Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Bernie Sanders sponsors event supporting Palestinian village of Susiya

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is sponsoring a September 19th briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight the cause of the Palestinian village, Susiya, which is designated for demolition by the Israeli Army, a Senate staffer confirmed to Jewish Insider.

[This article originally appeared on]

While the briefing marks International Peace Day which is September 21, due to the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, it has been moved to the 19th to allow those celebrating to attend, according to a copy of the invitation. The organizer Rebuilding Alliance declined to publicize Sanders’ sponsorship in its invitation.

The California-based Rebuilding Alliance is slated to fly-in children from the West Bank villages of Susiya and Al-Aqaba along with Gaza. “It is our hope that upon hearing their presentation, members of Congress will personally make calls to the Israeli Embassy to express concern, stop the demolitions, recognize Palestinian planning rights, turn on the lights, and assure due process,” the event explains.

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Susiya is an illegally constructed outpost near Hebron and “are continuing to build in defiance of a court order.” Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has written multiple letters to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on Jerusalem not to demolish the contested village.

Earlier this year, Sanders was one of four Senators to send a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson highlighting the case of Palestinian activist Issa Amro, who is charged by the Israeli military for obstructing soldiers. The Vermont lawmaker also delivered a harsh critique of Israel’s conduct in the 1948 war at the J Street conference last February. “Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people. Over 700,000 people were made refugees,” he said.

The September 19 briefing will be the second pro-Palestinian event on Capitol Hill this year. In June, Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI) sponsored an event titled: “50 Years of Israeli Military Occupation & Life for Palestinian Children.”

Jason Greenblatt in Israel. Photo from Facebook

Greenblatt’s Gaza proposal leaves more questions than answers

Towards the end of Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt’s trip to the Middle East this week, he visited the Israeli-Gaza border with IDF Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. “It is clear that the Palestinian Authority must resume its role in managing the Gaza Strip,” Greenblatt declared and explained, “since Hamas has severely harmed the residents and failed to meet their most basic needs.”

[This story originally appeared on]

Yet, Middle East experts questioned how realistic Greenblatt’s proposal is and urged more clarity from the Trump administration in how they would implement the return of PA rule in Gaza. “I think it is good that the Trump Administration expressed support for PA governing Gaza,” explained David Makovsky, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The question remains how to make this happen. Abbas missed a moment to establish the PA back in Gaza after the 2014 war. The PA has yet to put forward a plan that would make Gazans believe they care about them. For Abbas to win back Gazans, he cannot speak in generalizations but he needs a plan. The US cannot want the PA back more than the PA itself.”

Following the 2014 Hamas-Israeli conflict, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected a United Nations Security Council resolution supported by the United States, France, and Jordan to return PA forces to Gaza, Walla News reported.

“Absent any strategy or structure, it’s a pipe dream today,” said Grant Rumley, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). “There are no incentives for Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza when it can have (Abdel Fatah) Sisi or (Mohammad) Dahlan and the U.A.E. bail it out, and there are no incentives for Abbas to risk troops and political capital without guarantees that a repeat of the 2007 civil war won’t happen. Re-inserting the PA into Gaza will require a framework, regional buy-in, and a leadership in Ramallah that is willing to take risks — I see none of those on the horizon today.”

A White House spokesman declined Jewish Insider’s request for comment on the White House’s proposal.

Conditions in Gaza remain dire. Power in Gaza has declined to approximately four hours a day after the P.A. reduced fuel payments to the impoverished enclave. Unemployment in the impoverished enclave has spiked to 42% and among youth it’s at 58%. Hamas and Israel have fought three bloody wars resulting in thousands of casualties between 2008-2014.

Khaled Elgindy, a Brookings fellow focusing on Palestinian politics, cautioned, “Various Palestinian officials have said in one form or the other that they will not go back to Gaza on the back of Israeli tanks. The fact that this statement is coming from the Trump administration may not be helping things. People in Hamas may be looking at it: ‘Wait a minute, Is this an attempt to try and impose something on Hamas?’”

The timing of Greenblatt’s statement supporting the return of Fatah rule in Gaza is noteworthy in light of a senior Israeli government official’s comments to Yediot Achronoton Tuesday clarifying that Jerusalem is “interested in the stability of Hamas rule in Gaza.” Elgindy asked, “Does that mean the US and Israel are not on the same page when it comes to Gaza?”

While backing the Trump administration’s focus on the challenge of Gaza, Rumley concluded, “Unfortunately, absent any parameters or way forward, the Trump administration is likely to reach the same dead-end as the Bush and Obama administrations.”

Gaza terror tunnel into Israel discovered

A Hamas-built tunnel from Gaza into Israel aimed at executing terror attacks has been discovered, the Israel Defense Forces said Monday.

The tunnel is the first to be found since Operation Protective Edge, the summer 2014 Gaza War, according to the IDF, which worked in conjunction with the Shin Bet security service in discovering the tunnel. The IDF said it has destroyed the tunnel openings on both the Israeli and Gazan sides.

In a statement, the IDF said the tunnel was built by the terrorist organization Hamas “in order to infiltrate Israel and execute terror attacks against the people of the southern communities.” In a statement Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is “investing considerable capital” in countering the tunnels, and that the effort “will not end overnight.”

“Israel will respond strongly to any attempt to attack its soldiers and civilians,” Netyanyahu said. “I am certain that Hamas understands this very well.”

But Hamas vowed that the destruction of this tunnel did not signal an end to conflict, according to the Times of Israel.

“What the enemy has discovered is only a drop in the sea from what the resistance has prepared to defend its people, to liberate the holy places, its prisoners and land,” Hamas’s military wing said in a statement Monday.

The 2014 war, which saw more than 2,100 Palestinians and some 70 Israelis die, was fought largely over the tunnels. Following several attempted infiltrations into Israel, the IDF invaded Gaza hoping to root out the tunnel network, resulting in brutal battles across the coastal territory. Israel withdrew after destroying or otherwise eliminating the threat of some three dozen tunnels.

The tunnel discovered Monday began in a southern Gaza residential neighborhood, according to Haaretz. On the Israel side it is located between the border fence and Israeli military bases, and was about 100 feet below ground.

It is not known when the tunnel was constructed and how many branches it has.

Israeli broadcaster says Palestinians bust West Bank bomber cell

Israel's national broadcaster on Tuesday said Palestinian authorities had prevented a bomb attack on Israeli troops in the West Bank, a report suggesting the strength of security ties despite public feuding over a two-month wave of unrest.

Israel Radio said six Islamic Jihad militants from the town of Tubas were in Palestinian custody, accused of filling a gas balloon with explosives in order to blow up a military target, an attack that would have marked a major escalation in violence.

Contacted by Reuters, officials in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's U.S.-backed administration and Islamic Jihad spokesmen had no immediate comment on the report, which cited unnamed Palestinian sources. 

A surge in Palestinian knifings, car-rammings and occasional shootings of Israelis since Oct. 1 has put Abbas in an awkward position as he tries to curb the grassroots violence in West Bank areas under his authority while publicly condemning Israel's policies.

Israeli forces have killed 97 Palestinians, most of them identified by Israel as assailants. Many Palestinians see their dead as heroes of a struggle for statehood failed by peace diplomacy. Palestinian attacks, usually by individuals lashing out spontaneously, have killed 19 Israelis and an American.

Israeli security forces shot dead two knife-wielding Palestinian assailants earlier on Tuesday in the West Bank, Israeli authorities said.

Israeli security officials declined to confirm or deny the reported Tubas arrests. But one official with the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency sought to play down any impression that Abbas was serving Israeli interests. 

“When the Palestinian Authority takes action to foil attacks, it does not do so out of love for Israel,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Having lost the Gaza Strip to rival Hamas Islamists in a 2007 civil war, Abbas was working to curb the spread of kindred groups in the West Bank and knew any armed mobilization by them againstIsrael would be combustible, the Shin Bet official said. 

“If such an attack were to happen, the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) might be compelled to enter their (Palestinian) cities, and the Authority does not want that,” the Shin Bet official said.

Israel retaliates for rockets fired from Gaza

Israel in retaliatory airstrikes targeted what the military called “three terror sites” in Gaza.

The Saturday morning strikes came in response to rockets fired the previous evening from the Gaza Strip on southern Israeli communities. One rocket landed in Sderot, reportedly damaging a bus and a private home. Later that night a rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system over Ashkelon.

There reportedly were no injuries in either the bombings from Gaza or Israel’s reprisal.

A Palestinian Salafist group affiliated with the Islamic State, called the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, took responsibility for the rocket attacks.

Code red alarms sounded in southern Israel in advance of the rocket strikes, sending residents running for bomb shelters.

An Iron Dome battery had been moved to the Ashkelon area late last week after a defense situation assessment found that the recent upsurge in violence on the Temple Mount and in other areas of Jerusalem, as well as the rearrest of recovered Palestinian hunger striker Mohammed Allaan, could set off a new round of rocket attacks from Gaza.

The rocket that struck Sderot was the 11th rocket to hit Israeli territory since January.

At least two rockets fired from Gaza early Sunday morning failed to cross the border with Israel and landed in Gazan territory, according to reports.

Gaza rocket strikes Israel, no injuries reported; IDF hits back

A rocket fired from Gaza struck an open area in Israel, causing no injuries or damage.

The rocket hit an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council, adjacent to the Gaza Strip, late Wednesday night. In response, the Israel Defense Forces bombed a weapons production plant in central Gaza, according to a statement from the IDF.

The rocket, according to the IDF, is the eighth to be launched this year from Gaza, one of the lowest tallies in years. Residents of southern Israel have experienced a period of relative calm since last summer’s war between Hamas and Israel, which saw Israeli border towns struck with thousands of rockets as Israel invaded the Gaza Strip by air and land.

“The IDF does not tolerate any attempt to undermine the security of Southern Israel,” IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in the statement. “The Hamas terror organization is responsible for today’s attack against Israel.”

Lessons of Gaza: 10 years later

Anniversaries always present us with an opportunity to reflect on the past and to try to learn from history.

British military thinker and historian B.H. Liddell Hart wote a book titled “Why Don’t We Learn From History?” In that book, Liddell Hart teaches us that “those who read history tend to look for what proves them right and confirms their personal opinions.” Armed with this wise caution, let’s look at some of the anniversaries commemorated recently and try to draw some lessons.

Waterloo immediately comes to mind, the battle in 1815 that brought Napoleon’s empire to its end. Never mind the fact that in a ludicrous re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo recently, Frenchmen dressed as Napoleonic soldiers “defeated” their English enemy. And dismiss the fact that in popular memory, Napoleon is the hero and the man who defeated him, Wellington, is almost unknown.

The truth is that Waterloo symbolizes the victory of reason and stability, which Europe yearned for after so much bloodshed, over the megalomaniac ambitions of Napoleon. Hitler should have learned the same lesson, but he didn’t. So, in May, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of his fall.

Next, Vietnam comes to mind. Forty years after the hasty withdrawal from Saigon, and with more than 58,000 names engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, one wonders what kind of lesson can be learned. Having Liddell Hart’s caveat in mind, then, those who opposed the war at the time will undoubtedly argue that they were right, and that it was a terrible waste of human lives and national resources. Those who have supported the war (and perhaps still support the use of American military power as a means of diplomacy) will probably say that it was the weakness of the politicians that betrayed the heroic soldiers.

A more balanced reflection might put the Vietnam War in the broader context of the Cold War, a war between capitalism and communism. Capitalism eventually won the war, and one wonders whether the American resilience in Vietnam didn’t have something to do with it. History moved on, and then, 20 years ago, the United States and Vietnam normalized relations. Today, they are promoting bilateral trade and — believe it or not — forging strategic cooperation, which involves keeping a watchful eye on the South China Sea, where China, once Vietnam’s staunch supporter, has ambitions.

Which brings me closer to home. Two anniversaries brought Gaza back to the Israeli discourse recently: This year marks 10 years since the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip and a year since Operation Protective Edge. 

In Israel, the uprooting of Israeli settlements from Gaza, the brainchild of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is called in Hebrew “hitnatkut” — cutting off, or severance. The idea was that pulling the Israelis out of there and closing the gate behind us was supposed to rid us once and for all of Gaza and its troubles. 

The third lesson is that Gaza will not go away. Whether we like it or not, it will always dwell on our doorstep, and, like a bad neighbor, will keep bothering us.

Needless to say, nothing of the sort ever happened. In pulling our brothers and sisters out of there, we didn’t cut ourselves off from Gaza. On the contrary, Gaza chased us into Israel proper. The launching of rockets at our cities coerced us into pounding Gaza in three operations: Cast Lead (2008-09), Pillar of Defense (2012) and last year’s Protective Edge. Furthermore, having to fight Hamas terrorism in a densely populated area produced wrenching scenes that have turned us into a pariah in world media and public opinion.

So, what is the first lesson we can draw from the hitnatkut? That it was a huge mistake, and that whenever Israel makes concessions, it is rewarded not only with more security problems, but also with ingratitude and even scorn?

Gershon Hacohen thinks so. Looking back, the retired Israel Defense Forces general, who commanded the hitnatkut a decade ago, wrote this week in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot that, contrary to the common wisdom of that time — that pulling out would improve Israel’s strategic position — he believes there were military advantages to keeping Israeli settlements inside the Gaza Strip. Hacohen equated the settlements to the first kibbutzim, which, in the 1930s, helped carve out the borders of the future Jewish state. On another level, Hacohen wrote, Israelis should never give away pieces of their beloved land.

I beg to differ. While I share Hacohen’s love for our Promised Land, I look at the people who populate it, and I wonder how we can keep all the land without ending up in a terrible dilemma: With millions of Palestinians among us, either we lose the Jewish character of Israel or its democracy. These scenarios are worse than any security threats, which — painful as they may be — we can handle.

The second lesson is that the way in which we carried out the hitnatkut was wrong. Sharon, who hated the Palestinians and would do no business with them, preferred to carry out the pullout unilaterally, rather than deliver Gaza into the hands of Mahmoud Abbas in a negotiated settlement. I don’t know whether Gaza would have fallen into the hands of Hamas anyway, but the unilateral hitnatkut definitely weakened Abbas, while making Hamas, in the eyes of the Palestinians, the hero capable of extracting land from Israel by force. 

The third lesson is that Gaza will not go away. Whether we like it or not, it will always dwell on our doorstep, and, like a bad neighbor, it will keep bothering us. The ideas voiced in Israel during and after Operation Protective Edge, namely that we should have “finished the job,” meaning toppling Hamas, are unrealistic. They remind me of the ill-advised Israeli plot in 1982 (by the same Ariel Sharon, by the way) to make the minority Maronite Christians kings of predominantly Shiite Lebanon. 

Giving up such futile presumptions of engineering the Middle East doesn’t mean that Israel should sit idly by vis-à-vis the Gaza problem. Together with other regional forces, which are deeply concerned at the prospect of a nuclear Iran on the one hand and the advent of radical Islam on the other, Israel should initiate a plan not only to rehabilitate Gaza, but also to open new horizons for the younger generation of Gazans. 

Top Israeli military officials told the government recently that Hamas, badly beaten last summer, is looking for a truce with Israel. They advised the government to remove some restrictions on the movement of Gazans, and even to allow the building of a port, which will open Gaza to the world. 

This is the fourth lesson, maybe the most important of them all. For too long we have used the stick on the people of Gaza and gained little in return. We should always be carrying the stick, but it’s time to give the carrot a chance. 

