Friday, November 28, 2014

Unholy War

NEW YORK – As the bombardment of Gaza continues, and the civilian death toll rises above 1,200 – with children comprising one-quarter of the victims – the world has become polarized. Supporters of Israel’s actions invoke its right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. Opponents argue that nothing justifies the mass killing of civilians and the destruction of essential infrastructure.

Unsurprisingly, Israeli society is polarizing as well. Even as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has fully mobilized hasbara (“public diplomacy” or “spin,” depending on your point of view) and hardens its position, peace activists are taking to Israel’s streets. Israelis from all walks of life, and increasing numbers of Diaspora Jews, are speaking out, rejecting what they call Israel’s frequent violation of international law and the injustice of what they describe as a two-tier system of citizenship and law.

In fact, once-unthinkable positions are emerging. Recently, for example, more than 50 Israeli reservists signed a petition declaring their refusal to serve, citing many forms of oppression but naming specifically the dual legal system that discriminates against Palestinians, and the “brutal” nature of the military occupation. They join a growing number of other former Israeli soldiers who have described in detail the daily injustice and humiliation to which Palestinians are subjected.

More broadly, many younger progressive Israelis, Diaspora Jews, and Palestinians have taken up, with increasing interest and hope, the idea of a secular, democratic, diverse society along the lines of post-apartheid South Africa. If this vision is not yet a solution, at least it promises a new conversation – one that poses a direct challenge to the right-wing Israeli establishment and its supporters abroad.

It is a challenge that the Israeli establishment would prefer to ignore. Following one of the most lethal nights of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza – and what many human-rights defenders have called a massacre – police, citing “security concerns,” sought to prevent an estimated 10,000 people from gathering in the streets of Tel Aviv to oppose what organizers described as an illegal occupation and military campaign against the Palestinians. The protest went ahead, without violence.

Palestinians demonstrating at the same time in the West Bank were not so fortunate. Protesters there reported that Israeli police and soldiers confronted rallies with live bullets; by the end of the day’s demonstrations, five Palestinian protesters were dead.

Despite the obstacles that Israeli peace activists face – including intimidation and violence by right-wing nationalists – their movement has persevered. Nonetheless, it is often easier for people trained to hate one another to connect in cyberspace rather than to come together in real-life settings. On Facebook, the page IsraelLovesPalestine, which has nearly 26,000 “likes,” documents rallies, meetings, and other actions in support of Palestinians and in opposition to perceived Israeli injustices. The page PalestineLovesIsrael – with banner headlines reading “ENOUGH! STOP THE WAR” – has almost the same number of “likes.”

But an active peace movement, in which Israelis and Palestinians recognize common interests and forge new discussions aimed at ending the decades-long conflict, may not be enough to stem growing extremism, particularly on the Israeli side. According to an opinion poll carried out in July by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, more than 95% of Jewish Israelis believe that Operation Protective Edge is warranted, while less than 4% believe that Israel has used excessive force. Indeed, nearly 50% of respondents said that they thought that insufficient force had been used.

Here, it is crucial to note the disturbing turn in the rhetoric used by some Israelis and Diaspora Jews to justify the military offensive in Gaza, examples of which are legion. A right-wing member of Israel’s Knesset asserted that civilians in Gaza should be “erased,” on the grounds that no one there was innocent. The American comedienne Joan Rivers defended in crude terms the bombing of Gazan civilians. Tomer Siyonov, a friend of a dead Israeli soldier, recently told the Guardian that everyone in Gaza must be killed.

Just how dangerous is such talk? According to the Israeli historian Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, “In classic dehumanization scenarios, whether in Nazi Germany or in Rwanda before the genocide, you refer to the enemy as rats and cockroaches, and that enables you to kill them on a large scale.” Oren then adds, “We’re not calling Palestinians cockroaches.”

But it is not the choice of epithets that can lead people to endorse the mass killing of civilians. What matters is whether the rhetoric used by political leaders and major media outlets is framed in the context of a narrative that portrays the “other” as posing an existential threat. Hutus slaughtered close to a million Tutsis in 1994 not because they thought of Tutsis as “cockroaches,” but because they were led to believe that the Tutsis would kill them first.

Such turning points in language both reflect and facilitate acceptance of the wholesale bombing of neighborhoods, hospitals, and schools. Someday, the details of Operation Protective Edge will be investigated and history will be written. But, before that happens, Israel has two moral paths open before it. One path, to be taken with all those committed to a just peace, leads to a higher form of community; the other leads to a very dark place. The soul of a nation is in the balance.

