Monday, July 31, 2006
The headline in the weekend edition of Yediot Ahronot, Israel's largest mass-circulation daily, is that 82% of the public believe that the current military operations in Lebanon are justified. And 81% believe that even more force should be used. When one considers the fact that 20% of the population is composed of Israeli Arab citizens, who are both victims of the Hizbullah missiles and concerned about the fate of their Lebanese cousins, this implies that, at least statistically, almost l00% of the Israeli Jewish population supports the government policy.
This is not surprising. The Katyusha missiles raining down on northern Israel have killed dozens of innocent people, both Jews and Arabs, in Haifa and the Galilee, as well as in Arab villages. They have totally disrupted life in the north, causing hundreds of thousands of people to flee to relatives or hotels in the centre and south, and have severely damaged the economy as well.
Hizbullah, the extreme fundamentalist Lebanese organisation behind the firing of these missiles, is an implacable enemy of Israel whose goal is to "eliminate the Zionist entity" as part of its grand plan for a Lebanese state based upon Islamic religious priniciples, which would eventually become a part of the grand Islamic nation. This in turn would spread throughout the holy Muslim land, known as the wakf, which includes Andalusia and Rome.
So it is no wonder that no voices are to be heard calling for mutual recognition between Israel and Hizbullah. That's an impossibility, like mixing water and oil. But that does not mean that questions aren't being raised in the public discourse about Israeli policy. I'm referring to questions being raised in the mainstream of the Israeli discourse - and not only to the expected criticism, from sources such as Dr Ilan Pappe or Gush Shalom's leader, Uri Avnery.
The first question is the nature of the Israeli decision-making process. Was a massive retaliation following the July 12 Hizbullah attack on an Israeli military outpost within the state of Israel the only, and wisest, option? Was the inexperienced new civilian leadership, personified by the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the defence minister, Amir Peretz, presented with serious alternatives for action?
"The two civilians snapped to attention" was the title of an article by the senior Ha'aretz economic analyst Nehemia Strasler. Dr. Yagil Levy, an expert on military-civilian relations, labelled the situation a "quiet putsch". And another respected commentator on security affairs, Dr Reuvain Pedhazur, wrote that since the establishment of the state the political leadership had never established a serious alternative to the Israeli defense forces (IDF) policy forums when it comes to decision-making about war and peace.
A related issue is whether the initial declared goal of "destroying Hizbullah" was a realistic one. The government, the IDF spokespeople and most of the military commentators have backed down from this absolute description, and are now saying that the goal is merely seriously to damage Hizbullah's military potential, to remove its forces from the northern border and to ensure that it is no longer be a direct threat to Israel. A third, related criticism being voiced is about the overall strategic goals and the exit strategy from the current conflict.
At a fascinating seminar held this week by the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies and the Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern Affairs at Tel Aviv, Brigadier General (Retired) Shlomo Brom said Israel's end goal should be to break up the Hizbullah-Iran-Syria axis. The way to do this is to remove Syria from the equation, based upon mutual Israeli-Syrian interests. The secular, minority Syrian Alowite regime does not want to see a strengthening of fundamentalist Islamic forces in the Middle East and particularly in Syria itself. This is interest is shared with most of the Sunni Arab regimes throughout the Middle East. "And everyone knows what Syria must be offered in this context," said Brom: "the Golan Heights."
The problem is that Olmert has ruled this out, apparently at the behest of the Americans, who insist on seeing Syria as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. A more fundamental criticism of Israeli government policy, which preceded the current crisis, is the fact that the IDF has been so bogged down in policing the occupation that it was not free to deal effectively with authentic threats to Israeli sovereignty, such as the Hizbullah attacks. This criticism says that if Israeli governments had done more to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and more could have been done - Israel's current strategic situation would be much better.
And finally, there is of course the humanitarian dimension. Israelis have naturally tended to withdraw into their own pain, expressing a tremendous amount of social solidarity in this time of crisis. The Lebanese are the faraway other, and also the hosts of the Hizbullah threat, whose attacks on Israel they have done nothing to prevent. However, the scale of the civilian damage on the Lebanese side has begun to filter through to the Israeli public via images on TV, blogs and the print media. Questions have also been raised about the efficacy of causing great damage to Lebanon to force the general population to turn against Hizbullah, a policy that seems to be having the opposite effect.
Israeli protests against the level of damage caused to the Lebanese civilian population and infrastructure produced the first meaningful public demonstration against the war last Saturday evening in Tel Aviv. About 5,000 participants called for a ceasefire and a return to negotiations. In addition, 40 Israeli directors and producers expressed solidarity with their Lebanese colleagues. Israeli Arabs, who have been among the victims of the Hizbullah attacks, have also communicated a sense of solidarity with their Lebanese cousins.
As the former Jerusalem deputy mayor Dr Meron Benvenisti wrote today: "No one can predict the minute opposition to the war turns from an act of betrayal into a legitimate and correct stance ... but in the current outbreak of violence, the change will come very quickly."
One of the most moving expressions of dissent from the consensus politics has come from the parents of the kidnapped soldiers on the Lebanese and Gazan front. One mother said her primary concern was that her son return home safely, and she was sure that Lebanese mothers felt the same. The father of Gilad Shalit, the soldier who was kidnapped from the southern outpost near Kerem Shalom, even made an appearance on the joint Israeli-Palestinian AllForPeace radio station to call for a mutual release of prisoners.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of the current crisis is the fact that, despite everything, joint Israeli-Palestinian activity continues. Dr Sufyan Abu-Zaidah, the former Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs was amazed when the Peres Centre for Peace did not postpone a discussion in Tel Aviv devoted to "What Next?" He came, from Gaza, and actively participated in a lively discussion with three members of the Knesset, from the government and from right and left opposition parties. And on Tuesday evening, I participated in two very meaningful events in Jerusalem: a discussion between a group of Israelis and Palestinian Professor Mustafa Abu-Sway on the meaning of the Islamic concept of hudna (ceasefire), and an evening event organised by the Palestine-Israel Journal devoted to "building Israeli-Palestinian cooperation and alliances today" Among the participants were Zohar Shapira and Mohammad Assayad, an Israeli and Palestinian member of the recently formed Combatants for Peace group.
When we get out of the current mess, there is still hope for the future.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
.... The National Reconciliation Agreement (better known as the Prisoners' Document)... designates Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in future negotiations. In recent days, the Hamas government has issued a call for a ceasefire, echoed by all factions (with the notable exception of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad movement). Egypt and Jordan are actively involved in urging its acceptance.
The resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks within the framework of the Roadmap was being seriously explored on the eve of the Lebanese conflagration. Discussions have focused on moving directly to the second phase of the plan, which calls for the convening of an international conference (or a regional variant thereof), the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional boundaries, and the commencement of negotiations on a permanent settlement. The Lebanese situation might allow for speeding up this timetable and move more directly to final status issues.
Several arguments can be mustered to support a Palestinian-centered post-crisis strategy. First, the vast majority of the Israeli and Palestinian publics consistently favor such an option. Second, for Israel, the significance of internationally recognized boundaries has proven to be an immense asset in garnering support for its military action against the Hezbollah. The right of self-defense of one's sovereign territory is not open to question, even when the means employed to do so are disputed. Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank do not enjoy similar backing. Third, the present morass may be attributed, in part, to Israel's preference for unilateral steps as opposed to negotiated agreements in Lebanon as well as in Gaza. And fourth, it is now apparent that viable states able to exercise power and subdue armed militias are a key to achieving human security in the region.
An Israeli-Palestinian accord will not eradicate Islamic extremists. But by removing the main excuse for their heightened popularity, providing hope for a better future, and furnishing an attractive alternative to their retrogressive worldview, it can go a long way towards weakening their appeal and marginalizing their activities. Such an agreement is the linchpin for a more comprehensive arrangement along the lines suggested by the Arab League initiative.
What you think? Comments welcome.
