Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Today the New York Times reports that President Obama “intends” to put forth

a new American approach to Afghanistan that will put more emphasis on waging war than on development, senior administration officials said Tuesday.

I wonder how long it will take until the “progressives” experience an acute feeling of buyers’ remorse. For me, stepping up the fight against Taliban is a great idea. But war versus development is a false choice, and a dangerous one. That is how we create new enemies and contribute to our own vulnerability.

Monday, January 26, 2009

“As it turned out, most of the refugees did not leave Gaza in return for plane tickets. Mass deportations were more or less impossible, because diplomats and the world press were always watching. But there was a third way. A senior official in the Foreign Ministry, Michael Comay, wrote to Ambassador [Avraham] Harman that the military governor of the Gaza Strip, Mordechai Gur, was pushing people to leave Gaza by eroding their standard of living; he said Gur himself had admitted to this. Not everyone in the military government favored this approach: [Moshe] Dayan believed that although a deterioration of life in the Gaza Strip might bring about the departure of refugees, it might also make things difficult for the military government and damage Israel’s reputation.”

— Tom Segev, “The June 1967 War and the Palestinian Refugee Problem,” Journal of Palestine Studies 36(3), 2007, pp. 16-17

Sunday, January 25, 2009

News objectivity at work.
“We go around behaving as though we had invented perpetual peace when all the time we are candidates for the military psychopathic ward. We were all steamed up in 1918 to have a real crusade, a holy war of extermination against the ungodly. … We become maudlin and sentimental whenever Peace is mentioned and we long all the time for a chance to gouge the eyes out of some other nation. In brief, as a nation, we are suffering from a badly suppressed case of homicidal mania disguised as universal benevolence.

“Psychologically, we are ready for battle and as soon as we can select a sufficiently remote and interesting antagonist, we are going to let him have it. … Better still, we have the arrogant self-righteousness of the utterly pure and we will cut throats devoutly and starve peoples in the name of the highest ideals. We will even shed a tear of commiseration for the poor creatures whom we destroy and will honestly believe that it hurts us more than it does them.

“The America of the peace societies, of the college professors, of the churchmen and the discussion clubs is very thin. Under it lies the America of Al Capone, the America of the lynchings, the America that kills its thousands and maims its tens of thousands, the America whose police draw their clubs whenever they see two or three gathered together, the America whose criminals use machine-guns, armored-cars and poison-gas, the America whose people shrug their shoulders at one of the highest maternity death-rates in the world and shudder at the thought of a starving Armenian on Mount Ararat. This second America needs a war as a dipsomaniac needs a drink, as a drug-fiend needs his dope, and as a red-hot momma needs her man, and when its chance comes, the first America will be swept aside in an instant.”

Jay Franklin (1931)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

“We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

I’ve been waiting so very long to hear those words from an American president.

Barack Hussein Obama, 44th president of the United States.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I have faith that the American people and the leadership of President Obama will usher in the day when all of us — black and white, rich and poor, young and old — stand together and work to realize my father’s dream.

— Martin Luther King III, today

As for you, Mr. Bush, good riddance! You have shamed the United States and wrecked its credibility.

This country is better off without you. It has indeed been a long national nightmare under your (abuse of) power and assault on constitutional democracy. Go back home, amoral usurper, freedom-destroying pretender of a tyrant! Never again shall we have a leader of your caliber.

(With the man leaving office tomorrow, I just had to vent.)
“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr. (4 April 1967)
The birds are out to get us, it appears. What are your demands, avian nemesis?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Israel has declared a unilateral cease-fire after three weeks of operations in Gaza, just three days before the inauguration of Barack Obama, which was all along the tacit deadline. Let us all hope that the bloodshed will end, on both sides. It may not be entirely over, but this is a good step forward.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thomas Friedman, in a recent editorial, actually advocated what is essentially terrorism as good policy to fight the Islamist extremists, as a way of “educating” their kind. I’m actually impressed by the candor in his expression of what has been operative policy for years: fighting fire with flame. Allow me to quote this strategy, in the context of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war: “when dealing with a nonstate actor ... nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain [it] in the future.” The immediate implications of this standard are fairly clear, that is if we choose not to engage in hypocritical theatrics: battles between states cannot involve a resort to terror, whereas in an asymmetrical fight between a state and a group like Hezbollah (or Hamas) there is an underlying population that must be severely punished for having a militant group “nested among” it. Never mind that this, by definition, is collective punishment which, by an objective standard, constitutes a serious war crime. The real shock is that violating the laws of war, and reverting to the sacking and pillaging of a 16th century mode, is considered the proper way to fight the wars of the 21st century.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

NOTE: I don’t think it’s worthwhile at all for people to go around spouting “genocide” at the events in Gaza, mostly because it’s unnecessarily evocative of the Nazi extermination, which is of course a totally unfair analogy, and is therefore inflammatory and not descriptive, e.g. simply a term of abuse with zero information content.

