Monday, December 29, 2008

Gaza: Food for thought -- or derision

On his blog, as well as over here, Dr. Lozowick, of Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations fame, has sort of prompted me to comment on the situation in Gaza.

One annoying aspect of Lozowick's bloggering is his didactic tone, always explicitly stating the conclusions that a less sophomoric pundit would leave it for his readers to draw (namely, that anti-Zionists are a bunch of morons, jackasses, nutcases and kneejerks). I suspect he's not so much interested in my opinions as in the possibility of making fun of me (although in a way it will be mostly his diehards who will find terribly funny) in a paragraph that will begin with the word "predictably".

Even so, I have a few ideas of my own re the situation in Gaza, and it will do no harm to express them even if I risk the doctor's derision.

1. I don't understand Hama's use of rockets against Sderot and other Israeli towns. It makes no sense even if you subscribe to some idiotic theory that "all Israelis are soldiers or future soldiers" or such. To put it cynically, if you know the world will condemn you for your actions, at least you should make it sure you hit your enemy hard. For instance, the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit, also indefensible under any civilized standard, at least made sense under a tortured tit-for-tat logic: Israel kidnaps Palestinians, so Hamas kidnapped an Israeli to gain bargaining power and possibly exchange him for the Palestinians held by Israel. Immoral, but not crazy. However, the rockets on Sderot achieve the rare feat, even by Hamas' standards, of being both immoral and crazy. Without dismissing the anguish and stress suffered by southwestern Israelis, it is pain Israel can live with, while Israel's responses (first a crippling blockade, now widesacale bombings, next possibly an invasion) are pain Gaza is much less likely to be able to cope with.

2. It's appalling that certain commentators are using the words "genocide," "Holocaust" or "Nazi" in connection with the Israeli op. These words do a great disservice to the Palestinian cause and make their users' credibility plummet. No; unlike those who have generalized the word "antisemitism," and now apply it to, say, people who don't talk about Tibet, I don't find it acceptable to similarly devalue the word "genocide." It means the systematic killing of a people, like the Armenians under the Turks, the Jews and Gypsies under the Nazis, the Tutsis under the Hutus and possibly the Pygmies under Les Éffaceurs. Israel has clearly never committed, will never in any likelihood commit and is certainly not comitting genocide in the present Gaza action.

3. That said, a lot of bad faith has been on display on the Zionist side in the context of explicating (is there such a word as "hasbarizing"?) the Gaza op. We know that the brainwashed will repeat clichés with admirable discipline, but the problem is with the brainwashers who supply them with the sound bites, who would seem to be missing (but one suspects are not) a few important points.

One ususally-made argument is "Israel withdrew from Gaza, and the Palestinians, instead of building a state, started to launch rockets." This is disingenuous for several reasons:

a) Gaza is a small and overcrowded strip of land with virtually zero natural resources and can hardly constitute the basis for a future state.

b) While Israel can disengage from Gaza, Gaza can't be "disengaged" from the West Bank. To make an analogy both silly and sound, if the United States took over Mexico and then withdrew from Baja California, the Mexicans living in the peninsula couldn't be reasonably expected not to keep on fighting for the rest of their country.

c) The disengagement was not part of an agreement, and involved none of the guarantees that are vital to get an economy functioning, such as freedom of movement into and out of the territory, the right to collect and use taxes, etc. Of course a point can be made that Israel can't offer that for security reasons, but the failure to build a state in Gaza can't be analyzed as if such guarantees had been in place.

d) Most importantly, Israel didn't withdraw from Gaza to allow the Gazans to rule themselves. It withdrew, in part, because Gaza is not a valuable piece of real estate; it has no water, scarce arable land and little strategic importance; it wasn't worth the budget it consumed. But it also withdrew precisely to be able to charge the Palestinians with not building a(n impossible) State and thus justify the failure to implement further withdrawals, for instance from any reasonable fraction of the at least 105 illegal outposts the Jewish settlers have established in the West Bank. Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon's foreign policy adviser at the time of the disengagement, explained it with remarkable candor in an interview with Haaretz:

“When you freeze that process [i.e. the political process with the Palestinians], you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem...Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state . . . has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

"The disengagement plan is the preservative of the sequence principle. It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the president's formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."

