Hope must once again conquer “The Rabin Square”


It now seems as if thousands of light years have passed between the summer of 2011 and the summer of 2014. It is hard to believe that the same “city square”, once an open arena for hopeful debates involving social issues and reform, has now recently become an arena of confrontation between the violent and hostile groups about “Operation Protective Edge.”

During the summer of 2011, while shouting out for much-needed social reforms involving the high cost of living, we never asked who is shouting next to us. We didn’t try to find out if they love or hate the Israeli flag or if they support “Beitar” or “Hapoel” soccer teams. We didn’t ask what they think of Haneen Zoabi, Miri Regev, Gideon Levi or Danny Danon. We didn’t ask their position on the threat of rockets from Gaza or a political agreement with the Palestinian Authority. We never asked for their opinion on renting apartments to Arabs or the “Price Tag Policy”. We simply marched together, shouting at the top of our lungs, motivated by a strong, optimistic feeling that we had a joint future to fight for.  In that summer’s debate about social justice, one thing was clear – the voices echoed hope. The voices were ones which expressed the desire to build and fix what needs to be rectified; they were voices that sought to mend fractures and secure our seams, not unravel them.

Something good happened to us as a result. We were finally able to see clearly and to discern the outline of an “old order” which had directed and organized our society and our economy. We learned the power of this order and also realized that we have the power to change it. We understood that the “common force that swept the streets” can be translated into a variety of initiatives and social acts that could give power back to the people. We realized that we had embarked on a deep, ongoing process of “change”, one that touches all wakes of social life; one whose goal was to gradually change our politics, our economy and our society.

But somewhere during that summer of optimistic “social outpouring”, we managed to lose sight of other darker, more extreme trends that were growing around the social edges and then slowly, but surely, penetrated its core.  Even while dark manifestations of sectarianism, hostility, violence, racism and unjustified hatred were secretly rearing their heads, still there was hope.

Then came “Operation Protective Edge”, and everything quickly changed. Hope was replaced by despair. The fragile fabric, so meticulously woven to connect groups and individuals around new and creative ideas, evaporated with the click of a keyboard. Friends and acquaintances who had met and organized into social networks for social justice now found themselves on opposing sides of the issue of the war, casting words at one another, sharper than poisonous arrows.

“Operation Protective Edge” is far from over but one thing is already very clear: we have a lot to fix – socially, civically, democratically; the seams we have been repairing in recent years will need to be re-stitched, having been ripped apart by the hostilities. This time we will have to do it differently – we will be more determined and will include many more groups and partners. Our rehabilitation also needs to become the top social project of the government awaiting us after “Operation Protective Edge”.  Our national strength is there – and not in shelters and iron domes. Hope must once again conquer the “city square”. 

The writer is Tomer Lotan- CEO of The Citizen's Empowerment Center in Israel (CECI).

Photos of slain Israeli soldiers appear in Germany’s largest daily paper


Germany’s most widely read daily newspaper, Bild Zeitung, published the faces of the 64 Israeli soldiers killed in the current conflict in Gaza.

Together with short biographies of a few soldiers, the images appeared in the Monday edition of the paper under the headline “Israel’s War Against the Hamas Terrorists: Faces of the fallen.”

Among those profiled are Benaya Sarel, 26, who was about to marry; newlywed Liran Adir, 31; Eitan Barak, 20, the first Israeli soldier to die in Operation Protective Edge; and Matan Gotlib, 21, an avid mountain climber who was about to finish his three years of military service.

Gotlib’s brother Omer, 31, told Bild that Matan was planning to travel the world, as many young Israelis do after completing their service.

“Do you know any big brothers who look up to their little brothers? I admired you,” he said.

The report, by Anne-Christine Merholz, describes the soldiers as “64 sons, friends, husbands who will never return to their families. They died for their homeland, fighting Hamas in Gaza.”

Bild, which has a circulation of at least 3.5 million, is published by the Axel-Springer company, which has a strongly pro-Israel editorial stand. Its articles of association, which date back to 1967 and were most recently updated in 2001, include a commitment to promote reconciliation between Jews and non-Jews in Germany and to support Israel’s right to exist.

How much has Israel’s war in Gaza cost?


After the missiles have stopped, after the troops have come home, even after most of the wounded are out of the hospital, Israelis will still be feeling the burden of Operation Protective Edge — this time in their pockets.

With the recent expiration of a temporary cease-fire, the operation may not be over. (Another temporary cease-fire was put in place starting at midnight Monday.) But through last week, including both direct military expenses and indirect hits to the Israeli economy, the total cost of the four-week conflict is estimated at $2.5 billion to $3.6 billion.

The government has maintained radio silence on the war’s military costs and estimates vary, but Israeli media report that they range from $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion. Lost economic activity amounted to an estimated $1.3 billion, with the tourism sector in particular taking a massive hit.

“Along with soldiers, we won’t spare a shekel in reimbursements to residents of the south and reservists,” Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid said at a news conference Thursday. “From our perspective they’re all soldiers, and all deserve special treatment from us.”

Ever the populist, Lapid promised not to raise taxes. But he admitted the money will have to come from somewhere and predicted the 2015 budget deficit would rise.

Here’s a partial look at how all those shekels were spent.

Israel’s pricey weaponry

Iron Dome: The U.S.-funded star of the war, the Iron Dome missile defense system limited Israeli civilian casualties to three while shooting down 90 percent of the rockets headed toward Israeli cities, according to the Israeli military. Of the 3,460 rockets fired at Israel during the war, Iron Dome intercepted 584 of them — at $50,000 a piece. That comes to a total of $29 million, or about $1 million per day. Last week, the Congress approved another $225 million in funding for Iron Dome.

Smart bombs: Israeli war technology isn’t limited to the home front. Israeli planes have bombed Gaza approximately 4,900 times during the war — roughly 150 times a day. Yiftah Shapir, head of the Military Balance Project at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said most of the bombs Israeli planes dropped were likely equipped with computers and cameras to increase accuracy.

Shapir doesn’t know how many bombs Israel used and the IDF won’t say, but he said most Israeli ordnance was likely one of two missiles: the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, a GPS-guided missile made by Boeing, and the Tammuz missile, an Israeli-made munition that locates its target with a camera and has a 15-mile range.

According to Shapir, not including the bombs, each of the Air Force’s 4,900 sorties cost $15,000, for a total of over $73 million. Add on a $32,000 JDAM or a $140,000 Tammuz and the price skyrockets. Critics of Israel have accused the IDF of using imprecise — and far less expensive — artillery in strikes that have killed more than 1,000 civilians in Gaza.

Calling up the reserves

One of the unifying factors of this war was that almost every Israeli knew a few people in uniform. Israel has called up 82,000 reservists during the conflict — nearly half at the war’s start and 42,000 more as it went on.

It’s hard to determine the exact cost of reserves because each soldier receives a reimbursement for lost salary pegged to his monthly paycheck. But according to the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot, each reservist costs the army $174 a day — including food, shelter, a uniform and weapons. If the figure is accurate, the IDF spent nearly $200 million on reservists, not including the salary reimbursement.

Direct hits to the home front

Along with Israel’s 65 fallen soldiers and three killed civilians, 674 Israelis have been wounded in Protective Edge, 23 of them civilians. A Health Ministry spokesman estimated that treating the injured would cost $4.4 million.

In addition, the government already has received 2,500 claims for property damage from the missiles and estimates a total payout of $14.6 million. Compensation for lost wages and property damage will come from a $1.5 billion fund taken from taxes on real estate transactions.

The economic costs

Israel also will compensate workers from the south who couldn’t do their jobs because of the rockets. The Manufacturers Association of Israel estimates that one in five workers in the south stayed home because of the war, but it couldn’t estimate the total amount of lost wages.

Israel’s biggest civilian cost by far will be the $1.3 billion in lost gross domestic product, an estimate provided to JTA by Moshe Asher, the director general of Israel’s Tax Authority.

Asher said the war affected industries across Israel, but one of the hardest hit was the tourism business. Of the 600,000 tourists expected to come on organized tours from July through the end of 2014, the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association expects only 300,000 to make it.

Overall, the tour operators group estimates that organized tours will lose $350 million from July through December, similar to the $375 million loss estimated by the Israel Hotel Association. But the cancellations may have been toughest on private tour guides, who depend on summer tours to make it through the year.

“These months are the months where I make money,” said Gil Shemesh, 28, who lost a quarter of his summer income when a bar mitzvah trip and a Christian pilgrims’ tour canceled. “It took out a whole month. I won’t be working at all in August.”

Israel looking to technology to counter Gaza tunnels


Israel is preparing to build a network of sensors to try to detect tunnel building into its territory from the Gaza Strip, but it could take months to prove the technology works, a senior army officer said on Monday.

In the meantime, the army might re-invade the Palestinian enclave to destroy any tunnels it discovers or that it thinks are under construction, another official said, looking to calm the fears of Israelis living close to the Gaza border.

Israeli ground forces plowed into Gaza last month to demolish a warren of underground passages that Hamas Islamists had dug to infiltrate the border.

The army said it destroyed 32 of them, but believes some, which also serve as bunkers and weapons caches, survived intact.

After more than a decade of failed attempts to develop ways to reveal the infiltration tunnels, an army officer said the military was preparing to place sensors around Gaza's perimeter.

The army hopes these will not only be able to detect tunnels under construction, but also others already built.

In a briefing to reporters, the officer, who declined to be named, said the sensors would be augmented by physical obstacles placed along the 68 km-long (42 miles) frontier.

He did not discuss the technology, but said testing over the next few months would show whether it was ready for use. Previous experimentation has focused on seismic detectors.

Underlining Israel's anxiety to overcome the problem, the officer said an Israeli delegation had even traveled to Vietnam in 2002 to try to learn from how the Americans had dealt with guerrilla tunnels during the war in the 1960s and '70s.

ENTER AND DESTROY

Israel launched its Gaza offensive on July 8 with the aim of halting militant rocket barrages from the enclave, sending in ground forces days later to tackle the tunnels. The fighting has killed 1,938 Palestinians and 67 Israelis, and has devastated wide tracts of the densely populated Gaza Strip.

During the month-old conflict, militants infiltrated Israel several times and killed five soldiers at a lookout post.

The senior commander on Israel's southern front, Major-General Sami Turgeman, said on Monday it might take months before the sensor technology was proven.

“Until then, I propose that every time we discover that the enemy is building a tunnel, we will enter the area and destroy it,” Turgeman told Israeli residents near the Gaza border.

Yedidia Yaari, the chief executive officer of Rafael Advanced Weapons Systems, a state-owned firm that produces the Iron Dome missile interceptor, told Channel 2 at the weekend that a solution to the tunnels threat was becoming more real.

“It is not simple to discover tunnels, but it is something that we are finding a solution for, and in my opinion it is close,” he said.