A version of this article appeared in the Miami Herald.

IDF closes one war crimes probe, opens three new ones

 Israeli military prosecutors closed a probe into the death of four children in Gaza last year and opened three new ones — including an alleged revenge shelling.

The Israel Defense Forces’ announcement Thursday on the closure of the probe said the children’s deaths on a Gaza beach in July as a result of an airstrike were an accident and did not affect the legality of Israel’s military actions in Gaza. No action is being taken against those involved. The strike was on a compound known to be in use by Hamas’ naval commando unit, the statement said.

Also on Thursday, the Military Advocate General announced it would look into the death of nine people in July at a café in Khan Younis hit by IDF artillery

A second probe concerns the suspected revenge shelling of a Palestinian clinic. Armored Corps troops are believed to have targeted the clinic as payback for the slaying of two of their comrades on July 22 by a Palestinian sniper whom the suspects believed fired on them from the clinic. The third probe concerns the alleged beating of a Palestinian prisoner.

All incidents occurred during Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza in July and August of 2014 following Hamas’ firing of rockets at Israel civilians. A United Nations committee of inquiry into Israel’s actions in Gaza — which the Palestinians and other countries said amounted to war crimes — is due to submit its report next week.

Additionally, the advocate general said it would indict three soldiers suspected of looting in Gaza on July 29.

The International Court of Justice is also looking into Palestinian complaints on Israel’s summer offensive in Gaza. Some legal analysts have said the ICC, a U.N. court, has no jurisdiction to investigate the matter or prosecute alleged offenders because Israel’s judiciary is investigating the conduct of its own troops in compliance with international judicial standards. However, Israel’s critics dispute this.

So far, the Military Advocate General has received 190 complaints about Israeli troops’ conduct during Israel summer offensive, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement. Of those, 105 have been processed. Of the processed complaints, seven have been deemed to merit criminal investigations. Another 15 incidents were investigated by local units and not at the general staff level.

IDF to withdraw troops from Israeli communities near Gaza border

The Israel Defense Forces will withdraw its troops from southern Israeli communities near the Gaza border that are not directly adjacent to it.

Soldiers will remain on guard in the three communities adjacent to the border with Gaza, the IDF announced Sunday. The new rule will go into effect on Jan. 1, the IDF said in a statement.

“The move was made after an evaluation of the security situation, with the understanding that the protection the IDF offers to residents of Gaza border communities is optimal, and in coordination with the heads of the communities,” the statement said.

The communities are calling for a more sophisticated border fence between Israel and Gaza to prevent the infiltration of terrorists.

The forces were deployed to the southern communities during Israel’s operation last summer in Gaza.

The IDF deployed two Iron Dome anti-missile batteries near southern Israeli cities last week.


What really happened in the battle of Khuzaa, Gaza?

No neighborhood along the eastern half of the Gaza strip — the half closest to Israel — emerged unscathed from the recent 50-day war in Gaza, which left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead.

But in Khuzaa, a middle-class farming town of around 10,000 in southern Gaza that pushes up against Israel’s border fence, survivors of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) ground invasion remember a separate kind of drawn-out agony.

During the first four days of the ground war, thousands of terrified civilians in Khuzaa found themselves caught in a tornado of deadly metals — bullets, bombs, shells, shrapnel — with no way to escape. More than in other areas, Khuzaa residents were forced to come face-to-face with armed Israeli soldiers who had taken control of the area.

Based on interviews with these civilians, as well as conversations with IDF soldiers who fought in the area, the Journal has compiled a rough outline of the battle in Khuzaa. None of the soldiers felt they could speak on the record.

Ahmad Al Najjar, 78, described the moment his elderly uncle wandered out into Khuzaa's main street and was shot dead.

IDF soldiers told the Journal they were instructed to fire warning shots at anyone who came too close to them or one of their bases — then to kill them if they came any closer. They said Hamas’ choice of an urban battlefield, and Hamas’ history of deploying plainclothes fighters and suicide bombers, made it impossible to determine who was or was not a threat.

However, more than a dozen Khuzaa residents who spoke to the Journal, and many more interviewed by Human Rights Watch and the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights — non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with operations in Gaza — said they and their neighbors were deliberately targeted by the IDF while trying to flee their homes during the fighting.

The United Nations Human Rights Council suggested a few days into the Khuzaa incursion that both Hamas and Israel may have violated the international laws of war by targeting civilians.

“It is imperative that Israel, Hamas and all Palestinian armed groups strictly abide by applicable norms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said to the council on July 23. “This entails applying the principles of distinction between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives; proportionality; and precautions in attack. Respect for the right to life of civilians, including children, should be a foremost consideration. Not abiding by these principles may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Despite repeated requests, spokespeople at the IDF refused to comment on Palestinian witness accounts collected by the Journal.

The IDF’s foreign press branch initially said in a statement to the Journal that the events of the battle in Khuzaa were “currently under investigation” and that “once investigations will be completed, we will be able to supply you with all the information about the different occurrences.”

Later, after additional attempts over several days asking the IDF to respond to Palestinian allegations, the foreign press branch stated: “The events that you requested information about are not familiar to the IDF, according to our resources and investigations. If we receive additional details regarding these events they will be looked into again.”

Today, more than one month after the initial invasion, Khuzaa’s residential area is a gray wasteland of crumbled stucco and cement. The air, once sweet, reeks of dust and death. At the edge of Khuzaa, olive orchards have been reduced to piles of sticks and leaves, and shreds of white greenhouses jut like broken wings from sand pits where IDF tanks roamed. All that’s left of the town’s central mosque, one of nine mosques reportedly destroyed in the Israeli incursion, are a dome and a minaret wedged into a mountain of rubble.

The Ebad El Rahman mosque in central Khuzaa, along with an adjacent water tower, was destroyed in the IDF ground invasion.

“This was the best area in all of the Gaza Strip, it was a tourist area — secure and safe, with no problems and good people,” a dazed member of the municipal council told Reuters, standing next to the rubble of his former home. But after the war, he said, “Khuzaa no longer exists. It is like an earthquake hit.”

The ghost town’s demolished exterior also hints at the prolonged human suffering felt here during the first days of the IDF ground operation.

Residents of Khuzaa who were stuck in the city during the messy battles between Israel, Hamas (Gaza’s ruling government party) and other armed Palestinian factions said they tried to arrange an exodus for days. Finally, in small groups, most were able to escape via a dusty farm road on the southeast edge of town — emerging injured, dehydrated and incredulous about the horrors they’d just seen.

More information about their ordeal is likely to emerge as human-rights organizations and a United Nations fact-finding mission sift through the widespread devastation in Gaza and collect more testimony from Khuzaa and other hard-hit areas.

“We don’t know every single story that’s happened so far,” said Mahmoud Abu Rahma, international relations director for the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, an NGO in Gaza whose donors include federal agencies from Switzerland, Holland and Norway. “But for us, it’s really important to arrive at the truth. We will only introduce allegations when we are sure that a war crime was committed.”

(Abu Rahma has also been openly critical of human-rights abuses by Palestinian leaders in Gaza. In 2012, he was attacked by masked assailants after he penned an op-ed slamming violence by Palestinian armed groups against Palestinian civilians — and the silence of Gaza authorities, led by Hamas.)

Getting to the bottom of the recent battle in Khuzaa, Abu Rahma said, poses a unique challenge. “In Khuzaa, many people stayed behind,” he said. “So it’s the area where you find the most interaction between the Israeli army and civilians, and for quite a while — four days. That’s why we’re focusing on how civilians in Khuzaa were treated during these days.”

“Clouds of glory”

The Gaza ground incursion began on July 17 as an Israeli mission to take out Palestinian tunnels and rocket launchers used to attack civilian areas. On the first day of the mission, an IDF spokesperson told the Journal that “phone calls were made by IDF representatives to Palestinian leaders in the area to notify the residents of Khuzaa to evacuate the premises.”

Located just a few hundred meters from the Israeli border, Khuzaa has always been on the frontline of the Israel-Gaza conflict. Following the IDF’s brief 2009 ground invasion of Khuzaa, the United Nations found evidence that at least one woman was shot dead there while waving a white flag. At least 16 Khuzaa residents were reported killed in that operation.

This summer’s death toll in Khuzaa is believed to be more than four times as high as in 2009. The Al Mezan organization has counted around 75 deaths inside the town, although it is not known which of those were fighters and which civilians.

“It was the first time Israel attacked this area like that — they didn’t do that before,” the town’s community doctor, Kamal Qdeih, said.  Residents told the Journal that based on past operations, they vastly underestimated the IDF’s intentions in Khuzaa — one reason why thousands of civilians ignored evacuation leaflets, deciding instead to stay home, brace themselves and ride out the attack.

Kamal Qdeih, a doctor in Khuzaa, said he cared for more than 100 wounded residents at once in his small home clinic during the ground war.

Again, on July 20, the IDF said it “informed the citizens of Khuzaa, via telephone and local media, to evacuate the area due to IDF scheduled operations against terror sites and infrastructures in the area.”

But when no bombs had fallen by the night of July 20, hundreds who had fled to Khan Younis, the nearest city — crowding into friends and relatives’ houses and United Nations schools — decided to risk returning home.

Hundreds of Khuzaa residents escaped via one small farm road at the edge of town on July 24, starving, injured and dehydrated after days stuck in the battle zone.

They soon realized their mistake. Residents said that the next day, the IDF bombed craters into the road leading from Khuzaa to Khan Younis, so that no vehicles — including ambulances — could come or go. (An Al Jazeera video report a few weeks later, when fighting had died down, showed this to be true.)

In homes across Khuzaa, electricity was shut off and water stopped running from taps.

In response to an inquiry about the level of threat posed in Khuzaa, the IDF stated: “During the time the IDF forces were in Khuzaa, they exposed many terror sites which were located in central residential areas, including terror tunnels and many weapon caches.”

Daniel Nisman, a military analyst at the Levantine Group and former IDF soldier who participated in Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, said: “Khuzaa, like Shujaiya, is what the Israeli military refers to as ‘the shell’ of Gaza, where the border towns are reinforced and the center is soft. In this context, Khuzaa is the main defense of Khan Younis and east Rafah.”

Like in other neighborhoods where Israel fought Hamas, the initial IDF aerial bombings cleared the way for columns of Israeli tanks and soldiers to more safely enter Khuzaa. According to young Israelis in the battle, the Khuzaa team included soldiers from the Combat Engineering Corps (who specialize in blowing up tunnels), the Paratroopers Brigade and some from the elite Golani brigade.

But they said the majority of Israeli combat soldiers who fought in Khuzaa were from the Givati brigade, the southern infantry brigade trained specifically to fight in Gaza.

As Givati tanks rolled toward Khuzaa, Col. Ofer Winter, the brigade’s commander, famously said in an interview with the Orthodox weekly Mishpacha that “clouds of glory” had guarded the fleet. “Only when the soldiers were in a secure position did the fog dissipate,” he said.

One young Givati soldier, too, told the Journal: “God was with us in every step on the way.”

Mohammed Abu Reeda, 12, peered into a partially destroyed home that IDF soldiers had occupied near their tank staging area.

Once inside Khuzaa, soldiers occupied some of the town’s multi-story, ornately decorated homes — transforming them into bases where they could take turns sleeping, strategizing and watching for Palestinian fighters below.

During various temporary cease fires in August, Khuzaa residents eagerly showed journalists the evidence they’d found of IDF soldiers living in their homes, now trashed and riddled with holes. One boy retrieved a green IDF jacket. Another pointed out a hole in his floor where the IDF had checked for tunnels. Seven-year-old Adam Abu Erjala, wearing a shirt that read “I’m a happy boy,” held out a bag of Israeli bullet casings he’d collected from his cousins’ home and posed with an Israeli mine-clearing device five times the size of his body, which he had found lying in his cousins’ front yard.

Adam Abu Erjala posed with a spent Israeli mine-clearing device he found outside his cousins' house.

Upstairs, in the frilly pink bedroom of Abu Erjala’s cousins, soldiers had drawn maps of the neighborhood onto the girls’ beds in permanent ink.

Adam Abu Erjala, 7, pointed out a map that IDF soldiers had drawn on his cousin's bed.

A pair of reporters who entered an all-girls school in Khuzaa found an anti-tank weapon that Israeli soldiers had left behind in the principal’s office. Stars of David had been spray-painted onto the walls.

Another building on the outskirts of Khuzaa, a partially demolished red-and-white farm house belonging to the Qdeih family, was filled with soldiers’ detritus — a Hebrew-Arabic dictionary, an IDF newsletter, snack wrappers, empty toothpaste tubes, rotting tomatoes and heaps of other trash. IDF tanks had ransacked the garden, turning it into a big sand pit by using it as a parking lot for armored vehicles.

But while soldiers were taking up residence in Palestinian homes, panicked civilians were sometimes hiding in homes right next door, just meters away.

“We knew the air force dropped leaflets calling for civilians to evacuate the area, but we also knew some might remain,” a 22-year-old combat soldier in the Givati brigade said. Nevertheless, he was shocked to see so many civilians still in the area when he arrived.

“The most difficult challenge in Khuzaa, in my opinion, was the citizens,” the soldier said. “Most of the fighting was in populated areas that Hamas had turned into a battlefield. And as a result, innocent civilians were injured.”

Multiple IDF soldiers said they were told Hamas was threatening to kill any civilians who left their homes. More than a dozen Khuzaa residents who spoke to the Journal, however, strongly denied this, and blamed the IDF for refusing to let them leave once fighting had begun.

A Human Rights Watch report released on Aug. 4, based on Palestinian witness accounts, found that IDF soldiers had shot, and sometimes killed, unarmed civilians as they were trying to flee. “The failure of civilians to abide by warnings does not make them lawful targets of attack… since many people do not flee because of infirmity, fear, lack of a place to go, or any number of other reasons,” said the report. “The remaining presence of such civilians despite a warning to flee cannot be ignored when attacks are carried out.”

“Khuzaa is destroyed”

Khuzaa residents sat in the rubble of their homes on the final day of a 72-hour cease fire in August.

One of the oldest men in the village, Mohammed Hussein Al Najjar, a former businessman whose relatives believed he was over 100 years old, wandered out of his home after an Israeli warplane bombed the building next door. “He was almost deaf, so he couldn’t hear us crying for him to come back,” said his nephew, 78-year-old Ahmad Al Najjar, whose dark and wrinkled face was crowned by a red keffiyeh.

Al Najjar said he heard Israeli tank fire outside. The next time he saw his uncle Mohammed, he said the old man was face-down in the road, dead in a pool of his own blood.

“I don’t know why they would do this. They’re going crazy,” Al Najjar said of the Israelis. “I used to believe in peace. But we don’t know anything about peace here.”

The 78-year-old said the Khuzaa invasion was the most horrific battle he’d seen in a lifetime of war.

Because of IDF orders to be suspicious even of apparent civilians, a 22-year-old Israeli soldier in the Combat Engineering Corps who destroyed tunnels in Khuzaa said he and fellow soldiers were forced to shoot an old Palestinian woman coming toward them when she didn’t heed their orders to stop. Even when wounded, he said, she continued crawling in their direction, so they fired again, killing her.

The soldier said he was deeply disturbed by the incident, but that Israeli soldiers had to protect themselves at all costs. While in Khuzaa, he said he was consumed by the omnipresent fear of death. Palestinian bullets were constantly whizzing by — killing one of his friends, the soldier said, and shattering the hand of another.

