Forward Thinking

Why No Photos of Hamas Militants?

By Uriel Heilman

Getty Images

(JTA) — There’s no shortage of images from the Gaza conflict.

We’ve seen rubble, dead Palestinian children, Israelis cowering during rocket attacks, Israeli military maneuvers and IDF footage of Hamas militants emerging from tunnels to attack Israeli soldiers.

What we haven’t seen are practically any images of Hamas fighters inside Gaza.

We know they’re there: Someone’s got to be launching those rockets into Israel (more than 2,800) and firing at invading Israeli troops. But so far the only images we’ve seen (or even heard about) are the Israel Defense Forces’ videos of Hamas fighters using hospitals, ambulances, mosques and schools (and tunnels) to launch attacks against Israeli targets or ferry arms around Gaza.

Why haven’t we seen journalists’ photographs of Hamas fighters inside Gaza?

We know Hamas doesn’t want the world to see images of Palestinian fighters launching rockets or using civilian havens like hospitals as bases of operation. But if we’re able to see images from both sides of practically every other war — in Syria, in Ukraine, in Iraq — why is Gaza an exception?

If journalists are being threatened and intimidated when they try to document Hamas activity in Gaza, their news outlets should be out front saying so. They’re not.

On Tuesday, The New York Times published an account by photographer Sergey Ponomarev on what his days are like in Gaza. Here’s what Ponomarev said:

It was a war routine. You leave early in the morning to see the houses destroyed the night before. Then you go to funerals, then to the hospital because more injured people arrive, and in the evening you go back to see more destroyed houses. It was the same thing every day, just switching between Rafah and Khan Younis.

Are there attempts to document Hamas activity?

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Genocide Is Always Wrong

By Sarah Wildman

Getty Images

It seems impossible to me that I am typing this line: Genocide is never permissible. Full stop.

That one would even need to type such a line destroys me. That an author proposed such an idea? A horror.

But It is also his newspaper. It is also the world he – they? We? – live in where anyone could have possibly believe it was morally acceptable, that it was even remotely possible, to not only conceive of, but to write, to propose, to recommend, genocide. And then to post a story that endorses this destruction of humanity, to let that story run, unadulterated, to allow it to be out there in the world, the smiling face of its author next to it, as though this was not an abomination. For that is what it is: an abomination.

For that is what it is: an abomination.

Times of Israel. For shame. Yes they took it down. But no. It should never have been there.

[UPDATE: After this blog post was written it came to my attention that the Times of Israel offered bloggers unfettered access to parts of their site without oversight. This doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for the content of their website but it does mean it may not have been vetted. This was not clear at first reading of the piece and it appears that, as a result of this hateful story, their policy has shifted. It’s gratifying to know editors at the Times if Israel recognize hate mongering.]

Were we not children of genocide, it would still be unacceptable. Were we not descendents of pogroms, of murder, of hate, it would still be unacceptable. Were we not people who insist upon the humanity of all those around us.

Are we not that people? Are we not believers in the future?

To propose genocide is to permanently dehumanize us. To propose murder, to propose destruction, is to have cemented over our own humanity in the creation of a faceless enemy, is to have failed to see the basic humanity in us all.

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Shabbat Shalom, Comic Con!

By Mordechai Lightstone

Jewverine displays ‘adamantium’ menorah hands at Comic Con

What’s it like to host Shabbat dinner at Comic Con?

This year, my wife Chana and I decided to find out. We attended S. Diego Comic Con International, the annual nerd mecca that ran this past weekend and attracts comic book fans and pop culture geeks from around the world.

There Batman and Darth Vader cavort with Master Chief and Naruto while Hollywood execs showcase their coming attractions, all in S. Diego’s Gaslamp district. It’s intense — and seemingly completely opposed to a traditional Shabbat experience.

Nevertheless, we came prepared to host #openShabbat, an unplugged networking event and Shabbat meal that started with 50 people in 2011 and has since grown to over 150 people. An inclusive community focused on enjoying an island of serenity during the chaotic digital experience of the festival, #openShabbat has always been more about an exploration of our culture — a chance to analyze who we are as Jews and citizens of the world — rather than a purely tech-based experience. But what drew us to Comic Con this year was the potential to create a space to explore who we are through the media we produce and consume.