I want to remind you that there will also be a withdrawal in the West Bank.

"The withdrawal in Samaria is a token one. We agreed to only it so it wouldn't be said that we concluded our obligation in Gaza."

"On the other hand, in regard to the large settlement blocs, thanks to the disengagement plan, we have in our hands a first-ever American statement that they will be part of Israel."

4. Another argument that has been put forward is that Israel had to do something about the rockets raining on Sderot and that the only thing it could do is what it did. Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, former commander of the IDF's Gaza Division, begs to differ:

"The state of Israel must understand that Hamas rule in Gaza is a fact, and it is with that government that we must reach a situation of calm."


In Zakai's view, Israel's central error during the tahadiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce that formally ended on Friday, was failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip.


"We could have eased the siege over the Gaza Strip, in such a way that the Palestinians, Hamas, would understand that holding their fire served their interests. But when you create a tahadiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues, it's obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahadiyeh, and that their way to achieve this, is resumed Qassam fire.

"The carrot is improvement of the economic situation in the Gaza Strip. You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they're in, and to expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing. That's something that's simply unrealistic."

This general with some on-the-ground experience seems to sense what the flat-screen warriors in Europe and the US don't, namely that a political process is necessary even under an imperfect truce, and that not punishing a whole population, even if it's the same population that voted for Hamas, over the rockets on Sderot, might be a good idea. "All stick and no carrot makes Israel a dumb boy..." or how was it?

5. Finally, the issue of proportionality. During a six-month period there was low-level violence materialized in isolated rockets (but not barrages) thrown from the Strip, causing stress but no victims, met with a crippling blockade of Gaza on Israel's part, also causing stress but no victims. Then on Nov. 5 Israel killed 6 people in Gaza. Call them terrorists, militants or resistance fighters: the fact is that they were the first people to be killed in the truce period.

Although much has been made of the fact that the Qassams are fired randomly and thus any rocket can kill people, the fact that no person had been killed does have relevance. (Even though the Zionists spoke of unbearable Israeli pain in Sderot, they are the same Zionists who were boasting that the terrorists hadn't been able to disrupt national life -- what gives?) If you use missiles that have an extremely low probability of hitting someone, not firing enough of them that a person will likely be killed is a form of restraint. And Qassams (and Grads, and Katyushas) began to be thrown in casualty-causing amounts only after the six Gazans were killed by Israel.

The Israeli bombing campaign started on Saturday does not seem to meet a reasonable standard of proportionality. While popular belief has it that civilian casualties are wrong and noncivilian ones are right, the actual distinction is between combatants and noncombatants. And for instance the young cops who died in large numbers at a police academy graduation ceremony are clearly noncombatants. Although Israel plays on the West's image of a Palestinian policeman as a dark-skinned, thick-eyebrowed guy with shining black eyes and a knife between his teeth, the group is more likely to be mostly composed of cops like this:

who doesn't strike me as an immediate threat to Israel's security.

Also, the destruction of administrative infrastructure would seem to indicate that the lessons of Iraq have been lost on some. The Americans destroyed the whole Baathist administrative apparatus (instead of recycling it for democratic purposes) and made the local population pay dearly for it during the period of chaos that ensued. But it's not that Mr. Ehud Barak doesn't know this. The answer may lie in the coming Israeli election and the deep dive of his Labor party in the polls. It's a dangerous thing when a candidate is accountable to a public that wants blood.

One thing is for sure: bombing 'em into the Stone Age won't do the trick. Any long-term solution requires a political strategy, complete with goals, sticks, carrots and the intervention of international players. And I don't see the Israeli leadership formulating any policy other than the ephemeral manu militari solution it is currently implementing.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The phone book as criminal evidence

Q.: What do Baruch Sofer, Elad and Noa Mandel, Tehila Cohen and Eitan Klein have in common?
A.: They are all listed in Israel's phone books.

