Friday, January 09, 2009

G A Z A W A R week 2

FRIDAY: The Diaspora rallies

The boys wear yarmulkes, the girls hijabs. Chaperoned by their Muslim teacher, they hold signs with the word for "peace" in Hebrew, English and Farsi.

They are Jewish schoolchildren in Teheran - at an anti-Israel demonstration.

In times like these, our thoughts go to the predicament of Iran's 25,000 Jews.

Just 52 years after Theodor Herzl published The Jewish State, transforming the Jews' age-old longing for Zion into modern political Zionism, the State of Israel was born.

But our visionary founder got two things wrong: He assumed that with the creation of a Jewish homeland, the Diaspora would disappear, and so would the anti-Semitism endemic to it.

Surprisingly, the non-disappearance of the galut has turned out - from a Zionist perspective - to be a blessing of sorts.

Israel and the Diaspora sustain each other religiously, culturally and politically. For affiliated Jews, some level of attachment to Israel has become the sine qua non of an authentic Jewish life. Jewish civilization continues to thrive outside Israel, though demographic and other challenges are seldom far from the surface.

This synergy, however, is not without its downside. As the IDF fights on the Gaza battlefield and campaigners wage an uphill battle to make Israel's case in the media, we Israelis are mindful that events here are having a deleterious security impact on the Diaspora.

We worry, for instance, about the 15,000 Jews of Venezuela, being browbeaten by Hugo Chavez.

But life is uncomfortable not just for Jews in hostile countries: Jews have also been targeted in the UK, Belgium, France and Sweden. Anti-Jewish louts marched brazenly through London's Golders Green. A synagogue in Brussels was hit by fire-bombers. A Jewish girl was beaten in Paris. A Helsingborg shul was nearly set ablaze.

A VOCAL minority of Jews has joined the anti-Zionist chorus. Our tradition teaches that such defectors have been part of the scene ever since the Israelites came out of Egypt.

For some, tragically, this is their only Jewish connection. To paraphrase the late US Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart in a famous 1964 pornography case: "Self-hatred is hard to define, but we know it when we see it."

Besides the self-haters, there is another small yet well-connected grouping of British and American Jews that identifies itself as friendly to Israel, but whose endeavors undermine Israel's security. These people make a fetish out of breaking with the community's consensus.

Now they're urging the British and US governments to pressure Israel into accepting an unsatisfactory Gaza cease-fire which would leave the Islamists emboldened.

Most Israelis look past them and draw comfort from the solidarity of the vast majority of affiliated Jews.

We know the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations stands solidly with Israel. Expressions of support come from its constituents - the Union of Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. We acknowledge with appreciation the support of the Board of Deputies of British Jewry, and of CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish organizations. The Australian community, too, is with us.

Pro-Israel demonstrations were held this past week at the gates of our embassy in Washington. A standing-room-only midday crowd packed the Sixth & I synagogue in the US capital. So many people came to a pro-Israel rally outside Israel's UN Consulate in Manhattan that police had to turn some away.

The United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Federations of North America have been steadfast. The Jews of Boston are rallying; the Los Angeles community has established an emergency fund for victims of Hamas terror; San Francisco's community has been praying for the peace of Israel.

Up and down America - from Providence to Tucson to Memphis; from Kansas City to Dallas to Chicago - this has been a week of solidarity with Israel.

In Europe, pro-Israel rallies have been held - or are scheduled - in every major city. On Sunday morning, London's Jews will gather in Trafalgar Square on behalf of Israel.

We Israelis don't tell our Diaspora brethren often enough how grateful we are for their support, or how cognizant we are that what we do to defend ourselves sometimes complicates their lives.

So we're telling them now: Toda raba!





Thursday: Israel's terms

Notwithstanding the cabinet's authorization for the IDF to fight on, Israel's decision to unilaterally halt offensive military operations in Gaza for three hours daily so residents can obtain supplies is just one of several indications that our decision makers are seeking an endgame to Operation Cast Lead.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly intimated that he opposes expanding the land war against Hamas, while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has expressed appreciation to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy for their efforts to advance a cease-fire. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad told CNN that the Hamas leaders he hosts in Damascus were in fact "ready [to make a deal]. They were ready, they are ready."

Like it or not, the spotlight is now shifting to the diplomatic arena at a moment when - while Hamas has been dealt a series of punishing blows - the bulk of its guerrilla army and military hardware remain unscathed.

We have consistently argued that Israel cannot tolerate the existence of a hostile regime between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan. Hamas stands as the antithesis of the two-state solution - the quintessential enemy of reconciliation. The prospects of cutting a deal with relative Palestinian moderates like Mahmoud Abbas are improbable so long as Hamas remains in power.

