7 items below tonight, in addition to the ones forwarded earlier. There are many more. At times as these Israel and Gaza do receive attention. Better to not have violence, even though it means less reports.
At present, am waiting to hear whether or not the cease fire will continue past midnight (it is 10:55 in Israel now). There was one shooting of rockets about an hour ago, which leads me to expect that the cease fire will not be extended, but one never knows. Could be one of the lesser organizations that decided to jump the gun. Enough killing. Enough!
Item 1 begins with a death caused by an explosion during attempts to defuse a bomb. Sad that these things also occur. Five people (or perhaps 6, not clear) were killed in this blast.
Item 2 elaborates on how the US willingly blew a chance to prevent more wars in Gaza. One sentence in this lengthy but worth reading article actually says it all: “A US-Israeli Military-Industrial alliance has provided little incentive to explore peaceful or diplomatic alternatives.” Indeed! The US could have by merely threatening to hold back arms have made Israel think twice before heading for a military campaign, but when both sides stand to make a profit, who cares about several thousand human beings killed and injured?
Item 3 responds to statements (heard in defense of one’s militaristic views on the war) ‘I am a leftist,’ meaning ‘I approve all the right things,’ while in fact approving all the non-leftist ones.
Items 4 and 5 similarly argue that Israel’s real danger is from within.
Item 6 responds to Jon Voight and other pro Israelites who believe that Israel can never do harm, and in the process corrects certain misconceptions.
Item 7 is, I believe, a bit overly enthusiastic about the effects of this horrid military campaign on the emotions and beliefs worldwide, but it surely is not entirely wrong in seeing among the people much more support for Gaza and much less for Israel as a result of this military campaign.
That’s it for today. May the cease fire be extended and talks lead to an end of the siege.
1 The Guardian Wednesday, August 13, 2014
‘My wife thinks I will come home in a box’ – and three days later Gaza bomb disposal expert was dead
Rahed Taysir al’Hom headed northern Gaza’s only bomb disposal unit. He spoke to the Guardian just days before he was killed by a 500kg explosive
Rahed Taysir al’Hom
Rahed Taysir al’Hom has died after a 500kg bomb he tried to defuse exploded. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian
Jason Burke in Gaza City
Rahed Taysir al’Hom was buried in the sandy soil of the cemetery of Jabaliya, the rough Gaza neighbourhood where he had grown up, at 1pm on the third day of the ceasefire.
His funeral was quick, attended by a hundred or so mourners, and accompanied by a quick sermon from a white-turbaned cleric, a sobbing father and some shots fired from a Kalashnikov by a skinny teenager.
Two breezeblocks and a ripped piece of cardboard with his name scrawled on it now mark the grave of a personable man with an easy smile, hollow eyes and a quiet intensity that was entirely understandable given his job.
The 43-year-old father of seven lies next to his brother – a Hamas fighter killed in an Israeli air strike two weeks ago. But the al’Hom who died on Wednesday was not a warrior. He was head of the sole bomb disposal unit of Gaza’s northern governorate and his job was to protect several hundred thousand people from the unexploded ordnance that now litters the streets, fields and the rubble of many homes.
Al’Hom, who died when a 500kg bomb he was trying to defuse exploded at 10.30am on Wednesday, was an incidental casualty of a month-long war that no one seems able to stop.
Three of his colleagues and two journalists were killed with him. He was well aware of the risks he was taking but believed in his work. One day last week, while the last tenuous ceasefire held in Gaza, al-Hom received 70 calls. In this conflict alone, he had dealt with 400 “objects”.
Al’Hom made safe ordnance for five of his 20 years in the Gaza police force. Photograph: Sean Smith
Al’Hom made safe ordnance for five of his 20 years in the Gaza police force. Photograph: Sean Smith
“I try to do as much as I can. Every time I hear that someone has been injured by a bomb on the ground I feel very sorry. This is my responsibility. But we are very limited and don’t have proper equipment. My wife thinks I will come home one day in pieces in a box,” he said at the weekend as he drove from site to site in the northern town of Beit Lahia, accompanied by the Guardian.
Al-Hom had been defusing bombs, rockets and shells for five of his 20 years in the Gaza police. He had some training from international experts but gained most of his skills “on the job”. He had no protective clothing and used basic tools – screwdrivers, pliers and cutters – as he worked to make everything safe, be it Hamas rockets which had fallen short of their mark or huge bombs dropped by Israeli warplanes.
Helmets, body armour and screening devices, supplied after the last conflict in 2012, had worn out or were broken.
“We have been working all the time. There is a danger to people when there is a bomb in their house. It is risky, of course, but we have to do it. So far we have had no injuries in my team, praise be to God,” he said, though one of the team had been killed in an air strike at home a month ago.
Over the weekend, before the latest ceasefire came into force, al-Hom dealt with a dozen or so urgent incidents. His work was slowed by frequent pauses as Israeli missiles hissed overhead, sometimes impacting only a few hundred metres away.
In Beit Lahia, he defused a 1,000kg bomb that had landed in a bike repair shop. Hossein Rabieh Salem, the 48-year-old owner, had been sleeping for several nights with his family of 18, above the storeroom and the live weapon. “Where can I go? I shut my eyes and trust in God,” Salem said.
Al’Hom was working amid a heap of explosives – with minimal to no protection. Photograph: Sean Smith
Al’Hom was working amid a heap of explosives – with minimal to no protection. Photograph: Sean Smith
Unable to immediately render the bomb safe, al-Hom assured the worried mechanic he would return with a truck to pick it up and transport it to the football field opposite his police station where all the ordnance – defused or live – was dumped. There, in untidy piles, lay shells and bombs and Hamas rockets, glinting in the strong Gaza sun.
Among them was a bomb lifted, still live, from the home of the Filfils in a quiet residential neighbourhood in the north of Beit Lahia. Jazia Filfil, 60, remembered how, as the dust began to clear from her living room after the air strike last month, she saw a huge, metal object half buried in the rubble where a three-piece suite had once been. She had no idea what it was.
“They dropped a truck on our home,” she shouted to her husband and sons. When the family worked out that the object was no “truck”, they called al-Hom.
“He is very brave but he was very slow in coming. We had the bomb in our house for weeks,” Filfil said on Sunday. Al-Hom, listening, laughed away the complaint, joking that “his customers” were never happy.
Over a lunch of beef kebabs, snatched rapidly down a Beit Lahia side street, al-Hom spoke about his worried wife, his two sons and five daughters, and his wider family.
His 33-year-old brother died in an air strike two weeks ago, he said. Abdel Jawad al-Hom had joined the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam brigades, the military wing of Hamas, after another brother had died following imprisonment in an Israeli jail in the early 1990s when Hamas had set out to derail the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
A Gaza resident returns to pick up belongings after his home was turned to rubble. Photograph: Sean Smith
A Gaza resident returns to pick up belongings after his home was turned to rubble. Photograph: Sean Smith
“He was very angry and joined as a teenager, maybe he was only 12 or 13, and rose up the ranks. He was a commander in the Beit Lahia area. He was in a friend’s house on the frontlines when it was bombed and was martyred with two other fighters,” al-Hom said.
So far the conflict has killed 1,900 people in Gaza, mostly civilians. The UN has said that around 200 fighters from Hamas and other groups have been killed. Israeli officials say the total is much higher. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have died. Three civilians in Israel have been killed by rocket fire.
On Wednesday, as al-Hom set out to defuse the 500kg bomb which killed him, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were continuing indirect talks in Cairo aimed at a putting a durable ceasefire in place.