To effectively destroy the tunnels, IDF’s Combat Engineering Corps had to crawl deep inside them so they could lace them with explosives. They frequently came across Palestinian fighters inside the tunnels, on foot or motorcycle, and killed them on the spot.

The owner of this Khuzaa property said he had no idea how, or with what resources, he would begin to rebuild his house.

However, the young combat engineer said he watched some of his friends shoot indiscriminately at Palestinians in the area without proof they were fighters. He said they also wrote anti-Arab messages on the walls of the homes they occupied.

During a temporary cease fire in late August, evidence of the four-day Khuzaa nightmare was still everywhere in the home clinic of Qdeih, the local doctor, as he spoke to the Journal. His lone cot was streaked in blood; used bunches of gauze littered the countertops and shards of glass covered the floor; a Red Crescent apron lay crumpled in a corner.

Qdeih, a Hamas critic and supporter of the Palestinian political party Fatah, converted his modest Khuzaa home and office into an almost impossibly packed infirmary for more than 100 wounded Palestinians during the long days and nights they were boxed in by fighting, he said.

The first batch of injured was brought to his home after a group of hundreds, including Qdeih, attempted their first escape on July 22.

The group approached the line of Israeli tanks blocking the main road to Khan Younis, Qdeih said, and shouted to soldiers that they were civilians, lifting their shirts to show they weren’t wearing weapons. But, he said, the army began firing at them after telling them over a megaphone that the International Committee for the Red Cross wasn’t waiting for them on the other side, and that they should go home. (Various other witnesses confirmed this account.)

The welcome sign to Khuzaa, a lush farming town in southern Gaza, was cut down in fighting between Israel and Hamas.

According to the doctor, around 30 gravely wounded residents were carried back to his house after the attack. But one was left behind, stuck in her wheelchair: 16-year-old girl Gadir Abu Erjala, who had epilepsy and had received years of medical care in Israel.

Speaking to the Journal weeks later during a cease-fire, the girl’s mother, Hamda, was wracked with guilt about having to leave her daughter in the road. The interview took place in her home — remarkably intact compared to the rest of Khuzaa.

“The tanks were shooting at us and revving their engines,” Hamda said, raising her voice as tears fell onto her hijab. “There is no way we would have survived.”

Hamda said her teen daughter had initially begged not to go outside, but that the family needed to evacuate the girl as soon as possible, as she had run out of medicine. “There were a lot of civilians here, so we didn’t think they would do something like that,” her mother said of the IDF.

Gadir’s brother, Bilal, said he was pushing her wheelchair and approaching the line of IDF tanks guarding Khuzaa when he was shot in the hand. Bilal was forced to let go, and he and his family members — under fire — stumbled too far back to return for Gadir. The young man’s right arm is now wrapped in a thick cast.

Rasan, another of Gadir’s older brothers, said he placed countless calls to the Red Cross in the following days, trying to secure a safe passage with the Israeli army to retrieve his sister. He hoped she might still be alive. But every time he emerged from the house, Rasan said he came under fire again and had to retreat.

The Abu Erjala family lost their youngest sister Gadir, an epileptic 16-year-old in a wheelchair, when they tried to evacuate Khuzaa.

When presented with a detailed account of this alleged incident, the IDF said only that the entire battle of Khuzaa was “under investigation.” When the Journal presented more details about Gadir’s death and asked if the fire that killed her could have come from Hamas, the IDF stated that the entire incident was “not familiar to the IDF, according to our resources and investigations.” However, Israeli soldiers, speaking anonymously, said that although they didn’t witness this event, shooting at any Gazan who refused to retreat would be in accord with IDF protocol.

More than a week later, when it was finally safe for the Abu Erjala family to return for their 16-year-old, her corpse was unrecognizable — blown to bits, lying 20 meters from her wheelchair. “She tried to walk toward the soldiers,” Rasan said, his eyes wide and blank.

Her father interjected, furious. “Are there rules against that?” he asked. “Leaving people injured in the road after 10 days?”

Gadir was the light of Abu Erjala household, her mother said, and always made her brothers laugh when they were angry. “We’re missing something from the house,” Bilal said. “We still think this is like a dream. We don’t believe it happened.”

It seems that after this war, nearly every family in Khuzaa has its own tragic story of human loss.

In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Palestinian mother Faten Qdeih said that after watching her 7-year-old boy killed in the street, she made the impossible decision to leave his body behind and flee with her daughters, still alive. “I would rather I had died than see what I've seen,” she told the paper.

After he escaped Khuzaa on July 24, Mahmoud Ismail, a biomedical engineering student at an Egyptian university, took to Twitter to describe what he saw. “Khuzaa is destroyed… My folks and I came out alive, but I have no explanation as to how or why,” he wrote. (The Journal was not able to reach Ismail for an interview.)

While inside, Ismail said, “I watched from the window in my room, for hours, all the stages of death of a 20-year-old young man.”

The college student described running through Khuzaa with his family, looking for an escape route. “Right in front of my eyes a little boy fell from his mother's arm while she held a white flag in her other hand,” he wrote. “The boy died. She used the flag to wrap him and continued her way with the rest of her children. Horror.”

On July 24, according to the IDF, army planes dropped evacuation leaflets into Khuzaa. “This is part of the IDF's modus operandi to prevent harming civilians,” the army’s foreign press office said. “The leaflets contained messages instructing residents to evacuate areas in which the IDF was to operate. The leaflets were written in Arabic and often included visual aids.”

Another branch of the Qdeih family told the Journal they were still trapped in their basement in east Khuzaa on July 25, badly in need of food and water, when they heard bulldozers crashing into the side of the house and soldiers entering their home upstairs. When the patriarch, 64-year-old Mohammed Qdeih, decided to go upstairs to speak with them, carrying a white flag, his niece Raghad said she watched an Israeli soldier shoot him dead.

The soldier was young, with blonde hair and light eyes that showed “fear and dread,” she said. “He was trembling.”

Raghad said she and her relatives, including women and children, were then held in the house “under an atmosphere of intimidation and horror” for hours as soldiers used it as a base, moving family members into the same rooms from which they were shooting.

She was confused, then, by one small act of kindness by a Druze soldier. “We asked him to bring food for the children, and he brought bread and tuna, but then disappeared,” she said. “But the rest of the soldiers, they were fierce.”

The residents of Khuzaa are also skeptical of Israeli soldiers’ motives in their decision to transport a 75-year-old Palestinian woman to the IDF field hospital on the Israeli side of the border, and later to a hospital inside Israel, to be treated for dehydration.

“It’s confusing,” said Kamal Qdeih, 40, the neighborhood doctor. “Maybe that happened because they want to make the world think they’re OK. But if they’re really humanitarian, they should take care of humans. They shouldn’t kill civilians.”

Hamda, the mother of the epileptic girl who died, was also confused. “Why would they leave a special-needs kid, a 16-year-old girl, in the road, and they care for an old woman?” she asked. “I don’t understand.”

Yosef Al Najjar, 55, lives within eyeshot of the Israeli border fence. After his family escaped Khuzaa, he said he returned to their home compound during a brief cease fire to find six Palestinian corpses piled and rotting in the bathroom of his son’s house. Israeli bullet casings were scattered around the home, and a line of bullet holes studded the bathroom wall.

“My son doesn’t want to come back to this house anymore,” Al Najjar said. “He feels there are still souls screaming inside.”

“Khuzaa is a symbol of dignity,” a member of the Al Najjar family wrote a few meters from the bathroom where six Palestinian fighters were found apparently executed.

The human-rights organization Al Mezan has since identified the six victims of the apparent execution as fighters. All between the ages of 21 and 25, the men are “listed as combatants by Al Mezan on our lists,” a spokesman told the Journal.

Both Al Mezan and Human Rights Watch are currently investigating the incident. According to both organizations, if Israel did execute enemy fighters once they were in custody, that could constitute a war crime.

The Israeli army has repeatedly asserted that Hamas is the side committing war crimes by embedding military infrastructure inside civilian areas. For example, battlefield photos and videos released by the IDF show weapons caches and tunnel entrances located in public mosques.

A young Givati soldier who fought in Shujaiya, north of Khuzaa, told the Journal that he saw women and children used as combatants. A boy he estimated to be only about 10 years old came running toward IDF soldiers, the source said, yelling: “Allahu Akbar [God is great]!” After the IDF shot the boy dead, the soldier said they lifted his shirt to find a suicide vest.

But many Khuzaa residents believe the IDF sometimes targeted civilians and city infrastructure not to protect themselves, but to show their strength and avenge fallen Israeli soldiers.

Khuzaa residents set up a tent near their toppled water tower during a brief August cease-fire.

In a video uploaded to YouTube, confirmed to be authentic by the IDF, the army can be seen blowing up a mosque in Khuzaa. Soldiers cheer in the background. “This demolition is dedicated to the memory of three battalion soldiers who lost their lives since the beginning of the operation!” a narrator says in Hebrew, identifying himself as a member of the Givati brigade.

“Soldiers are perfectly entitled to be happy about destroying a tunnel used to carry out attacks against Israel,” the IDF said in a statement to the France 24 news channel.

Col. Winter, Givati's commander, used strong religious rhetoric throughout the war. “History has chosen us to spearhead the fighting [against] the terrorist ‘Gazan’ enemy which abuses, blasphemes and curses the God of Israel’s forces,” he wrote in a letter to his officers. And in an interview with Israeli media, Winter said of a surprise IDF air assault that killed more than 100 bystanders in Rafah, south of Khuzaa, after an Israeli soldier disappeared: “Whoever kidnaps has to know that he will pay a price. It was not revenge. They simply started up with the wrong brigade.”

The last “checkpoint”

For days at Kamal Qdeih’s home clinic, the wounded from the first mass escape attempt were laid out on every floor surface, waiting to die. Later, speaking to the Journal, survivors of the ordeal said they could see an Israeli soldiers staked out in the house next door through the doctor’s kitchen window.

Over the next few days, explosions rocked the neighborhood, and dozens more wounded were carried to Qdeih’s front door. When the doctor’s own 23-year-old brother, Ahmad, stepped outside to find water, he was killed by a drone rocket that hit just behind the home.

Qdeih’s 12-year-old daughter, Abir, tried to squeeze her neighbors’ open wounds to prevent blood loss. “I was helping my father,” she said. “I was afraid we were going to lose someone. I kept my hand there for as long as I could.”

By the morning of July 24, Qdeih estimates that the group sheltering in his home had reached around 140 people. So he squeezed everyone into a larger basement next door, thinking it would be safer.

But when a tear gas canister came flying through the window, Qdeih decided they had no choice but to try to escape again. “Injured people were lying here for days with no water, no food, no electricity,” he said. “There was one 4-year-old child. If we had waited five more hours to leave, he would have died.”

The doctor said his 9-year-old son, Hamza, told him: “Just go, don’t be afraid. I am going to support you.”

Qdeih had coordinated with the Red Cross and knew ambulances were waiting for them a few kilometers away, on the other side of the Israeli tank perimeter.

Khuzaa families searched through what remained of their demolished homes during various cease fires in August.

(The Red Cross and the Red Crescent reported that they had not, up to that point, been granted a humanitarian passageway into Khuzaa. When a Red Crescent ambulance attempted to enter the battle zone on July 25, one medic was killed and others wounded. By July 26, the Red Cross stated that “many more people in need are still in Khuzaa.”)

So the doctor’s group made one last effort, marching toward Khan Younis down a narrow farming road at the southeast edge of Khuzaa. They dragged their feet in the sand, heavy with heat and exhaustion. Survivors remembered children screaming for water.

When they reached what they called an IDF “checkpoint” on the way out of town, the Khuzaa residents said the Israeli soldiers told them to sit down. Soldiers took photos of them, they said, and peered at them through the scopes of their rifles. And after some time, when the soldiers released the group to walk the rest of the way to Khan Younis, witnesses alleged that IDF soldiers fired many rounds over their heads and near their feet to scare them.

“This was the most sad Ramadan we ever had,” the doctor said.

Members of another group that escaped via the same dirt road that same morning told the Journal that a man in their group, Mohammed Al Najjar, was shot dead by the IDF soldiers at the “checkpoint.” (Testimony provided to the Palestinian rights group Al Mezan described a similar incident.)

Khuzaa resident Khaled Al Karaa, 25, showed a reporter the road where he escaped on July 24.

The farming road where Khuzaa residents fled for their lives is now covered in a mash of cactus, greenhouse tents and tank-churned dirt. A few young men showed a reporter the spot where they said the “checkpoint” shooting had occurred.

“I think they did this to show us they’re strong and can kill us inside our own land,” Khaled Al Karaa, 25, said.

Sixteen-year-old Gadir’s wheelchair, too, sat on the main road to Khan Younis for weeks after she was killed, crumpled and gathering desert dust — another reminder to the residents of Khuzaa of all they had lost.

Why didn’t Gazans use the IDF field hospital?

For those few Gaza hospitals not bombed or evacuated during the Gaza war, the influx of wounded and dead made for a hellish 24/7 chaos in their halls, as well as growing refugee camps on their perimeters. At the height of fighting in late July and early August, doctors and journalists reported that Gaza’s hospitals, often without electricity or water, were so packed that some patients were being treated on the floor. Dead bodies stacked up so fast that some had to be stuffed in food refrigerators.

“The hospitals are full, the capacity is full — we cannot accommodate more,” Yousef Al Sweity, a doctor at the Al Awad Hospital in northern Gaza, told the Journal in late July, in a high-pitched panic. The hospital’s maternity ward, the only one of its kind in Gaza, was overflowing with hundreds of pregnant women either miscarrying or delivering prematurely as a result of their injuries. “Also because of the fear,” he said.

Yet, just a 15-minute drive north, a spacious Israel Defense Forces (IDF) field hospital erected on July 21 at Erez crossing, the only pedestrian walkway between Gaza and Israel, remained almost entirely empty. 

On Aug. 1, when a pack of reporters visited the IDF hospital, they didn’t see a single Gazan. Twenty full-time staff wore crisp scrubs — a far cry from the blood-splattered uniforms at Al Shifa, Gaza’s central hospital. Floors were squeaky clean. Brand-new stuffed animals sat unloved on empty cots, and pyramids of gauze rolls went unused. A miniature maternity ward stood silent.

Some journalists were confused as to why the Israeli Government Press Office would bus them all the way to Erez to show off a hospital without patients. “I was surprised there were no Palestinians here,” a French reporter told the Times of Israel. “This could be very damaging to Israel’s image.”

Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the agency that manages Erez crossing, told the Journal that the IDF field hospital was prepared to accommodate as many patients as were willing to accept treatment.

However, IDF doctors only took in around 50 to 60 patients over a month of fighting — and the hospital eventually closed its doors due to inactivity.

“We heard there was no place at the Palestinian hospitals in Gaza. We heard about a lack of medical equipment,” Inbar said. “So we were prepared to have many patients … we even prepared the ability to do surgeries in that hospital. But even though we offered it, the Palestinians decided not to [come].”

Israeli officials claim Hamas prohibited ambulances from delivering Palestinian patients to the IDF field hospital.

Medhat Abbas, director general of the Gaza Ministry of Health, run by Hamas, confirmed. “We as the Ministry of Health will never, ever send a Palestinian patient to these child killers,” he said.

“These are the people who are killing our children,” Abbas said. “We don’t need their help — we need to bring them to justice, not bring our children to their hospitals.”

