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Third intifada? The Palestinian violence is Israel’s new normal
Israelis have become accustomed to dismal news in the past few weeks – mornings and evenings punctuated by stabbings, car attacks and rock throwing.
The cycle of random violence has left dozens of Israelis and Palestinians dead, and many fearing the worst: The start of a third intifada, or armed Palestinian uprising, that could claim hundreds more lives.
But since the second intifada started in 2000, fears of a repeat have proved unfounded. Conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories have changed since that time, and short bursts of low-level violence are the new normal.
“It’s a matter of days until this stops,” said Nitzan Nuriel, the former head of the prime minister’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau. “This has no goal. It will be forgotten. The reality is we have waves of terror. It doesn’t matter what the reason is.”
Israelis have been bracing for a third intifada ever since the second one ebbed to a close in 2005. Waves of terror have risen and fallen, along with concerns that the region is on the verge of another conflagration.
Most recently, a string of attacks in late 2014, including the murder of four rabbis in a synagogue, sparked talk of a third intifada. But those clashes died out after several weeks. Another rash of attacks came and went two years ago.
Now, after two weeks of near-daily attacks, some Israelis and Palestinians are already calling this string the third intifada. But during the past 15 years, Israel has created safeguards to keep Palestinian violence in check.
“Every night we have actions to detain people who are involved in terrorist activities,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Peter Lerner told JTA. “We have operational access at any given time to any place.”
After hitting a peak in 2002, attacks on Israelis waned the following year when Israel completed the first part of a security barrier near its pre-1967 border with the West Bank. Part fence and wall, the barrier has proved controversial. Its route cuts into the West Bank at points in what critics call an Israeli land grab. And the restrictions on Palestinian movement imposed by the barrier, as well as the fence around Gaza, have led some to call Gaza an open-air prison.
Still, the barrier coincided with a sharp decrease in Israeli deaths from terrorism. Terrorists have infiltrated it repeatedly, but successful Palestinian terror attacks dropped 90 percent between 2002 and 2006. Militants attacking Israel from Gaza now shoot missiles over the barrier or dig tunnels under it.
The current wave of violence has mostly involved attacks in the shadow of the security barrier – either in the West Bank or in Jerusalem. Both are Palestinian population centers with easy access either to Jewish communities. A handful of stabbings have taken place in central Israel, perpetrated by Palestinians who were able to sneak across the barrier.
The unorganized, “lone wolf” attacks occurring across Israel have created an atmosphere of insecurity and tension, even as the attacks have been relatively small in scale. There’s a feeling, some say, that an attack could happen anywhere at any time.
“No one is in charge to say tomorrow we stop the attacks,” said Shimon Grossman, a medic with the ZAKA paramedical organization who is responding to the ongoing violence just as she did in the second intifada. “Whoever wants to be a shaheed [‘martyr’] takes a knife and stabs people.
“It’s very scary for people because they don’t know when the end will be, what will stop it. Last time people knew to stay away from buses. Now you don’t know who to be afraid of.”
Another significant obstacle to a third intifada has been the West Bank Palestinians themselves, who have worked with Israel for eight years to thwart terror attacks. In 2007, Hamas seized full control of the Gaza Strip, violently ousting the moderate Fatah party, which controls the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority.
Since that takeover, the P.A. and Israel have viewed Hamas as a shared enemy and coordinated on security operations aimed at discovering and arresting Hamas terror cells.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting the ongoing violence. But Abbas has maintained security coordination with Israel through the clashes and has a history of opposing violence. Nuriel said that while Abbas is not to blame for the attacks, he stands to benefit from them.
“He has an interest for the conflict to get headlines,” Nuriel said. “He wants to show there’s chaos here. He wants to show it’s in places that Israel controls.”
But a majority of Palestinians are fed up with Abbas and oppose his stance on nonviolence. Rather, Palestinian society as a whole appears to support violence against Israelis. A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research last week found that 57 percent of Palestinians support a return to an armed intifada, an increase of 8 percent from earlier this year. Half believe the P.A. has a mandate to stop security coordination with Israel, and two-thirds want Abbas to resign.
“This is an explosion of a whole generation in the face of the occupation,” said Shawan Jabareen, director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian civil rights group. “No one can say when it will stop unless people get hope that things will change. But if they see there’s no hope, I don’t know which way it will take.”
Even if the attacks continue, according to former Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, Israel will retain the upper hand. The best course of action, he wrote in a position paper this week, is to maintain current security operations and be cautious in using force.
“Now we no longer have to prove anything,” Amidror wrote in the paper for the Begin Sadat Center for Security Studies. “Israel is a strong, sovereign state, and as such it must use its force prudently, only when its results have proven benefits and only as a last resort.”
Palestinians split on two-state solution
Palestinians are divided in their feelings on a two-state solution with Israel, while 42 percent believe that armed action is the best way to achieve a state, a new poll found.
The survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that a slight majority, 51 percent, oppose the two-state solution while 48 percent are in favor. The margin of error, however, is 3 percent.
While armed action was the preferred method to a state, 29 percent of Palestinians surveyed think negotiations is the most effective way to achieve a state and 24 percent favor popular nonviolent resistance.
To carry out the poll, 1,270 Palestinian adults in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were interviewed face to face in 127 randomly selected locations from Sept. 17 to 19.
Some 66 percent of Palestinians reject a return to unconditional negotiations with Israel if it means that settlement activities will continue. In addition, 88 percent of Palestinians demand that the Palestinian Authority take Israel to the International Criminal Court in the Hague over the settlement building.
The poll also found Palestinians mostly split on the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers a return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders in return for peace, with 45 percent in support and 49 percent in opposition. Forty percent back a mutual recognition of Israel’s national identity as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine as the state for the Palestinian people, but 58 percent oppose it.
Some 65 percent of Palestinians support indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel to reach a long term hudna, or truce, in the Gaza Strip in return for lifting the siege and 32 percent oppose such negotiations. At the same time, 59 percent of Palestinians believe that Hamas won last summer’s Gaza war, which breaks down to 69 percent of those in the West Bank and 42 percent in Gaza. Some 67 percent believe that rocket launches at Israel from Gaza should resume if the blockade of Gaza is not ended.
The poll found that 65 percent of the Palestinian public wants Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. Satisfaction with Abbas’ job performance dropped to 38 percent from 44 percent three months ago and from 50 percent in June 2014.
If new elections were held today, according to the poll, 35 percent each would vote for Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party.
Palestinian unity government resigns
The Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah has resigned and the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister has been asked to form a new government.
Resignation letters were given to P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday, the French news agency AFP reported. The possible collapse of the 14-month-old-government was signaled on Tuesday, despite P.A. denials.
Abbas received the resignations from the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, then asked Hamdallah to form a new government, AFP reported, citing Nimr Hammad, a close aide to Abbas.
The Palestinian unity agreement was signed in April 2014.
Hammad reportedly said that Hamas would be included in consultations to form a new government. Hamas reportedly had been against the dissolution of the government and said it was not consulted by Fatah, Abbas’ party, before the resignation were submitted.
The announcement of the resignation comes amid reports of indirect talks between Hamas and Israel in order to reach a long-term truce in the wake of last summer’s Gaza conflict. Arab and European countries reportedly have mediated the talks.
Fatah official: Palestinian unity government on verge of collapse
The Palestinians’ unity government forged last year between Hamas and Fatah will dissolve within the next 24 hours, a senior Palestinian official said.
“The government will resign in the next 24 hours because this one is weak and there is no chance that Hamas will allow it to work in Gaza,” Amin Maqbul, secretary general of the ruling Fatah movement’s Revolutionary Council, said Tuesday, according to the French news agency AFP.
The unity government has been stymied by disagreements over the governance of Gaza, which has essentially remained under Hamas control and been in disarray since the Israel-Hamas war last summer.
An unidentified Palestinian government source denied to AFP that dissolution was imminent. The source did confirm, however, that the idea had been under discussion for weeks, since a government delegation was forced to abort a late April trip to Gaza because of a dispute with Hamas over salaries for government workers there.
The unity government established in May 2014 followed a reconciliation agreement between the two rival Palestinian factions. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas belongs to the Fatah party.
Kalman Levine: Born in Kansas City, transformed in L.A., murdered in Jerusalem
Rabbi Kalman Levine, born Cary Levine in Kansas City, Mo. on June 30, 1959, was murdered Tuesday morning in a terror attack at Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem. He was in the middle of the daily morning prayer service.
A man who in many ways came of age while living in Los Angeles as a young adult, Levine was killed by two young Palestinian men who also murdered three other worshippers and injured at least another 12 in the synagogue.
The assailants, Odai Abed Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, 32, attacked their victims with a gun, knives and axes. Both were killed in a subsequent shootout with police. Zidan Saif, an Israeli Druze policeman who engaged the two Palestinian attackers, was shot in the head and died of his wounds Tuesday evening in Jerusalem.
Levine leaves behind a wife, Chaya, who’s from Cleveland, and 10 children and five grandchildren. He was 55.
Shimon Kraft, Levine’s best friend from childhood, lives in Los Angeles and owns The Mitzvah Store. He shared memories of Levine just hours after he learned of the murder. He is also Levine’s former brother-in-law from Kraft’s previous marriage. He spoke about their lives growing up and how Levine, who was not raised Orthodox, was transformed when he spent six months at a kibbutz after high school and then moved to Los Angeles for college only to drop out after becoming engrossed in Torah study and inspired by an influential rabbi in North Hollywood.
Kraft described Levine as an exceedingly humble person, and while he was a serious learner devoted to increasing his knowledge of Judaism and Torah, he also had a sharp sense of humor and loved to joke around. Growing up in Kansas City, Kraft and Levine loved to watch the Kansas City Royals baseball team.
“We lived at Royals Stadium in the summer,” Kraft said. “We used to trade baseball cards.”
After Levine graduated from Kansas City’s Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in the late ’70s, he lived on a kibbutz in Israel for six months and then returned to the United States to enroll at a pre-dental program at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. Although he grew up in a Conservative Jewish family in Kansas City, Levine’s time in Israel led to a religious transformation that led him to become Sabbath and kosher observant.
Levine, after he came to Los Angeles, became very close with Rabbi Zvi Block, who established the first Los Angeles branch of Aish HaTorah—an international Orthodox educational group—in North Hollywood. Levine’s relationship with Block helped solidify the transformation that began in Israel, and Levine eventually decided to drop out of USC and pursue Torah study full-time.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, a discernibly heartbroken Block spoke warmly of his former student. “I became a father to all these children, to all these talmidim (students)—they are like my children,” Block said. “This is a huge loss for me. You’re talking about someone who was 18 or 19 when we first met.”
Levine was one of Block’s first five students at Aish HaTorah and the Los Angeles rabbi remembers Levine as one of the brightest young minds he ever encountered. “When you start off a program you are not sure if you are going to be successful. I feel I owe a lot of gratitude to the ones that helped me start, to the original students,” Block said.
The rabbi also said that he encouraged his small group of students to improve their knowledge of Judaism and Torah by moving to Israel to learn in an environment immersed in yeshiva students.
“My goal at the time was really to send people off to Israel,” Block said. “I thought that would be the best way for them to develop, to really pursue their Judaism to the fullest.”
While Kraft visited Levine in Los Angeles in 1977, the two decided to travel to Israel together to learn Torah. They attended two years of yeshiva before they returned to Los Angeles to attend a post-high school study program at Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YULA).
Kraft said that Levine decided to return to Israel again in the early 1980s—this time he never left. Over the years in Jerusalem, Levine built a family and continued pursuing the passion of his life—Torah. Kraft said Levine even organized a group of men who would get together for the sole purpose of self-improvement and strengthening character traits.
“He was truly great,” Kraft said. “He was so unusual, so special.” Block remembered Levine as being a great entertainer during weddings and goofing off during skits that he and others would put on for the festive Jewish holiday of Purim. “I remember him being extraordinarily talented at weddings and doing all sorts of shtick,” Block said.
On Monday night in Los Angeles, as Kraft was going to bed, he heard about the attack in Har Nof, but didn’t think more of it. On Tuesday morning though, Kraft’s son called from Baltimore and told him the news—his best friend had been murdered.
“He died in the beit midrash [synagogue], which is where he lived his whole life,” Kraft said. “It’s where he lived and died.”
Block, while on the phone, found two books of Jewish law that Levine once gave to him as a symbol of gratitude. Block recalled that Levine wrote a note in one. Eventually finding the note, Block read it aloud as he tried to hold back tears:
“Dear Rabbi Block, here is a small token of appreciation for sending me to Eretz Yisrael. If it wasn't for you it is very possible I would never have had the opportunity to learn Torah. Thank you for changing my life, Kalman Levine.”
Palestinian analyst: ‘Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood one in the same’
This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.
Despite the formation of a national consensus government, Hamas has not only failed to reconcile with Fatah, but the Islamist group is also beset by an internal rift between a majority who follow the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood and those who seek independence from the group.
“The Palestinian cause is being held hostage by Hamas. Hamas is a catastrophe for us,” Palestinian analyst Abdelmajeed Sweilem told The Media Line. Arguing that Hamas is setting the agenda of the Palestinian issue, he charged that Hamas is echoing the Muslim Brotherhood, which does not wish to see statehood established for West Bank and Gaza residents. “Power is their [only] objective; not seeing a Palestinian state,” he said.
Sweilem believes Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood – the party of ousted Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi — are one in the same. Through its actions, he says, Hamas is serving the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood while waiting for regional differences to benefit them.
“This is a catastrophe for Abu Mazen (nickname for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) because the [Muslim] Brotherhood wants to end the Palestinian cause. My opinion is that the Muslim Brotherhood has no problem with Palestinians being like North and South Koreans,” said Sweilem, suggesting that the Palestinian president is currently engaged in two fights: the first against Israel and the second versus Hamas.