The explosion was so loud it was heard five miles away, said Maher Halewi, the chief of al’Hom’s police station. Doctors at the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City were working to save the lives of four men wounded in the blast who remained in a critical condition on Wednesday afternoon. The al-Shifa, like hospitals across Gaza, is chronically short of medical supplies after treating thousands of wounded during the conflict.
The funeral of Rahed Taysir al’Hom.
The funeral of Rahed Taysir al’Hom. Photograph: Sean Smith
Within two hours of his death, al-Hom’s remains were taken to the Beit Lahia hospital and then to the al-Auda mosque in Jabaliya. After noon prayers and a blessing, a procession jogged through the crowded streets, past the donkey carts, the fruit stalls and the battered Mercedes taxis to the cemetery. A crackling voice from a loudspeaker a block away called people to a Hamas rally this afternoon to show support for the Palestinian delegation in Cairo.
An Israeli drone buzzed overhead. Relatives shovelled sand over al-Hom’s remains, wetted the mound with water from a plastic jerry can and stood back, forming a line to shake hands with the mourners. The cleric called for “revenge on the Jews” and for the blessing of God on the deceased and on the community. Shots rang out as the skinny teenager raised his Kalashnikov once more. Then, within minutes, it was over and the mourners were gone.
2 Mother Jones Tuesday, August 12, 2014
How the US Willingly Blew a Chance to Prevent More Wars in Gaza
Alongside the toll of death and broken lives, perhaps the saddest reality of the Gaza war is how easy it would have been to avoid.
By Sandy Tolan
Alongside the toll of death and broken lives, perhaps the saddest reality of the Gaza war is how easy it would have been to avoid.
This story  first appeared on the TomDispatch  website.
Alongside the toll of death and broken lives, perhaps the saddest reality of the latest Gaza war, like the Gaza wars before it, is how easy it would have been to avoid. For the last eight years, Israel and the US had repeated opportunities to opt for a diplomatic solution in Gaza. Each time, they have chosen war, with devastating consequences for the families of Gaza.
Let’s begin in June 2006, when the University of Maryland’s Jerome Segal, founder of the Jewish Peace Lobby , carried a high-level private message  from Gaza to Washington. Segal had just returned from a meeting with Ismail Haniyeh, whose Hamas faction had recently won free and fair elections and taken power in Gaza. Hamas was seeking a unity government with the rival Fatah faction overseen by Mahmoud Abbas.
The previous year, Israel had withdrawn its soldiers and 8,000 settlers from Gaza, though its armed forces maintained a lockdown of the territory by air, land, and sea, controlling the flow of goods and people. Gazans believed they were trapped in the world’s largest open-air prison . For generations they had lived in overcrowded refugee camps, after their villages  were depopulated  by Israel and new Israeli cities built on their ruins  in the years that followed Israel’s birth in 1948. By voting for Hamas in 2006, Palestinians signaled  their weariness with Fatah’s corruption and its failure to deliver an independent state, or even a long-promised safe passage corridor  between the West Bank and Gaza. In the wake of its surprise election victory, Hamas was in turn showing signs of edging toward the political center, despite its militant history.
Nevertheless, Israel and “the Quartet”—the US, the European Union, Russia, and the UN—refused to recognize the outcome of the democratic elections, labeling Hamas a “terrorist organization,” which sought Israel’s destruction . The administration of George W. Bush strongly pressured Abbas not to join a unity government. The Quartet suspended economic aid and Israel severely curtailed the flow of goods in and out of Gaza.
“It’s like meeting with a dietician,” remarked  Dov Weisglass, a top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “We have to make [Gazans] much thinner, but not enough to die .” Only years later did researchers prove that Weisglass was speaking literally: Israeli officials had restricted food imports to levels below those necessary to maintain a minimum caloric intake. Child welfare groups  began to report a sharp rise in poverty and chronic child malnutrition, anemia, typhoid fever, and potentially fatal infant diarrhea. Human rights organizations denounced the measures as collective punishment . Avi Shlaim , a veteran of the Israeli army, author of numerous books on Middle East history, and professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, wrote :
“America and the EU [European Union] shamelessly joined Israel in ostracizing and demonizing the Hamas government and in trying to bring it down by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed. As so often in the tragic history of Palestine, the victims were blamed for their own misfortunes.”
These punitive measures were to remain in place until Hamas renounced violence (including stopping its cross-border rocket attacks), recognized Israel, and accepted all previous agreements based on the Oslo peace accords.
Which brings us back to that Washington-bound letter from Gaza. In the wake of the elections, Hamas was no longer the militant opposition to a ruling Fatah party, but a legally elected government operating under siege. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, suddenly responsible for governing  and facing a mounting economic, humanitarian, and political catastrophe, sought to defuse the situation. In his June 2006 hand-written note to President Bush that Jerome Segal delivered to the State Department and the National Security Council, he requested a direct dialogue with the administration.
Despite Hamas’s charter  calling for the elimination of Israel, Haniyeh’s conciliatory note to the American president conveyed a different message. “We are so concerned about stability and security in the area that we don’t mind having a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders and offering a truce for many years,” Haniyeh wrote to Bush. This essentially added up to an offer of de facto recognition of Israel with a cessation of hostilities—two of the key US and Israeli demands of Hamas.
“The continuation of this situation,” Haniyeh wrote to Bush, “will encourage violence and chaos in the whole region.”
A few lonely voices in the US and Israel urged that the moment be seized and Hamas coaxed toward moderation. After all, Israel itself had been birthed in part by the Irgun and Stern Gang (or Lehi), groups considered terrorist by the British and the UN. In the years before Israel’s birth, they had been responsible for a horrific massacre in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin  and the Irgun bombing  of the King David Hotel, killing 91 people. Leaders of the two organizations, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir , later became prime ministers of Israel. Similarly, Yasser Arafat, whose Palestine Liberation Organization was considered a terrorist group by Israel and the West, recognized Israel’s right to exist in a pivotal 1988 speech, paving the way for the Oslo peace process.
“I believe there is a chance that Hamas, the devils of yesterday, could be reasonable people today,” declared  Efraim Halevy, former director of the Mossad, Israel’s CIA. “Rather than being a problem, we should strive to make them part of the solution.”
The Bush team, however, chose to ignore Hamas’s overture, opting, with Israel, for violence and chaos. The Obama administration would follow the same path years later. In this way, a pattern of US acquiescence in ongoing, ever worsening humanitarian disasters in Hamas-run Gaza was established. Direct American political and material support for the indiscriminate killing of thousands of Gaza’s civilians, including hundreds of children, became Washington’s de facto policy.
A US-Israeli Military-Industrial Alliance
Three weeks after Haniyeh’s unanswered letter was delivered, Hamas abducted an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and fired rockets into Israel. Israel launched a massive retaliation, Operation Summer Rains, returning to a fearsome and bloody history in Gaza that would repeat itself with greater intensity in the years ahead. Israeli missiles and fighter jets destroyed the offices of the prime minister and interior minister, the American International School, more than 100 other buildings, and heavily damaged Gaza’s only power station, the sole source of electricity for hundreds of thousands of Gazans.
During that operation, many Palestinians were limited to one meal a day, eaten by candlelight. More than 200  Palestinians were killed in the first two months of the conflict, at least 44 them children. Eleven Israelis died during that period. And yet, bad as it was, the death and destruction then would prove small compared to what was still to come.
Since Summer Rains, more than 4,200 Gazans, including nearly 1,400 non-combatants, including more than 600 children, have been killed by missiles, bombs, and other munitions—some launched from offshore by Israel’s navy, some from land by Israeli tanks and ground forces, and some from the air by American-made F-16 fighter jets  and Apache attack helicopters , part of the $3 billion  in annual US military aid to Israel. This includes the $276 million  in bombs, grenades, torpedoes, rocket launchers, guided missiles, howitzers, mortars, machine guns, shotguns, pistols, cartridges, bayonets, and other battlefield weaponry that the US has exported to Israel since January 2012.