One of Israel's concerns about the tunnels is that they might be used to abduct Israelis, as happened in 2006 when Gaza infiltrators grabbed soldier Gilad Shalit. They held him for over five years before freeing him in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Late last month, Israeli officers feared that one of its soldiers had been seized by militants hiding in a tunnel and launched an immediate, massive barrage in southern Gaza in an apparent effort to prevent him being taken away from the area.

Some 70 Palestinians, many of them civilians, died in the shelling and the Israeli military said that a subsequent investigation had shown that the missing soldier was probably already dead before the barrage was unleashed.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) on Monday urged the Attorney General to investigate the so-called “Hannibal Protocol”, saying it was a disproportionate use of firepower that endangered the soldier and killed many civilians.

Israel instituted the procedure only for use against guerrilla groups, such as Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah, which do not abide by the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war.

“A protocol that puts the life of the captured soldier in jeopardy to thwart a kidnapping is fundamentally unacceptable,” ACRI said.

“The implementation of the Hannibal Protocol in populated areas fails to distinguish between civilians and combatants and causes needless suffering. It is our opinion that the use of this protocol … constitutes an illegal method of warfare.”

Israelis, Gaza militants fight on, defying truce efforts


Israel launched more than 30 aerial attacks in Gaza on Saturday, killing five Palestinians, and militants fired rockets at Israel as the conflict entered a second month, defying international efforts to negotiate an agreement for an extended cease-fire.

The violence seemed to delay any progress in talks brokered by Egypt aimed at securing another truce. Israel had no plans to send negotiators back to Cairo “as long as the shooting goes on”, an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity.

Medical officials in Gaza said two Palestinians were killed when their motorcycle was bombed and the bodies of three others were found beneath the rubble of one of three bombed mosques.

Another attack reduced a security complex belonging to Gaza's dominant Hamas faction to a huge cloud of smoke, but there were no casualties. In other attacks, three houses were bombed, and fighter planes strafed open areas, medical officials said.

The Israeli military said that since midnight it had attacked more than 30 sites in the coastal enclave, without specifying the targets.

Gaza militants fired 15 rockets at towns in Israel's south on Saturday setting off alarm sirens but causing no damage or injuries, a military spokeswoman said.

Since the end of a 72-hour truce on Friday, Gaza militants have fired more than 65 rockets at Israel, military officials said. Two Israelis were hurt by a mortar attack on Friday.

Israeli air strikes killed five Palestinians on Friday, among them a 10-year-old boy near a mosque in Gaza City.

Egypt, backed by American and European mediators, has made no visible progress toward resuming the cease-fire that had halted fighting for three days between Israel and Gaza militants that began on July 8.

Egypt was expected to pursue its diplomacy on Saturday, meeting Palestinian officials in Cairo, but it wasn't clear how much progress could be made if Israeli representatives didn't show up.

Both sides remain apart on terms for renewing the cease-fire, with each blaming the other for refusing to extend it.

A diplomatic source familiar with the talks told Reuters it could take at least two days to see if it was possible to work out another truce. A sticking point was Israel's demand for guarantees that any reconstruction supplies sent to Gaza would not be used by Hamas to construct more tunnels of the sort that Palestinian fighters have used to infiltrate Israel.

Egypt is mediating the talks but meeting separately with each party. Israel and Hamas deny each other's legitimacy, with Hamas rejecting Israel's right to exist and Israel rejecting Hamas as a terrorist organization.

VIOLENCE THWARTS ANTI-WAR PROTEST PLANS

Citing security concerns over continued rocket fire, Israeli police banned an anti-war protest planned for Tel Aviv on Saturday, saying regulations prohibited large gatherings in areas at risk of attack.

By resuming attacks against Israel, Gaza militants appeared to be trying to ramp up pressure and making it clear they were ready to fight on to fulfill a goal of ending a blockade of the territory that both Israel and Egypt have imposed.

Heavy civilian casualties and destruction during Israel's campaign against militants in packed residential areas of the Gaza Strip have raised international alarm over the past month.

Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,886 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have died in the fighting that followed a surge in Palestinian rocket salvoes into Israel.

Israel expanded its air and naval bombardment of the Gaza Strip into a ground offensive on July 17, and pulled its infantry and armor out of the enclave on Tuesday after saying it had destroyed more than 30 infiltration tunnels dug by militants.

The White House urged Israel and the Palestinians to do what they could to preserve civilians after having failed to extend their cease-fire. Spokesman John Earnest said on Friday “the United States is very concerned” about the renewed violence.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the parties “not to resort to further military action that can only exacerbate the already appalling humanitarian situation in Gaza”.

At a rally in South Africa, Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu accused Israel of behaving like a “barbaric bully” in Gaza.

Israel said ahead of the truce's expiration on Friday it was ready to agree to an extension. Hamas did not agree.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Israel had rejected most of the group's demands. The Palestinians want Israel to agree in principle to lift a Gaza blockade, release prisoners and permit the opening of a sea port.

“There is no going back and the resistance will continue … there is no retreat from any of our demands,” Abu Zuhri said.

Israel has resisted easing access to Gaza, suspecting Hamas could restock with weapons from abroad.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet, said the issue of a sea port should be part of wider peace negotiations with the Palestinians and that Hamas should not at this time be rewarded for “using force against Israeli citizens”.

Dozens of Israelis defy police to protest Gaza war


More than 150 Israelis protested in Tel Aviv on Saturday against a Gaza war entering its second month, in defiance of a police ban on the assembly that cited military restrictions on public gatherings in cities within range of rocket fire.

The relatively small turnout was similar to the numbers that have shown up for most weekly demonstrations held since Israel launched an offensive against the Hamas Islamist militants in Gaza on July 8, underscoring the broad public support in Israel behind the war.

Slogans daubed on banners held by protesters read: “Stop the massacre,” and “Free Gaza.”Halleli Pinson, one of the women who attended, said she objected to “the bombing of Gaza and basically we are calling to end the cycle of violence here.”

About two dozen war supporters held a counter-protest nearby, but there were no reported clashes between the two groups.

Israeli police had earlier banned the protest citing military restrictions against holding public gatherings in cities targeted by rockets fired from Gaza. But spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said none of those who attended the illegal gathering were arrested.

More than 3,000 rockets have been fired at Israel, and some of them at Tel Aviv, during the past month. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the fighting was aimed at forcing a halt to such firings and to destroy tunnels dug by militants which Israel said gunmen intended to use as conduits to infiltrate the country's borders.

Leftist Israelis, objecting to the bloodshed and civilian casualties caused by the fighting, have complained of feeling silenced by the patriotic fervor pervading much of Israel during the war. They have also cited threats published on social media pages in past weeks to assault or even kill dissenters.

The private Israel Democracy Institute think-tank found in a survey late last month that as many as 95 percent of Israelis supported the war, and only 7 percent were opposed.

Heavy civilian casualties and destruction during Israel's campaign in packed residential areas of the Gaza Strip have raised international alarm over the fighting.

Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,890 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have died in the fighting that started on July 8 following a surge in Palestinian rocket salvoes at Israel.

Israel responds to rocket fire from Gaza before cease-fire ends


Israel renewed its attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza after 21 rockets were launched at Israeli cities at the close of a 72-hour cease-fire.

The Israeli strikes were carried out by aircraft over Gaza on Friday morning, Army Radio reported. The strikes resulted in the death of a 10-year-old boy, the Ma’an news agency reported. Eleven others were wounded.

In Israel, one civilian sustained moderate injuries and one soldier was lightly wounded.

Of 21 rockets fired at Israel this morning, 16 hit open areas, two landed short inside the Gaza Strip and three were intercepted — one over Sderot and the remaining two over the Ashkelon area, the IDF Spokesperson’s unit said.

“In response to the renewal of rocket fire by Gaza terrorists at Israel, we are striking terror sites in Gaza,” the IDF said.

In a statement to media, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesperson, said: “The renewed rocket attacks by terrorists at Israel are unacceptable, intolerable and shortsighted. Hamas’ bad decision to breach the ceasefire will be pursued by the IDF. We will continue to strike Hamas, its infrastructure, its operatives and restore security for the State of Israel.”

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for firing three rockets, according to Army Radio.

In Gaza, thousands of people left their homes ahead of the expiration of the cease-fire, which Hamas and other Palestinian factions refused to extend because Israel would not lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli delegation in Cairo for talks on achieving a more durable cease-fire returned to Israel Friday morning, Haaretz reported.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 in response to rocket fire by Hamas from Gaza. On the Israeli side, fighting resulted in the death of 67 people, three of whom were civilians. On the Palestinian side, more than 1,700 people have died and thousands were wounded.

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


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

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.

On Gaza border, a mother hangs on


Hila Fenlon, a 36-year-old farmer and mother of two, lives in Netiv Hasara, a small Israeli village of 400 residents that caresses the Gaza border. Hila is not religious, but she loves to use the word “miracle.”

She used the word several times when I met her in her village last week, as when she described a birthday party her young son attended several years ago.

“There was a clown putting on a show,” she said in her Hebrew-accented English. “All the kids were happy and sitting on a large blanket on the grass in the park.”

Then, a few minutes after the show had ended and the kids had left the grassy area, the miracle happened. A rocket landed precisely where the kids had been sitting.

Since moving to Netiv Hasara in 1982, Hila said, they have received “thousands” of rockets, in increasing levels of intensity. 

“In the beginning, the rockets would land in back fields. We didn’t take them very seriously.”

That casual attitude didn’t last long. Over the years, the rockets became more frequent, more lethal and more accurate. Bomb shelters were built. Security control rooms were opened. Eventually, the village was put on 24/7 alert.

Of course, none of this is news. Since Israel left Gaza nine years ago, we’ve all been reading about the thousands of rockets that have rained down on the border communities — especially Sderot — and the intense anxiety this has produced.

That anxiety really hits home, though, when you hear the human stories that linger long after the rockets fall — stories like the miracle of the birthday party, or the story of the big red metal bird.

When Hila’s son Jimmy was 4, he misheard the voice that was broadcast with the sirens: Instead of hearing “shachar adom” (red dawn), he would hear “shachaf adom” (red seagull).

Hila never knew this until years later, when her son finally told her that he was afraid a giant red metal bird would come and take him away.

Evidently, little Jimmy couldn’t imagine that these big, dangerous, metal things in the sky could come from other human beings. He figured it must be one of those science-fiction monsters you see in comic books — in this case, a giant bird.

The grownups in the village, maybe as a coping mechanism, have a humorous way of describing the kids of the village — they call them little ducks, or “duckies.” Just as little ducks like to follow their mother everywhere, so do the little kids of Netiv Hasara.

“When my kids were younger,” Hila said, “they never left me. I could go from the kitchen to the living room and they would follow me.”

When they took their showers, she had to stand by the bathroom door, in case the siren sounded and she had to rush them in 15 seconds or less to the nearest bomb shelter.