Hamas spokesmen declined to speak to The Media Line for this article.
Offering an example of the Hamas internal rift, a source in Ramallah close to the Abbas government who spoke anonymously because he is not cleared to speak with media explained that “If one Hamas official in Gaza says something and a Hamas official in Qatar disagrees with it, he will accept it even though it’s wrong to sustain the illusion that there is unity among Hamas.”
Sweilem believes only a minority of Hamas members support reconciliation and peace while the “dominant side is the Muslim Brotherhood,” supporting division and violence.
In an exclusive interview with The Media Line, senior Fatah official Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the Fatah bloc and Political Committee, confirmed the existence of a split within Hamas.
“Logically speaking — although without proven evidence — there is no doubt that that many members of Hamas were shocked over the 15 explosions,” he said referring to the recent incident in the Gaza Strip where bombs exploded near the homes of prominent Fatah members. A spokesman for Hamas told The Media Line at the time that the group was not involved and that it would launch an investigation. The blasts came as Palestinians in Gaza were gearing up to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of Yassir Arafat, but as a result of the incident, the festivities in Gaza were cancelled.
“[Holding commemorations] would have showed how many people are against Hamas,” Sweilem said, suggesting that the explosions were a Hamas tactic: talking in media about ending the Hamas/Fatah division but holding out the explosions to signify the “end of reconciliation” — proof that the Fatah officials there have no good will toward uniting the Palestinians.
In April, after seven years of disunity, the Palestinians were purportedly united, which led to the formation of a national consensus government comprised of technocrats. But the short window of hope was to last only seven months.
Sweilem says Hamas is “sending a clear message that you must deal with Hamas as the rulers [of Gaza] and forget about any elections, unification of the Palestinian institutions and the PLO constitution,” he added.
According to Abdullah, there are two lines of thinking within Hamas: “ideologues who don’t want to end the division [between Fatah and Hamas] as principle; and a second group, which is negatively affected materially and financially from reconciliation because “tunnel trade would end, and along with it, bribery on the crossings.” He gives the example of Gaza residents being forced to pay bribes to Hamas in order to be allowed to leave the enclave.
“Disunity and the lack of a consolidated internal front will no doubt cost the Palestinians,” he said.
Sweilem says anyone who thinks the Palestinians will ever be united is living a lie. “It’s irrational to ever think there will be Palestinian reconciliation. It’s a lie,” he said.
This comes at a time following the donor conference in Cairo which saw contributing nations pledge more than $5 billion to reconstruct Gaza in the aftermath of last summer’s 50-day war between Hamas and Israel that left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead along with vast destruction. Sweilem says that Palestinian Presidential Guards will never replace Hamas forces; and the Palestinian Authority will never have sovereignty over a single inch of Gaza because Hamas’s leadership wants any reconstruction efforts to be channeled through them.
Analysts believe that under the present conditions, there will be no consensus government and no restoration of Palestinian unity because Hamas is absolutely unwilling to accept the authority of the PA under Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
As proof that Hamas will not let the reconstruction process happen, Sweilem says, “If they wanted that to happen, they could have used money received after the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2012, but instead they built homes for its members.” He expects the current round of Gaza reconstruction to take place “trickle by trickle.”
Many agree that the elements of the Fatah-Hamas stalemate will also hinder any efforts undertaken on the Palestinian-Israeli peace track.
Referring to rumors reported in local media, a senior source in the Abbas camp adamantly denies that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas held any secret meetings when both were in Amman to see King Abdullah II and US Secretary of State John Kerry. But it is acknowledged that “Kerry tried (to bring the two together), but Abbas refused because he doesn’t want to.”
Kerry also promised Abbas that he would get negotiations back on track. According to the source, the Palestinian did not respond himself, but someone from his delegation said to Kerry, “Only if Israel honors its commitments not to negotiate for the sake of negotiating, but to negotiate to yield peace results.”
The Palestinian leadership believes that the SecState “is afraid to lose and wants to end his career with any success.” Therefore, they believe Kerry convinced Netanyahu to have given the order to ease restrictions on Muslims allowed to pray at Al Haram Al Sharif (what Israelis call the Temple Mount) even before the Amman meeting with Kerry and the king in order to calm the situation down following a month of elevated tensions at the holy site and rioting in east Jerusalem neighborhoods.
“Netanyahu is looking for an Arab ally at this particular time and that’s Jordan,” the source said. He also says the King of Jordan was very direct with the Israeli Prime Minister, reminding him of the borders between the two, the long peace agreement between Israel and Jordan and the alliance. “We will not accept any actions in Jerusalem,” King Abdullah reportedly told Netanyahu.
Sweilem believes the Americans exerted significant pressure on Netanyahu for the first time. “What this proves is that if the Americans are willing to pressure Israel in to making peace, they can and Israel can’t say no,” he said.
Meanwhile, sources in Ramallah believe that Abbas does not want a third Intifada (Palestinian uprising.)
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah says the Palestinian president is committed to not letting Gaza down. And when asked why Abbas insists on not giving up on unity with Hamas, he says the Palestinian leader is “polite” and wants to “keep the window open” because Hamas is a part of the Palestinians; and Gaza and the West Bank will never be separated. “President Abbas has said to Israel not to give Hamas an excuse to make violence and instead give them hope; and when that happens, it will convince extremists to end their violence because there is a solution.”
Mahmoud Abbas will visit Gaza in coming weeks
This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.
A Palestinian official close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has told The Media Line that security preparations are underway for the president to visit the Gaza Strip in the next few weeks: the first time since 2006. The visit would seem to mark the victory of his Fatah movement over the Islamist Hamas faction which has controlled Gaza since 2007.
“There is a lot of talk about the President going, but the goal of the visit has yet to be worked out,” the official said, saying there had to be more to the visit than just a photo opportunity.
When pressed, he said Abbas is expected to make a major announcement from the Gaza Strip, but failed to say exactly what it would be.
“It could be about new Palestinian elections, a unity government (between Fatah and Hamas) or lifting of the siege on Gaza,” the official said.
Until now Abbas reportedly was afraid to visit Gaza fearing for his own safety because of the rivalry between the two main Palestinian factions. The reports of a visit came after Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah convened the first meeting of a joint government with Hamas in Gaza last week.
The Abbas visit also comes as dozens of donor countries are meeting in Egypt to discuss rebuilding the Gaza Strip after this summer’s fighting between Hamas and Israel. Abbas has said it will cost $4 billion to rebuild the embattled Gaza Strip. As the conference convened, Qatar offered $1 billion in aid, and US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the US would chip in an additional $212 million, and the United Arab Emirates promised $200 million. A total of $5.4 billion was pledged at the October 12 donors’ meeting.
However, all of the money will not be useful unless Israel agrees to allow construction materials like cement and iron into Gaza. In the past Israel has said that Hamas could divert that material to build underground tunnels, dozens of which were discovered during the latest fighting, and weapons. Both the US and Israel insist that they won’t deal directly with Hamas, which they consider a terrorist organization.
The international community has made clear that it prefers that a unity government, with Abbas’s Fatah as the senior partner, be in charge in Gaza. That would also be the key to reopening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
Since 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza by force, Fatah has kept a relatively low profile in the Gaza Strip. “Fatah has been suppressed by Hamas, its members imprisoned and even shot,” a member of the group told The Media Line on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to publicly speak out against the Gaza rulers. He also said Hamas replaced many Fatah members with its own.
When it comes to the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Gaza, passports are still issued in Ramallah and mailed to Gaza free of charge. The PA pays for water and electricity in Gaza, although many say that Hamas charges the Gaza residents a second time.
Long-time Fatah activist in Gaza, Mamoun Swaidan confirmed to The Media Line that discussions were being held in advance of an Abbas visit, but said he did not know if Hamas is being included in these talks.
“The president is planning to visit Gaza and does not need an invitation from anyone to do so. Gaza is a part of our national state and he (Abbas) has complete jurisdiction here, like the West Bank. I am sure he will visit Gaza very soon,” Swaidan, who is Fatah’s Gaza based international affairs officer said.
Fatah has continued to pay the salaries of tens of thousands of its employees in Gaza who were replaced by Hamas loyalists.
“Abbas is responsible for Gaza not just today but from before. To those who have doubts, yes, Abbas is back in charge of Gaza,” Swaidan said. He said that the “presence and power” of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority on the ground will be seen soon.
There has clearly been a change on the ground. In July, Hamas supporters chased out the Palestinian Minister of Health who was bringing medicine and equipment to Gaza.
Hamas interior minister Kamal Abu Madi has denied media reports that the presidential guards and intelligence officials of the PA would return to Gaza, comments that directly contradict a statement by the deputy prime minister Muhammad Mustafa, who on Friday said his government would assume control of Gaza crossings today.
“Hamas has been crippled, they know Gaza won’t be rebuilt without President Abbas but it will take time for them to come to grips with reality,” Swaidan said.
Mahmoud Abbas: Winning abroad but losing at home
This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.
Palestinians say that when it comes to diplomacy abroad, nobody can challenge the 80-year-old Mahmoud Abbas. But when it comes to tending to matters in the Palestinian territories, he doesn’t do so well.
In his speech on Sept. 26 to the United Nations Security Council, the Palestinian leader accused Israel of conducting a “war of genocide” during the recent aggression on Gaza. The United States slammed Abbas’ speech as “offensive” and “counterproductive” for any future peace talks.
Palestinian analysts said Abbas was aiming at his home audience, where he was seen as not being tough enough on Israel during the summer’s fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. But while Abbas has stature outside the West Bank, he is coming under growing criticism at home.
“He has gained among international parties, but failed on the internal issue. There is still division [between Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas], no state institutions and a suspended Palestinian Legislative Council [PLC],” Hassan Khresheh, vice president of the PLC, said. “He has not worked hard enough on ending the division. The unity government is not functioning at all and if they don’t unite now, they will never be united.”
In April, a unity deal between the previously bitter rivals of Fatah and Hamas was reached, although it has not been implemented. Last week, Palestinian representatives of Hamas and Fatah agreed in Cairo that the Palestinian unity government will extend its control to include the Gaza Strip. Hamas hopes that the new government will manage to pay the salaries of 45,000 employees who were added to the Palestinian Authority (PA) during Hamas’ control of Gaza since 2007. Palestinian media report that efforts are underway to pay them through a third party before Eid Al-Adha (Muslim holiday of the sacrifice) beginning the evening of Oct. 4.
Khresheh said Abbas’ main agenda is returning to negotiations with Israel under the auspices of the Americans. But he said that most Palestinians have given up on bilateral negotiations with Israel, which have achieved little.
“Such negotiations will not bring rights to our people,” Khresheh said.
The fact that Abbas has been a key player in the Palestinian political process for years and hasn’t called it quits deserves recognition, he said. “He works very well diplomatically, although he is under constant pressure from the United States and Israel.”
Khresheh said that as nothing has been gained since the U.N. recognized Israel as a non-member observer state two years ago, the PA should join other international bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). Israel has opposed this, fearing that it could be subject to war crimes trials.
Khalida Jarrar, a member of the small hard-line group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said negotiations with Israel have not achieved anything and Abbas should pressure Israel via international organizations.
“I disagree with going back to negotiations,” Jarrar said, adding that action is needed, not more speeches. “He is just delaying going to the International Criminal Court. The ICC and sustaining Palestinian unity should be top priorities.”
Fatah senior foreign policy adviser Husam Zomlot said bilateral talks with sole U.S. sponsorship has failed the Palestinians for 21 years and only gotten them a “state of limbo.” He urged Israel to be more forthcoming in its negotiations with Abbas, who has long advocated a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
“The president believes firmly in the two-state solution and supports nonviolence,” Zomlot said. “This is an opportunity,” he suggested, that “will not repeat itself.”
The Fatah official said a peace partner like Abbas, who has clear political horizon, may not come again.
London-based researcher Abdullah Hamidaddin said the real question is how Abbas will manage the negotiations.
“Abbas has worked very hard but has had few successes,” Hamidaddin said. “But he was not decisive enough in the last round of negotiations. He entered them after much hesitation, and then hesitated to make tough decisions,” such as pulling out of the talks as Israel continued to expand construction in areas that Palestinians say must be part of a future Palestinian state.
Abbas: Hamas unity pact is off if gov’t doesn’t allow unity gov’t to run Gaza
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would break his government’s unity agreement with Hamas if Hamas does not allow the unity government to operate in Gaza.
“We won’t accept a partnership with them if the situation continues like this in Gaza where there is a shadow government running the territory,” Abbas said late Saturday night in Cairo, where he was scheduled to address the Arab League, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
“If Hamas won’t accept a Palestinian state with one state and one law, then there won’t be any partnership between us. This is our condition, and we won’t back away from it.”
Abbas told reporters that the Palestinian leadership is making every effort to help the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, and is working to provide all forms of assistance.
He estimated that it will take $7 billion and at least 15 years to rebuild what was destroyed in Gaza during Israel’s seven-week Operation Protective Edge.
Some 461,643 people were displaced in Gaza, with at least 280,000 of them in United Nations shelters and schools, the P.A. leader said.
Abbas said some 18,000 homes were destroyed and another 41,000 were damaged, and that 75 schools were destroyed and another 145 suffered damage. Dozens of public buildings, including mosques, also were destroyed.