This US-Israeli military-industrial alliance has provided little incentive to explore peaceful or diplomatic alternatives. In 2007, Hamas and Fatah again discussed forming a unity government. The US responded with heavy pressure on Mahmoud Abbas. American officials, through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, had already been facilitating  military training and arms shipments to his Fatah faction in Gaza. They wanted to bolster its capabilities against Hamas, allowing the US’s favored Fatah leader in Gaza, strongman Mahmoud Dahlan, to take control.
This scenario, laid out in “The Gaza Bombshell,” a 2008 Vanity Fair piece by David Rose, and elsewhere , was confirmed to me by an American official stationed at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv at the time. Eventually, said Norman Olsen, a former State Department official and 26-year foreign service officer, the unity talks collapsed, “but not before Dahlan’s undisciplined fighters engaged in months of open protection rackets, extortion, kneecappings, car-jackings, and abductions.” Olsen knows the territory: he spent four years at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv covering the Gaza Strip, making hundreds of daily trips there, and later served as chief of the Embassy’s political section, and as special advisor on the peace process to the US ambassador.
Word of the American plan was leaked to an Arabic-language newspaper. Street battles between Fatah and Hamas erupted in Gaza. The “Battle of Gaza” took more than 100 lives. In the end, Hamas police and militants, according to Olsen, “drove Dahlan’s fighters from the Strip, established order, and restored the ability of Gaza residents to move about safely.”
Taken in by Dahlan’s bravado, American officials were initially encouraged by the fighting. “I like this violence,” a senior American Middle East envoy told his UN counterpart, Alvaro de Soto, according to a confidential “End of Mission Report ” leaked to the Guardian. Israeli officials also saw opportunities in the de facto Palestinian civil war. Israel’s director of military intelligence, according to a State Department cable  later published by WikiLeaks, told the American ambassador in Tel Aviv that a Hamas victory would allow Israel “to treat Gaza” as a separate “hostile country,” and that he would be “pleased” if Abbas “set up a separate regime in the West Bank.”
Indeed, as Hamas routed Dahlan’s Fatah forces, taking full control of Gaza, the two Palestinian sides—and their populations in the West Bank and Gaza—were physically separated and politically weakened. Despite the language of peace negotiations, ostensibly meant to create a “viable, contiguous” Palestinian state, the fractured reality appeared to be part of a deliberate Israeli strategy. Statehood for Palestinians seemed ever more a mirage.
In the coming years, the prospects of Palestinian unity—both physical and political—remained bleak. US-brokered peace negotiations focused only on the fragmented West Bank, while Israel did indeed treat Hamas-controlled Gaza as a separate, “hostile country.” It countered Hamas rocket attacks with repeated air strikes and assassinations of Hamas leaders and lower-level operatives.
The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in 2008. Again, a lonely voice in Israel’s security establishment urged engagement with Hamas. Retired Brigadier General Shmuel Zakai , former commander of the Israeli Defense Force’s Gaza division, urged  his country “to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians in the [Gaza] Strip… You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they are in, and expect Hamas just to sit around and do nothing.”
Ignoring such advice, Israel broke the truce on November 4, 2008, Election Day in America, by bombing tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border, the only means for Gazans to secure goods during the years-long Israeli blockade, and killing  six Hamas operatives. The back and forth of rockets and retaliation led to Operation Cast Lead, in which Israel killed more than 1,300 Palestinians , including 14 children  taking refuge in a UN school and several dozen police cadets  marching in their graduation ceremony , and destroyed or damaged 22,000 buildings in Gaza. Thirteen Israelis died , three of them civilians. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister and a candidate for prime minister, declared , “Hamas now understands that when you fire on its citizens [Israel] responds by going wild—and this is a good thing.”
The American-Israeli alliance, meanwhile, continued to strongly oppose any attempts to move in the direction of Palestinian unity. This, despite sporadic efforts at reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, and the desire of ordinary Gazans and West Bankers alike to end their isolation through a long-promised corridor between the two disconnected territories.
By early 2014, Hamas’s motivation for forging a unity pact had grown stronger. War and political change in the region meant it could no longer rely on financial or military support from Iran, Syria, or especially Egypt, whose new military rulers had realigned policy  in a way that put them closer to Israel than Hamas. As a result, in April, Hamas and Fatah signed a unity agreement. Hamas was again sending a clear message of its willingness to engage in political compromise, this time agreeing to turn over unprecedented power in the reconciliation government.
It was an opportunity for Israel. As analyst Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group pointed out in a July 17th op-ed  in the New York Times,
“[T]he government could have served Israel’s interests. It offered Hamas’s political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister, and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements, and recognition of Israel.”
This was far more than Hamas leader Haniyeh had offered in his 2006 overture to Bush. It met the core Western and Israeli demands of Hamas almost to the letter. Implementing it could have led to a new kind of “quiet” between Hamas and Israel, a stronger Palestinian government, and a stronger, if still fleeting, chance for a viable Palestinian state including both Gaza and the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel was not interested. The day after the unity accord was announced, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended already moribund peace negotiations, declaring  that Hamas was “a terrorist organization bent on the destruction of Israel.”
A few weeks later, after three Israeli teenagers were abducted and murdered on the West Bank, Israel blamed Hamas and launched Operation Brother’s Keeper. The Israeli military searched  2,200 West Bank Palestinian homes and arrested more than 400 Palestinians, mostly Hamas members, holding at least 150 people  without charges. Yet reports indicated that less than 10%  of those taken in were even questioned about the kidnapping.
Given accounts  indicating that the Israeli authorities knew  within a day that the teens had been murdered (though they didn’t announce it for two weeks), it appears that Netanyahu’s government was simply using the pretext of the kidnappings  as yet another attempt to crush Hamas. Meanwhile, that organization uncharacteristically denied any involvement in the act and Israel has yet to offer evidence Hamas leaders ordered it or knew about it in advance. On the contrary, an Israeli police spokesman appeared to confirm  reports that Hamas leaders had no prior knowledge of the plan.
By the time this was revealed, however, Hamas had already responded to the Israeli incursions on the West Bank with rockets from Gaza, and Israel, in its typically disproportionate way, had unleashed an unprecedented assault on Hamas—and on the people of Gaza. Again, Israel had chosen war over any other possible path, with full American backing and military hardware.
On July 30th, amid growing calls  in the international community for war crimes investigations , and four hours after the Obama administration itself condemned  the Israeli shelling of a UN shelter and the deaths of 20 civilians , the Pentagon approved  a restocking of American-made ammunition for Israel’s arsenal. “It is deeply cynical for the White House to condemn the deaths and injuries of Palestinians, including children, and humanitarian workers, when it knows full well that the Israeli military responsible for such attacks are armed to the teeth with weapons and equipment bankrolled by US taxpayers,” said  Brian Wood, head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International.
In all of this, of course, Hamas is far from blameless. Its launching of thousands of rockets is a clear violation of international law. However, in 2014, as in 2006, 2008-2009, and 2012, the sheer volume of destruction and death on each side is incomparable. In 2014, Israeli’s sophisticated lethal power, in the form of tens of thousands of tons of bombs, missiles, and artillery shells rained down on Gaza, killing nearly 1,400 civilians by UN estimates. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and more than 530 Gaza militants have also died. Hamas’s mostly primitive rockets, some homemade in Gaza metal workshops and others relying on Soviet-era technology, have managed to terrorize Israelis, but that country’s civilian death toll in the Gaza war of 2014 has been three.