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Open Letter to Penelope Cruz From Her Jewish Doppelganger

By Inna Vernikov

Inna Vernikov, left; Penelope Cruz, right / Courtesy of the author; Instagram

Dear Penelope,

You are a remarkable actress and a strikingly beautiful model. I have been following your successful career for years. Your performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was an inspiring work of art. In fact, I am often complimented on just how much I look like you.

That being said, your sudden urge to comment on the centuries-long Middle East conflict has left me dumbfounded. Even more so, however, the contents of your uncalled-for outburst.

In the letter you recently signed, you unequivocally denounced the state of Israel for committing acts of “genocide” on the civilians of Gaza and demanded that Israel cease its fire. “Palestinians’ homes are being destroyed; they are being denied water, electricity [and] free movement to their hospitals, schools, and fields while the international community does nothing.”

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Actually, George Orwell Would Support Israel

By Gil Troy

Illustration by Yoni Weiss

In these pages, Daniel May’s “What Would George Orwell Say About the Gaza War?” used totalitarianism’s great enemy to criticize democratic Israel’s justified struggle against totalitarian Hamas. May’s argument, misreading Israel’s self-defense justification, and echoing Hamas’s propaganda points, peppered with clever quotations from George Orwell, was itself Orwellian.

Deciding how dead thinkers would judge today’s challenges is complicated. But “the right of self-defense” is not about Orwellian “euphemism,” “question-begging,” or “defend[ing] the indefensible.” When your neighbor launches thousands of rockets, builds dozens of attack tunnels under your borders, targets your civilians (while sacrificing its own), over years, “self-defense” is not a ruse but a compelling moral necessity. Israelis are justifiably asking now: “How many of our soldiers have died because we waited so long?”

Orwell, who wrote Animal Farm and 1984 in the 1940s, abhorred totalitarianism, the ends-justifies-the-means political doctrine willing to sacrifice anyone, anything, and any principle to serve a political movement or state. “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism,” he proclaimed in 1946.

Orwell cherished freedom and repudiated state apparatuses that crushed individuals. He detested anti-Semitism. In today’s perverse politics, despite his economics, Orwell would recoil from the far left’s totalitarianism, Islamist terrorist fellow traveling, and doublethink which leads purported progressives to justify fascistic, sexist, homophobic, anti-democratic Hamas, in its self-destructive, nihilistic offensive against Israel.

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What Would George Orwell Say About Gaza War?

By Daniel May

Throughout the violence of the last three weeks in Israel and Gaza, one phrase has become ubiquitous among politicians and pundits. President Obama affirms his “strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself.” Secretary John Kerry states “Israel has every right in the world to defend itself.” Britain’s prime minister and foreign minister have both backed “Israel’s right to defend itself from attack.” The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution that “reaffirms its support for Israel’s right to defend itself.” In op-eds and organizational statements and speeches, the phrase has become the preferred shorthand for signaling support for Israel’s campaign.

Writing in 1946, George Orwell argued that political speech is largely made up of handy phrases that we reach for almost by reflex. These phrases, he argued, “consist largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.” They don’t explicitly mislead. Instead, they halt the thinking. “Every such phrase,” he wrote, “anesthetizes one’s brain.”

Orwell thought such phrases were necessary to “defend the indefensible,” and it makes sense that we turn to them so readily in times of war. Cliche implies the inevitable (“cycle of violence”); euphemism obscures the awful (“collateral damage”); question-begging absolves judgment (“it is necessary because there was no other choice”). Such phrases distance us from a world pre-made, unalterable. Amidst the horrors of war, they are a soothing balm.

