Thursday, November 22, 2012

And the Winner Is...Justice Richard Goldstone

There is now a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, thank God. The senseless military operation initiated by a blundering Israeli overreaction, and resulting in death, destruction, and fear in civilian populations, was only the latest in a series of such operations. And an examination of the cease-fire "understandings," virtually identical with those after Cast Lead, shows that Israel's over-arching strategy in assassinating Chief of Staff  Jabari.was of the "We've-got-to-DO-something" variety. It is unlikely that the cease-fire will hold, but it is sufficient to worry later about future troubles, as the saying goes.

Who won? Ask the Israelis, most of whom opposed the cease-fire, and they will tell you that the other side won. Ask the Gazans, and they will tell you that their side won.  My view is that the real winner was Justice Richard Goldstone, whose report changed the way Israel waged war against the Gazans.

How did Pillar of Cloud differ from Cast Lead? Less indiscriminate shelling; no press blackout; the leaflets to the Gazans telling them to leave their homes about to be destroyed gave routes to the nearest shelter. Of course, this was cold comfort, seeing as the nearest shelter was already overcrowded. In fact, CNN allowed us to see one family moving from school shelter to school shelter until they get could find a classroom for their clan. No white phosphorous, either.Without the Goldstone Report, the civilian casualties and the destruction of property "for the sake of deterrence" would have been higher.

This is not to say that war crimes were not committed by both sides, and I hope that the human rights agencies will investigate these  and issue their reports.

Judge Richard Goldstone was vilified, first by the Israelis and their supporters, and then by the supporters of the Palestinians, who misread his so-called "retraction". No person is above criticism, of course, and reasonable people often disagree. But Judge Goldstone, and those who worked with him, and above all, the Israeli human rights organizations that provided him with data, both directly or indirectly, and who were also vilified by the Israeli government, should take satisfaction in the numbers of lives they saved.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Israel's Turkey Shoot and Hamas' Weapons of Minimal Destruction

There is no "war" in Gaza. There is a military operation by one of the most advanced militaries in the world against a cadre of militants that can't shoot straight because their weapons are relatively primitive and cannot be aimed well.

So much for offense. As for defense, one side has the most advanced shield in the world; the other has...well, no defense at all.

For illustrating the disparity, here is a convenient article and graphic.

So let's talk about civilian suffering.  For tribalistic reasons, the Jewish community in the US has been bombarded  with pictures of Israelis sitting in shelters and safe rooms. We are being told that hundreds and thousands of rockets have been fired into Israel, and that Israelis are being held hostage to Muslim terrorists.

I don't want to minimize the trauma that the Israelis have suffered. On the contrary, I know it is huge, and I fear for the long-term effects. But because I understand how much Israelis who are in harm's way are suffering, I also understand how that suffering, as great as it is, pales in comparison to the suffering of the Gazans. And yes, making discriminations in the amount and depth of suffering does matter.

Name your critirion: Fatality statistics? Death and injury of civilians? Destruction of property? Fear and trauma? Deafening explosives? Feelings of utter helplessness? Of being utterly exposed? On every possible metric, the Gazans suffer more than the Israelis. And after there is another cease fire, and things get back to "normal," the Gazans suffering because of the blockade and the restrictions in movement, not to mention the occupation, will continue

Israelis get this. Ask anybody in Sderot where they would prefer to be now -- Sderot or Gaza City -- and they will look at you as if you are crazy.

On NPR this morning there was a report of Israeli wedding guests who, when they heard the air raid siren, skipped the shelters and went outside to watch the Iron Dome intercept its missiles.Picture that in Gaza.

IDF rockets and missiles have killed more innocent civilians in the last three days than all the Hamas rockets combined in the last eight years!

When you say this to Israelis, they get very huffy. Some will say that it is sheer luck that rockets don't killl hundreds or thousands. But that's an uneducated argument. In fact, they don't kill that many, and Hamas soldeirs knows they won't kill that many. They know that they are just shooting off steam and hoping to beat the house odds that are stacked against them. . In the First Intifada, the Palestinians threw thousands of rocks against the IDF soldiers, and Menachem Begin justified the use of lethal force against them saying, "A rock can kill." But rocks usually don't kill, and we now have abundant evidence that Hamas rockets rarely do the same. That cannot be said for IDF bombardments.

I realize that statistics don't mean anything to most people; if they did, people wouldn't waste their money on lottery tickets. It is indeed scary to hear a rocket exploding, even if explosion was in an open area.

But how much more scary would it be if the rocket were launched by the most technologically sophisticated weaponry in the world? Who would you rather fight? David or Goliath?

Bombs fired discriminately that kill  large number of civilians are worse than rockets fired indiscriminately that have little chance of hitting anybody.