Trauma and Cold-Eyed Calculation
It is hard to imagine how Israel’s behavior could possibly make the country safer in the long run, given the eternal enmity it has been sowing, no matter how many Hamas tunnels it destroys in the short term. Given this, why do such indiscriminate attacks continue? The answers, I believe after years spent in the region, lie in the psychology of the Israeli state, as well as in the cold calculations of its leaders.
Israel remains a deeply traumatized society  whose profound anxieties are based in part on genuine acts of horror perpetrated by countless terrorist attacks over decades, and partly on an unspeakable past history in Europe. The Holocaust and its teaching in Israel  have forged an existential fear of annihilation  in Israeli Jewish society. (Twenty percent of Israel’s population, it’s important to remember, is Palestinian Arab.) This is true even among the large percentage of Sephardic Jews, whose families came from the Middle East and the Balkans. In recent images  of terrorized Israelis crouching in shelters and by roadsides, we can see that the post-traumatic impact of the past lives on.
Israel’s leaders have not been shy to exploit these fears . Yet as the late Palestinian intellectual and Columbia University professor Edward Said asked 20 years ago in The Politics of Dispossession:
“How long can the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust be used as a fence to exempt Israel from arguments and sanctions against it for its behavior towards the Palestinians? How long are we going to deny that the cries of the people of Gaza… are directly connected to the policies of the Israeli government and not to the cries of the victims of Nazism?”
Tragically, Israeli fears have created a national justification for a kind of “never again” mentality gone mad, in which leaders find it remarkably easy to justify ever more brutal acts against ever more dehumanized enemies. At the funeral for the three slain teens, Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “May God avenge their blood.” An Israeli Facebook page , “The People of Israel Demand Revenge,” quickly garnered 35,000 likes. A member of the Knesset from a party in the nation’s ruling coalition posted an article  by Netanyahu’s late former chief of staff that called for the killing of “the mothers of [Palestinian] martyrs” and the demolition of their homes: “Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
On NPR, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US, decried the “culture of terrorism ” in Palestinian society, adding: “You’re talking about savage actions… In the case of Israel, we take legitimate actions of self-defense, and sometimes, unintentionally, Palestinian civilians are harmed.” That day, the Palestinian teenager Mohammed Khdeir was abducted and burned alive, and soon afterward, Israel began bombing Gaza.
Within Israel, the act of dehumanization has become institutionalized. These days, Israeli newspapers generally don’t even bother to print the names, when known, or the stories of the children being killed in Gaza. When B’tselem, the respected Israeli human rights organization, attempted to take out an advertisement  on Israeli radio naming names, the request was denied. The content of the ad, censors declared, was “politically controversial.”
Yet all of this is still not sufficient to explain Israel’s violent abandon in Gaza and previously (to a lesser extent) in the West Bank during the Second Intifada. Netanyahu, and before him Ariel Sharon, have been bent on destroying any possibility of a future Palestinian state. In 2002, Sharon used the pretext of an especially horrific suicide bombing to launch Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank, which, in the words of New York Times reporter Serge Schmemann, “devastated… the infrastructure of life itself and of any future Palestinian state—roads, schools, electricity pylons, water pipes, telephone lines.”
As Edward Said wrote  at the time:
“What antiterrorist purpose is served by destroying the building and then removing the records of the Ministry of Education, the Ramallah Municipality, the Central Bureau of Statistics, various institutes specializing in civil rights, health, and economic development, hospitals, and radio and television stations? Isn’t it clear that Sharon is bent not only on ‘breaking’ the Palestinians but on trying to eliminate them as a people with national institutions?”
In a similar fashion, Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza hospitals, schools, the area’s only power plant, UN schools and other facilities housing refugees with nowhere else to go, and tens of thousands of civilian buildings have set back any future statehood efforts by years, if not decades.
In other words, Israel’s decisions in Gaza can be seen partly as the response of a traumatized country, but also as its leaders’ cold-eyed pursuit of a larger strategic objective—what the Israeli writer Meron Benvenisti calls a “splintering strategy .” Destroying Hamas, or at least the basis for the unity agreement with Fatah, would assumedly help guarantee that the West Bank and Gaza will remain isolated, unconnected by the corridor promised during the Oslo process.
With Gaza in ruins, the West Bank is ever more “splintered” itself. There, Israeli state policies encouraging settlement expansion—including a series of financial incentives that make it cheaper to be a settler than a city dweller—have served to isolate Palestinians in ever more cutoff cantons, controlled by hundreds of roadblocks, checkpoints, and roads reserved for settlers and VIPs. Meanwhile, Israel’s hardening position in negotiations with Abbas, the weak and unpopular leader of a rump Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, has placed huge swaths of settlement blocs and miles of the Jordan Valley off limits for a future Palestinian state—unless the US or another party intervenes to change the status quo.
In other words, the destruction of Gazan neighborhoods and significant aspects of the area’s infrastructure should be seen as part of Israel’s larger objective: dividing Palestinians from one another and so deep-sixing the possibility of genuine self-determination. As early as 1973, Ariel Sharon, one of the founders  of the Likud party and a champion of the settler movement, described his aim  as putting so many settlements on the West Bank that they would become impossible to remove.
Three decades later, Sharon and his advisors had essentially realized that strategy. In a 2004 letter  to Sharon, President Bush wrote that, “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers [i.e. settlements], it is unrealistic” to forge a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders between Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
Three years later, Sharon disengaged from Gaza and turned his full attention to protecting the West Bank settlers by making sure the peace process went nowhere. “By freezing the peace process,” explained  top Sharon aide Dov Weisglass, “you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders, and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.”
On July 11th, Prime Minister Netanyahu more formally clarified Israel’s intentions. “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan,” Netanyahu stated. For anyone weak on his or her Middle Eastern geography, that is an area that includes all of the West Bank. In other words, Israel, finally, officially has no interest in a two-state solution.
Did Hamas Win the Gaza War of 2014?
Throughout much of its history, Israel has made a practice of engaging in overwhelmingly disproportionate response—”going wild,” to quote Tzipi Livni—in response to threats real or perceived. In recent years, this strategy has also had a way of backfiring, notably in 2006, when Hezbollah emerged stronger after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.
With its latest onslaught in Gaza, Israel may again be emboldening an enemy while creating worldwide sympathy for the Palestinian people, momentum for global boycotts, and an embittered generation of young Palestinians with, undoubtedly, revenge in their hearts.
At this writing, the outcome of indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel is impossible to predict. Hamas’s hand was strengthened, however, by calls within Israel for direct talks with the Islamic organization and by increasing international calls for an end to Israel’s blockade. Fatah leaders, meanwhile, have spoken out recently in support of the unity agreement, thus strengthening prospects for long-time reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah—the very condition Israel went to such lengths to destroy.
In other words, Hamas could end up “winning” the Gaza war of 2014, though the losers, as always, are the people of Gaza.
Sandy Tolan, a TomDispatch regular , is author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East , and the forthcoming Children of the Stone , about the building of a music school under occupation in the West Bank. He is an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here .
3 Haaretz Tuesday, August 12, 2013
`And I’m a leftist’
No, you’re not, because leftists don’t prefer force over diplomacy and don’t suppress speech.
By Ravit Hecht
For those who claim that they aren’t racists, “But what can you do, you can’t talk to those animals”; for those who consider themselves moderate but accept the deaths of 2,000 Palestinians and 64 soldiers with equanimity; for those who are furious with Gideon Levy specifically because they are the “old left”; for those champions of democracy who believe that there is a time to demonstrate and a time to sit quietly and accept another ugly round of violence because “a democracy must protect itself”; — now, as this war draws to a close, it’s time to step up to a mirror and examine your reflection.