EGYPT IS spearheading the cease-fire efforts in coordination with the US, France and Britain, and in consultation with Israel and Hamas. Assuming Cairo comes up with an agreement, the UN Security Council can be expected to provide its imprimatur.

The Egyptian plan, presented when Mubarak met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Sharm e-Sheikh, reportedly calls for a temporary cease-fire as well as opening the crossing points into Gaza from Egypt and Israel for humanitarian relief. The Bush administration is pressing to include a reference to halting rocket attacks from Gaza and an end to smuggling into the Strip through tunnels from Sinai.

Egyptian media say any cease-fire would then be followed by further talks on long-term arrangements.

Publicly, Hamas leaders in Damascus and in Gaza are talking tough. After meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the Syrian-based Mohamed Nasr said, "Our position is clear: End the aggression, withdraw from Gaza; open the crossing points, especially Rafah; [and] a total lifting of the blockade." And when last heard from, Mahmoud Zahar, in Gaza, declared that his men would confront and defeat the IDF.

Zahar's bluster apart, the assumption among Israeli analysts is that Hamas is eager for a time-out.

So if a cease-fire is in the offing, Israel needs to be very clear about what it expects from such a temporary cessation of hostilities. It must also adhere to the larger strategy of asphyxiating Hamas in the fullness of time.

For now, Israel must insist that:

• the smuggling of weapons, munitions, terrorists and contraband via tunnels below the Philadelphi Corridor not be allowed to resume. If it does, all our efforts in the current fighting will have been in vain.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland has recommended widening the corridor on both sides of the border and declaring it a closed military zone. This would require Egypt to be fully on board, and financial backing from the international community to relocate those displaced by the need to create a cordon sanitaire.

Meanwhile, Israel must reserve the right to continue military operations against the tunnels.

• the security reality be changed. The purpose of the IDF operation was to deter Hamas from attacking. If the Palestinians violate the cease-fire by firing, tunneling, smuggling or manufacturing weapons, Israel must enjoy the freedom to retaliate, and in a timely fashion.

• prior to implementing any cease-fire, Gilad Schalit be freed in exchange for Hamas gunmen taken in the current operation; plus, perhaps, others captured subsequent to his kidnapping. Israel will never have more leverage to free him than it has now.

• the mandate for any international forces that would police the crossing points explicitly give them the kind of enforcement authority that earlier EU "monitors" lacked. If not, their presence would be meaningless and Israel should oppose permanent opening of the crossings.

The cabinet must not lose sight of the fact that the goal of this operation was not a cease-fire, but to stop Hamas terror.





Wednesday: Death of innocents


How do Israelis feel when our artillery strikes a UN-run school building, killing dozens of people? The answer is: deeply shaken, profoundly distressed, sorrowful at the catastrophic loss of life.

But we do not feel guilt. We are angry at Hamas for forcing this war on us; for habitually using Gaza's civilians as human shields; and - in this latest outrage - for transforming a center where people had sought refuge into a shooting gallery and weapons depot.

To paraphrase Golda Meir, there may come a time when we will forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, "but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons."

Images of carnage take on a momentum of their own, and it requires a certain amount of savvy to realize that, sometimes, a picture is not worth 1,000 words. Images that jumble people's thinking and distort reality are less than worthless - they're propagandistic.

News consumers rely on journalists to keep them from being duped. But what if the media becomes part of the problem?

Take, for instance, a report by Gaza-based BBC producer Rushdi Abu Alouf from Shifa Hospital. The segment opened as frenzied crowds crying Allahu akbar encircled ambulances bringing war-wounded to Shifa's emergency room. The camera took us inside. This "you-are-there" treatment, patented by Al Jazeera, provides a voyeuristic, nearly pornographic, view from inside emergency rooms, operating theaters and morgues.

The BBC producer interviewed a Norwegian physician, Mads Gilbert, presumably to get the view of an impartial foreigner, a Good Samaritan who had arrived in Gaza days earlier to volunteer his medical skills. Gilbert, clad in green scrubs, stethoscope slung around his neck, expressed outrage that international aid agencies were absent from the hospital. He called what is now happening in Gaza the worst man-made medical disaster he'd ever seen.

The Israelis, prompted the producer, were claiming that most of the killed were gunmen - Gilbert's cue to assert that of the hundreds of patients flooding Shifa, maybe two were "militants." He elucidated: 2,450 had been injured, 45 percent of them women and children - and that didn't even include innocent men. Twenty-five percent of the dead were innocents; 801 children were "killed or injured."