The force of the phrase “Israel has a right to defend itself” stems from its conflation of a statement of general fact with support for a specific act: this bombing campaign, this ground incursion, this war. Its implication is that those who support Israel’s right to defend itself by necessity support this war, and those who do not support it deny Israel’s right to defend itself. It tethers support for a specific decision to support for an incontrovertible truth, and opposition to a specific decision with lunacy, irrationality, and, yes, anti-Semitism (for who would argue that the Jewish people, alone, do not have this right?).

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Seeking to Outflank J Street on the Left

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Activists, including former J Street staffers, protested the Gaza war on July 28 under the name #ifnotnow. Jewish Voice for Peace is also looking to attract J Street supporters./Martyna Starosta Photo

As J Street and other liberal Zionist groups continue to support Israel’s war in Gaza, Jewish Voice for Peace is seizing an opportunity for gain new supporters at their expense.

After the Forward published a story this morning charting how J Street has taken a far more moderate approach to the current Gaza war than it did to Operation Cast Lead in 2008, JVP put a link to it on their Facebook page, with the tagline: “Our door is always open”

Jewish Voice For Peace takes positions outside of the American Jewish mainstream. The group backs aspects of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and was influential in supporting the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s recent decision to divest from three companies alleged to profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, a move strongly opposed by mainstream Jewish groups. In the current conflict, the group has been staging protests against Israel’s attacks in Gaza.

No mainstream Jewish groups have voiced similar condemnation of Israel in the current Gaza war.

“We have seen an enormous number of people flocking toward us right now,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, the group’s executive director. “I think more and more people are coming to us who want to express their opposition.”

According to figures provided by JVP, the group’s Facebook page has gained 50,000 “likes” since July 21.

J Street did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.


Is It 'Undignified' To Negotiate With Hamas?

By Mira Sucharov

Khaled Meshal, head of the political wing of Hamas / Getty Images

“Apart from fringe elements such as the Jewish Voice for Peace, which abandoned the last shred of its dignity when its rabbinic co-chair presented Hamas as a force for reason, American Jews of all persuasions back Israel’s position.”

So says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. He declares a rival Jewish organization as having “abandoned the last shred of its dignity” because Rabbi Brant Rosen, co-chair of Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rabbinical Council, argued that Israel should have considered negotiating with Hamas, and that Israel should have recognized the joint Hamas-Fatah unity government while given the opportunity.

Dignity is a strong word to use when attempting to criticize the strategic analyses of other Jews, and so I need to ask: Is it really that unreasonable to suggest that Israel negotiate with Hamas?

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9 Years Later, Here We Go Again in Gaza

By Emily L. Hauser

A woman cries as Israeli soldiers evict Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005 / Getty Images

Even as war continues to rage, August will mark the ninth anniversary of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Dubbed a “disengagement” by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the retreat was greeted enthusiastically by the institutional Jewish community. A full-page ad in the New York Times, spearheaded by the Israel Policy Forum and signed by 27 organizations, praised the plan as “courageous.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations greeted Sharon as “a great and patriotic leader,” and even AIPAC came around, if with a caveat:

“If the Palestinians transform Gaza into a reasonably well-functioning, reasonably peaceful place — not necessarily Sweden — then the world won’t have to pressure Israel to do this in the West Bank,” said Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director.

As luck (or possibly behind-the-scene conversations) would have it, the whole disengagement plan was conceived to help Israel avoid international pressure — if not quite in the way Kohr seemed to be suggesting. As Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s adviser and confidante, acknowledged in a pre-withdrawal interview, Gaza was to be sacrificed in order that Israel could better hold on to the West Bank.

The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a [diplomatic] process with the Palestinians.

… The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. It legitimizes our contention that there is no negotiating with the Palestinians.

…We educated the world to understand that there is no one to talk to. And we received a no- one-to-talk-to certificate. That certificate says: (1) There is no one to talk to. (2) As long as there is no one to talk to, the geographic status quo remains intact. (3) The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens — when Palestine becomes Finland. (4) See you then, and shalom.

In keeping with the contention that “there is no one to talk to,” Sharon didn’t even coordinate the withdrawal, much less negotiate it, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel simply pulled up stakes, and gave the party with which it had been in a diplomatic process since 1993 nothing to show for its efforts.

