Negev or Gaza. This war is wrong because it is not heading toward a viable solution of the conflict but is instead creating more hatred and greater determination on the part of both peoples to harm one another. It is wrong because it is leading to stronger feelings that we have nothing to lose by striking further, with greater force. This war is wrong because, even before the last smoke rises from the rubble and the last ambulance carries the dead and wounded to hospitals, our leaders will find themselves signing a new agreement for a cease-fire.

And so this is an unnecessary, cruel and cynical war -- a war that could have been avoided if our leaders had shown courage during the months of the cease-fire to truly work toward creating better lives for people whose only crime is that they live in the south.

Since the Israeli air force began bombing Gaza, it has been almost impossible to speak openly against the war. It is difficult to find public forums that welcome a call for a new cease-fire and for alternative solutions to the conflict -- ones that do not rely on military strength or a siege of Gaza. When people are in the midst of war, they are not open to voices of peace; they speak (and scream) out of fear and demand retribution for the harms they have suffered. When people are in the midst of war, they forget that they can harness higher cognitive abilities, their reason and logic. Instead, they are driven by the hot structures of their brains, which lead them to respond with fear and anger in ways that are objective threats to our healthy survival. When people are in the midst of war, voices calling for restraint, dialogue and negotiations fall on deaf ears, if their expression is allowed at all.

I live in the Negev and teach at the Sapir Academic College -- the school located next to Sderot -- in the heart of what is called "Qassam-land," after the rockets that fall on us. I know the fast beating of your heart and the awful pit in your stomach that comes when a tzeve adom -- red alert -- is sounded, heralding a rocket attack. I know what it is like to comfort students and colleagues when the rockets strike very, very close -- and to wish that someone was there to comfort you as well. I know what it is like to be afraid to get into the car and drive to work because you are not sure you will make it from the parking lot to your classroom alive.

But I know the answer to our conflict will not come with this war. We will know peace only when we accept the fact that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have every right to lives of dignity. We will know peace only when we recognize that we must negotiate with Hamas, our enemy, even if we are devastated that the Palestinians did not elect a more moderate party to lead them. We will know peace only when our leaders stop considering our lives cheap and expendable, and help us create a beautiful, green Negev, free of fear and despair.

The writer is a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work at the Sapir Academic College and program developer at the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development.



End the Siege, End the Rocket Fire

This unnecessary war, which has claimed so many lives already, and which has kept two populations in terror (but only one in constant suffering) can be ended quickly. The cease-fire conditions are clear: ending the rocket fire from Gaza, ending the siege on Gaza, new elections in the West Bank and Gaza, which will be recognized by Israel. Beyond that, serious negotiations could be commenced for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israel should not make the cessation of weapons smuggling a condition for a cease fire, or for indirect relations with Hamas. I am sorry to see that Meretz USA, which came out with a fine statement otherwise, has called for "the verifiable termination of weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip" as a condition for a cease-fire. I have no problem with that, provides that it calls for an arms embargo on Israel as well. Jews smuggled weapons to Palestine before there was a Jewish state, and the idea that Gaza and the West Bank should be left at the mercy of Israel, or NATO, or whatever, is immoral as well as stupid – immoral, because it says that one side has a right to self-defence and the other does not, stupid, because it reinforces the Israeli narrative that the Palestinians are the aggressors, which plays into feelings of Palestinian resentment, and which encourages extremists. Had Hamas not smuggled – and used – weapons, would Meretz USA be calling today for an end to the siege on Gaza? (For the Meretz USA statement, see Richard Silverstein's Tikun Olam blog here).

Beyond that, the Palestinians have to get their act together, and stop their own internal fighting. That means democratically-conducted elections whose results are accepted not only by Israel, but by the world. If Hamas runs Palestine, fine – but a condition for their joining the community of nations will be behaving like one – ditto for Israel. Hamas has already laid out the conditions – reasonable conditions, I might add – for its living in peace with Israel: withdrawal to 67 boundaries and a just solution to the refugees. Hamas doesn't recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Big deal. Israel doesn't recognize Hamas, or a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, either. Lots of states don't recognize other states. For years Egypt and Jordan didn't recognize Israel. Did that mean that Israel did not conduct indirect negotations with them?

The world's policy of isolating Hamas has failed. If the world believes in a two-state solution, it will have to get used to the possibility that Hamas will be running the Palestinian state – not permanently, of course, because the Palestinians, like Israelis, will periodically throw the bums out.

But another solution -- a "one state" or "federal" solution, may provide a better answer to the fundamentalists on both sides. There would be no fear of the Palestinian state being dominated by Hamas because the Palestinians wouldn't have their own state, but they would share it with the Israelis. With the Israelis overwhelmingly secular (and with the Palestinians "traditionalists" who could go either way), a one-state solution, with a constitution that would take into account the various factions, may be the better way to go.

