Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau
25 July, 2014
The Power and the Ignominy: Blinded By Israel, Visionless In Gaza
By Tariq Ali
Sorry Gaza, Can’t Help
By Ayesha Siddiqa
Arab Collusion in the Israeli Massacre
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
On Stupidity and War
By Marwan Bishara
Deconstructing Israeli Claims
By Daoud Kuttab
Time to Go Home To Palestine
By Adam Shapiro
Turkey Can Teach Israel How To End Terror
By Mustafa Akyol
Dateline Jerusalem 1229
By Melanie Holcombuntil Now, Israel Is Flailing In Gaza
By Michael Young
Tunnel Intelligence Failure a Wake-Up Call For Israel
By Ben Caspit
Hezbollah, Hamas Repair Military Ties during Breakup
By Nasser Chararah
Moscow Treads Lightly In Gaza
By Vitaly Naumkin
The Ugly Truth: Israel Is So Middle East Now
By Ahu Özyurt
The Power and the Ignominy: Blinded By Israel, Visionless In Gaza
By Tariq Ali
July 22, 2014
The US Senate votes unanimously to defend Israel including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. I don’t think he did it for the money. He is a paid-up member of POEEI (‘Progressive on Everything except Israel’ and pronounced pooee) the liberal segment of US society, which is not progressive on many things, including Israel.
Take, as one example, the case of ‘Colonel’ Sanders. I thought my late friend Alexander Cockburn was sometimes too harsh on Sanders, but I was wrong. Sanders has been arselickin bad for a long time now as Thomas Naylor informed us while exploding the myths surrounding the Senator in a Counterpunch piece in September 2011:
“Although Sanders may have once been a socialist back in the 80s when he was Mayor of Burlington, today, a socialist he is not. Rather he behaves more like a technofascist disguised as a liberal, who backs all of President Obama’s nasty little wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.. Since he always “supports the troops,” Sanders never opposes any defence spending bill. He stands behind all military contractors who bring much-needed jobs to Vermont.
Senator Sanders rarely misses a photo opportunity with Vermont National Guard troops when they are being deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. He’s always at the Burlington International Airport when they return. If Sanders truly supported the Vermont troops, he would vote to end all of the wars post-haste.”
A unanimous Senate vote is rare, so what explains being more loyal to Israel than quite a few critical Jewish Israelis in that country itself? An important factor is undoubtedly money. In 2006 when the London Review of Books published an article (commissioned and rejected by the Atlantic Monthly) by Professors Walt and Mearsheimer on the Israel Lobby, there was the usual brouhaha from the usual suspects. Not the late Tony Judt, who publicly defended publication of the text and was himself subjected to violent threats and hate mail by we know who.
The New York Review of Books, perhaps shamed by its own gutlessness on this issue among others, commissioned a text by Michael Massing which pointed out some mistakes in the Mearsheimer/Walt essay but went on to provide some interesting figures himself. His article deserves to be read on its own but the following extract helps to explain the unanimous votes for Israeli actions:
“AIPAC’s defenders like to argue that its success is explained by its ability to exploit the organizing opportunities available in democratic America. To some extent, this is true. AIPAC has a formidable network of supporters throughout the US. Its 100,000 members—up 60 percent from five years ago—are guided by AIPAC’s nine regional offices, its ten satellite offices, and its one-hundred-person-plus Washington staff, a highly professional group that includes lobbyists, researchers, analysts, organizers, and publicists, backed by an enormous $47 million annual budget…. Such an account, however, overlooks a key element in AIPAC’s success: money. AIPAC itself is not a political action committee. Rather, by assessing voting records and public statements, it provides information to such committees, which donate money to candidates; AIPAC helps them to decide who Israel’s friends are according to AIPAC’s criteria. The Centre for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that analyzes political contributions, lists a total of thirty-six pro-Israel PACs, which together contributed $3.14 million to candidates in the 2004 election cycle. Pro-Israel donors give many millions more. Over the last five years, for instance, Robert Asher, together with his various relatives (a common device used to maximize contributions), has donated $148,000, mostly in sums of $1,000 or $2,000 to individual candidates.
A former AIPAC staff member described for me how the system works. A candidate will contact AIPAC and express strong sympathies with Israel. AIPAC will point out that it doesn’t endorse candidates but will offer to introduce him to people who do. Someone affiliated with AIPAC will be assigned to the candidate to act as a contact person. Checks for $500 or $1,000 from pro-Israel donors will be bundled together and provided to the candidate with a clear indication of the donors’ political views. (All of this is perfectly legal.) In addition, meetings to raise funds will be organized in various cities. Often, the candidates are from states with negligible Jewish populations.
One congressional staff member told me of the case of a Democratic candidate from a mountain state who, eager to tap into pro-Israel money, got in touch with AIPAC, which assigned him to a Manhattan software executive eager to move up in AIPAC’s organization. The executive held a fund-raising reception in his apartment on the Upper West Side, and the candidate left with $15,000. In his state’s small market for press and televised ads, that sum proved an important factor in a race he narrowly won. The congressman thus became one of hundreds of members who could be relied upon to vote AIPAC’s way. (The staffer told me the name of the congressman but asked that I withhold it in order to spare him embarrassment.)”
All this is made possible by official US policies since 1967. Were the US ever to shift on this issue unanimous votes would become impossible. But not even the United States has so far banned public demonstrations opposing Israeli brutality and its consistent deployment of state terror.
On a weekend (18-19 July 2014) where demonstrations took place in many different parts of the world, the French government banned a march in Paris organised by many groups including France’s non-Zionist Jewish organisations and individuals. The ban was defied. Several thousand people were drenched in tear gas by the hated CRS. The French Prime Minister Manual Valls, a desperate opportunist and neo-con, the scourge of the Roma in France, competing with Le Pen for the right wing vote and unsurprisingly an adornment of the French Socialist Party who models himself on a shameless war-criminal and shyster (Tony Blair) explained the ban in terms of ‘not encouraging anti-Semitism’, etc. The grip of the Israel Lobby in France is complete. It dominates French culture and the media and critical voices on Israel (Jewish and non-Jewish) are effectively banned.
The Israeli poet and critic, Yitzhak Laor (whose work depicting the colonial brutality of Israeli soldiers has sometimes been banned in his own country) describes the new rise of Euro-Zionism in sharp terms. The ‘philosemitic offensive’ is ahistorical:
It would be facile to see this memorializing culture as a belated crisis of international conscience, or a sense of historical justice that took time to materialize . . . The majority of United Nations General Assembly members have emerged from a colonial past: they are the descendants of those who suffered genocides in Africa, Asia or Latin America. There should be no reason for the commemoration of the genocide of the Jews to block out the memory of these millions of Africans or Native Americans killed by the civilized Western invaders of their continents.
Laor’s explanation is that with the old Cold War friend-enemy dichotomy swept aside a new global enemy had to be cultivated in Europe:
In the new moral universe of the ‘end of history’, there was one abomination—the Jewish genocide—that all could unite to condemn; equally important, it was now firmly in the past. Its commemoration would serve both to sacralise the new Europe’s liberal-humanist tolerance of ‘the other (who is like us)’ and to redefine ‘the other (who is different from us)’ in terms of Muslim fundamentalism.
Laor skilfully deconstructs the Glucksmanns, Henri-Levys and Finkelkrauts who dominate the print media and the video sphere in France today. Having abandoned their youthful Marxist beliefs in the late Seventies, they made their peace with the system. The emergence of an ultra-Zionist current in France, however, predates the ‘New (sic) Philosophers’. As Professor Gaby Piterburg, reviewing Laor’s essays in the New Left Review, explained:
As in the US, the 1967 war was a turning point in French Jewish consciousness. A young Communist, Pierre Goldman, described the ‘joyous fury’ of a pro-Israel demonstration on the boulevard Saint-Michel, where he encountered other comrades, ‘Marxist-Leninists and supposed anti-Zionists, rejoicing in the warrior skills of Dayan’s troops’. But the political reaction of the Elysée to the 1967 war was the opposite to that of the White House. Alarmed that Israel was upsetting the balance of power in the Middle East, de Gaulle condemned the aggression, describing the Jews as ‘an elite people, sure of itself and domineering’. French Jewish organizations that had taken a pro-Israel foreign policy for granted began to organize on a political basis for the first time, as Pompidou and Giscard continued de Gaulle’s arms embargo into the 70s. In 1976 the Jewish Action Committee (CJA) organized a ‘day for Israel’ which mobilized 100,000 people. In 1977 the formerly quietist CRIF, representative council of some sixty Jewish odies, produced a new charter denouncing France’s ‘abandonment of Israel’, published by Le Monde as a document of record. In the 1981 presidential election the CJA founder, Henri Hajdenberg, led a high-profile campaign for a Jewish vote against Giscard; Mitterrand won by a margin of 3 per cent. The boycott was lifted, and Mitterrand became the first French president to visit Israel. Warm relations were sealed between the CRIF and the Socialist Party elite, and a tactful veil of silence drawn over Mitterrand’s war-time role as a Vichy official.
[A small footnote: Whenever Professor Piterburg (a former officer in the IDF) is attacked by Zionists at public lectures for being a ‘self-hating Jew’, he responds thus: “I don’t hate myself, but I hate you.”]