Unsurprisingly, Hamas announced that its rockets had made Israel turn tail, and — in the absence of a credible competing claim — declared victory. Less than six months later, Palestinian legislative elections were held, and Hamas narrowly won. As is now abundantly clear, Hamas did not transform Gaza into “a reasonably well-functioning, reasonably peaceful place,” or, indeed, “Finland.”

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Michelle Nunn Memo Shows How To Woo Jews

By Anthony Weiss

(JTA) — Georgia’s U.S. Senate race has just experienced a shakeup with the leaking of an eight-month old draft strategy memo — first reported by National Review — written for the campaign of Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn.

The memo provides an unvarnished look at how a modern Senate campaign is actually run, and among those interesting, unvarnished tidbits is the following on Jewish campaign contributions:

Jewish Community: Opportunity: Michelle’s position on Israel will largely determine the level of support here. There is tremendous financial opportunity, but the level of support will be contingent on her position. This applies not only to PACs, but individual donors as well. Message: TBD Potential Anchors: Sheri and Steve Labovitz, Elaine Alexander, Jewish Democratic Women Projected Goal: $250,000

This is, of course, flagrantly transactional, and it’s a good look at how campaign professionals actually think about these things behind closed doors. It is also, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias notes, how Jewish power translates into real-world terms, and the kind of dynamic that keeps Congress so overwhelmingly pro-Israel – candidates need campaign cash, Jews are big givers and Jews (particularly big Jewish donors) care about Israel.

It’s also worth noting that, elsewhere, the memo refers to the Jewish community as “Primary Targets” for volunteers as well as fundraisers. This is, of course, another aspect of Jewish political power — Jews get involved, and therefore matter to campaigns, even though they only constitute about 1 percent of the state’s population.

Also keep in mind that the memo was written by hired consultants, not Nunn herself, so while the “Message: TBD” looks terrible, it’s probably actually a good sign that Nunn’s campaign finance consultant wasn’t also drafting her Israel policy.

One thing that Yglesias leaves out is that this is how it works on both sides of the aisle. Remember when the biggest names in Republican politics showed up for the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas and waxed poetic about Israel, Holocaust memorials and menorah lighting? Remember how Chris Christie personally apologized to Sheldon Adelson for referencing the “occupied territories?” That’s because Adelson and other attendees, like Mel Sembler and Sam Fox, present, as Nunn’s consultants might put it, “tremendous financial opportunity,” and “the level of support will be contingent upon … position.”

This dynamic also explains why another part of the campaign memo is potentially troublesome for Nunn. Under the section on “Candidate Research,” the memo refers to “Grants to problematic entities” by Points of Light, the charity that Nunn ran before her Senate campaign. The National Review identified on such “problematic entity” — Islamic Relief USA, the U.S. affiliate of an international group of entities that all operate under the umbrella of World Islamic Relief. Why is it problematic? Because Israel has banned World Islamic Relief from operating there on the grounds that WIR gives money to Hamas.

Nunn’s campaign has pushed back hard — Points of Light did not actually make any grants to Islamic Relief USA, merely acted as a validator encouraging others to give donations.

Furthermore, Islamic Relief USA is fully independent of World Islamic Relief. As Slate’s Dave Weigel argues convincingly, it’s a fairly tenuous connection to get from Nunn to Hamas.

But, as the campaign memo makes clear, the important connection between Nunn and Hamas lies not through organizational entities but between the synapses of Jewish donors’ brains. If they do make that connection, then they may consider Nunn a “problematic entity,” and direct their cash accordingly.


Gaza War Diary: Everyone Is Proud of the Resistance

By Walid Abuzaid

The only power plant supplying electricity to Gaza was hit by Israeli shelling / Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Walid Abuzaid’s diary is running in two parts. You can read the first part here. This is the second installment.

Thursday, July 17

It’s 10 p.m. when the power finally returns. The electricity has been down since 11 p.m. last night. The power company said the electricity lines were down during the bombardments and that there’ll only be six hours of electricity every day.