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    1. CommentedP W

      Ms. Wolf,

      Without stating your great knowledge and expertise of the middle east, both historical and cultural you write an article that is not only dangerous but irresponsible. You simply feel that because you are educated and write well that you can use this incredibly sensitive subject to make your mark and keep you somehow in the spotlight. You will be quoted till the end of time as a reference for those who hate and wish to destroy the state of Israel.

      Almost no Israelis (Jewish, Christian, Muslims, etc.) are talking about this the way you are. You state that this is something people are talking about and then turn around and say that over 95% of people are in agreement (which is true, they are in agreement). When were 95% of the US citizens in agreement over anything?

      Many antisemitic individuals, like yourself, choose to put the spotlight on Israel and artificially create issues and reasons for why Israel should not exist. You may not see it that way but you are supporting that idea by proxy. People will say wouldn't the middle east be better, quieter without Israel or Jewish people but the reality is that the land that Israelis live on would be owned and operated not by Palestinians but rather divided up between Eqypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. These countries treat Palestinians like dogs but in Israel they have rights unlike anywhere else.

      And lets reset for a second, we are talking about a country of 7 million people (approximately .1% of the global population) who have accomplished more as a democratic nation then almost any other country in the world. I would really like to ask you, the UN, and every other individual, why are we focusing so much effort and attention on this country rather than the US and the 500,000 civilians that were killed during our war in Iraq or the millions dying across the continent of Africa or closer to Israel, Syria and the 110,000 people killed by their leadership or the camps that Palestinians are housed in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria.

      People will say, oh we care about that but the Palestinians have suffered so much a deserve a country. Yes, they do but not at the expense of Israel and everything they have built. We are talking about a piece of land that was written about by many including Mark Twain referring to the wasteland. Israelis (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) of Israel have made the country what it is today from nothing and have benefited in the way of agriculture technology that is used around the world now. Palestinians like to talk about all of the hardship and lies that the Zionists talk about yet they still have done nothing with the land they have. A land that is referred to as occupied even though there is no Israeli presence in the land.

      Now, are Israeli they be building settlements in the west but the reality on the ground is that they don't have a partner and so they lack the political will to keep Israelis from continuing to expand.

      Arafat had his shot and he knew he could never agree to any deal because he would be out of business similar to the leaders of Hamas and others. They exist to fight for a cause and if that cause does not exist then they do not either.

      The problem comes back to sympathizers like yourself who give Hamas and the endless other factions the will to keep going and the justification to their people.

      Long story short....don't be hack who sits in her ivory tower and passes judgement. Instead, help bring peace and prosperity by writing about how Palestinians get their own country. Through diplomatic and non-violent negotiations.

        CommentedLarry A Singleton

        And maybe she can answer this poser by Martin Kramer:

        Gaza is a place with no Israeli settlements, from which Israel has totally withdrawn to the 1967 lines, and which nonetheless has become a Hamas terror state. That’s what happens in conditions of Gazafication. So when people say that in a two-state solution, Palestinians would have a "right of return" to the West Bank and not Israel, I do not find that particularly reassuring either. Any influx of Palestinians across the Jordan poses a problem for Israel, and it is naive to dismiss it. I would like to hear how, in a two-state scenario, Gazafication of the West Bank can be prevented. I haven't heard it yet.

        Neither have I.

        Read The Haj by Leon Uris. And ask these questions:

        What year did the nation of Palestine come into existance?
        What were its national borders and what year did it cease to exist?
        What currency did the nation of Palestine use and why is there no history of it?
        Name one leader to the “nation of Palestine” prior to Yasser Arafat.

        The Haj by Leon Uris (A Primer on the “right to return” scam)
        Lessons from ‘The Haj’ A book review by Joseph Puder

    2. CommentedAtlas Akin

      I really do not think that the poll you have shared is reflecting the truth about Israelis, hundred percent considering the fact that they have just surveyed around 600 people.

    3. CommentedWendy Brezin

      Ms. Wolf, you clearly do not live in Israel, where 95% of Israelis -- Jewish Israelis, Druze Israelis, Christian Israelis and Muslim Israelis -- have decided that they are tired of the over 12,000 incessant bombs that have rained down upon their heads since 2005.

      You decry dangerous rhetoric used by some Israelis. Yes, some Israelis do indeed say some outlandish things. How many? Very few, and those that do say such things are not endorsed by the 99% of Israelis who wish for peace, or by Israeli media or the Knesset or the Prime Minister.