Of course, it is not the way that either Israel or Palestine will go. The day may not be too long when Hamas wins control of the West Bank. Israel seems bent on doing everything it can to ensure that possibility. It will then be able to go to the world and say, "What do you want from us; we have terrorists on both our sides."

It won't be pleasant living in Gaza or the West Bank. But it won't be pleasant living in Israel, either.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How the Western Media is Falling for Israeli Spin

Wow, wasn't that an exciting fake-out Israel pulled over the weekend? I mean, Barak authorized the border crossings to be opened to lull Hamas into a false sense of security. No cabinet decision on the war was taken. Israeli spokesmen were only talking about a limited operation sometimes in the future. Hamas was expecting a quick and relatively painless retaliation.Then came Saturday, and, oh boy, were those "Hamasniks" caught with their pants down. Talk about surprise. Talk about unexpected shock and awe. All those terrorists dead and all those buildings destroyed.

Sorry, kinder, but the above is balderdash. And the balderdash is being sucked up by the Western media. Look, for example, at this report of Jeremy Bowen of the BBC, which is not exactly Fox News or the New York Post.

The first wave of attacks went very well from Israel's point of view.

During the Palestinian armed uprising after 2000, Israeli bombers attacked Palestinian security bases many times.

Often their attacks were expected, and they flattened empty buildings.

But at no time did they attempt an air offensive on the scale that they began on Saturday.

The ground for it was prepared by clever psychological warfare.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued warnings to the Arabic press that there would be bloodshed if Hamas did not stop rocket fire.

But at the same time, Israeli spokespeople told journalists that the war plan had not been authorised by the cabinet.

But it had been. So when the first wave of Israeli warplanes came in over Gaza they were able to attack bases and compounds that had not been evacuated.

That was one reason why so many people were killed so quickly

Oh, balderdash. Anybody who read Haaretz or Ynet knew that a major offensive was coming within days. How about this from last Thursday's Haaretz

On Wednesday, as an initial retaliatory measure, an Israel Air Force strike killed a Hamas gunman in the southern Gaza Strip, and wounded two other Palestinians. Israel's response will go beyond the air raid, an Israeli official told Haaretz.

"Our response will be substantial and painful to Hamas," the official said.

During a cabinet meeting about the situation in and outside the Gaza Strip, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer gave ministers in attendance an overview of the potential retaliatory moves that the defense establishment is planning against Hamas' regime.

Most strikes will come from the air and be aimed at facilities believed to be of strategic importance to Hamas' political and military leadership. However, the officer said that weather conditions are currently preventing the air force from launching the raids.

Guess when it stopped raining?

And BBC, please fire the journalist who gets his (dis)information from Israeli spokespeople. You didn't know that the cabinet had approved the Gaza operation? Well, for Chrissake, you should have read the Friday Haaretz, where the headline was:

70 rocket strikes in southern Israel; Cabinet approves military response

In the Hebrew edition, the cabinet was said to have authorized earlier in the week the Defense Minister and Prime Minister to decide on the timing of the operation.

I have in front of me the Hebrew print edition of Haaretz from Friday. The headline: "The Decision has Been Taken: The IDF Will Commence an Operation in Stages Against the Hamas in Gaza." And what are the stages? Significant air strikes followed by ground incursion, if necessary.

There may have been a certain amount of disinformation on Friday and early Saturday. But because I observe the Sabbath, I missed it. And it wasn't at all certain that the attack would commence on Saturday. But does anybody remember how long it took for Israel to attack Lebanon after the cabinet approved it? You guessed it – not long.

As for the success in catching the Hama leaders with their pants down…NOT A SINGLE SENIOR HAMAS LEADER, MILITARY OR OTHERWISE, HAS BEEN KILLED IN THE WAR SO FAR. If the attack came as a surprise, then how come we haven't killed anybody significant yet – except a Islamic Jihad leader.

In fact, from reports coming from Gaza, the greatest number of casualties so far were from a Police cadet graduation. Were the cadets faked out?

So why is Israel spinning this the way it is? Well, the answer is obvious – as part of the propaganda war, they want to repeat the 1967 Six Day War mystique of dealing a death blow in the early days of the war, a blitzkrieg, so to speak.

And what are the results after day three?

A lot of destruction of property. But the Hamas leadership, as far as we know, is intact, and still firing rockets -- more than one hundred today -- this time killing 2 Israelis.

So much for another Six Day War.

Sane Voices from Israel II: Dov Khenin

I thought I would share this item from here

Dov Khenin: "The role of the Left is to say 'No' to a crazy war."

