A life-size art installation of Ariel Sharon is displayed in 2010 in Tel Aviv. / Getty Images
Ariel Sharon, the 11th Prime Minister of Israel, has died, and arrangements are being made for his funeral. The question that looms large now is who will watch him reach his final resting place and who won’t.
Sharon’s term as prime minister ended suddenly on January 4, 2006, when he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that put him in a coma. Sharon’s reputation was at a high — months earlier he had taken what many world leaders considered a bold step, in the form of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. He was the staunch rightist who made the most significant concession of recent years, bolting Likud and setting up a new party, Kadima.
It’s almost certain that had he died back then, the world’s great and good would have flocked to Israel to pay respects to an incumbent prime minister — one of significant note.
Israelis awoke this morning to hear that four Palestinian rockets were launched towards Israel from Gaza and two had slammed in to the town of Sderot, without causing injuries. After months of quiet on the border following Israel’s Gaza operation in November, the Gaza militants who launched the rockets clearly intended to send a strong message to Obama.
It goes something like this. You may arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, talk at length with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the American-Israeli security partnership, and inspect the Iron Dome missile defense system that you have funded. But it can’t completely seal the Israeli south from attacks – you can’t ignore us.
There’s more. The second part of the message refers to internal Palestinian politics, and goes like this. You’re going to Ramallah today to talk to the Palestinian Authority. Don’t imagine that you can reach an agreement with the PA and ignore us and our opposition – we’re here, and ready and willing to unleash violence.
The rockets followed demonstrations against the visit in Gaza, which involved the burning of photographs of Obama and American flags. “We are out here today to say enough to the ongoing pressure on the Palestinian people and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority seeking to impose a unilateral settlement, and US preconditions forcing the PA to make more concessions,” declared Khalid al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader. Hamas voiced similar views.
With news of the rocket attack, Obama began the second day of his trip. After a day yesterday of back patting and banter with Bibi, and competition with his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres to see which president could be more complimentary to the other, he ventured in to stormy Palestinian politics. (First he visited the Israel Museum INSERT LINK). The demonstrations that awaited him yesterday in Jerusalem were relatively sedate affairs calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard, who is in a US prison as punishment for spying for Israel. But in the West Bank, more than 100 Palestinians dug in their heels at a camp in E1, a 4.6-square-mile piece of the West Bank just outside Jerusalem where Netanyahu wants to build, protesting the occupation and Israeli policies.
There was also anger in Hebron, where around two-dozen minors were arrested by the Israeli military. Palestinians alleged that some were under the minimum age for detention, 12, and said that the arrests were unjustified. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said in a statement that the arrests were unjustified. However, Israeli military spokesman Eytan Buchman told the Forward: “There was rioting in the area and they were involved in rioting.”
In central Ramallah, as Obama arrived, around 250 people protested against his visit and push towards peace with Israel. Some held shoes, a sign that they wanted him to leave Palestinian territory. Slogans included the claim that the U.S. “voted for occupation” when it opposed the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations in November.
Even as Obama was meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after being greeted by a Palestinian guard of honor, Hamas was trying to grab the Palestinian headlines. Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, declared: “We believe American policies perpetuate the Israeli occupation and settlements in Palestine under a slogan of peace,” adding: “The PA must realize that they have to abide by national principles and reconciliation.”
Hours after Operation Pillar of Defense came to an end last month, here at the Forward we published an article suggesting that the campaign could boost Hamas. It was early days, but new polling seems to indicate that this scenario is panning out.
The independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) has just published a survey conducted in the West Bank and Gaza which shows a “dramatic change in public attitude favoring Hamas.”
The more moderate Fatah party, the dominant faction in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, normally leads in polls, but this one shows that if elections were held now in the West Bank and Gaza, voters would be pretty much evenly split between Fatah and Hamas.
The most remarkable finding of the poll is that if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah) went up against Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, Haniyeh would win. He would get 48% compared to Abbas’ 45%. Haniyeh would also win if jailed Fatah strongman Marwan Barghouti, long considered the most popular person in Palestinian politics, entered the race.
Interestingly, even though it doesn’t translate to support for Abbas, satisfaction with his performance has increased following the successful bid at the United Nations. Three months ago satisfaction with Abbas stood at 46%; it now stands at 54%. What does this show? That while the Palestinian public has been impressed by the UN bid, the perceived victory in Operation Pillar of Defense has impacted political consciousness more.
Has Jodi Rudoren allowed the Gray Lady to muzzle her?
The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief has steered clear of controversial topics since the paper’s brass ordered her to submit all social media posts to a special editor on the foreign desk last month.
A Forward review of her Twitter and facebook posts reveals that hard-edged comments about the Mideast conflict have been replaced by links to articles in the Times, and to personal news like Rudoren’s wedding anniversary and her parents’ visit to Israel.
Rudoren insists she is just taking a breather from making news on social media, and is not sulking after being put on so-called Tweet-watch.