But it’s not just the kids who have been traumatized by years of indiscriminate rocket fire. It’s also the animals, especially the dogs. 

“Maybe the dogs take it worse than the humans,” she said. “When they see the kids panic, they go even crazier.” 

In the chaos of the sirens, some dogs have wandered and gotten lost. Hila thinks that the piercing sounds of bombs and sirens may damage the dogs’ hearing, and hence their sense of direction. Other dogs, she said, are extra cautious and are the first to run into the shelters.

As far as her own pets, when the Gaza war started a month ago, Hila took no chances. Just as she sent her two kids away to be with relatives, she put her dogs in a dog farm, safely away from the war zone.

Hila was among the minority of villagers who decided to stay during Operation Protective Shield. She said she didn’t sleep much, and spent many nights in the control room. When I asked how she went with so little sleep, she smiled and said, “I live on Red Bull.”

At the height of the war, she said her village did, in fact, feel like a war zone. 

There were moments when everything would erupt at once. The Israeli artillery shelling of Gaza would emit huge booms that would make the earth tremble, while above, the Iron Dome would make a terrifying sound blowing up rockets over Ashkelon, and, as if that weren’t enough, village sirens would wail to warn of incoming rockets.

“We’ve become experts at figuring out the different sounds,” she said. “Every rocket, every bomb, every siren we hear is different.” 

She doesn’t know when all these sounds of war will end. For now, she’s just happy that she and her kids are still around to hear the sounds of better days.

Los Angeles community reacts to violence in the Gaza war


Two simultaneous events in Los Angeles last week that focused on Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip revealed a community split between progressives who expressed some criticism of Israel even as they supported its efforts at security, and more unconditional supporters of the Jewish state.

On July 31, more than 1,000 people attended an event at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), a large Conservative synagogue in Encino. The event, titled “Shoulder to Shoulder: A Community Gathering in Support of the People of Israel,” displayed American-Israeli solidarity to full effect. 

“We have a strong Jewish community in this country and around the world. And we are organized, and we are powerful, and we’re inspired. And we know that we have a homeland to fight for that is just, that is moral,” Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel said at VBS, appearing alongside the congregation’s Rabbis Ed Feinstein and Noah Farkas, as well as Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, and others. 

At the same time, about 250 others from the Jewish community wrestled with issues pertaining to Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza at an event titled “Crisis in Israel: What Now What Next?” at the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC). The town hall-style event featured Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR, Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund, UCLA Jewish history professor David Myers, Americans for Peace Now’s David Pine and J Street’s Yael Maizel. 

“Tonight, we actually come together to reflect and to think about and hear about how we got to this place, and what in the world we can possibly do so that we might be able to find our way out of here,” Brous said, explaining her discomfort with Israel’s activity in Gaza. “There are so many Israelis who are taking the lead in this conversation now, artists and activists and thinkers and academics, people who are, with their own broken hearts, able to say, ‘What kind of country do we want to build, what are [the] great dreams we want to dream?’ We wanted to create a space for that conversation to happen here in Los Angeles, as well.” These two events illustrated how, even when the L.A. Jewish community is united in support of Israel during this latest operation against Hamas, turning out repeatedly in recent weeks in large numbers at rallies, vigils and memorial services for the three kidnapped and slain teens Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Frenkel — a Saban Theatre shloshim on July 30 drew more than 1,000 people and featured speakers Roz Rothstein of Stand With Us, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Journal President David Suissa and others — it is not homogenous in how it processes what is happening inside Gaza. 

Some have found an outlet by expressing absolute harmony with the decisions of the Israeli government. 

Others are trying to carve out a moderate position between those who would call Israel’s action “genocide” (more on that later) and those who are embracing Israel now more than ever. 

Chabad of Northridge congregant Andrew Miller is an example of an ardent Israel supporter. An attendee at the VBS event — where audience members wore yarmulkes with Israel and U.S. flags stitched to them, and a video screen situated between a U.S. flag and an Israeli flag displayed pictures from Israel -— Miller said the event demonstrated that the American-Jewish community stands behind Israel. 

“It’s so nice that we had the opportunity to all get together and show our support for Israel, especially now, when they need it most,” he said. 

For some, neither option suffices. This appeared true at the Westside JCC, where emotions ran high when one audience member, L.A. Jews for Peace member Rick Chertoff, yelled out and interrupted the panel’s discussion to declare that the death of Palestinian civilians in Israel’s current war with Hamas is more than just collateral damage — these deaths, he said, reflect a concerted Israeli effort to wipe out Palestinians. 

Security officers quickly escorted Chertoff out of the event because of his disruption, which also included cursing at other members of the audience. 

It was clear that, for the segment of the Jewish community present at the JCC — whom Sokatch described as the “progressive Jewish community of Los Angeles, who care deeply about Israel and who care deeply about Palestine” — Chertoff’s claim that Israel is intentionally targeting Palestinians is too radical. 

“We do not believe Israel engages in deliberate slaughter of its neighbors and represents the sole criminal actor on the world stage,” Myers said.

“[But] I think that as we contemplate the prospect of moving forward, we have to hope for a mix of more sophisticated statecraft [in Israel] … for realist morality that has been sorely lacking for the last number of years now,” Myers said. 

Later the same week, on Aug. 2, between 1,500 and 3,000 people turned out for a pro-Palestinian rally in Westwood. And they signaled that they would, likely, dispute Myers’ remarks. Marching to and fro between the Wilshire Federal Building and the headquarters of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, which is located just over a mile west of the Federal Building, protesters carried signs that read, “Zionists, Get Out of Gaza Now!” and “Israel Is Mass Murdering Children.”

The event, as has been true of other rallies on both sides during the past several weeks, had its share of rowdiness. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) arrested one person for sexual battery, according to LAPD-West L.A. Division Officer Hornback, who described the incident as “involuntary touching of a private area.” No further details were available. 

Additionally, Israel activist Steve Goldberg, carrying a large Israeli flag, engaged in shouting matches with a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators at one point; a woman covered in fake blood carried a baby doll also covered in fake blood and marched with duct tape over her lips; demonstrators clashed with Bible-thumping Evangelicals who stationed themselves on the north side of Wilshire Boulevard behind a banner proclaiming support of Israel as the Jewish homeland.

“We stand with you,” 22-year-old Cerritos College student and pro-Palestinian group ANSWER Los Angeles member Waylette Thomas told the Journal when asked if there was any message she’d send to Hamas, the governing party in Gaza.

The climax of the event occurred about two hours in: A sea of protesters were marching eastbound on a closed-down Wilshire Boulevard under the 405 Freeway, their pro-Palestinian chants echoing against the walls of the underpass. 

Viva, viva, Palestina,” Spanish-language protesters chanted as they made their way back to the Federal Building later that afternoon. 

“We’re demanding that Israel end its indiscriminate bombing and its indiscriminate genocide of the civilian population — we ask it to end and demand for it to end its siege on the Gaza Strip,” Gus Hussein, 25, a Palestinian UC Riverside graduate student and Students for Justice in Palestine member, said, marching with the large group. 

The tone of the rally was not only vastly different from the sentiments expressed at the Westside JCC and VBS, but also from those expressed at an Aug. 5 morning ceremony at Los Angeles City Hall, where L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city’s top leaders, including City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who organized the media event, officially expressed their solidarity with Israel. But even in those Israel-friendly rooms, there was a universal eagerness to see the conflict end as soon as possible. 

Siegel predicted, however, that Israel will face difficulties even after it ends its war in Gaza. (As of press time on Aug. 5, a 72-hour cease fire had gone into effect and peace negotiations were expected to begin soon in Egypt, with both sides already claiming victory, according to a JTA report.)

“The day after this conflict is over, it only just begins,” Seigel said, noting that the country will face “one-sided international investigations” aimed at limiting Israel’s ability to defend itself.

Brous, meanwhile, expressed hopes for a day when events like the ones last week won’t be necessary. 

“I want to suggest there is another way for us, not to put aside the pain and suffering but to hold it and grieve over it and to contemplate what in the world we can do to get out of this place, so that we don’t have to meet again in another 18 months, or two years, to have a community forum in which to grieve the loss of so many more lives,” she said.

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.”

U.S. sells munitions to Israel from its surplus stockpile


The U.S. Defense Department sold to Israel munitions from its Israel-based surplus stockpile.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in an email Thursday to JTA. “This defense sale is consistent with those objectives.”

The weapons released were 120mm tank rounds and 40mm illumination rounds. Israel made the request July 20, which was 12 days after the launch of the current Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip. The items were released on July 23.

Kirby in his email noted that White House approval is not required for the sale of munitions in the Israel-based stockpile.

U.S. defense assistance to Israel has for years included the existence of a stockpile in the country of surplus U.S. weapons available for expedited sale to Israel.

Separately, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a phone call with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon repeated U.S. calls for a humanitarian cease-fire.

“Hagel called for the cease-fire and expressed concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths as well as the loss of Israeli lives,” said a statement by Kirby describing the phone call on Wednesday. “Hagel also reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s security and its right to self defense and said that any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups.”

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.

From Israel, a Holocaust survivor worries about her Gazan daughter


In her living room in the Israeli town of Ramle, Sarah says she wants a peaceful life. At 79, she deserves one.

A Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, Sarah was sent to a Nazi concentration camp in Serbia as a child, arriving in Israel at age 17. Her entire family perished in the Holocaust.

Now she watches from her armchair as her family is threatened once again. Sarah — not her real name — is now a Muslim, and her daughter lives in Gaza City.

“The whole city is in ruins,” Sarah says. “Everyone is just trying to find a piece of bread.”

Sarah arrived in Israel in 1950, one of the tens of thousands of Jewish survivors who found refuge in the young Jewish state. From there, her story departs from the conventional narrative.

In 1962, she married an Arab Israeli and, with no surviving family of her own, converted to Islam to join his. Neither of them were particularly religious.

“In my time it wasn’t Arab or Jew,” said Sarah, who speaks Hebrew with a slight European accent. “We knew there was no problem between Jews and Israeli Arabs. I’m very liberal; my husband was the same. We felt no discrimination.”

Light-haired and soft-spoken, Sarah has lived for decades in the same Ramle apartment, which she now shares with her daughter, Nora. Both women leave their hair uncovered, and Nora said not to worry as she set out tea and cookies on the last day of Ramadan. She wasn’t fasting.

Sarah’s other daughter, also an Israeli citizen, moved to Gaza in 1984 after she married. On Sunday, Sarah and Nora waited by the phone as the Arabic news network Al Jazeera played on the television.

In the first days of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, Sarah’s daughter took her six children and one grandchild and fled their home in the Zeitoun district of Gaza City for a calmer area in the southern Gaza Strip. The day they left, their four-story home was destroyed, most likely by an Israeli airstrike. Since then, the family has survived on dry goods and whatever they can scrounge up during brief cease-fires.