So much for official France. The country itself is different. Opinion polls reveal that at least 60 percent of French people are opposed to what Israel is doing to Gaza. Are they all anti-Semites? They couldn’t be influenced by the media, could they? Because it’s totally pro-Israel. Could it be the case that the French population is ignoring Hollande, Valls and the mercenary ideologues who support them?
What about Britain? Here the Extreme Centre that rules the country as well as the official ‘Opposition’ dutifully supported their masters in Washington. The coverage of the recent events in Gaza on state television (BBC) was so appallingly one-sided that there were demonstrations outside the BBC’s offices in London and Salford. My own tiny experience with the BBC reveals the fear and timidity at work inside. As I blogged on the London Review of Books, this is what happened:
On Wednesday 16 July I received four calls from the BBC’s Good Morning Wales.
First morning call: was I available to be interviewed about Gaza tomorrow morning? I said yes.
First afternoon call: could I tell them what I would say? I said (a) Israel was a rogue state, pampered and cosseted by the US and its vassals. (b) Targeting and killing Palestinian children (especially boys) and blaming the victims was an old Israeli custom. (c) The BBC coverage of Palestine was appalling and if they didn’t cut me off I would explain how and why.
Second afternoon call: was I prepared to debate a pro-Israeli? I said yes.
Afternoon message left on my phone: terribly sorry. There’s been a motorway crash in Wales, so we’ve decided to drop your item.
Few British citizens are aware of the role their own country played in creating this mess. It was a long time ago when Britain was an Empire and not a vassal, but the echoes of history never fade away. It was not by accident, but by design that the British decided to create a new state and it wasn’t Balfour alone. The Alternate Information Centre in Beit Sahour, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization promoting justice, equality and peace for Palestinians and Israelis recently put up a post. It was a quote from The Bannerman Report written in 1907 by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and, as it was strategically important it was suppressed and was never released to the public until many years later:
“There are people (the Arabs, Editor’s Note) who control spacious territories teeming with manifest and hidden resources. They dominate the intersections of world routes. Their lands were the cradles of human civilizations and religions. These people have one faith, one language, one history and the same aspirations. No natural barriers can isolate these people from one another … if, per chance, this nation were to be unified into one state; it would then take the fate of the world into its hands and would separate Europe from the rest of the world. Taking these considerations seriously, a foreign body should be planted in the heart of this nation to prevent the convergence of its wings in such a way that it could exhaust its powers in never-ending wars. It could also serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects.”
[Dan Bar-On & Sami Adwan, THE PRIME SHARED HISTORY PROJECT, in Educating toward a Culture of Peace, pages 309–323, Information Age Publishing, 2006]
Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).
Sorry Gaza, Pakistan Can’t Help
By Ayesha Siddiqa
July 24, 2014
Every day you open your computer; there are more images of death and destruction in Gaza. It is painful to see them, but even more painful to realise and tell the children of Gaza that the world will cry for them but not be able to do much. I wonder how to tell those in the anguish of being caught in the crossfire between the Israeli state and Hamas that our support for you is mainly limited to social media. We are anxious for you but will use your pain to stand on judgment against people around us. It is interesting to see how people engaged in social media are calling out people who seem to be slow or timid in condemning Israeli atrocities. We have to do it very loudly. Malala Yousufzai will only be seen to confirm that she is a traitor with a weak condemnation. At least so says the Laal Topi fame Zaid Zaman Hamid.
But for all these condemnations and holier than thou attitudes, one wonders where are the real political protests in the Muslim world and the Third World at large? There were reports of hundreds of people protesting in Jordan. Just hundreds? This is something on which thousands ought to have come out. Other places are even worse. I haven’t heard anything happening in Saudi Arabia or a large part of the Muslim world. Even in Pakistan, where we have been passionate about Palestine for a long time, there are no noticeable protests.
Perhaps, there are three reasons for such apathy. First, most of these societies have become apolitical. The depoliticisation of society and politics means that we will shed some tears but not raise a loud voice because we do not believe in political protests. For the average person, what use is a street protest? Second, once upon a time, those from the political Left or those who were considered liberal would feel passionately about Palestine and similar issues. Of course, some small groups still come out on the streets but there is little passion around the movement. This is because the average citizen is divided between taking a clear principled stance on the use of force by the state. Condemning Israel is one, but then there is the fear of such condemnation expanding to one’s own state, which may be engaged in atrocities internally. Gaza is tragic but it also resembles Balochistan, Kashmir, the tribal areas, the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey and many other places. The states are satisfied at one level that the news of Gaza has completely diverted attention from local battlegrounds. When a state and its military kills poor peasants to establish control of a land or when people are picked up and made to disappear, the acts are equally heinous and condemnable. However, the problem is that within our own environment, our thinking is driven by the state’s definition of war and terror.
Third, the years of war on terror have totally changed political dynamics of protest. The peoples of a land have a right to protest against the state if it is seen as dispossessing them of their rights. The state emerges from and represents a social contract, which can be rightfully challenged as we witnessed in the case of Quebec and Scotland. However, states that see political protests as a threat tend to use force. Some states like Israel do not even want to engage a certain population in dialogue or include it in a social contract thus resulting in violence. Sadly, the world has begun to see protest mainly through the lens of violence and religion. The earlier Palestinian intifada had an inspirational value for others in similar conditions around the world. The ripple effect had a problem that, countries which earlier sympathised with the Palestinian issue, began to see it as something that connected with violence in their own states. India, for example, was once a supporter of the Palestinian cause; its government did not even censure Israel for the latest round of atrocities. For New Delhi, the issue is how it can condemn Tel Aviv that has supported India in beefing up its military and technological strength to fight terror. The Indian leadership may no longer look at Palestine as a secular political and human rights issue but a problem of militant political Islam.
In fact, this is where depoliticisation of civil societies around the world, especially the Islamic world, has turned into a bothersome problem. I once remember a conversation with a renowned Pakistani academic currently engaged in think tank activity, who, while discussing Afghanistan, blurted out that it were only the Taliban that could fight American imperialism. There are many who are selectively uncomfortable with the fate of oppressed people in other parts of the world but secretly comfortable with outsourcing the act of opposing such state-led atrocities to non-state actors. We have certainly lost the capacity for political protestation and doing things short of violence. I remember an incident from seven to eight years ago when some of us were protesting in Islamabad and advocating boycott of American goods. We tried hard to convince a Maulana sahib trooping into one of the American fast food joints with his children. He looked at us, pointed at his belly and his children and walked away into the eatery. Others opined how we could protest American atrocity while wearing Western clothes. As if political protest has a religion or a dress code. An apolitical society and its conspicuous consumption-driven middle class and elite may not find the strength to save the children of Gaza.
The fact is that the trader-merchant class in a lot of Muslim countries finance militant outfits that eases their guilt for not doing anything themselves. Let’s pay for militants rather then launch a political protest. But why can’t Israel feel the heat of public condemnation, just like Turkey has done? In the tragedy of the dying children of Gaza, lies the inner tragedy of our divided and disempowered societies.
Ayesha Siddiqa is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc.
Arab Collusion in the Israeli Massacre
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
July 24, 2014
The Egyptian regime has also declared Hamas a terrorist organisation and, like the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters, Hamas’ supporters have been arrested
‘Gaza ceasefire hopes switch to Qatar as Arabs divided over Israeli offensive’. This headline in The Guardian on July 20, 2014 best reflected the collusion of major Arab states in the Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza. According to AFP, as of July 20, the Palestinian death toll soared to 438 with around 100 Palestinians killed in one day on Sunday, July 20. Hamas last week rejected an Egyptian proposed ceasefire, which envisaged the end of Hamas rule in Gaza. Hamas described it as “not in the best interests of the Palestinian people”. Not surprisingly, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) accepted this proposal.
According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, a key element of the Egyptian initiative is the return of Pro-Israel President Mohammad Abbas’s PA to Gaza, which is now ruled by Hamas after winning the elections in 2006. Egypt has told Hamas that any opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt would entail the return of Abbas’s presidential guard with no Hamas men present; The Guardian quoted a senior Palestinian official as saying. Hamas’s conditions for a ceasefire include “an end to aggression against the Palestinian people”, lifting the blockade on the territory and opening the Rafah crossing, freedom of movement for Palestinians in the area bordering Israel, freeing prisoners rearrested after being exchanged for a seized Israeli soldier and extending the territory’s fishing zone.
It has been argued that the Israeli all-out assault on Gaza would not be possible without a military coup in Egypt. The Israeli massacre of Palestinians came after one year of the military coup of July 3, 2013 when Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi was imprisoned by the military junta led by General Abdel Fattah Sisi. The regime of General Sisi, who has declared himself field marshal, has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation. Similarly, the Egyptian regime has also declared Hamas a terrorist organisation and, like the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters, Hamas’ supporters have been arrested. Thousands of Brotherhood supporters are in prison while hundreds have been sentenced to death.
Tellingly, Azza Sami of the Egyptian semi-official newspaper Al-Ahram, commenting on the Israeli massacre of Palestinians said, “Thank you Netanyahu and may God give us more [people] like you to destroy Hamas!” This change in Egyptian sentiments was possible only after the overthrow of the elected government of President Morsi. It is obvious why President Morsi was imprisoned. He was not pro-Israel and pro-US like his predecessors, President Hosni Mubarak and President Anwar Sadat.