Israel’s wealth gap continues to widen
The top tenth's average income was 12.1 times that of the bottom tenth in 2005.
by Zeev Klein / Globes Online / July 24, 2006
The gap between Israel’s rich and poor continues to widen. Average gross income of Israel’s top tenth reached NIS 39,671 a month in 2005, 12.1 times the average monthly income of Israel’s bottom tenth of NIS 3,279, according the Central Bureau of Statistics’s 2005 Income Survey, published today ... READ THE REST HERE
Israel's Strategic Quandaries in Lebanon
by Shalom Lappin / Normblog / July 20, 2006
As the air war in Lebanon continues into its second week, Israel's strategic quandaries in the north are becoming increasingly apparent. In May 2000 it unilaterally withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon to the international boundary. Hizbollah quickly entrenched itself along the border and built up a large arsenal of short and intermediate range missiles supplied by Iran and Syria. While the past six years saw no major military engagement along this front, Hizbollah frequently punctured the relative calm in the area with local katyusha barrages and occasional forays across the border, particularly in the area of Har Dov, near Syria ...
READ THE REST HERE
On Israel, We Must Never Be Silent
by Jonathan Tasini / Common Dreams / July 27, 2006
When I announced that I was entering the race for the US Senate, I began with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I am not a professional politician whose sole goal is to accumulate power, so I have the freedom to speak my mind and I will not be silent.
The truth is that while people view talking about Israel-Palestine as the “third rail” of politics in New York, the more I think about it, the more I realize that there are a growing number of people in the Jewish community who are willing to speak up, out of love for Israel, about the dreadful occupation and the never-ending violence that is spinning out of control, in large part because ... READ THE REST HERE
Friday, July 28, 2006
YONATAN SHAPIRA: In the year of 2003, I initiated... a group of Air Force pilots... and we published this letter... in which we declared our refusal to take part in these attacks on civilians. And ... some of us formed ... the group named “Combatants for Peace,” which is a group of Israeli former militants and Palestinian former militants who came together to the conclusion that there is no military solution to the violence and the conflict in the Middle East.
And my message here today is that if you will let the Israeli government to solve this conflict, it means the destruction of my country and the destruction of the neighbors’ countries....We finally understood that we are just part of this circle of mutual violence, circle of revenge. And once you understand that you are part of this circle, you understand that there is no much difference between the terror that you are suffering from and the terror that you are involved in....
But now the idea is we believe that people like us who were part of the Israeli Army, who were part of the core of the Zionist enterprise and still care about their country and their people and love Israel, and .... I have friends that are now sitting in shelters.... But we believe that it’s our obligation now to shout this and to call the world: if you care about my country, if you care about the Israeli people, as well the Palestinian and the Lebanese who are now suffering, you must put massive pressure on the Israeli government, and putting pressure on the Israeli government means putting pressure on your government.
URI ZAKI: .... unlike Yonatan, I differentiate between what’s going on in the Occupied Territories, meaning Gaza and the West Bank – and I’m saying Gaza, even though we withdraw from Gaza – and what’s going on in Lebanon. The way I see it, the peace camp, the camp that I’m a member of, proud member of, has been always advocating towards a withdrawal to international recognized borders by Israel.
And that’s what we did in Lebanon. We withdrew exactly by meter by meter, centimeter by centimeter, to the borders as were declared by the United Nations. Now, once these borders were determined, any violation of Israeli sovereignty beyond these borders, like Hezbollah did, meaning attacking Israel with rockets and killing some of our soldiers, kidnaping others, that has to be answered by force, because that was a violation of our sovereignty beyond our border.
YONATAN SHAPIRA: I have a question to Uri. The conclusion that you made, that has to be answered by force, who said that? Who said that by force we are going to save our country? Maybe it’s some conception that you were raised upon and all those values and all those principles that we got during our education, in processing Israel. I don't believe and I think the rest of the world, the enlightened world, do not believe that there is a solution that will come out by using force and using the Israeli military. And just think about what the Israeli government is saying now. They refuse [a] ceasefire. They refuse to stop the war. And missiles are falling on our families in Haifa, and at the same time, our leaders refuse to stop the war.
URI ZAKI: Yonatan, I respect your act of refusal, even though I don't necessarily support it. But I think because of your courageous act, you cease to differentiate between two different realities, the reality of occupation and the reality of a country defending itself. I think Hezbollah and also the Lebanese state, I mean the Lebanese government, did not try to prevent Hezbollah from standing on our border. I think Hezbollah is a terrorist group, a similar group to many groups that are now threatening the Western world.
We did nothing to provoke the Hezbollah from attacking us. I think it’s a different story than the Occupied Territories, which the activities there were the reason for your act of refusal. I think it’s a different story, and I think, yes, once a country is being attacked on its borders, I don't see any other thing we can do. By the way, in a way, we tried another way. Israel – it’s not the first time that the Hezbollah attacked over our northern borders. The two past times that it was done, there was no reaction, no military reaction. And indeed for the third time, if we would have been silent right now, in a few months they would do another violent act, maybe more viciously.
YONATAN SHAPIRA: .... First of all, this morning I talked to one of the leaders of Meretz, [MK] Zehava Gal-On, and she agreed with me that international pressure must be applied on the state of Israel, on the government of Israel, to force them to stop this crazy operation that eventually can cause to a nuclear war. We know that the situation in the Middle East is very fragile, and the Bush administration do not need much... to get us all involved in a regional war and maybe a world war. These are things who are much more dangerous for us from missiles in Haifa. The situation can get much worse.
And tell me, please, why do you think that killing innocent Lebanese, by now 330, most of them civilians, children and women, why do you think that killing these innocent people will bring you some kind of security? It’s the same kind of logic to think that if you kill Lebanese civilians, you will force them to bring Israel security or to press the Hezbollah is the same kind of logic that maybe Nastrallah is trying to shoot Israeli cities and forcing, by that, the Israeli people to convince the Israeli government to stop this war. It’s the same kind of insanity.
And although – just last important thing – although it’s not the same situation in Gaza and in the Occupied Territories and in Lebanon, the same insanity and the same cruelty and the same stupidity of our leaders is now being on the spot. This is the danger, because the leaders of this country now and in the Lieutenant General, General Halutz, who is now leading this crazy war, will not hesitate to get Syria and to get Iran involved, and this is my greatest fear.
AMY GOODMAN: Uri Zaki, that first point, why you think the killing of Lebanese civilians is justified?
URI ZAKI: I don't think that the killing of – God forbid – that the killing of the Lebanese civilians is the purpose of the Israeli assault. Of course, that happens in [the] situation of [offensives]. Now, I don't think that the NATO forces, when they tried to bring down Milosevic, with what they did with the former Yugoslavia, wanted to hurt innocent civilians, and yet it did, and eventually Milosevic was tried in an international court of justice.
What I’m saying is – and by the way, Yonatan is right. We have different views in our own party, because in this operation I think Zehava is maybe the most extreme presenter of the view that Yonatan is presenting, but most of the party is not there....
Thursday, July 27, 2006
And there are millions of dollars disappearing in smoke every day. The cash that tourists would have been spending in Beirut, Haifa, and Nahariya. The fruit rotting on trees in orchards in northern Israel and southern Lebanon, because the farmers have had to flee. The bridges and roads, the factories, shops and apartment buildings that have been hit by bombs from Israeli planes and Hezbollah rockets. The thousands upon thousands of people fleeing to safer areas, leaving behind jobs. These are also some of the costs.
It is impossible not to feel compassion for the victims we see on TV, or whose stories we read in the papers. And it is impossible not to feel anger at those who provoked this cycle of violence. And it is impossible not to feel rage at the wanton destruction taking place.
I will not discuss the morality of the use of force. Every question leads to another. Well-meaning people agree that Israel has the right to defend itself, but then scream that Israel is using disproportionate force in its fight with Hezbollah. What is proportionate force? Killing 10 people instead of 100? In the battle for public opinion, perception is all. And in this battle, Israel is definitely losing more than Hezbollah is.
It was maybe 20 years ago when Israel was conducting one of its periodic campaigns against road accidents, that some really smart advertising wizard came up with the campaign slogan “Don’t Be Right, Be Wise.” The slogan was a winner. It perfectly captured the fact that even if a driver had a perfectly legal right to go straight through an intersection when there was a green light, it might be a good idea to look and see if some crazy driver was speeding through it against the light. It wouldn’t be very helpful if you had the right of way but disregarded the crazy drivers out there on the road with you, and then had a major accident.
Over the years, I’ve come to believe that this is also some of the most astute political advice I’ve heard. But maybe Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz have been drivers for so long that they’ve forgotten the slogan. It’s time to remind them.