I turn on the water heater so I can finally shower in the morning, since Eimar is asleep at last and I don’t want to make any noise. As I brush my teeth, I’m reminded of the salty water I have to shower in. When I asked the tower guard, Abu-Zeyad, about it when I returned home at the beginning of July, he said the water pipes for the whole neighborhood were damaged a while ago and no one has repaired them. I remember Mohammed, my friend from Beit Lahia, complaining about it since moving here after the war began. The water they use back in their home is really sweet water coming from the wells.

We gather around in the living room, the TV is on the news channel; we don’t follow any Ramadan series this year. Although Lamar forces us every once in a while to switch to MBC so she can watch the prank series with the sharks. We still check the news channels during every commercial. Nirmeen, my step-mom, tells us about her friend from university that has a Swedish passport. She and her family left in the morning and they’re now safe in Jordan. Lamar hears this and angrily asks my father, “When are you going to get us passports so we can travel whenever we want?” I’m speechless, so is my father. I wonder how many desperate fathers and mothers don’t have an answer to that question.

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5 Reasons Why American Jews Are Standing With Israel

By Eric Yoffie

Demonstrators show support for Israel outside the United Nations in New York / Martyna Starosta

American Jews stand with Israel. At times of war and crisis, that’s the way it has always been, and this time is no different. Despite gruesome pictures of civilian casualties in Gaza, media coverage that is frequently critical of the Jewish State, and shrill and accusatory statements about Israel from U.N. officials and foreign diplomats, American Jewish support has been unwavering.

It is not only the Jews who support Israel, of course. According to the most recent CNN poll, a majority of Americans believe that Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified. But while there is some measurable slippage in Israel’s favorable ratings among the American people, American Jewish support remains firm. I have seen no poll data on American Jews to prove my thesis, but it is what I conclude from innumerable conversations and a review of both the Jewish press and Jewish organizational statements.

I offer a few observations on American Jewish attitudes on the current conflict with Gaza.

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Max Steinberg Was Not Brainwashed

By Yareeve Zemel

L.A. native Max Steinberg, killed in combat during fighting with Gaza / Courtesy of Steinberg Family

There have been many responses to Allison Benedikt’s indictment of Birthright in the death of Max Steinberg, an oleh and a lone soldier, the IDF’s term for new recruits whose families live outside Israel. Many have pointed out the total lack of factual evidence for her claims or the disrespect her article showed the deceased and his family. While I agree with these arguments, my problem with her article lies in its fundamental underlying assumption that any connection experienced by a Diaspora Jew with Israel is a sole consequence of nationalistic brainwashing.

As a former oleh and lone soldier in the IDF myself, and friend and acquaintance of many olim, both recent and veteran, I am a witness to the fallacy of that assumption. During my time in ulpan at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, I was fortunate to meet many other olim, who came from just about every country, level of Jewish observance, and political leaning possible. While most of us shared some level of Zionist ideology, this was by no means the common factor that drove us to leave our families and start our lives in such a far-from-perfect place. Although many of us were excited to join the army, this was nothing compared to the more visceral euphoria of being in the one place that we could call home, surrounded by people who are part of the same nation.

Based on my own self-examination and countless conversations with other olim, this feeling is the only commonality I can find between us all. Some were raised by Israeli parents, while others had only one Jewish grandparent. Some had been on group trips to Israel, and others hadn’t seen the country until the day they moved there. Some spent years in Jewish day school or youth groups, and others were entirely assimilated in their non-Jewish communities at home. Some wanted to join the most secretive, combat-intensive units in the army, while others weren’t all that excited to join the army at all. Some supported the Likud party, and others voted for the far-left Meretz.

I definitely would not classify all the olim I met as being “especially lost, or especially susceptible, or… just looking to do some good,” the traits Benedikt believes characterize most olim and lone soldiers.

The diversity of backgrounds, personalities, and opinions in this group of new immigrants was equally reflective of that of the native Israeli population, and I therefore cannot accept that the feeling of belonging in one’s own land with one’s own people is the result of one particular worldview.