Because of this policy, Inbar said, the IDF field hospital’s only patients were Palestinians carried back from the battlefield by Israeli soldiers or those needing urgent care during their transfer through Erez by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).

“Of course we were aware of this hospital,” said Ran Goldstein, the spokesman for ICRC in Tel Aviv. “But when we coordinate or evacuate wounded people from Gaza, we do it according to the rules of the PRCS [Palestine Red Crescent Society].”

As of press time, a spokesperson for PRCS, Gaza’s main ambulance service, had not returned multiple calls requesting comment. However, medics working with the PRSC told the Journal that, like Hamas health officials, they never would have considered rushing patients straight into the hands of the same army that bombed them.

Mahmoud Abu Rahma, spokesman for the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, said his organization took testimony from Palestinians who refused treatment from the IDF, including patients with long-term permits to leave Gaza for existing medical conditions who were now being rerouted to the field hospital.

“The certain thing is that the Israeli army was frustrated that people didn’t want to go to their hospital,” Abu Rahma said. “I think people understood that this was a huge part of the Israeli propaganda. They were aware of how this would be used.”

Another point of confusion surrounding the field-hospital concept was how Gazans would get there when they needed emergency treatment most. During the IDF ground operation, in which hundreds of Palestinians were wounded every day and night, PRSC ambulances came under heavy fire when they even slightly breached the battle zone.

Information gathered by the Journal over weeks speaking with IDF soldiers and witnesses in Gaza indicated that Palestinian fighters sometimes used ambulances for transportation, and that as a result, the IDF often targeted ambulances during ground fighting.

The IDF field hospital “is a joke,” said Ahmad Abu Azan, a 25-year-old medic for the PRSC. Israeli tanks blew big chunks out of Abu Azan’s legs while he was trying to evacuate wounded civilians out of the hard-hit Shujaiya neighborhood on July 30. “No one will accept to come to an Israeli hospital after what they did.”

Abu Azan, now recovering in an East Jerusalem hospital, said his ambulance driver and a Palestinian photojournalist traveling with their medical team didn’t survive the rescue mission.

Aside from the contradictory nature of setting up an IDF hospital to treat IDF-inflicted wounds, said Ran Cohen with Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, “The reason it’s not succeeding is because arrival needs to be coordinated with COGAT. This is something most people can’t do.”

After struggling to draw patients to the IDF’s on-site treatment center at Erez, COGAT now mainly facilitates the transfer of Palestinian war casualties to hospitals outside of Gaza, in coordination with Palestinian health officials in the West Bank.

Inbar estimated that about 500 injured Gazans have been transferred through the Erez crossing over almost two months of war — and from there, corridors to safety have become as complex and political as the region.

The majority of evacuated Gazans are ending up at hospitals in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem (the largely Palestinian part of Israel’s capital city). “We feel safe that they’re in Palestinian hands,” said Abbas, director general of Gaza’s Ministry of Health.

Dozens have also been treated in Israel proper, and a few dozen more have reached Jordan, via long and checkpoint-heavy ambulance rides, and Turkey, via private flights out of Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. In addition, more than 200 Palestinians have been transferred through Gaza’s southern Rafah crossing and treated in Egypt, Abbas said.

Internationally, hosting Gaza patients is becoming a public-relations race: Seven-year-old Maha Khalil, paralyzed from the neck down, was swarmed by reporters on her trip through Erez crossing; once she was settled in a fresh hospital bed in Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan kissed the girl’s limp hand for the cameras.

But in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the honor of hosting Gazans is also a duty — and hospitals are creaking under the load.

East Jerusalem’s Al Makassed Hospital is well on its way to reaching the overflow state of Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, and is turning into a makeshift camp for injured and kin. Family members who accompanied more than 70 patients from Gaza were granted only one-day permits in the city and have no safe way of traveling back into Gaza. So now they’re sleeping in the halls of Al Makassed, afraid of being stopped by police outside hospital walls. 

Children’s clothes and bedding hang from the window of every room. And in the hospital’s back lot, Al Makassed staffers set up two prefab mobile homes equipped with toilets and showers, courtesy of the Bank of Palestine. They’re planning to install two more.

Wael Namel, a 26-year-old father writhing in pain at Al Makkased, was wounded in a surprise F-16 attack while walking the streets of Rafah with nine family members during a temporary cease-fire. That day, after Israeli combat soldier Hadar Goldin disappeared in Rafah — at the time a suspected captive of Hamas — Israel bombarded the civilian-filled area in an attempt to halt the abduction.

After the attack was over, Goldin was declared dead — as were at least 100 Palestinians, including Namel’s brother and sister. He and his 3-year-old daughter each lost a leg; his wife, now hospitalized in Hebron in the West Bank, lost both legs.

In the ambulance en route to East Jerusalem, Namel said he noticed a sheet with an Israeli flag pattern covering his contorted lower half. Despite his condition, he said, he “threw it off.”

“I also refused to go to Egypt” for treatment, Namel said. “I’m angry at Egypt [and Israel] because they’re just surrounding Gaza.”

Israeli hospitals have been more hesitant than Palestinian ones to invite reporters to the bedsides of their Gaza patients. At Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon on Aug. 26, two IDF soldiers guarded a Palestinian man named Mohammed whom they said had been picked up in Gaza, near the border fence, by the IDF’s all-Bedouin unit.

The hospital said that in order to interview Mohammed, the Journal would need permission from the IDF. The IDF then said the Journal would need permission from COGAT, who again said the Journal would need permission from the IDF. 

After an hour of run-around, it was clear no interview would happen.

The apparent reason: Everyone at Barzilai seemed to suspect Mohammed to be a Palestinian militant. “I think he’s from Hamas,” one woman staffer said. A Red Cross representative referred to him as a “terrorist” on a phone call with a hospital official. And two Israeli teenagers stuck their heads into his room, yelling simply, “Hamas!”

Here, at this squat ocean-view hospital in Israel’s largest city adjacent to Gaza, thin walls separate suspected Palestinian militants from Israeli soldiers and Bedouins injured by Hamas mortars. Also on Aug. 26, dozens of lightly injured and in-shock Ashkelon residents, their faces like ghosts, streamed into the emergency room after an unusually large Hamas rocket hit a residential area. 

It was also at Barzilai that a 75-year-old woman from the Khan Younis area of southeast Gaza was treated for about a week during the war, after IDF soldiers found her starved and dehydrated under a tree and brought her to the Erez field hospital.

“At the beginning she was very suspicious, but after that, she let the crew take care of her and treat her,” Inbar said.

And when a field hospital commander came to visit the woman at Barzilai, Inbar said, “She was very glad and happy to see him again. She didn’t stop hugging him and kissing him and thanking him for saving her life, and for the treatment she received from the IDF.”

Inbar said of the encounter: “Everyone was angry with me, asking why I didn’t bring journalists to see. But I think that would be kind of a propaganda thing.”

The Khan Younis woman’s stay in Israel has become something of a legend back home in Gaza, too.  

“She got tired, and she found a tree,” said Rasan Abu Jela, a friend of the woman’s son. “She was sitting in the shade when a tank arrived, and soldiers gave her some food. Then they came back after two to three days, and she was still there. So the Israeli army took her to Israel.” 

Is Israel’s longest, bloodiest Gaza war over?

A rocket barrage fell on Israel, a boom sounded over Tel Aviv and then it was over — at least for now.

After 50 days of missiles, airstrikes, ground operations, tunnel incursions, truce talks, cease-fire proposals, death and destruction, Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended truce on Tuesday.

The cease-fire announced by Egypt stipulates that Israel and Egypt will open all border crossings to allow international humanitarian aid and construction materials to enter the Gaza Strip.

The agreement requires Israel and Hamas to cease hostilities but, according to reports, does not include commitments to allow an international airport and seaport in Gaza. After a month, should the quiet hold, Israel and Hamas will restart indirect negotiations in Cairo on easing Israel’s blockade of the coastal strip and disarming the enclave.

The end of the operation should not include “any significant political achievements for Hamas, which is a terrorist organization which doesn’t accept our existence here,” said Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister.

‪Livni added that the truce should be “part of an overall accord with those who seek peace.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had not spoken publicly or released a statement about the cease-fire as of press time. Two days prior, though, during a Cabinet meeting, he said: “We embarked on Operation Protective Edge in order to restore quiet and security to you and to all Israeli citizens. The more determined and patient we are, the more our enemies will understand that they will not succeed in wearing us down.”

The agreement is the culmination of Egyptian-led cease-fire efforts that have been ongoing throughout the conflict. Earlier this month, Israel and Hamas had agreed to a string of temporary cease-fires. The lull ended with Hamas rocket fire on Israel last week.

The fighting is Israel’s third major conflict with Hamas since 2008, following conflicts in 2008–09 and 2012. This one, however, was the longest and costliest between the sides since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Relatives of three Palestinian boys killed by an Israeli airstrike visiting their bodies at the morgue of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Aug. 21. Photo by Emad Nassar/Flash90

More than 2,000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis died in the latest conflict, which wounded more than 10,000 Gazans and 500 Israelis, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Also, 20 Palestinians died in protests in the West Bank against Israel’s operation, according to a report in the Guardian.

The fighting created ghost towns across Israel’s South and devastated Gaza, destroying thousands of homes. Israeli forces delivered a punishing blow to Hamas during the conflict, with airstrikes destroying thousands of rockets and ground troops eliminating much of its tunnel infrastructure both under the Israel-Gaza border and across Gaza.

Last week, an Israeli airstrike killed three senior Hamas commanders. The chief of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, may have been killed in a separate attack last week.

Israel’s aggressive military tactics, along with a high Palestinian civilian death toll, drew widespread international criticism. Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council said it would send a fact-finding mission to investigate possible war crimes committed during the fighting. Israel has indicated that it likely would not cooperate with the investigation, alleging anti-Israel bias.

Even the United States, an Israel ally, issued harsh criticism following an Israeli airstrike that hit a United Nations school on Aug. 3, and tightened its controls on weapons shipments to Israel. American assistance to Israel continued during the conflict, though, as the U.S. approved an added $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. “strongly supports” the cease-fire.

“We view this as an opportunity, not a certainty,” Psaki said, according to reports. “Today’s agreement comes after many hours and days of negotiations and discussions. But certainly there’s a long road ahead. And we’re aware of that and we’re going into this eyes wide open.”

Hamas saw many of its attempted attacks on Israel frustrated. Iron Dome intercepted nearly all of the rockets Hamas aimed at city centers, and the Israel Defense Forces stopped Hamas’ infiltrations into Israel close to the border.

Nevertheless, Hamas killed 64 Israeli soldiers in Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza — the highest death toll for Israel since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 — in addition to six civilians.

Palestinians viewing a building in Gaza City witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on Aug. 26. Photo by Emad Nassar/Flash90

Despite being ineffective, Hamas rockets proved to have an increasingly long range — mortar fire reached nearly all of Israel for the first time. While residents of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were able to largely carry on with life under the protection of Iron Dome, they found themselves running for shelter daily at the sound of warning sirens, an experience that had previously been largely confined to southern Israel.

And Hamas rocket fire last month on central Israel led a number of international airlines to cancel flights to and from Israel for two days, leaving Israelis feeling isolated. The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority instituted a 24-hour ban on flights to Israel, which some criticized as unwarranted. Hamas celebrated the cancellations in a statement Tuesday as an “air blockade.”

The conflict began on July 8 following a barrage of Hamas rockets on Israel. Tensions between the sides had risen after Hamas operatives in the West Bank kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teens on June 12. Israeli troops swept the West Bank in the ensuing weeks, arresting hundreds of Hamas members, according to Israel. The July 2 kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teen, who was burned alive by a group of Israeli extremists in a likely revenge attack, further stoked the flames.

Israel began its campaign with airstrikes across Gaza, targeting Hamas weapons and infrastructure but also killing hundreds of civilians. But following Hamas attempts to infiltrate Israel by tunnel and sea, Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza on July 17 that lasted two weeks.

The ground operation ended as Israel and Hamas agreed to the first in a string of temporary cease-fires. During the calm, the sides engaged in Egyptian-mediated negotiations begun early in the conflict on a long-term truce. But the talks ended Aug. 19 without an agreement as Hamas resumed rocket fire.

As in previous conflicts, a vast majority of Israelis supported the operation, with 95 percent of Israeli Jews in favor, according to the Israel Democracy Institute. But the conflict also opened divisions within Israel’s governing coalition, as more hawkish ministers called for the IDF to deal a harsher blow to Hamas and opposed the various cease-fires. Residents of the South, who have withstood rocket fire for more than a decade, also have called for a continued operation.

“Any concession to Hamas is a surrender to terrorism,” Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni said Tuesday, according to Haaretz. “The residents of the South wanted to see this campaign resolved, but that will probably not happen.”

Barrage of rockets strikes Israel as bomb shelters ordered open

Hamas claimed responsibility for a barrage of rockets fired on southern and central Israel, including Tel Aviv.

More than two dozen rockets were fired fr0m the Gaza Strip between the hours of 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Two rockets landed in an empty area in the greater Tel Aviv area, according to the Israel Defense Forces, and at least two were reported intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. At least four rockets also landed in Beersheba and three in Sderot.

A Code Red warning was heard in Beit Shemesh, located west of Jerusalem.

Rockets were fired from Gaza beginning on Tuesday afternoon in contravention of a 24-hour cease-fire extension agreed to late Monday night just as a five-day cease-fire was expiring.

Earlier Tuesday evening, a rocket struck a shopping center near Ashkelon, causing damage, according to Israel’s Channel 2.

Israel has retaliated with airstrikes on Gaza. At least one child was reported killed in the strikes, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency.

Also Tuesday night, the Israeli military ordered communities up to 50 miles away from the Gaza border to open public bomb shelters in light of the restarted rocket fire.

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday afternoon confirmed that rockets had been fired from Gaza, violating the cease-fire, and reaffirmed that Hamas has “security responsibility” for Gaza.

“We are very concerned about the developments in Gaza and condemn the rocket fire today and support Israel’s right to defend itself,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.”We call for immediate end to hostilities and rocket fire and we call on the parties to go back to talks on cease-fire.”

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.”

The view from Israel: Pondering the chances of a long-term solution

Just after the start of the initial 72-hour cease fire last week, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) encouraged residents of communities near its southern border who had left during the war to return to their homes. They did — and then quickly discovered that the belief in the advent of calm had been too hasty. The head of the Southern Command had to admit that a mistake had been made; that the war was not over until someone in Cairo sings. As this article is written, talks are again in process, and another 72-hour cease fire is in place. What happens next? One thing is certain: The government isn’t again going to prematurely call on people to go back home. 

The less shooting there was around Gaza, the more noise there was in Jerusalem. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman proposed in a Knesset meeting to give the United Nations a more active role in ruling Gaza, and he expressed his opposition to giving such an active role to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni wants the exact opposite: to give Abbas a more active role and revive the hope for a peace process. The problem for Netanyahu, as his emissaries went to Cairo to handle negotiations, was twofold — or maybe threefold: how to keep the political arena quiet, how to reach an agreement for a more prolonged cease fire, and how to accomplish the latter in ways that will be compatible with finding a more stable long-term solution for the Gaza problem.

