Friday, January 30, 2009

Fascists and Theocrats

All polls now show that the right wing will have a majority in the next Knesset. How large the majority will be varies wildly from poll to poll, with estimates ranging from 62 seats to 70-plus, out of a total of 120 Knesset seats. It seems certain Benjamin Netanyahu will be the next prime minister.

Unless Netanyahu decides to form a unity government with Kadima and Labor, his natural coalition partners would be Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) and the four religious parties. There is a problem here, though. Lieberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties don't like each other. Both sides share a disdain for democracy, but each takes it in a different direction. Yisrael Beitenu wants all citizens to declare their loyalty to the State of Israel or lose their citizenship. This, of course, is aimed at Arab citizens, but soon enough it will reach whoever has the wrong political views, in Lieberman's eyes. Shas and United Torah Judaism, the two ultra-Orthodox parties, don't necessarily object to this. They do object to the only part of Lieberman's platform that I agree with: making the country more secular, including non-religious marriages.

Shas and UTJ, on the other hand, would like to make Israel a Medinat Halacha, Halacha being the Jewish equivalent of Sharia law. A theocracy is their favored form of government, though they try not to say it directly. Lieberman, of course, totally opposes this idea.

I have a slim hope that the Likud-led right wing bloc will receive such a small majority that the coalition will have to include all the bloc's parties to pass the 61-member threshold. Then, maybe the disagreements between the fascists and theocrats will lead to Netanyahu's failure to form a government.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What About the Israeli Elections?

I've been asked why I haven't written about the upcoming Israeli elections, scheduled for Feb. 10. That's a good question. In a way, you can generally ask where the hell the elections have gone.

Though it has been in the back of my mind, it hasn't been one of the main things to occupy my thoughts recently. Despite the fact that Election Day is just three weeks away, it doesn't feel like a campaign season yet. The parties put their campaigns on hold during the operation in Gaza, and just now they're restarting all the political propaganda again. Usually the streets are littered with campaign literature and banners by this time. So far this time around, I've only seen one such sign (Avigdor Lieberman and his fascist slogan: "No loyalty, no citizenship").

The elections haven't become the main focus of the media, either. First there was Cast Lead in Gaza, and then there was the Obama inauguration. Now that those are behind us, I expect Bibi vs. Livni to become the leading item. I haven't watched this evening's TV news, but I wouldn't be surprised if election coverage moved to the forefront already today.

You can expect my next few posts to be mostly about the campaign.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's All Israel's Fault

Ann El-Khoury of People's Geography (I'm not linking to it, find it yourself) wrote a post a few days ago about her father's sunflowers wilting exactly in time for Israel's operation in Gaza. She quickly removed it. Maybe she realized how ridiculous the post was. It was like a parody of Arabs, and anti-Zionists in general, who blame Israel for everything. Is the weather bad? It's the Israelis. Was there a traffic accident between two Arabs? The Israelis must have done something to the cars!

Yes, Ann, Israel killed your father's sunflowers. He should sue us in the Hague for crimes against vegetation.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Letter to Gideon Levy

A. B Yehoshua, a prominent Israeli author and one of the "spiritual/intellectual leaders" of the the Israeli left, wrote a letter to bleeding-heart Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy (original Hebrew version here):

Dear Gideon,

You remember that in recent years I called you occasionally to praise you for your articles and your writing about the wrongs done to the Palestinians in the administered territories, whether by the army or by the settlers. Physical wrongs, land expropriations, acts of abuse, perversions of justice and so on. I told you that it is very difficult to read what you write, because it weighs on our conscience, but that the work you are doing and the voice you are sounding are extremely important. I was also concerned about your physical safety, knowing that you risked your life by visiting such hostile places.

I did not ask you why you did not visit Israeli hospitals in order to tell the painful stories of Israeli citizens who were hurt in terrorist attacks. I accepted your position that there are plenty of other journalists doing this and that you had taken on the crucial mission of telling the story of the afflictions of the other side, our enemies today and our neighbors tomorrow.

Accordingly, it is from this position of respect that I find it necessary to respond to your recent articles on the war in which we are engaged today, so that you will be able to preserve the moral validity of your distinctive voice for the future. A few years ago, when the Hatuel family - a mother and her four children, of blessed memory - were killed on the way to one of the settlements in Gush Katif, I believed that this terrible death pained you as it did all of us but that like many of us you said in your heart: Why should these Israelis endanger their children by living provocatively, hopelessly, dangerously and immorally in Gush Katif? By what right do 8,000 Jews expropriate a sizable area in the densely overcrowded Gaza Strip in order to build blossoming villages before the eyes of hundreds of thousands of refugees living in such abysmal conditions? You were angry, as I was, at the parents and at those who sent them. And even though I believe that like all of us you felt the pain of the children who were killed, you did not brand the leaders of Hamas "war criminals" as you did the Israeli leaders, and you did not demand the establishment of an international tribunal to try them.