      What you fail to address is the text written in the governing charter of Hamas. That charter endorses rocket attacks, terrorist attacks, blowing oneself up on a bus full of Israeli civilians, all of which is justified, according to Hamas, because the Arab-Israeli conflict is an inherently irreconcilable struggle between Jews and Muslims. The Hamas charter even uses religious Muslim texts as justification for fighting against and killing the Jews, whether they are in Israel or elsewhere. That is not the talk of a few outlandish people. That is what the democratically elected Hamas works towards. Their people endorse such talk. In the past, similar text could be seen in the PLO/Fatah charters. Fatah has evolved.

      "What matters is whether the rhetoric used by political leaders and major media outlets is framed in the context of a narrative that portrays the “other” as posing an existential threat." Or so you state. Well, peace is the Israeli narrative. It has always been thus.

      Peace is something that has escaped the Jewish people in our 2,000 years of wandering, forced conversions, inquisitions, crusades (yes, Crusaders also killed Jews), ghettos, pogroms, blood libels, and finally the genocide of the Holocaust. Now we are home. We are home, Ms. Wolf, and we do not intend to leave our home. However we very much wish to live in peace with our neighbours. We stated this in the 1800s when the land was mostly desolate swamps and very few souls lived in it (my own grandfather's family lived in Safed since the 1500s). We assured our neighbours in 1948 when we were attacked by many Arab armies. We re-stated this in 1956. We re-iterated this in 1967, when the territories were under the administration of Jordan and Egypt. Again, and again, and again our rhetoric has been for peace.

      So, I ask you, Ms. Wolf, have you looked at the rhetoric on the Palestinian side? Don't you wonder about the soul of the nation they say they want to create? Don't you expect them to follow a moral path? Or do you think they are not up to that challenge?

    4. CommentedSergey Zavyalov

      Isa Nasser – Thanks for your response. I will respond to your points.

      1) Before Hamas Came into Power?
      Hamas ideology came about from groups that where rioting against Israeli immigration as early as the 1920’s, and PLA established military ideology in 1964. Names change but ideology does not as they are still bent on throwing every last Jewish woman and child into the sea. Today their “resistance” ideology includes targeting people under their own protection “Gazan’s” for purpose of blaming Israel for collateral damage as Jihadpaganda around the world.

      2) Peace Easily Attainable if Settlements is not the Reason for War?
      In 1947 and again in 1967 the Jews accepted partition plans, which Arabs vehemently rejected both times, starting bloody conflicts that Israel will never forget. Do you really think that people are going to just leave the lands undeveloped for generations, while the cost of housing in Israel continues to rise to unsustainable levels? It’s unrealistic. Meanwhile the PLO continues to pocket development money forcing the community residents of these areas into poverty and further resentment against Israel. As you can see, the Hamas Jihadpaganda and embezzlement of international aid was already in play for over 50 years before the Hamas political wing establishment. They still continue these policies today.

      3) Fatah and Hamas Formed Unity Government to Seek Diplomacy?
      Hamas agreed to unity government so they can easily solicit international aid for purpose of embezzlement of funds to continue their violence against Israel. Fatah agreed to unity government out of fear of Hamas.

      4) Hamas did not kill the 3 kidnapped teenagers that triggered this war?
      Hamas brainwashing and Jihadpaganda of the Palastinians to kidnap IDF and Israeli civilians at every given chance was the direct cause of the kidnappings. Hence the IDF response against Hamas in those communities.

      5) Would good guys do all this?
      Hamas charter calls for total destruction of Israel and their supporters. The Muslim Brotherhood created that Genocidal speak, and this same group is allowed to have charters all over the world that continue to brainwash people against Israel and its Jewish people. Would good guys do this??

    5. Commentedwilliam shantz

      Ms. Wolf,
      1. Thank You.
      2. You are right.
      3. With respect: Love. (NOT 'I love you'.)

      William Shantz (A proxy for God)

    6. CommentedMarten Klein

      I wonder why Israel does not try to become a member state of the EU, that would settle many of the conflicts.

    7. CommentedSergey Zavyalov

      Just like the rest of the media, this author gives Hamas the benefit of doubt that they do not deserve because they are terrorist organization with a horrible human rights track record.

      She ignores facts that at the start of “Operation Protective Edge” the UN schools in Gaza were empty “except for the missiles found in them” and all fighting was taking place in the neighborhoods, but as people moved from their neighborhoods to the hospitals and shelters, to get away from the fighting, Hamas moved with them. She ignores facts that Hamas themselves are responsible for the high civilian toll by using local children as meat shields in firefights against IDF and ensures extreme collateral damage against civilians by purposely fighting and placing their weapon caches and booby-traps in civilian areas whether it’s a hospital or a UN school.