Along with food, electricity is scarce in Gaza, so Sarah has a hard time getting in touch with her daughter. She learned the house was destroyed only when another relative posted on Facebook a picture of the rubble. She hopes for the rare phone call when her daughter manages to charge her phone. But sometimes, no call at all is better.

“With every phone call, we pray that she’s charged so we can reach them, talk to them, see how they are,” said Nora. “Every call jolts us, that we won’t hear bad news.”

Neither women would agree to be photographed or give many personal details out of fear of retribution from Israeli authorities or Hamas, the reigning power in Gaza. Only Nora would give her first name.

Though they have lived through such conflicts before — Protective Edge is the third such campaign in Gaza in six years — Sarah says this round has been harder than previous ones. Anti-Muslim discrimination flared up during previous conflicts, but Sarah said the antagonism seems stronger this time.

“I go to day centers [for the elderly], and they don’t talk to me,” Sarah said. “Behind my back, they curse me. I hear it. I hear ‘Their name should be erased. They should die.’”

Sarah and Nora used to enjoy driving to Gaza City to visit Sarah’s daughter. But Nora hasn’t been allowed to visit since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Sarah was allowed only once, for a five-day visit several years ago.

Will the family return to Zeitoun to rebuild its home? When will Sarah’s daughter be allowed to visit the family in Ramle? Will Sarah ever be able to visit her grandchildren and great-grandchild in Gaza?

They don’t know.

Is there still hope for peace? At that question, Nora shakes her head.

“Honestly, no. I don’t think the situation will get better after this war,” Nora said. “There’s tension between me and my Jewish friends. They want to justify themselves and this war. I never encounter a person that says, ‘Enough spilled blood’ or ‘Poor civilians.’ I haven’t heard that.”

Like most Israelis, Nora has coped with the sirens that warn of incoming missiles for a month now. She opposes Hamas, she says, and understands that Israel needs to protect its citizens, though she wishes the government would scale back its operation and pursue diplomacy more aggressively. Her family in Gaza, she said, is not affiliated with any movement — not Hamas, not Fatah, not any other.

“Israel has the full right to self-defense,” Nora said. “The missiles don’t differentiate between Jew and Arab. We don’t need to see houses destroyed, women crying, dead soldiers. A soldier is the son of a mother. Anywhere in the world, the pain of a mother is the same pain.”

Both Sarah and Nora say they support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both wish their Gaza family could visit Israel to eat Bamba and Bissli, the classic Israeli snack foods they love. Both wish they could hop into a cab and drive to Gaza City to eat fish on the coast.

But Sarah says that because of Hamas, because of the war, because of the antagonism born of decades of separation between Israelis and Palestinians, a hopeful future seems less likely than ever. She scoffed at the occasional peace negotiations.

“It’s all nonsense,” she said, then in Yiddish: “Bubbe meises.”

 

Belgian cafe posts ‘No Zionists Allowed’ sign


A Belgian watchdog on anti-Semitism complained to the mayor of a suburb of Liege against owners of a cafe whose window display featured a sign that said Jews were not allowed inside.

The Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA, filed the complaint Wednesday against the parties responsible for hanging a Turkish- and French-language sign at a cafe in Saint-Nicolas, a town located just east of the southern city of Liege.

The Turkish text reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Jews are not under any circumstances.” The French text replaces “Jews” with “Zionists.”

Following the LBCA complaint, the mayor of Saint-Nicolas, Jacques Heleven, dispatched police to the cafe, who had the sign removed and confirmed the LBCA report.

The window display also included a Palestinian flag, an Israeli flag crossed out with a red “X” sign, and a kaffieh, or Palestinian shawl, draped around it.

“LBCA will file in the coming hours a criminal complaint with the Liege prosecutor over the actions of those responsible for this violation of the July 30 law against racism and xenophobia of 1981,” LBCA said in a statement.

Last week, the Belgian Jewish newspaper Joods Actueel reported that a shop owner in Antwerp had refused to sell an Orthodox Jewish woman clothes “out of protest.” An employee confirmed that the shop had temporarily adopted a policy of not selling to Jews.

Western Europe has seen a significant rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and attacks – including against nine synagogues in France – since Israel launched its Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza on July 8, following multiple launching of rockets from Gaza into Israeli cities and towns.

Anti-Semitic incidents double in Britain since start of Gaza op


Anti-Semitic incidents in Britain have risen since the start of Israel’s operation in Gaza.

The Community Security Trust told the Jewish Chronicle that 70 anti-Semitic incidents had been reported in the period between the start of the operation on July 8 and Friday.

The Daily Mail reported Sunday that more than 100 hate crimes have been recorded by police and community groups so far in July, more than double the usual number.

Among the reported incidents were the physical assault last week of a rabbi in Gateshead, attacks on synagogues and an attack by an Arab woman wearing a niqab on a Jewish boy riding his bicycle in northern London.

“We are sending out emails to schools, shuls and Jewish organizations reminding them of safety protocols. We are determined to do all we can to allow Jewish life to continue as normal,” Mark Gardner, director of communications at the Community Security Trust told the Jewish Chronicle.

The Muslim Council for Britain said in a statement that the Gaza conflict should not disrupt interfaith relations in the UK. In a statement posted on its website, Shuja Shafi, Muslim Council for Britain secretary-general, urged Jews and Muslims to “remember the importance of civility and courtesy between each other.”

Crunch time for Gaza truce talks as death toll passes 800


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed regional leaders to nail down a Gaza cease-fire on Friday as the civilian death toll soared, and further violence flared between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Mediators hope any truce in the Gaza Strip can coincide with a Muslim festival that starts next week, and are looking to overcome seemingly irreconcilable demands from Israel and Hamas-led Islamist fighters, locked in conflict since July 8.

As the diplomacy continued, so did the fighting.

Gaza officials said Israeli strikes killed 33 people on Friday, including the head of media operations for Hamas ally Islamic Jihad and his son. They put the number of Palestinian deaths in 18 days of conflict at 822, most of them civilians.

Militants fired a barrage of rockets out of Gaza, triggering sirens across much of southern and central Israel, including at the country's main airport. No injuries were reported, with the Iron Dome interceptor system knocking out many of the missiles.

The Gaza turmoil stoked tensions in the nearby West Bank, where U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas governs in uneasy coordination with Israel.

Medics said five Palestinians were killed in separate incidents near the cities of Nablus and Hebron, including one shooting that witnesses blamed on an apparent Jewish settler.

On Thursday night, 10,000 demonstrators marched in solidarity with Gaza near the Palestinian administrative capital Ramallah – a scale recalling mass revolts of the past. Protesters surged against an Israeli army checkpoint, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, and Palestinian medics said one was shot dead and 200 wounded when troops opened fire.

Israel said an army reservist was killed in Gaza on Friday, bringing to 34 the number of soldiers lost in a ground advance it says aims to destroy dozens of cross-border tunnels used by Hamas to threaten its southern farming villages and army bases.

It also announced that a soldier unaccounted for after an ambush in Gaza six days ago was definitely dead, although his body had not been recovered. Hamas said on Sunday it had captured the man, but did not release a photograph of him.

Three civilians have also been killed in Israel by rockets from Gaza – the kind of attack that surged last month amid Hamas anger at a crackdown on its activists in the West Bank, prompting the July 8 launch of the Israeli offensive.

NEGOTIATIONS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet on Friday to discuss a limited humanitarian truce under which Palestinian movement would be freed up to allow in aid and for the dead and wounded to be recovered.

A Palestinian official close to the negotiations said Turkey and Qatar had proposed a 7-day halt to the fighting, which had been relayed to Israel by Kerry while Hamas considered it.

An Israeli official acknowledged that the proposal had been received, but said any decision by the Netanyahu government would likely come after Hamas had delivered its own response.

Israel insists that, even if such a cease-fire is agreed, its army will continue digging up tunnels along Gaza's eastern frontier, a mission that could take between one and two weeks.

Netanyahu has said a truce should also lead to the eventual stripping of Gaza's rocket arsenals – something Hamas rules out.

“We must stop the rocket launches. How this is done – whether through occupying (Gaza), or broadening (the operation), or (international) guarantees, or anything else, I have to see it with my own eyes,” said police minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.

The rockets have sent Israelis regularly rushing to shelters and dented the economy despite Iron Dome's high rate of success.

A Hamas rocket intercepted near Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to halt American commercial flights to Israel's main international gateway. Some European carriers followed suit.

Jolted by the blow at the height of an already stagnant summer tourism season, Israel persuaded U.S. authorities to lift the flight ban on Thursday, after which the European aviation regulator removed its own advisory against flying to Ben Gurion.

In the second such salvo in as many days, Hamas said it fired three rockets at the airport on Friday, an apparent bid to cripple operations there again. There was no word of impacts at Ben Gurion, whose passenger hall emptied at the sound of sirens.

HAMAS WANTS GAZA OPENED UP

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal had on Wednesday voiced support for a humanitarian truce, but only if Israel eased restrictions on Gaza's 1.8 million people. Hamas wants Egypt to open up its border with Gaza, too, and demands that Israel release hundreds of prisoners rounded up in the West Bank last month following the kidnap and killing of three Jewish seminary students.

Such concessions appear unlikely, however, as both Israel and Egypt consider Hamas a security threat.

One Cairo official said next week's Eid al-Fitr festival, which concludes Ramadan, was a possible date for a truce. But U.S. officials were circumspect on progress made by Kerry, whose mediation has involved Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Abbas, as Washington, like Israel and the European Union, won't deal directly with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group.

“Secretary Kerry has been on the phone all morning, and he will remain in close touch with leaders in the region over the course of the morning as he continues work on achieving a cease-fire,” said a senior U.S. State Department official in Cairo, which has been Kerry’s base over the last four days as he has tried to bring about a temporary end to the conflict.

On Thursday, a U.S. official said Kerry was seeking a way of bridging gaps between Israel and Hamas but that the diplomat would not stay in the region “for an indefinite amount of time”.

More than 140,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza by the fighting, many of them seeking shelter in buildings run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

An UNRWA spokesman said the agency had tried in vain to arrange with Israel to evacuate civilians from the school in northern Beit Hanoun before it was shelled on Thursday.

Scores of crying families who had been living in the school ran with their children to a hospital a few hundred meters away where the victims were being treated. Laila Al-Shinbari, who was at the school when it was hit, told Reuters that families had gathered in the courtyard expecting to be evacuated shortly in a Red Cross convoy.

“All of us sat in one place when suddenly four shells landed on our heads … Bodies were on the ground, (there was) blood and screams. My son is dead, and all my relatives are wounded, including my other kids,” she said, weeping.

Foreign fighters in Israel: 2014 isn’t 1948


Reading about the mass outpouring of mourners at the funeral for Max Steinberg, the 24-year old Angeleno killed fighting for Israel in Gaza, I was struck by a routine mention toward the end of the report.

