Grumpy Reflections on Israel's Descent into Madness

The results from last week’s Knesset election show a country that is virtually evenly split between center-right and center-left (the center-right has a very slight margin,) with the balance of power held by two religious parties. The latter are politically and socially conservative but primarily focused on their own communal interests. If they join Prime Minister Netanyahu’s next coalition, as they are likely to do, the governing center-right-religious bloc will have a majority of some 56%. It will have even more if Yesh Atid, a vaguely left-leaning center party, also joins the coalition.

The reality beneath the numbers is less clear-cut. While it is probably correct to say that the bulk of the center-right is united on the issue of a Palestinian state (they’re opposed to it,) there is no pro-Palestine state consensus on the center-left. Both Zionist Union and Yesh Atid have been nebulous when it comes to the Palestinians, preferring hackneyed and imprecise statements (e.g. “Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital”) to taking a clear stand. It’s probably fair to assume that close to half of the center-left voters do not accept the internationally-defined basis of an agreement with the Palestinians (’67 borders with land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of both states etc.,) meaning that only a quarter of Israeli voters actually support the establishment of a Palestinian state. continue reading…

There’s an eerie sense of dé·jà vu about the western bombing campaign against the Islamic State jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

Had we not been there before, we might conceivably be persuaded by the grave commander-in-chief pose of Obama, the grainy black-and-white videos of direct hits on what look like Lego blocks and the war hype dished up by the fatally gullible American media.

But we have been there before  – and we know how it ends. The cruise missiles are the same cruise missiles and the bombers the same bombers. The global security and western values that the campaign is supposedly defending are the same ones that were left in tatters the last time around.

Not even the enemy is new. The jihadist group calling itself Islamic State is nothing more than the mutant offspring of America’s rape of Iraq and Afghanistan (with a grope of Pakistan in the process) a decade-plus ago. Like Hamas in Palestine, Islamic State is nature’s way of saying:  You fucked up. continue reading…

The fighting in Gaza seems to be over. Whatever the military or political pretensions of either side, it seems like the civilians have had enough. The Palestinians, certainly, have been battered beyond endurance.

For the next while, at least, attention will turn to the diplomatic arena, though there is likely to also be intense political maneuvering, both in Israel and among the Palestinians. Neither leadership can claim victory with a straight face, so there is bound to be controversy on both sides regarding the profit/loss ratio of the war. It is already raging in Israel; I assume the same is true of Gaza, though it’s probably more muted.

The question now, after seven weeks of wanton killing and destruction in Gaza and higher-than-expected loss and dislocation in Israel, is what comes next?  Has the experience been sufficiently traumatic for Israelis and Palestinians to change tack and finally embark on serious peace-making? Is that even possible, given the anger and hatred generated – entirely understandably – on the Palestinian side?

To look into the future, we first need to understand the past; to dispel the fog of propaganda, bombast and outright deception that accompanies every war. To truly understand why it happened.

The latest war occurred because the Palestinians have been occupied by Israel for over 47 years. It happened because Israel has kept Gaza under a hermetic blockade for the past seven years and done everything in its power to prevent a reconciliation between the two main Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas, while complaining loudly that peace can’t be made with a divided enemy.

The immediate trigger of the war was Israel’s decision to cynically leverage the kidnapping – and subsequent murder – of three Israeli youths in the West Bank to embark on an operation aimed at crippling Hamas in the West Bank. The response of Hamas in its stronghold, the crowded and besieged Gaza Strip, was to fire rockets at Israel.

Israel’s contention that the rockets were unprovoked is rubbish. Every rocket was propelled by 47 years of provocation. One may not like Hamas – there is much to dislike about the undemocratic, fundamentalist and socially conservative regime that currently rules Gaza – and one may have genuine concerns about Hamas’ willingness to live in peace with Israel, but those concerns don’t alter the fact that the penal existence imposed by Israel on that woebegone strip of land was both brutal and unsustainable.

History will tell whether Hamas’ approach of armed resistance to the Israeli occupation is smart. There are now over 2,000 Palestinian bodies arguing that it isn’t. But I have no patience for arguments that it is not justified. Whatever means of resistance the Palestinians choose is justified. It is for the Palestinians themselves to answer whether the price they are paying justifies the means.