Khenin claimed that the media is ignoring the voices of those opposed to the war. "The true Left in Israeli society has to make its voice heard precisely in those moments of consensus. "

Khenin dismissed the claims that he and his colleagues in the Hadash faction didn't react in a similar fashion when Kassams were fired against the settlements in the South, and noted that the faction visited Sederot and participated in the funeral of of a woman who was killed by a Kassam. "We came to express our opinion that Kassams are a disaster and are criminal. But when Israel once again goes out to wage a crazy war, I think that the role of the Left is to stand up and say, "No" to war.

It is important for progressives outside of Israel, such as those who labored hard to get Barack Obama elected in the US, to get to know Khenin and to support the New Israeli Left, as opposed to the wimpy Old Israeli Left. The New Israeli Left is represented mostly by the Hadash Arab-Jewish party (and some of the younger elements of Meretz). Its loyalty to progressive policies and human rights is untainted by the illiberal forms of nationalism rampant in the Old Israeli Left.



Meretz Flip-Flops on Support of War – Better Late Than Never

Arutz Sheva/Israel National News is reporting here that Meretz ended its support for the Gaza War today, less than a week after it announced it.

The Knesset held an emergency session on Monday and approved the government's decision to embark on Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza. The Knesset session was punctuated by stormy comments made by the Arab Knesset Members, who were repeatedly thrown out of the session. The mixed Arab-Jewish party Hadash boycotted the session entirely.

All Knesset parties except for Meretz and the Arab parties approved the decision to support the action in Gaza. The decision stated: "It is the right of the State of Israel to defend itself just as it is the right of any nation to do so. It is the right of the citizens of Israel to live with security just as it the right of any other citizens to do so."

I haven 't seen this on any other website yet, and I don't know whether Meretz voted against or abstained.

Of course, the Meretz folks will tell you that they never endorsed a big operation, only a limited one. How limited?

Apparently 72 hours-worth.

What should Meretz have said last week? "We oppose military action in Gaza as immoral, counterproductive, and not in the best interests of either side. We call upon both sides to respect the cease-fire. Israel cannot stand idly by while its citizens are being shelled, but we have learnt from experience of two wars that limited aims give way very quickly to broader goals."

But it is election time, and they had to rattle some sabres.

Remember when this war was supposed to be about stopping the shelling? Now, apparently, it is about an "all out war on Hamas" and regime change in Gaza.

That's the funny thing about these wars – the aims shift, the circumstances change, and you don't know what you are getting into, even when you declare one set of aims.

You would think that Meretz would know about that last week?

Still, better late than never. Welcome aboard, Meretz!

Sane Voices from Israel

Lest my world readers think that all of Israel society is mad, I have decided to devote occasional posts to some voices of sanity. Today's turn is by Haaretz columnist and historian, Tom Segev. It was published yesterday (Sunday).

Trying to 'teach Hamas a lesson' is fundamentally wrong

Tom Segev

Channel 1 television broadcast an interesting mix on Saturday morning: Its correspondents reported from Sderot and Ashkelon, but the pictures on the screen were from the Gaza Strip. Thus the broadcast, albeit unintentionally, sent the right message: A child in Sderot is the same as a child in Gaza, and anyone who harms either is evil.

But the assault on Gaza does not first and foremost demand moral condemnation - it demands a few historical reminders. Both the justification given for it and the chosen targets are a replay of the same basic assumptions that have proven wrong time after time. Yet Israel still pulls them out of its hat again and again, in one war after another.

Israel is striking at the Palestinians to "teach them a lesson." That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom - via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey.

The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to "liquidate the Hamas regime," in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a "moderate" leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations.

As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over.

All of Israel's wars have been based on yet another assumption that has been with us from the start: that we are only defending ourselves. "Half a million Israelis are under fire," screamed the banner headline of Sunday's Yedioth Ahronoth - just as if the Gaza Strip had not been subjected to a lengthy siege that destroyed an entire generation's chances of living lives worth living.

It is admittedly impossible to live with daily missile fire, even if virtually no place in the world today enjoys a situation of zero terror. But Hamas is not a terrorist organization holding Gaza residents hostage: It is a religious nationalist movement, and a majority of Gaza residents believe in its path. One can certainly attack it, and with Knesset elections in the offing, this attack might even produce some kind of cease-fire. But there is another historical truth worth recalling in this context: Since the dawn of the Zionist presence in the Land of Israel, no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians.

Most dangerous of all is the cliche that there is no one to talk to. That has never been true. There are even ways to talk with Hamas, and Israel has something to offer the organization. Ending the siege of Gaza and allowing freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank could rehabilitate life in the Strip.

At the same time, it is worth dusting off the old plans prepared after the Six-Day War, under which thousands of families were to be relocated from Gaza to the West Bank. Those plans were never implemented because the West Bank was slated to be used for Jewish settlement. And that was the most damaging working assumption of all.    