The view from Gaza: A bitter resolve
During the past month of fighting in the Gaza Strip — a rectangle of desert and farmland along Israel’s southern coast, home to 1.8 million Palestinians — a small boy with a shy smile lost his big brother. Now, squinting through the scope of an imaginary sniper rifle, he vows to kill Israeli soldiers as revenge. A curly-topped toddler lost her mother and the tendons in her tiny legs before she ever learned to walk. A young father lost the home he finished building for his family just two years ago. A mechanic lost his auto repair shop — today a sad pile of rubble and crumpled car parts. A Palestinian photojournalist for Agence France-Presse lost his best friend, another journalist, meeting him for the last time at a morgue instead of a cafe.
“Everybody in Gaza has lost something in this war,” said Mahmoud Abu Ghalion, 35, whose family’s tile factory was bombed useless (for the second time) during Israel’s recent operation.
“If you didn’t lose your son, you lost your house, you lost your business,” he said.
[RELATED: Relatives say 1-year-old Raiga Wahadan, who lost her mother and older sister in strikes on Beit Hanoun, may never take her first steps after an Israeli drone rocket snapped tendons in one leg and blew a hole in the other.
At a high-energy (if slightly under-attended) victory march down one of Gaza City’s main roadways on Aug. 7, the third and last day of a temporary cease fire, Hamas parliament member Mushir al-Masri announced, “We have won the military battle, and with the permission of God, we‘ll win the political battle.” Gazans cheered, waving green Hamas flags. On side streets, young girls could be spotted skipping to the tune of Hamas victory songs pumped from rickety vans speeding through the city.
“We have to keep fighting until we get what we want,” said Misham Nasar, 40, a doctor at Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City who was front-row at the rally.
“Tell your people we are not killers,” Nasar said to an American journalist in the crowd. “We like life, like you. But if we have to die, we like to die standing. We love our resistance — not because we love killing, but because it is all we have to win our freedom.”
Dozens of Gaza residents interviewed by the Journal echoed this sentiment: To them, the fight had become more than a showdown between Hamas and Israel. It had become a war of independence.
“We lost a lot of people and homes. We can’t feel that we lost everything for nothing,” said Ahmad Al Eigla, 22, who had moved to a makeshift refugee camp outside Shifa, Gaza City’s main hospital, after surviving an airstrike on his home.
Naim Al Ghoul, 20, a Gaza City resident studying to become a teacher, said: “We are proud of [the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing] and all the fighters on the ground. We will support them until we get what we want. We need to break the blockade to go out to study, to do business — to have a normal life like everybody in the world. We prefer to die [than to stop fighting] because we feel like we are already dead,” the young man said.
Along with the lives of 64 soldiers and three civilians, Operation Protective Edge reportedly cost Israel up to $3 billion in military expenses and indirect hits to the economy. It also boosted anti-Israel sentiment around the world and Hamas’ popularity in Gaza.
“Israel gave Hamas the life kiss” with this war, said longtime Hamas critic al-Ghoul.
“So if Hamas is our destiny in Gaza, at least give them a chance to be a government,” she said.
That may be one of Israel’s only viable options at this point. Ben-David said that if the IDF had wanted to take out Hamas, it could have — but that Israel knows Hamas is a safer neighbor than even more radical Islamist organizations that could rise to fill its shoes.
“Compared to others in the region, they look almost vegetarian,” Ben-David said of Hamas.
Avi, an IDF combat soldier who fought in Gaza and could not give his last name while in uniform, said Israeli troops understood Hamas wasn’t to be taken out completely. “We know Hamas — we don’t know others,” he said.
However, this made for a confused offensive. “The whole Israeli establishment, the military and political echelon, were looking at it as an operation,” Ben-David said. “But for Hamas, it was a war … and you cannot really fight a war when you announce to your enemy that they’re not going to lose it.”
He and many others have argued that once Israel entered Gaza, ground troops should have pushed all the way to the sea — at which point Hamas would have been forced to play by Israel’s rules.
“We should have avoided this war,” Ben-David said. “But once you’re in it, you can’t go in it without aiming to win.”
Young Palestinian mother Samar Mkat and her three children fled their home in northern Gaza weeks ago, when airstrikes came too close for comfort. The house was later destroyed by Israeli fighter planes, which were targeting Hamas rocket-launching sites in her backyard.
“I wish I could go back to my home, but at the same time, I’m proud [of Hamas fighters],” she said. “We love them more after the war, because they’re taking care of us.”
Mkat now shares sleeping quarters with 10 others in a sweltering elevator nook the size of a broom closet at a United Nations school in Gaza City that has become a shelter for more than 2,000 refugees. She is one of an estimated 250,000 people in Gaza who will have no home to return to when the war finally ends.
But despite her desperate situation, Mkat said Hamas’ end goals — including lifting Israel’s economic and travel blockade on Gaza — were worth the war. “We can’t find food, we can’t find work, we can’t find bread” because of the blockade, she said. “If my husband died and we had no money, what would we do?”
Even in wartime, the gangs of barefoot kids running the streets of Gaza are their usual elfish selves, darting through alleyways and doorways as if powered by jet packs. When asked, many will tell you they want to fight Israel when they grow up.
“Of course I want to be a fighter,” 11-year-old Shedi Al Dawawseh said. “Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, it doesn’t matter. We are all one people.”
Shedi and his brother Mohammed, 6, sat on a couch in their family’s stately living room on Aug. 9 as the house grew dark with the night. (Gaza has been without electricity since its only power plant was bombed.) On the walls hung big portraits of Fatah leaders next to photos of men in the Al Dawawseh family, prominent Fatah supporters.
“I’m Fatah,” the boys’ father, Zuheir, said proudly. “But the Israelis can’t differentiate between anyone. All for them is black-and-white.”
The first boom of the evening shook the room — an airstrike nearby, somewhere in Gaza City. Kids shrieked in the streets below, running past the spot where Zuheir’s 10-year-old son, Ibrahim, had been killed a day before — the first fatality after a 72-hour cease-fire dissolved.
On the morning of Aug. 8, Israel apparently dropped a drone rocket on the Nour al-Mohammedi mosque, still under construction after being destroyed in Israel’s 2009 war in Gaza. It crashed through the scaffolding, killing Ibrahim and injuring other boys who had been acting out an imaginary gunfight at the site.
“The IDF was targeting two rocket-launching sites in the vicinity of the mosque,” an IDF spokesman told the Journal.
Asked if the boys playing at the mosque had been visible, the spokesman said: “Sadly, positioning terror sites near civilian areas such as a mosque is a method often employed by Hamas. The IDF goes to great lengths to avoid harming civilians when fighting in urban areas, while Hamas specifically uses its own population as human shields for its terror activities. In doing so, Hamas endangers civilians on both sides, for its agenda.”
When 2-year-old Baraa Bakroon, pictured here in his demolished home in Shujaiya, hears Israeli bombs falling nearby, he says, “Don’t be afraid, Dad.”
Neighborhood children said they searched through clouds of dust created by the strike for 10 minutes, finding various pieces of Ibrahim before they located his body.
One little boy held up a chunk of Ibrahim’s skull between two fingers to show a reporter. “This is from his head, see?” the boy said.
For the first time in three days, an ambulance screamed through Gaza City and pulled into the roundabout in front of Shifa Hospital. A swarm of photographers rushed to snap a photo of Ibrahim as he was pulled from the vehicle — his forehead peeled back, his head split open.
“We found him without a head,” his father Zuheir said to the reporters, sobbing uncontrollably. “He doesn’t fire a rocket, he doesn’t make anything. There is no reason to kill these kids.”
Zuheir turned his wet face to the sky. “Why did you kill him?” he asked. “What’s your message?”
Later, at his home, Zuheir said he feared Ibrahim’s death would have long-term effects on his remaining sons. “I wish these kids would take care of me when I’m an old man, but now they are starting to think about being fighters because they can’t forget what happened to their brother.
“The Israeli army puts something inside these kids,” he said. “They give them a reason to be a fighter now.”
Al Monitor columnist Al-Ghoul has fought for women’s rights in Gaza, for her freedom to wear blue jeans in the street and, especially, for unity between the Palestinian political parties Hamas and Fatah.
But with Operation Protective Edge, she said Israel knocked the wind out of Gaza’s internal struggle.
“Even simple people who never fight, they start to talk about resistance and fighting,” al-Ghoul said over the phone. “This is not Hamas’ fault — this is Israel’s fault. If anybody makes Hamas more strong in the street, and if they win the next election, who did this? Israel and [Abbas].”
Al-Ghoul had just returned to work after taking a week off to grieve. “I still see their faces everywhere,” she said of her family in Rafah.
Despite Israel’s attempts throughout the operation to notify Palestinian civilians when they needed to evacuate, many did not. Some said they never received a warning from the IDF; others said they received one and decided to wait out the fighting like they had in past wars, when the IDF had targeted specific homes but didn’t tear down entire neighborhoods. Still others said they simply didn’t know of a safer place to go.
Kerem Batniji, a 35-year-old doctor at Shifa, said the severity of the war hit him after the first night of the IDF’s tank incursion into Shujaiya — a battle that churned the neighborhood into an unrecognizable gray pulp and reportedly killed more than 60 people. Batniji remembered treating a young boy on the brink of death that night.
“From the front, it looked like nothing happened to him,” Batniji said of the boy. “But his buttocks and back were totally evacuated. So I gave him pain medication and asked my fellow nurses to take him to a nice corner to die in peace. That was the only time I almost cried.”
An old man walking by, hearing the doctor’s story, said quietly: “We do not expect this from a civilized people.”
Some of the war’s most horrific scenes played out in the Khuzaa neighborhood, south of Shujaiya along the border with Israel.
The neighborhood — once among Gaza’s most beautiful, its streets lined with palm trees and its backyards filled with rabbits, chickens and grape-leaf arbors — was crushed to dust over days of fighting.
On Aug. 9, residents wandered the streets, dazed, surveying the damage and setting up blanket forts in the ruins of their homes. The air smelled of unrefrigerated food, sewage and rotting flesh. One group of men started a small fire at a bombed-out gas station to barbecue what remained of their dismembered chickens. A toddler stuck out his tongue under the faucet of a dried-up UNICEF water tank.
Close by, the war marched on: A Hamas rocket shot up from the earth, followed minutes later by an Israeli airstrike targeting open land. Khuzaa residents were careful not to gather in large groups, saying they feared an Israeli drone that could be heard buzzing above would deem them a threat.
But a few young men took the risk, leading this reporter into a nearby sand pit that they said had been filled with Israeli tanks during the Khuzaa fighting. Heaps of toiletries and old, rotting food with Hebrew labeling — canned fruit, hot-dog buns, cranberry cereal bars, broken eggs — littered the area.
The land had once been a farm belonging to the Qdeih family, said 25-year-old neighbor Khaled Al Karaa. More trash littering the marbled family home indicated Israeli soldiers had been sleeping there; gaping holes in its walls and rubble on its floors indicated they had shelled it afterward.
“They destroyed everything,” Al Karaa said. “It’s like this is not someone’s home.”
A damning report out of Khuzaa from Human Rights Watch quoted Palestinians who said they had traumatic run-ins with Israeli soldiers while trying to flee fighting in the area between July 23 and July 25. In it, witnesses allege that IDF soldiers deliberately shot and killed civilians after telling them they could evacuate. Multiple residents of Khuzaa who spoke to the Journal said they witnessed similar atrocities.
“I was just crying and thinking they would also kill me,” said Mohammed Abu Reeda, a red-haired 12-year-old from Khuzaa.
(When presented with witness accounts from Khuzaa, an IDF spokesman said the allegations were “still being looked into by the IDF.”)
Ahmad Al Najar, 78, an elderly Khuzaa resident wearing a red-checkered keffiyeh, said that of all the wars he’s experienced in his lifetime, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
As tens of thousands of homes lay in ruins, years from repair, and international organizations race to patch the city’s most essential infrastructure before a public-health disaster, even Gaza’s brightest optimists are struggling to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
But al-Ghoul said despite it all, she still believes that, one day, “Gaza will be one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I was in Europe just three months ago — I can stay in any country I want with my children. But I believe in Gaza. Even if Israel comes every three years to kill the beauty and the peace, I believe Gaza will help itself.”
She said she thought the only immediate way to escape this cycle would be for Israel and the international community to recognize the Fatah-Hamas unity government — the same union that Israel originally resisted as if “bitten by a snake,” as Yigal Elam wrote in Haaretz.
Elam, a historian and scholar of the history of Zionism, argued in an Aug. 12 op-ed that Israel can’t afford any further operations in Gaza if it wants to retain any international legitimacy.
With violent options exhausted, he wrote, the only road left is diplomatic.
“I do not believe in reconciliation — nations do not reconcile,” Elam wrote. “But states do make peace and sign agreements in order to ensure the safety and well-being of their inhabitants.”
Fired by Netanyahu in midst of Gaza campaign, rival aims to give voice to Likud’s hawks
Former Israeli deputy defense minister Danny Danon did not seem bothered by the fallout from his rift in mid-July with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—a spat that ended with Netanyahu removing Danon as this country’s Deputy Minister of Defense.
In fact, he seemed more relaxed than he did during previous in-person and telephone interviews as he sat down at a Tel Aviv café Wednesday morning.
The ambitious young Knesset member and chairman of Likud’s powerful Central Committee has always seemed more than willing to promote his ideology to English-language media, whether to The Times of Israel, Al-Monitor or Glenn Beck.
And on Wednesday, Danon, 43, cited his public opposition to Netanyahu’s acceptance of a failed July cease-fire with Hamas as the most recent example of his willingness to call out Likud leaders when he believes their actions stray uncomfortably to the left.
But for someone who aims to represent Likud’s right-wing bloc in the future, perhaps as a cabinet member or even tPrime Minister, whether Danon can successfully balance his commitment to what he says are the party’s core values with the need for political gamesmanship and acuity is yet to be seen.