It read, “U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro extended a message of support and condolences on behalf of the American government and people.”

This nondescript line tells perhaps more about the sea change in the attitude of the United States – and of its Jewish community — in the 66 years since Israel’s birth, than a stack of academic surveys.

Back in 1948, when the first wave, or trickle, of overseas volunteers arrived to aid the newly born state in its life-or-death struggle, a statement from Washington would have taken a much different tone.

A hypothetical news story about the death of a young American fighting for Israel, might have read this way: “Shortly before he was killed in action, Sgt. X was notified that the U.S. government had initiated proceedings to strip him of his U.S. citizenship for serving in a foreign army.”

The law at the time stipulated that any American could lose his or her citizenship, not only for joining a foreign military, but even for merely voting in a foreign election.

Although the law was rarely enforced, and then mostly against men like Al Schwimmer and Hank Greenspun, who smuggled weapons and aircraft to Israel, the prospect of losing their citizenship was quite real for Machalniks (the Hebrew acronym for “Jews from Abroad”) serving in Israel’s armed forces.

That went double for someone like me, a refugee from Germany, who became a naturalized citizen in World War II, after I enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Even when writing to my parents from Israel about the war, I warned them never to use my name if they shared my report with friends.

But the contrast is even more startling looking at the attitude and behavior of the American Jewish community in 1948, and again in 2014.

The death of Max Steinberg triggered a public outpouring of admiration and grief from just about every Jewish organization, spokesperson and Congressperson.

In parallel, criticism by Jewish organizations of President Obama and his administration for allegedly insufficient support of Israel has become a daily ritual.

Compare all this to the situation in 1948. American Jewry, not nearly as wealthy and infinitely more timid than now, of course supported the emerging Jewish state with its heart and money. But with few exceptions, the top priority was not to make waves or antagonize the powers in Washington.

While in other English-speaking countries, Jewish communities openly encouraged their sons and daughters to fight for Israel, organized American Jewry, fearful of the dreaded charge of “double loyalty,” generally averted its collective eye and prayed that those crazy kids going over would not prove an embarrassment.

As one result, and relative to the sizes of their Jewish communities, every other English-speaking country sent vastly larger contingents of volunteers, even if one includes the Americans who manned the “illegal” immigrant ships of Aliyah Bet.

For example, while 1,400 American volunteers joined the ranks of the Israel Defense Forces during the War of Independence, South Africa sent 700 top-notch men and women out of a Jewish population one-fiftieth the size of the American colossus.

There is one other major distinction between the Machal  contribution to the in the War of Independence and the current hostilities.

In the late 1940s, the overwhelming majority of Machalniks had seen active service in World War II and their experience was invaluable to the emerging Israeli underground fighters, especially in the air force and navy.  By contrast, hardly any of the current crop of volunteers has had any military experience and has much to learn from the IDF, representing one of the most sophisticated military organizations in the world.

Dear Madeleine Albright, Israel is not “Overdoing It”


It's been 22 years since Madeleine Albright was a foreign policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter, 17 years since she was America's ambassador to the United Nations, and 13 since she was secretary of state. Yet all these years later, Albright is still pressuring Israel and trying to appease Israel's enemies.

Like many former government officials, Mrs. Albright, who is now a professor at Georgetown University, keeps showing up in the media as a foreign affairs expert.  Unfortunately, she's doing it at Israel's expense. Interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer on July 22, Albright paid lip-service to Israel's right to self-defense, but then got to her main point, accusing Israel of “overdoing it” in Gaza. She said Israel's anti-terrorism actions are “disproportionate” and claimed Israel has lost its “moral authority.”

This is the same Madeleine Albright who was asked by Lesley Stahl on “Sixty Minutes,” on May 12, 1996, if international sanctions against Iraq were worth it, since “we have heard that half a million [Iraqi] children have died.” Albright replied: “We think the price is worth it.”  So much for proportionality!

This is the same Madeleine Albright who helped bring about NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia in the Kosovo war in the spring of 1999, killing more than 2,000 people. So much for “overdoing it”!

This is the same Madeleine Albright who worked overtime to sell Yasir Arafat to the world as a peacemaker. Few of us will ever forget the incredible events of October 4, 2000, when Albright, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Arafat were meeting at the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Paris. Arafat had one of his usual tantrums and stormed out of the meeting. Albright went running down the hall after him, stumbling in her high heels, and shouting to the guards, “Shut the gates! Shut the gates!” in the hope of blocking Arafat's car from leaving. A Palestinian negotiator happened to be in the hallway, speaking on the phone to a Reuters correspondent, just as the chase and shouting erupted. The Reuters reporter overheard what happened and broke the story.

Less than 15 months later, Israel intercepted a ship carrying 50 tons of weapons that Arafat was trying to smuggle into Gaza. His image as a “moderate” was blown forever. But Albright has never once acknowledged she was wrong about Arafat.

I've had my own share of unfortunate experiences with Mrs. Albright.

Several years after my daughter, Alisa, was murdered by Palestinian Arab terrorists, the Israeli government identified, by name, several of the suspects involved in the attack. I repeatedly asked Secretary Albright's State Department to post a reward for information leading to the capture of the killers. They eventually caved in to public pressure, but at the first opportunity pulled back on the rewards program. Today, the U.S. government's “Rewards for Justice” web site makes no mention of Alisa or any other murdered Americans, and there is no reward to help capture their murderers.

Meanwhile, my family and I sued the government of Iran for sponsoring the group that carried out the attack (Islamic Jihad). The courts ruled in our favor. Other victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism won similar lawsuits. We tried to collect the judgments that the courts awarded from Iranian assets that were frozen in the United States. But Secretary Albright fought us tooth and nail.

The Clinton administration was hoping to renew relations with Iran, so it didn't want a penny of the terror-sponsors' money being touched. Albright also initiated various steps to ease sanctions on Teheran, such as lifting the ban on U.S. imports of Iranian carpets, pistachio nuts and caviar. Appeasing the Iranians and improving their economy was more important than justice for the many Americans killed by Iranian-sponsored terror groups.

Now, all these years later, Albright continues to show more concern for Palestinian terrorists and their Iranian sponsors than for their Israeli and American victims.

If Albright has her way, Israel will cease firing, Hamas will be free to rebuild its terror state, and the Iranians will continue to win again. It's Albright, not Israel, who has lost her “moral authority.”

(Mr. Flatow, a New Jersey attorney, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 1995.)

Amidst cease-fire calls, Yuval Steinitz says IDF prepared to ‘recapture Gaza’ if necessary


Even as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry intensified efforts for an immediate cease-fire, top Israeli minister and Likud Knesset member Yuval Steinitz said Thursday that Israel’s army is prepared to dramatically expand its ground operation in the Gaza Strip and even “recapture Gaza in its entirety” if Hamas’ rocket fire and cross-border tunnel attacks cannot otherwise be stopped.

Speaking from Israel on a conference call hosted by the Israeli American Council (IAC), the minister of strategic and intelligence affairs said that Operation Protective Edge, which began on July 8, may be nearing the beginning of its “third stage,” which reports indicate would involve Israel's military targeting Hamas military assets throughout Gaza.

Since Israeli troops entered the Gaza Strip on July 17, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it has discovered 31 tunnels used by Hamas to enter Israel. On July 17, 13 Hamas operatives emerged from an underground tunnel leading from Gaza to the outskirts of Israel’s Kibbutz Sufa.

Four days later, Israeli troops were surprised by the sight of 10 Hamas terrorists dressed in Israeli army uniforms emerging from below just a few hundred feet from Kibbutz Nir Am. The ensuing firefight left four Israeli soldiers and the 10 Hamas members dead.

Although international pressure for a cease-fire has increased amid the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, Steinitz indicated that Israel is not prepared to accept a situation in which Hamas is left largely intact and able to rearm itself for the next outbreak of violence.

Jonathan Schachter, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote in a July 12 email to the Journal that such a “time-out” is not Israel’s endgame. That note came when Israel’s military activity was mostly limited to air strikes.

Steinitz said during the conference call that ground forces still need several more days to destroy all the tunnels that Israeli intelligence identified, adding his disapproval of public figures and media outlets that claim support for Israel’s operation, but choose to focus instead on the civilian casualties caused by many of its air strikes and shelling.

“The duty of self-defense doesn’t disappear if the terrorists choose to attack you from civilian neighborhoods,” Steinitz said, alluding to Hamas’ strategy of operating out of homes, hospitals, schools and United Nations buildings in order to both dissuade Israeli attacks and, Steinitz said, sacrifice innocent Gazans “if it serves their purpose.”

Steinitz said that even taking into consideration the U.S. Army’s wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, the IDF is doing more than any other democratic country to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza.

Prepared to “enlarge the ground operation” in a “dramatic” manner in order to destroy the rest of Hamas’ military infrastructure, Steinitz showed no indication that Israel is prepared to let up, particularly if Hamas continues to fire dozens or hundreds of rockets a day.

Steinitz’s comments were preceded by those of David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, and IAC Board Chair Shawn Evenhaim. They came just hours after multiple explosions killed at least 16 Palestinians at a UN school in Gaza. Although initial reports blamed Israel for the incident, The New York Times reported that a UN official in Gaza could not be sure whether it was Israeli or Hamas munitions that struck the building.

The nearly three-week conflict has taken the lives of about 750 Palestinians — 200 of them Hamas members — and 35 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Although Steinitz said that demilitarization of Gaza is the only solution that would guarantee lasting calm, he did not discuss how that could be accomplished or why Hamas, which aims for Israel’s destruction, would agree to disarm itself.

If Israeli political and military leaders ultimately decided that reoccupation of Gaza would be the only way to maintain quiet on its southern border, it would mark a drastic shift from the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision in 2005 to unilaterally withdraw from the territory, evicting nearly 9,000 Israelis who were living in settlements.

That withdrawal set the stage for the ascendancy of Hamas, which won Palestinian elections in 2006 and then violently routed the Palestinian Authority — also known as Fatah — from the Gaza Strip in 2007 in its successful attempt at de facto control of the coastal enclave.

If Israel does decide to retake Gaza or destroy Hamas, one listener asked during the conference call, who will govern the territory and its nearly 2 million inhabitants?

“If we will decide, finally, to recapture Gaza and topple this terrorist machine, I assume Abu Mazen will take over,” Steinitz said, referring to the Arabic name of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

A poll released July 23, though, by the Ramallah-based Arab World for Research & Development, indicated that nearly twice as many Palestinians in the West Bank support Hamas over Fatah.

In Gaza, IDF ground operation takes a toll


Up until last weekend, Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” in the Gaza strip seemed to be just another hard round of fire between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Gaza’s ruling party, Hamas — the latest in a cyclical pattern of violence that repeats itself every two or three years.