Along with this new contribution from our khaver, David Eden, we include a link and the text of an article with a similar theme, “The Gap Between ‘Right’ and ‘Effective’,” by Meretz-Yahad executive member and Hebrew University Professor Galia Golan.
The gap between 'right' and 'effective' By Galia Golan (July 24, 2006)
Israel has a right to defend itself against foreign attack. But is our current course the wise one?
The generals have spoken. In fact almost all the generals, past (certainly), present and future. But I’m not convinced.
Yes, we have every right to respond to an incursion across our internationally recognized border, especially since we totally withdrew from Lebanon six years ago. And yes, we have every right to respond to Qassam attacks upon civilians in the south.
But what is important, first of all, is how one responds. The two cases are different: Lebanon is a sovereign state; the Palestinian Authority is anything but sovereign. The attack from Lebanon was totally unprovoked; the Qassams are part of the occupation’s cycle of violence, targeted killings and the like.
But in both cases the response (and counter-response) has been collective punishment against civilian populations. In both cases the purpose appears to be (and has been stated by many of the ex-military commentators to whom we have been subjected) to inflict sufficient punishment upon the local population to the point of bringing them to pressure their governments to do what we want them to do.
In the case of Gaza: the goal is to clamp down on the militant Qassam launchers – and possibly also to throw out the Hamas government. In Lebanon, it is to get the Lebanese army to deploy in the south, in order to eject or disarm Hizbullah.
But could these objectives be achieved any other way? Can they be achieved by the way we are currently responding? What purpose does our response really serve?
Crossing the line
Currently, the response addresses the frustration and indignation of the Israeli public, especially those under fire; it also addresses the tarnished pride of the IDF (and perhaps of the government) under the guise of restoring our lost deterrence credibility (which hasn’t worked for many years, possibly decades, if ever. Somehow the Arabs never seem to learn that it does not pay to attack us). But the massive use of Israeli power has probably already crossed the line not only of what might be justified but also of efficacy. The bombing of Lebanon’s infrastructure, the demolition of parts of Beirut and other cities, never mind the destruction of most of the south, and the killing of over 200 mainly civilian Lebanese, have done little to strengthen the Christian and Sunni opposition to Hizbullah. Lebanese anger has been turned against the attackers, Israel, and solidarity has at least temporarily replaced traditional confessional hostilities. In Gaza, the moderate voices of Mahmoud Abbas' supporters and those Hamas elements who supported the national reconciliation program of the prisoners’ document, have certainly been silenced by Israeli tanks and airplanes, to the advantage of the most militant elements of Hamas sitting in Damascus.
No military answer
Will this bring about a release of the Israeli soldiers? Will it stop the Qassams from Gaza or the occasional (in the past) attacks from southern Lebanon?
Again, current and former generals tell us that they realize that the answer is no. The Qassams continue, and will return even if temporarily stopped. Hizbullah cannot be permanently destroyed.
In the case of the soldiers, and in the case of the armed attacks, only political solutions will bring about the desired results, if even they can. An exchange of prisoners, perhaps, and an international force to back up the Lebanese Army, perhaps. This is the most that can be expected – do we need to continue the bloodletting and suffering, on all sides to achieve these?
In whose interest?
Without asking if we needed to even begin this cycle of violence to achieve these, surely the question now is, "do we need to continue?" America may want us to continue to hit Iran and Syria’s proxies in Lebanon, but is that in Israel’s real interest?
Or is our interest better served by a cease-fire, a strong international presence, the beginning of a political process and possibly even agreement with Syria? That would stop Hizbullah far more effectively than we can.
Professor Galia Golan is a professor of Russian and East European Studies at Hebrew University and a long-time Peace Now activist.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Numerous pundits – not to mention government officials and generals – talk of “eradicating,” “cauterizing,” or “surgically removing” terrorism in one country as if once the last terrorist is removed, then a healthy polity can rejuvenate. In fact, there is not a single instance in which Islamist-based terrorist groups or ideologies have been eradicated by campaigns of this sort. Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gaza Strip come quickly and uncomfortably to mind.
These references have proliferated in Israel’s current campaign against Hezbollah, and, incidentally against the people and infrastructure of Lebanon in which it is embedded. Many Israelis have described it as eradicating the “cancer” of Hezbollah (echoing, perhaps unconsciously, the words of Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who refers to Israel as a “cancer” in the Muslim world), and have emphasized the “surgical” nature of Israeli air strikes, despite the hundreds of thousands of refugees they have produced. The strategic tragedy, alongside the human one, is that a campaign reflected in unrealistic metaphors used to describe it, is almost certain to fail.
Presumably the medical metaphors are meant to show that if the terrorist cancer is not completely removed, it will grow back rapidly. Half or 99 percent measures will not help. Thus, drastic military action is the only kind that will allow a healthy organism to rejuvenate.
Like many organic metaphors referring to political life, this is based on reasoning that is fallacious – often dangerously so. If there is one thing that the twentieth century should have taught us, it is that ideologies cannot be stamped out militarily. This does not mean, of course, that countries cannot be utterly defeated, especially when their ideologies are peculiarly nationalistic. Thus, Germany and Japan were successfully subjugated in World War II and were moved, initially by force, onto the path of democratic development and full participation in the international community. But communism, for example, was a much more widespread ideology that could not be crushed by purely military means, and it finally collapsed primarily through its own contradictions. It was contained and fought with varying degrees of success, but never eradicated until the vast majority of its adherents finally concluded it simply did not work.
Violent Islamism is even more difficult to combat, since it is embedded in a huge, ancient, and legitimate religion. The Islamist strategy also includes various positive political and social facets, especially the provision of desperately needed social services that are rarely provided by corrupt and dictatorial regimes. Apart from these positive aspects, the negative elements of hatred of the West, Jews, and Israel, and a conspiratorial explanation for Islamic and Arab decline and weakness, all provide a worldview that fits the existing perceptions of many Arabs and Muslims.
It should also be remembered that Shi’ite Islam – and Hezbollah is a Shi’ite organization – has historically thrived in adversity since its origins in the seventh century. And Lebanon’s population is estimated as 40 percent Shi’ite.
None of this is meant to imply that violent Islamism is not dangerous or cannot be fought. It is dangerous and must be combated. But the idea that a “surgical” operation based primarily on military force can have a significant effect on it, even in one country, is simply wrong. There is no successful example that can be adduced.
Thus, the Israeli campaign is likely to backfire.
Presumably, it will significantly reduce the number of Iranian-supplied Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel, which is not bad. But the cost – of making Hezbollah and similar Islamist groups an even more important force in the Islamic world - may vitiate much of this. Given the weakness of the Lebanese government and its army, it is hard to imagine that the borders of Lebanon can be hermetically sealed against a new flood of weapons coming through Syria, whether or not Israel eventually accepts an international force as part of an eventual cease-fire.
What Israel did not do before launching its campaign was to try to make common cause with the majority of Lebanese who are vehemently opposed to Hezbollah. Of course, there was no guarantee that this would have succeeded, but it would have created much more understanding, had a military campaign followed. Instead, however, Israeli actions have made the ideological fight against Hezbollah and its sister organizations much more problematic and difficult in the long run.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Everybody in this crisis is playing a customary role. Hezbollah (and Hamas previously) have made their provocations and Israel has immeasurably ratcheted up the violence level in response. Now, they can all compete ably as righteously aggrieved parties – we've seen this before.
I hate the wholesale suffering being inflicted upon Lebanese civilians and know that this excess has strengthened support for Hezbollah politically. But given that this has already happened, I hope that the IDF can somehow deliver a blow against the actual Hezbollah fighters and thereby trigger a diplomatic process that removes them and their rockets and missiles from the border. I don't know if this is possible, but it's for this reason that I have reluctantly disagreed with calls for an immediate cease-fire. But I’m not of one mind in this; I know that cease-fires take time to arrange and hope that Secretary Rice can help pull it together.
I think that Meretz USA's statement on the crisis (posted on our homepage) is flawed because it doesn't emphasize enough the need to minimize civilian casualties; I would have preferred more questioning of IDF targeting priorities. To a large degree, we're all floundering in an attempt to make sense of things.