Asked whether he now regrets publicly opposing Netanyahu given the political fallout, Danon said he “absolutely” does not, adding that his opposition to the Prime Minister’s acceptance of a July 15 cease-fire with Hamas (which the group rejected) was validated when an Israeli ground invasion that began July 17 revealed over 30 underground cross-border tunnels that Hamas planned to use in terror attacks and kidnappings.
“I did the right thing by criticizing it, otherwise we would have woken up Rosh Hashanah with hundreds of Hams terrorists [inside Israel],” he said, alluding to reports that alleged Hamas was planning a massive September assault on Israeli towns and communities near the border. “Today, people say the highlight of the operation is that we dealt with the tunnels.”
A public opponent of the two-state solution and a proponent of annexing large portions of the West Bank and returning much of the Palestinian population to Jordanian rule, Danon had already butted heads with Netanyahu in March when he announced that he would resign his deputy minister post if 26 Palestinian prisoners were let go as part of a final stage of releases that were agreed upon as a prerequisite to embarking on the most recently failed peace negotiations.
Netanyahu shelved the release in March, effectively allowing Danon to (temporarily) hold his minister post while at the same time holding firm in his opposition. In a Spring interview with Al-Monitor, asked whether he was worried about being fired by Netanyahu for his repeated antagonistic public remarks, Danon responded that no, he was not worried and that receiving the boot from Netanyahu “will only strengthen me.”
“I am fighting to bring the faction back to life,” Danon told Al-Monitor. Wednesday, too, Danon portrayed himself as the bearer of Likud’s flag and someone who “will make sure the Likud party stays in the right direction” amidst a Prime Minister who, he said, “is shifting” too far left.
“If for example Netanyahu will become a subcontractor of [Justice Minister] Tzipi Livni or who like [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon will decide to adopt a different ideology,” Danon said, “I will be there to block it.”
Unsurprisingly, Danon, like many Israelis and most Likud members, wishes Israel increased the intensity of its Gaza campaign and removed Hamas from Gaza. Somewhat surprisingly, though, given his opposition to negotiating with Hamas, he suggested that if Israel refused to provide economic relief to Hamas and Gaza until the group demilitarized, it may decide that doing so is in its best interest.
Asked why Hamas, given its historically violent resistance to Israel, would voluntarily disarm itself, Danon likened the situation to America’s threat to use force in Syria in Aug. 2013 amidst that government’s use of chemical weapons on its own civilians. The Assad regime eventually capitulated and agreed to part with a significant portion of its stockpile.
“People thought Syria would never give away their chemical weapons,” Danon said. “And it happened.”
On West Bank security concerns, Danon advocated for the construction of a settlement on the land where three murdered Jewish teens were discovered in June and called for the deportation of the murderers’ families to the Gaza Strip and for the destruction of their West Bank homes. As for the Palestinian Authority, Danon is skeptical that it will be the “heroes of the Palestinian people.”
While the outspoken Knesset member’s consistent and vocal opposition to the head of state is nothing new for Israeli politics, his rapid rise within Likud and his recurrent coverage in the media at such an early stage in his career—without having the benefit of either cabinet experience or a place in Israeli military lore—indicates that Danon has thought through how he intends to climb the political ladder. He cited his close relationship with Sharon (who was his oldest son's godfather) before the Gaza disengagement and said that the former Prime Minister told him that there's nothing wrong with seeking positions of greater political influence.
In Likud’s 2012 primary elections, Danon finished fifth, ahead of current President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. And today, he says much of Likud is alarmed at Netanyahu’s tilt away from the base on security issues.
Wednesday, though, Danon rejected any comparison of his role within Likud as similar to the Tea Party’s role within the Republican Party—a conservative faction seeking to keep the party in line.
“The Tea Party is mostly new people who joined the Republican Party,” Danon said. “The people that I represent are the people who grew up in the party.”
While Danon said he has “no fear” of running for higher office if Likud’s leaders stray “in terms of ideology and policy,” for the foreseeable future the price he paid for criticizing Netanyahu may result in lost political influence.
Asked whether he still has the Prime Minister’s ear after the flap one month ago, Danon responded:
“As of today, not—but things can change.”
Israel, Palestinians pursue Gaza deal with cease-fire clock ticking
The threat of renewed war in Gaza loomed on Wednesday as the clock ticked toward the end of a three-day cease-fire with no sign of a breakthrough in indirect talks in Cairo between Israel and the Palestinians.
A Palestinian official with knowledge of the negotiations saidEgypt had presented a new proposal for a permanent truce agreement that addressed a major Palestinian demand for a lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockades of the Gaza Strip.
It was unclear from the official's remarks how those worries, along with Israel's demand for Gaza's demilitarization, would be dealt with. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said disarming was not an option.
Israeli negotiators returned to Egypt after overnighting in Israel with the truce in the month-old hostilities – which have killed 1,945 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 67 on the Israeli side – due to expire at 5.00 p.m. ET.
Palestinian delegates and Egyptian intelligence officials reconvened for talks that could go down to the wire.
Azzam Ahmed, an official of the mainstream Fatah party who heads the Palestinian team in Cairo, said the negotiations were at a very sensitive stage and it hoped to reach a cease-fire agreement before the current truce runs out.
Egyptian and Palestinian sources said Israel had tentatively agreed to allow some supplies into the Gaza Strip and relax curbs on the cross-border movement of people and goods, subject to certain conditions. They did not elaborate, and in Israel, officials remained silent on the state of the talks.
A Palestinian demand for a Gaza seaport and reconstruction of an airport destroyed in previous conflicts with Israel has also been a stumbling block, with the Jewish state citing security reasons for opposing their operation.
But the Palestinian official said Egypt had proposed that a discussion of that issue be delayed for a month after the long-term cease-fire deal takes hold.
As part of the Egyptian blueprint, Israel would expand fishing limits it imposes on Gaza fishermen to six miles (10 km) from the usual three-mile offshore zone.
“It will increase gradually to no less than 12 miles in coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” the official said, referring to a likely expanded role in Gaza affairs for the government of Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas of the West Bank.
In addition, the official said, the Egyptian plan calls for reducing the size of a “no-go” area for Palestinians on the Gaza side of the border from 300 meters (984 feet) to 100 meters (328 feet) so that local farmers can recover plots lost to security crackdowns.
A Palestinian official said the Palestinian delegation had agreed that reconstruction in Gaza should be carried out by a unity government of technocrats set up in June by Hamas and Abbas's more secular Fatah party.
The two sides are not meeting face-to-face in Cairo: Israel regards Hamas, which advocates its destruction, as a terrorist group. But the official said once they inform Egypt of their agreement, a cease-fire accord could be signed the same day.
Since Israel launched its military campaign on July 8 to quell cross-border rocket fire from Gaza into the Jewish state, most of the Palestinian dead have been civilians, hospital officials in the small, densely populated enclave say.
Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians. Many of the Palestinian rocket salvoes have been intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system or fallen on open ground, but have disrupted life for tens of thousands of Israelis.
The heavy losses among civilians and the destruction of thousands of homes in Gaza, where the United Nations said 425,000 of 1.8 million population have been displaced by the war, have stoked international alarm.
On Tuesday, Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas's leader in Cairo, described the negotiations as “difficult”. An Israeli official, who declined to be identified, said no progress had been made.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, speaking on Tuesday, told Israel's armed forces to prepare for a possible resumption of fighting. A previous 72-hour cease-fire last week expired without a longer-term deal and Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes resumed, although at lower intensity.
“It could be that shooting will erupt again and we will again be firing at them,” Yaalon said.
Israel pulled ground forces out of Gaza last week after it said the army had completed its main mission of destroying more than 30 tunnels dug by militants for cross-border ambushes. It now wants guarantees Hamas will not use any reconstruction supplies sent into the enclave to rebuild the tunnels.
After the fog of war: An early assessment of the Israel-Gaza conflict
It is far too early to assess the impact of the latest war in Gaza, but still some preliminary thoughts are in order:
Judging by what I have been reading in the press blogs and emails, it seems as if many Jews are in a panic about the rise in anti-Semitism. Once again, people are asking: Is this 1939? 1933? Even as distinguished a student of anti-Semitism as my revered colleague professor Deborah Lipstadt is quoted as saying that this may be 1934.
Permit me to dissent.
Nothing fundamental has changed — nothing.
In the United States, Judaism remains the most admired of America’s religions, and Jews are accepted, respected and empowered. The war in Gaza did not cause a spike in energy prices, as we experienced during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 or the oil crisis of 1979, or a drop in the stock market. It did not threaten global conflict, as in 1973. So no instability was introduced into the American economy or society. Political support for Israel has been strong, and while there are generational divides in such support, none of it translates into a reason to fear a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism. Support for Israel will be an issue on campuses this fall, and the divide between the human-rights community and the supporters of Israel will endure.
In Europe, the problem remains threefold:
There is anti-Semitism “in Europe” but not necessarily “of Europe,” meaning that if the people living in Europe adopt European values, including pluralism and tolerance, then whatever their opinion about Israel’s practices in Gaza, they have no particular problems with their Jewish neighbors.
However, a significant segment of Muslim populations living in European countries dwell in these countries — some for generations — without acculturating to European values. They live “in Europe,” but they are not “of Europe.” These non-European Muslim minorities respond to events in the Middle East — as they did at the beginning of the Second Intifada, the Passover attacks and the second Lebanon War — with an outbreak of violence against Jews.
Two factors are different this time: The governments of Europe have condemned, often in very strong terms, anti-Semitism within their own countries, and they have generally been far more supportive of Israel than in previous conflicts, thus depriving their local residents of the oxygen required to move opposition to Israel into license to attack local Jews.
What has not changed is that opposition to Israel on the left has given an intellectual “moral” veneer to primitive hatred. These Muslim inhabitants of European countries are not being assimilated into the lands in which they dwell; thus, their presence and their responsiveness to events elsewhere will persist. The problem will not go away, yet it is much larger than the Jewish question alone.
Fortunately, Muslim immigrants cannot find common cause with the other anti-Semitic elements in Europe — the far right — because the far right is deeply anti-immigrant. In France, for example, Marine Le Pen has muted her father’s anti-Semitism in order to strengthen her position with the voters. (Some might see this as analogous to the moves of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), though one must not equate former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) with Jean-Marie Le Pen.)
Parenthetically, this European problem should serve to warn against American proposals for a guest worker program or permanent residence permits for immigrants to America without a path to citizenship that would retain an ongoing non-Americanizing immigrant presence in the United States.
Such a policy is bad for America and even worse for the Jewish community.
Assessing the current situation is neither an excuse for complacency nor a reason not to condemn the expressions of anti-Semitism vehemently. One of the most significant dangers we face is the routinization of such anti-Semitism and the failure to disqualify the anti-Semites and their supporters from participating in the mainstream of European — or American — culture. Politicians must have the integrity to condemn anti-Semitism despite the growing presence of its supporters.
Problem for the right wing, the left wing, no return to status quo ante
The war has created a problem for Israel’s right wing as it demonstrated what security leaders of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Mossad and the Shin Bet — past and present — have long argued: There is no military solution to the conflict, at least not one that is compatible with Israeli values or with Israel’s willingness to sacrifice its young to reoccupy Gaza and thus more completely dismantle the infrastructure of Hamas.
This summer, Israel faced almost optimal conditions for a maximalist solution, if it was willing to pay the price. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority would not have been unhappy to see Hamas thoroughly defeated. The United States and the European countries recognized Israel’s right to self-defense, and world attention was focused on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, the rapid gains of ISIS and President Barack Obama’s decision to defend the Kurds. Gaza was a second-tier story for much of the past month, and Hamas was as isolated as it has ever been, as it is discovering in cease-fire negotiations. Even then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his even more hawkish Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon refused to move the IDF back into Gaza, unwilling to sacrifice IDF soldiers.
The war also demonstrated that the status quo, even the status quo ante, is untenable and thus may call into question some of the political judgments preceding the war, including the severity of Israel’s reaction to the unity government of Fatah and Hamas, its judgment of Mahmoud Abbas, and its lack of imagination and boldness in pursuing negotiations with him.
The confluence of interests among Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel should be tested as to whether it can yield political results.
The left wing also should take no solace from recent events as the furies of hatred against Israel and the Jews are intense, persistent and unyielding.
The perceived rise in anti-Semitism comes as a shock to Zionists who believed that the foundation of an independent Jewish state would extinguish the flames of Jew hatred. For more than 40 years, we have seen that Israel can also fuel the flames of anti-Semitism.
Ironically, some French Jews are fleeing violence at home to face enemy rockets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Perhaps Diaspora Jews need another type of Iron Dome.
I have joined with other scholars of Holocaust and genocide studies to condemn the statements equating Israel’s actions in Gaza with genocide. On July 9, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech in Ramallah, accused Israel of “committing genocide.” On Aug. 1, on Al Jazeera’s English-language TV broadcast, Fatah foreign affairs spokesman Nabil Sha’ath described the situation in Gaza as “a Holocaust.” Also on Aug. 1, Turkey’s prime minister— now president-elect — Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “Hitler-like fascism.”
These comparisons are odious, especially so since Israel has the power to commit genocide and even the provocation to do so, but however overwhelming the destruction in Gaza, Israel’s response has been measured. Its use of power has been both restrained and horrendous.
Erdogan, who has amassed significant power within Turkey and who aspires to play a larger role on the world stage, must be led to understand that such outrageous thinking will marginalize him and the country he leads. His isolation from the cease-fire talks was not only warranted but required as a result of his utterances.
One may not condemn others without challenging our own.
I must also condemn not only the blog post offering a justification for genocide and the rabbi willing to justify the annihilation of Palestinians in Gaza, but also the proposals of the deputy speaker of the Knesset for advocating ethnic cleansing in Gaza.