In contrast to imprisoned President Mohamed Morsi, a staunch backer of Hamas, Egypt’s new military government dealt a crippling blow to the organisation by demolishing hundreds of the tunnels used to bring goods into Gaza, which has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockade since 2006. Following the Egyptian lead, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have also banned the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to David Hearst, the editor of Middle East Eye, there is many hands behind the Israeli army’s onslaught on Gaza. His article titled, ‘Attack on Gaza by Saudi Royal Appointment’ in The Huffington Post, gives deep insight into the Saudi-Israeli growing relations at the expense of the Palestinians. David Hearst writes: “The attack on Gaza comes by Saudi Royal appointment. This royal warrant is nothing less than an open secret in Israel, and both former and serving defence officials are relaxed when they talk about it. Former Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz surprised the presenter on Channel 10 by saying Israel had to specify a role for Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the demilitarisation of Hamas. Asked what he meant by that, he added that Saudi and Emirati funds should be used to rebuild Gaza after Hamas had been defanged.”
Amos Gilad, the Israeli defence establishment’s point man with Mubarak’s Egypt and now director of the Israeli defence ministry’s policy and political-military relations department told the academic James Dorsey recently: “Everything is underground, nothing is public. But our security cooperation with Egypt and the Gulf states is unique. This is the best period of security and diplomatic relations with the Arabs.”
Mossad and Saudi intelligence officials meet regularly. The two sides conferred when the former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, was about to be deposed in Egypt and they are hand in glove on Iran, both in preparing for an Israeli strike from Saudi airspace and in sabotaging the existing nuclear programme. There has even been a well-sourced claim that the Saudis are financing most of Israel’s very expensive campaign against Iran.
“The difference today is that for the first time in their two countries’ history, there is open coordination between the two military powers. Abdullah’s nephew Prince Turki has been the public face of this rapprochement, which was first signalled by the Saudi publication of a book by an Israeli academic. The prince flew to Brussels in May to meet General Amos Yadlin, the former intelligence chief who has been indicted by a court in Turkey for his role in the storming of the Mavi Marmara.”
David Hearst concludes his article with these harsh remarks:
“Peace would indeed be welcome to everyone, not least Gaza at the moment. The means by which Israel’s allies in Saudi Arabia and Egypt are going about achieving it, by encouraging Israel to deal Hamas a crippling blow, calls into question what is really going on here. Turki’s father, King Faisal bin Abdulaziz, would be turning in his grave at what the son is putting his name to. This Saudi Israeli alliance is forged in blood, Palestinian blood, the blood on Sunday, July 20, 2014, of over 100 souls in Shejaiya.”
At this moment, the world is passively watching as Israel perpetrates an open-ended massacre in Gaza.
On Stupidity and War
By Marwan Bishara
23 Jul 2014
The war hasn't ended and already the criticism over Israel's military adventure in Gaza is mounting as the Islamist movement, Hamas, continues to surprise the "invaders".
Leading and, presumably, respected media commentators have blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his hastiness, Israel's Security Service - the Shabak - for its ignorance and the military for its poor performance.
Israel might claim technological superiority and tactical victory, but, as one expert concluded, strategically, it's been defeated.
Needless to say, there are many ways by which one takes stock of the ongoing war. But after three military adventures in six years, Hamas remains a formidable force in Palestine. And Israel has little to show for its military prowess and technological edge aside from the terrible devastation wrought across the Gaza Strip - home to 1.8 million Palestinians living impoverished lives in the world's longest-standing refugee camp.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has boasted of Israel's moral standing and condemned Hamas for targeting civilians. But in the last few days, it's the Israeli military that has suffered hundreds of casualties, including 29 soldiers killed, thus far. While on the Palestinian side, Israel's bombings led to thousands of civilian casualties. It takes chutzpah to take pride in such a dreadful record.
At any rate, if it doesn't cool down its aggression on the population of Gaza, Israel might increasingly face another uprising in the West Bank as the Palestinians open another front against their occupiers. And if the early indicators are anything to go by, it shows signs of turning violent and bloody.
Israel, a Fast Learner
It's smart to learn from one's own mistakes; wise to learn from others' mistakes. What lessons has Netanyahu learnt, if any?
There is no doubt that Israel is a quick learner. It learned much from its own operational and even strategic mistakes in past wars, and no less, from the war experiences of other nations.
The last century witnessed countless wars, including civil wars, proxy wars, wars driven by nationalism, racism and greed, and two destructive world wars.
Israel has had its share of these wars - 14 in six decades - and the Middle East region that makes up some five percent of the world population, accounts for 20 percent of its conflicts; a percentage that probably skyrocketed in recent years.
Their motivations varied, but self-defence has generally been the excuse for aggression. Underlining its lack of strategic depth, Israel has long boasted of its pre-emptive doctrine to hit first when needing to defend itself.
Israel has also relied on the United States for lessons of war. And in recent times, it taught its patron a few lessons it's learned itself in Lebanon and Palestine, for fighting in Iraq - a reason why the Israelis were stunned this week to hear former Secretary of State Madeline Albright speak of Israel's "disproportionate" military response in Gaza, when she justified the US blockade on Iraq even when it led to the death of half a million children.
Israel is hardly the first to invoke self-defence to justify aggression - Lebanon being the best example - or protecting civilians to kill civilians. It has learnt the art of victimhood like no other. Its ultimate chutzpah goes along the lines of: "We won't forgive you for forcing us to kill you."
So yes, Israel has learned many lessons, and has institutionalised these lessons and is making money out of these lessons through training other nations' military and security forces. Indeed, Israel arms sales have rocketed to $7.5bn in 2012, arms that are war-tested, as Israel so frequently vaunts.
But the more important question is: Has Israel learnt the most important lesson of all about its type of colonial asymmetrical wars?
The Predictable War
Unlike conventional wars, the longest and most legitimate wars of all have been the people's fight for independence from colonialism.
Israel is in the midst of such a fight against a people's struggle for freedom and independence and it makes similar, if not identical claims, to those made by other colonial powers of the past.
But not one foreign power big or small was able to win a single asymmetrical war against a people resisting colonialism throughout the entire 20th century.
This definite and paradoxical conclusion - the most instructive, and yet ignored of all lessons of war is categorical: Not one great power possessing superior firepower has won against a weaker, less organised and less professional resistance against occupation.
Not the French, not the English, not the Belgians, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Italians, the Soviets, the Chinese, the Afrikaners, etc. Not one! In the end, they all lose. And if they don't, then it's not the end.
In each and every case, the indigenous population was designated terrorist, or fanatic, extremist, destructive, insensitive, or all of the above when they stood up to their occupier. Similar if not identical to the stuff we hear from Israelis nowadays.
Yet, despite all their military domination, political mechanisation, and superior moral pretentions, they eventually lose the battle of wills and are compelled to leave - defeated or humiliated.
While there are exceptions, such as in the case of India, the cost is generally high in death and destruction especially for those at the receiving end of aggression. But don't depend on those who can keep a record to do so for their victims.
During the Algerian war for independence that lasted a decade, almost 30,000 Frenchmen, and we are told half a million to a million Algerians, were killed - give or take a couple of hundred thousand deaths.
Like today's Israel, those colonial powers also justified their wars as last resort, and explained the high casualties as "War sucks", "We've got to do whatever we need to protect ourselves", or "The terrorists are hiding among the population", and "using them as human shields" etc.
And so the fog of war and propaganda continues to blur the lines between right and wrong, occupied from occupier, defence and aggression. But when the dust settles, Israel will find itself where it was before its latest and past adventures, but with weaker deterrence, less credibility and hardened enemies.
Yes, it could continue to justify its military adventures under the pretext of combating terrorists, destroying rocket-launchers and tunnels. But whatever its justifications, these are the by-products of its own colonialism and war.
In the final analysis, if Israel doesn't start packing and leaving the occupied territories sooner, many Israelis will start leaving it later because conditions are bound to get much worse.
Late is better than never learning the primary lesson from this conflict: It's the occupation, stupid.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
Deconstructing Israeli Claims
By Daoud Kuttab
24 July 2014
Before the information revolution, it was a given that a victor writes history. In today’s world, with credible irrefutable information at your fingertips, how come so many people get it wrong? Media spin has gone into overdrive in justifying the Israeli onslaught against Palestinians in Gaza. A careful study of the facts and the reality is in order to set the record straight.
Israel and many of its allies in the world, including the U.S., say that the current military offensive on the 1.8 million Palestinians of Gaza is a mere “defensive act.” The Israelis repeatedly say that no country in the world would tolerate the barrage of rockets that are falling on its population.
Before dealing with the defence issue, it is critically important to note that Israel is no ordinary country. It is an occupying power that has for 47 years held a captive Palestinian population under its military control. Israel, which received its initial legitimacy by the U.N. in 1947, has refused to honor U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 that considered its occupation of Arab lands in 1967 to be unacceptable. Since then, Israel has also violated international law by moving its people into occupied territories, it has illegally confiscated Palestinian land and for seven years collectively punished the people of Gaza with what I feel is an immoral and illegal land and water siege.