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Waiting for Lefty

The Gaza war is falling into a predictable pattern, with the so-called Zionist left in Israel, a.k.a. the Meretz party, also acting predictably. Meretz has backed virtually every major Israeli military operation in memory in its initial stages, and that includes both Lebanese wars, Operation Defensive Shield, etc. So it was no surprise to me when that party came out in favor of a military operation in Gaza. See here

In a healthy country, the progressive left would be highly skeptical of the military and a militaristic mind-set. But what is called "progressive left" in most countries is called the "extreme, self-hating Jewish left" in Israel. What passes for left in Israel is what we would call in America, "the wimpy liberal" or "the centrist-liberal" Democratic party – you know, the sorts of folks who automatically vote in favor of every military action at the outset, and then wait for the body count to go up, or the war to get "close to home", before it expresses regrets.

That Condi Rice and the Bush government support Israel's massive bombardment make utter sense to me; it is just a pity that Meretz in Israel, and Meretz International, have learned nothing from their past experiences (Remember how they, with Labour, supported the first 48 hours of the first Lebanon war?) and how they have once again fallen in with the neocons and the liberal hawks. Predictable, but sad.

In the post below, I suggested that Meretz would eventually come out against the war; the question was one of timing. Well, guess what? Haaretz is now reporting that the government will approve the call up of reserves. See in Hebrew here. Is this the "limited, focused operation" that Meretz called for?

Are you ready, yet, Zionist lefties to speak out? Or are you waiting for your sons in Tel-Aviv – those who still serve in the Reserves -- to be called up first?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

“To War! To War! Fredonia’s Going to War!”

Plus ça change, plus ç'est la même chose. After the expiration of the cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, the Kassams started up, the war drums were pounded – even the oxymoronic "Zionist left" Meretz party participated -- and now Israel has launched a major offensive, first with air strikes, and then, probably, with a ground operation into Gaza. Like the Second Iraqi war, the Afghanistan war, and the Second Lebanon war, the stronger side goes to war because it has to "do something", and loses before it fires the first shot.

If you are looking for predictions, I would say that this will be less of a disaster for Israel than the Second Lebanon war, but will be a disaster none the less. The major goal of the war is to stop the rocket fire from Gaza. That won't happen without another cease-fire agreement. For there to be a cease-fire agreement, there has to be a motivation for Hamas to sign a cease-fire agreement. Israel is not providing it with the motivation now. Israel will neither destroy nor significantly weaken Hamas; it may set it back in terms of armaments, but Israel has little room to maneuver. The siege on Gaza has strenghthened Hamas, and if they hold out against Israel – and they will – they will be strengthened even more.

There is, however, another war goal that Israel can meet in the short run. That is to wreak havoc in Gaza, to kill a lot of Arabs, to show them who's boss, to avenge national honor, to "do something" when our settlements are under attack. That will make the Israelis feel better, and that is nothing to sneeze at. The difficulty is that if the rockets keep on coming – as they did in the case of the Second Lebanese War – then Israelis will feel increasingly frustrated. And they will take it out on Kadima in the next elections and hand the government to Netanyahu and the Likud party, which has been sinking in the polls. So this is the Kadima's government second attempt to commit political suicide; the first attempt was the Second Lebanese War. I am betting that this time they will be successful.

The Israel media is talking about the surprise factor of the timing – we faked them out, didn't we? I am not sure what they mean, since the Friday papers reported that the cabinet had voted to go to war. The title of this post, as well as its contents, was composed in my head during Shabbat, when I was oblivious to the fact that the offensive had started. I certainly wasn't surprised.

So, here's the forecast:

The offensive will go on for some time. Resistance, if there is any, will melt. We will not reoccupy all of Gaza, just enough to fulfill the "do something" criterion of success. At some point we will declare that we have accomplished the major goals of the offensive, and we will negotiate, through some third party, another cease fire. Mission accomplished, with lots of casualties to their side, and the rockets continuing to fall on our side.

That's the best case scenario.

The worst case scenario for Israel is that Hamas fights better than anticipated. That will mean that Israel will get bogged down the way that powerful countries get bogged down in urban guerilla warfare. If the objectives are limited, and if the fighting is limited to parts of Gaza, then Israel's loss will be relatively minor. If things spread – and they will if civilian casualties are heavy – then we are back to the Lebanon fiasco. Hamas may be counting on it; as it is, the war serves the short-term interests of Hamas and the Israeli government.

Why can't this campaign be as successful as the Homat Magen offensive? Different enemies; different geography. Gaza's border with Egypt is very porous. Even if the IDF destroys tunnels, the only way it can put an end to them is by reoccupying Gaza with a massive troop presence. Few in Israel want this.