So what, you'll say. So are 4 million other Israelis.

But these people live in illegal Israeli outposts in the West Bank. Sofer is a resident of Amona, the Mandels live in Palgei Mayim, Cohen calls Neveh Erez home and Klein is a dweller of Nofei Nehemia, Rehelim, the first outpost listed in the Sasson Report, a 2004 document that examined the State of Israel's role in assisting the settlers in the establishment of those unlawful outposts.

How did these folks get to have a telephone line in the first place? At first sight it would look a bit illogical. The current Israeli government claims to be opposed to the unilateral seizure of Palestinian land by the settlers. Now since there exists a State entity that regulates the telecommunications business, all lines installed in territories under Israeli control must be approved by the State. Therefore, the lines in the outposts enjoy the legal approval of the State of Israel, the same state that has called the outposts illegal. Surprised?

Well, you shouldn't be. The whole issue is part of a bigger problem, namely the Israeli governments' constant equivocation when it comes to the settlements; their saying one thing and doing another. Their denouncing the settlers while allocating resources to build homes for them like crazy. Their decreeing that this or that outpost will be evacuated while looking for the legal loopholes that will allow the decision not to be implemented. Their claiming that they only intend to keep those settlements next to the Green Line (1967 border) in a final agreement, while approving a new civilian settlement in Maskiyot, far removed from that line.

No amount of evacuation promises will convince the international public that Israel's government has the determination or even the wish to remove the illegal outposts from the West Bank, when it can't even bring itself to remove them from the phone book.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Can one say "the Jews"?

I don't mean "the Jews" as in "the Jews have won one-fourth of all Nobel prizes." I mean "the Jews" as in "the Jews have poisoned wells and fields in the West Bank." Can one say that? There seems to exist a stigma attached to the suggestion that if a Jew does something wrong it has anything to do with his being Jewish -- a stigma that does not apply to other peoples. If a Hungarian beats up a Jew, for instance, that's yet another example of perennial Magyar antisemitism. If a Jew beats up an Arab, on the other hand, we rush to show evidence that the man is deranged and that his Jewishness played no role in the event.

It is true that, in principle, generalizations should never be made. It is wrong to say "the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982," for instance. I'm an Argentinian and I didn't invade the Falklands, nor do I support the notion that our (in my opinion) legitimate claim to sovereignty over the islands should be realized by military means, or that our rights should trump the rights of the population already living there, for whom becoming Argentinians is anathema. But I don't go ballistic over hearing "the Argentinians invaded the Falklands" because, after all, the invaders were not private agents, but representatives (even if unelected ones) of Argentinian interests. It's unfair to the substantial minority of Argentinians who believe the invasion was wrong on moral grounds; but it can hardly be described as an outright outrage.

Things get a little fuzzier with the following kind of generalization:

Many goyim watch these movies, not out of compassion, but out of self-congratulatory sentiment. Alas, the Jews of the Holocaust are used - used for their juxtaposing of the Nazis and fascists for being as evil as we see them. Or did the double-standards not occur to you - of how those Jews butchered by the Soviets and the Romanians and the Poles and the Czechoslovaks are rarely mentioned in leftist-dominated visual media, but the suffering of those Jews butchered by the Nazis and fascists is always on our screens?

Did "the Poles" butcher Jews? Or did some Poles murder Jews, with most others taking no part in the killings, and not condoning them? Were the Poles comparable to the Nazis (i.e. State agents) -- or to the Jewish kapos who actively collaborated in the massacres (i.e. individual wrongdoers)? Sure, lots of Poles did kill Jews, there's no denying that -- but did they kill them as Poles, or as people who wanted to take over their houses, or were moved by irrational superstitions? The author of the quoted excerpt seems to think they acted as Poles. Others would beg to differ.