As to the defensive nature of the Israeli attack on Gaza, it is of extreme significance that Israel began the war on the Strip verbally and militarily when three Israelis disappeared in areas under Israeli military control in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Gaza-based Hamas leadership of being behind the kidnapping. In revenge against Hamas, Israel arrested hundreds of Palestinians, including elected parliamentarians, destroyed the homes of two Palestinians it suspects of being involved in the kidnapping/murder and acted against Gaza. The Israeli shelling of Gaza intensified after the discovery of the three killed Israelis.
Before the current war on Gaza began on July 8, my sources say that Israel had shelled the Strip for three days. It is true that Hamas, which had signed a 2012 Tahdiya (truce), responded with unsophisticated rockets, but the fact remains that I feel that Israel began the current war and therefore can’t claim that it is a defensive war.
Israelis it seems consider their actions part of a “deterrence policy” that I feel is aimed to give as much pain as possible to their enemy in order to have the other side cease what they are doing.
If Israel’s heavy shelling by land, air and sea, and the response with rockets was not enough, it began what I see as a totally indefensible land invasion on July 17. It is documented that the death toll in Gaza topped 700 by July 24, meanwhile, 29 Israelis are believed to have been killed, with that number including 27 soldiers and two civilians.
What was so defensive about this land invasion? Israel said its tanks rolled in to destroy the tunnels. Yet, once Israeli troops were in, 27 Israeli soldiers and two civilians have been killed compared to more than 700 Palestinian fatalities. Israelis respond that deaths were avoided because of their Iron Dome air defence system and shelters and not because Hamas fighters were not trying.
Israelis also propagate various other notions that I see as myths: that Palestinians, trapped from all corners, are using their people as human shields and launching these high-reach, little-damage rockets from hospitals and schools. The very idea of Palestinians using their women and children as human shields I feel has a racist overtone to it. Gaza is a very crowded area and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s note on a hot microphone about the impossibility of “pinpoint[ing]” bombing is totally true. Amnesty International rapped Israel hard on the issue, citing laws of war that require armies to be extremely careful when bombing populated areas. Israel apologists counter that Hamas rockets are not precise. True, but the numbers don’t lie when you look at the number of Palestinian civilians killed versus two Israeli civilians.
War is ugly and truth is certainly the first casualty of war. But I feel that this war on Gaza, which began with a lie, has continued with Israelis and their apologists hoodwinking the world that they had little choice but to go into this war to protect their own people.
This onslaught on Gaza was perpetuated in large part because of a sense of helplessness by Palestinians who see no way out of the decades old conflict. The absence of a political horizon for Palestinians is the result of a conscious Israeli decision to scuttle the U.S.’ peace efforts. Kerry used the term “poof” to describe what happened when Israel failed to deliver its promises to Palestinians in April and decided to build more illegal settlements. Instead of militarily blitzing the densely populated Gaza Strip in an unnecessary war, Israel must realize that the only way to have permanent peace is to end the occupation and illegal settlement campaign and adhere to the international will that supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state that can live in security with the state of Israel based largely on the 1967 borders. Peace talks, not ceasefire efforts or political spin, will end this terrible cycle of violence.
Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a news website ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame Street.
Time to Go Home To Palestine
By Adam Shapiro
23 Jul 2014
The last weeks of assault on Gaza have brought many people out to the streets, onto social media and engaging in discussions, debates and arguments with friends and colleagues. Of course, in Gaza itself, there is no time for such things, as hellfire from the air and invaders on the ground force people to consider how to separate their families so not everyone dies in one missile strike.
The media continues to report on truces and ceasefires, with some reference to the actual positions and demands of the two sides (almost always without any reference to the context in which this conflagration is happening), the ongoing 60-plus year occupation of Palestine, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people.
On the Palestinian political scene, we are seeing history repeat itself, something that should cause a great amount of worry to Palestinians around the world. The political reality is that Hamas has become the Fatah-led PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) that agreed to enter the 1991 peace process that indirectly ended up with the Oslo Accords.
During that phase, the PLO faced serious challenges following its decision to effectively side with former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. At that time, the Palestinian community in Kuwait was the leading financial support of the PLO and the Palestinians in the occupied territories engaged in an intifada that was changing worldwide opinion of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
Following the Iraqi invasion and subsequent Gulf War, the Palestinian community in Kuwait was mostly expelled and the PLO largely cut off from a significant amount of Arab financial and political support. Facing an unprecedented economic and political crisis, exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Union at roughly the same time, the PLO accepted the lifeline of the Madrid Peace Conference and the process that it yielded. If Oslo did not offer liberation, it did offer an institutional role and financial support for the PLO/Fatah.
Hamas, following its decision to support the Syrian uprising, which cost it support from both Syria and Iran, and the drastic changes in Egypt that have resulted in a president that has targeted both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, is also facing an unprecedented political and economic crisis. The lifeline of talks was not offered to Hamas, but one could argue that the political lifeline of armed conflict was generously given by Israel.
Though Hamas has put forward the key points of the lifting the siege of Gaza and allowing free movement of people and goods in and out of the territory as its conditions for a truce, it is the very articulation of these demands that expose its position as nouveau Fatah - and in some ways a victory for Israel.
The demands Hamas has made fit squarely within the framework of Oslo and the despised two-state solution that that agreement outlines. In fact, one could argue that the Hamas list of demands is essentially a demand for the full implementation of the Oslo Accords, and nothing more. In an interview with BBC World Service after two days of Israeli bombardment, Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan called for an end to the conflict and the creation of an independent Palestinian state - the same formulation that PLO/Fatah has accepted.
However, despite this apparent acceptance of Israel's terms of surrender to the Palestinian national movement, there is little prospect of this kind of so-called solution happening, thanks to Israeli desires to continue and expand the occupation, and because ultimately it is not a solution to anything. So what then?
Returning to Palestine
Over 80 percent of the population of Gaza are refugees. With another two million Palestinian refugees in various states of desperation in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, the crisis of 60-plus years would hardly be solved by the creation of a Palestinian Authority-type state. Not only has the more than 20 years of peace talks not benefited them at all, the situation for Palestinian refugees wherever they are in the region, has gotten progressively worse during that same period.
If life in Gaza is intolerable under the siege, life in Syria is impossible, life in Iraq is precarious at best, life in Lebanon is as if under a boot and so on. The Arab countries have proven their inhospitableness to Palestinians. If there were a people today in need of their own homeland for their continued security as a people, it is the Palestinians.
Gaza residents testify about the effects Israel and Egypt's blockade of their land has had on their lives.
And yet, they once had and could have them once again - it is time to go home, time to return to Palestine. Not the Palestine of the occupied territories, but the Palestine of Asqelon, Asdud and Haifa. This will not be easy, and certainly not without risk of many being killed, for the Israeli military will surely be given orders to fire. Yet a population already captive, already under siege, already facing a future dystopia - namely the people of Gaza - have found themselves victims of repeated military assaults leaving thousands of dead and wounded.
The future generations of Gaza - without adequate water, sanitation and food - are traumatised to the point of requiring new studies into the effects of such unprecedented forms of collective punishment and targeting.
So what is the there to lose? There is no political party or faction on the Palestinian scene that is seeking more than a form of apartheid that the two-state "solution" offers. Military confrontations have only allowed Israel to expand its control over Palestinian territory, to displace and dispossess more Palestinians and to make life increasingly intolerable.
And while there is much to laud about alternative methods, such as unarmed resistance and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the pace of such activity in terms of yielding a meaningful change in the reality on the ground is agonisingly slow.
When armed conflict erupts or when a military assault occurs anywhere else in the world, civilians flee - including across international borders. The only place this does not happen is Gaza - not in 2008-2009, not in 2012, and not now. If in 1947-1948 the Zionist and Israeli forces could use violence and intimidation to force Palestinians to flee their homes, it is time now, in 2014, to respond to violence and brute force by returning home. As Israeli tanks and troops cross the frontier in Gaza, let the Palestinian people turn towards their destroyed villages. If Israel wants to destroy Beach camp and Bureij camp, let it. These are not homes, they are temporary shelters.
In 2011, small numbers of young men tried to cross borders from Lebanon and Syria and were shot at. This was held up both as heroic efforts to return, and evidence of what Israel would do. But that effort was highly contrived by political forces for the sake of their positions inside Syria and Lebanon, and anyway, a few dozen young men making such an effort is something the Israelis could easily deal with.
The UN estimates since the assault on Gaza, over 100,000 Palestinians have been displaced. The number of people in Gaza who feel they have no worthwhile future in Gaza is surely much higher. The thousands are already on the move, with no place safe to go. Take those thousands, combined with tens of thousands from Syria - now living in desperation in Lebanon and Egypt (or risking their lives by attempting to get to Europe by boat) - and this is hardly something the Israeli military would be ready for. And perhaps, today, more than ever, there is a grassroots movement of solidarity around the world that supports the Palestinian people in their demands for justice and liberation and who would not sit by in the face of a new massacre.
Each day, under the cover of force and violence, Israel transfers part of its population into the West Bank to create facts on the ground. Illegal under international law and revealing the true intentions of successive Israeli governments, this population of settlers has taken over land and natural resources, while Palestinian refugees - the one-time inhabitants of the land - live in squalor and only the certainty of dispossession.
It is time to bring justice in the Palestinian world. It is time to reverse this awful tide of history.
It is time to go home to Palestine.