In fact, just like few cared about the North during the Second Lebanon War – I was in Jerusalem, where life went on as normal for most of the summer, until all the men in my family were called up – few in Israel care about the Kassam rockets in the South. And nobody will want their children endangered because of it

It is unlikely that Israel's latest gamble will work out any better than its previous ones. Its losing streak will continue. I guess that is called "defeatism." But it is hard not to be defeatist when you are continually being kicked in the butt. Remember, Israel hasn't won a war since 1967 – and that war was the biggest disaster in its history.

But it's Hannukah, and so I should end with a little light – the small light provided by the thousands of Israelis, Jews and Arabs, who have protested against the war in Tel Aviv and in other places.

Plus ça change, plus ç'est la même chose.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lily Galili: “Regaining Our Moral Compass”

Every once in a while an op-ed is published in Haaretz that expresses almost precisely what I feel. Lily Galili, a veteran Israeli journalist, says it best in her own words here and below. Israelis, especially the so-called Israeli left, has to regain its moral compass. Her barbs are accurately directed against the Zionist left, i.e., Meretz and some left-leaning Labor members. Of course, terms like "left", "center", and "right", have recalibrated meanings when speaking of Israel. Here, the "left" denotes the center in the rest of the world, the "center" denotes the right and the "right" is ultra-right.

Where I disagree with Galili is the nostalgiac view that there was a time when the Israeli left had a moral compass. What she should have said is that there was a time when at least some individuals cared about the moral dimension of Israel's policy. That tradition goes back in Zionist circles to Ahad ha-Am and Judah Magnes. There were never more than a handful, and they were always marginalized in Zionist circles, even among the Zionist left.

I also disagree that there are no prophets in Israel today. There may not be any among the Zionist left, but there are among the human rights organizations.

Regaining our Moral Compass

Lily Galili

It is hard to remember when exactly moral discourse vanished from our public arena. It happened sometime during the second intifada, as even Israel's left replaced morality with a value system of pragmatic justifications. It is no longer about what is permitted and what is forbidden, even in the context of a bloody conflict. It is about which actions are worthwhile and feasible. Morality became something for nerds, a label the left is afraid of.

The deal Israel's left made was also splendidly pragmatic: It would market the two-state solution to the public and in return make "the other" disappear. Thus the limits of morality were replaced by the limits of power, and universal values were exchanged for the winning argument: "It's good for the Jews." The ultra-scrupulous, who have felt a certain discomfort about having the moral lobe excised from their brains, squirm and say: "It's not that I love Arabs all of a sudden, but ..." Such thinking is on par with the annoying cliche: "It isn't that the Arabs have suddenly become lovers of Zion."

This distorted situation has been perpetuated to the extent that it has become impossible to remember that there used to be a different reality. This is what things look like today: Yisrael Beiteinu MK Avigdor Lieberman is proposing to move Israel's Arab citizens to another country. The counterargument: This isn't practical. The siege on Gaza is starving its inhabitants. The counterargument: They're just going to launch more Qassams. Jews are launching pogroms against Arabs in Hebron. Not a good idea at all - it'll just prompt reprisal actions.

The list is long and astounding. And if revoking citizenship were practical, and if Arabs were to swear on the Koran not to respond to the siege and the pogrom, would it be morally right to carry out all those actions?

Assuming that the answer is no, no one is going to say so aloud. It is hard to find anyone in the public arena, and certainly the political arena, to sound a moral voice and propose clear norms of good and evil. To use a technological metaphor - the moral compass has been replaced by a practical GPS. And for those who prefer metaphors from a different conceptual realm: It has been a long time since the prophets disappeared from our lives - the prophets of wrath and even the false prophets. Today no one even has the pretensions of prophesizing. This is, after all, the role of intellectuals in the modern world - to discern the boundaries between good and evil, between what is permitted and what is forbidden. In short, to be prophets. However, if we return to Ahad Ha'am's distinction between a priest, who serves the people and gives them what they need, and a prophet, who chastises and rebukes, our intellectuals serve as translators into the language of the possible and the worthwhile - a reality that we understand in any case. What a waste of their talents.

It should be noted that we have an abundance of priests. We don't need Amos Oz to declare resoundingly that the Labor party's historic role has come to an end - for that we have pollster Mina Zemach. But this, too, has already become tradition. Oz, sometimes by joining an impressive duet with A.B. Yehoshua, has proposed several unity governments over the years and has established and dismantled coalitions using advice whispered into the ears of pet politicians. It is not clear who bestowed this role on the two novelists, a role usually reserved for political bigwigs. Yet it is perfectly clear that they have betrayed their role as trailblazers and identifiers of morality and justice. In the choice between priest and prophet, they chose to be priests.