When I asked you after the disengagement from Gaza, Gideon, explain to me why they are firing missiles at us, you replied that they want us to open the crossings. I asked you whether you truly believe that if they fire missiles the crossings will be opened, or the opposite. And whether you truly believe that it is right and just to open crossings into Israel for those who declare openly and sincerely that they want to destroy our country. I did not get an answer from you. And even though the crossings were in fact opened many times, and were closed in the wake of the missile attacks, regrettably I still did not see you standing firmly behind a moral position which says: Now, people of Gaza, after you expelled the Israeli occupation from your land, and justly so, you must hold your fire.

The doleful thought sometimes crosses my mind that it is not the children of Gaza or of Israel that you are pining for, but only for your own private conscience. Because if you are truly concerned about the death of our children and theirs, you would understand the present war - not in order to uproot Hamas from Gaza but to induce its followers to understand, and regrettably in the only way they understand in the meantime, that they must stop the firing unilaterally, stop hoarding missiles for a bitter and hopeless war to destroy Israel, and above all for the sake of their children in the future, so they will not die in another pointless adventure.

After all, now, for the first time in Palestinian history, after the Ottoman, British, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli conquests, part of the Palestinians has gained a first and I hope not a last piece of land on which they are to maintain a full and independent government. And if they start building, developing and pursuing social endeavors, even according to Islamic religious law, they will prove to the whole world, and especially to us, that the moment we terminate the occupation they will be ready to live in peace with their surroundings, free to do as they wish, but also responsible for their deeds.

There is something absurd in the comparison you draw about the number of those killed. When you ask how it can be that they killed three of our children and we cause the killing of a hundred and fifty, the inference one can draw is that if they were to kill a hundred of our children (for example, by the Qassam rockets that struck schools and kindergartens in Israel that happened to be empty), we would be justified in also killing a hundred of their children.

In other words, it is not the killing itself that troubles you but the number. On the face of it, one could answer you cynically by saying that when there will be two hundred million Jews in the Middle East it will be permissible to think in moral terms about comparing the number of victims on each side. But that is, of course, a debased argument. After all, you, Gideon, who live among the people, know very well that we are not bent on killing Palestinian children to avenge the killing of our children. All we are trying to do is get their leaders to stop this senseless and wicked aggression, and it is only because of the tragic and deliberate mingling between Hamas fighters and the civilian population that children, too, are unfortunately being killed. The fact is that since the disengagement, Hamas has fired only at civilians. Even in this war, to my astonishment, I see that they are not aiming at the army concentrations along the border but time and again at civilian communities.

Please, preserve the moral authority and concern that you possessed, and your distinctive voice. We will need them again in the future, which promises further ordeals on the road to peace. In the meantime, it would be best for us all - we and the Palestinians and the rest of the world - to follow the simple moral imperative of Kantian philosophy: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

In friendship always,

A. B. Yehoshua

The writer is an Israeli author. His latest novel, "Friendly Fire," was published in recent months

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Response to Rashid Khalidi

Originally, I wrote this as a comment on Gert's blog post which reprinted Rashid Khalidi's New York Times op-ed piece, What You Don’t Know About Gaza. It came out so long, I decided it merits its own post.

I must say, today's NY Times op-ed page was very unfriendly to Israel, with critical articles by Nicholas Kristof, Roger Cohen, Khalidi and Gideon Lichfield. But that's okay. Conservatives David Brooks and William Kristol, as well as my favorite columnist Thomas Friedman, had previously written articles in favor of Israel's Gaza operation. I particularly liked Thomas Friedman's piece.

Anyway, here is my response to Rashid Khalidi's opionion article:

I read this article this morning and found it very troubling, though not at all surprising. I truly do hope Barack Obama's connection with Khalidi was exaggerated by Republicans.

THE GAZANS How is it relevant that the Gazans are not there by choice? Is it alright for them to fire at Ashkelon and Be'er-Sheva because their grandparents came from those cities?

The Gazans have been kept in the refugee camps by their Arab brethren. Had Egypt, who controlled the strip between 1948-1967, or any other Arab country, rehabilitated the refugees and invested in them, things would look differently. Instead, the refugees and their suffering were used as a tool against Israel to keep calling for the right of return. After all, if they'd rebuild Palestinians' lives in their new locations it would have seemed like they were giving up on the right of return.