[RELATED: The view from Gaza]

This is one issue on which there is a lot of talk but no agreement — whether the war made enough of an impression to become the engine for gradual change in Gaza. Former Secretary of the Cabinet Zvi Hauser said on Aug. 11 that Gaza should be the real pilot for a Palestinian state. The territory is free of Israelis; it is small and contained; it can receive material support and assistance as much as necessary; and it can prove to the world, and to Israel, that a Palestinian state is a practical concept. If the Palestinians can make something out of Gaza, it might convince Israelis to be less apprehensive about letting them establish a state in the West Bank.

I’d be surprised if Hauser believes in such a possibility — that Gaza suddenly would become Singapore. And even if it were to do so, the steps required from all players to make it happen would take a long time to realize. In the meantime, most Israelis have little faith in Gazans, in the international community and in the Palestinian Authority (PA). They do have faith in the IDF and, to a much lesser degree, in Israel’s decision makers. 

There’s an old Israeli poem by Amir Gilboa, to which Israel’s most popular singer-songwriter Shlomo Artzi wrote a tune, called “Song of the Morning.” Almost every Israeli knows the words of this poem, and although interpretations of its meaning vary, most would acknowledge its basic optimism: “Suddenly a man wakes up in the morning / He feels he is a nation and begins to walk / And to all he meets on his way he calls out ‘Shalom!’ ” 

This song comes to mind as one closely examines the mood of Israeli society in recent weeks. Curiously, such an examination reveals a sense of satisfaction about the Gaza war among Jewish Israelis. Not that they want war, or like it; not that they aren’t worried about the future of their country. They are. And yet, there is an undeniable comfort in the way that this war united the majority of Israelis. In the fact that Israel, even if for just a short time, felt again like a family in a way that we had long forgotten is even possible. A man wakes up and feels like a nation. 

Yes, there was some bickering, and there were many outrageous statements made on social media, and disruptions to this general atmosphere of unity. And, at times, the demand for unanimity was too much to bear. But there was — there is still — a sober mood of a shared destiny, of a hardened connection to the land and to the people. There is an understanding among the majority that there are times and there are circumstances in which doubts and small objections should be cast aside to keep the harmonious national front. 

This can be clearly demonstrated by looking at the polls, and by listening to the statements from Israel’s leaders. But it can also be detected by looking at deeds, large and small. By looking at the tens of thousands of Israelis who attended the funerals of the Lone Soldiers killed in the conflict. And by looking at much more mundane activities. In one of the offices in which I work, I suddenly began to receive an almost daily note suggesting that I buy produce from southern farmers who had lost their closer-to-home market. At the workplace of a friend, all employees decided to contribute a certain amount and buy candy for the troops. Their boss, hearing about the initiative, doubled their contribution. 

Two weeks ago, opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog, at a rally in Jerusalem, stated that the “battle in Gaza is just, there is no dispute about it.” His party, the main opposition party, stood alongside the government in support of the troops and the operation. The more leftist Meretz was less supportive of the war and more skeptical of its chances to achieve its goals — but appropriately kept its tone and manner measured. When funerals of soldiers become a daily scene and the public is highly supportive of the operation, the reasonable response is to let criticism lie.  

Meretz was more vocal in its condemnation of right-wing attacks, verbal and physical, against leftist elements that publicly objected to the war. The condemnation might have been somewhat hysterical — out of an instinctive tendency to look for right-wing brutality or for colder political calculation — but the worry about ugly demonstrations of flawed patriotism were real and justified. Even more worrisome are the heightened tensions between Jewish and Arab Israelis — the latter of which could hardly fit into the newfound national unity. Jewish thugs occasionally cursed, harassed and attacked Arabs. And less problematic, but at times more painful, Jews disappeared from Arab neighborhoods, leaving restaurants empty and shopping areas struggling to find shoppers. 

Notable Arab public figures and writers, such as Sayed Kashua and Uda Basharat, expressed their despair with Israel’s society. “When Jewish youth parade through the city shouting, ‘Death to the Arabs,’ and attack Arabs only because they are Arabs, I understood that I had lost my little war,” Kashua wrote. It was a devastating article. Basharat, in an article for Haaretz Daily on Aug. 11, called the members of the political opposition “full-time collaborators” — that is, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.    

A lot more debate can be expected in the coming weeks about the outcome of the war. But oddly enough, if there is dissatisfaction in Israel with the current situation, it comes mostly from the faction of society — by the way, not all of it nominally belongs to the “right” — that wanted to see an operation with more ambitious goals and more decisive military victory.  Late last week, 60 percent of Jewish Israelis told pollster Menachem Lazar that ending the operation was “not the right decision,” while only 26 percent thought the timing was proper. Eighty-six percent said that the IDF should keep a large force around Gaza. Sixty-seven percent said that they do not feel “safe” from Hamas. Only 15 percent believed that the calm is going to hold for a “significant amount of time.” It is almost as if a consensus remains the norm: this time, the consensus of reluctant acknowledgment that the victory was not decisive enough, coupled with the understanding that the real battle over a long-tern arrangement is far from over.

Thus the public, at least for now, keeps giving the political leadership high marks for the supposedly unsatisfying results it was able to achieve. On July 10, Netanyahu’s approval was 51 percent. It then climbed to 53 percent, to 67 percent, to 72 percent on July 31, and then declined a little, back to 63 percent on Aug. 8. President Barack Obama, speaking to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman earlier this week, knowledgably explained to his interrogator that Netanyahu is too strong. “In some ways, Bibi [Netanyahu] is too strong, [and] in some ways [Abbas] is too weak to bring them together and make the kinds of bold decisions that [former Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat or [Israeli Prime Ministers] Begin or Rabin were willing to make,” Obama said. This was yet more proof that this president is either disinterested or incapable of ever understanding Israel. Netanyahu was able to keep the Gaza operation under check and keep the hardliners on the right relatively quiet only because he is so strong. And as for future peace with Abbas — Obama has little to be concerned about. Netanyahu is not going to keep such high approval numbers for very long. It will not be his political strength that prevents peace between Israel and the PA. 

If you ask Israelis, a majority would say that for too long Israel tolerated the constant harassment of southern communities that suffered constant shells and rockets falling on their heads. It was prompted to real action only when the drizzle turned into rain. “The promise of three years of quiet is no longer enough for me,” a resident of one of the kibbutzim near Gaza said in a radio interview this week  — yet it seems that her government is striving to achieve exactly that: three, or five, or maybe eight years of calm in the south. Partially, this stems from a positive motivation of a government that is not adventurous in pursuing its goals. Partially, it is the result of highly pessimistic worldview — namely, the view that, for now, hoping for more than temporary calm is unrealistic.

Thinking about the views of Israeli officials and ministers, it is customary for observers to separate the “doves” from the “hawks,” those wanting to “eliminate” Hamas rule and those seeking to use the pretext of the Gaza war and what follows to reignite the peace process and negotiations between Israel and the PA. Surely, this is one possible way to understand the positions of Israeli leaders, but another possibility is to divide them not by their positions vis-à-vis Hamas and the peace process, but rather by their level of expectation for change. There are the optimists — those who believe that Israel has the power to bring about real change, whether by toppling Hamas or by strengthening Abbas. And there are the pessimists — those who believe there are no decisive winners and losers in this war, that the best Israel can hope for now is a time-out in a long battle.

That is the division among the ministers, but for the public, the picture is a little different. They want more action but don’t believe it will bring about calm. They want negotiations but don’t believe that will bring about peace. They are not at all happy with the way the war ended — and yet, they are also not entirely disappointed. Most Israelis, to borrow Palestinian novelist Emile Habibi’s term, are in an “opsimist” mood.

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.”

Thousands of Israelis protest war’s failure to halt Gaza rockets

Some 10,000 Israelis protested on Thursday in a Tel Aviv square against what they see as the failure of a five-week Gaza war to decisively halt rocket and mortar fire at southern towns bordering on the Palestinian coastal territory.

Many demonstrators were bused in from parts of Israel hardest hit by rocket barrages in the recent fighting, joined by supporters in the Israeli business hub that also came under rocket fire on a daily basis in the fighting since July 8.

Two successive truces since Monday, expected to last through Aug. 19, have largely quieted the guns, after 1,945 Palestinians, most of them civilians, 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel were killed.

But demonstrators were wary of seeing more hostilities erupt once the ceasefire ends and many felt the Israeli military should destroy the rocket arsenals of Hamas militants who dominate Gaza.

Some complained of feeling betrayed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, which has pledged that the war would restore calm to southern Israel, in addition to destroying underground tunnels seen as launching pads for future attacks.

No one criticised Netanyahu personally and he was thanked, along with the military, for taking on Hamas in the latest hostilities. But the demonstration was still the largest public display of criticism of Israel's government since the hostilities began.

“We're tired of promises,” Alon Davidi, mayor of Sderot, one of the more rocket-battered Gaza border towns, intoned from a flag-decked podium in Tel Aviv's main city square named for Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister assassinated there in 1995 by a far-right Israeli opposed to peace moves.


“We fear the agreements that may result in compromise at our expense, and our lives are not cheap, we're not ready to accept a continued hail of deadly fire from Gaza,” Davidi said.

“This situation must finally be brought to resolution, and we cannot just let some terrorist group make us dance to their music. In a proper country the army protects its citizens and that's just what Israel must let them do,” Davidi said.

Protester Haim Dahan, 39, a father of four from a collective farm near Sderot, applauded Davidi along with thousands of others and told a reporter he thought Israel had to destroy Hamas, which rejects Israel's right to exist.

“We feel as though there may be a ceasefire now, but wait another year and the situation will be worse than it was when the war began,” Dahan said.

“We must crush them. Hamas must not be allowed to decide whether my family may sleep peacefully at night.”

In an odd twist that seemed to reflect the confused emotions generated by the war, a group of left-wing Israelis opposed to Netanyahu's government joined the protest as a show of solidarity with countrymen under attack.

“They are rightly demanding quiet, and it's ours and the government's job to seek a way to achieve that,” Tamar Zandberg, lawmaker with the leftist Meretz party, said of the protesters.

“We've tried the path of violence a number of times,” she added. “It looks like what we have tried hasn't worked, so the time has come to change direction,” she said, urging a return to peace talks for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Tom Brown

BREAKING: Israeli police confirm rocket fired from Gaza landed in Southern Israel

Rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel two hours before the deadline of a 72-hour cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

One rocket exploded Wednesday night in an unpopulated area of the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, The Jerusalem Post reported. No damage or injuries were reported. Rocket sirens sounded in Ashkelon and surrounding areas.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army massed more troops along the Gaza border on Wednesday as the midnight deadline neared for the end of the temporary truce.

A news conference expected to be held by the Palestinian delegation to truce talks in Cairo at 9:30 p.m. reportedly was delayed until further notice.

Earlier Wednesday, the United States said it wanted a long-term cease-fire secured between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, but would settle for extending the temporary truce launched at midnight Monday if negotiators in the Egyptian capital cannot reach a larger accord by the deadline.

President Obama spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu by phone on Wednesday, urging Netanyahu to reach an agreement that would end the violence.

According to Israel’s Channel 2, the Israeli team returned home from the indirect negotiations in Cairo.

‘Terror Tunnels’ symbolize the present Gaza war and hold futures captive

This story originally appeared on

Israelis say this would have been just one of many similar headlines announcing mass killings and untold loss of civilian life had “Operation Protective Edge” not been launched. “Protective Edge” is the army’s designation for the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip launched July 8, the goal of which was to silence the seemingly endless barrages of Palestinian rockets aimed at Israeli cities and towns; and to detect and destroy the vast network of underground tunnels dug beneath Gaza and into Israel by the Islamist Hamas organization. 

As details of the tunnel system are made public, Israelis are at once fascinated and infuriated to learn specifics of the intricate Trojan-horse-like network lurking beneath their own communities filled with Hamas fighters waiting to strike; an engineering feat so lethal that the national patter is obsessed with unsubstantiated tales of nefarious battle plans for the execution of “an Israeli 9/11.”

Frequently heard are comments like, “Surely the hi-tech nation should have the ability to detect tunnels!” while others ask how such an elaborate feat of engineering and construction could have proceeded right under the noses of the military and a security-savvy populous experienced in counter-terrorism?  Nothing short of shocking, Protective Edge has revealed that the tunnels not only transverse the Gaza Strip, but a number of them continue beneath the border and exit inside Israeli territory and even within the perimeters of some communities.

In October 2013, Israeli army (IDF) intelligence located entrances to one such tunnel just a couple of hundred meters from the entrance to Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, a collective community in southern Israel near the border with Gaza. Standing at ground level, one sees the tunnel split in the middle, its branches extending deep into the earth, with one entrance/exit almost a mile  away – through Israeli territory and into the Gaza Strip — and the other a mere 600 meters (2000 feet) to the right: sitting  on Israeli land.

Moving closer, it required maneuvering through a steep downward 46-foot trek assisted by the steadying hand of an IDF officer to navigate the distance from the surface to the underground passageway itself.

Crawling through the deceptively small opening and out of the desert’s summer heat and humidity into the coolness of a subterranean concrete-lined structure, it was surprising to find myself standing erect and able to see far enough to sense distance – and lots of it. Though visibility is limited by the dearth of ambient light and helped only slightly by the lighting unit attached to our camera, the vast dimension of the expanse was perceptible; the elaborate nature of the structure striking. From the sophisticated construction to the array of cables, conduits finished ceilings, communication lines and pulley systems, it made perfect sense to learn that each tunnel was estimated to have required several years and millions of dollars to build – mostly by hand with a jackhammer and shovels.

Lest there be any doubt about the tunnels’ purpose, also discovered in many tunnels were a variety of weapons, army uniforms, motorcycles and chloroform and handcuffs: a macabre “kidnapping kit.”

According to Maj. Arieh Shalicar, dozens, if not hundreds, of these tunnels, lead “from mosque-to-mosque; mosque-to-house; house-to-hospital; kindergarten-to-house: all within a mere 50 to 200 meters (150 to 650 feet). It is estimated that gunmen are able to live inside a tunnel for weeks at a time, apparently sustained by the quantities of dates and water left behind.

“Basically, a Hamas terrorist can enter one of these tunnels in civilian clothes without arms and pop up somewhere else fully clothed in an Israeli army uniform brandishing a Kalashnikov, ready to attack someone,” according to Shalicar.

During Operation Protective Edge there were several pitched battles resulting in high numbers of casualties when terrorists staged surprise raids on Israeli troops from inside tunnels.

Tunnels not only transverse the Gaza Strip, but many – including 14 of the 32 destroyed during Protective Edge — continue beneath the border and exit inside Israeli territory and even within the perimeters of Israeli communities.

Beneath the collective sigh of relief at the network’s discovery and destruction remains more telling questions as well: questions that will no doubt form the core of the national debate long after the tanks return to base. “Who knew what when?” is only the first to be directed to the Netanyahu administration. Consider as well the apparently un-detected noise and dirt that accompanied construction that utilized scores of tons of cement – perhaps the most often-cited example of substances usually banned for delivery into the Gaza Strip since Israel initiated its blockade in 2007. 

The passage of goods and people in and out of the territories is overseen by COGAT – the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories – which answers to the defense ministry. Its spokesman, Guy Inbar, told The Media Line that permission to bring building material into Gaza was denied following the discovery of tunnels last October. Later, those items were allowed to enter only in conjunction with requests for specific programs of the United Nations; American or European organizations.

A Gaza tunnel first figured prominently in a security scenario when terror mastermind Mahmoud Al-Mahbrouh avoided capture by Israel’s security services by escaping to Egypt through one in September 1989.