Instead, I’d like you, the reader, to engage in a small thought experiment: say Hamas was, somehow, doing to Israel what Israel is currently doing to Gaza. The latest figure of dead is over 1,000 people, about half civilians and a quarter women and children, and about 4,700 wounded, according to the most credible figures available on the record.

Yet these figures are, respectively, proportionally equivalent to 4,848 Israeli deaths (which would include over 2,000 civilians, of which over 1,000 would be women and children) and 22,560 wounded; and, in Gaza, proportionally equivalent to 3 deaths. Does anyone seriously believe that international news agencies and outlets would even bat an eyelash about the Palestinian victims versus unending, wall-to-wall coverage of the apocalyptic toll inflicted upon the Israelis? If not “genocidal,” how would it be described? Would we even call that a “war”?

To deny that would be to engage in severe moral hypocrisy and to believe that some people are really less than human.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The future of Israeli democracy looks very grim.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Egypt’s involvement in maintaining the system that has perpetuated the suffering of Gazans is nothing new. Avi Shlaim, in his book The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (2001), wrote that by 1955 “Egyptian authorities [had] kept a quarter of a million Palestinian refugees incarcerated in a tiny strip of territory in Gaza” (p. 84), “around 300,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war who had been demanding the right to be armed and organized into an army in preparation for recovery of their homeland” (pp. 126-27). (It remains one of the most densely populated areas in the world.) More recently, as Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa report in the Daily Star, a Lebanese daily, Cairo is “seen by many [within the Arab societies] as complicit in the Israeli campaign.”

Flash-forwarding to the present, the pressure on the Egyptian state has been very powerful, forcing it to take actions to help — however meagerly — alleviate the situation for civilians. For sixth months, Cairo had enforced the Israel-Hamas ceasefire until it broke down on Nov. 4 with a small Israeli strike. But with the crisis mounting, Egypt was forced to release some of the valve pressure. “Responding to pressure from the Arab world, Egypt ordered the opening of the Rafah crossing to absorb wounded Palestinians from Gaza,” wrote Yoav Stern in Ha’aretz. A few days earlier, immediately following the campaign’s start in late December, “crowds of Gazans breached the border wall with Egypt, … Egyptian forces, some firing in the air, tried to push them back into Gaza and an official said one border guard was killed,” reported an Associated Press dispatch.

One item in sharp focus has been the network of smuggling tunnels upon which Hamas and Gaza itself depends. Ewa Jasiewicz noted that the territory “is being kept alive through the smuggling of food, fuel and medicine through an exploitative industry of over 1000 tunnels” of which some “are reportedly big enough to drive through.” Jonathan Cook, reporting from Nazareth, wrote that Egypt “had little choice but to turn a blind eye” to the smuggling that was aiding Hamas, “despite being profoundly uncomfortable with an Islamic party ruling next door,” that is an inspiration to its own domestic Islamists.

Yossi Klein Halevi, in the New Republic, wrote that one possible “scenario” of Cast Lead — this was before the ground push began — was the return of the entire Gaza Strip to Egypt (“ideally”). Articulating the opinion of much of Western public opinion, Seumas Milne pointed out that Israel’s aim by year’s end (with crucial US backing) was to “overthrow” Hamas and not simply to defang its capacity for violence and terror. At this point, neither Egypt nor any other Arab state will be able to act as “mediator” (Zvi Bar’el and Robert Dreyfuss), and there will be no peace until there is no more Hamas, since any remnant force left will be, like Islamic Jihad, even more extremist and militant.

“For their part,” reflected Stephen Brown, “Muslim governments like Egypt and Jordan will probably make the proper noises denouncing the Israeli attack in order to placate the anti-Israeli protestors on their streets,” namely their populations. “In secret, however, they probably support the destruction of Hamas since it removes a dangerous Iranian ally from their neighbourhood.” Egypt and Jordan also happen to be the only surrounding countries to hold peace treaties with the Jewish state. Put another way, the threat of the so-called Shi’ite crescent was put forth by Daniel Levy, who wrote that Cairo “naturally sees the Hamas issue first through its own domestic prism of concern at the growth” of the Muslim Brotherhood — of which Hamas is its offshoot — the leading opposition group in Egypt. Concurring, Sara Roy wrote that one aim of the Israeli attack is to attempt to “foist Gaza onto Egypt” once and for all. Ghassan Khatib, “a Palestinian analyst,” echoing Roy, believed one “strategic aim” of Israel is “making Gaza Egypt’s responsibility,” as quoted by Cook. And according to Daniel Pipes, “[Hosni] Mubarak notwithstanding, Egyptians overwhelmingly want a strong tie to Gaza” — certainly plausible, since Egypt occupied the area until 1967.