There is no one who will preach morality to us on behalf of the Palestinians, Israel's Arabs, the handicapped, the poor and all the "others." The latest report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel shows crystal clear that we have already exacerbated all the damage we can do to them. The drama is turning into a real social and political tragedy, as the prophets are slowly being replaced by the messiahs. As a result of this process, a large public is finding itself trapped between priest and messiah, a deadly combination in an environment lacking clear moral criteria.

Obviously it is difficult to talk about morality in a reality of corrupt governments and a distorted division of the world into the axis of evil and the rest. But now, precisely now, a window of opportunity for correction has opened. Barack Obama's election as U.S. president has immediately changed the atmosphere, and the global economic crisis is restoring some moral consideration to economic discourse. Israel's government is about to be replaced and a new leftist party wants to take over the leadership of "the camp." Such a move must be accompanied by a semantic change and a revised consciousness - including, for example, explicitly saying that some things aren't done, not because they don't bring any gain, but because they are immoral. To use such language does not turn the speaker into a "sucker" - it transforms him or her into a human being. The left has done its share in the transformation of morality into an expression of weakness; now it has a chance to restore morality to its natural place as an important element in the nation's strength.

However, right now, it doesn't seem like this is going to happen. On arid earth where there is no morality, no new left will grow.

What You Won’t Read in Haaretz Online

Today's print Haaretz has a large ad addressed to Israeli soldiers and police serving in the Occupied Territories. Here is a rough paraphrase:

Soldier/Policeman Serving in the Territories:

Lately there have been many cases of Israeli civilians harming Palestinians and their property. This phenomenon upsets the rule of law and the security of the State. Moreover, it damages the moral backbone of Israeli society.


That your commanders, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the General for the Central Command, are responsible by law to protect the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

You have a legal and moral responsibility to protect Palestinian civilians from damage caused by Israeli civilians.

You have the authority to arrest any man suspected of committing a violent crime and inciting to violence, even if he is Jew.

Refraining from protecting citizens under attack is a criminal transgression.

If you receive an order that forbids you from fulfilling this obligation, this order is entirely illegal.

If you have witnessed a case where Israeli civilians perpetrated crimes against Palestinian civilians, and the security forces refrained from interfering, you are invited to contact us at 050-8454725 in order to submit testimony. Confidentiality is assured.

The ad is signed by "Breaking the Silence" and "Yesh Din" – the former group is devoted to collecting testimony by soldiers of human rights violations in the territories against the civilian population; the latter is devoted to seeing that Palestinian rights are not trampeled upon by Israel.

Ross, Kurtzer, Powell, et al

Not a day goes by without more speculation and disinformation about Obama's Middle East team flooding the media, especially the Jewish media. I am too lazy to add the links to the various reports I have read, courtesy of Google News.

One of the latest reports, though, is intriguing, not because it is necessarily accurate, but because it follows a pattern. I refer to Barak Ravid's piece in today's Haaretz, in which he mentions "reports reaching Jerusalem" that list Dennis Ross as a super-envoy to trouble spots in the region (Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Iran, perhaps Afghanistan), and Colin Powell, Dan Kurtzer, and Martin Indyck, on the short list for envoy to Israel-Palestine. As I have pointed out many times in the past, when the Israel Foreign Ministry wants to float balloons and vent (usually against meddlesome American diplomats), they choose Barak Ravid to report. So it is clear that the Ross super-envoy job is, first and foremost, a statement of Israel's wishful thinking, as well as an attempt to influence.

Still, would it be churlish of me to mention that the Magnes Zionist wrote immediately following the US elections:

It is more likely that Ross will expand his sights to include the entire Middle East, especially Iran. That would be an even bigger pity, since Ross wants to isolate Iran in the region, though he is not entirely opposed to US carrots. Will Ross become a Super Envoy to the Middle East? Hopefully not, since that sort of diplomacy hasn't been successful in recent years. And, of course, Ross's level would almost be that of the Secretary of State. What Secretary of State would be willing to have somebody of Ross's stature around?

Indeed, the problem that Ross has, and Kurtzer doesn't, is that there are not so many positions available to him. If he isn't Secretary of State or National Security Advisor (the latter is more probable than the former), then what can he do? Kurtzer, unlike Ross, hasn't risen beyond the level of Ambassador.

Apparently, Shmuel Rosner liked this last point, since last week he wrote (without attribution, of course):

Differences in seniority and self-image [between Ross and Kurtzer] might lead to the more banal possibility: Ross will not accept a role that Kurtzer will happily take. 

Yet the idea of a super-envoy still doesn't make sense to me. Why Hillary Clinton would want Dennis Ross running the show is beyond me, unless she wants him to take the heat for failure. But I have been wrong about Hillary before, most recently on the Secretary-of-State business, which I was surprised that she would even want – unless she has abandoned hopes for the presidency.