By the mid-1990’s, tunnels were first dug for small children to crawl through in order to smuggle cigarettes. Tunnels quickly became more prolific, a virtual economy growing up in the Gaza Strip in order to sidestep the Israel blockade. In addition to ammunition and other military hardware, almost anything could be obtained through the tunnels.

But in the past five to six years, tunnels became more sophisticated and complex, designed specifically to serve as staging platforms for terror-related activities.

During the past year, four tunnels crossing from Gaza into Israel were located and “de-commissioned” — at which point the army created a task force to deal with the increasingly dangerous situation.

It was at the start of the Second Intifada – the period of unbridled violence between 2000 and 2006 that was typified by bus and suicide bombings – that tunnels came into regular use as ways of getting past Israeli border fences and reaching army positions.

More than a decade later, the burning question the defense ministry is still struggling with is how to find the solution to detecting tunnels. According to the daily newspaper Haaretz, by 2001 more than 100 proposals had already been submitted to the ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure.

As yet, no reliable technology has been developed that can both cover a wide area and see a man-sized tunnel to a depth of more than a few meters underground, according to Dr. Eado Hecht, a defense analyst for the Begin-Sadat Center in Jerusalem.

The tunnels dug by Hamas are usually about 20 meters (66 feet) underground – so, even if you know the approximate location, they are almost impossible to detect and out of range of existing tunnel-location technology. Therefore, Israel’s options are to either rely on its excellent intelligence or conduct house-to-house searches.

Hecht explains that destroying a tunnel is a lengthy and complex operation. Just blowing up the entrance or some of the airshafts leaves most of the tunnel intact, so Hamas sappers will be able to quickly dig by-pass sections and continue to use the tunnel. Therefore, the entire length of the tunnel and its branches must be located, mapped and then completely destroyed.

Amir Rappaport, editor-in-chief of Israel Defense magazine told The Media Line that, “The Israeli Defense Forces have put a lot of effort into finding solutions; so far they have a combination of a few imperfect solutions based on a lot of intelligence and other aspects to find tunnels.” Rappaport said they are between one to two years away from the most promising answer which entails sensors in the ground.

Although the history of war is replete with the use of tunnels from ancient times to Viet Nam, this is the first time an army is seeking a technological solution to this sort of threat. And when it’s found, says Rappaport, it will come with major commercial potential, for example in the United States, where it would be ideal for dealing with the issue of immigration along the Mexican border.

For the moment, Israelis are focused on just how many tunnels the army located and destroyed during Operation Protective Edge; how many remain undiscovered; and of course, how to prevent them from being reactivated.

It is that uncertainty that prompts some, such as Israel’s Tourism Minister Dr. Uzi Landau, a member of the Israel is Our Home party and former Minister of Internal Security, to advocate for settling for nothing less than the destruction of the Islamist organization. Landau told The Media Line that, “We have to totally dismantle the infrastructure [of Hamas], meaning both tunnels and terrorists. Hamas is not isolated – it is very much in touch with Hizbullah in Lebanon, Al-Qa’ida in Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Shabaab in Kenya.”   

Stressing the urgency of acting quickly, not allowing Hamas time to retool, Landau points to the Islamist powerhouse Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria and admonishes, “If ISIS is fighting for a caliphate state [a state governed by strictest adherence to Islamic law], then Gaza will be a member of this country.”

If the ceasefire holds, retrospectives and investigations will consume the Israeli and Palestinian publics, much of the focus falling on the tunnels. In Ramallah and Gaza City, people will be asking whether 90% of the casualties (more than 1,800 died), those that came after Hamas rejected the first ceasefire offer, was a price worth paying. They will note, too, that Hamas would presumably still be in control of their tunnels had it opted for the time out. 

In Jerusalem and in the south, Israelis, most of whom doubt the last has been heard from the tunnels or the rockets, are already waxing critical of the government for failing to allow the army to complete its mission when so much was spent – including an enormous cost that is still-to-be-realized in terms of image and world prestige.

Without a doubt, a good many political futures remained trapped in the tunnels.

The fury (and boredom) of war: Battlefield stories of courage, fear and frustration from Gaza

On a blistering afternoon in southern Israel on Aug. 4, about eight miles from Gaza at the intersection of Highway 25 and Highway 34, soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) took cover in the shade of a makeshift rest stop — one of dozens set up throughout the south during the recent war in Gaza.

In the cool shade of a tent, around 100 armed and uniformed soldiers browsed tables full of donated books, clothes and toiletries. They heaped buffet food onto disposable plates and listened to Hebrew dance music that a Chasidic group was blasting from a nearby van.

“Here I am — I’m the one who causes the trauma in Gaza,” said Avi, a 35-year-old combat soldier splayed on a bean-bag chair, waiting for his turn on a massage table.

“What can I do?” he asked, grazing a hand over his buzz cut. “I must protect my people.”

Most soldiers at the rest stop were hesitant to talk to a reporter, especially a foreigner, while in uniform — and all who did grant interviews insisted that their full names not be published. But they were also eager to contradict the perception around the world that they belong to an army of baby-killers.

“I don’t want to kill children,” insisted a stubbly reserve soldier in his 30s who lives in Bitha, a nearby border town. “I fight for my life and my own children; they’re afraid when Hamas shoots the rockets.”

Israeli combat soldiers wait for orders on the border between Gaza and Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Photos by Simone Wilson

The soldiers who spoke to the Journal said they were fighting a war that needed to be fought, but — as the fighting appeared to be winding down — they said they wished the IDF had taken a bolder approach.

“We need [Russian President Vladimir] Putin for four days, to take the war to the sea and finish,” Avi said, grinning.

As of press time on Aug. 5, as a 72-hour cease -fire appeared to hold and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to end the month-long war were being held in Egypt, both sides were claiming victory — even as Gaza health officials had counted 1,865 Palestinians among the victims of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. According to the United Nations, around 75 percent of Gaza’s casualties are civilians, 30 percent of them children.

(Israelis assert those numbers have been tabulated by Hamas operatives on the ground and are, therefore, not trustworthy.)

Some soldiers have been stationed along the Gaza border for weeks, their cars gathering dust in the sun. 

In the same time period, three Israeli civilians died from rocket and mortar fire aimed into Israel from Gaza, and 64 Israeli soldiers were killed in battle — about half the IDF toll of the second Lebanon War.

“We know the field better than Lebanon, because we look at Gaza all the time,” said Avi, who has fought in Israel’s past three ground wars. “I’ve been training for this my whole life.”

Avi said that since the ground phase of the operation began on July 17, he has entered Gaza every few days on a mission to find and destroy underground tunnels snaking from Gaza into Israel, as well as other military infrastructure built by Hamas, the extremist organization that runs the Gaza Strip. 

After the IDF issues an evacuation notice for a certain neighborhood, Avi said he and other fighters from his unit, the elite Golani Brigade, enter Gaza inside one of the IDF’s new Merkava 4 tanks. (The tanks, fresh to this war, are equipped with a sort of mini Iron Dome that can deflect Hamas’ anti-tank missiles.)

Avi’s unit usually enters in the night, he said, and eliminates any perceived threat in their path with a barrage of artillery shells.

“If they have an obstacle, they completely destroy the obstacle with artillery,” said a 33-year-old reserve soldier who would identify himself only as “D.” Throughout the ground operation, D was stationed at his division’s command center in Ashkelon, a large Israeli city north of Gaza.

An IDF spokesperson told the Journal that Hamas “deploys in residential areas, creating rocket launch sites, command and control centers, and other positions deep in the heart of urban areas. By doing so, Hamas chooses the battleground where the IDF is forced to operate.”

The IDF also printed photos online of a manual it claimed to have found in Gaza, belonging to Hamas’ Shujaiya Brigade. It laid out the benefits of operating in a dense urban area. Destruction of civilian homes, it said, “increases the hatred of the citizens toward the attackers [the IDF] and increases their gathering around the city defenders [Hamas].”

Avi, the Golani combat soldier, said he often has trouble distinguishing civilians from Hamas fighters while inside Gaza, as some fighters are dressed in plainclothes. “You see everything in green … little green people,” he said of his view through night-vision goggles.

“The IDF must take care of their soldiers before they take care of Palestinian civilians,” Avi said. “If this means to kill civilians, then OK.”

Many soldiers and IDF analysts have confirmed this policy, including Yaron Ezrahi, a professor of political science at Hebrew University. “Israel is more sensitive than any other country in the West to the death of its soldiers,” Ezrahi told the Daily Beast. “The death of [Palestinian] civilians is a moral crisis but is without political impact.”

The IDF claims it does everything within its power to avoid civilian casualties: It drops paper evacuation notices by airplane and sends text messages notifying residents to leave areas it plans to raid for terrorist infrastructure.

Hamas has been known to discourage residents from heeding evacuation orders. But even those Gaza residents willing to leave their homes say that because Israel’s assault is so widespread — by air, land and sea — it’s not always clear which areas are safest. United Nations schools serving as shelters for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are overcrowded, and have recently been caught in fatal crossfire. “No place is safe in Gaza,” Mamoun Sulaiman, a Gaza resident and press fixer, said over the phone. 

The army also chopped the inhabitable area within Gaza’s tiny land mass almost in half when the ground operation began, creating a buffer zone for Israeli soldiers that consumes 40 percent of the whole strip.

“It is unrealistic for such a huge number of people to evacuate,” Mohammed Suliman, a Gaza City resident who writes and tweets extensively about the terror inside Gaza, told the Journal. “They don’t have another place to go.”

Because many of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents are stuck in the battle zone, the world has witnessed horrific mass killings — entire families wiped out — in densely populated Gaza neighborhoods like Shujaiya, Khuza’a and Rafah. And as a result, Israeli soldiers have come under intense scrutiny as individuals.

Anti-Israel outrage went viral when an IDF soldier named David Ovadia posted, “I killed 13 childrens today and ur next f—ing musilims [sic]…” in response to a Palestinian woman’s Instagram photo. According to Israel’s Mako news site, Ovadia eventually broke down under interrogation from his commanders and admitted to fabricating the story.

“The actions of the soldier are serious,” an IDF official told Mako, “and he has caused the dishonoring of the IDF soldiers fighting in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge, who work all day to protect the citizens of Israel.” Ovadia was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

“Believe me, there are soldiers here who completely hate Arabs — they don’t care, they’ll kill them,” said “M,” a 22-year-old Lone Soldier from South Carolina hanging out at the rest stop. “They’re in that mentality because [Arabs] have so much hate for us. But the army takes special measures to make sure civilians don’t get hurt … and if [Israeli soldiers] were to do anything, they would get in trouble. Major, major trouble.”

Another amateur video from Gaza appeared to show Shujaiya resident Salem Shamaly shot dead by a sniper while searching through rubble and calling out for his family members. (An IDF spokesperson told the Journal that “given the current scope of the operation, there is no way at this time to confirm the circumstances depicted” in the video.)

Soldiers who served in Shujaiya said they weren’t sure what exactly happened in Shamaly’s case, but that anyone who wandered near their outpost could have been deemed a threat.

M, a member of the Golani Brigade, said he was sent into Shujaiya for three full days last week. “The last day we were there, civilians started coming back to their homes, not knowing that [we were still there],” he said. “A few hours later, Israel actually allowed them to come back. But they came a little bit early, and they’re not allowed to get close to us.”

Although M wouldn’t say whether his unit fired at anyone, he said their commander had told them to first fire warning shots in the air, then shoot directly at a person if he or she didn’t retreat.

M described the intense adrenaline he felt while roving around the Shujaiya neighborhood as his unit located and destroyed a dense cluster of Hamas tunnels — of some 32 that Israel has discovered so far — while watching for Hamas gunmen popping out of windows or from underground bunkers.

By night, M said, he would sleep either inside his armored vehicle or in the home of a Palestinian family that had fled to a safer area.

Asked if that was an odd experience for him, M said he was in a completely different mode on the battlefield: “You’re so worn out that you don’t really think about what’s going on. You just think about what’s going to happen if somebody fires. It’s just crazy.”

On the third night of the IDF’s ground operation, and the first night in Shujaiya, a tank carrying Los Angeles Lone Soldier Max Steinberg and six other Golani soldiers ran over an explosive that Hamas had planted in the road, killing all inside. After that, M, a tank driver himself, said he’d been avoiding all main roadways and watching for any abnormal bumps in the tank’s path.

Many IDF soldiers fighting in Gaza, as well as residents of the agricultural villages along its border, say their nightmare scenario would be for Hamas militants to take them hostage — a repeat of the Gilad Shalit kidnapping in 2006.

“It’s scary to think about it, because they pop out of nowhere — they have a lot of tunnels,” M said of the possibility of a Hamas abduction. “We had a lot of instances where they popped out and shot RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] at my tank.”

Evie Steinberg, mother of Max Steinberg, said her son once told her that if he were to be snatched by Hamas — Evie’s “worst fear” — he would kill himself before Hamas had the chance to use him as a bargaining chip.

For a brief period on Aug. 1, the IDF believed that an Israeli soldier, Hadar Goldin, had been captured by Hamas. However, Goldin was declared dead after intense bombardment of the Rafah neighborhood where he disappeared, which also killed dozens of Palestinians caught in the surprise attack.

Thousands of Israelis attend a funeral at the Kfar Saba military cemetery for Hadar Goldin, 23, who was briefly believed to be a captive of Hamas.

At Goldin’s funeral, Yoav, 17, a friend of the fallen soldier, said it was painful to read online what the world was saying about Goldin and other IDF soldiers fighting against Hamas. “It’s difficult because you know these people — your friends, your big brother — and you know they’re very good people and they don’t want to hurt kids,” he said.

Although each soldier’s individual experience varied from the others’, many mentioned that fighting in an age of heightened social-
media use posed new challenges in the field. They described being in the middle of a heated battle when news of war casualties shot across the Internet, prompting immediate responses from world leaders — which would then translate into orders of “hold fire” or “pull back.”

“If I go, I want to go — not go, go back, go, go back,” Avi said. 

D, based at an Ashkelon command center, said: “Because of the diplomatic world, [Hamas] has an advantage. Immediately after a school shooting, the army makes a call and tells you to stop shooting in the middle of battle.”

Artillery shelling has killed dozens and injured hundreds at three U.N. school shelters since the ground operation began. In one incident on July 30, thin mats on the ground were soaked in blood where refugees had been sleeping when the shells hit. (The IDF said Hamas militants had fired a mortar from near the school and that Israeli soldiers had been forced to return fire.)

“Some came after leaflets were dropped on their areas, others came after their homes were destroyed by Israel, and they thought that they would be safe in a United Nations-run school,” said Sharif Kouddous, a correspondent for Democracy Now! “They were wrong.”

The third school shelling, on Aug. 3, which the U.N. said hit refugees in a bread line outside the shelter, elicited the strongest response from U.S. officials since the war began. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. was “appalled” by the “disgraceful shelling.”

The IDF has countered the criticism by saying that Hamas often stores rockets in U.N. facilities and fires on Israeli troops from nearby.

“You can sit back in the neon lights and judge easily,” D said. “When you’re actually inside, you’re in contact with the enemy. It’s not clean.”

Various reserve soldiers who fought in Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 2009 war in Gaza, said Hamas fighters are now more skilled than before — some almost to the level of Hezbollah fighters — and have fully utilized their extensive underground network in battle.

“They expected us,” Avi said.

On top of the great human loss inside Gaza, there has also been unprecedented destruction of homes and public buildings: Entire neighborhoods now look like the charred remains of a campfire. Detached mosque minarets stick out of the rubble like broken bones. 