Faced with heartrending images of blood-drenched hospital floors, and funeral processions bearing white-shrouded toddlers, who could be bothered to recall that Gaza's Palestinians empowered Hamas knowing full well that its raison d'etre is relentless struggle against the existence of a Jewish state? Or that some of Hamas's leadership is operating out of that very Shifa hospital? Or that Hamas hijacks international medical aid intended for the Gazan masses, diverting it to special locations where its gunmen are being treated?

When readers of Britain's Guardian are confronted by a front-page photo of a father collapsed in front of his three dead children, they can be forgiven for losing sight of the bigger picture: that between 2001-2008, over 8,000 flying bombs were launched at Israel, traumatizing an entire generation of Israeli children; and that unless the IDF manages to stop Hamas, the months ahead could see life in metropolitan Tel Aviv become as perilous as it is in Sderot.

And when readers of London's Times see the headline: "We're wading in death, blood and amputees. Pass it on - shout it out" they, too, may be forgiven for overlooking the fact that Hamas purposely situates its launchers in densely populated areas.

When the Arizona Republic reports: "Israel ignores calls for peace," a photo isn't even necessary.

A WORD about Dr. Mads Gilbert: It turns out he's no neutral medical man, but active in "solidarity work with Palestinians" for 30 years. Responding to 9/11, Gilbert didn't rush to New York's Bellevue Hospital to offer his services. Instead, he defended the moral right of the "oppressed" to have launched that attack.

Too many news outlets have allowed their coverage of Gaza to be agenda-driven, to willfully disregard the duty of presenting news and images in context.

Cynically thrusting pictures of dead toddlers at readers and viewers obfuscates truth, bedevils news consumers, and robotically demonizes those "who could do such a thing."

What a devious way of giving succor to the uncompromising fanatics who are really to blame for the horror of it all.




Tuesday: Turkey chooses sides

Israel's founders had high hopes that the Jewish state, isolated in a sea of Arab hostility, could align itself informally with Iran and Turkey - Muslim countries which had their own differences with the Arabs.

Sure enough, for years Israel obtained much of its oil from the shah, and our unofficial embassy in Teheran was second in personnel only to our Washington representation. Turkey, in 1949, became the first Muslim state to recognize Israel. David Ben-Gurion made a secret trip there in 1958, but it was not until 1999 that an Israeli premier, Ehud Barak, visited openly. Defying the Arab League, Turkey signed a military cooperation pact with Israel in 1996.

In 2002, Turkey's Islamically-inclined Justice and Development Party (AKP), under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won a landslide victory. Keen to pursue EU membership (Turkey is a candidate member), Erdogan said his party would maintain Ankara's ties with Israel.

It has; but the approach, under the AKP, has turned decidedly tepid. During the 2000-2005 Palestinian uprising, for instance, Erdogan nixed a proposed water deal and temporarily recalled his ambassador to Israel.

After Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections, Turkey broke with Western policy and received Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. Having mended its relations with Damascus, Turkey protested the 2007 IAF raid on the Syrian nuclear facility and Israel's alleged overflight of Turkish territory. And last year, Turkey hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Istanbul. Ankara and Teheran now have close political and economic ties. Despite Turkey's evident drift away from the Western camp, the Olmert government nevertheless accepted Ankara's offer to serve as a go-between in peace talks with Damascus.

SINCE THE IDF began hitting back at Hamas in Operation Cast Lead, both the government and people of Turkey have lined up behind the Islamists. Thousands rallied outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul on Saturday; 200,000 demonstrated in a main Istanbul square on Sunday. There were also big "Down with Israel" rallies in Ankara, Diyarbakir province, Trabzon, Adana, Bursa and Sirnak.

Erdogan has been trying to halt the IDF's operation to deter Hamas violence virtually since the mission began 11 days ago. He ostentatiously avoided Israel in a just-concluded fact-finding mission that took him to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Now he has "found" that Israel is conducting "inhuman acts" in Gaza, which, he says, will cause Israel to destroy itself. He believes that, in time, Allah will punish those who violate the rights of the "innocent."

The human tragedy in Gaza, it transpires, is entirely Israel's fault: "Hamas abided by the truce. But Israel failed to lift embargoes. In Gaza, people seem to live in an open prison. In fact, all Palestine looks like an open prison…"

Turkish President Abdullah Gul adds: "What Israel has done is nothing but atrocity."

Erdogan can find absolutely nothing wrong with anything Hamas has done since it grabbed power in Gaza.