We Jews have been victims of ethnic cleansing many times in our history. We have been instrumental in outlawing ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of the Shoah, and we must retain our opposition, especially when we have the power to impose such a solution.
Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Find his A Jew blog at jewishjournal.com.
Renewed Israel, Palestinian truce off to shaky start
Israel and the Palestinians renewed a truce that had largely tempered a five-week-old war, but the deal got off to a shaky start on Thursday with rockets from Gaza slamming into Israel and Israel retaliating with air strikes.
Hamas, which denied involvement in firing some of what Israel counted as eight rockets shot just as an earlier truce expired on Wednesday, and accused the Jewish state of violating the new truce by launching air strikes.
There were no reported casualties in any of the incidents that marred an Egyptian-brokered agreement announced in Cairo to extend a ceasefire begun on Monday by another five days, or until Aug. 19.
Israel had no comment on the deal the Palestinians announced in Cairo. Egyptian mediators had won the deal to extend a ceasefire when the sides were clearly headed toward failure to bridge key differences in time for a midnight deadline.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Israeli forces to fire rocks in response to what he called a breach of the ceasefire by Hamas.
Hamas official Izzat Reshiq denied the Palestinians had breached the truce, and denounced Israel's air strikes as “a violation of the calm.”
The Israeli military said its air strikes were “targeting terror sites across the Gaza Strip,” and these attacks were followed by two more rocket attacks at Israel from Gaza.
In announcing the truce extension on Wednesday, Azzam Al-Ahmed, the head Palestinian negotiator in Egypt, a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's mainstream Fatah faction said on Wednesday evening in Cairo that “it was agreed to extend ceasefire by five days.”
The extension was intended to give the sides more time to reach a more lasting deal after they had failed to bridge differences over an Egyptian proposal for a permanent truce that addressed a key Palestinian demand to lift the Israeli and Egyptian blockades of the Gaza Strip.
It was unclear how Israel's and Egypt's security concerns about Islamist Hamas, the dominant force in Gaza, were addressed by Egypt's new proposal, or how it could be reconciled with Israel's demand for Gaza's demilitarization.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told Al-Aqsa Hamas television on Wednesday that the group would insist on “lifting the Gaza blockade” and reducing movement restrictions on the territory's 1.8 million residents, as a prerequisite to a “permanent calm”.
STEPS TO EASE BLOCKADE
Egyptian and Palestinian sources said Israel had tentatively agreed to allow some supplies into the Gaza Strip and relax curbs on the cross-border movement of people and goods, subject to certain conditions.
A Palestinian demand for a Gaza seaport and reconstruction of an airport destroyed in previous conflicts with Israel has also been a stumbling block, with the Jewish state citing security reasons for opposing their operation.
The sides have agreed to delay discussion of any agreement on the ports for a month, a Palestinian official said.
As part of the Egyptian blueprint, Israel was expected to expand fishing limits it imposes on Gaza fishermen to 6 miles (10 km) from the usual 3-mile offshore zone.
“It will increase gradually to no less than 12 miles in coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” the official said, referring to a likely expanded role in Gaza affairs for the government of Western-backed Abbas, based in areas of the West Bank.
In addition, the official said, the Egyptian plan calls for reducing the size of a “no-go” area for Palestinians on the Gaza side of the border from 300 meters (328 yards) to 100 meters so that local farmers can recover plots lost during security crackdowns.
Israel and Hamas have not met face-to-face in Cairo: Israel regards Hamas, which advocates its destruction, as a terrorist group. But the official said once they inform Egypt of their agreement, a ceasefire accord could be signed the same day.
The Gaza hostilities have killed 1,945 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 67 on the Israeli side. Most of the Palestinian dead have been civilians, hospital officials in the small, densely populated enclave say.
Israel launched its military campaign on July 8 to quell cross-border rocket fire from Gaza
The heavy losses among civilians and the destruction of thousands of homes in Gaza – where the United Nations said 425,000 of a population of 1.8 million have been displaced by the war – have stoked international alarm.
Israel pulled ground forces out of Gaza last week after it said the army had completed its main mission of destroying more than 30 tunnels dug by militants for cross-border ambushes. It now wants guarantees Hamas will not use any reconstruction supplies sent into the enclave to rebuild the tunnels.
Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Lin Noueihed in Cairo; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Ken Wills
On packed flight to Israel, hundreds of American Jews, emboldened by Gaza crisis, start lives anew
Daniel Knafo was wide awake aboard the Boeing 747 as sunlight began peaking over the northern horizon of the Mediterranean Sea early on the morning of Aug. 12.
Less than 10 hours earlier, he was at the departure terminal of John F. Kennedy International Airport with more than 300 American Jews, all of them embarking on a journey to start new lives in Israel.
And shortly before that, the teenager was at Los Angeles International Airport, bidding farewell to the city he called home for the first 17 years of his life.
At about 5 a.m., Knafo was standing in the aisle of El Al chartered flight 3004, which was cruising above the Mediterranean and less than two hours west of Ben Gurion International Airport, where the Woodland Hills native would step on to the tarmac with the other 338 other Jews onboard—young, old, married and single.
Guy Zohar and Daniel Knafo, both from the San Fernando Valley, at Ben Gurion Airport.
Of those, Knafo was also one of 108 young Jews planning to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces within the first few months of making Israel home. This flight was chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that promotes aliyah to Israel from North America and the United Kingdom. The group assists families and individuals in making the move, with financial support, assistance with the job hunt and other myriad obstacles that immigrants have to navigate.
It was the organization’s 52nd chartered aliyah flight since its founding in 2002, during which time, according to its website, Nefesh B’Nefesh has helped more than 30,000 diaspora Jews move to Israel.
The timing of this particular flight full of immigrants, or olim, may strike some as particularly poignant, given the on-and-off war that has enveloped Israel for the past several weeks—Hamas has fired 3,500 rockets into Israel since July 8, according to the IDF. And in response to the rockets and the discovery of more than 30 underground cross-border attack tunnels, Israel’s military launched a ground and air assault on Hamas’s strongholds in Gaza, most of which are densely populated within civilian neighborhoods. The war has left a reported 64 Israeli soldiers, three Israeli civilians, and 1,881 Palestinians dead.
But for Knafo and numerous other American olim interviewed by the Journal at JFK airport and aboard the flight, the Gaza war is not a deterrent to making aliyah—it is, at least in part, a catalyst to move to the Jewish state.
“I want to be there more than ever,” Knafo said, as dozens of fellow soon-to-be soldiers socialized around him. “Nothing will stop me from joining.”
Knafo, who attended El Camino Real High School and graduated from New Community Jewish High School, hopes to serve either in the IDF’s paratrooper unit (Tzanchanim) or in the elite Golani Brigade. He is honest with himself about the risks he will face. “If they tell you they are not scared, they’re lying,” he said of all the young immigrants preparing for military service.
Not long before leaving, on July 20, Knafo attended an evening candlelight vigil in Los Angeles for Max Steinberg, another former student at El Camino Real High School who left Los Angeles to volunteer in the IDF. Steinberg and six other soldiers were killed in Gaza when their Golani unit’s vehicle was struck by Hamas anti-tank missiles in the first days of the IDF’s ground incursion.
Knafo said that he felt guilty leading a normal life while Israel was embroiled in war.
“It kills me that while they are fighting I’m in L.A. living the life, driving my car, going to the beach,” he said. “I don’t think its right. That’s why I want to be there more than ever.”
Knafo is one of 49 Jews from California who landed at Ben Gurion Airport early on the morning of Aug. 12 on the chartered flight—25 of whom will be joining the IDF. And while a large swath of the plane’s other passengers were also from New York and New Jersey (117 and 45, respectively), the group of olim hailed from places as far north as Alaska and Canada’s British Columbia, and as far south as Georgia and Florida.
Matt and Ariella Rosenblatt, also from Los Angeles, decided that this would be their last chance to make the move with their three children. Their oldest, Yishai, 8, was approaching the age when, Matt said, he and Ariella wouldn’t feel as comfortable starting a new life for the entire family.
Matt and Ariella Rosenblatt, moving to Israel from Los Angeles, with their three children at JFK after a ceremony led by Nefesh B'Nefesh
The Rosenblatts plan to stay with relatives this week until they receive the key to their apartment in Efrat; Matt, who had a job as an actuary in Los Angeles, will follow up on some work leads in Israel. Shortly before a joyful and celebratory departure ceremony at JFK—where the olim were greeted by Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor and American-born Knesset member Dov Lipman — Matt said he and Ariella discussed the distinctive timing of their move, but decided against delaying or cancelling .
“Had we been there already two months and then this started up while we were already there, we wouldn’t have come back, so, really, what’s the difference?” Matt said.
The Rosenblatts a few moments after landing in Israel. They will soon move into an apartment in Efrat.
Onboard, as the flight neared Israel, Ariella was keeping an eye on 1-year-old Yair, her youngest, and recalling the couples’ conversations about the fact that their children would eventually have to serve in the Israeli military.
“We’ve talked about it. We were like, ‘Wow, that’s two sons in the army,” she said. “It’s scary.”
Feeling “excited” and “a little nervous,” Ariella added, seeing your children serve in the military is a price of living in Israel, and that, “We need to be home when our country is in this situation.”
Throughout the group, not one person interviewed expressed regret or fear, either at the decision to start anew in Israel, or at the choice to go now and not wait until the advent of cease-fires that would endure in longer than 72-hour intervals.
In fact, the spirited mood on board the airplane echoed, on the one hand, the feel of a Jewish summer camp field trip (with teenagers and young adults mingling, sitting on laps and barely sleeping), and on another hand, the patriotic Zionist mission that it was. Many passengers wore shirts that read, “Aliyah is my protective edge,” a reference to Operation Protective Edge, the IDF’s official moniker for its Gaza campaign.
Whenever a Nefesh B’Nefesh staff member referenced over loudspeaker those on the flight who would be enlisting with the IDF, much of the plane erupted in applause.
And, upon arrival at Ben Gurion, the new arrivals were greeted by Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s recently appointed president, and Natan Sharansky, the renowned Soviet refusenik and chairman of the Jewish Agency—as well as hundreds of cheering Israelis and dozens of reporters and cameramen covering the arrival of the newcomers from North America.President Reuven Rivlin and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky greet the olim as they descend to the tarmac.
Lena Elkins, who flew Friday from her hometown of San Francisco to New York, was one of a small number of young olim aboard the flight who will jump straight into her professional life without first joining the military. A recent graduate of the University of Oregon, Elkins’ younger sister moved to Israel last year and is in the IDF.
Living in Israel, Elkins said a few hours into the flight, has been on her mind since a visit six years ago with the Jewish Federation’s Diller Teen Fellows Program. And while she wishes she had served in the military, she said finding work is her priority now. Doing so in Israel, she said, particularly now, is also a major part of the Zionist project.
“I think it [Gaza] honestly has strengthened it [aliyah],” Elkins said. “It’s what Israel needs right now. This is what Zionism is. It’s people being there for Israel.”
Shortly after stepping foot on the tarmac and getting a feel for the love Israelis heap on diaspora Jews who move here, Channah Barkhordarie, a recent doctoral graduate of UCLA, said aliyah entered her mind last September, when her PhD advisor moved to Israel.
Barkhordarie, like Elkins, has no plans to enlist in the military and views her decision to live here as a way to “support this state.”
“Coming here and studying here and living my life here—that’s my show of support,” she said.
Everyone, it seemed, had made their aliyah decision long before this summer’s turmoil but that decision was only rendered more meaningful by the recent war, as well as the deaths of three Israeli teens by terrorists that provoked the fighting.
Toby and Chaby Karan, from Riverdale, at JFK airport.
“We just couldn’t cope with just being here,” Toby Karan, who moved from Riverdale, N.Y. with his wife, Chava, and four children, said at JFK airport before departure. “There were days through the past two months, the hardest days, that we said we’d never more wanted to live in Israel.”
On the flight, Liat Aharon, 18, sat calmly in her seat as many of her friends around her bounced around the cabin. “It seems like a dream,” said the Encino native of the approach to Israel, but she added, “It keeps getting scarier and scarier; I can’t believe it’s already happening.”
When asked, though, whether she felt as if she was leaving home or going home, she responded immediately:
“I’m going home.”
Who won and who lost in the Gaza war?
Now that the latest Gaza conflict appears to be over – or, nearly, so — it’s time to take stock of the winners and losers.
Who won the war?
Perhaps more than the other two Gaza conflicts in the last six years, Israel is the clear winner this time. The Israel Defense Forces dealt a serious blow to Hamas’ tunnel infrastructure, effectively neutralized the Hamas rocket threat thanks to the Iron Dome missile defense system and destroyed hundreds of Hamas targets in Gaza.
Hamas’ aim of doing significant damage to Israel failed. The organization’s numerous attempts to kidnap Israelis – soldiers or civilians – came up empty. The incessant rocket fire did not succeed in causing a mass casualty event or significant damage inside Israel. Hamas enjoyed a brief victory when most foreign airlines suspended flights to Ben Gurion Airport after a missile strike nearby, but the airline suspensions only lasted a couple of days.
In all, three civilians were killed in Israel during the war: two from mortar fire in the immediate vicinity of the Gaza border and one from a rocket for which Iron Dome wasn’t deployed because its target was a sparsely populated area.
Israel lost 64 soldiers in the fighting, but nobody expected the army to escape casualties once the ground invasion of Gaza began. Death is the inevitable price of an extensive military operation in hostile territory. The question is whether the price Israel paid in this war will be worthwhile in the long run, and how long will it be till the next round of fighting.
Did Hamas lose?