Asmaa al-Ghoul, a columnist for Al Monitor and a fierce Hamas critic, wrote that her relatives were crushed to death when two F-16s hit their house in the Rafah refugee camp. “Now, the house and its future memories have been laid to waste, its children taken to early graves,” she wrote. “Homes and recollections bombed into oblivion, their inhabitants homeless and lost, just as their camp always had been. Never ask me about peace again.”

Some analysts have accused the IDF of using a destruction-as-deterrence policy, known as the “Dahiya doctrine,” similar to that which was implemented in the 2006 second Lebanon War.

But Gabi Siboni, a former Golani commander and current IDF analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, told the Journal he sees Gaza’s fresh ruins not as a symbol of deterrence but as the remains of a war that aimed to protect the lives of Israeli soldiers at all costs. 

If anyone fires on the IDF, Siboni said, the IDF will retaliate with full force. And once an area is believed to be cleared of civilians, he said, the IDF has no obligation to go easy on buildings: “If there is no humanitarian constraint, there is no problem in holding your shelling as a commander, and you can continue to fire on the city and drop it down.”

At an army camp adjacent to Kibbutz Nahal Oz on a recent Tuesday, the whine of Israeli drones overhead was almost as strong as in the skies of Gaza. A pair of giant Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozers drove past the entrance to the kibbutz, leaving a billowing dust cloud on their path to Gaza. 

The bulldozers “go first, move the houses and the trees, and then we can come in after them,” said “S,” a young soldier charged with guarding Nahal Oz from infiltrators.

Just the day before, not far from Nahal Oz, at an army outpost surrounded by dried sunflowers, five soldiers had been killed in a successful Hamas infiltration that the militants caught on tape. Five more soldiers were then killed by mortar fire from over the fence.

S, who as he spoke was carrying nothing but his assault rifle for protection, said he wasn’t really sure what he’d do if the same happened near his post.

He said daily life at the IDF border camps was a strange combination of boring and nerve-racking. “Yesterday, there was action,” he said. “But we prefer to be bored here than have our people die.”

IDF soldiers lined up for the hot lunch buffet at a makeshift rest stop eight miles from Gaza.

Although thousands of ground troops had been sent home by Aug. 4, thousands more were still hanging out in their camps, carved out between dusty crops in Israel’s south.

One Golani camp in the middle of a cabbage patch could have been a scene from “M*A*S*H.” A small group of reservists in their 20s and 30s, their bare chests hung with silver dog tags, were kicked back beneath camouflage netting hung between two Vietnam-era U.S. Army trucks. In the truck beds were stacks of boxes labeled “DANGER” and “EXPLOSIVES.” A Ukrainian-Israeli soldier hanging out in one truck’s cab was being teased by his army buddies for missing his girlfriend, a Christian Palestinian woman who lives in the north. A burly guy they called “Rambo” was losing a game of Backgammon.

Soldiers at the camp said they had the feeling the war was almost over. And in both Israel and Gaza, relief ran high by the next afternoon, Aug. 5, as the first hours of a proposed 72-hour cease fire remained quiet.

“Israel has agreed to an unconditional cease fire,” an IDF spokesman told the Journal, adding that “any aggression, whether directed at our troops or at Israeli civilians, will be forcefully answered.”

The soldiers were told they’d be heading home soon. But some expressed mixed feelings about leaving without a guarantee that Hamas fighters would put down their rockets or stop digging tunnels in the long run. 

“It’s artificial, this diplomacy,” D said. “Let us do the job.”

With grief and pride, Max Steinberg gets an L.A. goodbye

As her son’s rifle strap, helmet and personal military items rested in front of Evie Steinberg and her husband, Stuart, on the bimah at Stephen S. Wise Temple, Evie, dressed in black, wanted to talk about the time that her son, Max, pretended not to understand Hebrew when his base commander became annoyed that the Golani Brigade soldier was returning to base after curfew.

“With a straight face, he would say that he didn’t understand Hebrew,” Evie said, smiling even as tears welled up in her eyes.  

Just two weeks to the day after being informed by an early-morning visit from three Israeli officials that their son was killed on July 20 [RELATED EVENT: ” target=”_blank”>30,000 Israelis attended Steinberg’s military funeral at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on July 23.

Ben Gaudioz, a close childhood friend of Max, ascended the podium wearing a white pinstriped Derek Jeter jersey — the baseball star was one of the soldier’s favorite athletes. Gaudioz noted that he found it fitting that both Max and Jeter bid farewell at the same time — Jeter is retiring this year.

Holding back tears, Gaudioz said how he and Max loved to find lookout spots in the San Fernando Valley where they could watch what Max called “cotton candy sunsets.”

“Ever since that day, it seems every sunset has been one of those beautiful cotton candy skies full of color,” Gaudioz said.

Matt Snyder, a close friend, brought with him a portable CD player. As he popped in a disc and a beat picked up, Snyder eulogized his fallen friend, saying that his story is so difficult to comprehend that inventing a Max Steinberg character in a movie would be difficult.

“Few characters exist who could pull it off,” Snyder said. “It just kills me to know that he’s not coming back.”

Describing Max as loving, spontaneous, funny and energetic, many friends and family who eulogized him expressed how difficult it was to accept that he is gone. Arian Ahmadi, another close friend, said that one day, after he and Max bought strawberries at a stand on Pacific Coast Highway, the two went to relax in a Jacuzzi.

There, as Ahmadi reached for the berries, the fruit and his cell phone fell toward the water. Max saved the strawberries as his friend’s phone hit the water. Upset, Ahmadi asked Max why he’d save fruit instead of his phone. Max’s reply: now he can eat fruit to make him feel better about losing his phone.

Jake Steinberg, Max’s 22-year-old brother, told guests that he and Paige talked about how great an uncle their older brother would have been. Dinner tables with Max present, Jake said, would have been filled with his unbelievable stories.

“If 30,000 people are going to come to your funeral,” Jake said, “you’ve got a story that’s going to be told and retold.”

As they spoke to the gathering, Max’s parents, standing side by side, switched off every few lines from the eulogy they had prepared together. Stuart Steinberg said that in 2012, when Jake and Paige reached out to Max to join them on a Birthright trip to Israel, Max had been going through a rough patch.

“He was struggling with his self-identity, his self-esteem,” Stuart said. “He was distancing himself from family and was truly in a lot of pain.”

Visiting Israel, though, for the first time with his brother and sister, put him on a new path. And it was at Mount Herzl where Steinberg became aware of Americans who have given their lives defending the Jewish homeland.

“It was there that he learned of the fallen Lone Soldier from Pennsylvania, Staff Sgt. Michael Levin,” Stuart said. 

Levin became an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) paratrooper after immigrating to Israel. He was killed in Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah when his unit was ambushed in southern Lebanon.

Max’s father read aloud a letter he wrote for his son to read on his flight to Israel to join the IDF in September 2012. The letter noted that Max’s decision to “map a new path” meant he had an “opportunity to do a redo” and choose a better life.

Although his son’s life was cut short when Hamas operatives fired anti-tank missiles at his Golani unit’s stalled vehicle in the Shejaiya neighborhood, Stuart said that he was informed by Israeli officials that, because of the location of the attack, Israeli forces were nevertheless able to locate and destroy the tunnel from which the terrorists emerged, potentially saving hundreds more Israeli civilians’ lives.

The decision to bury Max in Israel, Evie said, was an extremely hard one for his parents. One, though, that they now feel, without any regret, was the right decision.

“Max told us that he could not in good conscience consider becoming a citizen of Israel without first serving,” Evie said. Therefore, they believe, “Max needed to remain in Israel. We concluded that the Israeli people would honor him for his sacrifice.”

Evie then read aloud some of the final texts Max had sent her as his unit waited on the Israeli side of the Gaza border.

“Call you soon, not going in today,” one read.

“We need to be prepared in case we will go. We don’t know,” he wrote.

The final text Max sent as his unit was about to enter Gaza, read, “Turning our phones in now. I’ll call you when I can. I love you.”

Israelis on Gaza border fear threat from tunnels isn’t over

Many Israelis living on the Gaza border were unconvinced by their military's announcement that its mission was accomplished in a nearly month-long campaign aimed at ending rocket strikes and tunnel infiltration.

Israel's government, they said, had taken too long to deal with the network of underground passages Palestinian militants had been digging for years, and it may have acted prematurely in pulling the army out of Gaza on Tuesday, just before the start of a 72-hour truce.

“They knew about it for so long and did nothing. Who can promise me that all the tunnels have been destroyed? I am angry that they are not pressing on with the offensive,” said Leah Musafi, 30, who lives in Nir Am, a kibbutz next to the Gaza border.

Two weeks ago, residents of the kibbutz, or collective farm, were locked down for hours after militants from Hamas, the Islamist group that dominates Gaza, crossed through a tunnel about 1.5 kilometres (one mile) away. Ten Gaza gunmen and four Israeli soldiers were killed in the ensuing gun battle.

After the Israeli offensive began on July 8, lockdown quickly became a regular event, with several infiltrations during the fighting. Musafi and her children, along with many other families, left Nir Am while the battles raged.

“There are soldiers here now, but for how long? A week? Two? Then they'll forget us. There will be an infiltration, people will be killed. If we are told one more time to lock ourselves up at home, I am taking my kids and leaving,” she said.

Another Nir Am resident, who asked not to be identified, stood guard, weapon in hand, with two soldiers guarding its gate.

“The army knew about the tunnels but they tried to keep it from the residents,” he said. “There are probably more tunnels here. Maybe not thirty, maybe only three, but it just takes one. There is a lot of anger here over it. A lot of people wanted the army to go in deeper and root the problem out.”

Israel says it destroyed 32 attack tunnels but believes many more, which serve as bunkers and weapon caches, criss-cross the densely populated Palestinian enclave.

As the cease-fire took hold, Major-General Sami Turgeman, chief of Israel's southern command, offered words of assurance to the border communities.

“I can say to the residents of the south that they can return home, and feel secure. We accomplished our mission: we destroyed all of the tunnels we knew about and those we uncovered.”


Ten minutes drive from Nir Am, past abandoned fields of dry, wilted sunflowers covered with sand raised up by hundreds of military vehicles, is Nahal Oz, another border kibbutz. The massive damage to the cramped grey housing blocks of Gaza caused by Israeli shelling can be seen across the fence from the leafy, flowering grounds of the kibbutz.

Last week, Hamas gunmen crossed through a tunnel and shot dead five Israeli soldiers at a watchtower near Nahal Oz. Empty shellcases fired into Gaza lay in an adjacent field, where forces now gone had been stationed.

“Who knows what will happen now when the army leaves? That's the big question hanging over the heads of the families who left and must now return. They are waiting to see if it stays quiet,” said Ester Taranto, who has lived in the kibbutz for 36 years.

Taranto said some residents in the farming communities had known about the tunnels for years. “The army didn't take it in. Now the penny has dropped,” she said.

An Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday promised local officials on the Gaza periphery that a border fence will be improved with movement sensors and cameras.

Netanyahu also said military units would be stationed at the communities for quick response to future infiltrations. The official said Israel was working on development of tunnel sensor technologies but their deployment would take time.

Taranto said that before the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in 1987, her family would travel to Gaza regularly to spend Saturdays at the local markets and restaurants.

“We were good neighbours back then. I wish we could go back to those peaceful days, but look where we are.”

Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Larry King

Diary of an IDF Father

These are the e-mails of Marvin Hankin, father of two IDF soldiers, Aviel and Gilad, currently stationed in Gaza. Aviel, age 27, is a medical officer for his unit; in August, he will finish the first year of his five-year commitment. Gilad, 22, was drafted into the tank corps at age 19; he will complete his three-year commitment in November. Marvin lives in Jerusalem with his wife Irit.

July 25, 2014

The war here has been going on now for just over 2 1/2 weeks.  Hamas fires 100 to 120 rockets every day into Israel.  Over 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel since this present war started.

When rockets are fired against the targets in Israel, air raid sirens sound out in the target area.  Towns close to Gaza have 15 seconds to run to the nearest air raid shelter. Here in Jerusalem, we have 90 seconds to run down the stairs to shelter in the basement of our building.  Another plus for living on the first floor. Even inside the shelter, we can hear the overhead explosion as the “Iron Dome” anti-missile system intercepts the incoming rocket.  We are instructed to remain inside the shelter for 10 minutes as debris from the overhead explosion fall to the ground, and these can also cause damage and injury.  Actually, it has been quiet here in Jerusalem as we haven't had a rocket here now for the past week.

Aviel and Gilad are both in the army now and are either inside Gaza or on the border of Gaza waiting to go in. They have been there for the past three weeks.  Both are in the tank corps, but in different battalions. Aviel is a medical officer. He is the only doctor for his whole battalion, and as his tank goes into Gaza, he goes in, riding in the back of a tank, treats the wounded soldiers, and sends them back out of Gaza to hospitals for further treatment. Aviel will be in the army for a total of five years. Gilad is in the army for a total of three years, and he now is close to the end of his service — he finishes at the end of November.  He is the gunner inside a tank. His unit is also inside Gaza, but he is just outside the border of Gaza.

We usually hear about once a day from the boys. But Aviel's cell phone battery has just run out, and he has no facilities to recharge.  Out last message from him was yesterday.

The two boys are at an area that must be about the most dangerous a person can imagine. Of course, this keeps Irit and me awake at night.  For the last two weeks now.

There is talk of a cease fire.  On a national level, we feel there should not be a cease fire until the Israeli army has completely destroyed hamas' ability to fire rockets and has completely destroyed all the tunnels.  On a personal level, for us, a cease fire can't come too soon. We haven't seen the boys in almost a month, and we want them home for dinner with us.  The sooner the better.


Gilad just called us.  A soldier in his unit was killed just a short while ago.  He was quite upset. It was also just notified on the TV.

July 28

Aviel has been inside Gaza ever since the ground offensive started. His battery for his cell phone ran out and we haven't heard from him since this past Friday.

We hear each day from Gilad as he is able to keep his phone charged up on the field generator.  He has been on the border of Gaza since this campaign began, but hasn't actually entered Gaza.

Israel has been generally successful in intercepting the hamas rockets using the “Iron Dome” anti-missile system.  Now for a couple of days, hamas has introduced the use of mortars.  These are a low tech short range weapon and the anti-missile system is useless against it. 

A few hours ago, a mortar was fired over the border and landed very near Gilad.  He was not injured, but four of his friends were killed before his eyes and two others were seriously injured. His unit has been moved a few kilometers further back out of the range of the mortars.  Gilad phoned us.  He is quite upset, very disturbed and very distraught.  He feels he needs to talk right now to a psychologist. Of course, we have an expert psychologist in the family but she is too far away to help. 

How nice if the army would let Gilad come home for a few days.  Would he likely go back to the war after a few days at home?  Knowing his character, the answer would be a loud yes.

July 29

We spoke to Gilad today. He spent a rather restless night, with thoughts of the bloody events from yesterday in his head all night.

He explained to us just what happened.  He was sitting at the encampment with a circle of friends.  He got up to walk over to a box to take out something just when a mortar struck at just the place he had been sitting a minute before.  Four of his friends died and two were seriously injured.  He was unhurt.  But very upset at the sight before his eyes. 

The commander of the unit had a long talk with the soldiers last night and again this morning to reassure them.  An army officer is to visit them later during the day.  She is a social worker and psychologist — I didn't get clear her position.  He did sound a lot better than last night.  Of course, last night just after the event, he was understandably upset.