It is amazing how things got so bad, so quickly after we spent time there. I visited with various relatives near Haifa for two days, right after the World Zionist Congress, even strolling along the beach there. (My flight departed on June 25, just before the attack from Gaza that captured Gilad Shalit — who turns out to be related to some of my cousins!) My Haifa- area relatives report that a rocket landed a block from their former home of less than a year ago and that the old downtown post office near my late uncle’s apartment has been hit. They themselves report constant hours and days in shelters and security rooms, and a food shortage due to limited access to a grocery store.
Another cousin has left her boyfriend's house in Nahariya and was in refuge with him near Jerusalem, before returning to her kibbutz next door to Nahariya, where she says that many rockets reported as hitting Nahariya, are actually falling on their grounds. She's the closest to me emotionally, having stayed with me in New York for several months in the fall of 2001, when we experienced 9/11 together. She's a member of Meretz, but actually more dovish than I — an activist in Women in Black and Tayuush (a joint Jewish-Arab Israeli effort to relieve the suffering of Palestinians under the occupation) and remarked upon how difficult it is now, to be "in the opposition."
The following is excerpted from Susie Becher’s article in Ynet:
.... Analysts looking for the answer to how we got here ought to recall the initial demand from the Palestinian militias for the release of female prisoners and children in exchange for Gilad Shalit. In our rush not to negotiate with terrorists (never mind that we have done so in the past and will inevitably end up doing so again this time) no one bothered to consider how it came to be that hundreds of Palestinian women and children are languishing in Israeli jails.
Those who can't understand why the Palestinians haven't given up the struggle in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza might be surprised to learn that they don't share the distinction Israel draws between Gaza and the West Bank, and suffer daily reminders that the demolition of Gush Katif did not leave them a free people in their own land....
... Olmert is still trying to sell the idea that there is a measure of force that has not yet been used but which, when unleashed, will deal what the prime minister called the "winning blow."
More force, he is telling us, will succeed where mere force failed. We must restore the Israel's deterrent power, he is saying, as if the IDF's military superiority has ever been in question and as if it stopped the stones of the first intifada from evolving into explosive belts and rockets.
Whether Hasan Nasrallah gave the order to attack Israel's northern border and take IDF soldiers prisoner because he wanted to come to the aid of the Palestinians, win the release of Sami Kuntar after almost 30 years in captivity, 'liberate' the Sheba Farms farms, or simply strike a blow at the Zionist enemy, Israel certainly had a right to respond.
But as the saying goes, it is better to be smart than right, and the government has been anything but smart from day one. It is proceeding militarily as it did diplomatically prior to this latest outbreak – with no peripheral vision....
Monday, July 24, 2006
This statement of July 22, from the Meretz party website, is translated by Sol Salbe of the Independent Middle East News Service, sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. This service "concentrates on providing alternative information, chiefly from Israeli sources."
Salbe notes: “This is a significant development. A mere ten days after the Hezbollah attack and the commencement of the Israeli operations, a predominantly Jewish-Israeli party has broken ranks in Israel....
“Note also that, unlike Olmert, Bush and Howard [Australia’s prime minister], Meretz is not calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, but something much more achievable (not too mention sensible.)...."
The Meretz-Yahad Management Committee:
1) Is of the opinion that Israel has right to act, in a manner conforming to the state’s values, against those who impinge upon its sovereignty. Our in-principle support for a response should not be taken as endorsement of every operation, particularly those which are disproportional, such as attacks on civilian concentrations and the regional infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
2) Expresses empathy with the people of the north and Negev and demands that the government ensures that those residents do not suffer financial hardship in addition to the heavy price that they are paying in terms of their security.
3) Calls on the government to take the lead in organizing an immediate mutual cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Such a cease-fire should simultaneously ensure the return of the kidnapped soldier; the cessation of the firing of Qassam rockets and all other hostile activities; the termination of Israel’s military operations for the Gaza strip, targeted assassinations and artillery shelling; and the release of prisoners, (most importantly the elected Palestinian Authority officials that were arrested by Israel at the commencement of the military operation.)
4) Calls on the government to take the lead in organizing an immediate mutual cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon, in accordance with the call of the prime minster of Lebanon, Fuad Siniora. Such a cease-fire should simultaneously ensure: the return of the kidnapped soldiers, the cessation of all other hostilities, the removal of Hezbollah from southern Lebanon and its replacement by the Lebanese army or a multi-national force and the release of prisoners.
5) Is opposed to any broadening of the IDF operation in Lebanon pending the cease-fire.
6) Is resolved to give voice within the Israel public for an Israeli initiative leading to a peace agreement with the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, Syria and Lebanon.
And this from yesterday's Haaretz on the position of Meretz Members of Knesset:
Meretz leaders held a meeting Thursday on the fighting in the north, at the end of which they called on the government to try to reach a cease-fire and start negotiations.
Meretz faction whip MK Zehava Gal-On was adamant in stating that Israel should operate according to Israeli, not American, interests and should not let Israel Defense Forces troops become U.S. President George W. Bush's cannon fodder.
According to MK Haim Oron (Meretz), there is no debate on Israel's right to defend her sovereignty, "but this does not grant legitimacy for all military operations. I fear that this war deviates from the limits we set initially. We must warn against sinking anew in the Lebanese mud."
Friday, July 21, 2006
Yossi Beilin was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, three days ago, with the following:
"[Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah managed to unite Israel in a way that no president, prime minister or chief of staff has ever been able to do. Our operation is very much justified," said Yossi Beilin, leader of the left-wing Meretz party.
Beilin also sounded a note of caution.
"Without a diplomatic process, this story will never end. Anyone who thinks that the Hezbollah will be pushed back and the kidnapped soldiers returned through military action alone is wrong," he said.
The following analysis by MK Beilin of the situation in Gaza is from a Haaretz feature, reprinted in the July 14 issue of The Forward, in which he was one of four prominent Israeli security and political figures interviewed:
.... People on both the right and the left believed a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza would strengthen the extremists, who do not want dialogue and peace. That is exactly what happened. From the point of view of many Palestinians, the withdrawal proved it is possible to achieve with violence what cannot be achieved by negotiation. Ten years of dialogue did not produce the results of four years of intifada.
No Palestinian bought the spin according to which the disengagement was due to some deep political consideration on the part of Sharon. The disengagement was perceived as capitulation to terrorism. It played into the hands of Hamas, which used it to show that it was the only one that could liberate territories. Did Hamas win only because of the disengagement? No. But the disengagement gave it a tremendous advantage....
As a result of the disengagement and as a result of the waste of an entire year in which Abu Mazen was in total control in the PA – from January 2005 until January 2006 – many Palestinians formed the impression that the Jews understand only force. Those Palestinians concluded that only the use of force and more force and more force would get Israel out of the West Bank in the same way that Israel left Gaza. Even before the Hamas victory, pragmatic Palestinian leaders asked me in closed meetings what in the world Israel was doing to them, why Israel was rendering them irrelevant. After all, it is very difficult to persuade the Palestinian public to embark on the oath of compromise and negotiations when Israel is giving everything for free, as a consequence of violent pressure.
Not long ago one of the most senior and most moderate of the Palestinians told me even harsher things. “For years, he said, “we have been struggling on the Palestinian street for an Israeli-Palestinian peace. We explain that we have to accept the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and an exchange of territories and agree to demilitarization and make a compromise on the question of the refugees, so that in the end there will be a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But if Israel leaves all of Gaza and 90 percent of the West Bank, do you think we will be able [to] persuade any Palestinian to agree to these painful concessions in return for the remaining 10 percent of the area?”
... [T]he cumulative result of the disengagement and the realignment will not be the hastening of a political process, but a forgoing of a political process. I say this unequivocally: the unilateral withdrawals distance the prospect for peace. We are asking the Palestinians to forgo quite a lot in a peace agreement. They will not agree to that in return for 10 percent of the West Bank.
The disengagement had two virtues. One was that, as a result, we rule fewer Palestinians. The second was that it created the precedent of the evacuation of settlements on a massive scale. In both of those senses, it succeeded. But if anyone thought it would bring calm, the disengagement failed. If anyone thought it would bring us closer to a political process, it failed. It was the most idiotic way to leave Gaza.... It gave the Palestinians the feeling that there is no reason to make concessions and it gave the Israelis the feeling that withdrawals do not produce quiet. And now both of those feelings are mutually reinforcing each other. The Palestinians say that only force leads to withdrawal and are using force, and the Israelis see that use of force and conclude that withdrawal only heightens the violence.