Are you really leftist? Are you really moderate? And are you sure you aren’t racist?
Because at the end of this so-called operation, like those that preceded it, Hamas continues to shoot from the Gaza wasteland at our brethren in the south despite “the fatal blow” it sustained. Because this war, like those that preceded it, proved that what can’t be achieved by force won’t be achieved by more force but only by diplomacy. So at the end of this round of barbaric violence, as the dust settles on Gaza’s ruins and the soldiers’ graves, look honestly at your reflection and discover who you were during this awful summer.
You, who weren’t able to accept the expression of a different opinion, outrageous and abominable as it may have been; you, who put millions of people in little ethnic and religious boxes based on the comments of politicians who only yesterday figured out that ISIS is not a frozen treat; you were willing to accept families and children being wiped out and the losses suffered by dozens of Israeli families, even though, after all that, we just reached the same tired and exhausted conclusion that there’s nothing to do but talk to the other side.
You, who in the name of facing reality were convinced that the disengagement dug tunnels under our bottoms, chose to ignore that the reality in Gaza — 50 percent unemployment, a gross domestic product among the lowest in the world (30 times lower than Israel’s), no manufacturing, no exports, and no hope — is a result of the Israeli blockade. The blockade that in the end strengthened Hamas and its tunnel economy and turned it into a partner for arrangements and agreements instead of the moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
You, who were horrified by the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir and were sickened by the thugs who sought out Arabs to beat them, aren’t able to accept an Arab artist who accepted funding from Israeli agencies to produce her film and registered it for the Venice Film Festival as a Palestinian film. You accused her patronizingly of “biting the hand that fed her.” You, who maintain a polite silence when senior government ministers incite and make racist remarks, insist that Haneen Zoabi be punished.
You are not leftists because leftists do not prefer force over a diplomatic solution. You are not leftists because leftists oppose any limits on freedom of expression. You aren’t leftists because leftists never stop seeking the moderate elements with whom to talk, even — or especially — when the national spokesmen continue to prattle that “there’s no one to talk to.” You are not moderate because you facilitate violence.
By slowly internalizing the extremist doctrine, disseminated by Hamas and the Israel right alike, that the Middle East conflict has no diplomatic solution; by submitting to the pessimistic visions and a violent reality in which life is cheap, you are paving the way for fascism in Israel.
And although in the current climate declaring oneself a leftist is a bold act that borders on irresponsible, you continue to whitewash the stains of apartheid in the territories and the racism and violence in Israel. “And I’m a leftist,” you write, as you sign off your posts and letters that include racist generalizations, dehumanizing expressions, and intolerance.
“And I’m a leftist” will adorn the signature on the death certificate of the Israeli left.
4 SPIEGEL ONLINE Tuesday, August 5, 2014
‘The Real Danger to Israel Comes from Within’
Interview Conducted by Julia Amalia Heyer
Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, but left behind death and destruction. Israeli sociologist Eva Illouz tells SPIEGEL that her country is gripped by fear and is becoming increasingly suspicious of democracy.
SPIEGEL: There was widespread support in Israel for the operation in the Gaza Strip, despite the huge numbers of civilian casualties and the deaths of hundreds of children. Why is that?
Illouz: Where you see human beings, Israelis see enemies. In front of enemies, you close ranks, you unite in fear for your life, and you do not ponder about the fragility of the other. Israel has a split, schizophrenic self-awareness: It cultivates its strength and yet cannot stop seeing itself as weak and threatened. Moreover, both the fact that Hamas holds a radical Islamist and anti-Semitic ideology and the fact that there is rabid anti-Arab racism in Israel explain why Israelis see Gaza as a bastion of potential or real terrorists. It is difficult to have compassion for a population seen as as threatening the heart of your society.
SPIEGEL: Is that also a function of the fact that Israeli society has become increasingly militaristic?
Illouz: Israel is a colonial military power, a militarized society and a democracy all folded into one. The army, for example, controls the Palestinians through a wide network of colonial tools, such as checkpoints, military courts (governed by a legal system different from the Israeli system), the arbitrary granting of work permits, house demolitions and economic sanctions. It is a militarized civil society because almost every family has a father, son or brother in the army and because the military plays an enormous role in the ordinary mentality of ordinary Israelis and is crucial in both political decisions and in the public sphere. In fact, I would say that “security” is the paramount concept guiding Israeli society and politics. But it is also a democracy, which grants rights to gays and makes it possible for a citizen to sue the state.
SPIEGEL: Still, many would say that Israel has gone too far in this war with Hamas.
Illouz: I think Israelis have lost what we can call a “humanitarian sensibility,” the capacity to identify with the suffering of a distant other. In Israel, there has been a change in perception of the “Palestinian other.” The Palestinian has become a true enemy in the perception of Israelis, in the sense that “they are there” and “we are here.” They ceased having a face and even a name.
SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for the shift?
Illouz: Israelis and Palestinians used to be mixed. They worked as construction workers and as cheap, underpaid labor. Then the wall was built. Then the road blocks came, which hampered the Palestinians’ freedom of movement. The massive reduction in work permits followed. And in a few years Palestinians disappeared from Israeli society. The Second Intifada put the nail in that coffin, so to speak. The nature of Israeli leadership has also changed. The messianic right has progressively gained power in Israel. It used to be marginal and illegitimate; it is now increasingly mainstream. This radical right sits in Parliament, controls budgets and has changed the nature of discourse. Many Israelis do not understand the radical nature of the right in Israel. It successfully disguises itself as “patriotic” or “Jewish.”
SPIEGEL: Why is the right so strong at the moment even though there are far fewer terror attacks in Israel than there used to be?
Illouz: Entire generations have been raised with the territories, with Israel being a colonial power. They do not know anything else. You have the settlements which are highly ideological. They expanded and entered Israeli mainstream political life. Settlements were strengthened by systematic government policies: They got tax breaks; they had soldiers to protect them; they built roads and infrastructure which are much better than those inside the country. There are entire segments of the population that have never met a secular person and have been educated religiously. Some of these religious segments are also very nationalist. The reality we are faced with in Israel is that we must choose between liberalism and Jewishness, and if we choose Jewishness, we are condemned to become a religious Sparta which will not be sustainable. Whereas in the 1960s, you could be both socialist and Zionist, today it is not possible because of the policies and identity of Israel. Then you have the role which Jews who live outside Israel play in Israel. Many of these Jews have very right-wing views and contribute money to newspapers, think tanks and religious institutions inside Israel. Let’s face it: the right has been more systematic and more mobilized, both inside and outside Israel.
SPIEGEL: Do Jews in the Diaspora see Israel differently than do Jews in Israel?
Illouz: Diaspora Jews have been shaped by the memory of the Shoah. They often live in societies in which their own democratic rights are guaranteed. Sometimes they are under the assault of anti-Semitism and thus feel an urge to reinforce Jewish identity. They do not understand the distress of Israelis who see democracy progressively eaten away by dark forces. Today, Diaspora Jews and Jews in Israel do not have the same interests anymore.
SPIEGEL: What will happen if democratic principles continue to erode?
Illouz: One or two years ago, the newspaper Haaretz conducted a poll which found that 40 percent of the people said they were considering leaving Israel. I don’t know the actual numbers, but I have never heard as much alienation from Israel as during this period. The people who live in secular Tel Aviv have much less in common with their religious counterparts in Jerusalem than they do with people living in Berlin.
SPIEGEL: You describe a fearful, anxious country.