I never met Max Steinberg, but I do not believe that he choose his path because he was misled by a specific type of propaganda. When I think of Max, I think of the countless other olim who feel so at home in Israel. It is a feeling that has a special place between our hopes and dreams, irrespective of nationality, political views, or knowledge of the Hebrew language or Israeli culture. It is this feeling, and not political ideology, that drives olim like Max to live in Israel. It is such a shame that Max did not get to live in that place he felt was truly his home for longer, but I’m happy for him that he discovered it when he did.

Yareeve Zemel is a graduate student at Columbia University studying biomedical engineering.


News Quiz: What Do You Call a Jew in Alaska?

By Lenore Skenazy

Thinkstock

Penguins, Zumba and dirty pictures. If that doesn’t scream Jewish News Quiz, what does?

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Gaza War Diary: Silence, Then the Bombs Go Off

By Walid Abuzaid

A Palestinian carries the remains of an Israeli shell in the Gaza Strip / Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Walid Abuzaid’s diary will run in two parts. This is the first installment.

Thursday, June 27

I was in Cyprus when it all started. When we heard about the kidnapped teens, we were thrilled by the possibility of another prisoner release. Hamas would be held responsible for the kidnapping, but we treat our prisoners well — at least the one prisoner we’ve ever had.

It’s my last night in Cyprus and one of so few in which I smile before I go to bed, for tomorrow I’m on my way home. I know it isn’t the smartest decision I’ve ever made, but I miss Gaza. I miss my life.

“I don’t want to f**king go to Cairo, I want to go to Gaza. How many times do I have to tell you? Do you want me to say it slower?!” I yell at the woman at the gate who takes my passport and makes me watch every passenger get on that plane until the gate closes. “Wait here, please,” she says for the 10th time, before whining about Arabs in Turkish to the lady next to her, who lends me her seat while I wait. An airline employee official who speaks Arabic finally arrives. She hasn’t come for me, but rather for the Yemenite whose Saudi residency has expired. He isn’t allowed to go to Cairo either; nor does he want to.

For three days I’m being prevented from traveling to Cairo from the Istanbul Airport, since Rafah crossing isn’t open until Sunday. I try explaining that I do not want to enter Cairo, and that I agree to be held in that disgusting deportation hall in the Cairo airport until the border opens. Yet, nothing I say changes the officials’ minds. In Arabic, “How do you even know Rafah will be open?” the translator dares to ask me. I refuse to even glance at him and continue to scream in English at the cold officials. It’ll be three days of this.

A Palestinian girl waits for permission to cross into Egypt at the Rafah crossing in the Gaza Strip.

Monday, June 30

I’m finally home, after my dad spent a lot of money to buy me another plane ticket on a different airline. I only had 30 euros for the way back; that’s what was left from the 250 euros that my uncle sent from Germany.

My bag is still in Cairo, but who cares — I’m home. I’ll go to my other uncle, the lawyer, and have him write a contract that will allow my relative in Egypt, Mohammed, to collect my bag for me. Then I’ll go to the bar association to make it all official, before sending the papers through DHL and waiting a week for them to arrive. After that, Mohammed may have to wait a few hours at the airport until he receives my bag. Following that, all that’s left is to wait for the border to open again. Simple!

This isn’t even what I intended to write about, god damn it.

Tuesday, July 1

I’m getting ready to embrace my mom, after not seeing her for almost a year. “Wasim, we’re f**ked; they’ve just found the bodies of the three Israelis. Don’t tell mom.” My younger brother, of course, decides to use that as an excuse to tell Mom that I’m still not in Gaza in order to surprise her when I get to her home. Wasim is like that. He arrived from Indiana just a couple of days before I did. He was there on a year-long youth exchange and study program — the same one I did in 2012. We call it a taste of freedom.

Wednesday, July 2

My mother cries all through the night, a sense of déjà vu overwhelms me as I recall the night of Nov. 11, 2013.

