Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tunnel Vision: When Did Israel Discover Threat?

Two Israeli columnists differ on when and what the Netanyahu government knew about the extensive network of attack tunnels the IDF has encountered in Gaza. Writing for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse section, Ben Caspit assumes a post-war commission of inquiry will need to be convened to determine why this security threat would have been ignored if not for the Hamas refusal of a ceasefire prior to Israel's decision to invade.  Some of his assumptions are challenged by Nahum Barnea, writing in Yediot Achranot. (More on that later.)

In his July 25th article, "Tunnel intelligence failure a wake-up call for Israel," Caspit raises the alarm as follows:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Israel Haters Earn Thanks of Israeli Right

A few weeks ago, despairing at the recent news of the four teenage murders, and the waves of ugly protests and riots that accompanied them, I tried consoling myself. "In all fairness", I thought, "how could things get any worse?". What a difference a few days made-we are now in the middle of another campaign in Gaza which has brought about another round of rockets, bombings, and human suffering. It's hard not to look at "Protective Edge" as yet another rerun in a long line of Israeli offensives that produces the same results, with varying levels of damage and deterrence. Tragically, there are far too many Israelis who believe that this act of "mowing the lawn" is sustainable in the long run, or simply a necessity for lack of a better choice. No creative solutions are proposed, nor is anyone eager to address the slight possibility that the vacuum created by the collapse of peace negotiations has helped lead into this current spiral of violence. When the dust settles, we will be back where we were a few weeks ago, with the likelihood of another massive flare up perhaps two years down the line unless real changes are made to the status quo. 

There is another casualty of this war, however, that rarely gets discussed. Working with PPI's social media, I have been exposed to an uncomfortably large amount of vitriol aimed at Israel and Israeli since this campaign began. I wasn't at all surprised by its presence, sadly recalling what had been said during operations in 2009 and 2012.

An Unusual Dialogue

One of the many unfortunate side effects of the increasingly vitriolic discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the inability to find sustained dialogue between informed partisans who disagree mightily with each other.  This is perhaps even more true within the Jewish community than between Jews and Arabs.

Richard Landes is a Professor of History at Boston University and a frequent writer on the conflict from  a perspective I very much disagree with.  He has also been a friend of mine for over 30 years, since a time when our views on Israel were much more alike.  He recently wrote an article on the "Honor/Shame Dynamic" in the Arab culture, which was published online in Tablet.  I wrote a response which appears below (and is excerpted in Tablet), which Richard answered (below my response) and then I wrote a brief rejoinder (below that).

I hope this will be the first of other serious discussions between people whose views are very far apart but who nevertheless engage in discussions with respect and even affection.  I should note that we started this exchange before the current crisis (or war), but I think it very much bears on the underlying cause for the continued conflict.

Honor and Shame are not the Problem:  A Reply to Richard Landes
By Paul Scham[1]

Dodging Rockets in Ra'anana, but Thinking of Gaza

One of us at PPI knew this writer when she lived in New York.  made aliya with her husband and twin babies about two years ago. She's a science writer who contributes to Haaretz, Nature, National Geographic and Scientific American Mind, and writes a weekly online column, "On Science," for The American Scholar. She began this personal piece in Haaretz, "Humans of Gaza, Humans of Tel Aviv," by describing her dash to a bomb shelter, pulling her children from a double stroller as rockets fell in her neighborhood in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ra’anana; this in part is what she wrote:

. . .  I know that we are relatively safe here; My brother tells me I am more likely to be hurt in an earthquake than hit by a rocket.  . . . I know that the Israel Defense Forces has uncovered 66 entrances to 23 tunnels, some of which have been used by Hamas terrorists to infiltrate Israel.

At the same time, though, I think every day of the Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip who are at the mercy of Israeli bombardment; . . . of the bandaged and dying children lying in hospitals in Gaza and of the tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip fleeing to United Nations shelters.  . . .

I am not na├»ve and I am not oblivious: I know that those rockets coming in from Gaza are designed to kill me and my family.  . . .

Thursday, July 24, 2014

But, MJ, What Is Your Solution?

I keep hearing from people who say "but what is Israel supposed to do?" They then go on to say that it is now more obvious than ever that if Palestinians control the West Bank Israel will not be safe. "They" will just launch missiles from there.