After not hearing from him since Friday, Aviel finally called this afternoon.  He still does not have any battery on his cell phone, but he was able to use a friend's phone to call us. He is well and was in good spirits.  For most of the last three weeks, he has spent most of his time in the back of a tank. That's how he travels to the battlefield in Gaza.  And it is where he sleeps.  Because it is a safe place, and he is ready to go if he is needed urgently.  The back space in the tank seems to be tiny, but he says that if he is tired enough, he is able to sleep.

Gilad seems to be a lot better.  He is still in mourning for his friends. But when we spoke, he seemed to be in good spirits. A lot better than at this time yesterday.

We hope we will continue to get daily contact with the two of them.

July 31

We spoke this morning with both Gilad and Aviel.  Aviel for only a few seconds as he is always on the move.  But he had a short break and they took them to a facility where they had a shower, and he said he feels like a mensch.  A real treat. Gilad had a little more time to talk with us.  He is better, but we could tell from his voice that he still suffers mentally from his recent tragic experience. They have three army officers who speak to them all the time. I guess we have to expect it to take a while for him.

This is Thursday noon.  If there is not some unexpected drastic development in the next 24 hours, it looks like we will have another erev shabbat dinner tomorrow without our two soldiers.  That makes our dinner table seem way too under populated. We like a nice family crowd for our Friday night dinners.

August 4

Gilad is home!!!   What a nice surprise!!!

There was a memorial service for one of his friends who were killed a week ago.  The memorial service was at his hometown of Safed, and a number of soldiers from Gilad's unit went by an army bus.  When the service was over, they allowed Gilad to come home for a day.  Maybe two??

I just picked him up at Jerusalem's central bus station and brought him home.  We haven't seen him in over a month now.  He looks fine now. How really good to see him.  With a beard.  A bit thinner now.  He hasn't had much of an appetite since the incident a week ago. Maybe some of his favorite home cooking will help him over that.

Now it's Aviel's turn to come home.  Cross your fingers everyone.

Excerpts from the stars: Steinberg family consoled by Kraft, Netanyahu, Peres

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U.S. won’t use arms transfers to press Israel for cease-fire

The Obama administration will not leverage arms transfers to Israel to bring about a cease-fire, the top Pentagon spokesman said.

The arms and ammunition provided to Israel is “through a longstanding foreign military sales program,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters on Saturday. “Israel is a staunch ally in that part of the world. And that program has existed for many years, and we’re supplying that material through that program.”

Kirby stressed that the United States has made it clear that it would like to see a cease-fire and an end to violence in Gaza.

He added, “We respect the right for Israel to have to defend itself. And as I said before, I think the Israelis would tell you that the — and I won’t speak for them, but I think it’s safe to say that, you know, that they would like to see a return to peace, as well.

“It is made more difficult when Hamas hides behind civilian targets, deliberately puts civilians in harm’s way and indiscriminately fires rockets into Israel.”

Asked what the Department of Defense would like Israel to do to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza, Kirby responded, “I’m not going to litigate from the podium what the Israeli Defense Forces need to do operationally. We’ve made our concerns about civilian casualties known to them, concerns that Minister [Moshe] Yaalon shared himself.”

Kirby reiterated that the U.S. government has put pressure on Israel to reduce civilian casualties.


Israel calls up 16,000 more reservists

Israel called up 16,000 extra reservists at short notice as its Gaza offensive intensifies and the death toll rises. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet approved continuing the assault saying it was days from achieving its goal of destroying cross border attack tunnels.

Gaza officials said at more than 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed, stoking international alarm. Israel has lost 56 soldiers.

Despite evacuation warnings, rolling Israeli ground assaults on residential areas have displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Israel says it is trying to avoid civilian casualties and blames these on Hamas and other Palestinian factions intent on urban combat.

The images missing from the Gaza war

There’s no shortage of images from the Gaza conflict.

We’ve seen rubble, dead Palestinian children, Israelis cowering during rocket attacks, Israeli military maneuvers and IDF footage of Hamas militants emerging from tunnels to attack Israeli soldiers.

What we haven’t seen are practically any images of Hamas fighters inside Gaza.

We know they’re there: Someone’s got to be launching those rockets into Israel (more than 2,800) and firing at invading Israeli troops. But so far the only images we’ve seen (or even heard about) are the Israel Defense Forces’ videos of Hamas fighters using hospitals, ambulances, mosques and schools (and tunnels) to launch attacks against Israeli targets or ferry arms around Gaza.

Why haven’t we seen journalists’ photographs of Hamas fighters inside Gaza?

We know Hamas doesn’t want the world to see images of Palestinian fighters launching rockets or using civilian havens like hospitals as bases of operation. But if we’re able to see images from both sides of practically every other war — in Syria, in Ukraine, in Iraq — why is Gaza an exception?

If journalists are being threatened and intimidated when they try to document Hamas activity in Gaza, their news outlets should be out front saying so. They’re not.

On Tuesday, The New York Times published an account by photographer Sergey Ponomarev on what his days are like in Gaza. Here’s what Ponomarev said:

It was a war routine. You leave early in the morning to see the houses destroyed the night before. Then you go to funerals, then to the hospital because more injured people arrive, and in the evening you go back to see more destroyed houses.

It was the same thing every day, just switching between Rafah and Khan Younis.

Are there attempts to document Hamas activity?

If you’re wondering whether the Times has assigned another photographer to cover this aspect of the story, so am I: The Times hasn’t been running photos of Hamas fighters in Gaza — period. Looking through the Times’ most recent three slideshows on the conflict (herehere and here), encompassing 37 images, there’s not a single one of a Hamas fighter.

In an L.A. Times slideshow of more than 75 photographs from the conflict, there’s not a single image of a Hamas fighter either, according to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

For many viewers, the narrative of this war must appear quite straightforward: Powerful Israel is bombarding defenseless Palestinians. That’s understandable when there are hardly any photographs of Palestinian aggressors.

In a July 15 Washington Post story by William Booth, Hamas’ use of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City as an operating base is mentioned — but only in half a sentence in the story’s eighth paragraph.

The minister was turned away before he reached the hospital, which has become a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices.

As Tablet noted, that’s called burying the lede.

Likewise, a Palestinian(!) news agency reported this week that Hamas executed dozens of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel last week. JTA reported this, but it got no mention in mainstream media outlets.

Either reporters and editors are uninterested in telling the side of the story that shows what Hamas is doing in Gaza or they’re unable. Let’s consider that latter possibility.

Much has been made by Israel supporters of a decision by The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Casey to delete a tweet about how Hamas uses Shifa Hospital as a base of operations. Presumably, Casey deleted the tweet because of threats by Hamas either to his person or his ability to continue to cover the conflict.

Times of Israel report earlier this week suggested as much:

Several Western journalists currently working in Gaza have been harassed and threatened by Hamas for documenting cases of the terrorist group’s involvement of civilians in warfare against Israel, Israeli officials said, expressing outrage that some in the international media apparently allow themselves to be intimidated and do not report on such incidents.

The Times of Israel confirmed several incidents in which journalists were questioned and threatened. These included cases involving photographers who had taken pictures of Hamas operatives in compromising circumstances — gunmen preparing to shoot rockets from within civilian structures, and/or fighting in civilian clothing — and who were then approached by Hamas men, bullied and had their equipment taken away. Another case involving a French reporter was initially reported by the journalist involved, but the account was subsequently removed from the Internet.

After leaving Gaza, freelance Italian journalist Gabriele Barbati, in a pair of tweets blaming Hamas for a recent civilian casualty incident, backed up the claims that Hamas threatens reporters:

Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris (July 29)

Why are we reading about this intimidation only in Jewish or Israeli media — or on blogs — and not in Western mainstream media?

Attorney Scott Johnson takes news outlets to task for this on the blog Powerline:

Hamas threats don’t account for the relentless ignorance and stupidity of the coverage of the Gaza hostilities, but they account for some of it. Reporters and their media employers cooperate with Hamas not only in suppressing stories that do not serve Hamas’s purposes, but also by failing to report on the restrictive conditions under which they are working.

This is no small point. Public opinion is a crucial element to this conflict. It will play a role in determining when the fighting ends, what a cease-fire looks like and who bears primary responsibility for the deaths of innocents.

If media outlets are suppressing images of Hamas fighters using civilians as shields, and using schools and hospitals as bases of operation, then people watching around the world naturally will have trouble viewing the Israelis as anything but aggressors and the Palestinians as anything but victims.

But they’re only getting half the story. And where I come from, a half-truth is considered a lie.

Israel knocks out Gaza power plant, digs in for long fight

Israel knocked out Gaza's only power plant, flattened the home of its Islamist Hamas political leader and pounded dozens of other high-profile targets in the enclave on Tuesday, with no end in sight to more than three weeks of conflict.

Health officials said at least 79 Palestinians were killed in some of heaviest bombardments from air, sea and land since the Israeli offensive began in response to Hamas rocket fire.

The Israeli assault intensified following the deaths of 10 Israeli soldiers in cross-border attacks on Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of a long conflict ahead.

Thick black smoke rose from blazing fuel tanks at the power station that supplies up to two-thirds of Gaza's energy needs. The local energy authority said initial damage assessments suggested the plant could be out of action for a year.

Electricity was cut to the city of Gaza and many other parts of the Hamas-dominated territory after what officials said was Israeli tank shelling of the tanks containing some 3 million cubic litres of diesel fuel.

“The power plant is finished,” said its director, Mohammed al-Sharif. An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment and said she was checking the report.

Gaza City municipality said damage to the station could halt many of the area's water pumps, and it urged residents to ration water consumption. Gazans who have had a few hours electricity a day since the conflict began now face months without power.

A number of rockets were fired from Gaza toward southern and central Israel, including the Tel Aviv area. At least one was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system. No casualties or damage were reported. Outside pressure has been building on Netanyahu to rein in his forces. Both U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.N. Security Council have called for an immediate ceasefire to allow relief to reach Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians, followed by negotiations on a more durable end to hostilities.

Efforts led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week failed to achieve a breakthrough, and the explosion of violence appeared to dash international hopes of turning a brief lull for the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival into a longer-term ceasefire.

The West Bank-based Palestinian leadership, saying it was also speaking for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, voiced support on Tuesday for a 24-72 hour ceasefire.

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters the statement by senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo did not reflect Hamas's position. “Hamas gave no approval to anything Abed Rabbo said,” Abu Zuhri added.

Netanyahu said on Monday the military would not end its offensive until it destroys a network of Hamas tunnels, which Israel says serve as the group's bunkers, weapon caches and cross-border infiltration routes to attack Israelis.

The Israeli military said soldiers killed five gunmen who opened fire after emerging from a tunnel inside the Gaza Strip and that 110 targets were struck in the enclave on Tuesday. They included four weapons caches, which the military said were hidden in mosques, and a rocket launcher near another mosque. Residents said 20 houses were destroyed and two mosques hit.

Local hospital officials said Israeli tank shells and air strikes killed 10 people in and around Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, raising the number of Palestinian dead, most of them civilians, to 1,139 in the current conflict. On the Israeli side, 53 soldiers have been killed and three civilians.


The main U.N. agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said more than 182,000 displaced Palestinians had taken shelter in its schools and buildings, following calls by Israel for civilians to evacuate whole neighbourhoods ahead of military operations. Thousands more have been taken in by friends or family.

Before dawn, Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the house of Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh, a former Palestinian prime minister, destroying the structure but causing no casualties, Gaza's Interior Ministry said.

“My house is not dearer than any of the houses of our people,” Haniyeh was quoted as saying on a Hamas website. “The destruction of stones will not break our will and we will continue our resistance until we gain freedom.”

Hamas, whose internal political leadership is in hiding, said its broadcast outlets Al-Aqsa TV and Al-Aqsa Radio were also targeted. The television station continued to broadcast but the radio station went silent.

The military said the stations were used to “transit orders and messages to Hamas operatives and to instruct Gaza residents to ignore IDF (Israel Defence Forces) warnings regarding upcoming military activity in specific areas.”

In a televised address on Monday, Netanyahu said Israel “must be prepared for a lengthy campaign”. The military warned thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes around Gaza City – usually the prelude to major army strikes.

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 saying it wanted to halt rocket attacks by Hamas and its allies. It later ordered a land invasion to find and destroy a warren of Hamas tunnels that criss-crosses the border area.

Hamas and Israel have set conditions for a ceasefire that appear irreconcilable.

Israel wants Gaza's armed groups stripped of weapons. Hamas and its allies want an Israeli-Egyptian blockade lifted.

Tension between Netanyahu's government and Washington has flared over U.S. mediation efforts, adding another chapter to the prickly relations between the Israeli leader and Obama.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored what he said was a lack of resolve among all parties.

“It's a matter of their political will. They have to show their humanity as leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian,” he told reporters.

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York, Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Paul Taylor

100 Spanish celebrities accuse Israel of genocide in Gaza

A letter accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza was endorsed by 100 Spanish celebrities including Academy Award winners Penelope Cruz and Pedro Almodovar.

On Monday the renowned actors, writers and directors endorsed a letter that Spanish actor Javier Bardem published last week in the Barcelona-based El Periodico de Catalunya, the daily reported.

“This is a war of occupation and extermination against a whole people without means, confined to a miniscule territory without water and where hospitals, ambulances, and children are targeted and presumed to be terrorists,” Bardem, himself an Academy Award-winning actor, wrote.

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor told JTA that the “assertion that Israel is perpetrating genocide is not only patently false and detached from reality, but also inflammatory and outrageous at a time when demonization against Israel is fueling unprecedented levels of anti-Semitic violence in Europe.”

Kantor added: “I would be interested in reading the opinion of the same Spanish celebrities after 2,500 rockets explode on Madrid or Barcelona.”

In his letter titled “Genocide,” Bardem also wrote: “Being Jewish is not synonymous with supporting this massacre, just as being a Hebrew is not the same as being a Zionist and being Palestinian does not mean being a terrorist from Hamas. That is as absurd as saying that being German means espousing Nazism.”

Bardem also wrote: “My son was born in a Jewish hospital because I have Jewish people who are very near and dear to me.”

Netanyahu: Israel will not end Gaza war until tunnels destroyed

Israel will not end its operation in Gaza before destroying all the Hamas-built tunnels, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address to the nation.

Neutralizing the tunnels is the first step toward demilitarization of Gaza, Netanyahu said Monday night in a nationally televised speech from the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv.  He said the international community must demand the demilitarization of Gaza and monitor the building materials that enter Gaza in the future.

“We need to be prepared for a continued operation,” Netanyahu said. “We will fight to defend our citizens, our children.”

Netanyahu’s call to continue the operation until the tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border are destroyed appeared to be a rejection of President Obama’s insistence on an immediate and unconditional cease-fire, a message he conveyed to Netanyahu in a phone call Sunday afternoon.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said the “complex” operation in Gaza could continue for several more days, adding, “The price is painful, but we remain determined.”

He praised what he called the “unprecedented cooperation” of Israel’s air, sea, land and intelligence military sectors.

Gazan civilians warned by the IDF through leaflets or phone calls to leave their homes should listen, Gantz said, because “When we reach Hamas positions, it’s going to hurt.”

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that Israel “will not hesitate to expand IDF action in a way that will harm Hamas,” saying the operation “could last long days until security and quiet is returned to Israel.”