I suppose Hamas is learning this from the Israelis. When a missile was fired towards Jerusalem on Friday, the Hamas leadership said that they were aiming for the Knesset, which according to Israeli military ethics, is a legitimate target.

Instead, the missle landed miles away on the West Bank. Had it killed civilians, Hamas could have done what Israel does in such circumstances.

Express regret and set up an investigation.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

How Two Jewish (and One Stoic) Ideas Helped Me Get Through Yesterday's Sermon in Synagogue

Before I left for synagogue in DC yesterday I resolved that I would not sit through a sermon that painted the Israelis as the innocent victims of murderous Hamas thugs. I expected that additional Psalms would be said for those in Israel, and I would say them with more kavvanah/intention than usual. (Some of my children and grandchildren have been in those shelters recently.) But I would try to insist that civilians on both sides be included in the Psalms.

As it turned out, I would have gladly sat in my safe room in my apartment in Jerusalem -- or in a shelter in Sderot -- than have sat through the sermon I heard. The rabbi, who is a  moderate, learned, and decent man, and often quite liberal and tolerant towards other religions,  began by commenting on the intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. He then tied that to the weekly portion, which refers to the enmity between Jacob and Esau, already in the womb of Rebecca. Of course, he conceded that Esau was later interpreted by the rabbis not as Muslims but as Christians, and he also said that the prototypical Muslim was Ishmael and not Esau. But what can you's Torah portion was about Esau and Jacob and any typological enemy will do in the current storm.

As the sermon went on, its message became clearer: There is no hope of peace with Muslims, because their values are simply different from those of us Jews. They believe that heaven is acquired through fighting and dying. They use firepower indiscriminately. They target civilians. We Jews live in a bad neighborhood, getting worse by the growth of fundamentalism (this from an orthodox rabbi, who had just used the Bible as a source for historical inevitability!) He ended with the hopeful comment that, as a rabbi, he has witnessed more and more Muslims converting to Judaism.

As he started talking about Islam,  I felt that I could take it no longer. My blood boiling, I weighed the option of walking out. Since I sit in the front row of a relatively small room,  my protest would have been noticed by everybody, including the rabbi. I knew that this would cause a stir, and, who knows, maybe some good would come out of it. It would have been disrespectful to the rabbi, but our sages teach that "where this is desecration of God's name, one doesn't accord respect to rabbis." Or so I reasoned, in my anger.

But then I remembered two important teachings of our sages:

"Who is a hero? One who masters his passions." It's a passage I had learned with my students only the day before, and it smacks of Stoic influence.  Maimonides writes that one should avoid anger, even when anger is appropriate. All right, I realize that some psychologists may disagree. But walking out in a huff is not a way to influence people. And disrespecting the mara de-asra, the local rabbinical authority, especially one whom I respect on many other matters, and who is a friend and colleague, because of a disagreement, is wrong. At any rate, it's not me. 

And I also thought, what right do I have to cause anybody discomfort, especially since

All us Israel-supporters, even rabbis, are tinokot she-nishbu "children who have been raised among the Idolators" (tinokot she-nishbu). This rabbinic  phrase has come to mean somebody who have been raised in ignorance of the truth. How can I blame any of my fellow-Jews for their ignorance, since they have been indoctrinated since birth with Zionist myths and Israeli narratives. The mainstream media in this country is hopeless "captured" by the Israeli hasbara machine, whether liberal Zionist (NY Times, Washington Post) or chauvinist Zionism (Fox News, the Murdoch papers). Unless you read Haaretz, which now charges a hefty subscription free, you are entirely clueless as to what is going on, and Haaretz, God bless it, also reflects an Israeli perspective. 

After the services I talked with people who were not happy with the Gaza situation, who were not knee-jerk supporters of the Netanyahu government, but who, out of ignorance, spouted the same hasbara slogans that the Israeli spin machine puts out so well, and now on Twitter and Facebook. They receive links from the Jerusalem Post and Fox News? Can I blame them for their ignorance?

The problem is not Hamas violence or Israeli violence; these are only symptoms of a much deeper mindset, or mentalite, which cannot be erased easily, if at all. Talking with my fellow Jews I felt as if I were  talking with some doctrinaire Marxists, or evangelical Christians (or Muslims, Jews, or "Dawkinsians"), whose entire worldviews were the servant of some ideology.

As is my own, I suppose, only in my case the ideology is the American liberalism with which I was raised.