Here are the facts:

No iteration of the two-state solution allows the West Bank to be militarized. The Palestinian state would have no army. Its borders with Israel would be guarded, not only by the IDF which obviously would not go out of existence, but by U.S. monitors. The CIA would play a particular role (as it did in the last years of Oslo), working with both sides, to prevent and combat violence. During that period CIA-brokered Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation reduced acts of terrorism to zero. All this is spelled out in the various documents circulated during negotiations; and all these conditions were accepted by Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.

Nobody who advocates the two-state solution envisions Israel just walking away and handing the keys to the Palestinians. Every proposed agreement includes ironclad security guarantees. It is also worth noting that the Palestinian Authority, even without any two-state agreement, has successfully eliminated most violence emanating from the West Bank.

But what about Gaza and Hamas?

A Board Member Reflects on Gaza

PPI board member, Phyllis Bernstein, co-chairs the Israeli Arab Educational Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.  The other day, we quoted from, and linked to, her recent article in the New Jersey Jewish News, "Helping a shared society cope with crisis."  Today, we share her personal thoughts on the current crisis.  (These are not official views of PPI):

What I hear is: Damned if you do, and damned if you don't. There is no good way to go on Gaza. The only way to resolve the crisis is a comprehensive peace deal based on a two-state solution.

Hamas digs tunnels into Israel in order to kidnap soldiers. Israeli soldiers are in Gaza to destroy tunnels. Tunnels are underground. Seeing and destroying tunnels is not an easy task. Israeli solders tell Gaza's people: "We are coming, you are unsafe and must move elsewhere." But Gaza's population is crowded and has no where to go.  Too many have already died. 

In a briefing with Ido Aharoni, Israel's Consul General in New York, he said, "Every life lost, whether Israeli or Palestinian or anybody else, is one life lost too many." He told us Hamas terrorists were coming out of holes into Israeli territory on their way to murder Israelis.  So that is why the Israeli government decided to send troops into the Gaza Strip to take care of the tunnels.

Quoting Tuesday's NY Times report [with the death tolls cited already exceeded]:

'Lives in Common' by Prof. Menachem Klein

Given the disturbing developments going on all around us, our friend and colleague Prof. Menachem Klein would like you to see a recent article that he published on "Lives in Common", the title of his new book, which recalls a much more positive era in Jewish-Arab relations:

Menachem mentions an interview with Prince Turki al-Faisal in Reuters in 2008.  For those who didn't see it, here is a link to the article by the Saudi Prince that was published in the special Haaretz Israel Conference on Peace supplement: Peace would be possible with the Arab Peace Initiative at its core ...

Hillel Schenker
Palestine-Israel Journal
POBox 19839, Jerusalem

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Great Writings on Gaza Culled by Chaverim

Dear readers, you have a lot of homework to do, beginning with this excellent piece by William Saletin in Slate, very compatible with our own perspective:

... "The most plausible way to stop this cycle of violence is through internationally supervised demilitarization." . . .  Including an invitation to Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority to restore governance and cooperate with Israel on security for both peoples. For example, acknowledging that 
Gazans have no government to protect them . . . Every day, more civilians die in Gaza. Israel, the country that’s killing them, has agreed to cease-fire proposals. But Hamas, which controls Gaza (though many of its political leaders don’t even live there), rejects these proposals and continues to fire rockets into Israel. You can argue that the rockets justify Israel’s attacks or that they serve merely as a pretext. Either way, they get more Gazans killed.
The only way to make sense of Hamas’ behavior is to recognize that its goal is not to stop the killing but to exploit it. That explains why Hamas encouraged Gazans to stand atop targeted buildings and ordered them to stay in areas where Israel had issued pre-invasion evacuation warnings. It also explains why Hamas insists that Israel grant concessions in exchange for a cease-fire. Hamas thinks a cease-fire is a favor to Israel. Given the gross imbalance in casualties, that’s a pretty clear statement that Hamas thinks Gazan deaths should bother Israel more than they bother Hamas.    
This is from Peter Beinart's Facebook page: 

My final Israel commentary; why I'm 'retiring'

Last week, our pro-Israel peace camp was abuzz about a NY Times op-ed piece written by Nathan Thrall, an analyst for the International Crisis Group; he powerfully argues that "The Road to War [was] Paved by the West."  Although I found it informative, I was less enthralled by Thrall (couldn't resist the alliteration) than others were. Rather than a single overriding reason for the current troubling situation, I see two.