I foresaw this. I knew the disengagement would strengthen Hamas and that if it was not followed by negotiations, it would also heighten the violence. As a result, I faced a harsh dilemma over whether to support the disengagement. What tipped the scale is that a party like Meretz could not vote against the ending of occupation, however partial, or against the evacuation of settlements. A party like Meretz has no choice in this matter. . . .
So I supported the disengagement... even though it was the most wrong-headed idea in the world. Now Olmert is talking about convergence. It’s clear that convergence is the most idiotic way to leave the West Bank. To leave 90 percent of the area? To leave without negotiations? Without a quid pro quo? Without an agreement?
Last week I met Olmert and I told him: Benjamin Netanyahu is sitting here. He says the partner is weak and he doesn’t trust him and therefore he is not budging. I think he is wrong but I understand his logic. What I don’t understand, Olmert, is your logic.... What are you saying? That I have a weak partner whom I do not trust and therefore I am giving him 90 percent of the area for free?
It’s clear, you know, what will happen in the territories if we implement the convergence. We will have Hamastan on both sides. While the whole world is fighting Islamic terrorism, we lend a hand to the development of a terror source. And we will make [an] historic concession of recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and on recognition of our eastern border, and on the removal from the agenda of the refugee problem....
Anyone who gives up 90 percent of the area and thinks this is an opening to [further] negotiations is hallucinating. A unilateral withdrawal from 90 percent of the West Bank means that there will be no incentive for a Palestinian leader ever to reach an agreement with us. The convergence means the most dramatic possible diminishment of the chance to reach a peace agreement in our lifetime.
The convergence is worse than the disengagement from another point of view as well. In the disengagement, at least there was the complete evacuation of the settlements. Not one settler remained in the Gaza Strip. In the convergence, in contrast, the intention is to sweeten the pill for the settlers by allowing 70,000 of them to live in the 10 percent of the territory that will remain in Israel?s hands. That means building 15,000 homes across the Green Line. It means a building boom in the settlement blocs. We will not lend a hand to that. At most we will vote in favor of disengagement in the West Bank; we will not vote in favor of convergence. If the departure from the West Bank is conditional on the building of settlement blocs, we will vote against the convergence. Under no circumstances will we raise our hands to support massive building in blocs.
Therefore, the convergence plan will not pass. Without Merertz, Olmert has 55 supporters on a clear day. With us, he has 60 and the prospect of support or abstention by the Arab parties. If we vote against the convergence, there is no chance that an Arab party will support it or abstain. On the other hand, if we vote for disengagement, there is a chance that some of them will vote in favor or abstain, in which case Olmert might have a narrow majority. So I say that there will be no convergence. Politically, there cannot be convergence. It is utterly absurd. But there might be disengagement.
It is possible that in the end I will again support and cry. We are liable to undertake a historic move, which I will support, and which will prevent the attainment of the Zionist goal: a Jewish state living in peace with its neighbors. That could happen. But Ehud Olmert is intelligent. I respect him. So I hope he knows that he bears a heavy responsibility.
And I insist that before leading us into such a wrongheaded move that he give us an explanation. An explanation of the logic. After all, he knows today that he will not get international recognition for the West Bank line. The Europeans told him explicitly that there is no chance that Europe will recognize his border as a permanent border. And if he said 90 percent as an opening position, he will get to 95 percent, too. In my opinion, he will not be able to get to less than 100 percent. And, if so, why not try an agreement? If you are ready to pay a Beilin price, why not try to get a Beilin quid pro quo?
Take the worst-case scenario. Take the scenario in which, on the day after the signing, the Palestinian partner leaves for Paris and does not implement anything. You will still have foreign embassies in Jerusalem. You will still have diplomatic relations with Arab states. You will have international recognition of the eastern border. You will have no refugees on your head. So why not do it? For 10 percent? For 530 square kilometers? This is an incomprehensible approach. Incomprehensible. So I say that you can be Bibi. That has logic to it. And you can be Beilin. I certainly think that has logic. But you cannot be Olmert. Olmert's unilateral conception lacks all logic."
Thursday, July 20, 2006
.... Israelis have been informed by their ever-reliable media that the G8 statement is an unequivocal and ringing endorsement of all Israeli positions (“the world: ‘we are right!’” screamed one newspaper headline; “the statement might have been written by Olmert,” suggested a TV news commentator), which is a shame, as the statement itself... is far more nuanced. The gaping chasm is its failure to demand an immediate, unconditional cessation of hostilities – the agreed language being “create the conditions” for this to happen, but it does begin by stating that “the root cause of the problem is the absence of a comprehensive peace,” it distinguishes between different elements in Hamas (a first), rejects unilateralism and understands the need for political engagement and negotiations. It’s a starting point – but where’s the muscle?
Oh, and anyone surprised at the absence of muscle to end the bloodshed might ask a Darfurian just how bad things can get before the world – well actually, [the world] still fails to act decisively….
Israel apparently has several more days to inflict pain on the Hezbollah and its military capacity (while at the same time terrorizing, and sometimes worse, Lebanon’s civilian population and taking out a fair chunk of that country’s infrastructure). Hezbollah’s raid into Northern Israel was indeed unprovoked, Israel certainly has the right to defend itself, and the situation in Southern Lebanon, namely the absence of the sovereign Lebanese state and army giving free reign to the Hezbollah militia is both in contravention of UNSCR 1559 and untenable over time.... This time there may be a need and possibility to replace the beleaguered and discredited UNIFIL forces with a more robust international presence (as called for by Annan and Blair ) and the expending of greater diplomatic energy and creativity on solutions for Lebanon that move towards meeting the terms of UNSCR 1559, but Lebanese internal politics will remain devilishly complicated.
Oh, and then there’s the minor irritation of the Iranian and Syrian roles. The absence of a serious and comprehensive international dialogue with Iran and Syria, to which the US would be a party, will continue to perhaps fatally handicap the prospects for real positive results in Lebanon. Akiva Eldar in Haaretz has called for a Grand Bargain in this op-ed piece, which includes a realization of the broad Israeli-Arab normalization envisaged in the Saudi Initiative.
.... The last years – since the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 and especially after the Hariri killing and Syrian withdrawal – have been a gargantuan missed opportunity for Israeli diplomacy. Why did Israel not initiate a public overture – offering Lebanese prisoners in return for certain steps in the South for instance, or make this a priority talking point with the US or international community? Because we were too busy discrediting the Palestinians and legitimizing unilateralism. Ultimately the Hezbollah presence will require a political solution, the military campaign is at best a partial palliative, at worst a fillip to extremists throughout the region....
.... Any eventual ceasefire and de-escalation must be seized as an opportunity to move towards the renewal of a political peace process. By linking any ceasefire to a political track both may be given the necessary oxygen to succeed. The vacuum created by no political horizon or international engagement are two of the key factors that led to the latest political crisis....
Bury Unilateralism; Israel withdrew from the Sinai in the context of a negotiated peace agreement with Egypt and from parts of the Arava in a negotiated peace treaty with Jordan – [the] results: quiet borders, no military exchanges since, solid if cool peace. Israel withdrew from South Lebanon and Gaza unilaterally without agreements – enough said.
After the latest events, avoidance of negotiations with the Palestinians and pursuit of a unilateral convergence on the West Bank, or re-alignment, or disengagement or whatever new name is found, is a joke in poor taste....
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
....If one party to a conflict decides on an unlimited war, then that frees the other parties to do likewise. In a war without rules, there would be nothing to prevent carpet bombing of Beirut or gas attacks on Haifa or Tiberias, and there would not even be a yardstick by which such things could be condemned. The immunity of civilians from such things depends on the willingness of all parties, even the stronger ones, to acknowledge the law. The doctrine of proportionality is not simply an injunction upon the strong to protect the civilians on the weaker side; instead, it is a principle that must be acknowledged by all sides if they are to appeal for the lives of their own noncombatants.