Netanyahu’s constant refrain during the war was that he wanted to “return quiet” to Israel. The more radical members of his coalition wanted to see the eradication of Hamas in Gaza, but the prime minister did not have the stomach for the Israeli casualties that such an operation would entail. Perhaps he also understood that suppressing deeply-entrenched popular resistance by force requires killing of near-genocidal proportions. If that was part of the calculation that persuaded him to step back from the brink, there is perhaps a glimmer of hope for Israel’s future.

For the Palestinians of Gaza, the war was a humanitarian catastrophe. In additions to the estimated 12,000 dead and wounded, the place has been devastated. Refugees are camped out among the ruins, raw sewage runs through the streets and fresh water is in short supply. The economy, such as it was, is shattered. It will take many years and a massive aid effort to get Gaza back to even its unenviable situation before the war.

It’s difficult to see what Hamas got out of the war except for pride. But perhaps that’s not a meager accomplishment when one’s history of defeats and insults at the hands of Israel is as desperate as theirs is. By all accounts, Hamas and its smaller partners fought well – and they kept on fighting long after the Israeli leadership thought they would stop. Israel certainly didn’t have everything its own way. That will no doubt be the subject of Israeli investigations into the army’s performance.

The new-found reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah survived the war, though the position and authority of West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas were severely weakened. The fighting highlighted precisely how little influence he has over events and how irrelevant he is when Israel decides to ignore him. It may well be in Israel’s interests to maintain him as a fig-leaf in the post-war period, but it’s clear to all that he rules – if that is what he does – entirely at Israel’s behest.

So, once again, it’s all up to Israel; specifically, up the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  When Netanyahu says he wants “quiet” that’s exactly what he means: the status quo.

He wants to keep Gaza in a state of penal servitude, build settlements to his heart’s content, spend billions preparing for a war with Iran – on which his heart has been set for years – transform Israeli education into a pseudo-religion of Holocaust remembrance and dismantle any social welfare institutions that still exist in the country – all that, without any resistance from the pesky Palestinians and with the full support and admiration of the world community.

That is the definition of “quiet” in the Netanyahu lexicon.

Some Israeli pundits have written recently about a discernable shift in Netanyahu’s attitude to the Palestinians in the wake of the war. In the future, they say, he will be more amenable to negotiations about an end to the conflict and possibly even prepared to compromise.

I can’t see it. Netanyahu’s ideological world view is too monolithic and deep-rooted to tolerate the type of concessions and changes that are needed if there is ever to be peace in this region. He is too much of a believer in the Land of Israel and too convinced that force can solve any problem for him to accept Palestinian sovereignty and equality. And without such acceptance, there will never be peace.

In a normal democracy, one’s attitude would be: OK, we’ll throw the bastard out. But the bastard, unfortunately, speaks for most of the country. Many of them are unhappy with him right now, but that’s because they wanted him to finish off Hamas for good. There are probably more 20-year-old virgins in Israel today than there are believers in peace – and I’m reliably informed by my daughters that virginity is in very short supply.

All of which means that what the future holds is a lot more of the same. The fighting may have stopped for now, but I wouldn’t advise anyone to buy a cheap holiday home in one of the communities along the border with Gaza that were denuded of their citizens in recent weeks. There is no peace on the hazy horizon.

By Michael Eilan

When I was a young and very inexperienced journalist I went to hear the late Rashad Shawa, the former mayor of Gaza, speak in Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, which at the time was still a kibbutz, and poor. It must have been some time in the late seventies, and the Gazans were still smarting from the wrath of their next-door neighbor, Ariel Sharon. I can’t remember exactly which troubles were happening just then, but they were there, as always, in the air. Shawa, a tremendously dignified and well dressed gentleman, made a simple plea.

“I don’t know one Palestinian who doesn’t trust at least one Jew, and no Jew who doesn’t trust at least one Palestinian. Let’s start from there.” That was in the good old days, when we were neither good nor old.

This came to mind two weeks ago when Shibli, another real gentleman and good friend from Abu Snan in the Western Galilee, told me he was too scared to allow his 13-year-old son go with a group of friends to celebrate a birthday with a movie in the Kiryat Bialik mall. “There are madmen out there, it’s too scary,” he said. So the fast food outlets in the mall got just a little taste of the deep slump all Palestinian Israeli business have felt for the last month. Great. continue reading…

Palestinian militants in Gaza resumed their rocket and mortar fire on Israel on Friday morning, following the failure of the indirect negotiations in Cairo to achieve a ceasefire. Israel duly responded with air and artillery attacks on Gaza.