Then Israel sent in the troops.

Although Israeli soldiers also entered Gaza on foot during the high-casualty Operation Cast Lead in 2009, this new war in Gaza — a joint air, sea and land offensive — is, by all accounts, the largest yet in scale and intensity.

As of press time, 611 Palestinians had been reported killed by Israeli weapons since the operation began on July 8 — more than 70 percent of them civilians, according to the United Nations. On the Israeli side, two civilians have died from Palestinian rocket and mortar fire, and 27 soldiers have fallen in battle— the biggest loss the IDF has suffered since the Second Lebanon War, eight summers ago.

“Why are they killing the people? It’s murder!” Yousef Al Sweity, a doctor at the Al Awad Hospital in Gaza’s northern Jabalia refugee camp, now at fully capacity, asked in an interview with the Journal.

In a word: tunnels. What began as a routine yet brutal attempt to knock out some of Hamas’ rocket-launching infrastructure with F-16 missiles took an unexpected turn on July 17. As world politicians pushed for a ceasefire and Israeli troops rested on the border, ready for a possible ground invasion, 13 terrorists popped out of a tunnel leading from Gaza to the outskirts of Israel’s Kibbutz Sufa.

By that night, Israeli troops were on the ground in Gaza.

“We will be striking the infrastructure,” IDF spokesman Peter Lerner said when the ground op was announced. “We will be striking the operatives in order to safeguard the civilians of the state of Israel — especially issues to do with tunneling, that was exemplified earlier today.”

An Israeli truck is seen near a tunnel, which was used by Hamas militants in an attack on July 21, near Kibbutz Nir Am on July 22. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

Soon after, a second pack of militants from Gaza tried to infiltrate Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, another of Israel’s southern border villages. They wore IDF uniforms as disguise and carried guns and anti-tank missiles.

They exited “just two kilometers from here,” 83-year-old kibbutz resident and co-founder Yehuda Kadem told the Journal, pointing to the east.

When IDF soldiers patrolling the area in an army jeep confronted the invaders, two Israelis were killed, including 20-year-old Adar Barsano.

“He decided to take on nine terrorists,” said Barsano’s cousin Maor, speaking over the phone from his home in Encino, California. He choked back tears, fighting to get the words out. “A 20-year-old kid from Nahariya took on nine people who wish nothing but death to every Israeli in the world. But he had the heart of a lion, and I’m sure he had no hesitation. He gave his life defending innocent civilians and essentially saving their lives.”

Later that day, a third group of Hamas militants — this time carrying handcuffs and tranquilizers — were caught sneaking out of another tunnel in the area.

“What’s more dangerous is that they’re not coming to kill us, but to capture us,” Kadem said. (A move that would give Hamas a major bargaining chip in negotiations with Israel.) “Can you imagine?”

Daniel Nisman, a former IDF combat soldier and current security analyst and president of the Levantine Group, explained: “When they had that first tunnel incursion, that was a red light — an alert for the cabinet. They understood they had to be preemptive.”

However, he said, Israeli leaders perhaps “didn’t understand how extensive” the operation would become.

An Israeli soldier sits atop a mobile artillery unit in a staging area outside the Gaza Strip on July 22. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

The ground invasion began as the opening sequence to every Israeli and Palestinian mother’s worst nightmare. As the sun set on July 17, shining red through a thick layer of gunsmoke over Gaza — a horrifying, apocalyptic Mars-scape — the young Israeli soldiers stepped into enemy territory.

For the first two nights, IDF soldiers searched for tunnels in mostly open areas of northeast Gaza and pushed through one small Bedouin village, reportedly clearing their way with artillery, flares and smoke bombs.

The third night was catastrophic by comparison. On live-streamed video from cameras pointed toward the low-income and densely packed neighborhood of Shujaya, in east Gaza City, incessant rounds of artillery fire could be heard blasting through residential streets all night long.

Many Palestinians stuck in Shujaya sent out Tweets and texts of distress, but medical personnel said they couldn’t reach the neighborhood due to the unrelenting artillery fire.

Meanwhile, young Israeli soldiers found themselves face-to-face with Hamas. “Antitank weapons, explosive devices, booby-trapped buildings — all the weapon systems Hamas has specialized in are now being used against IDF soldiers,” wrote Israeli political correspondent Nahum Barnea for the news site Ynet.

During a short humanitarian ceasefire the next morning, thousands of Shujaya survivors fled however they could — by foot, bare and bloodied, squeezed onto small carts or, as one photo showed, into the scooped mouth of a bulldozer.

Gaza residents now refer to the first night of fighting in Shujaya as a “massacre.”

“During the horror night of the Shujaya massacre, we received more than 400 patients,” said Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who has volunteered in Gaza during all three wars with Israel, in a TV interview. He described some of their injuries: “We see amputations, we see shrapnel wounds to the body, we see burns. We see all the consequences of an army using the most sophisticated, modern, dreadful weapons against a large, civilian, totally unprotected population.”

In its defense, the IDF said in a statement: “We have been warning civilians they should evacuate for days. Hamas ordered them to stay, it's Hamas that has put them in the line of fire.” (Human-rights organizations operating inside the strip, however, said many of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who had been ordered to evacuate had no place to go.)

“Of all places in the Gaza Strip, Shujaya is like the nerve center,” said Israeli security analyst Nisman of the IDF mission. “First of all, the tunnel network comes together there. [Hamas] makes weapons there, has bunkers there… and a lot of rockets are physically being launched from there.”

Nisman, whose younger brother is currently fighting in Gaza, said tanks likely shelled the streets of Shujaya to clear a path for soldiers on foot — striking everything and everyone in their way.

“It’s pitch black,” he said. “When you're an 18-year-old kid from Nahariya, and you know there are snipers and things like that, when someone runs out into street, you get very nervous and you might shoot. … I literally can’t imagine a more difficult fighting area than Gaza on the planet.”

A Palestinian woman walks past the rubble of a residential building in Gaza City that was destroyed in an Israeli air strike on July 22. Photo by Mohammed Salem/Reuters

In some cases, a constant battering of artillery shells weakened family homes and caused them to collapse on residents inside.

Al Sweity, the doctor at Al Awad Hospital in northern Gaza, said the influx of patients had skyrocketed from the combination of air and land warfare. “The injuries now are mostly people who were crushed — either hit directly by missiles, or their houses dropped on their heads,” he said. “Rarely you find one still alive under the house.”

The doctor’s voice was full of pain and panic as he described the hundreds of pregnant Palestinian women who had been delivering premature or aborted babies at Al Awad Hospital as a result of their injuries.

“The situation is not equal,” he said. “We are poor people living in a big jail seized for seven years. We can’t defend ourselves against these modern weapons and great technology.”

Since that first night in Shujaya, life and death on the ground in Gaza has only become more horrific. On July 21, Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Kouddous visited the former site of the Abu Jamaa family home, where he said it took relatives 12 hours to dig 24 bodies out of the rubble — including the gray corpse of an infant in diapers. “One member of Abu Jamaa family was cut in half,” Kouddous tweeted. “Father had to visit 2 hospitals to collect body. Half went to one hospital & half to another.”

Despite these hellish war scenes, Hamas has refused any cease fire that does not significantly ease Israel’s siege on the Gaza strip. And within Israel, even with the Israeli death toll rising, the resounding cry is to finish the job.

In a Right-wing activists showed up to protest a peace rally in Tel Aviv on July 12. Photo by Simone Wilson

A 27-year-old student at the counter-protest named Lidor told the Journal: “I myself am much more emotional because we are on the ground now. But it’s the only solution. You won’t be able to stop Hamas unless you’re on the ground.” (He and others at the rally did not wish to give their full names, due to wartime tensions.)

“The end result on a strategic level,” Lidor said, “has to be the disarmament and the fall of the reign of terror of Hamas.”

Amnon Ilan, a lifelong Tel Aviv resident in his early 80s who has served in every Israeli war since the War of Independence, carried a sign directed at Israel’s leading left-wing party. “People of Meretz, your kibbutzim are also under fire,” he had written. “Don’t give backwind to our enemies.”

These kibbutzim — the sleepy green farming communities that line Israel’s border with Gaza — are nobody’s idea of a warzone. But these days in Israel, their skies are loud with drones, and gunpowder sours the garden air.

Israeli soldiers sleep beneath a tree in the farm community of Kibbutz Nir Am on July 21. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

“I heard them shooting at us this morning,” said Dorit, a 50-year-old woman sitting on her neighbors’ porch in Kibbutz Nir Am on July 21. She was referring to group of Hamas militants who had, hours earlier, crawled through one of their tunnels and approached the outskirts of the kibbutz — before being shot down by the IDF.

Although Dorit said she’s been living under rocket fire for 14 years, this was the first time she had experienced an on-foot attack by Hamas.

“That’s the confusing thing about this place — it’s pastoral, with very nice sunsets and simple people,” Dorit said. “But we’re all soldiers here.” As she spoke, Israel’s Iron Dome defense system blasted a rocket directly overhead — creating a poof and a bang like an exploding firework — and Earth-shaking booms arrived every few seconds from Gaza on the horizon.

“I think about the people there,” Dorit said. “There’s no one to take care of them, like we have here.”

As Hamas makes use of its millions of dollars in tunnel infrastructure before its handiwork is destroyed by the Israeli army, nearly every kibbutz in southern Israel has had an infiltration scare over the past week. Even just driving between kibbutzim on July 21, this reporter was halted in traffic for half an hour while IDF snipers surrounded the area.

“There is a terrorist running around here,” said a plainclothes, off-duty soldier who had rushed to the scene with his gun.

Argentina-born Kadem said he and his wife helped found Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha in 1953, when the area “was just a desert — open, empty, yellow, with a single tree.” Speaking on his front patio with war planes roaring overhead, he said the kibbutz was visited in the early days by some petty criminals from Gaza — but also by many day laborers with whom he was very friendly.

But little by little, he said, he watched both sides adopt a more extreme ideology. “Every time a bomb exploded in a bus, a movie, a cafe, Israel moved more to the right,” he said.

An Israeli fire fighter hoses down a fire that broke out after a rocket landed in Kibbutz Nir Am on July 9. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Terrorists shooting and sending rockets over the fence have since become a significant threat to Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha. But until October 2013, when Israel discovered an elaborate underground pathway nearby, “We had no idea there were tunnels they could take to this kibbutz,” Kadem said.

The extent of Hamas’ tunnel network has baffled even the intelligence-heavy IDF: Far out-performing previous estimates, 66 access shafts to 23 tunnels have been discovered during the current ground invasion.

However, analysts are unsure where Israeli leaders will take this war once the tunnels run out. Barnea, writing for Ynet, wrote on July 21 that destroying tunnels to Israel’s kibbutzim “is highly important and life-saving. But within two or three days, the number of uncovered tunnels will drop and the forces will be stuck in one place.”