But there is an even more fundamental reason why international law matters. It is very rare for a military victory, no matter how decisive, to end the underlying conflict, and when the war is over, the issues will still have to be resolved and the conflicting parties rebuilt. Any measure that conserves human life and civilian infrastructure during the war will make those tasks that much easier, while scorched-earth warfare might win an immediate victory at the cost of making the underlying conflict more intractable. Israel, for instance, has won all its wars, some more decisively than others, but even its most spectacular military victories have failed to resolve the political conflicts that lie at their root. The ultimate solution has to be political, and in those cases where wars must be fought, it's important to fight them in a way that doesn't make reconstruction and mediation more difficult. That means doing everything possible to protect civilian life on the other side, and not damaging infrastructure in a way that might threaten the postwar stability of the opposing state.
Israel clearly has the right to defend itself against Hezbollah's attacks, and it can be frustrating to follow the rules when the enemy doesn't acknowledge them. It can be difficult to hold back and be discriminating in the choice of targets when the enemy claims the right to attack civilian targets or even denies that there is such a thing as an Israeli civilian. Nevertheless, even aside from the fact that conserving human life is a moral good, following international humanitarian law and limiting the scope of warfare is critical if there is to be a hope of multilateral resolution and a postwar political settlement....
R. Seliger comments: I am very concerned and troubled about this question of proportionality and what might be disproportionate, but as one reader responding to Headheeb’s discourse indicated below, the answer is complicated:
“What is ‘proportionate’ when the enemy has vowed to destroy you? What is the lawful answer to ‘We will annihilate you?’ Because that is what Hezbollah and Hamas want, and even though they may not be able to accomplish it now, they openly state it as a long-term goal.
"Pound the %&*# out of these two until they are so damaged that they can never recover. And try to minimize civilian casualties and other unwarranted harm, but that may be difficult when you're fighting people who think private homes are a good place to store missiles.”
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Once this happened, even Palestinian and Israeli children knew what to expect: Israel’s armed forces would unleash their wrath, and the Palestinian population would suffer. Innocent children and grandmothers would be killed, families would be traumatized, livelihoods destroyed, and a new crop of recruits to the rows of “suicide martyrs” would be born. The anger of the population, born of the harsh Israeli measures after the abduction would force the Hamas leadership in Gaza to once again coalesce under the leadership in Damascus, men who are sworn to keep on fighting to destroy Israel and establish a fundamentalist Islamist state in all of Palestine.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak intervened to try to assure the release of Shalit, and senior Israeli ministers began alluding to the possibility of the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the young soldier. A few voices of common folk in Gaza were heard criticizing the abduction, because of the pain and destruction raining down upon the population. There were even expressions of empathy for the pain caused to the family of Gilad. Could it be that Meshal might end up loosing this round?
And then, Hezbollah sent its men over the border from Lebanon, and set up an ambush that resulted in the death of several Israeli soldiers on patrol along the Israeli side of the border, and the abduction of 2 reservists: Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Israeli forces immediately lashed out, destroying the Hezbollah outposts along the border (most were formerly Israeli positions abandoned by Israel when it withdrew from Southern Lebanon in 2000). Hezbollah let loose barrages of rockets aimed at civilian targets in Northern Israel, and the Israeli Air Force damaged the runway at Beirut airport, cutting off the Hezbollah from being re-supplied with rockets from Iran. The cycle of violence continues to escalate, and more civilians are suffering and damage is being done to the economy on both sides of the border.
With Hezbollah’s intervention, the picture becomes clearer, despite the fog of war. It is impossible to believe that they did not have the blessing of their patron, the Islamist regime in Iran. One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that Ahmedinajad and other pan-Islamists such as Hezbollah’s Nasrallah and Hamas’ Meshal cannot allow any move towards resolving the Palestinian – Israeli conflict peacefully, which is what the “Prisoner’s Document” envisioned. So now, along with thousands of Palestinians and other Arab prisoners, three Israelis are held hostage. As are the populations of Israel, the PA, Lebanon, and ....
Monday, July 17, 2006
Some Israeli analysts are calling the G-8 statement ... “an enormous political achievement” for Israel because of G-8 support for Israel's basic position – that Hezbollah and Hamas stop launching attacks on Israel and return the abducted soldiers and that the Lebanese government implemented UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for Beirut to disarm the Hezbollah....
The country is in a state of semi-paralysis. Tel Aviv is under “alert,” which means keeping aware of the news, say Home Front officers, while basically everyone living north of the Haifa to Afula line are staying home or close to it, and only going to work if absolutely necessary. That's about 20 percent of the Israeli population. True, the casualty figures on Israel's side are about a tenth of those on the Lebanese side, but while the Israelis attack very specific Hezbollah-related sites, there is something very random about the Hezbollah rocket fire. South Beirut's Dahiye neighborhood, where Hezbollah maintained its headquarters – and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were positioned – has been leveled, but a kilometer away, in the same city, people can go to work normally. In Haifa, on the other hand, the rockets that struck yesterday, including one that killed eight workers in a railroad depot, have effectively shut down the city.
There is a general and genuine national consensus in Israel in favor of delivering a crushing blow to the Hezbollah, a consensus that runs much deeper than the one the government claims to exist for the attempts to crush Hamas. For one thing, many Israelis understand that while Israel left Gaza, it has not relinquished control over the Strip and in effect imprisoned the Gazans. But Israel really did quit Lebanon, down to the last centimeter, in May 2000, and Hezbollah's attacks – and its stockpiling of rockets as a 'deterrent' threat against Israel – is intolerable for Israelis....
So, the rocket fire into Israel continues, though Israeli experts say it’s diminishing as Israeli planes attack Hezbollah's strategic positions as well as rocket launchers. Nazareth and Afula were hit this morning. There are no plans for a ground invasion of Lebanon, and the current assessments are that the Israeli campaign could be over by the end of the week. But Israel will not let up its pressure on the Lebanese government until it sees Lebanese troops replacing Hezbollah militiamen in southern Lebanon. Lebanese Army troops in south Lebanon would mean that Israel could hold the Beirut government responsible for any cross-border attacks, so presumably, the Lebanese Army would make sure not to allow any.
However, while it seems logical – to Israelis, at least – that Lebanon's sovereign government take control over the southern part of the country, it might not be possible without help from an international force. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan apparently agree on the need for just such an international force. The G-8 statement, which is being recommended to the UN Security Council, could be turned into a UN Security Council resolution that might include a UN force, something Israel would oppose because in Israel's experience, UN forces are powerless, able only to defend themselves.... At the very least, Israel would insist on a “multinational” force....
Read the entire posting at ariga.com
I totally agree with his view that Israel’s cause in this war is just, but I have strong reservations about Israel’s strategy and tactics. Israel’s stated goal on both the Gaza and Lebanon fronts is to compel the appropriate authorities, among both Palestinians and Lebanese, to disarm terror groups and to end rocket and other cross-border attacks on Israel’s internationally recognized territory. Israel is attacking all of Lebanon and widely within Gaza, causing wholesale damage and wide civilian suffering in pursuit of these aims.
A similar strategy — to force the PA to act against Hamas and Islamic Jihad — failed utterly when Ariel Sharon virtually demolished the Palestinian Authority’s administrative structure and security forces several years ago. As then, I prefer a more carefully calibrated and narrowly targeted military campaign against the aggressors — Hezbollah and the Palestinian terror groups who have attacked Israel. — R. Seliger
Israel at war, first thoughts: The Left should be supporting Israel in this war
No socialist group in Britain is saying what needs to be said today about the crisis in the Middle East. All the groups on the organized Left are busy denouncing Israel for its "aggression" against Gaza and Lebanon. Many are expressing their solidarity with the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples. None are saying that Israel needs and deserves the support of the Left. But that is exactly what they should be saying.
One doesn't have to go back decades, as is the tradition in articles of this sort, to explain. Let's just go back to the dawn of the twenty-first century. In Israel, the far Right has been defeated in elections. A coalition government including the Left is in power, and is committed to ending the conflict with the Arab world. In 2000, as a first step, it completely withdraws all Israeli forces from every last inch of Lebanese soil. Even the United Nations admits that the Israeli withdrawal is complete, and conforms with all UN resolutions. The Lebanese government is obligated to move its army up to the international border. It does not do so.
Now fast-forward five years. It's 2005 and the Israeli government decides to withdraw from Gaza after 38 years of occupation. Every single Israeli settlement is closed, despite a massive campaign of civil disobedience by settlers and their supporters. The country is torn apart by angry debate, the Right implodes, but in the end, every last Israeli soldier is withdrawn from every inch of the Gaza strip.