Turkey has just taken its seat as a non-permanent member of the Security Council and Ankara pledges to be Hamas's conduit to the United Nations. It has offered to deliver Hamas's conditions for a cease-fire to the council. Erdogan is also pushing to bring Fatah and Hamas together, though such reconciliation is unlikely to produce a less intransigent Palestinian polity, or one committed to coexistence with Israel.

On balance, we're not convinced that Turkey has earned the right to lecture Israelis about human rights. While world attention focuses on Gaza, Turkish jets have bombed Kurdish positions in northern Iraq. Over the years, tens of thousands of people have been killed as the radical PKK pursues its campaign for autonomy from Turkey. Kurdish civilians in Iraq complain regularly that Ankara's air force has struck civilian areas where there is no PKK activity.

THE NEXT Israeli government should weigh whether Israel can accept as a mediator a country that speaks, albeit elliptically, of our destruction. Meanwhile, if Turkey persists in its one-sided, anti-Israel rhetoric, the Foreign Ministry might consider recalling our ambassador in Ankara for consultations.

Turkey needs to choose between bridging the gap between East and West and flacking for the kind of dead-end Islamist policies championed by Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas - policies that threaten to destabilize the entire region.




Monday: A moral war

For pacifists who believe that all wars are immoral, Israel's self-defense operation against Hamas in Gaza is necessarily wrong. To such people we invoke the 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Confronted by a movement that amalgamates fascism with religious extremism and a genocidal platform, our moral imperative demands Jewish self-defense.

Few of the voices slamming Israel for conducting an "immoral" war in Gaza are those of pacifists.

Take Riyad Mansour, Mahmoud Abbas's man at the UN. He claimed on CNN that "3,000 Palestinians had been killed or injured" in Gaza, then denounced Israel's "targeting 1.5 million Palestinians" as "immoral" and a "crime against humanity."

Even as Mansour was pontificating, Hamas gunmen in Gaza were shooting Fatah activists in the knees as a preventive security measure lest they take advantage of the unstable situation.

In the West Bank, meanwhile, Mansour's Fatah has been ruthlessly hunting down Hamas members to keep the Islamists from seizing power there when Abbas's presidential term expires next week.

Far from there being "3,000 killed and wounded," more like 500 have been killed - 400 of them Hamas "militants," according to Palestinian Arab and UN sources inside Gaza cited by the Associated Press. Israeli sources put the Palestinian civilian death toll at some 50.

Pointing this out does not diminish the dreadful loss of dozens of innocent Palestinian lives in a week's worth of fighting. It does show, however, that the IDF continues to do everything possible to avoid "collateral damage." But its prime mandate is to protect the lives of Israeli civilians and minimize risks to our citizen-soldiers.

Over the weekend, glitterati including Annie Lennox and Bianca Jagger joined tens of thousands of mostly Muslim protesters in rallies held worldwide against the Israeli "genocide."

In fact, we'd be surprised if any other army currently on the battlefield is more conscientious about avoiding civilian casualties. Before it attacks and whenever possible, the IDF leaflets, telephones or sends text messages to residents of buildings used to launch rockets at our territory, warning them of the impending air-strike.

Conversely, what sort of "resistance" movement deliberately uses mosques, schools and homes as weapons depots and rocket launching pads? Answer: one that also uses its children and women as human shields.

AMONG those troubled by Israel's actions are Jews whose connections to things Jewish are limited to the occasional bagel or lox sandwich. They too march to make clear they're nothing like those pitiless Israelis. "As a Jew, it is very moving to see so many people… outraged at Israel's actions," said comedian Alexei Sayle, who was raised in a strictly orthodox Communist Liverpool household.

Not all uncomfortable Jews are cut off from the community. Take Isaac Luria - not the ancient kabbalist, but the young Internet director of J Street, which is devoted to redefining what it means to be pro-Israel. Luria thinks that the IDF is "pushing the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict further down a path of never-ending violence." He's strictly against "raining rockets on Israeli families" (this is bad, he knows, because he spent a year in Israel), but "there is nothing 'right' in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them."

Wouldn't it be more intellectually honest to admit that Palestinian suffering is mostly self-inflicted? And that Hamas's anti-Israel agenda is wildly popular among Gaza's masses? And doesn't Luria owe it to himself to look a little closer at the nature of the Israeli military response.

The folks at J Street believe "there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict...." Hamas would beg to differ. Indeed, Hamas has been trying to prove the contrary, forcing Israel's hand.

What Israel's critics need to understand is that there can be no political solution while we are under Palestinian bombardment. Those who are sincere about fostering coexistence should stop bashing the IDF and start telling the Palestinians: Stop the violence.

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