Illouz: Fear is deeply engrained in Israeli society. Fear of the Shoah, fear of anti-Semitism, fear of Islam, fear of Europeans, fear of terror, fear of extermination. You name it. And fear generates a very particular type of thinking, which I would call “catastrophalist.” You always think about the worst case scenario, not about a normal course of events. In catastrophalist scenarios, you become allowed to breach many more moral norms than if you imagined a normal course of events.
SPIEGEL: Still, there is a very real threat to Israel. Whereas Israel sees itself as the victim, the rest of the world is increasingly seeing the country as a violent occupying power.
Illouz: Yes, you are right. But Israelis see only the tunnels, which were about to hurt the heart of their own society. A tunnel vision sustained by the discovery of the real tunnels. It is very difficult to stop being afraid in the midst of people who do not wish you well. Israelis live with constant fear, and the world does not understand this fear.*
SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this lack of understanding?
Illouz: Imagine that you were a girl raised by a very brutal father. You would develop a “healthy” suspicion of men and would become very cautious. If you were to live for a time in an environment of good and nurturing men, your suspicions would relax. But if you lived in an environment in which some men were very brutal and some were not, your healthy suspicion would turn into an obsessive incapacity to differentiate between different types of men, the brutal and the caring. That is the historical trauma of the consciousness that Jews live with. The Israeli psyche has become incapable of making these distinctions.
SPIEGEL: Does this fear justify the kind of brutal violence that has been visited upon the civilian population in the Gaza Strip?
Illouz: Of course it doesn’t. I’m only saying that fear is central to the Israeli psyche. These fears are cynically used by leaders like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He makes Israelis believe that they all want to destroy us. Hamas wants to destroy us, the UN wants to destroy us, al-Qaida and Iran want to destroy us. ISIS wants to destroy us. The European anti-Semites want to destroy us. This is basically the filter through which a conflict with Hamas is interpreted by the ordinary Israeli. Another dimension of this prism is that “they” are not human beings. Palestinians are dehumanized because they put their soldiers amongst civilians, send their children to fight, spend and waste their money on building deadly tunnels rather than on building up their own society. Along with the dehumanization of the other, Israelis have a strong sense of their own moral superiority. “We ask people to get out of their houses; we call them on the phone to make sure civilians are evacuated. We behave humanly,” the Israeli thinks. An army with good manners.
SPIEGEL: And nevertheless, civilians have been the primary victims, with schools, housing complexes and hospitals being bombed.
Illouz: Yes, despite this, many Israelis still hold on the view they are morally superior. They judge by the intention, whereas the world judges by the consequences.
SPIEGEL: Still, an enormous wave of hatred has become visible in Israel in recent weeks. And it’s not only directed at the Palestinians, but also at segments of Israeli society.
Illouz: Some basic norms of speech have been breached by some rabbis and Knesset members, who feel no qualms expressing hatred for Arabs in ways that provide legitimation to hatred. This is very worrisome. It happened because entire generations have been raised believing in religious and ultra-nationalist views. I don’t think that there is more hatred in Israel than in some racist pockets of German or French society. But when some Palestinians recently sang in the streets of Paris “Death to the Jews,” the reaction of the government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls was swift and clear. The authorities sent a strong message that there are forms of speech and forms of belief that are inadmissible. What is lacking in Israeli society is that kind of very strong moral normative claim coming from its leaders.
SPIEGEL: How do you explain this paradox — the hate on the one hand and Israel’s emphasis on its liberal values on the other?
Illouz: Israel started as a modern nation. It derived its legitimacy from the fact that it had democratic institutions. But it was also building highly anti-modern institutions in wanting to create a Jewish democracy by giving power to rabbis, in creating deep ethnic inequalities between different ethnic groups such Jews of Arab countries vs. Jews of European descent; Arabs vs. Jews; Jews vs. non-Jews. It thus blocked universalist thinking.
SPIEGEL: Would you say that the Jewish character of the country has subsumed the democratic character?
Illouz: Yes, definitely. We are at the point where it has become clear that Jewishness has hijacked democracy and its contents. It happened increasingly when the school curriculum started getting changed and emphasizing more Jewish content and less universal content; when the Ministry of the Interior expelled foreign workers because Shas party members were afraid non-Jews would inter-marry with Jews; when human rights are thought of as being left-wing only because human rights presuppose that Jews and non-Jews are equal.
SPIEGEL: That doesn’t sound particularly encouraging.
Illouz: The only response is to create a vast camp of people who defend democracy. The right-left divide is no longer important. There is something more urgent right now: the defense of democracy. The voice of the extreme right is much louder and clearer than it was before. That’s what’s new: a racist right that is not ashamed of itself, that persecutes dissenters and even people who dare express compassion for the other side. The real danger to Israel and its sustainability comes from within. The fascist and racist elements are no less a security threat than the outside enemies.
SPIEGEL: Israeli enemies have also accused the country of no longer being democratic. Does that bother you?
Illouz: With all my critique and occasional disgust at Israeli arrogance, I am also puzzled that Israel is indeed singled out. Look at what happens in Syria or in Nigeria or Iraq. Why isn’t the world demonstrating in the streets in the same way it is doing for Israel? America has also a shocking record outside its own borders. Where are the intellectuals who are going to boycott America? Where are they?
SPIEGEL: Do you support the military operation in the Gaza Strip?
Illouz: No, I don’t. I’m not a pacifist in the sense that I do not think that military operations are always wrong. But I’m not in favor of this operation because there was no political process beforehand. Netanyahu gave such obvious sings that he was not interested in a political process. Instead, Netanyahu constantly undermined Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. I refuse categorically the idea that our only relationship with the Palestinians is a military one. We are in a march of folly. There is an increasingly large group of people who really think that they can subdue the Palestinian population and sustain a regime where Israel keeps dominating them.
SPIEGEL: Is that not the consequence of 47 years of occupation, this feeling of not having to make any more concessions?
Illouz: Israelis pay a price, but we are not really aware of it. We don’t know how it feels to live in a peaceful society, devoted exclusively to culture, education and improving the living conditions of everyone. People don’t make a connection between the bad living conditions they have and the amount of resources invested in the settlements and in the army. In psychology, they call it dissociation. Israeli society has become very insensitive. Not only to the suffering of others, but also to its own suffering.
*Eds. Note: The online version of this interview has been expanded to add an additional question and answer — which was cut for space from the original interview — so as to improve clarity regarding Ms. Illouz’s position.
5 Haaretz Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Signs of fascism in Israel peaked during Gaza op, says renowned Israeli scholar
Israel Prize laureate and renowned scholar Zeev Sternhell fears the collapse of Israeli democracy, and compares the current atmosphere with that of 1940s’ France. The time we have left to reverse this frightening trend is running out, he warns
By Gidi Weitz | Aug. 13, 2014 | 5:54 PM
At 1 A.M. on a day in September 2008, Prof. Zeev Sternhell opened the door of his home on Agnon Street in Jerusalem, intending to enter an inner courtyard. As he turned the handle, a thunderous explosion rocked the building. Sternhell, who a few months earlier had received the Israel Prize in political science, was lightly wounded by a bomb hidden in a potted plant.
A year later, the police apprehended the perpetrator of the attack: Yaakov (Jack) Teitel, a resident of a West Bank settlement. At one time, Teitel was an informer for the Jewish Department of the Shin Bet security service. In his interrogation, it turned out that his crimes included the murder of two Palestinians.
“I chose Sternhell as a target because he is held in high regard, he’s a left-wing professor,” Teitel told the interrogators. “I didn’t want to kill him, because that would turn him into a martyr. I wanted to make a statement.” Teitel was sentenced to two life terms. After the assault, Sternhell said in the hospital that “the act in itself reveals the fragility of Israeli democracy.”