Now let's fast forward 60 years and change continents. In recent years there have been reports of water well poisoning in the Israeli-occupied West Bank -- and according to Israeli police estimates, Jewish settlers are to blame (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4, Source 5, Source 6, Source 7). Poisoned wheat kernels have been spread over the Palestinians' pasture fields as well; and, again, Jewish settlers have been deemed responsible (Source 8).

In the Middle Ages, the Jews were falsely accused of trying to poison the Christians, especially through well-poisoning. Any suggestion that the recent instances of poisoning in the West Bank can be blamed on "the Jews," as opposed to a collection of individual Jews, touches thus a very sensitive nerve and should not be irresponsibly made.

Now the fact that an accusation shouldn't be irresponsibly made does not mean it can't be made at all. Only, a threshold of responsibility must be established, composed of very stringent criteria. Thus, it would appear to be unfair to collectively blame the Jews for an act of violence unless the following conditions are met:

  1. It must be carried out in the name of Jewish interests.
  2. It must be part of a policy.
  3. It must be done with the support and connivance of official Jewish institutions.
  4. It must not be condemned by the majority of the Jewish public.

In the case of the Jewish poisoners in the West Bank, all four conditions are unfortunately met. The settlers don't try to poison the Arabs for personal reasons, but to make them flee from the land given by God to the Jews. They don't do the poisoning in isolation, but as part of a violent combo that also includes clubbing elderly shepherds, uprooting fruit trees, torching houses, desecrating cemeteries, smashing cars and market stands, stoning schoolgirls and more. They must not fear retaliation from the local population because they have the full weight of the Israeli army behind them. Although investigations are ostensibly opened, those responsible are never caught, much less jailed. Finally, neither the Israeli citizenry nor a relevant percentage of Diaspora Jews demand for Israel's government to crack down on the settlers or else.

Of the four conditions, the most critical one, in my view, is #3. The settlers could not rampage the West Bank if they did not enjoy heavy subsidizing and military support from Israel, as well as the impunity ensured by the State's justice system. (Which is irrespective of whether fig leaves are donned or not. "We strongly condemn the settlers" is no substitute for actually jailing them; even Czarist Russia prosecuted a few perpetrators after the worst pogroms.) Here, in the support provided to the settlers, is where the self-styled Jewish state takes their crimes out of the private sphere and makes them the responsibility of the whole population represented by that state -- i.e. Israeli Jews (Israeli Arabs are not represented, only contained, by the State), as well as Diaspora Jews who accept for Israel to act in their name.

It's in those Jews' power to dismantle Israel as a racist state and reinvent it as a state of all its citizens that won't tolerate and support acts of violence against defenseless minorities. Until they do, saying "the Jews have poisoned wells and fields in the West Bank" will be just as fair as saying "the Argentinians invaded the Falklands in 1982."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Getting a kick out of the kick

Israel has never been a soccer powerhouse, but in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers help might come from two unexpected sources -- the settlers and the police.

Meet Roni (not his real name), a settler from Kyriat Arba. Roni believes Israel scores too few goals from free kicks, and plans to join the national squad as a free-kick specialist. So being so busy with the settlement of the God-given West Bank, when and how does he train?

The following video clarifies it. Although it was taken from a distance (training sessions are secret), be sure to notice how at 0 min 13 sec Roni takes a free kick and his teammates surround him to celebrate:

For his part, Gadi (not his real name either), a sergeant with the Israeli police, thinks more goals should be scored from headers -- and trains to help the national team in that field. In the following video, notice how Gadi trains to score with the head at 0 min 19 sec and, again, at 0 min 41 sec:

Asked why they used the heads of Palestinians for their training, instead of, well, soccer balls, both would-be stars had different answers. Said Gadi: "You can't take a soccer ball with you everywhere. On the other hand, there's always a Palestinian head available for you to head-butt, so that I can train when and where I wish." When a reporter noted that he wore a rigid plastic helmet which wouldn't be allowed at the World Cup, he countered "Yes, but soccer balls are by no means that hard!"