Putting Colin Powell in the region is a good idea, especially since he is not tainted with the failure of Oslo and Camp David, as is Ross. With Indyck, you get more of the same – another American Jewish liberal Zionist. But any one of the above will put very little pressure on Israel. Ditto for Kurtzer, although, as I have mentioned before, he is better than the rest.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Jerusalem Post: „Leftist Ideologues in Israel“ Lobby for Dan Kurtzer

All right, this is ridiculous. But when I read the following passage in a Jerusalem Post editorial written by Elliot Jager:

Leftist ideologues in Israel are lobbying for the appointment of retired ambassador Daniel Kurtzer to be the administration's Middle East envoy.

I ask myself, "Who are those leftist ideologues in Israel?" And when I can't seem to find other "leftist ideologues in Israel" who have expressed themselves on this issue besides the Magnes Zionist, you gotta wonder about the power of the web.

But let's assume that the reference is to other "leftist ideologues." Look at the next sentence of the Editorial:

Were Obama to take their bad counsel, Kurtzer would arrive, not as an honest broker, but as a divisive figure whose views are at variance with those of mainstream Israel.

Now, get this – according to Jager of the Jerusalem Post, any "honest broker" on Israel-Palestine has to have views that conform with those of the mainstream Israelies. And what of the mainstream Palestinians?

Ah, what passes for "moderation" in Israel boggles the mind! An American envoy must first accept the "mainstream" Israeli narrative, security concerns, and view of the conflict. Only then, the envoy can begin to broker a peace honestly…with the Israeli right, presumably.

I mean, for crying out loud, we are talking about a man who is a modern orthodox Jew, who speaks fluent Hebrew, a Zionist, a long-time supporter and former Ambassador to Israel. I won't even mention that his son studied in a West Bank yeshivah.

He's not good enough for you, Mr. Jager? Ribono shel olam!


Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Latest Hebron Settler Pogroms

Well, with pseudo-Jewish settlers on the rampage as I write -- smashing, burning, throwing rocks, and even shooting at defenceless Palestinians – a few questions should be asked.

First, since some of the pogrom apparently is in Area A, why aren't Palestinian officers arresting settlers? Second, why was the area declared a closed military zone so late? Third, why are the IDF and the police so ineffectual in preventing the settler rampage? Fourth, why aren't the police using the same tactics against the settlers that the IDF uses against the protestors in Bil'in. After all, the settlers are much more violent than the Bil'in protestors

Having asked all that, one can only wonder at the cowardice of the settlers. Have you noticed how they always wimp out big time when facing real armed forces? Remember Gush Katif? One of the settler's leaders, Haggi Ben Artzi, predicted mass suicides – heck, he even promised to kill himself. And, then, on the day of the evacuation he wasn't even there. If you are going to be a zealot, at least act like one. But when the settler thugs face the Palestinians, preferably Palestinians who have no weapons and no army to protect them, just look at the Jewish Heroes!

Ah, but it is Mikhael Manekin of Breaking the Silence, who reminds us that today's events really change nothing in Hebron. On the contrary, this sort of ritual has played out many times before. To paraphrase Menachem Begin (with changes), "When Jews fight Jews, Arabs are strung up on the tree." Actually, Begin said of world criticism of Israel's role in Sabra and Shatila that the goyim fight the goyim and the Jews are strung up on the tree. Just plug in Arabs for "Jews" and Jews for "goyim" – a pretty appropriate substitution – and you have Hebron today.

Here and below is Manekin's op-ed from the Jerusalem Post, which he wrote before the evacuation. Needless to say, the talkbacks to the article are mostly of the "glatt kosher fascist" variety.

P.S. I use the term "pseudo-Jews" only in deference to the Rambam (Maimonides) who writes in this great Code of Jewish Law, "The [Jewish] lineage should be doubted of whoever is cruel and shows no mercy. For only pagans are cruel…and all the Jews, and whoever accompanies them, are like brothers." (Law Concerning Gifts to the Poor 10:2.") From a halakhic standpoint, those Hebron settlers who wear tzizit and kippot (fringes and skull-caps), but who are cruel to innocent Palestinians, are suspect Jews.

It's only one house

Dec. 3, 2008

For those following the planned evacuation of the illegal settlement in Hebron ironically called the "House of Peace," it has been an eventful couple of weeks. Extreme violence on the part of settlers toward both Palestinians and Israeli police and soldiers, petitions of Knesset members to reverse the ruling of the High Court, letters to the president and countless threats of civil war have become the normal means of discourse.

Looking at these events from the outside, one would think that a major event in the history of Israel's control over the occupied territories was about to occur.

What other explanation could there be for all the commotion? It is important, though, to keep in mind that we are not talking about the evacuation of the entire settlement of Hebron (which consists of fewer than 1,000 extremist settlers in an area of some 500 square meters), but of one building deep inside the city that has been considered illegal almost from day one.