Just as the present Israeli coalition government cannot conceive of any lasting deal with Hamas (and decided to invade instead), Hamas seems incapable of explicitly endorsing peaceful co-existence with Israel.  If our camp were in power in Israel -- say in a government in which the Meretz party had a significant voice (like Rabin's coalition in the 1990s) -- it would make every effort to find a way to work with Hamas as it is, despite its internal dynamics and contradictions.  But the reality is that Israel has a right-leaning government that won't do that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lessons We Can Learn for the Day After

My website:
We're in our fifteenth day of war, and things are looking quite sad. I've already been to two funerals of fallen soldiers, and they were heart-breaking. Two young men who were called up to defend their country sacrificed their lives doing so.  I know that on the other side of the border people are hurting as well.

As a leftist, it is painful to feel our responsibility. On both sides people failed to convince their leaders and their communities that there are better ways to settle thing than through war and destruction. But amidst all the grief and frustration I think we must try to learn some lessons, already, that may help us in the aftermath of yet another round of violence.

We should not be drawn into the temptation of seeing things in black and white.  Just as we thought we must struggle from within Israel to find friends across the border, so we must struggle to find partners within Israel. Some people on the extreme left have been voicing their objections to the war with zealous outrage no less dangerous than those on the right: calling our soldiers murderers, calling the war a slaughter, questioning our right (and obligation) to defend our citizens, and rioting. This is not the way to bring the war to an end, and not the way to create a healthier or more tolerant society.

'Helping a shared society cope with crisis'

A new PPI board member, Phyllis Bernstein, co-chairs the Israeli Arab Educational Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. She has published this in NJ Jewish News, an illuminating and hopeful op-ed on Jewish-Arab relations within Israel. Here's an abridged version:
. . .  In the current and understandably heated climate, many Arab citizens are now fearful of speaking in Arabic on public transportation and refrain from walking on city streets in Jewish neighborhoods. Some are afraid to show up at work. Their fears have been stoked by social media rumors of attempted kidnappings of Arab children by Jewish settlers. 
. . .  Fortunately, there are many efforts to improve relations between Israel’s Arabs and Jews.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Writing PPI's statement on Gaza War

It's always hard to write something by committee, which we needed to do.  This is most of what was scrapped when we suddenly learned that Israel was launching its ground offensive, necessitating a re-write of the statement we finally issued late on Friday (click here to read PPI's actual statement):
There are plenty of issues to resolve. For example, peaceful Gazans should have the right to freely exit and reenter their tiny enclave, while Israelis have the right to safeguard their country from attack. But these cannot be settled at the point of a gun.

We hasten to add that there is no justification for the thousands of rockets and other munitions fired from the Gaza Strip, now and in previous times, at Israeli civilians.  Not only do these attacks unlawfully endanger non-combatant Israelis, but, as we’ve seen repeatedly, they also cause Israel to respond with its much more formidable military arsenal to inflict massive harm on the lives and infrastructure of Gaza.  Hence, this constitutes the opposite of self-defense for the people of Gaza as claimed by its Hamas rulers.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ground Invasion, Day Two

The ground invasion of "Operation Protective Edge" has entered its second day.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed its fighters engaged I.D.F. soldiers in the town of Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza. There have also been reports of Palestinians firing artillery rounds from the town of Beit Lahiya, just west of Beit Hanoun. These two towns are the northern most population centers in the Gaza Strip.

According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement to the press, the ground operation was initiated to target Hamas's tunnel infrastructure following a Hamas incursion into Israeli territory through a tunnel on Thursday evening, Israel time.

There are three categories of smuggling tunnels in Gaza: smuggling tunnels into Egypt, of which there are dozens; combat tunnels underneath Gazan cities, of which there are hundreds and attack tunnels into Israeli territory, of which there are approximately twenty.

Israelis Demonstrate Against Gaza War

Demonstrations are scheduled today (Friday) and tomorrow, including one at the Barkai Junction near my old kibbutz. Others will be in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. The banner pictured below reads: "No to occupation and racism, yes to just peace!" The caption underneath it asks if people aren't sick of the macho conflict over the years.