Adam Shapiro is a documentary filmmaker and Palestinian rights activist. He co-directed the six-part documentary series Chronicles of a Refugee, was a co-founder of the ISM and worked to find homes for Palestinian refugees forced to flee Iraq.
Turkey Can Teach Israel How to End Terror
By Mustafa Akyol
July 23, 2014
As I write, the latest war in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel rages on. Both sides have suffered — though in unequal proportions. Israel has now lost nearly 30 soldiers and two civilians. Meanwhile, over 600 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes, including almost 100 children.
Every time these macabre death tolls arise, we are always reminded by Western politicians that Israel has a “right to defend itself.” One is left wondering why the Palestinians don’t have a right to defend themselves, too. If the answer is that Israel is a state while Palestine is not, then one would wonder who has deprived Palestine of statehood.
Of course, many Israelis — the liberals, moderates and peaceniks — support a two-state solution and view it as an urgent matter that must be resolved. The Israeli right, however, sees such moderation as naïveté, and argues that Palestinian militancy must be crushed by force before there can be any chance for peace.
These debates in Israel remind me of a similar debate at home during Turkey’s decades-long struggle against the terrorism of Kurdish insurgents. The conflict between guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (or P.K.K.) and Turkey’s security forces began in 1984, and has claimed more than 40,000 lives. The violence stopped less than two years ago, thanks to a peace process agreed upon by Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the jailed leader of the P.K.K., Abdullah Ocalan. (Mr. Erdogan, despite his growing authoritarianism, deserves to be congratulated for this achievement.)
Reaching this tenuous peace wasn’t easy. First, Turkey had to overcome its own nationalist establishment, which had always dismissed liberals’ calls for a political solution. Their preferred method was a “military solution,” which meant, in the words of a prominent general, “killing all terrorists one by one.”
That was the strategy of the Turkish top brass throughout the 1990s, when military-dominated governments led a brutal counter terror campaign that included extrajudicial killings by death squads and the destruction of more than 3,000 Kurdish villages.
Supporters of this military solution claimed that the P.K.K. survived only because foreign governments supported the insurgent group to serve their own interests, and because of the P.K.K.’s violent fanaticism. But where did that fanaticism come from?
Their answer was that the Kurds were a people prone to violence by nature. They had a crude, harsh and militant culture. Why, otherwise, were some Kurdish mothers raising their sons to be guerrillas, and not doctors or lawyers? The state had no choice but to speak to them with the only language they understood — force. It is a very similar refrain to what one hears when Hamas is discussed in Israel.
Yet, in Turkey then, as in Israel today, there was a gaping hole in this argument: It did not take into account Turkey’s oppression of the Kurds, which was of course the primary cause of the P.K.K.’s militancy. The Turkish state for years denied this oppression, insisting that Kurds were Turkish citizens with equal access to government services. However, Turkey had still banned their language, denigrated their culture, and responded to their political grievances by authoritarian diktat.
The Kurds were not angry at Turkey because they were innately prone to violence. They were angry because Turkey had done something grievously wrong to them. And a peace agreement became possible only when the Turkish public and the state acknowledged this fact.
If Israel is ever going to achieve peace, Israelis will have to overcome their own self-righteous hawkishness as well — and abandon the intellectually lazy reflex that explains Palestinian militancy as the natural product of Arab and Islamic culture’s supposedly violent nature.
It’s true that Hamas is a violent group and that it must stop firing rockets into Israel and calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. The ugliness of anti-Semitism in Palestine and the Arab world (and even in Turkey) must also be confronted. But these phenomena didn’t occur in a vacuum. They were created — and are kept alive — in part by Israel’s continued oppression of Palestinians.
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is no fan of Mr. Erdogan. But he would do a service to his nation if he takes a lesson from Turkey, which has, for the moment, achieved peace with a militant group that terrorized the country for decades. If Mr. Netanyahu sought to emulate the Turkish example, there might be hope for achieving genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Thanks to the relentless efforts of the liberals, Turkish society began to realize that P.K.K. militants were not inherently evil, but human beings who suffered traumas under the iron fist of the state. Instead of just demonising “terrorists,” Mr. Erdogan began to proclaim, “let the mothers cry no more” — on both sides.
He then initiated secret talks with the P.K.K. leadership, and refused to give up on the peace process when hawks on both sides opposed, or even sabotaged it. The issue is still far from resolved, but Turkey’s long struggle with the Kurds, at home and beyond, is moving toward reconciliation and even cooperation.
If Israeli policymakers fail to take such historic, game-changing steps, and simply stick to the tired logic of “kill all terrorists” they will remain mired in the vicious cycle that plagued Turkey during the 1990s. Every dead terrorist — not to mention the deaths of innocent women and children — will soon be replaced by a brother or nephew who wants to take revenge. And so long as that cycle of violence continues, neither Israelis nor Palestinians will find the peace and dignity that they deserve.
Mustafa Akyol is a columnist and the author of “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.”
Dateline Jerusalem 1229
By Melanie Holcomb
From today's vantage point, the Holy Land seems a region ever immersed in heart-wrenching strife, destined to host unending, unrelenting conflict. But, there are less-known incidents in the long history of Jerusalem, the city at its heart, that allow us to imagine other possibilities.
The year was 1229 according to the Christian calendar, 626 in the Muslim. The previous 130 years had been marked by armed conflict between Christians and Muslims, in which people of both faiths were compelled by an unwavering conviction that Jerusalem was theirs. The medieval Muslim chronicler Ibn Wasil tells us of a flurry of messengers who shuttled between Frederick II Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in negotiations over the status of Jerusalem. Frederick had come to the Holy Land to lead a Crusade for the recovery of Jerusalem, the sixth such campaign that Christians had launched from Western Europe. Awaiting him was Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, the nephew and heir of Saladin, the Muslim sultan and general who had routed the Crusaders and reclaimed Jerusalem in 1187.
Neither leader was entirely pure in motive. Al-Kamil had engaged in negotiations with Frederick in an effort to outmanoeuvre his rival brother; Frederick, by his own account, was seeking an expedient way to safeguard his reputation among his fellow Europeans. Nor did they have public support. Yet they managed, within a matter of months, and without bloodshed, to forge a temporary truce. The Treaty of Jaffa of 1229 was, admittedly, an imperfect agreement, but it made the Holy City open and accessible to the subjects of both rulers for a decade.
In an era marked by Holy War, a peace agreement between sectarian rivals was an extraordinary accomplishment. But perhaps the most remarkable chapter in this story came after the signing of the treaty, outside strictly political channels, in encounters mediated by aesthetic experience. In the city of Jerusalem itself, the beauty of sacred objects and the lyrical sound of prayer provided powerful points of connection between Frederick II and the Sultan's representatives.
Frederick had asked al-Kamil if he might visit the Holy City, a request that was granted. In an attempt to be respectful of Frederick's religious beliefs--and clearly aware that sound respects no barriers--the Sultan's officials had ordered the silencing of the muezzin's nocturnal call from the Aqsa Mosque during his visit. To their surprise, the Christian emperor chastised them the next day, insisting that the very reason he had spent the night in the city had been to hear the call to prayer, for he longed to waken to the sound of the "cries of praise to God during the night."
On that same visit, Frederick was escorted to the Sacred Precinct by the qadi, the presiding Muslim judge. The Emperor expressed his admiration for the construction of both the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. On seeing the minbar, or pulpit, Frederick climbed its stairs to the very top. His exuberant response to this sacred work of art was no doubt a violation of protocol, but that did not concern Ibn Wasil, our chronicler. Rather, he touchingly makes a point of telling us that when Frederick descended, he took the qadi by the hand and out the two went together.
In the midst of seemingly intractable conflict, we long for a cessation of violence, a tolerable détente. To ask for anything more seems naive. Each of these anecdotes, however, allows us to contemplate interactions between enemies that extend beyond mere tolerance. The first story speaks of cultural sensitivity and appreciation through a mutual affirmation of the custom of the other. The second reminds us of the capacity of works of art to bind people together: a shared aesthetic experience long ago prompted the joining of hands.
These are moments when the mystery inherent in beautiful objects and prayerful sound make possible an exceptional atmosphere of fellow feeling. They create a transcendent realm where conflicting sensibilities touch, a set of circumstances where hope ventures tentatively, daringly, to appear.
It was an unlikely time for agreement, let alone concord. But some 800 years ago, at a holy site in Jerusalem, longstanding adversaries enjoyed a rare instance of mutual understanding and shared appreciation of each other's culture. Perhaps no one was more surprised than they.
We might imagine this is why Ibn Wasil inserted these unlikely tales in accounts that largely focus on local political maneuvering. Frederick II must also have had a sense of this when he reported that the treaty with the Sultan had come about "by virtue of a miracle rather than by strength."
In a period wracked with unthinkable violence, two leaders were open to the possibility of a miracle. May it be so in our day.
Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb are curators at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are collaborating on an exhibition about Jerusalem in the middle ages for 2016.
Until Now, Israel Is Flailing In Gaza
By Michael Young
Jul. 24, 2014
The war in Gaza continues while the outcome remains uncertain. But from the Israeli perspective, the conflict must appear increasingly worrisome, despite the successes of the Iron Dome system. The reason is that few conflicts have better illustrated the void and contradictions at the heart of Israel’s approach to the Palestinians. The contradictions first. The Israelis have portrayed the war as an effort to weaken Hamas, but everything they have done has strengthened the movement, after a period in which its popularity had dived domestically and its lucrative, vital tunnel system was closed by a hostile Egyptian government.