      She talks about Israeli narrative spin-doctors but avoids mentioning of Hamas narrative spin-doctors at CNN, and BBC. She talks about the Ultra-rightwing narrative, but fails to mention that Hamas wants all of Israel or all Jews in Israel dead. Israel already does more to avoid casualties than any other army on earth, but yet this is not enough to be considered a “higher form community”. She talks about apartheid, but fails to mention how Hamas deliberately creates poverty so that they can embezzle more international aid to build terror tunnels and weapon caches instead of hospitals, schools and community centers.

      Yet she expects Israel to take all the blame…

        CommentedWendy Brezin

        Mr. Nasser, could you explain why Egypt and Jordan did not create the Palestinian state when the territories were under Egyptian and Jordanian control? Could you explain why Jordan, whose population is 80% Palestinian would not be part of a future Palestinian state?

        CommentedIsa Nasser

        Sergey, you blame Hamas for this conflict. But the root cause of this war is indeed Israel lust for land and its settlement, not Hamas.

        How can we know this?

        1) Before Hamas Came into Power?
        Firstly let's say Hamas is the reason Israel cannot negotiate peace, why couldn't Israel do it before Hamas came to power. The blockade was in effect before Hamas came into power.

        2) Peace Easily Attainable if Settlements is not the Reason for War
        Secondly, peace can be attained easily if this war isn't about keeping the illegal settlement. Hamas, Fatah (who have formed Palestinian unity government) both endorse the June 1967 borders. And so does the most of the world except for Israel.

        Let me explain.

        Every year UN General Assembly votes on the "Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine".

        The resolution consist of the following:
        a) The withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory (West Bank and Gaza) occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.

        Comment: This means the removal of Israeli illegal settlements!

        (b) The realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination and the right to their independent State.

        Affirming once again the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders.

        Reaffirms its commitment, in accordance with international law, to the two-State solution of Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security within recognized borders, based on the pre-1967 borders.

        Reaffirming also that the construction by Israel, the occupying power, of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime are contrary to international law.

        Sounds fair right?

        How can you tell it's a fair resolution? Countries in the UN General Assembly every year votes overwhelmingly in support for this resolution. Only Israel, US, Canada, Marshal Island, Micronesia and Palau voted against it in 2012. 163 other countries (obviously including all your European and Asian countries) voted in favor. Although US voted against, Obama has stated that a 2 state solution for the crisis must be based on the June 1967 borders.

        Well even Hamas agrees on a long term truce based on a two state solution using this June1967 borders. If Israel is for peace, this internationally recognized border is the easy way to achieve it. Evidently, peace is not Israel's objective, it's these territories.

        3) Fatah and Hamas Formed Unity Government to Seek Diplomacy
        What's more, they formed a unity government with Fatah precisely because of this, diplomacy. One of the talking points of Israel has been that Palestine has two separate government, Fatah and Hamas. They can't negotiate with either since none of them has power over the whole of Palestine. When They formed this unity government Israel urged Washington and EU to not recognize this unity government. Surprisingly, Washington and EU both gave the unity government a chance.

        4) Hamas did not kill the 3 kidnapped teenagers that Triggered this war
        So quite conveniently, the 3 kidnapped teenagers provided pretext to provoke Hamas in Gaza by arresting 350 Palestinians in the operation "Brother's Keeper". Let me reiterate: 350 arrest for kidnapping of 3 teenagers. And turns out, Hamas is not complicit in the kidnapping. Israel does not want peace, there wasn't justification to start a war, but Palestine was in a strong position for peaceful negotiations, and Israel is not interested in losing their settlements.

        Look at the map of occupied territories now, it's grown far beyond these borders. Palestine has shrunk. And they are living in appalling conditions. Go here for a very quick example:

        If you're unconvinced this war is not about the settlements, just observe the past and the future. This will remain true, unless there are large changes in the world's or more specifically US stance on Israel, Israel will insist in keeping most of these settlements. And that's how you can be sure this whole thing is simply a war for land.

        5) Would good guys do all this?
        If you want to delve into the case for Israel as the "Moral" , the "Just" and the "Good Guys", it's far more obvious with numerous quotes of genocide, racism, and actual massacres and detailed accounts of killing of civilians, using Illegal weapons.

        Case in point, a member of Parliament in Israeli Government has called for Palestinian Mothers to be killed so as not to give birth to "little snakes".