In essence, according to Benny Morris, the root problem is that the area under assault is “populated by 1.5 million impoverished, desperate Palestinians who are ruled by a fanatic regime and are tightly hemmed in by fences and by border crossings controlled by Israel and Egypt.” Yigal Walt avers that Egypt maintained most of the closings. Veteran Israeli activist Uri Avnery, on January 2, alleged that “the only opening to the word that is not dominated by Israel [in the Strip] is the border with Egypt” at Rafah, wherein the “Egyptian army has blocked the only way for food and medicines to enter, while surgeons operate on the wounded without anesthetics.” As the ground operation began, Ethan Bronner speculated that “any potential truce deal would probably include an increase in commercial traffic from and Egypt into Gaza, which is Hamas’s central demand”; the dilemma, therefore, is that developing “the Gaza economy under [the rule of] Hamas,” according to “Israeli leaders,” would “build up Hamas,” but otherwise “1.5 million Gazans” would continue “living in despair” — for their crime of voting the wrong party to power in January 2006. Also in the New York Times, reporter Steven Lee Myers observed that a “victory for Israel would make it easier for Egypt” and other so-called moderate governments “to declare common cause against Islamic militancy and its main sponsor … Iran.”

The war has caused several fissures and splits to develop: between the Arab states and their populations, between factions in a steadily disintegrating Palestinian polity (and society), and between electorally competing camps in Israel itself. Roi Ben-Yehuda quoted “columnist Mona Eltahawy,” who in “Egypt’s Al Masry Al Youm and Qatar’s Al Arab … lambast[ed] Hamas and the Arab world for their self-destructive addiction to Israel” by saying that Gazans “are victims equally of Hamas and Israel.” As the fight raged on in the streets, the UN stridently warned of a worsening “humanitarian crisis” (Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a centrist candidate for Prime Minister next month, is on the record for claiming that no such crisis exists), though “Some medical supplies, ambulances and generators … got into Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing,” according to John Holmes, the “humanitarian chief.” On January 6, Yaakov Katz, in the Jerusalem Post, cited the work of Bezalel Treiber of the Defense Ministry in “opening … a humanitarian corridor from Gaza City to Kerem Shalom — located near the Egyptian border” but, in actuality, much further away than Rafah is to Egypt.

So far, Hamas has “preferred to endure a punishing US-led boycott, a devastating Israeli-Egyptian siege and increasingly bloody Israeli incursions rather than capitulate to US and European demands … that it accept the various strictures of the defunct 1993 Oslo agreement and the stillborn 2003 ‘road map,’” according to Mouin Rabbani. They have made the choice of sacrificing their own people for their ideo-theology. Meanwhile, US-Israeli-Egyptian cooperation against the regime in Gaza has led to a grievous strategic and moral defeat of Israeli deterrence power, horrific deprivation for the people with the misfortune to live in Gaza, and a propaganda victory for their ostensible leaders.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

From The Jerusalem Post, dated 30 May 2007:

All civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty for Kassam attacks on Sderot, former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu has written in a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Eliyahu ruled that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings.

The letter, published in Olam Katan [Small World], a weekly pamphlet to be distributed in synagogues nationwide this Friday, cited the biblical story of the Shechem* massacre (Genesis 34) and Maimonides’ commentary (Laws of Kings 9, 14) on the story as proof texts for his legal decision.

According to Jewish war ethics, wrote Eliyahu, an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals. In Gaza, the entire populace is responsible because they do nothing to stop the firing of Kassam rockets.

The former chief rabbi also said it was forbidden to risk the lives of Jews in Sderot or the lives of IDF soldiers for fear of injuring or killing Palestinian noncombatants living in Gaza.

Eliyahu could not be reached for an interview. However, Eliyahu’s son, Shmuel Eliyahu, who is chief rabbi of Safed, said his father opposed a ground troop incursion into Gaza that would endanger IDF soldiers. Rather, he advocated carpet bombing the general area from which the Kassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life.

“If they don’t stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand,” said Shmuel Eliyahu. “And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.”

I’m so glad I’m Ashkenazic.

*The modern-day city of Nablus, located in Israeli-occupied West Bank (Samaria).

Friday, January 09, 2009

A second front in the Israel-Hamas war may have opened up as rockets hit northern Israel, while Hamas-launched katyushas have penetrated deeper into Israeli territory, recently hitting 27 kilometers from Tel Aviv, targeting an IAF base. My earlier ambiguity is over. Hamas must be smashed totally so that more population centers of Israel are not opened up to attack or threat of attack. Meanwhile, in Gaza, the humanitarian situation has worsened with the recent blocking of Red Cross aid that has only in the last day gotten through, rescuing about 100 trapped civilians. The apparently extensive use of white phosphorous, an illegal chemical weapon, has gone underreported.