Hamas was also seeking to revive its financial and military relationship with Iran, severed because of their disagreement over Syria. That relationship appears to have been restored, even though it will be tougher to smuggle new weapons into Gaza given Israel’s and Egypt’s controlling access to the territory. However, a complete cut-off of arms to Gaza will be difficult.
Hamas has benefited in other ways. It has underlined how inconsequential is Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, advancing its agenda to ultimately remove him and his Fatah movement as the dominant actors in the Palestine Liberation Organization. This does not necessarily displease Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister has time and again discredited his Palestinian interlocutors, in order to avoid giving up occupied land. But the broader consequences of having Hamas lead the Palestinians are serious.
And Hamas has also gained by showing it can target Israeli cities, regardless of the Iron Dome’s effectiveness. The attacks have altered daily life in Israel, most recently by pushing foreign airlines to suspend their flights to Ben Gurion Airport. Technology is not stationary. If Hamas’ rockets are relatively primitive today, in the future they can, and likely will, be improved. Israel’s ability to conduct wars entirely in the lands of its neighbours is becoming less possible by the day.
Then there are the tunnels. Hamas has taken a considerable risk by digging passages into Israel. Like Hezbollah, which has promised to send combatants into Galilee in any future war with Israel, Hamas sees going on the offensive as a way of shifting the military ground rules to its advantage and show Israelis that they are vulnerable even inside their borders. The only problem is that it will make the Israelis even more reluctant to give up land in the future, and will only strengthen the Israeli hard-liners’ self-serving claim that Israel is under perpetual threat.
Perhaps that helps show how Hamas and the Israeli government have parallel interests. Both gain from an intractable adversary, because it allows them to sidestep difficult choices: Israel avoids surrendering land, while Hamas evades the contentious matter of talking to Israel. Each side accentuates dangers the other exploits in its own favour.
But from a political perspective, Hamas has gained more from the Gaza war than Israel. Yes, Palestinian civilians have been killed, but this is not of great concern to Hamas. If it can emerge from the war still firing, it will declare its own “divine victory,” helping to absorb any popular anger for what happened.
More questionable is how Hamas will rebuild Gaza. With Egypt and Israel controlling the borders, the movement will find it very difficult to organize a costly reconstruction effort, which could exacerbate popular dissatisfaction. But Hamas must feel it can survive that eventuality, otherwise it would not have so readily rejected Egypt’s cease-fire proposal last week.
Hamas is looking beyond that at the benefits of the conflict. It is now much more difficult for Abbas to continue giving Hamas a secondary role in a Palestinian unity government. As for Netanyahu, his efforts to undermine such a government may have been damaged, since any resolution to the Gaza crisis may have to include the Palestinian government as a party.
Worse, for the Israelis everything about Gaza has served to highlight the extent to which they have no strategic framework in which to deal with the Palestinians. Netanyahu will justify his actions in the name of self-defence or fighting terrorism or what have you, but many Israelis, once the fighting stops, will ask a more fundamental question: Where is Israel going in its relations with the Palestinians, at a time when the country’s image in the world is more negative than it has ever been?
The reality is that what many people in the world see today is a government that has no serious intention of giving up land, that finds excuses to freeze progress in negotiations and that never hesitates to make the life of its Palestinian victims more intolerable than it already is. It is no longer rare to hear Israel mentioned in the same breath as apartheid South Africa, let alone to hear officials publicly imply that hundreds of civilian casualties in Gaza is an outrage.
One consequence of this is that we will hear an increasing number of voices calling for engagement of Hamas. Whatever the serious problems of doing so, after this latest violence it may seem absurd not to include Hamas in negotiations. These are not dynamics Israel can welcome, not when it has found no solution to Palestinian demographics and the fact that the Palestinian population under Israeli control is rising inexorably.
Israel may occupy all of Gaza and remain there for months while trying to dismantle Hamas. But at what price? Such a scenario is improbable, yet short of that Israel has no victorious endgame in Gaza. It can kill, but unless it moves toward giving the Palestinians independence, its problem will become increasingly unmanageable. Israel will continue to flounder in explaining how open-ended repression can be sustainable.
Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.
Tunnel Intelligence Failure A Wake-Up Call For Israel
By Ben Caspit
July 24, 2014
Apparently, there is no way to avoid the creation of a commission of inquiry once Operation Protective Edge is over. The commission will have to discuss what Israeli cabinet ministers are describing as a “resounding security failure.” Why didn’t Israel mark the threat posed by the Hamas tunnels as a strategic threat, as is now so obvious? Why didn’t it devote thought, effort, budgets and attention to this threat, just as it did to the rocket threat, which received an appropriate response in the form of the Iron Dome air-defence system?
The commission of inquiry will have to investigate three distinct tiers of questioning: Did the security forces have intelligence about the tunnels? If so, was it relayed to the political leadership? And if it was relayed, why didn’t the political leadership act accordingly? It should be remembered that had Hamas not rejected the Egyptian cease-fire initiative, Israel would not have discovered the scope of this threat, and Hamas would have continued digging and expanding its tunnel network, right until the moment it was deployed.
One senior Cabinet member I spoke with this week described that possibility to me: “Imagine," he said, “that we are in the middle of a conflict with Hezbollah up north. Our top-notch infantry brigades are up there, in the north, when suddenly Hamas deploys its network of dozens of tunnels all at once. Some 2,000 Hamas commandos suddenly burst out of them and embark on a killing spree, slaughtering thousands of people in the cities and towns across Israel’s south, from Sderot through Ashkelon, Netivot and Ofakim, maybe even all the way to Beersheba. Who would stop them? The police? The air force? It would take weeks to clean up the mess, and at the end of the entire process, we would find death and destruction across southern Israel. I know,” the minister continued, “that it sounds like a figment of the imagination, but based on what we are discovering these days, the scenario is far more realistic than it is imaginary. In this region, the reality easily exceeds anything we can imagine.”
What originally led to Israel’s ground assault in Gaza was the tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa from which 13 Hamas commandos emerged. They were seen coming out of the tunnel by scouts in an Israel Defense Forces observation post. Video of the ensuing battle, which took place that same morning, aired on all of Israel’s TV networks. The commandos can be seen coming out of the tunnel dressed in IDF uniforms, with all of the standard equipment, with body armour, camouflaged helmets and toques and an enormous amount of weapons. They crawled across the ground together, performing together rolls and rescue manoeuvres, until, apparently, they suddenly heard the motor of one of the IDF’s unmanned aircraft or the ignition of a tank that was turned on in the sector by accident, and they raced and pushed themselves back into the tunnel. An IDF aircraft fired a few rockets, but not all of the commandos were hit.
The film footage shocked Israel. Suddenly, everybody realized how permeable Israel’s border wall along the Gaza Strip really is, how much we had been living for the past few years beside a barrel of gunpowder on the edge of a volcano. Even Ministers Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, who did not support a ground incursion until that morning, withdrew their opposition, clearing the way for the operation to begin. At first, it was said that it would take three days to clean out the tunnels and destroy them. Now they are already talking about three weeks. This is not some effort to win time. It is an effort to win lives. Israel believed before that Hamas had three strategic tunnels. The current estimate is that there are 30, and perhaps a lot more.
As this piece is being written, an end to the ground operation in Gaza seems to lie far in the future. Efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to bring about an end to the fighting are not bearing any results. Hamas is not interested in a cease-fire. It is interested in prolonging the fighting, which is costing hundreds of residents of the Gaza Strip their lives, because the organization is well aware that this is the only way to break through the international blockade. It is the only way for Hamas to get past the dead end that it has reached as a result of its behaviour over the past few years.
So they continue to fight. What helps them along is the realization that Israel will restrain itself and not dare “go all the way.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be a big talker, but he is somewhat less of a doer. He will not have the courage to sacrifice the necessary lives (about 200 soldiers according to one estimate) to conquer Gaza. He is worried about complications, he recoils from international pressure and he has difficulty making decisions. That is why what we have now is a paradoxical situation verging on the absurd: Israel is desperate for a cease-fire, and Hamas is thumbing its nose at it. The entire international community (except for Egypt) is desperate for a cease-fire, and Hamas is thumbing its nose up at it. The strongest, best equipped and most powerful army in the Middle East is completely submerged in Gaza, fighting a hopeless war against a guerrilla army that is carefully concealed and camouflaged, well-trained and unwavering. But the outcome remains unresolved because Israel’s political leadership is afraid of any complications, afraid of casualties and afraid of international public opinion.
I write this as a journalist who is identified more with the Israeli left. Throughout my journalistic career, I supported, and continue to support, all of the peace plans, from Oslo to the Geneva agreement. In order to resolve this conflict, I am prepared to give up the occupied territories (with territorial swaps), East Jerusalem (although, like all Israelis, regardless of who they are, I will not agree to the return of the refugees to Israel), everything. I would do all that on the condition that there is someone with whom that peace agreement could be signed.