To be fair, my fellow-congregants have also been raised with a lot of that American liberalism. When one said to me, "Don't you think Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks." I said, "Not only a right, but an obligation." But when I countered,  "Don't Palestinians have the right to defend themselves from Israeli attacks, including cross-border incursions and naval blockades?" I was met with a blank stare. If this had been Israel, my interlocutor would have said, "No, they don't." But for an American Jewish liberal, what I had said had completely thrown him off, at least for a few seconds.

It doesn't occur to most American Jews I know, or for that matter, most people I know, that the Palestinians are the primary victims of the Zionist movement, that they were dispossessed by superior force,  and that they are struggling for decades to enjoy the same life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in their land that the Israelis have enjoyed.  Whether they are second-class citizens, or under occupation,  or in the Palestinian diaspora,  they refuse to admit total defeat, and they will never relinquish their claims. They are among the longest suffering peoples since World War I, and their suffering is compounded because some of those who supplanted them suffered terribly during World War II.

A few of the  lessons I take away from yesterday's portion, which focuses on Genesis 27.

Spin and Deception work in the short term. 

(See under Jacob.)

But the truth will out eventually, even for the Israeli hasbara machine

"The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau"

And Israel is willing for the sake of Zionism to fulfill the Biblical prophecy of Esau

"Then Isaac his father answered and said to him,
From the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling
From the dew of heaven from above
By your sword you shall live."

Only in current Hebrew, this living-by-the-sword is called "conflict management."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Follow-Up Questions You are Not Likely to Hear on American TV

UPDATE: For the "Nate Silver wonks" among my readers the following piece by   dissecting the IDF rocket numbers spin that is bombarding the social media is a must-read.

And Robert Wright and Emily Hauser make the important point that it is pretty hard to determine who started the current round of hostilities. It all depends on the day you pick. What can be said is that only one people has had control over the other people's life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for years.

While MSNBC, the so-called "progressive network," continues to shill for Obama's reelection and avoids the Gaza crisis like the plague, other networks have stepped up to the plate to shill  for Israel -- or at least against Hamas.

Israeli officials and spokespeople line for interviews with the networks, but have you seen Hamas government officials (those who don't live in constant fear of assassinations), or even officials in Gaza being interviewed? At best you have a Washington-based PA official, usually a Fatah aparatchik, who is not unhappy to see Hamas weakened.

Heck, I saw the neoconservative Fouad Ajami, a close family friend of the Netanyahus, who blurbed Benzion Netanyahus book on the Spanish Inquisition (!) being interviewed as an expert on Israel/Palestine!

We have been treated to a parade of statistics for rocket firings provide the IDF spokesperson, never  followed by any statistics of Israeli firepower against the Gazans.

In short, the "narrative" is entirely left to the Israelis and their surrogates. Since the networks and cable news are incapable of coming up with with good follow-up questions, here's my holiday gift to them:

1. "Israel has the right to defend itself militarily against rocket attacks."

Do the Gazans have the same right to defend themselves militarily against shells, missiles, and bombs?

2. "If the Hamas stops shooting rockets, Israel will call off its operation."

Why did Israel on November 8 initiate hostilities after a two week break where there were little to no rocket firing, and none from Hamas?

3. "Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist."

Does Hamas have the right to conduct hostilities against Israel, which doesn't recognize Hamas's legitimacy?

4. "Israel does not negotiate with terrorists."

Why did Israel negotiate with General Jabari over the Shalit exchange?

5. General Jabari has blood on his hands.

Doesn't Ehud Barak have a lot more blood on his hands?

6. How can you compare? Jabari was reponsible for rocket firing.

But wasn't it reported in Haaretz that Jabari was the "subcontractor" for Israel who prevented rocket-firing in Israel, and who had agreed to a long-term cease fire brokered by Egypt -- right before he was assassinated by Israel?

7. There is no moral comparison between Hamas's indiscriminate firing of rockets and Israel's targeted firing of military installations.

If your little sister were killed "unintentionally" by a bomb fired in a civilian area, would you feel less upset because she was only "collateral damage" of a campaign designed to establish deterrence?

8. If a Hamas civilian is killed, that's because terrorists cynically position themselves among civilians.

Where is the IDF's headquarters located?

9. There's still no comparison -- Hamas fires hundreds of rockets, whereas we pinpoint our targets.

If your chief of staff were assassinated, and the only weapons you had were rockets, would you refrain from using them?

10. We withdrew from Gaza, and they answered with rocket fire....

How many years have gone by since Operation Cast Lead, and how have you eased conditions on the Gazans since then?

11. Israel will do everything it can to protect itself.

Especially after Netanyahu lost one election, and can pick up a few seats with the new one -- and Ehud Barak can keep his career and his ego intact.