Back at my dad’s, home, we discuss the repercussions. My father and I don’t usually agree, but this time we both know something bad is going to happen. He asks my stepmother, Nirmeen, for the grocery list. She points out that she has already evaluated the situation and the list will be longer than a week. Lamar, my younger sister, comes along for one last ride before she has to stay in an apartment for an unknown length of time. She understands. She remembers October 2012, she was three years old then.

Thursday, July 10

We are in the living room with an incredible view. We can see Gaza’s entire harbor. I try to cover two-year-old Eimar’s ears when a rocket drops and destroys a mini yacht called “Gaza’s Arc.” She can’t sleep yet; she’s scared. She likes the fire though. She laughs.

“You look upset, you’ve been watching that boat for 30 minutes, what’s wrong?” Wasim wonders. “I don’t know what was in it,” I respond, “I don’t know why they bombed it, but I know someone loved that boat. That boat was someone’s dream, they just killed someone’s dream. That’s far worse than killing them.”

Friday, July 11

My dad and I go out for the first time in five days to get rgag, a kind of bread made in a saj oven, for the delicious Fatteh dish. It’s 5:22 p.m., the electricity’s been out for three hours. It’s the usual eight-hour rounds and the batteries are almost out. The windows of the house are open and the sweet wind is blowing in. I can hear the jets, drones, gunboats and the occasional thud. Eimar is still awake.

Saturday, July 12, 8:23 p.m.

I’ve just finished eating and I’m heading to my room for a long-awaited smoke or two. My mind is rushing with thoughts of the Brazil vs. Netherlands match. I saw a photo of Neymar with the rest of the team earlier today. I hope Brazil saves some face and wins the game — that would cheer up my Brazilian friend Pedro a bit. I’ve been to Amsterdam, and have friends there too, so I also want the Netherlands to win. Oh well. I’ll go on Facebook before I start looking for a good online stream of the match, one that can tolerate my agonizingly slow Internet speed.

“Breaking: Al-Qassam Brigades threatens to hit Tel Aviv with J-80 rockets at 9 p.m.”

8:28 p.m.

“You still want to go donate blood?” Wasim asks sarcastically. I don’t indulge him this time. A couple of minutes later my mom calls. She succeeds in convincing me not to go out tonight. I haven’t moved from my place yet. I’ve smoked four cigarettes so far. It’s 8:58 p.m.

9:00 p.m.

My dad asks me to take the car keys to the guard tower so he can park it in the underground garage. A chance to buy more cigarettes, I tell myself. I’m dreading the fact that I have to walk rather than “borrow” the car to drive to the market, since, like last night, Abu-Malek has closed up his shop. I don’t blame him. Tonight will be a particularly loud one, and I’m rehearsing the lies I have to tell Eimar.

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When ‘Anti-Israel’ Looks Like ‘Anti-Semitism’

By Sigal Samuel

A man demonstrates at a Hong Kong rally calling for an end to Israel’s war in Gaza / Getty Images

Since Israel launched its military operation in Gaza, other countries are seeing an increase in anti-Semitic hate speech and attacks. In France, synagogues are being firebombed. In Belgium, coffee shops are barring Jews from entry. In Chicago, leaflets threatening the Jewish community are being discovered on parked cars. In India, Jewish sites are being threatened with terrorist attacks. And all around the world, protests that start out as “pro-Gaza” or “pro-Palestine” or “anti-Israel” or “anti-Zionist” are quickly devolving into pure, old-fashioned anti-Semitism.

For many American Jewish liberals, this trend is deeply dispiriting — and confusing. They’ve spent years arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two different things, that the former isn’t necessarily rooted in the latter. But now, they complain, that argument is becoming harder and harder to sustain. The lines are getting blurry. If these protesters don’t actually hate Jews, they ask, then why do they keep conflating Jews and the Israeli government? Why are they resorting to this anti-Jewish — and not simply anti-Israel — rhetoric?

Or, in the words of recent Forward contributor Tova Ross:

When angry protesters shout “Death to the Jews!” at “anti-Israel” rallies in Antwerp, Berlin and London, and Jews are trapped in a Paris synagogue and firebombed by an angry mob, how can you honestly posit that anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism?