It seems to me that we are at the stage that the world is wising up to Hamas. Given the international community’s support for Israel, which was not taken for granted, it seems to me that the world has already internalized that this was a war between good and evil, between a culture of life and a cult of death. Hamas is the Islamic State, IS. Hamas is Jabhat al-Nusra. Hamas is Ansar Bait ul-Muqaddas. They are all products of the same school: the oppression of women, the expulsion of Christians, a war of annihilation against the Jews. Some of the aforementioned groups even slaughter Shiite Muslims, solely because they are not Sunnis. This is not some figment of the imagination. It is not a delusion. These are firm facts that any child can find on YouTube.
The facts are that even after the current conflict began, Israel agreed to a cease-fire and Hamas refused. It is piling up the people of Gaza as a defensive shield for the means of destruction that it is acquiring wholesale — and then complaining that Israel is killing civilians. On Wednesday, July 23, three young Israeli paratroopers were killed when they entered a booby-trapped house in Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip. The US Army would have flattened the house from the air. The Russian army would have flattened the entire town from the air. Let’s not even talk about what the Syrian army would have done, because that’s something of a sensitive issue these days. In contrast, the IDF informs civilians that it is coming by way of text messages and phone calls and even by firing warning shots. Hamas responds by firing rockets at a field hospital that Israel set up in Gaza, where Palestinian civilians were being treated.
No, I am not saying that Israel made no mistakes or that it has been free of errors. Not everybody in Israel wants peace. The behaviour of Netanyahu, particularly in his dealings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate, has been strongly criticized here by me and in many other places, too. He has been criticized severely, and he will continue to be criticized. But in this war we must not get confused. This is a war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness.
Hezbollah, Hamas Repair Military Ties during Breakup
By Nasser Chararah
July 24, 2014
Despite the political differences that have emerged between Hezbollah and Hamas over their positions on the Syrian revolution in the last two years — which led to a break of ties between them and an exchange of political accusations — the military cooperation between the two groups has not ceased, due to it being institutionalized. The credit here goes to former Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades leader Ahmed al-Jabari, who was killed by Israel during the 2012 war in the Gaza Strip. Jabari hailed from the Shajaiya quarter in Gaza, which has seen the most violent fighting in the recent conflict. The coverage of the current war in Gaza by Hezbollah-affiliated satellite channel Al-Manar has prominently displayed Jabari’s picture on the screen — hereby showing that Hezbollah is present in Hamas’ current struggle, which has grabbed the attention of the Arab street. Sources who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity emphasize that Hamas and Hezbollah have maintained their military cooperation despite the break in their political relations.
The two groups’ political leaders have never enjoyed the same level of cooperation as their military wings. The president of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, turned his back on the Assad-Khameini-Nasrallah axis after leaving Damascus. According to Hezbollah’s accusations, he was involved in the Muslim Brotherhood’s international project to overthrow the Syrian regime and put its national arm in power during the Arab Spring. During Hezbollah’s victorious battle in Qusair, the group corroborated its accusations against Hamas with documents demonstrating that Palestinian guerrilla organizations participated with Syrian opposition fighters in clashes with the Syrian military. Hamas fighters and fighters affiliated with Hamas used some of the combat techniques that it had acquired from Hezbollah against Hezbollah fighters participating in the conquest of the town. Likewise, according to Hezbollah’s reading of the battle, the machines that opposition fighters used to dig tunnels in Qusair had previously been given by Hezbollah to Hamas for the fortification of the Gaza Strip.
According to the same sources, within Hezbollah, the expressions "betrayal" and "lack of loyalty" are commonly used to describe Hamas’ position on the Syrian conflict. Nonetheless, the group has been careful not to let its poor relationship with Hamas damage its relations with the al-Qassam Brigades and Jabari’s heirs. Responsiveness within Hamas to Hezbollah has encouraged this approach and Hamas’ political bureau has embraced the al-Qassam Brigades’ maintenance of military cooperation with Hezbollah. The most prominent of those aiming to preserve the alliance are Mahmoud al-Zahar, a major historical figure in the political bureau, and Muhammad al-Fadl, who despite being disabled has retained his prestige as one of the al-Qassam Brigades’ historical leaders.
It should be noted that Hezbollah’s political leadership has attempted, throughout its break with Hamas, to preserve the ability to revive their strategic relationship. Hezbollah did not close the Hamas offices in Hezbollah’s stronghold in Dahiyeh, Beirut, which has been there for nearly two decades. Moreover, Hezbollah has not stopped providing financial support to Hamas’ Al-Quds TV station, which is broadcast into Palestine from one of Dahiyeh’s wealthier neighbourhoods.
There has been material evidence that the dispute between the two groups’ political leadership over the Syrian war did not impede their military cooperation. In early 2010, an explosion in a Dahiyeh apartment was the result of a mistake made by members of Hamas who were being trained to assemble a car bomb by Hezbollah advisers.
Path to Normalisation
About a month ago, the political and military wings of Hamas and Hezbollah began working toward the normalization of their political relationship. One instance of this move toward reconciliation was a meeting between the groups' political leaders. In the meeting Hamas was represented by its Lebanese political official Ali Baraka. That meeting represents the first such communication at that level between the political offices of the two groups since the initial breakdown of relations. Conditions seemed to favor the path to reconciliation for a few weeks before the outbreak of the Gaza war, which Hezbollah’s General-Secretary Hassan Nasrallah used as an excuse to make a call to Meshaal — which was subsequently leaked — in which he declared his support for Hamas in its battle. This call indicated political progress at the highest levels toward the normalization of political relations.
Hezbollah and Hamas do not deny the existence of a doctrinal contradiction (Sunni-Shiite) between the two parties, which has existed since the very beginning of their relationship but does not deeply affect their relations. In 1993, Israel expelled the most prominent members of Hamas from Gaza to Lebanon. Hezbollah welcomed them and erected a camp for them in Marj al-Zuhour. But Hezbollah was surprised to hear that Hamas’ exiles named their camp after Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328), the Wahhabi imam who declared the Shiite infidels in a famous fatwa that states “Kill them even if they repent.” Nonetheless, until events began in Syria, the two groups coexisted despite their doctrinal differences. The extent of cooperation between their military wings played a role in creating a culture in both groups in which the benefits of cooperation in the shared fight with Israel trumps their many intellectual and political rivalries. There are also strategic interests that help maintain the groups’ relationship. Through its relationship with Hamas, Iran has gained a card to play in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Likewise, Hamas has used its relationship with Iran to break the Western and Arab/Islamic embargo imposed on the group in the 1990s and 2000s.
Some in Hezbollah believe that Hamas’ political bureau — which is part of the Muslim Brotherhood — found an opportunity in their comrades’ rise to power in Egypt in 2011 to gain autonomy from the Tehran axis, especially since Qatar pledged to replace Iranian funding. But the fall of the Egyptian Brotherhood and the floundering of the Syrian revolution put the brakes on this decision and forced Hamas’ political leadership to listen to the military wing’s opinion that the group should not break its alliance of common interest with Hezbollah.
These sources revealed to Al-Monitor that Meshaal recently examined the possibility of visiting Tehran, but the latter replied that the circumstances were not yet ready. Tehran contended that the Syrian regime is extremely sensitive to the hostility of the Brotherhood, Hamas included. But Iran did not conceal that its interests in maintaining influence in the Arab world forces it to leave its door to Hamas half open. Hezbollah engages in tactics that embody this perspective.
The same sources say that Hezbollah has information suggesting that Meshaal currently faces a dire need to relocate from Doha, as the Qataris house him in a remote residence in the capital and place "gentle" restraints on his activities. Meshaal has few options: Amman or Beirut would not withstand the weight of his presence, Egypt does not want him and Iran would be an embarrassing place for him as an Arab. Though Turkey remains the most appropriate location because of current circumstances, Meshaal would prefer to reside close to the Palestinian arena.
Exchange of "Betrayals"
The reality is that the two groups are attempting to find options that would permit them to part ways. At various times, Iran and Hezbollah attempted to strengthen the fighting power of Islamic Jihad, the second-most powerful resistance group in Gaza after Hamas. But the intensity of that group’s characterization as an extension of Iran limited its political and popular appeal on the Palestinian street, despite the group’s great military capacity. Now, Iran and Hezbollah play the card of their relationship with Islamic Jihad to retain their influence over the decision to wage war or make peace in Gaza. But a source in Hezbollah told Al-Monitor that the decline of the relationship with Hamas has diminished Iran and Hezbollah’s role in Palestine. He indicates that some influence will still be exercised through the normalization now taking place at the political and military levels in Gaza. On the political level, Iranian influence depends on the pressure put on Hamas’ political leadership by the depth of coordination between its military wing and Hezbollah. Iran’s military influence is based on the intensity of cooperation between Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the field, which allows Islamic Jihad to exercise veto power in Tehran’s interest over Hamas’ political decisions about the war with Israel and the regional negotiations over that crisis.
Hezbollah sources say that the role of Tehran in the current Gaza war is weaker than in all previous conflicts. As the political initiatives for cease-fires move in other capitals — such as Doha, Riyadh, Ankara and Cairo — Tehran must now attempt to eavesdrop from afar and pursue a policy that proves its presence, rather than trying to guide events.