At this point, midday Saturday, it’s difficult to predict whether the current round is just a flare-up or a return to the serious hostilities of the past month. My take is that it may be a macho, Middle Eastern pissing contest – a means of putting pressure on the negotiators – and that neither side wants to return to the dark days of July. We’ll  know soon enough.

What seems clear to me is that Hamas and its allies are determined not to return to the status quo ante and are willing to risk further death and destruction to ensure that they get more than simply quiet – the lack of Israeli military action – for their efforts over the past month.

Israel, for its part, would like to see a Gaza devoid of rockets and tunnels, but is unwilling to pay the diplomatic price, namely the lifting of the blockade, acceptance of land, sea and air links for Gaza and recognition (if only tacit) of Hamas as a legitimate player in the region – including the legitimacy of Palestinian reconciliation. continue reading…

One of my favorite literary images comes from George Orwell’s short story, “A Hanging,” in which he describes how a condemned prisoner being escorted across an open courtyard to the gallows, steps aside to avoid a puddle of rainwater in his path.

For Orwell, that small, barely significant action triggered a sudden awareness of the enormity of what was about to occur. “I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide,” he writes. “In two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone – one mind less, one world less.”

All the legal and bureaucratic mechanisms that had brought the condemned man to that place at that time – all the colonial bullshit that Orwell was serving – fell away in a single moment of instinctive human movement. He observed a brain that was still reasoning, only minutes before it was to be stifled. continue reading…

Beyond the stated goals of both sides to the Gaza conflict – restoring quiet for Israel and lifting the siege for Hamas – is the symbolic significance of the latest clash between the sons of light and darkness.

The Gaza war of 2014 is a rite of passage; a handing over of the war baton from one generation to the next. It is an initiation into the hard realities of adulthood for a generation that may well have grown up thinking war was something played on computers. Every generation needs to learn the truth.

The war is a fundamental milestone in the life of every young Israeli and Palestinian, both those who fight and those for whom they fight. It is a necessary socialization of the younger generation; an event that imprints the basic lesson of life on their minds and in their hearts. continue reading…

It seems to be a peculiarity of the Jewish-Israeli mind that it can remember promises that God made over 5,000 years ago but not the (perhaps insignificant) fact that Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967.

We have remarkable, almost palpable, memories of the Holocaust, but when it comes to the Palestinians we can’t remember as far back as two weeks ago.

Take, for example, the current round of butchery, which, if you ask nine out of 10 Israelis, began when Hamas started firing rockets at Israel a little over a week ago in an unprovoked and totally irrational attack. That and nothing else, is the background.

As for the Israeli military rampage through the West Bank that preceded the rockets, which was publicly proclaimed by Israel as a bid to cripple Hamas and its infrastructure in the West Bank … what rampage? Either it never happened or it had nothing to do with the rockets. So what’s the relevance? continue reading…

What do Israelis feel about the collapse of the peace initiative driven by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry?

My take would be that most don’t give a shit, while small minorities on both sides of the political divide are saying “I told you so” and waiting, with some trepidation, to see what happens next.

A comptroller’s report issued on Monday revealed that one-fifth of the Israeli population lives in “food insecurity” – a euphemism for the fact that they don’t have enough money to feed themselves properly. I guess Kerry seems less important when you’re scrounging through garbage cans.

And, of those who aren’t insecure about their food supply, my guess would be that most stopped believing in peace a long time ago. The concept of peace has been so debased through lies, hypocrisy and misuse that it has lost all meaning. In Israel these days, it’s much easier – and more sensible – to believe in leprechauns than it is to believe in peace. continue reading…

The paucity of senior foreign representation at the funeral of Arik Sharon pretty much said it all. Both the man and the Israeli lebensraum cause with which he was associated for most of his life are on the international shit list. Statesmen don’t want to be associated with either.

Even the typically euphemistic eulogies could barely conceal the darkness that lay at the heart of the man and his actions. Words like “complicated,” “complex” and “contentious” only served to highlight the absence of any true and honest account of the personal and national criminality in which Sharon indulged.

Arik Sharon was a warlord; vain, unscrupulous and inherently violent, as warlords are wont to be. He often bashed his (famously bandaged) head against the constraints of decency and justice that an increasingly enfeebled state attempted to impose on him, but he was a lot more successful than most of us would like to admit at molding the society in his own image. continue reading…