Hamas certainly doesn’t come out of this victorious. Its operational capabilities took a heavy hit, thanks to Israel’s bombardment, the discovery and destruction of dozens of tunnels running under the Israel-Gaza border, and the depletion of a big chunk of Hamas’ rocket caches.
But it’s hard to say exactly how much damage Hamas suffered because so much of what the terrorist group does takes place underground – literally and figuratively. The true picture of Hamas’ capabilities may only become clear in the months and years to come.
Moreover, Hamas does not live by the gun alone. Its power depends in large part on popular support. By that measure, Hamas is likely to get points among Palestinians for standing up to Israel – in contrast to the Palestinian Authority, which cooperates with Israel on West Bank security.
In the broader region, however, the reaction of other Arab countries to the Israel-Hamas conflict underscores just how little fondness there is for Hamas, an antagonist allied with the Arab autocracies’ own Islamist foes. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all stood by while Israel pummeled Gaza, in many cases withholding even pro forma criticism. In past conflicts, they at least paid lip service to the Palestinian cause. This time, there was much public criticism of Hamas.
With Hamas’ weapons stores depleted, it’s going to be much harder for the terrorist organization to rearm without as much financing from the Arab world and without Egypt acting as a smuggling conduit to Gaza.
The PR war
Israel may have enjoyed broad support from foreign governments for its war against Hamas – notwithstanding the criticism this week from the U.S. State Department about a specific Israeli strike on a U.N. school in Gaza – but its public image among regular people probably bears some resemblance to the rubble in Gaza.
To watch the news of this war was to see image after image of human and structural destruction in Gaza. The virulently anti-Israel demonstrations around the world, some of which included anti-Semitic expressions, were a potent sign of the response to the war.
Most people, of course, didn’t take to the street. Their extent of involvement with the war came from watching TV, reading the paper, or perusing their Facebook feed. Chances are what they’ll remember most won’t be the photos of Israelis taking cover in bomb shelters or IDF soldiers riding tanks into Gaza or Hamas fighters shooting at them (the only ones of those we have are from IDF cameras). It will be the images of Palestinian children moments after they were killed while playing on the beach, the photo of a Gaza girl’s bloodied corpse laying abandoned on a hospital stretcher, and the endless images of mothers and brothers and fathers and daughters weeping as they confront the unfathomable grief of losing their loves ones.
It’s going to be difficult for Israel to overcome association with those images.
In all, the Palestinian death toll was estimated by Palestinian sources at about 1,900, with Palestinians claiming about 80 percent were civilians. Those numbers will be a subject of deep dispute. Israel says the true proportion of civilians among the dead is far lower than most estimates because, as journalists in Gaza have acknowledged, combatants in Gaza are hard to distinguish from the civilian population.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli politics
Though he ran virtually unopposed in Israel’s last elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hardly a universally beloved figure in his country. But his prosecution of the war enjoyed near universal support in Israel, with polls showing 95 percent of Jewish Israelis supporting the war.
Netanyahu appeared reticent to launch the war, tried to avoid a bloody ground operation by agreeing to three separate cease-fires before the invasion began and, once the extent of the tunnel problem became clear, stayed the course for as long as most Israelis thought necessary to destroy the tunnels.
Now that the war appears over, expect the love-fest to fizzle. Some on the hawkish right already have criticized Netanyahu for foregoing a more ambitious Gaza operation in which the IDF would stay in place for months in order to rout Hamas. On the tactical side, the public will want to know why the IDF did appear to be sufficiently prepared for (or maybe even aware of) the extent of the Hamas tunnel threat. And on the left, there’s likely to be growing criticism of Netanyahu for failing to take advantage of opportunities before the war to work with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas to weaken Hamas and advance the diplomatic track.
All in all, however, Netanyahu’s stock has risen.
The U.S.-Israel relationship
One place outside of Israel where Netanyahu’s stock may not be up is in the White House.
On substance, the U.S.-Israel relationship is as strong as ever, with close cooperation in the arena that may matter most: defense. On Monday, President Obama signed a bill giving Israel $225 million in emergency aid for Iron Dome, a project the Obama administration already has supported to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
But as far as appearances go, the relationship between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government looks as troubled as ever. The Israelis are still seething over what they said was a July 25 cease-fire proposal from Secretary of State John Kerry that endorsed Hamas goals, and the Americans are still angry over what they describe as Israeli mischaracterizations of that episode and the subsequent slander of Kerry.
On Monday, the State Department said it was “appalled” by Israel’s “disgraceful” shelling of a U.N. school, prompting anger in Jerusalem over the strident condemnation.
With strong support for Israel in Congress and among Americans generally, whatever tensions may exist between Obama and Netanyahu will take a far back seat to Israel and America’s mutual interests. And despite the tiffs, the Obama administration’s expressions of support for Israel’s right to self-defense from rockets – and Israel’s expressions of appreciation for U.S. support – were a refrain throughout the four-week Gaza war.
The peace process
It might be easy to forget, but before the kidnappings, revenge kidnapping and Palestinian unrest that preceded this conflict, there was the collapse in April of U.S.-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Does this war giving the two sides new incentives to return to the negotiating table?
Though Israel was the winner in Gaza, this war hardly represents a final victory. Hamas has survived to fight another day.
Dovish Israelis argue that Israel needs to seize the opportunity to strengthen Hamas’ rivals in the West Bank – the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority – and show Palestinians that they have more to gain through diplomacy than violence. The doves say this conflict shows the dangers of inaction on the diplomatic front, and that engaging with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas ultimately discourages Hamas from stirring up trouble in Gaza.
Hawkish Israelis argue that it would be folly to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, a terrorist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction. They also point to Gaza as a cautionary tale for the West Bank, arguing that ceding more control to the Palestinians in that area may one day lead to rocket and tunnel problems from there.
Before the war, Netanyahu endorsed the latter position. It’s not clear that the war has changed his mind, and it’s unlikely his Cabinet will push him leftward.
For Abbas, it would be hard to return to the negotiating table opposite a party that, during the war, he accused of perpetrating genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.
For the Obama administration, the failure of Kerry’s months-long negotiating push, a dim view of Netanyahu’s inclinations to make concessions toward Palestinian statehood and Obama’s slide into lame-duck status all make a renewed negotiating push unlikely.
Significant changes in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship may have to wait till changes in government — on all sides. Well, that or divine intervention.
Peres steps down as Israeli president, sees peace ‘one day’
Israel's elder statesman Shimon Peres bowed out of active political life on Thursday with an ardent defence of the war in Gaza against Hamas militants and a defiant prediction that peace will “one day” come to the Middle East.
At a ceremony overshadowed by the 17-day Gaza conflict in which nearly 800 people have died, Peres, 90, relinquished his largely ceremonial post as Israeli president to Reuven Rivlin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party.
Israeli heads of state are not directly involved in political decision-making, but Peres, a Nobel Peace Laureate, has used the presidency over the last seven years as a pulpit for advocating peace with the Palestinians, often taking a more conciliatory stance than right-winger Netanyahu.
In his farewell speech, Peres invoked the biblical prophets he said had taught Israel to see “social justice and world peace as guiding principles” and he urged the Jewish state to “practise equality for all its citizens”.
“I will not give up my right to serve my people and my country. And I will continue to help build my country, with a deep belief that one day it will know peace,” he added, making clear he did not envisage a quiet retirement.
But Peres also defended Israel's offensive in Gaza, launched in response to rocket attacks on its territory, despite the deaths of at least 762 Palestinians and 32 Israeli soldiers. He accused Hamas militants of turning Gaza “into a man-made tragedy” and of deliberately putting civilians in harm's way.
“Israel is not the enemy of the people of Gaza,” he said.
But he also said Israel should welcome and encourage debate about the rights and wrongs of the conflict in Gaza.
“In these difficult days in which the eyes of the nation are on its leaders, on you, please do not lessen the debate. It is the essence of democracy,” said Peres.
Peres was born in Poland in 1923 and began in politics as a close aide to Israel's founding father and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion. In a career spanning nearly seven decades, he has served in a dozen cabinets and twice as prime minister.
He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Israel's late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for a 1993 interim peace deal that they and their successors failed to turn into a durable treaty.
Unlike Peres, Rivlin, a former parliamentary speaker, is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.
A champion of Jewish settlements built in the West Bank, Rivin, 74, has called for a confederation with the Palestinians rather than negotiating an independent state for them – something Palestinian leaders have long rejected.
Yet Rivlin, chosen by parliament last month, has won endorsements from Israeli doves for his longtime advocacy of Jewish-Arab cooperation and for a sense of humour known to cross political and ethnic lines.
Rivlin had tears in his eyes as he was sworn in as head of state, but he sounded a combative note against Gaza militants.
“They will not defeat us. Terror will not defeat us, or weaken our resolve or our spirit or conviction in our feeling of justice,” the new president said.
Editing by Gareth Jones
A prayer for peace
As an American visiting Jerusalem for a month, the Tuesday night of the first air raid siren in the city was a new experience for me. Rationality told me that I was safe. Under the protection of the Iron Dome, the probability of one of Hamas’ rockets reaching the ground was slim, and the likeliness of them causing serious damage was even slighter. Still, as I listened from the darkness of my apartment's safe room to the echoing sound of distant blasts, I couldn't help but endure a sensation of utter dread: a sudden awareness of my vulnerability to the rockets soaring overhead.
A few days later, I found myself in the basement of a community center in my neighborhood for Friday night Shabbat services. The service began with Shalom Aleichem. Time seemed to freeze as the union of voices sang, slowly and passionately, for peace. This was the most genuine experience of Shabbat I'd experienced in a long while, encountering a moment that stood independently of all else surrounding it: a sense of peace amongst chaos, hope amidst despair.
But this experience of Shabbat was a privilege. The serenity was a result of the protective measures taken to ensure my safety. I can only imagine that the fear I experienced in the bomb shelter–the defenselessness in the midst of explosives hurtling from the sky, collapsing buildings and pillars of smoke–was a mere fraction of what the Gazans were experiencing with no Iron Dome or bomb shelters to protect them. Do they, living just sixty miles away, have the same opportunity to gather, to pray for peace amidst the bloodshed?
What role do we play, as people who are able to secure ourselves from the violence? The reaction thus far has been uniform: offering statistics to argue which side has suffered more, disclosing details that preserve the image of one while attributing full blame to the other.
What do these responses achieve? If anything, they ensure the perpetuation of a conflict that thrives off of the absolute separation from the other–identifying the differences between a family in Gaza and a family in Sderot instead of drawing them closer, unifying them under a single category of human: people whose lives have been affected by this awful, relentless conflict.
The struggle for ethical superiority distracts from the pursuit of a solution to the violence. The fight is not for the moral high ground. It’s for peace.
Unfortunately, no ceasefire on its own will produce a lasting peace; this round of violence is rooted in years of accumulated tension. Peace and security are only possible if we acknowledge the underlying context in this situation: the ongoing occupation. In Gaza, millions of people’s basic human needs are not met on a daily basis. In the West Bank, settlement construction continues. They inflict added tension to the region and fuel hatred on both sides, and we cannot hope to take any steps towards reconciliation while this continues. Each day these conditions persist is a day we move further from any prospect of peace. As American Jews, by failing to explicitly condemn the occupation, we share responsibility for undercutting the prospects of achieving a two-state solution. Jewish community leaders such as Adam Bronfman and Eric Yoffie have recently, even in the midst of the ongoing operation, called for an end to settlement construction. Will the rest of the community join them?
The latest round of peace talks have collapsed. Currently, Hamas is the only Palestinian entity to which Israel seems to respond in a serious way. What if the Palestinian people witnessed an equally wholehearted reaction from Israeli leaders towards its more moderate authorities who pursue an end to the conflict through diplomatic means? Only through these nonviolent methods can we achieve a lasting end to this violence, and only after that can Israel celebrate true, sustainable security.
We, who are able to come together to pray for peace in this time of war, must ask ourselves: when we pray for peace, do we really mean it? Are we demanding unrealistic requirements to achieve it, focusing our attention on arguments that can only be held from the safety of the Iron Dome? Or are we willing to concede some dignity, and make the compromises necessary to attain a real, sustainable peace?
Nothing is going to end the ever-heightening escalation of violence other than a peace agreement; there is no other viable long-term solution. What are we going to do to make that a reality?
ARIEL ROSE BRENNER is a student at UC Berkeley studying architecture and involved in J Street
Israel and Islamism are both occupying Palestine
While Gazans, their Hamas leadership and pro-Palestinian supporters around the world condemn Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, now turning into a ground invasion, it’s time Muslims examined the Other Occupation: the inexorable advance of political Islamism over Islam.
Increasingly, Islam has been usurped by political Islamism, manifest in the current Israel-Palestine conflict as a war between Hamas and Israel. Elsewhere, Islamism drives conflicts between ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and Iraqi government forces, the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistan army, the Afghani Taliban and would-be Afghani democratic leaders, Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists and the Nigerian government, the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Syrian regime, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Lebanon’s secular democrats, and until recently, the democratically elected but explicitly Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s secular politicians.
As political Islamism advances, Muslims everywhere, including Palestinian Muslims in Gaza, have been increasingly marginalized and oppressed by extreme Islamists. These Islamists subscribe not to Islam but to a totalitarian ideology disguised as religion. While Islamists may fervently believe they are Muslim subscribers to Islam, what they adopt is a totalitarian politicization of Islam.
Operation Protective Edge merely underlines this Other Occupation.
Heavy criticism has been leveled at Israel’s emphatic assault on Gazans and the Gaza Strip because of the escalating casualties. Less acknowledged is that Israel is combating not just an organization devoted to securing its territory in a conflict over land, but a totalitarian ideology that definitively leaves no room for Israel, Israelis or moderate Muslims to exist.