Roni, for his part, says it all boils down to motivation. "One of the basic shortcomings of training sessions," he observes, "is that the adrenaline is missing. You play your own teammates and you don't see them as rivals. On the other hand, training on the head of a Palestinian you feel exactly the same lust to demolish your rival as when you play a championship game. When you kick a Palestinian," he summarizes, "you get a kick out of the kick."

Monday, December 8, 2008

On becoming a peace partner

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations is a pleasurable blog to read. Not because of its contents, mind you, but because it's clearly and elegantly written, and us language professionals do appreciate good craftsmanship in the art of joining words together when we spot it.

Still, you can write good English and make wrong arguments. One idea that runs through much of Lozowick's writing is that Israel is prepared to make peace any time, only the Palestinians have failed to come up with a viable proposal. A recent post summarizes this thinking:

The pattern from Saadat onwards, including Netanyahu in 1996-9, has always been that when an Arab leader appears who is capable of delivering, his Israeli counterpart will rise to the challenge. Especially since the Israeli electorate will always back the move, and given we're such a pro-active electorate, that's the crucial consideration.

There is no scenario in which a Palestinian (or other Arab) leader makes a credible offer of peace and the Israeli electorate turns him down. But I don't see the opposite, either: no Israeli leader can make a real offer unless there's a real Palestinian (or other Arab) leader to make it too.

Actually, there's an Arab peace offer on the table -- the Arab Peace Initiative, which was formulated in 2002 and has not been withdrawn. The Israeli electorate has turned it down by not demanding from its leaders that they seriously consider the proposal. Since the offer provides for the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and all Arab League countries (an unprecedented move of revolutionary consequences), one would expect an Israeli leader to "rise to the challenge," but it hasn't happened.

But even if no Arab offer were on the table -- would it mean Israel wants peace but has no one to negotiate with?

Those who think so appear to believe that a peace process begins when a peace offer is made. Not so. A big -- a fundamental -- step towards peace is to remove the obstacles to that peace that may exist.

In the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict, one major obstacle are the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. It may not be the most important obstacle, but it's a major one, and it's in Israel's power to remove it. It's not like the Palestinian Authority can any time it wishes go with bulldozers and tear down the settlers' illegal outposts.

What can Israel do about the settlers? Ideally, it should jail them when they go on rampages, assaulting Palestinians, burning fields and trees, smashing cars and desecrating cemeteries. This would involve, of course, massive arrests in Kiriat Arba and Hebron proper, Tapuah, Susia, Maon and elsewhere, but then Israel has some experience in wholesale detentions. But it hasn't happened and it won't happen. Some point to the practical difficulty of such law enforcement, but the fact that justice is not easy to do is no excuse not to do it.

If Israel is not prepared to arrest the settlers, however, it could at least not back them. Experience shows, however, that Israeli governments have thrown the full State support behind the settlers. Every time the settlers set up an outpost on private Palestinian land, the State rushes to provide it with electric power, clean water, phone lines and, most important of all, military protection. In fact, the Sassoon report found that even the trailers for the outposts were provided by the State.

But even if Israel is not prepared to arrest the settlers and is not prepared to stop providing material support to them either, it could at the very least not accord official status to new settlements. But even in this symbolic field Israel is failing. Earlier this year, at the same time that Prime Minister Olmert was busy denouncing the settlers, Defense Minister Barak approved a new civilian settlement in Maskiyot, the first one in a decade, where only military facilities had been allowed before.

In sum, Israel could, proactively, remove obstacles its own citizens have created, so as to pave the way for negotiations when a credible Arab leader arises; but it has failed to do so. Pardon my antisemitism, but I just can't see any hint of Palestinian responsibility there.

It may well be that Israel has no credible partner for peace; we haven't even gotten into that in this post. But one thing is clear: it has a long way to go before it itself becomes one.