Moscow Treads Lightly In Gaza
By Vitaly Naumkin
July 24, 2014
The confrontation between Israel and Hamas, now in a renewed outburst of violence, has caught the international community by surprise and underlined, once again, the urgency of finding a solution to the Palestinian issue. While the population of the Arab and Islamic world has expressed outrage at Israel’s actions in Gaza, commentators in the media point out that most Arab government are taking a more cautious stance.
The official Russian response to the steep escalation of the situation in Palestine stands between neutral and a somewhat half-hearted wait-and-see. In a July 18 interview with Russia 24, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that President Vladimir Putin, in a recent conversation with US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reiterated his "understanding of Israel’s concerns regarding its security problems as a result of chaotic attacks from essentially homemade rockets, fired at random."
The foreign minister also stated that in the last few days some rockets from Gaza fell a kilometer from the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv. According to Lavrov, in Moscow it is understood that the restoration of calm around the Gaza Strip should be achieved via negotiations rather than "on the basis of opposition to Israel." Moscow undoubtedly disapproves of Israel’s harsh actions in Gaza, sympathizes with the Palestinian people and is committed to ending violence. (The mood on the Arab and Islamic street around the world as well as in Russia, with its 20 million-strong Muslim population, cannot be disregarded in this context). According to analyst Georgiy Mirsky’s assessment, following a recent visit to Moscow by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority will "always be regarded by Russia as a partner, but also as a victim of an aggressive US foreign policy." On the other hand, Moscow clearly does not approve of Hamas’ actions, either, meaning that it would take a position equidistant between the two parties. Lavrov noted Moscow’s awareness that the rocket fire from Gaza creates serious problems for Israel, but added that it was important to "prevent a spiral of violence reminiscent of 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.'"
Several considerations can explain Moscow's position.
On the scale of Russia’s foreign policy priorities, the crisis in Ukraine stands firmly at the top, absorbing virtually all the attention of the Russian leadership.
The Malaysian airliner disaster has been added to this crisis, pouring oil on the unrelenting fire fuelling the US-Russian information war.
In recent days Russian decision-makers have been on a trip to Latin America and busy building relations with those partners, currently a priority for Moscow. Putin is once again showing the West that for Russia, there are plenty more fish in the sea. Russia has allies and partners, including new ones. Incidentally, amid unprecedented anti-Russian rhetoric emanating from the British establishment over the Ukrainian situation, in a speech during his visit to Argentina, the Russian leader called the famous islands "Malvinas," rather than the Falklands, which for London is like a red cloth to a bull.
Against the background of the serious deterioration in US-Russian relations, the Kremlin does not want to lose track of the constructive cooperation with the White House in the Middle East peace process, where there are already points of contention between Moscow and Washington. For instance, there is disagreement over the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
The Kremlin took into account the restrained position taken by Arab leaders vis-à-vis the latest round of violence in the Gaza Strip, and in particular the clearly anti-Hamas line of the Egyptian leadership, whose improving relationship with Russia is highly prized in Moscow. Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy even wrote July 14 that the "recently inaugurated President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shares Washington and Israel's view of Hamas as both a terrorist organization and a strategic threat."
Moscow does not want to adopt too anti-Israel a stance, as it appreciates the line taken by Tel Aviv on the Ukrainian crisis and it values cooperation with Israel in a number of areas — though trade between the two countries, while exceeding $2 billion, is not one of the more important. It is no coincidence that in Moscow, many remember a story from 13 years ago, when the Ukrainian air defense systems mistakenly shot down the Russian civilian aircraft TU-154 flying over the Black Sea from Tel Aviv with 78 passengers on board.
In this context, Lavrov’s statement does not appear to be an accident, as Moscow hopes for Egypt to take a leading role in the region — particularly in resolving the conflict in the Gaza Strip — and it has actively advocated for the latest initiative on Gaza by the Egyptian authorities, one that is supported by Israel. Egypt’s return as an influential player on the political scene in the region would be beneficial for Russia.
"We believe that it is still not too late for Hamas and for the other radical groups outside its command (and there indeed are such groups in the Gaza Strip) to respond to this initiative. The beginning of the ground operation raises deep concerns over how Hamas will respond, and what will happen next," Lavrov said in the above-mentioned interview.
It is not surprising that, at this particular moment, Lavrov has returned to the idea of complementing the Quartet of international mediators with representatives of the League of Arab States. This call will undoubtedly be positively received in Arab capitals, where the more active participation of Arab governments in the process has been long sought after.
Analysts point out that current official statements from Moscow no longer feature the persistent call to lift the blockade on Gaza, known to have been put forward by Hamas as one of the conditions for a cease-fire agreement with Israel. This is despite the fact that, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, in a very recent telephone conversation with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (recall that Russia does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization) Lavrov advocated for the prompt lifting of the blockade on Gaza "in order to improve the dire humanitarian situation faced by the Palestinians." And that even the reconciliation between the Hamas and Fatah movements was enthusiastically hailed in Moscow, with Lavrov expressing surprise at Washington’s negative reaction to this event, while stressing, "Any normal person assumes that the unity of one people should always be unreservedly welcomed and supported."
The establishment in Moscow, as it pursues this line regarding events in Gaza, clearly avoids analogies between Ukraine and Israel. The Eastern Ukrainian militias are not shelling Kiev with rockets and, in Moscow’s view, are defending their territory against a punitive operation. Note that the Kremlin traditionally sees in Israel an important partner in the fight against Nazism. This is particularly important on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the World War II victory over fascism and in the context of the ongoing revision of the history of that war in several European countries.
Not everyone in Russia shares this assessment, however. At a rally in solidarity with the people of Gaza held in Moscow July 17, the director of the Russia-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group and former state deputy Duma Shamil Sultanov declared that Israel today is the "heir of Nazi Germany," asking, "Who else but Nazi Germany applied the principle of collective responsibility?" He drew his own analogy between Ukraine and Palestine, emphasizing that people in eastern Ukraine — who are armed and financed by the billionaire governor of Dnipropetrovsk region, Ihor Kolomoisky — "kill Russians." And "for the same money, Israel kills Palestinian children in Gaza. We have one common enemy: It is Zionism." It is true that only 250 participants attended the rally, whose organizers reproached the 2.5 million Muslim population of Moscow for their lack of solidarity. However, no one should doubt the fact that Russian Muslims condemn Israel, and even some non-Muslims have come out with harsh statements against it, such as writer Alexander Prokhanov who suggested Israel "hang itself."
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a well-informed source told Al-Monitor that the Kremlin avoided harshly criticizing Israel to give Tel Aviv some time to complete the military operation, in the hope that the role of the Quartet of international mediators be resumed with a new line-up. It is clear, however, that further developments in the region may force all players, including Russia, to adjust their positions. As it has emerged, Moscow together with other members of the UN Security Council voted in favour of a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and expressing grave concern about the high number of civilian casualties.
The Ugly Truth: Israel Is So Middle East Now
By Ahu Özyurt
I can never forget that one sentence from Thomas Friedman’s legendary book on the Middle East, “From Beirut to Jerusalem.” It was something like this: “Jews would like to wake up in Israel but would like to live next to Switzerland and Belgium.” After 20 years of Likud governments and small immigrant parties holding politics hostage, unfortunately Israel is now no different from any sad Middle Eastern country, except for its relatively healthy democracy.
Israel used to be a beacon of technology, a hub of investment, even a fun place full of stories about the Eurovision Song Contest or the former president’s adultery issues. Now all we read about Israel is its “right to defend itself.”
But this did not happen overnight. Just like Turkey, Israel became an overtly religious, very mediocre, deeply divided and less tolerant society within a decade. Most of this is due to Benjamin Netanyahu’s carte blanche to parties like Yisrael Beiteinu and its hawkish chair, Avigdor Lieberman.
In every society, immigrants bring their own richness and traumas when settling into a new land.
In Israel’s case, the paranoia of being surrounded by highly populated poor Arab countries have made the immigrants from Russia more aggressive. Every new settlement is an issue for them. It is almost like the slums in Istanbul, where once you build 10, no one can remove you from those buildings. You invite your relatives and invade the area, and bingo! The state has to bring you services and protection.
This was not the Israel that I knew 10 years ago. Tel Aviv was a city of arts and intellectuals. However, after Ehud Barak lost the elections, I heard a startling statement from an academic in Israel that basically defined the politics of a decade: “If we do not do anything about this population issue, within a couple of decades an Arab may actually run for a president in Israel and demographically win.”
After this, the wall was built; after this, Hamas came. An obscure organization that Israel had been watching closely became the “fear factor” of less educated, poor Israelis. They adopted a policy of having more children, like the Arabs, and sending all of them to religious schools. The country basically lost its scientific genius. It was not the Israel that would go and hunt its enemies with precision. It became more like an ordinary Middle Eastern country where killing does not mean much because if one child dies - another one will replace him/her.
Remember the Iron Dome a couple of years ago? Is it not working? Why aren’t we reading any strategic analyses from our Israeli colleagues anymore? Has Israel lost its intellectual capacity as well as its democratic and human values?
Turkey and Israel are almost like twin brothers separated at birth. When one goes down, the other follows suit. These two countries’ fates may be even more identical than we could ever imagine. Israel is now in the downturn and it is going to take a while. It has lost its panache, its zing, its charm and ability to bring a different life to the Middle East.
I wish Jon Stewart and Sacha Baron Cohen could come to the rescue.