We learn more when we allow Hamas to do the talking. Its leaders leave us no doubt as to its central philosophy, core to which remains martyrdom and unremitting anti-Semitism. The Hamas charter opens with: “We cannot recognize Israel. The land of Palestine is ours and not for the Jews.”
Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, founder of Hamas, was unequivocal in the role of martyrdom in the Hamas mission:
“Love of martyrdom is something deep inside the heart. The only aim is to win Allah’s satisfaction. That can be done in the simplest and speediest manner by dying in the cause of Allah. And it is Allah that selects the martyrs.”
Both anti-Semitism and martyrdom are central to political Islamism. In contrast, neither has any role in pluralistic, mainstream Islam. Israel is not at war with Muslim Palestinians in Gaza but with their nihilistic Islamist leadership.
In the Muslim world we are familiar with the battle between Islam and Islamism, and we make no bones about the need for open combat against political Islamists. Muslim militaries are not held to global condemnation in the way the Israel Defense Forces must face — despite their targeted attacks, pre-strike warnings and efforts to contain civilian deaths.
The Pakistan military’s current offensive in the North West Frontier against the Pakistani Taliban is the most recent example.
To empower the military, the Pakistani government has authorized shoot-to-kill on suspicion of Taliban operatives, invited U.S. drones to conduct strikes on militant Taliban leaders on Pakistani territory, displaced many Pakistanis in the last month from their homes in the North West Frontier and commenced a massive aerial bombardment campaign.
But global condemnation doesn’t befall the Pakistani military or the Pakistani government. Global media reports barely cover the story. Israelis faced with the same problem are the only ones for whom such wholesale condemnation is reserved.
Public sentiment in favor of beleaguered Palestinians, however well intentioned, is rapidly translated into support for Hamas. Western sympathies, especially European sentiment, embolden Hamas (and similar radical Islamist groups) toward an incipient crime against humanity that truly threatens not only every Israeli and every Jew with extinction, but also moderate Muslims everywhere, particularly those within Hamas’ current purview — cue the decapitations and crucifixions now a daily occurrence in ISIS-controlled Iraq, and the escalating persecution of minorities, especially Christians in Iraq and the wider Islamist Middle East.
Because of the lack of nuance and context in the era of sound-bite “journalism” and the distracting images of Israeli military might, the reluctance to see the bigger picture remains entrenched.
Were reality to hit home, adult solutions for regional — and Israeli-Palestinian peace, in particular — would be seen as truly bleak. Israel is fighting an impossible battle, on one front with nihilist political Islamists who willingly lead their populations to slaughter in the interests of religionized war for fictionalized spiritual gain rather than true political solutions, and on another front with an international media reflecting an increasingly ignorant and biased public opinion. The sooner media commentary can be broadened to explain political Islamism, diplomatic and political powers globally can begin to plan the true long-term freedom of the Palestinians — freedom from the Other Occupation and a lasting liberation from the stranglehold of Hamas’ political Islamism.
Qanta Ahmed, author of “In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom,” is a 2014 Ford Foundation public voices fellow with the OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @MissDiagnosis. This essay originally appeared in USA Today, reprinted with permission.
Dear Dwight Howard: Here’s what #FreePalestine really means
Dwight Howard has never been able to transfer his deftness on the basketball court, his drive, his sheer, bold athleticism and vision, to his public relations. Whether he's insulting Laker Nation, awkwardly hugging Stan Van Gundy after throwing him under a bus, or tweeting out #FreePalestine this past week before awkwardly deleting his thoughts, Howard seems incapable of making the right move in sensitive situations. I don't care about Laker Nation, I'm Knicks fan, and Jeff's always been my Van Gundy, not Stan, but I do care about Palestine.
I care about Palestine because when my Great-Great Grandfather moved there in the early days of the 20th century, that is what it was called, Mandatory Palestine. The British had just taken over from the Ottomans who'd ruled the land since Columbus sailed the ocean blue. It's a dusty strip that's traded hands more times than dice at a craps game, and just like Robbins in Porgy and Bess, gutted at Crown's angry hand, many a man has been killed fighting over it.
So what am I to make of Dwight Howard? He, like many of us, likes to root for the underdog. He like many of us, chafes at the sight of dead children, bombed as they played on a beach near rocks that unfortunately may have also hidden decidedly un-Hustonian rockets. He is probably a good man, who let an unfiltered thought escape from his heart and found words slung at him like arrows, piercing any notion he had that free speech comes without consequences in America. And he, like many of us, was likely incredibly misguided.
What is #FreePalestine? Gaza and the West Bank? Fatah and Hamas? Utopia? Hell? It depends on who you ask. Some believe that Free Palestine is a land without Israel, stripped of Jews, a Muslim sanctuary within a Muslim sanctuary, with a Muslim sanctuary… Some believe that Free Palestine means a state where children no longer have to worry about Israeli bulldozers crushing their homes because their uncle Ali hung with the wrong crowd. Some believe Free Palestine means legitimacy, a voice in the world, the right of return, and recognition, from Israel, the UN, and especially the US.
The problem is that Freeing Palestine means more than just peace with Israel. Palestine without Israel today would likely be nothing more than another Syria or Iraq, or perhaps Iran. It would mean a country that like Gaza, would probably be ruled by ultra-religious bigots who'd try to forcibly veil women, threaten Jews and Christians within their midst, and commit violence against those who believe the same thing only with a twist. It would mean a return to fifteenth century ideals in a twenty-first century world. And though it's certainly the Palestinians' right to live in such a country if they so choose, they would not be free.
The fact is, the Palestinians will never be free the way things are today. They've given their lives over, like so many abused people, to crooks, strongmen, and false prophets. They live for the promise of a land that will never come, united in hatred against Israel, a hatred that's never spared them from killing each other from time to time. There is no more hurtful existence in the world today than to live life as Palestinian, crushed at once by military force and the force of your own history and banishment. There cannot be freedom under such circumstances, even when tyrants retreat and Prime Ministers relent. There is no life to live in such a world.
Freedom for Palestine means freedom from oppressive religion, freedom from a culture of guilt and war, freedom from a ruined generation that asks their children to take on their hate and suffering, that throws punches after the fight is lost, inviting kicks on the ground. Freedom for Palestine means real leadership, and flexibility, and ideals, and secularism in government. It means letting go of the ghost of 600 years of empires stepping on your back. And yes, Freedom for Palestine means freedom from Israel.
Israel more than any country, and we as Jews, should know the feeling of what it means to be broken. But we have not let our empathy crowd out our need for security, and in this, we have been wrong. Until the leadership of Israel values peace for innocent Palestinians as much as for innocent Jews, there will never be an understanding. Dwight Howard was foolish, Bibi Netanyahu cannot claim the same ignorance. So I say #FreePalestine. I say that because I know what it means, what the cost will be, and that it is a statement with so many sides to it that geometry has never named its shape. But it must happen, because in the end, #FreePalestine means #FreeIsrael. One cannot happen without the other. One must happen, otherwise both will never come to pass.
Israel probing deaths of four Palestinian boys shelled on Gaza beach
Israel’s military said it was investigating the deaths of four Palestinian boys who were playing on a Gaza City beach when it was shelled.
Gaza officials said the shelling on Wednesday afternoon was an Israeli naval or aerial attack.
“Based on preliminary results, the target of this strike was Hamas terrorist operatives,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. “The reported civilian causalities from this strike are a tragic outcome.”
The statement added, “We are carefully investigating the incident in question.”
The boys, aged 9 to 11, were brothers and cousins, according to reports; seven others were wounded in the attack. The family appears to be affiliated with the Fatah faction, rivals of Hamas, as photos of the funeral show the boys wrapped in Fatah flags.
The strike took place near a hotel frequented by journalists, many of whom provided first-person accounts in their publications and on social media.
More than 200 Palestinian Gazans have been killed in the eight days of Operation Protective Edge, the majority civilians, according to Palestinian reports.
With leadership, threats might turn into opportunities in Israel
The recent cycle of violence in Israel, after a period of relative calm, raises concerns that perhaps we are on the threshold of another intifada, or another Operation Pillar of Defense (a full-scale operation in Gaza), or both. News from Israel on all television channels seems to confirm that. However, leaning on television coverage only might give a distorted picture of the situation here.
Television, indeed, is a major player. With all due respect to social media, when it comes to shaping people’s opinions, television is still the most powerful tool. This is especially true when people try to figure out what’s going on in a foreign country, and what they get is a series of scenes that make “good television,” namely, violent ones.
There is no lack of “good television” emanating from Israel today: Kidnapping and brutal murder of three Israeli youngsters, aggressive combing of the West Bank in search of the three, brutal murder of an Arab youngster by revengeful Israelis, riots of Israeli-Arabs, rockets from Gaza and more. On the screen in your living room, it really seems that hell broke loose here.
Television, however, tells us only part of the story. In a two-minute bite highlighting the recent dramatic events, important things are left out, such as the fact that the majority of people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still want to resolve it in peaceful ways. In poll after poll, two out of every three Israelis consistently say that they favor a two-state solution, and when I hosted Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki at the Jerusalem Press Club in April, he said the same thing about his own people.
Television also has a narrow angle, which catches the more troublesome bits of the reality (such as the ugly and deplorable beating of a young Palestinian boy by Israeli soldiers) but ignores the fact that, in spite of the recent surge of violence, the vast majority of Arabs and Jews here continue to live and work together peacefully.
Finally, television doesn’t have good long-term memory. We’ve had intifadas before, we have suffered from rockets launched at us from Gaza, Israeli-Arabs rioted in 2000, and so on. As a result, most Israelis today have a sense of déjà vu, and they are bracing themselves for another one of those rough periods, which seem to be an inevitable part of our destiny, and which surely will be succeeded by better days.
Television, in short, doesn’t give a full and true picture of the reality in Israel today, but that doesn’t mean the reality isn’t grim. Indeed, we have had these kinds of troubles before, except that then they came separately. Today we are facing the risk of another Intifada, Israeli-Arab riots, armed collision with Hamas in Gaza — all happening simultaneously and fuelling each other. Even without the constant threat of Hezbollah from the north, this is a highly volatile situation.
Considering this accumulation of threats, the restraint shown by the government of Israel and by the Israel Defense Forces has been remarkable. However, while this restraint should be lauded, it can’t be a substitute for policy. Instead of doing nothing and always being dragged by events and reacting to them, the government of Israel should consider taking the initiative on all fronts. If it chooses to do so, it will find out that it has a full tool kit to work with, and that the world, which seems more and more critical of Israel, might react favorably.
Let’s start with the Palestinians. The failure of the recent round of talks shouldn’t obscure the fact that during the trying time of the abduction of the three Israeli boys, Mahmoud Abbas — speaking in Arabic — condemned it fiercely, and his security services worked closely with Israel in searching for the perpetrators. This trust should be treasured. If the U.S.-brokered peace talks failed, then maybe a Plan B guided by outside-the-box thinking is needed, like a regional peace summit where the moderate Sunni regimes — threatened by a nuclear Shiite Iran — join forces with Israel, not only to extinguish the recent flames, but also to infuse some positive energy to the stalled process.
Next comes Hamas. The knee-jerk reaction to the recent barrage of rockets is to go into Gaza and teach Hamas a lesson “once and for all.” Except we have tried that before and it didn’t solve the problem. Instead, we should look at some interesting facts, again obscured by shallow news coverage: In recent years, it was renegade radical groups in Gaza that were firing rockets on Israel — against the expressed will of Hamas, which even created special forces to restrain these unwarranted attacks. And Hamas is at its lowest ebb, crushed by Egypt from the west and Israel from the east, and is having trouble feeding million Gazans. Why rescue Hamas by launching an all-out attack against it, thus making it the hero of the resistance against Israel? Better to hit Hamas in surgical raids and attacks, but let Egypt, Abbas and the burden of running Gaza coerce it into a reluctant pragmatism.
The riots of the Israeli-Arabs should be dealt with firmly, with rioters brought to justice. Yet the Or Commission, established after the riots of 2000, concluded that the outbursts had roots deeper than just solidarity with fellow Arabs in the West Bank or Gaza, and that much had to be done in the socio-economic spheres to bring the Israeli-Arabs to feel like full Israeli citizens, equal to the Jews. It can be done, and I know this first-hand, because I was the spokesman for the Rabin government, which had made this one of its priorities.
Last but not least is the Jewish extremism, which, if unchecked, might drag Israel into the abyss. While the idea that Israeli Jews burnt a Palestinian boy alive is sickening, I, for one, refused to be shocked. Twenty years ago, Baruch Goldstein, a doctor who was supposed to save lives, went into the mosque in Cave of the Patriarchs and shot praying Muslims in their backs. Since then, the leniency toward Jewish lawless acts against Arabs, such as Tag Mechir (price tag), only pushed us further in this slippery slope. This internal threat to our democracy, which already took the life of a prime minister, should be squashed with an iron fist.
To accomplish this we need common sense, strong nerves, vision, hope, resourcefulness and creativity. In one word: Leadership. Israel has never needed that more than today.
Uri Dromi was the spokesman for the Rabin government and currently runs the Jerusalem Press Club.
Hamas official vows more kidnappings of Israelis
Hamas official Mushir al-Masri warned against Israeli retaliation for the murder of the three Jewish teens, saying that the Gaza-based terrorist group and partner with Fatah in the Palestinian unity government possesses rockets and missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv.
Masri also vowed that Hamas would abduct more Israelis, Israel Hayom reported.
“Hamas will continue kidnapping soldiers and Israelis until the last Palestinian in Israeli prison is freed,” he said.