Israel still occupies the Golan Heights and West Bank, and those of us on the Left legitimately call for the Israeli government to negotiate the return of those territories. [But] let's not forget that those territories were seized in a war of self-defence in June 1967.
If there had been a violent uprising among Palestinians in the West Bank, or among the Druze living in the Golan, one might have understood. After all, their Arab brethren in Lebanon and Gaza were now free of Israeli soldiers and their hated roadblocks and searches and arrests.
But while the West Bank remained relatively calm, and the Golan completely quiet, Israel suddenly found itself under attack from precisely those territories which it had evacuated. Let's be absolutely clear about the nature of the attack. It was not the case that some Palestinian "militants" (as the BBC calls them) seized one Israeli soldier near Gaza. Those same terrorists (let us call things by their right names), having interpreted the 2005 withdrawal as a sign of Israeli weakness, have been bombarding the western Negev desert for months with their Qassam missiles. And at the first opportunity, the Palestinians voted out the regime which had recognised the right of the Jewish state to exist and replaced it with the Islamo-fascist Hamas, which aims to create an Islamist state from the Jordan river to the sea.
The Islamo-fascists of Hezbollah joined in the fun shortly thereafter with a massive rocket barrage attacking Israeli towns, cities and kibbutzim from the shores of the Mediterranean to the foothills of the Golan, destroying homes and killing and wounding innocent civilians. Under cover of that barrage, they launched a raid to kill and capture Israeli soldiers on Israeli soil.
Israel is under attack -- unprovoked, brutal attack. Attack by forces such as Hamas and Hezbollah with which socialists have nothing in common.
And Israel is responding in the way that any state, even a state with a workers' government, even an ideal socialist state, would respond. It is hitting back with all the firepower at its disposal, but doing so in a way to minimize civilian casualties. That is why it decided to flatten Hamas' foreign ministry building at 2:00 in the morning, when it was unoccupied. Or used targetted aerial bombardment to create craters in the runways of Beirut airport, rather than bombing terminals crammed with people. (Either way, they would have shut down the airport -- but they chose a way that saved innocent lives.)
At the present time, Israel has more powerful and more effective weapons than their opponents. Their situation today is a bit like that facing the Allies near the end of the second world war. By that time, Germany and Japan were severely weakened. Did that lead the Soviet Union, which was doing the bulk of the fighting, and its western allies to let up? To give the Nazi regime a break? Not at all. They took advantage of their superiority and hit harder -- to bring the war to and end as quickly as possible.
Israel's military should use all its power to defend the country and decisively defeat its enemies -- while taking every precaution to reduce the number of innocent civilian casualties on both sides to an absolute minimum.
The real question for socialists when a war like this breaks out is to look at what will happen if either side wins. Let us imagine that Israel wins -- meaning that the captured soldiers are returned and the rocket attacks from Gaza and Lebanon end. The result will not only be good for Israel, but good for the Palestinians and Lebanese as well. The Islamo-fascists will be weakened. Democratic and secular forces will be strengthened. Socialists should cheer this on.
Now image what happens if Hamas and Hezbollah win. They over-run the Jewish state, slaughtering and expelling its several million Jewish inhabitants. They create a reactionary theocratic dictatorship along the lines of their benefactor, Iran. No one benefits -- not the Jews, not the Arabs. This a result that only fascists could applaud.
Some socialists are pacifists and oppose all wars. But most of us understand that sometimes a country has to fight. And sometimes two peoples go to war against each other, and we have to take sides. We look at the reasons behind the fighting and more important -- we look at the consequences of victory for one side or the other.
Looking at the war taking place today in the Middle East, it is clear to me that the position taken by the Left in Britain and elsewhere is wrong. We should be giving our full support to Israel, while of course insisting that the Israeli military behave according to international law and keep civilian casualties to a minimum. We should insist that at the end of the fighting, Israeli forces be pulled back to the international border with Lebanon, and withdrawn from Gaza. And we should support a renewal of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians leading to a withdrawal from the West Bank.
Our view as socialists of Hamas and Hezbollah should be absolutely clear: these are the enemy. We have nothing in common with Islamo-fascism and look forward to it suffering a crushing defeat in battle.
As I write these words, I realize that many friends and comrades will disagree with me. I invite them to respond, to engage in debate, and above all to listen and try to understand. In the end, the important thing is not to say what is popular, what wins friends and gets applause. Our job as socialists is above all to tell the truth. And that is what I have done here.
Friday, July 14, 2006
An attack on the Lebanese electric system, or a blow to infrastructure, would be a bad mistake. This would be pointless collective punishment that would again link the pragmatic elements on the other side to the extremist elements, in common hatred of us and a desire to take revenge. On the other hand, direct action against the Hizbullah is what is most called for, and I would not reject out of hand operating against military targets in Syria as well. Syria is the element that enables Hizbullah's activity in Lebanon and which is preventing the Army of Lebanon from moving down to the Israel-Lebanon border. Syria is the intersection at which the Palestinian terrorist organizations meet up with the Lebanese terror organization, while the government itself zigzags between public encouragement and turning a blind eye while offering tacit encouragement.
I hear the voices calling for "going back to the stone age." We remember the "stone age"; we remember the days, the nights, the soldiers who were killed, the soldiers who were burned, the red-eyed parents, the fear of turning on the radio every day, every hour — the feeling that the strip of land known as the Security Zone was turning into a strip that was strangling us — until people on the right and the left came together to put an end to that terrible mistake. We must not go back to it, and there is no reason to go back to it.
A unilateral departure, by its very nature, is a temporary solution. After a unilateral step, there had to have been a supreme effort to reinforce the withdrawal with a comprehensive agreement. We did not do so in Lebanon, and we did not do so in Gaza. One of the lessons of these withdrawals is that, in their wake, we must reach an agreement that turns the unilateral measure into a bilateral one.
We must not delude anyone into thinking that this or that military operation can bring about the longed-for quiet. Even the commander of the Israel Air Force recently said that neither an aerial operation nor a ground-based operation would stop the firing of Qassam rockets from Gaza. Instead, we must head towards an immediate cease-fire. Quiet can be achieved as it was with Egypt, as with Jordan, only when we sit at the negotiating table and reach agreements. To my regret, due to bad mistakes by Israel and by Syria, we have missed several opportunities to reach a settlement, and even after the military confrontation we will need to look for the option that is always and ever the last one: to talk.
This was translated by Meretz USA's assistant director, Ron Skolnik, from a posting on the Meretz-Yahad Hebrew-language website.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Again, as with Gaza, Israel has been provoked by Arab attacks from territories where it has completely withdrawn. This has incalculably damaged the political viability of the Israeli peace camp and caused further splits within its ranks. Most of the Labor party, the second largest component of the Olmert coalition government, is standing firmly with IDF operations on both fronts.
Lilly Rivlin, Meretz USA's president, reports from Israel today that “Meretz is the only party that is calling for something different than the present government is doing, including members of the Labor party, who are also now saying there is no one to talk to. [Education minister and a dovish Labor MK] Yuli Tamir was attacked in a women's forum held yesterday at the Van Leer Institute.... ‘There is no one to talk to’, she said, and voices in the audience yelled, ‘Let the women go talk to Hamas’.”
As with Gaza, Israel clearly has the right to respond militarily to attacks, but there is an issue of proportionality and the appropriateness of targets. A commonsense view, voiced on NPR this morning, from a bystander stranded by Israel’s violent shutdown of Beirut’s international airport: “Why don’t they attack the people who took the prisoners?”
This echoes my feeling as well, that Israel should not be warring with all of Lebanon but against Hezbollah alone. I may be wrong, but I find it unlikely that Israel will be able to pressure the weak and divided Lebanese government (of which Hezbollah is a component political party) to disarm the Hezbollah militia and secure Lebanon’s border with Israel, as was dully agreed upon and promulgated by the UN Security Council.
As with its total offensive in the Gaza Strip, paralyzing all of Lebanon with air strikes may instead cast Israel as a bully, rather than the aggrieved party that it is. But it’s too early to know for sure. The tone of BBC coverage this morning was to indicate that the Lebanese government does indeed need to rein in Hezbollah.