I asked Sternhell now whether he thinks that very soon, we will no longer be able to claim that we are the only democracy in the Middle East.
“Indeed, we will no longer be able to say that,” he replied, adding, “There is no doubt that the main state authorities do not act with the same determination against the right and against the left, or on the eastern side of the Green Line and on the western side. All in all, these bodies view themselves as much closer to the settlement project’s aims than to the goal of Israel having a Jewish majority and a democracy that grants equality to everyone. The danger is that in good periods, when everything is ostensibly normal, the situation is glossed over. But in a crisis, like we have now, anyone critical of the ‘normal’ order is absolutely afraid to go out in the street.”
Zeev Sternhell was born in Poland in 1935. His father died during World War II; his mother and sister were murdered by the Nazis. Sternhell hid in the home of relatives in the ghetto who, to protect themselves, adopted a new identity as Catholics thanks to false identity papers. He maintained his assumed identity in the postwar period, and was baptized. In 1946, he reached France on a Red Cross train from Poland. He learned French quickly and steeped himself in the republic’s culture and history, but still felt like an outsider. In 1951, at age 16, he decided to immigrate to the fledgling Jewish state completely on his own.
Sternhell did his army service in the Golani infantry brigade and fought as an officer in the 1956 Sinai War. As an Armored Corps officer in the reserves, he also saw action in the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the first Lebanon war, in 1982. In the meantime, his international academic career took off. Sternhell studied the collapse of the 20th century’s modern liberal democratic order, and also reconceptualized fascism, viewing the phenomenon not as a random accident that occurred after World War I, but as an ideological approach originating in the 19th century.
In 1983, his book “Neither Right Nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France” (published originally in French) stirred a furor in France. Sternhell’s thesis was that the Vichy regime, which helped hunt down Jews, was not forced upon the French, but sprang from an ideological stream that reflected the hidden wishes of the masses. Fascism, he argued, was actually born in France, not Italy. His book, since revised and expanded, continues to be controversial in France and elsewhere.
In 1977, with the ascent of Menachem Begin and the Likud to power in Israel, Sternhell joined a circle of intellectuals who sought to persuade the rival Labor Party to adopt a dovish stance. For years he has been outspokenly critical of the settlement project and an advocate of the urgent need for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Those views, uttered by a public figure of his prominence, led Teitel to single him out in an act that would “make a statement.”
Have you seen signs of a budding fascism in Israel in the past month or two?
“First, let me say that there are worse things than fascism, and that not everything that is bad is fascist. In Italy under Mussolini, which is the prototype of fascism, probably no more than a few dozen people were murdered by the regime. There were no concentration camps. Art and culture flourished. Before the war, life was highly tolerable, including the life of the Jews, until the promulgation of the race laws in 1938. The percentage of Jews in the Fascist Party was higher than their percentage in the population. And the Italians were not actually responsible for the downturn that occurred afterward in the life of the Jews – not like in France, where the fate of the Jews is totally the historic responsibility of the French, even if they decline to acknowledge it.
“As I say, there are worse things than fascism. You don’t need that exact definition. For example, people say that if there isn’t a one-party regime, it’s not fascism. That’s nonsense. A party is a means for achieving power, not a means of rule in itself. What needs to be examined in this context is the resilience of the democracy – and Israeli democracy has become increasingly eroded, until it reached a new nadir in the current war. The indicators [of fascism] you asked about definitely exist here.”
Of all the phenomena you’ve encountered here, which do you find ugliest?
“What we’ve seen here in the past few weeks is absolute conformism on the part of most of Israel’s intellectuals. They’ve just followed the herd. By intellectuals I mean professors and journalists. The intellectual bankruptcy of the mass media in this war is total. It’s not easy to go against the herd, you can easily be trampled. But the role of the intellectual and the journalist is not to applaud the government. Democracy crumbles when the intellectuals, the educated classes, toe the line of the thugs or look at them with a smile. People here say, ‘It’s not so terrible, it’s nothing like fascism – we have free elections and parties and a parliament.’ Yet, we reached a crisis in this war, in which, without anyone asking them to do so, all kinds of university bodies are suddenly demanding that the entire academic community roll back its criticism.”
Do you think it’s due to fear?
“Fear of the authorities, fear of possible budgetary sanctions and fear of pressure from the street. The personification of shame and disgrace occurred when the dean of the law faculty of Bar-Ilan University threatened sanctions against one of his colleagues because the latter added a couple of sentences to an announcement about exam dates in which he expressed sorrow at the killing and loss of life on both sides. To grieve for the loss of life on both sides is already a subversive act, treason. We are arriving at a situation of purely formal democracy, which keeps sinking to ever lower levels.”
When will we cross the line in which democracy implodes?
“Democracy rarely falls in a revolution. Not in Italy, not in Germany and not in France with the Vichy regime – which is a crucial thing, because France was a democratic country that fell into the hands of the right wing with the support of the vast majority of the population. It was not the fall of France that generated this ideology. It was the result of a gradual process in which an extreme nationalist ideology took shape, a radical approach that perceives the nation as an organic body. Like a tree on which human individuals are the leaves and the branches – in other words, people exist only thanks to the tree. The nation is a living body.
“In Israel, the religious factor strengthens the national singularity. It’s not a matter of belief, but of identity; religion bolsters your distinctive identity. It’s essential to understand that without this radical nationalism there is no fascism. I also distinguish between fascism and Nazism, because fascism does not necessarily carry a race doctrine. Let me put it in no uncertain terms: Fascism is a war against enlightenment and against universal values; Nazism was a war against the human race.”
Do you see a negation of universal values in Israel and a war against enlightenment in recent years?
“It cries out to heaven. Israel is an extraordinary laboratory in which one sees the gradual erosion of enlightenment values, namely the universal values I mentioned. You see the negation, which always existed on the fringes, slowly impinging, until one day it dominates the center.”
The case of France
“Consider the nationhood law submitted by [Likud MK] Zeev Elkin [which would define Israel as the state of the Jewish people only]; the campaign against the Supreme Court, a body based on the idea that there are norms that transcend governmental power; the [proposed] law against the left-wing NGOs, which is a brutal and violent erosion of freedom of speech; and the various manifestations of a witch hunt here, when a journalist like [Haaretz’s] Gideon Levy needs a bodyguard.
“Consider Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recognize Israel as the Jewish state. That is to force the Palestinians to acknowledge that they are historically inferior, as though to say: ‘You lost the country in 1948-49, it’s not yours. You live here because we are not expelling you, but this is a Jewish state.’ The Arabs are citizens, but it’s not their country. In other words, a distinction is made between nationhood and citizenship. Anyone can be a citizen, but we are the masters.
“Why is the case of France so interesting? Because that’s what was done to the Jews there in 1940, even though some had lived there for hundreds of years. They were told: ‘You received an ID card and a passport; now I am revoking them. I cannot annul the Frenchness of a Frenchman, but you are not French, and the citizenship category is artificial.’ That was done to an uncle of mine who immigrated to France in 1929, together with my aunt, in order to study medicine. It was the same in Germany.
“This is exactly what we are saying to the Arabs today. The potential for the annulment of citizenship exists here, too. Why throw the Jewish state like mud in the face of these Israeli citizens? In fact, their behavior has been perfectly fine, considering the problems they face, with families in the West Bank and Gaza, and the pressures they are under. For my part, I don’t know of any Israeli-Arab spy ring. It’s true that they don’t sing the national anthem and don’t fly the flag and aren’t members of the World Zionist Organization, but as citizens they are fulfilling their obligations.”