He wrote that “the cabinet will face a cruel dilemma: Should the forces move forward, deep into Gaza, and risk losing many soldiers and a mass killing of Palestinian civilians, or pull out while being fired on and give Hamas the victory?”

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Why is this Gaza conflict different? Dead children.


I was a guest on Warren Olney’s “Which Way, L.A.?” on KCRW-FM this past Monday afternoon when the host stumped me. He was speaking with me about the response of the Los Angeles Jewish community to the Gaza war. 

“Is the reaction any different than in the last two Gaza operations?” Olney asked. 

It was, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” but without a song for an answer.

I told Olney this conflict seems more intense and more personal. 

Part of the reason is that more Americans come from, visit or have relatives in Israel and Palestine than ever before. When things are relatively quiet in the Middle East, we all get along swimmingly. But war there now seems to send us to the barricades here.

The other reason, I explained, was technology. Social media has brought instant images from Gaza and Israel to our cell phones via Twitter and Instagram. The 24-hour news cycle has filled the airwaves with anguished victims on both sides. 

The two opponents have media sophistication that rivals HuffPo. Hamas sends out heavily produced videos of varying veracity detailing its glorious achievements, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) posts Paul Greengrass-quality clips of military operations, which pop up right beside the latest Iggy Azalea downloads. 

Surreal doesn’t begin to describe standing on a tennis court in Venice and watching a video of Israeli combat troops 10,000 miles away taking out Hamas terrorists emerging from a tunnel — the whole operation going down about when my set began. 

But after my KCRW interview was over, it occurred to me: I was wrong. What makes this war more personal has nothing to do with technology. 

It’s about dead children — theirs and ours. 

It began with the images of the three murdered Israeli teens, then the lynched Palestinian teen — and worsened from there.

On the Palestinian side, the images are tragic and relentless. Of the more than 600 Palestinian dead thus far, the United Nations estimates that some 20 percent are children. 

If this war were just about killing Hamas terrorists, most of the world, including the Arab world, would approve. But in the densely populated Gaza Strip, where half the population is under 18, child casualties are inevitable — no matter how many precautions Israel takes. And Operation Protective Edge, which at the start looked, to most fair-minded viewers, truly protective, has become something else.

There is a difference between Hamas’ intentional targeting of Israeli children and Israel’s inevitable striking of the Palestinian children Hamas leaves in harm’s way — but as the body counts climb and the images pour forth from Gaza, that moral distinction is increasingly lost on the world.

Americans, wrote Benjamin Wallace-Wells at NYMag.com, now see “Palestinians a little bit less as demagogues and terrorists and a little bit more as they see themselves, as ordinary people living in often impossible circumstances.”

But what some of those who are justifiably heartbroken over the dead Palestinian children fail to see is that for the Israelis, this is also about their children. 

There are the children of southern Israel, who spend much of their lives running for shelter at the sounds of air raid sirens. That they aren’t killed has nothing to do with Hamas’ intentions.

Then there are those miles of tunnels. Those Hamas terrorists who I watched on video emerge from the tunnel that ran from Gaza into Israel did so intending to storm a nearby kibbutz and slaughter its men, women and children. 

The cold, cruel choice Israelis and their supporters feel they must make is this: Should we kill as few of their children as possible now, or wait until they kill as many of our children as they can later?

Putting these sobering thoughts aside, Israelis are just as heartbroken at having to send their children — the ones who happen to be soldiers — back into Gaza to confront an entrenched and suicidal enemy. 

This reality became painfully apparent when a colleague from abroad called me early Sunday morning with the information that among the 13 IDF soldiers killed the previous evening in Gaza was Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old from Woodland Hills. 

The news brought the war home in a way I never experienced. Angelenos have died in terror attacks in Israel. But Steinberg was the first Los Angeles Jew to die in combat in Israel since 1948.

Soon after they received the news, the family allowed our reporter Jared Sichel and Jewish Journal President David Suissa to meet them in their house of mourning. As you read Jared’s account of Evie and Stuart Steinberg’s unfathomable loss, you will understand they are not talking about their soldier, but about their child.

Our concern over our children fuels the ferocious, intense debate over morality and tactics. It spills over into the heightened anger of the rallies and protests, the relentless online arguments. It’s what makes a distant war visceral.

I only pray that between the time this round of violence ends and the next round of violence begins, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, find a better way to settle their differences than over their children’s dead bodies.

U.S. commits $47 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza


The United States has committed $47 million to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The money will be for “direct humanitarian assistance,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stressed Monday night in Cairo at a news conference with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The assistance, according to the State Department, includes $15 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for its $60 million Gaza Flash Appeal; $3.5 million in emergency relief assistance from USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance; $10 million in existing USAID bilateral funding, redirected to meet immediate humanitarian needs in Gaza; and $18.5 million in new USAID bilateral funding for humanitarian and emergency relief assistance.

Some 600 Gaza Palestinians, mostly civilians, reportedly have been killed since Israel launched its Operation Protective Edge 15 days ago in a bid to stop rocket fire into the country from Gaza. At least 26 Israeli soldiers and two civilians have been killed.

“We are deeply concerned about the consequences of Israel’s appropriate and legitimate effort to defend itself,” Kerry said. “No country can stand by while rockets are attacking it and tunnels are dug in order to come into your country and assault your people. But always, in any kind of conflict, there is a concern about civilians, about children, women, communities that are caught in it. And we are particularly trying to focus on a way to respond to their very significant needs.”

He added that the United States “will work to see if there is some way to not only arrive at a cease-fire of some kind, but to get to a discussion about the underlying issues. Nothing will be resolved by any cease-fire, temporary or long, without really getting to those issues at some point. And that’s what we need to do.”

Ban called on Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel and said he understands why Israel has to respond militarily, “but there is a proportionality. And most of the Palestinian people have been — most of the death toll are Palestinian people.”

“I fully understand, fully sympathize the sufferings of the Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza,” the U.N. leader said. “These restrictions should be lifted as soon as possible so that people should not resort to this kind of violence as a way of expressing their grievances.

“At the same time, I fully appreciate the legitimate right to defend their country and citizens of Israel. Israel should also be able to live in peace and security without being endangered of their citizens.”

 

Discovering that Israeli troops aren’t made of Teflon


My children have been following the Gaza operation since it began 15 days ago.

They really have no choice, our television is turned to news reports of the operation during all of my waking hours, which are longer than theirs. My son staring at his iPod this evening complained that he wishes that there was more on his WhatsApp feed and Facebook page than the operation in Gaza. What else would you like to see, I asked him. Anything else, he replied.

The real wake-up moment for my sons, ages 12 and 15, however, came yesterday morning when the Israel Defense Forces announced 13 soldiers killed in Gaza overnight and then in the evening when another seven soldier deaths were confirmed.

Because all of the coverage we are watching is designed for an Israeli audience, we see rockets fired from Gaza getting shot out of the sky by Iron Dome missile batteries, and Israeli streets clearing in 30 seconds when the rise and fall of the warning siren begins. When we do see the aftermath of a rocket crashing through a house or a school building in Israel we are told that no one was home or the building was not occupied at the time of the rocket strike.

Why would my kids believe that our soldiers going into Gaza would suffer a worse fate?

From their incredulous expressions when they learned of the soldiers’ deaths, I could see that they thought our soldiers are covered in personal Teflon, kind of like Bruce Willis in any number of his action movies, when hundreds of bullets are shot at him yet none actually hit him.

My children have been carried away with the wave of vocal Israelis, many of them our friends and neighbors, who had been calling for our troops to enter Gaza ever since the start of Operation Protective Edge. But they didn’t realize that it meant that our soldiers would die.

Protesters arrested after ‘die-in’ at Friends of IDF office


Nine protesters against Israel’s Gaza operation were arrested inside the Manhattan offices of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.

Some two dozen protesters gathered for the “die-in” at FIDF’s New York office on Tuesday. The incident was organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say NO, groups opposed to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Twelve of the protesters entered the offices and began reading aloud names they said were Palestinians killed in Gaza.

“The employees became upset and eventually called the police,” said Lizzie Busch, one of the JVP protesters.

Busch and two other protesters left the office when police arrived and ordered them to vacate, according to Donna Nevel, a JVP board member. The remaining nine protesters, including JVP’s executive director, Rebecca Vilkomerson, were arrested.

Some reporters were on hand to witness the incident. FIDF declined to comment.

Netanyahu: IDF preparing to increase ground activity in Gaza


The Israel Defense Forces is prepared to substantially expand its incursion into Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu made the announcement Friday during a cabinet meeting held at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

“My instructions, and those of the defense minister, to the IDF, with the approval of the Security Cabinet, are to be ready for the possibility of a significant expansion of the ground operation, and the Chief of Staff and the IDF have prepared accordingly,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office quoted him as telling the Cabinet.

Netanyahu said Israel had secured a substantial degree of international support for the operation.

“Through constant, methodical diplomatic and media activity, we have been creating the international space — which is not self-evident –- so that we can take systematic and strong action against this murderous terrorist organization and its terrorist partners,” Netanyahu told his cabinet.

“Unlike in the past, this time there are many in the international community who understand that it is Hamas – and Hamas alone – that is responsible for the victims,” he said. “This is important for the State of Israel.”

The IDF, which has been carrying out strikes in Gaza since the July 8 launch of Operation Protective Edge against Hamas, began ground operations in Gaza on Thursday night, after a failed attempt by 13 militants to penetrate Israel’s Kibbutz Sufa, which is near the border. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the IDF was targeting tunnels used by terrorists to launch attacks inside Israel.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Netanyahu to focus on terrorist tunnels, the U.S. State Department said.

More than 250 Palestinians, including some civilians, and two Israelis, a civilian and a soldier, have died in the recent conflagration, which began when Hamas increased the volume of its rocket launches from Gaza into Israel.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said: “The operation will continue for as long as necessary; it requires patience until the task is completed. We will expand the ground activity if necessary.”

Focus on the tunnels, Kerry tells Netanyahu


Expressing concern about civilian casualties, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip should be a “precise” one, targeting Hamas tunnels.

Kerry made the appeal during a telephone conversation late Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the U.S. State Department said in a statement issued hours after the Israel Defense Forces entered Gaza.

“The secretary reaffirmed our strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist threats emanating from tunnels into Israel and expressed our view that this should be a precise operation to target tunnels, as described in a statement from the Israeli Defense Forces,” Kerry said in the statement distributed by the White House.

The IDF spokesman said on Twitter that the army had so far targeted four tunnels and 21 rocket launchers.

An Israeli soldier died in the incursion.  Eitan Barak, 20, was shot in the northern Gaza Strip, Haaretz reported.

In Gaza, the Israeli incursion resulted in the death of five Palestinians, including a baby, early Friday, according to the Ma’an news agency. The IDF spokesman said on Twitter that 17 terrorists were killed and 13 were captured.