In Israel, mourning turns to anger and despair
After two weeks of hope, a community mourns slain Israeli teens
Only 18 days after joining together in a hopeful prayer vigil for three Israeli teenage boys abducted at a bus stop outside their school, 1,500 members of the Los Angeles Jewish community grieved together in a memorial service for the teens—Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Frenkel—whose bodies were found on June 30 in a field north of Hebron.
Teary-eyed audience members embraced one another in the dimly lit sanctuary at Beth Jacob Congregation, as Leehy Shaar, the aunt of Gilad, eulogized her nephew and denounced his kidnappers, garnering multiple rounds of applause over the course of her ten-minute speech.
Standing on the bimah beside three yahrtzeit candles and in front of photographs of the three slain teens, Shaar said that she had been hoping to plan a major celebration for the day that her nephew would be rescued alive.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Shaar said about the death of her brother’s son. “For the last 18 days, never for a moment did I ever think that Gilad, my dear nephew, was anything but alive.”
Shaar, who recently moved to Los Angeles to receive medical treatment, shared with those in attendance the meaning behind the Hebrew name “Gilad,” or “happy forever.”
“I always thought he’d be ‘Gilad,’ happy forever, but the terrorists brought a sudden end to ‘forever,’” she said. “He was my wonderful, talented, bright and cool nephew.”
The audience applauded when Shaar said that Israelis should be able to live securely in the West Bank and towns like Alon Shvut, where the teenagers were kidnapped just down the road from the high school that two of them attended.
Leehy Shaar, the aunt of Gilad Shaar.
“We, as proud Jews, have a right to stand in our land,” she said. “It’s not a crime.”
Holding back tears, she expressed gratitude for the Israeli military’s restless search for the boys and to the local Jewish community, which, since news broke of her nephew’s kidnapping, has embraced and supported her.
Throughout the hour-long service, the messages from six speakers conveyed a mixture of sadness and grief, with Israel’s local consul general, David Siegel, reflecting on the unity of Jews around the world since the kidnapping.
“We are one nation, from Beverly Hills to Jerusalem,” Siegel said. “We pray together, we hope together and tonight, unfortunately, we cry together.”
He added that Israel, in its hunt for the two Hamas suspects, “Will leave no stone unturned, literally, until justice is done.”
Rabbi Adir Posy, who led the service, read a communal blessing in Hebrew for the Israeli military, also asking those in attendance to stand respectfully for the “Mourners Kaddish,” a traditional synagogue prayer recited by Jewish mourners.
The evening concluded with a rendition of the Israeli national anthem, led by Cantor Arik Wollheim and local teenage members of the international religious Zionist youth group, B’nai Akiva, of which Gilad Shaar was also a member.
At 8 p.m., as the synagogue slowly emptied, a few community members lingered behind. Charles Hale, a member of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, related how “chilling” it was for him to hear, earlier in the day, the just-released audio of an emergency call placed by Gilad Shaar just after the kidnapping.
Multiple media outlets have reported that Israeli investigators believe the abductors shot the boys to death upon realizing an emergency call had been placed.
Shanee Michaelson, a Beth Jacob congregant, told the Journal it was difficult for her to focus at her office when it was announced Monday that the teens’ bodies were discovered.
“I really thought they were going to survive,” a somber Michaelson said.
U.S. Jews should respond to the murders with more than tears
Jews throughout the United States will hold memorial services this week to mourn the murders of the three Israeli teenagers. There will be tears, there will be prayers, there will be words of consolation. And then the mourning needs to be followed by action – political action.
The murder of the three Israeli boys is not just an Israeli problem. It is an American problem, too – both because one of the victims was an American and because the U.S. government plays a major role in shaping what happens between Israel and the Palestinians. That's where the American Jewish community comes in. American Jews need to undertake focused political action to urge the Obama administration to help Israel in its fight against the Hamas terrorists.
So far, the administration's response to the crisis has been deeply disappointing. Despite the kidnappings, President Barack Obama continues to recognize and support the Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity regime. The annual U.S. aid package of $500-million to the Palestinian Arabs continues, even though Hamas is now indirectly benefiting from that aid.
Worse, the administration did not fully take Israel's side in the pursuit of the kidnappers. In the midst of the ordeal, the State Department called on Israel to show “restraint” in its actions against Hamas. President Obama, in his statement following the discovery of the bodies of the three victims, called on “all parties” to refrain from steps that would “destabilize” the situation. Such language has always been a thinly-disguised code word for urging Israel to go easy on the terrorists.
Since one of the kidnapped boys was an American citizen, the Obama administration could have done what it routinely does in such situations – offer a multimillion dollar reward for information leading to the capture of the terrorists. Yet even after the names of the kidnappers were publicly revealed, the administration refused to offer a reward.
The U.S. government website offering the rewards, www.rewardsforjustice.net, has a section called “success stories.” The majority of the victims in those cases were from a single case which is rather similar to the kidnapping in Israel – it too involved Islamist terrorists
Here are a few practical steps that concerned Americans can take:
1. Call or email the White House (202-456-1111 / http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments) and urge the president to withdraw America's recognition of the Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity regime.
2. Call the Congressional switchboard (202-224-3121) and ask to be connected to your Member of Congress. Urge your congressmember to support suspension of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Arabs.
3. Call the Department of Justice (202-514-2000), which administers the Rewards for Justice program. Urge that a reward be offered for information leading to the capture of the murderers of 16 year-old U.S. citizen Naftali Frankel and the other two boys.
Mourning is important. A community in pain needs to express its anguish. But there is a time for mourning, and there is a time for action. We have mourned, we have cried. Now is the time to dry our tears and pick up the phones.
The authors are members of the board of the Religious Zionists of America.
Kerry says U.S. to work with, monitor new Palestinian government
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday the United States would work with the new Palestinian unity government “as we need to” but would be monitoring its commitment to continued cooperation with Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a government of technocrats on Monday in a reconciliation deal between his Fatah movement and the Islamist Hamas, which advocates Israel's destruction.
“We are going to be watching (the government) very closely, as we said from day one, to absolutely ensure that it upholds each of those things it has talked about, that it doesn’t cross the line,” Kerry said.
Kerry said Abbas had told him that the new government would be committed to principles of non-violence, negotiations with Israel and existing accords including cooperation on security.
Kerry, who oversaw peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians that stalled in April, said he had spoken over the last few days with both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warned on Sunday against any international rush to recognise the new Palestinian government.
Netanyahu has condemned Washington's decision to work with the unity government. But Kerry stressed that Washington did not recognise the new Palestinian government.
“Let me be very clear: the United States does not recognise a government with respect to Palestine, because that would recognise a state and there is no state,” Kerry said. “This is not an issue of recognition of a government.”
Israel froze U.S.-brokered peace talks with Abbas when the unity deal was announced on April 23 after numerous unsuccessful attempts at Palestinian reconciliation since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Fatah forces in fighting in 2007.
The United States views Hamas as a “terrorist” organization and the U.S. Congress has imposed restrictions on U.S. funding for Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which typically runs at $500 million a year, in the event of a unity government.
Kerry said the U.S. law on assistance to the Palestinian Authority specifically states that the administration makes a judgment about “undue influence by Hamas in any way”.
“At the moment, we don't have that, and so we are looking to see as we go forward on a day-to-day evaluation – we will measure the composition (of the new government), we will measure the policies of the new technocrat government, and we will calibrate our approach accordingly,” he said.
“I’ve had several conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Kerry said, playing down reports of a rift with Israel. “We’re completely talking about this on a day-to-day basis. Israel is our friend, our strong ally.”
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Mark Heinrich
U.S. warming to Palestinian unity draws Israeli ire
The new Palestinian unity government brought together rivals Hamas and Fatah, but it has opened a divide between allies Israel and the United States.
“I’m deeply troubled by the announcement that the United States will work with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.
The Obama administration’
Analysts said the sharpness of the Israeli reaction should be seen in the context of anxieties that this and other U.S. moves could leave Israel isolated on vital matters.
“Take a step back and look at the trend line to see Israelis are deeply concerned about a nuclear Iran and the Americans’ engagement with Iran,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank. “We’re now looking at another situation where an illicit actor that endangers Israel is now being rehabilitated.”
Nathan Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, said Israel’s concerns were about more than just the issue of Hamas.
“It’s clear that the U.S. and Israelis are not really coordinating on the issue,” Brown said. “Moving the dispute into public is unusual and it shows how worried Israel is about this development.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday swore in a government of technocrats that has the backing of his Fatah party, which is preeminent in the West Bank, and Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group that governs Gaza.
Abbas said the new government would abide by peace agreements and recognize Israel, although Hamas continues to reject both principles.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at Monday’s daily briefing for reporters that the United States would continue to deal with the new government and that funding would continue.
“At this point, it appears that President Abbas has formed an interim technocratic government that does not include ministers affiliated with Hamas,” she said.
“Moving forward, we will be judging this government by its actions,” she said. “Based on what we know now, we intend to work with this government, but we’ll be watching closely to ensure that it upholds the principles that President Abbas reiterated today.”
The willingness to treat the new government no differently than the old one, which had no Hamas influence, came as a surprise. In a statement over the weekend, Psaki had said that Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his concern about the new government in a phone call to Abbas.
Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, posted his reaction to Facebook within hours of Monday’s State Department announcement of the U.S. position.
“Israel is deeply disappointed with the State Department’s comments today on the Palestinian unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization responsible for the murder of many hundreds of Israelis, which has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli cities, and which remains committed to Israel’s destruction,” Dermer said.
He suggested that the technocrats provided cover to terrorists.
“This Palestinian unity government is a government of technocrats backed by terrorists, and should be treated as such,” Dermer said. “With suits in the front office and terrorists in the back office, it should not be business as usual.”
Israeli envoys rarely publicly rebuke U.S. administrations.
Netanyahu last month formally suspended peace negotiations with Abbas in part because of the announcement that governance talks with Hamas were underway. His security Cabinet reiterated that posture in a unanimous vote Monday and said in a statement that it would consider sanctions against the Palestinian Authority.
Congressional lawmakers from both parties said Hamas backing for the government could jeopardize U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority — between $400 million and $500 million a year.
There was, however, a subtle difference in the statements between Republican and Democratic lawmakers, with Democrats stopping short of calls for an immediate cutoff.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the Obama administration should continue to advance peace talks efforts. But she said funding for the Palestinian Authority was in “jeopardy” as long as Hamas rejected the preconditions for peace talks set down in 2006 by the Quartet, the international grouping that mediates the peace talks: recognizing Israel, renouncing terrorism and abiding by past agreements.
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, said unequivocally that funding should stop.
“Until such time that it is determined that assistance to this so-called technocratic government is consistent with our own interests, principles, and laws, it is incumbent on the Administration to suspend U.S. assistance,” he said in a statement.
Major American Jewish groups backed a review of funding for the Palestinian Authority.
“U.S. law is clear — no funds can be provided to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates or has undue influence,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement. “We now urge Congress to conduct a thorough review of continued U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the law is completely followed and implemented.”
An AIPAC source said the group backed cutting funds pending such a review. “AIPAC supports an immediate suspension of aid to the Palestinian Authority pending a complete Congressional review,” the source said.
But Lara Friedman, the director of government relations for Americans for Peace Now, said the new government likely falls within the law.
“With no Hamas members inside the new government, no evidence of Hamas having ‘undue influence’ over it, and clear statements from Abbas that it will respect the Quartet conditions, the fact is that there is simply nothing in law requiring aid to the P.A. to cease,” she said.
Friedman noted that as recently as last month, after the talks between Abbas and Hamas were launched, AIPAC opposed new legislation that would cut funding to the Palestinian Authority, in part deferring to Israeli concerns that such actions would undercut Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation.
Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that according to his conversations with Israeli and U.S. government officials, the Americans had agreed to support Israel’s refusal to deal with the new unity government even as the United States maintained ties with it.
But with a clear difference in policy emerging, such support might not be enough to assure Israel, Satloff added.
“It is difficult to see what ‘support’ means if the practical result is U.S. acquiescence to Israel’s political isolation, which is the expected result of the considerable daylight that would open between the two countries on this critical issue if they chose different paths,” he wrote.
Abbas swears in Palestinian unity government shunned by Israel
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a Palestinian unity government on Monday under a reconciliation deal with Hamas Islamists that led Israel to freeze U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Western-backed leader.
Abbas, who heads the mainstream Fatah movement, has said the 17-member cabinet would be comprised of unaffiliated ministers and that it would strive to pursue peace, despite Hamas's refusal to accept co-existence with Israel.
Ministers in the new administration took the oath of office in a ceremony in Ramallah, the Palestinian seat of government in the West Bank. Three ministers from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip were denied entry to the West Bank by Israel.
“Today and after announcing the government of national unity we declare the end of division that caused catastrophic harm to our cause,” Abbas said.
Hamas has run the Gaza Strip since seizing the territory from Fatah forces in a brief civil war in 2007. Past reconciliation efforts, largely brokered by Egypt, have failed over power-sharing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged world leaders not to rush into recognizing the new Palestinian government, saying it would serve as a front for Hamas and “strengthen terrorism”.
At the inauguration ceremony, Abbas said the new government would abide by commitments made by previous Palestinian administrations and by agreements ratified by the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, a reference to interim accords with Israel.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who spearheaded the peace efforts that collapsed when the unity deal was signed in April, spoke by telephone with Abbas and voiced his concern about Hamas's role in the government, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Israel, the United States and the European Union regard Hamas as a terrorist group over its refusal to recognize Israel, accept existing interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals and renounce violence.
In his telephone call, Kerry stressed the importance of the new government committing to those principles, Psaki said.
“The Secretary stated that the United States would monitor the situation closely and judge any government based on its composition, policies, and actions,” she added.
Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Editing by Dan Williams