The political ramifications of everything that has gone on and continues to go on could not be more stark and vivid. In elections this February, Israelis are expected to put into power Binyamin Netanyahu (again), and we will see how that goes. Before making an editorial comment, it is important to note that, though the situation on the ground is in constant flux, a few steady patterns have emerged: any Israeli action, whether reactive or proactive, will be accompanied by a storm of publicity that will portray it as completely defensive and righteous; all reports to the contrary, even by respected humanitarian organizations, will be dismissed as irrelevant or the work of enemy propaganda; and each interested side (that is, the apologists for the Israelis and Palestinians) will provide a self-serving, partial narrative that will obscure and mystify rather than illuminate and examine.

A bitter truth is that no side has any rightful claim to a moral high ground, neither the residents of Gaza nor the citizens of Israel, for the actions of their respective leadership and the grievous toll of their weapons of state. Warfare is an amoral affair, it is regretful to say. There is much talk of the laws of war, but in the end survival is what counts; both sides are going to do whatever in their power for the sake of their own survival, their rhetoric notwithstanding.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

My dispatches do not have datelines like “Jerusalem” or “Gaza City,” nor will they be very in-depth or regular, but I will call it as I see it.

The Zahal ground operation began last night.

It continues, “bisecting” Gaza as forces have spread; reports of more civilian casualties pile on. In Bitter Lemons, a site described as “Palestinian-Israeli crossfire,” Yossi Alpher writes that “neither Israel nor anyone else has a long-term workable strategy for dealing with Hamas in Gaza.” Alpher suggests that “alternative strategies … are worth recalling”:

One is to open up the Gaza passages and cease inflicting ineffective collective punishment on 1.5 million Gazans, making clear that Israel’s quarrel is only with the Hamas military and political leadership in Gaza and beyond. Once this operation is over, and assuming Israel emerges from it in a position of strength, that would be the time to take this step. Another is to seek direct talks with Hamas…”

“The Israeli attack has increased public sympathy and support for Hamas because it is the target of these attacks and because it is trying to fight back,” observed Ghassan Khatib, his Palestinian counterpart.

Toward the facts on the ground: it is hard to separate the winnow from the chaff, so to speak, e.g., the hasbara from the reality. My account of it all is that Israel has been aiming to remove Hamas from power in Gaza for the past two years, in which this is simply the surfacing of a long-standing policy of economic and military strangulation on the people of Gaza for voting the wrong people into power. The rocketing on the Negev is, I’m afraid, a pretext; Israel would not have tolerated it for so long if it were an immediate mortal threat.

The respective casualty figures show clearly the actual balance of forces, nearly one hundred to one. It is remarkable how the rockets launched by Hamas, surely a detestable organization composed of frightening zealots, are simultaneously “unguided” and “aimed at civilians.” On the other hand—during war there are two sides obviously—as we’re told again and again, the Zahal does everything in its power to avoid civilian deaths and even texts militants to get out of the way before a neighborhood block is blown to smithereens. But, many wonder, how much of the picture that so many are given accords to the reality of the situation? Not much, regrettably.

There is much that is obscured. Gaza is closed off from foreign correspondents, so we really do not know what is really happening there. The infantry knows now. May God be with them. The first combat-related Israeli fatality has a name, Dvir Emanuelloff, and an age, 22, and a family. Why do Palestinians not have names, only anonymous statistics? I suppose in all of this, if I must take sides, it will be on the side of the cooler heads, Israeli and Palestinian, strong and weak, and not the fanatics.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Below, from an Israeli peacenik website, which says something to the effect of (translation by Google so it is very imperfect): All agreed on the government’s obligation to protect its citizens and ensure that residents of the South live in peace with no shooting. But even the government can not complete with turning the territory into a prison guard, in which citizens live terrible economic distress, to hunger threshold, as in Gaza.

מוסכם על הכול שחובת הממשלה להגן על אזרחיה ולהבטיח כי תושבי הדרום יחיו בשלווה ללא ירי. אבל אף ממשלה גם לא יכולה להשלים עם הפיכת שטחה לבית סוהר, בו חיים האזרחים במצוקה כלכלית נוראה, עד לסף רעב, כמו בעזה

Thursday, January 01, 2009

I am no statistician, but that seems like a small sample and a large M.O.E. Nonetheless, it is clear that the same number of people in Israel want an immediate truce as those clamoring for a ground invasion, which would likely be calamitous. It appears the latter has been prepared. God help the Israelis of the Negev as well as the Palestinians in Gaza. But obviously it is not up to God, who in my view does not intervene, just watches things unfold.

It is strange, and sad, that so many people consider it a pro-Hamas position to decry the clearly criminal nature of the assaults. Why is not possible for so many commentators to hold in their heads the radical idea that to truly respect Israel means to hold it to a higher standard, and not allow it (i.e., the state) to go on its self-destructive path?