THE OCCUPATION First of all, the Gazans have never NOT lived under occupation. Before 1967 they were occupied by Egypt; before 1948 by the UK; and before 1917 by the Ottomans. Right now, their self-rule is greater than at any time in the past.

Israel has made many mistakes over the years in Gaza. It should have done what Egypt before it should have done - it should have made Gazans' lives better. However, once Israel withdrew from the territory, it was up to the Palestinians to make their lives better, even if Israel controlled the border. Even before the blockade that started when Hamas rose to power, Palestinians did nothing with their territory.

THE BLOCKADE Fuel, electricity and humanitarian aid kept coming in to Gaza all this time. The aim of the blockade was not to choke the Palestinians, but to harm the Hamas government. If a nation elected a government bent on your destruction, would you cooperate with it economically and otherwise?

THE CEASE-FIRE In November Israel attacked a tunnel where arms were being smuggled in. The IDF said there was an imminent threat to Israel from whatever was coming through that tunnel. Was it a smart move? Maybe not, but it didn't come out of thin air.

WAR CRIMES The numbers do not speak for themselves. They don't demonstrate each side's intentions, but rather each side's technological advancement. The civilian death toll is too high - the result of both Israeli recklessness and Hamas activity within population centers. However, this is not a war crime on Israel's part, since the civilians are not the targets. Also, it is not true that civilians are the majority of the dead.

"Negotiation is a much more effective way to deal with rockets and other forms of violence. This might have been able to happen had Israel fulfilled the terms of the June cease-fire and lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip."

Israel wanted to continue the cease-fire, but Hamas refused. It demanded that the border crossings be opened, but as long as Hamas is unwilling to allow inspections they cannot be fully opened. The smuggling of arms must stop.

"This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets."

Khalidi would like to think that it isn't. This way, the Palestinians have absolutely no responsibility for what is happening. The truth is that it is about rockets. After eight years of Qassams and Grad missiles, Israelis have had enough.

"Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”

This is a horrible statement. Moshe Yaalon is an idiot, though not an isolated idiot. Maybe this kind of thinking has something to do with some of the tactics of the current operation but it is not the goal. The end of rocket fire and rocket smuggling is.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ariel Sharon's Conspiracy

I was adamantly opposed to the disengagement plan in 2005. I thought the unilateral move would lead to a Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. Did nobody else realize this? Our country's leadership and intelligence officials should have been able to predict this.

Maybe they did. I have a feeling Ariel Sharon wanted to ensure Israeli control of the West Bank. The best way to do this would be by eliminating Israeli public support for any further withdrawals. The evacuation of Jewish settlers had to be as traumatic as possible and terrorists had to take over the strip.

Achieving a traumatic effect during the evacuation worked in two ways. One was more obvious: people who fortified themselves in houses and on rooftops, women and children being dragged out of houses, and instances of little kids wearing orange Stars of David, reminiscent of the yellow Stars of David during the Holocaust. The second method was more subtle. The government office set up to take care of settlers, most of whom left Gaza by the required deadline, was utterly inefficient. Today, three and a half years later, many evacuees still do not have permanent housing, and currently live in "caravillas" (caravan villas) within missile range from Gaza.

Letting Hamas take over Gaza was not very complicated. All that had to be done was leave in such a way that it would seem like we were escaping Hamasnik wrath. Gazans already sympathized with Hamas, so such a move would empower an already popular terrorist organization. Had we reached a deal with the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, the evacuation would have been seen as the fruits of negotiations, not of terror.

Just because Ariel Sharon was hoping for Hamas to rise to power doesn't mean that our current operation in Gaza is not justified. It certainly is. Even if our own government's actions have contributed to the situation, rocket fire into Israel still must be stopped. Keep in mind that the Qassams started coming in 2001, before the disengagement. Hamas would not have stopped the rocket fire even if Gaza would have been given peacefully to the PA, and there is no guarantee that it wouldn't have taken over the territory anyway.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

No 48-Hour Truce

Several prominent figures such as French President Nikolas Sarkozy and authors/gurus of the Israeli left Amos Oz and David Grossman have called for a 48-hour truce. They hope this truce will become perminent, but if it doesn't, they think it will at least allow the humanitarian crisis in Gaza to be eased.

If there is a truce for only 2 days and violence resumes, it will have been the worst kind of truce possible. Hamas will be able to regroup during this short period.

So, no, there should only be a truce that will truly end the fighting and the missile attacks for a very long time.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Nizar Rayyan: A Limerick

There once was a Sheikh who had four wives,
He was a terrorist so they all lost their lives.
Israel warned the women to leave the house,
But the four decided to stick by their spouce,
And wait 'till the Israeli missile arrives.