Ami Isseroff’s Mideast Web article, “Israel: Returning to Lebanon?” , indicates that Hezbollah may have been motivated to assault Israel to prevent an imminent deal to end the Gaza crisis, through the mediation of Egyptian President Mubarak. Isseroff quotes from a Haaretz piece to this effect: “There were ‘other parties,’ President Mubarak said, that had led to the failure of Egyptian mediations to resolve the tension in Gaza. He did not specify who these parties were, but his comments were apparently referring to Syria, which is host to the top leadership of the Hamas militant group.
"(Hamas) was being pressured by opposing elements, and other elements that I don't want to name interfered in the negotiations. This led to the abortion of an agreement which was close to being finalized," said Mubarak, and added that "It is no secret that I had worked to bring the crisis to an honorable solution."
The following, just in, is a communication from Gershon Baskin of IPCRI, a friend of Meretz USA who was (apparently) way too optimistic about the peace-making potential of Kadima and the Olmert government. Here, again, his rapid timetable for an “easy” solution to the current crisis, involving a rapidly phased and conditional freeing of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners, sounds overly simple, but I do think that freeing at least harmless women, children and older prisoners should be on the table.
“Ending the crisis without killing anyone”
Gershon Baskin, Hanna Siniora, Khaled Duzdar, Yossi Ben Ari
Thursday, July 13, 2006
The most desired end of the current crisis would be a return of the Israeli kidnapped soldiers from Lebanon and Gaza, the release of prisoners in Israeli jails, an end to cross border attacks, including rockets – in both directions – on the Israeli-Gaza border and the Israeli-Lebanese border, and the strengthening of moderates and the weakening of extremists.
The current strategy to end the crisis employs extreme long-term violence and escalating threats against civilians that may or may not end with the release of the kidnapped soldiers and prisoners in Israeli jails. It may or may not end the cross border attacks; it will most likely strengthen extremists and weaken moderates and will cause vast damage and human suffering.
At times when anger rules, it is difficult to think logically, nevertheless; there is a more rational course that could be advanced that might have a better chance of achieving the desired results written above. Our proposal is as follows:
Prime Minister Olmert will immediately meet publicly with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and tell him the following:
1. Once Corporal Gilead Shalit is released from Gaza, Israel will immediately release all of the women and children prisoners in Israeli jails (without blood on their hands).
2. Israel will declare a ceasefire including the end of all shelling in Gaza, all targeted killings, and all arrest campaigns in the West Bank. If the Palestinians adhere to a ceasefire on their side, effective for all of the factions, after one month of full ceasefire, Israel will release all of the Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israel since before September 1993. If the ceasefire holds for another month, another several hundred prisoners will be released, etc.
3. Olmert will also tell Abbas that if the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizballah will be released, Israel will release all of the Lebanese prisoners being held in Israeli prisons.
According to this plan, there are no negotiations and there are no mediators. Israel can take the initiative, strengthen Mahmoud Abbas, weaken Nasrallah and Mashal, bring the soldiers home and achieve a ceasefire. It is cheaper than any military plan, it doesn’t kill anyone, and it has the chance of ending the crisis faster than any other possible way.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
... Five months ago, the Israeli Supreme Court struck down the existing system of allocating development priorities, finding that it discriminated against Arab towns, and gave the government a year to implement a new system. The cabinet has now taken the first step in implementing the ruling by designating all Arab municipalities in Israel as high-priority development zones:
The government has decided to define all the Arab communities in Israel as class A development area in terms of capital investment in the fields of tourism and industry. Development areas in the country are eligible to state funding and tax benefits, aimed at encouraging businessmen to invest there.
The decision bears far-reaching significance, as it would allow dozens of Arab communities to receive various benefits from the government. The law to encourage capital investments in Israel enables entrepreneurs to receive assistance in establishing industrial factories, hotels and tourist attractions.
In some ways, the designation of development priorities may actually have more impact than government budgeting, because it can be implemented by private investors. Promises of government-sponsored development often take years to materialize or are shelved for political reasons. In contrast, tax breaks for private investors can be followed up immediately and are less vulnerable to the yearly budget bargaining.
Much of the initial investment is likely to come from Arab businessmen, who have constructed some big projects in Arab municipalities (like the recently-opened mall in Umm al Fahm) but have in other cases steered investment toward Jewish areas for tax or workforce reasons. In time, though, if certain Arab population centers become growth areas, Jewish-Israeli and foreign money could follow. Many of the larger Arab municipalities in Israel have the population and legal status of cities; if the new investment rules enable them to make the transition to cultural and economic centers, then places like Umm al Fahm and Taibeh could join Nazareth as cities in truth. If Israel is to maintain long-term social cohesion, it's essential that this happen.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
From its Hebrew-language website:
"Meretz-Yahad Chairman [Yossi Beilin] calls for authorizing Egypt to commence cease-fire negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority
"Meretz-Yahad Chairman, Yossi Beilin, is calling on Olmert to accede to the proposal of the Palestinian government for a cease-fire.
"Beilin proposes to authorize Egypt to immediately commence negotiations with the Palestinian Authority for a comprehensive cease-fire, in the framework of which Gilad Shalit will be freed, the firing of Kassem rockets and terrorist actions will cease, while Israel, for its part, will terminate the military operation, the targeted prevention efforts [i.e., assassinations] and will free the Palestinian Ministers as well as the prisoners that it was about to free prior to the incident at Kerem Shalom."
The following is from an article in the July 11 issue of Haaretz:
[Meretz] MK Zahava Gal-On ... has asked the attorney general to instruct Olmert to report to the Knesset about the operation and efforts to secure Shalit's release. Gal-On also called on Olmert to respond personally to the no-confidence motions discussed in the Knesset on Monday.
Gal-On said Olmert's statements about Gaza indicate that the IDF is waging war, not carrying out sporadic operations in the Strip. If that is the case, she said, then Olmert is obligated to appear before the Knesset under the Basic Law on Government, which states: "The prime minister must transmit to the Knesset, as soon as possible, an announcement of a government decision to wage war."
Our thanks to Charney Bromberg, Ron Skolnik and Lennie Grob for bringing these items to our attention.
Monday, July 10, 2006
Meretz is very much opposed to the Israeli habit of rushing to use force, and when that doesn't work, to use more force. I'm sure that the party faithful would love to see a deal in which Shalit is returned unharmed, some Palestinian prisoners are released, and the PA — meaning both the Hamas government and Pres. Abbas — pledge to end the rocket attacks on Israeli territory and to reenact the shattered truce. On July 5, Beilin’s article appeared in Haaretz in which he regrets the fact that the US has not played a role to mediate between the parties and broker a deal.
Both Israel and the Palestinians are displaying their customary flaws: Israel is acting with excessive force and the Palestinians have again missed an opportunity — totally failing to build something positive in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and the political defeat of Likud and the pro-settler movement. They've been rocketing Israeli territory from Gaza for the entire ten months and more since Gaza was evacuated. Sderot, a town of 30,000 in the Negev, has been terrorized by these attacks — deaths and injuries have been few, but schools were closed there and plans were being discussed to evacuate the town. Longer range rockets have now hit inside of Ashkelon, a city of 120,000. Israel's incursion has clearly not worked, but these new rocket attacks make it possible that Israel will escalate further in response. It's hard to see a happy ending.
Meretz USA board member and professor of Middle East affairs, Robert O. Freedman, provides a somewhat contrary view in this week’s Baltimore Jewish Times. I disagree with my colleague’s defense of Israel’s use of “disproportionate” force in dealing with the current situation, but I heartily agree that “had Mr. Shalit not been kidnapped, and had the rockets not been fired into Israel, there would be no Israeli military action.”
Sunday’s NY Times included a news article by Greg Myre, which illustrated the irrationality of Palestinian popular opinion in dealing with Israel. As the article’s title indicates (“Rockets Create a ‘Balance of Fear’ With Israel, Gaza Residents Say”), they support the rocket launchings and mortar firing as legitimate resistance, even though they know that such actions invite Israel to make their lives miserable and unsafe. The article also refers to the futility of Israel’s current campaign as the reporter writes of a grove in northern Gaza where local Palestinians had previously protested against firing on Israel for fear of the consequences, but have since reversed their opposition in response to Israel’s current “escalation.”