Another Shabbat without Shalom

Thursday, November 15, 2012

And That's Why Israel Doesn't Want A Cease-Fire

One response to my post below was that I gave the Israeli government way too much credit for having a strategy in the current wave of hostilities. It makes more sense that  they bungled into it the way they bungle into so many things, by over-reacting poorly to events with disproportionate force. 

Call me dewy-eyed, but I like to think that the Israeli government does have a strategy, or at least  a mindset that accounts for its actions. In this case there is at least circumstantial evidence that its plan was to provoke hostilities so that it could a) decrease the chance of a lasting cease-fire and b) strengthen extremists within the Gaza strip and thereby weaken the moderates in Hamas, whose stock has been steadily rising since the Egyptian elections and the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Or it could be just bungling.....

For people with short memories, that is to say, for those who can't remember what Israel did to provoke the rocket fire that served as the pretext for the current operation, there is a very good time line here  It shows that Israel initiated  the current spate of violence on Nov. 4, two days following the US election, and shattering a two-week lull in violence. Most significant was the attempt of Egypt to broker a cease-fire, which the various factions in Gaza accepted, and a key player of which was Ahmad Jabari, the chief of Hamas's military wing. For an account of Jabari's role in negotiations for long-term cease-fire negotiations since the Shalit release, read Gershon Baskin's insider account in today's Open Zion as well as in Haaretz.  Jabari's assassination was a twofer for Israel -- they got rid of a moderate who was trying to produce a long term cease-fire, and they provoked  Hamas into launching massive rocket attacks.  The death of the family in Kiryat Malachi was the collateral damage of Israel's  misguided policy. The last thing they want is the security offered by a long-term cease-fire with Hamas.

Even if we allow for a little bungling, I still maintain that the assassination of Hamas leaders, as well as the deaths of Palestinian and Israeli citizens, serve the interests of the Netanyahu government, the chauvinistic center in Israel, and all their supporters. I can't see this as a cynical election ploy; for one thing, there is no evidence; for another, if the number of Israeli casualties rise, it could hurt Netanyahu. It is more likely that this was an attempt to do the "house-cleaning" I wrote about below.

As always, the ray of hope lies in Palestinian resistance to aggression, and in the "coalition of the sane" who recognize stupidity, cruelty, and inhumanity when they see it.

If you want to belong to that coalition, subscribe to Haaretz and read Jewish Voice for Peace's eloquent statement on here -- and sign up for their protest activities.  JPV shows  even in a period of spiritual darkness, Jews raise their voices  against the apostates of violence, chauvinism and dehumanization. 


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Israel's Post-Election War

I don't know whether Nate Silver gives odds on wars, but the odds of Israel escalating its aggression against Gaza were higher than the odds Silver gave for Obama winning the last election -- I mean the odds on election day.

It has been clear for over a year that  Israel would wait until after the American elections to launch some act of military aggression, and it was clear, to me, at least, that it would not be directed against Iran, Syria, or Lebanon. It seems likely that Israel had decided to conduct an operation in Gaza  before the first rocket was fired from Gaza.

All military actions, indeed, all actions having to do with Gaza, have one goal in mind: the subjugation of the Palestinian people there with minimum cost to  Israel. In hasbara speak this is called  "protecting Israelis," "defeating terror," "defending national security," even "protecting national honor," but it boils down to the same thing -- Israel cannot be secure if the Palestinians have real independence. That is why Israelis are divided into those who want to subjugate Palestinians by giving them no self-determination and those who want to subjugate them by giving them quasi self-determination in a quasi-state.  

I spoke with an expert on the Israeli military shortly after "Operation Cast Lead," and when I told him that many argued that the operation was a reaction to Hamas rocket-fire, he laughed. He said that Hamas rocket-fire was deliberately provoked when Israel broke the cease-fire so that Israel could do a little "spring cleaning," deplete Hamas's arsenal of weapons. He told me that this happens every few years, and that I should expect it to happen in another few years. Israel will assassinate a Hamas leader, Hamas will have to respond (wouldn't Israel, under those circumstances?) and Israel will perform a "clean up" operation. If Hamas is smart and doesn't play into Israel's hands, then Israel will also come out ahead, because it will be weakened in the eyes of the Palestinian public. It's win-win for Israel. That's what having control means.

Since 1967, Israel has occupied Gaza. Since the disengagement -- or more accurately, the "redeployment" -- Israel has effectively controlled Gaza. It has allowed Hamas to wax and wane, at its pleasure, and when it thinks the timing is ripe, it strikes against Hamas. 

The only thing that will restrain Israel is world-wide, and especially US and European, condemnation. As always, the only way to advance the cause of peace and justice in this region is through holding Israel to the standards of a decent state, not the rogue state it has long become.

Note to readers: I'm back in the saddle again.