My response to that question is: Of course the two have something to do with one another — of course they’re uncomfortably intertwined — and are you really so shocked by that?

Is it really so hard to understand why — after Jews have spent decades telling every Jewish child that they are owed a free trip to Israel, citizenship in Israel, life and land in Israel purely by virtue of being Jewish — the world is slow to distinguish between Jews and Israel?

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The Gaza War Through Ultra-Orthodox Eyes

By Miriam Moster

An ultra-Orthodox Jew watches the bombardment of Gaza from southern Israel / Getty Images

(JTA) — Most Israelis blame the war in Gaza squarely on Hamas, though there are plenty who fault the Israeli government for not pursuing peace more aggressively.

In the haredi Orthodox community, however, where practically everything is ascribed to the omnipresent hand of God in one form or another, the true cause of Israel’s troubles is seen as something else: sin, with the troubles Israel’s punishment.

Which sin? Take your pick.

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Why Israeli Left Should Stop Backing Gaza Wars

By Raphael Magarik

Palestinians carry a boy following an Israeli military strike on the Gaza beach / Getty Images

In the current outburst of violence, perhaps the only pliable and docile actor is Israel’s center-left. Politically speaking, opposition leader Isaac Herzog might as well be cowering in a shelter. He toes Prime Minister Netanyahu’s line, supporting both the airstrikes and the ground invasion. True, he popped up to demand an exit strategy from the government, but he did so just as Hamas was rejecting a cease-fire — rendering his quibbles about an exit strategy weak and irrelevant. Centrist Minister of Finance Yair Lapid is even more accommodating, loosening the purse-strings for an indefinite war.

The trouble is that acquiescing to periodic escalations in Gaza makes mincemeat of the mainstream left’s supposed stance on the conflict. It’s a strategic disaster.

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No, Birthright Didn't Kill Max Steinberg

By Elissa Strauss

L.A. native Max Steinberg, killed in combat during fighting with Gaza / Courtesy of Steinberg Family

I’ve gone on the record about my ambivalence about Birthright, having argued that it actually discouraged a connection to Israel for Jews like me due to the clear bias of its agenda. Should I have been offered a more complex portrait of the country, I might have better understood what is really at stake and why I should care. Instead, like so many other Jews of my generation, I decided to let it be someone else’s problem.

Birthright is hardly perfect. It is absolutely one-sided and all too easy to see through for the more critically-minded, or maybe just less drunk, people on the bus. But let’s get one thing straight: it is not a cult.

In her Slate story on Los Angeles native Max Steinberg, who moved to Israel, joined the IDF and then sadly passed away in combat this past week at the age of 24, Allison Benedikt implies as much, suggesting that Birthright should take part of the blame for Steinberg’s death.

Benedikt says that joining the IDF “seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission” and suspects that Steinberg fell into this trap. (As Haviv Rettig Gur points out at the Times of Israel, this hypothesis doesn’t hold water when we look at the actual numbers.) She recounts how Steinberg had initially resisted going on the trip, but ended up feeling deeply moved once he got to the country and experienced his life-changing epiphany that he wanted to make aliyah at the gravesite of an American soldier who died fighting for the country. Does this make him brainwashed? Benedikt seems to think so.

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Don't Reward Hamas for Israeli Soldier's Body

By Eliyahu Federman

Palestinians celebrate after Hamas’ armed wing said it had captured an Israeli soldier / Getty Images

Immediately after a Hamas military spokesperson announced the capture of an Israeli soldier this Sunday, the streets of Gaza, Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem erupted in fireworks and celebration. Israel confirmed this week that the body of, Oron Shaul, a soldier presumably killed when an armored vehicle was hit by an anti-tank missile, went missing.

If Hamas has the body they are likely to demand the release of prisoners in exchange for the body. In 2008, Israel released five Lebanese prisoners, including notorious murderer Samir Kuntar, for the corpses of two Israeli soldiers.

But rewarding terrorists by releasing prisoners in exchange for the body will only embolden Hamas and incentivize more kidnapping attempts and lead to more terrorism.

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