In his statement Kerry said he asked Netanyahu to limit civilian casualties. Separately, his spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Thursday that Kerry had told Netanyahu that “certainly there’s more that can be done” to prevent civilian casualties. She cited particularly the deaths Wednesday of four boys playing soccer on a beach.

So far, two Israelis and more than 200 Palestinians have died since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 in response to rocket fire from Gaza. The operation, which began with air strikes, was broadened Thursday to include ground incursions.

Following the move, Jordan called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Psaki said Kerry was in touch with the leaders of Egypt, which borders Gaza and which proffered a cease-fire that Hamas rejected earlier this week, and Qatar, an Arab state that maintains close relations to Hamas.

The IDF called 18,000 reserves troops for duty in connection with the activity in Gaza, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement.

Several rockets launched from Gazas hit unpopulated areas near Beersheba and Ashdod, Army Radio reported.

Ground invasion aims to destroy Hamas infrastructure


For the first time in years, Israeli ground troops crossed into Gaza.

Rather than just return to the status quo before the conflict of “quiet for quiet” — no Hamas missiles and no Israeli airstrikes — Israel’s stated objectives are to bring a sustained cessation to missile fire from Gaza and to root out the infrastructure that Hamas has used to build up its weapons cache.

“Operation Protective Edge will continue until it reaches its goal,” read a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday announcing the invasion. “Restoring quiet to Israel’s citizens for a prolonged period, while inflicting a significant blow to the infrastructures of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.”

The Israeli ground invasion of Gaza – its first since 2009 — aims to destroy Hamas’ underground weapons stores and its network of tunnels in Gaza, which it uses to move arms and personnel. In the first stages of the invasion Friday, Israeli troops identified several tunnels and entered Gaza City and other urban centers. Israel also lost its first soldier in the operation Friday, Sgt. Eitan Barak, 20.

Netanyahu said Friday that the Israel Defense Forces should prepare for a “significant expansion” of the invasion.

“Even here there is no guarantee of 100 percent success, but we are doing our utmost in order to achieve the maximum,” Netanyahu said. “We chose to commence this operation after we had exhausted the other possibilities, and with the understanding that without action, the price that we would pay would be much greater.”

The invasion comes after a week and a half of Hamas missiles and Israeli airstrikes, along with failed efforts to reach a cease-fire. Hamas has so far launched more than 1,500 rockets at cities across Israel, and Israel has conducted more than 2,000 airstrikes in Gaza. Two Israelis and 265 Palestinians have now died in the conflict.

Before Israel’s ground invasion, Hamas had tried and failed to attack Israel by sea and land. On Thursday morning, the Israeli army spotted 13 Hamas militants entering Israel via a tunnel near a kibbutz. Once the militants saw they had been caught, they escaped back into Gaza. The army said the group planned to kidnap Israelis.

“IDF forces thwarted an impending terror attack, preventing the terrorists from attacking an Israeli kibbutz,” the army said in a statement. “The foiled attack could have had deadly and devastating consequences if carried out.”

The attack came after Israel had accepted an Egyptian cease-fire deal Tuesday, which proposed an end to attacks, and had ceased airstrikes for six hours. But Hamas rejected the proposal, demanding that Israel end its blockade of Gaza and release dozens of Hamas prisoners.

Had that cease-fire deal worked, the conflict would have ended much like the last Israel-Gaza clash in 2012, which saw only Israeli airstrikes. But ongoing negotiation attempts in Cairo failed Thursday, hampered by mistrust between Israel and Hamas, as well as between Hamas and the current Egyptian government led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army chief.

In 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government was friendly to Hamas and increased trade with Gaza. But the new government, which opposes the Brotherhood, has been hostile to Hamas, closing the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

“Recently inaugurated president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi shares Washington and Israel’s view of Hamas as both a terrorist organization and a strategic threat,” wrote Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in a policy paper. “He is consequently both less able and less willing to fulfill Egypt’s traditional role of mediating between Hamas and Israel.”

Israel’s offensive in 2009 ended after three weeks, but some members of Netanyahu’s coalition want to go much further this time. Before the invasion, several Cabinet ministers and members of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party said that Israel can ensure an end to rocket fire only by recapturing Gaza, which Israel withdrew from in 2005.

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, had strongly criticized Netanyahu for not responding more aggressively to Hamas.

“Israel must go all the way,” Liberman said at a press conference Tuesday. “We must finish the operation with the IDF controlling all of the Gaza Strip.”

IDF warns northern Gaza residents to leave ahead of airstrikes


The Israeli military warned residents in three northern Gaza cities to evacuate their homes ahead of planned airstrikes.

Recorded phone and text messages telling the residents of Beit Lahyia, Shuja’iya and Zeitoun to leave were delivered early Wednesday morning. Leaflets also were dropped throughout the area.

The messages said that a high volume of rockets being shot at Israel were originating from these areas and that the Israel Defense Forces planned to carry out aerial strikes on targets in the communities.

“The IDF does not want to harm you, and your families,” the message said. “The evacuation is for your own safety. You should not return to the premises until further notice. Whoever disregards these instructions and fails to evacuate immediately, endangers their own lives, as well as those of their families.”

Hamas told the civilian residents of the communities to disregard the warnings, according to the IDF.

Overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, the IDF said it targeted at least 39 of what it called terror targets, four people it identified as terrorists, and command and control centers used by senior Hamas leadership and other terrorists.

Since Tuesday afternoon, when Israel halted its unilateral observance of a cease-fire, the IDF said it struck some 100 targets, about half of which were rocket launchers, as well as terror tunnels, weapon storage and manufacturing facilities, and various military compounds and facilities.

In total, throughout Operation Protective Edge, the IDF said it has struck about 1,825 terror-related targets across the Gaza Strip.

More than 200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed during the operation. One Israeli was killed Tuesday — the first Israeli fatality in the conflict.

At least 20 rockets were fired Wednesday morning at Israel from Gaza, including a large salvo at Tel Aviv that was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Shrapnel from one of the rockets fell through the roof of a home in south Tel Aviv, landing in a bedroom.

Since the beginning of the operation nine days ago, more than 1,260 rockets have been launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, extending beyond targets in the south and reaching to the center and north of the country. Some 225 rockets have been intercepted by Iron Dome, with an overall success rate of 86 percent, according to the IDF.

Sounds of war in Israel, overhead and on my Twitter feed


When the first air-raid siren of summer 2014 screeched through Tel Aviv, my blood turned to ash. I was sitting in a coffee shop near my apartment, typing out a news piece on the disturbing increase in anti-Arab and anti-Jewish attacks throughout Israel, when the sound came — distinctly deeper than an ambulance, and guttural, with a metallic edge. War stuff. 

Wordlessly, a mother and father next to me, Tel Aviv-chic in pastels and eyeglasses, grabbed their two young girls by the hands and followed the baristas to the back. This particular coffee shop didn’t have a shelter, so we all just sort of squished into a utility closet to wait for the boom of the rocket we knew was flying toward us — either the boom of it hitting the ground or the smaller boom of its interception in the sky by Israel’s heroic Iron Dome defense system.

The kids squirmed, watching their parents’ faces for signs they should be afraid.

My mind was back in Gaza, December 2012, having tiny cups of coffee with three generations of the Al Kurdi family. I had just moved from Los Angeles to Israel to write freelance, and they had just lived through another war together: Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, which killed more than 150 Palestinians. For the Al Kurdis, that meant saying goodbye to a baby cousin, their son’s Arabic teacher and dozens of friends. “They didn’t do any bad things to make Israel kill them,” Muhammad Al Kurdi, a skinny 16-year-old, told me, his eyes unfocused and his knee jiggling uncontrollably.

When I got home from the coffee shop last week, I scattered old pads of paper all over my living room, trying to find my notes from Gaza and the Israeli border communities I’d visited that winter. They were gone.

Gaza is only a one-hour drive south of Tel Aviv, but feels like a trip to the moon. And for the past year, since I’ve been writing for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, I haven’t been able to get permission from Hamas, Gaza’s ruling government party, to enter the strip. 

I messaged Khader, the Al Kurdi family’s second eldest, on Facebook. He would be around 23 years old now. On a still night on his patio two winters ago, Khader had told me he wanted to be a graphic designer, but that all his dreams stopped at the Gaza border fence.

“Are you OK?” I asked him in the Facebook message, not knowing what else to say. A rocket attack on Tel Aviv, Israel’s metropolitan center, would mean unparalleled wrath on Gaza City, where the Al Kurdis live.

Two full days later, Khader responded. “How can I be?” he asked.

“People are killed everywhere, homes are destroyed in hundreds, innocent people died under these homes. I didn’t sleep for the last 30 hours,” he wrote. “My neighbors’ house is totally destroyed. I can’t have peace cause I’m afraid that my house will be next, since some houses were destroyed randomly without warning people living in it.”

My gratitude to Israel for shooting down the rockets hurtling toward my apartment cannot be overstated. But it can screw with your head, clinging to the same army for protection that another people is praying for protection against.

Gaza, a caged plot of land half the size of San Francisco, has taken around 800 tons of explosives from Israel so far, in response to more than 1,000 rockets launched at Israel by Hamas from densely populated areas. As of press time, 188 Palestinians had been killed and more than 1,100 wounded, the majority of them reportedly civilians.

Thanks to the Internet, millions around the world have been watching this new F-16 assault on Gaza — called Operation Protective Edge — in real time. Images from the ground are as horrific as any in the history of modern warfare.

One video from a hospital room shows 4-year-old Sahir Abu Namous with the back of his head blown off, being shaken by his father: “Wake up son, I got you a toy,” the boy’s father tells the toddler, sobbing. Another photo shows a young woman cradling her dead 4-day-old baby, a hellish kind of sorrow rippling across her forehead. In the opening scene of a Vice News dispatch, first responders stumble out of the rubble waving newly detached limbs. A New York Times journalist shares a photo of 15 crude graves dug into the dirt, all designated for family members of Hamas police chief Tayseer Al-Batsh. They were killed in a single strike.

“There were eight people there launching rockets,” Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Peter Lerner tells me of the Al-Batsh family home. “That incident is being investigated.”

I’m frozen in front of my Twitter feed. I can’t sleep. Maybe I’m afraid that if I miss a name, or another photo of a “martyr” and his or her survivors, I might forget about Gaza again.

Lerner tells me the army does everything it can to avoid civilian casualties: It calls residents to warn them five to 10 minutes before their home will be bombed, he says, then strikes the building with a non-explosive warning missile.

Many Gazans say they’ve witnessed this system go wrong, or not happen at all. “Yasser receives a call from IDF. Evacuate in ten minutes,” Tweets human-rights worker Mohammed Suliman, 24, from Gaza City. “He wasn’t home though. His family was. Hysterically, he phoned home. No one picked.” 

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