What is your horror scenario for the end of Israeli democracy?
“Democracy is not defined by the right to vote every few years. It is tested every day in terms of human rights. All the rest is secondary, because you can easily, by casting a ballot, establish a dictatorial regime here, or vote to kick the Arabs out of the Knesset. You have to remember that democracy ceased to exist in the territories long ago. The Palestinians there have no human rights, you rule them by force, and after three [Jewish] boys are murdered you can make the life of the population hell, because you can do as you please. That has been the case for decades, and it corrupts.
“Those norms are already here, inside the Green Line, because our children and grandchildren spend most of their army service in the territories. There’s a colonial police force there, in the form of the Kfir Brigade and the Border Police, but that’s not enough. Kfir and the Border Police weren’t even sent into Gaza, because they no longer know how to engage in combat. They are no longer soldiers. The Paratroops were brought from training on the Golan Heights to search for the three kidnapped boys – not to search, actually, because it was already known that they weren’t alive, but to make the lives of the local population miserable and show them who’s boss. What goes on there constantly leaks into Israel. Democracies don’t collapse suddenly, they encounter a serious crisis. We could find ourselves in a serious crisis in which the whole shebang will go up in smoke.”
To be followed by the rise of a dictator?
“Not necessarily, not at all. The government will continue to rule, resting on the Knesset majority by force of edicts and creation of clear segregation between Jews and non-Jews, imposing censorship, intimidating dissidents, the media, the universities – all supposedly autonomous bodies.”
But you say it’s already happening now.
“Of course it’s happening now, but it could reach a boiling point. The water is already very hot. It hasn’t yet boiled, but it could do so tomorrow morning. It’s on the brink of boiling over.”
Do you agree that Operation Protective Edge was a war of no choice?
“It was a war of complete choice, chaotic and sloppy, and that too will be investigated. Something should have been done as soon as they [Hamas] started shooting. First of all, there was no need to humiliate the population and arrest the 500 people who were released in the Shalit deal … Hamas also took advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate that it is the only fighting force and that Abbas is a ‘collaborator.’ The rockets had to be responded to. Could that have been done without the massive use of the air force? I don’t know, I don’t have enough information. But this war, entry of ground forces, was a war of choice.”
What about the threat of the attack tunnels?
“No one mentioned that beforehand, that was not the aim of the war. The aim was to achieve quiet in return for quiet. The government didn’t want the ground entry. It was already a rolling operation. There was right-wing pressure on the government. Maybe if Bibi hadn’t gone in, his status as prime minister would have been weakened immensely. Any reasonable person would now exploit the gap in ability between us and them to launch a process toward a comprehensive solution of the conflict.”
‘Carrot and stick’
But how can you reach a situation of negotiating with a fundamentalist, religiously extremist organization?
“In principle, I think we should talk with everyone, if it can lead to results. I think Israel should have taken advantage of the formation of the joint Fatah-Hamas government and given it an incentive, something it could work with. We gave them nothing, only the demand to recognize Israel as the Jewish state.
“Hamas is Gaza; Hamas is no longer only a terrorist organization. It established a province, a region under its rule. It invested all its efforts in the war against Israel, but one has to be fair about this whole story. I try to be as objective as possible. It’s true that Hamas is an extreme fundamentalist organization, a murderous organization of shahids [martyrs] – but we are going to have to live with those people. We need the carrot-and-stick method. We used the stick plentifully, but I didn’t see the carrot. Abbas is dying for us to give him something. Maybe we can reach a settlement now, as part of Gaza’s rehabilitation. There’s no need to demand that Hamas raise the white flag. We need a long-range perspective that will include an element of generosity toward the Palestinians. Could it be the policy of blockade and creating intolerable conditions that nourishes Hamas? We need to do something concrete in our relations with the Palestinians and with the Arabs as a whole.”
Such as what?
“The first thing is to stop deepening the Jewish presence in the territories. Then to show them that we genuinely aspire to two states. And as a means of demonstrating our seriousness, to lift the blockade of Gaza, with supervision, with Abbas’ people at the transit points, and to let the population breathe. And also to forge relations in which the people there are treated as human beings on an equal footing with us.”
Will a government that’s not capable of removing three mobile homes in the West Bank be able to remove whole settlements?
“The settlements are a cancer. If our society is unable to muster sufficient strength, political power and mental fortitude to remove some of the settlements, that will signal that the Israeli story is finished, that the story of Zionism as we understand it, as I understand it, is over.”
How long do we have until the end of the story?
“A few years. Israel is now the last colonial country in the West. How long will that continue? If not for the memory of the Holocaust and the fear of being accused of anti-Semitism, Europe would have long since boycotted the settlements. I would begin by evacuating Ariel University, because it’s easy to do. It’s easier to remove a university than it is to remove three trailers. It’s a symbolic act. That wretched college was made a university in order to demonstrate something.
“Why do I so much want a border between the two countries? To prevent the emergence of one state here, because with one state there will be an apartheid regime. After all, no one here is playing with the idea that there will be civic equality between Nablus and Tel Aviv. There will be a civil war here, in the best case, and in the worst case there will be an apartheid state in which we will rule the Arabs without the dimension of transience that is still attached to the territories – even though it’s obvious to anyone with eyes in his head that the transience has long since vanished and that there is an apartheid situation in the West Bank.”
‘Their tragedy and ours’
You’ve elaborated on our blame for the deterioration. What blame attaches to the Palestinians?
“The editors of an Arab journal recently asked me about the right of return. I told them it’s dead, a destructive illusion. ‘Why not leave the refugees some hope?’ they asked me. I replied, ‘That hope will block any agreement.’ A few years ago, in a meeting with Arab intellectuals in Haifa, we agreed on pretty well everything until we came to the right of return. One of them said, ‘Are you in effect asking me to tell my relative, who once lived on this street and is now a refugee in Sidon, that he can never return here?’ That’s exactly your role, I replied, to tell them that they will never return to Haifa or Ramle or Jaffa. As long as they cling to the notion of the right of return, they are preventing the majority of the Jews in Israel, who want to put an end to all this, from fighting for an agreement. That millstone, which they cannot cast off, is their tragedy and ours.”
But the Palestinians’ attitude sometimes looks like obsessive rejection.
“It’s true that the Palestinians don’t have the strength, the leadership, the necessary elite, the mental fortitude to recognize the fact that 1949 was the end of the process. They don’t have to see it as just, but they need to understand that it’s the end. They don’t have the strength to grasp that, and we are rubbing salt into their wounds by making more and more demands and creating an intolerable situation in the territories. We are cultivating their hostility.”
After the brief episode involving the Labor Party intellectuals, Sternhell and others tried to form a social-democratic party along the lines of Meretz. When their efforts failed, he ended his brief flirtation with Israeli politics for good.
Is there anyone in Israeli politics who scares you?
“The group led by [Naftali] Bennett and [Uri] Ariel scares me – I think they are extremely dangerous. I think that [Avigdor] Lieberman is a little less dangerous, because he lacks religious fervor. But they and the right-wing branch of Likud are truly dangerous people, because they really don’t understand what democracy is, what human rights are, and they truly and deeply hate the Arabs in a way that doesn’t allow for coexistence here. You ask whether there are similarities between Marine Le Pen in France and Bennett – of course there are. In some ways she is a dangerous left-winger compared to him. If Netanyahu really wants to enter the history books, he needs to dismantle the partnership with the right, split Likud and establish a centrist government with the support of the left, and not be ashamed to rely on the Arabs’ votes.”
Is Netanyahu capable of replicating de Gaulle and returning the territories?