It is also important to remind ourselves that if the settlers are evicted (and that is by no means a certainty - there is already talk of postponing the evacuation to a much later date), Hebron will continue to be a place that embodies the worst of Israel's occupation policies. Hebron will still be a place where Palestinians are prevented legally from walking on their own roads, a city with sections that have become virtual ghost towns as a consequence of Israeli policies.

Palestinians will continue to suffer daily from harassment by soldiers and from the fact that the Israeli authorities do little to prevent settlers from attacking them, destroying their property and harassing their children.

As soldiers who served in Hebron, we at Breaking the Silence have long been aware of how things work there. We have seen firsthand how the policy of separation, paired with the absence of law enforcement vis-a-vis violent settlers, has affected the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians. We, too, have become subject to regular harassment and abuse from these settlers as we guide tours in the city. This will not change if and when the building is evacuated.

NONE OF this is to say that eviction of the settlers from the "House of Peace" is unimportant.

If they are allowed to remain, it will be another nail in the coffin of the rule of law in the West Bank (and how many more nails does that coffin need?). We must pressure our government to enforce the law and evacuate these illegal settlers.

But when the day comes and thousands of soldiers and policemen arrive to do just that, we must keep in mind that nothing major is happening. Surely, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and fellow politicians will talk about the victory of democracy. They will boast about how the rule of law has prevailed yet again. They will sit in comfort in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and pat themselves on the back, saying that they triumphed over the religious fanatics.

But we, Israelis who have been through this before, will be there to remind them of Hebron's recent history. We will remind them that in the summer of 2007, they patted themselves on the back after 2,000 soldiers were needed to dislodge two settler families from the wholesale market. We will remind them that the year before that, they patted themselves on the back when they evacuated the Shapira House, yet another settlement in the city. Then, as today, the world may well have thought for a couple of minutes that something was changing.

But today we have enough memories to know better.

That is why we will remind them and ourselves that the occupation is only becoming more permanent. For every settler house that is demolished, dozens more are being built. We must remember that the Palestinians of Hebron will still be deprived of basic human rights, because they were born in a city where the lives of settlers are worth more than theirs.

Finally, we must remember that as Israelis, we have a long struggle ahead of us, one that involves hundreds of "houses of peace." We cannot call ourselves a society that upholds the values of human rights and democracy until we deal with these bigger issues, instead of focusing on just one house.

The writer is a member of Breaking the Silence, an organization of IDF veterans promoting awareness about the situation in the territories.



Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dan Kurtzer May Become Obama’s Special Envoy to the Middle East

Finally, after a string of appointments that have not made me particularly happy, Obama is poised to appoint Dan Kurtzer as Special Envoy to the Middle East. See here. Already he is being attacked in some of the rightwing Jew blogs as "anti-Israel" (Boy, isn't that a case of the pot calling the kettle black.)

I have no idea whether the Obama people were influenced by the campaign against Dennis Ross by some of the progressive blogs like justforeignpolicy , Phil Weiss, Ira Glunts, Richard Silverstein, and by Michael Flynn in the Electronic Intifada (Oy, one can only pray for such influence). It is more likely that Ross is being "kicked upstairs". As was pointed out to me after the Obama election, it would be harder to find a job for Ross than for Kurtzer, since Ross had "been there, done that" as the Middle East envoy. Perhaps Secretary of State Clinton will have a position for him.

Ross is no doubt still in the picture. You didn't want him in Israel-Palestine; you may be getting him in Iran (or Russia). Yet, I am less concerned that his voice will be a dominant one, as it was during the 90s

In terms of basic worldview, Kurtzer is not too different from Dennis Ross. He is a liberal Zionist. But Kurtzer, who served as US ambassador in Egypt and Israel, understands, and sympathizes with the suffering and aspirations of the Palestinians. And he is more likely to wield a certain amount of some pressure on Israel, especially on Netanyahu, than would Ross.

And do you know what else distinguishes Kurtzer from Ross? Kurtzer is a modern orthodox Jew, and Ross is not religiously observant, to the best of my knowledge. So what? You would think that this wouldmake him more fanatically pro-Israel. But not necessarily. For secular Jews like Dennis Ross, Israel is a vital component of their Jewish identity. That is why so many American Jews can view anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism – when your Judaism boils down to an ethnic identity in which Israel plays a big part, you are less likely to take a more detached view. Kurtzer is not a religious Zionist, at least not in the sense that typifies most religious Zionists today. And since his Judaism is not tied up with his Zionism, it is easier for him to keep a certain distance.

Of course, if you oppose a two-state solution as impractical or unjust, the appointment of Kurtzer will only prolong the myth. But if Haaretz is getting it right, this is good news for the Jews, and good news for the Palestinians.

As another Jeremiah could have said, we all still need the hutzpah of hope.