“Don’t read too much into it. I’ve taken a few days off…I’m definitely planning on continuing to post substantive things related to Jerusalem/Israel/Palestinians,” Rudoren wrote to The Forward via Facebook.
Rudoren says she has no complaints about the arrangement imposed by the Times.
Is it “Palestine” yet?
Following the November 29 United Nations vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state, the Palestinian Authority reportedly decided to officially change its name, and from now on to be referred to simply as “Palestine.” The term Palestinian Authority is a product of the 1993 Oslo Accords in which Israel and the PLO agreed to establish an entity which would rule the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza.
It is one of many monikers used by the international community to describe the Palestinians. The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is widely used by the U.N. and other international organizations. The Palestinian Territories is commonly used by the United States and European countries. The media, including the Forward, usually strives to simply refer to the Palestinians. Some Israelis call the West Bank by the Biblical names Judea and Samaria, which ignore the Palestinians and refers only to the area.
Should the U.N. vote put an end to this discussion? After all, if an overwhelming majority of nations voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, then one could deduce that it is a state, the state of Palestine.
“We lost Europe,” was the way one Foreign Ministry official put Thursday morning when Germany announced it would abstain on Palestinian non-member observer state status, rather than vote against it. Indeed, twelve European Union member states elected to abstain altogether — including the United Kingdom, Poland, and the Netherlands — while fourteen voted in favor, amongst them France, Spain, and Italy.
The only nation — not only in the European Union but across the entire continent — to vote with Israel and the United States and against enhanced Palestinian status was the Czech Republic, even while the other nations of eastern Europe abstained.
The Czech Republic and Israel have maintained good relations since the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Dr Seán Hanley, Senior Lecturer in East European Politics at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London, believes that this is the result of an Atlanticist foreign policy outlook where the interests of the United States are also the interests of the Czechs.
Across central and eastern Europe, there is an especial appreciation for the United States’ role in the Cold War and their championing of NATO expansion beyond the Iron Curtain. “This perception is especially strong on the right of Czech politics and among politicians in the centre with connections to the dissident movement,” Hanley explained, and can in part account for Václav Havel’s support for the liberation of Iraq in 2003 and more recent Czech lobbying to host part of the United States’ missile defence shield on their soil.
My recent interview for The Forward with New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, while she was covering the recent conflagration between Israel and Hamas from inside Gaza, was instigated by a remark I read in one of her Facebook posts. So, obviously, I regarded Rudoren’s providing personal reflection and commentary on the situation beyond what she was writing for publication in the Times to be a positive thing.
However, others took a more negative view of these social media posts and let their opinions be known. Most notably, the blogger Philip Weiss, citing examples of Rudoren’s posts on his Mondoweiss website, took issue with how, in his view, “[Rudoren] seems culturally bound inside the Israeli experience.”
Now, we learn from NYT’s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan that in response to this “problematic” situation, the paper “is taking steps to make sure that Ms. Rudoren’s further social media efforts go more smoothly. The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media posts.”
A week ago, I spent part of the day scrambling in ditches in the south of Israel as rocket alarms sounded when I was on the road. Today, the situation is calm and the children are back at school. But residents are left wondering who will foot the bill.
They aren’t talking about the cost of Operation Pillar of Defense itself, but of the financial cost that they suffered as a result of it. Many families had their homes or property damaged, and while public compensation funds are available, they take a long time and lots of form filling. But even in families where homes and cars are fine, the bank balance often isn’t.
Lots of people missed almost two weeks of work for the military operation and preceding rocket fire, and while some will be getting paid as normal, it depends on their employment arrangements and many won’t. For small businesses, the conflict spells financial woes.
It’s unclear exactly how southerners will be reimbursed for lost income and how long it will take. But the political context is important. Labor, which is the main challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Beytenu list, has just put the issue on the campaigning agenda, releasing a five-point socioeconomic rehabilitation plan for the south. which prioritizes compensation.
The last thing that Netanyahu will want is Labor having poster boys and girls from the south saying they are still suffering economically from the war that he started. The fact there’s an election coming up seems to mean that they stand a better chance than normal of getting things sorted out promptly.
By all accounts, it was a nerve-wracking time for the 75,000 Israeli reservists called up in preparation for a ground offensive in Gaza last week.
“The next days were an emotional roller coaster ride,” wrote Marc Goldberg, who reported to duty on November 18, in a blog post for The Times of Israel. “I was prepped to go in and then stood down, only to be prepped to go back in again and stood down again and again…most of the time was spent hanging around waiting for something to happen, waiting for the final decision to get us moving.”
And when soldiers spend their time hanging around and waiting, things happen. Things like a bunch of reservists doing a khaki-clad rendition of the international smash hit “Gangnam Style.” Ariel Maoz, apparently one of the dancing soldiers, posted the video on his Facebook page and it went viral, attracting the attention of the news media.
On a more serious note, Goldberg wrote of arguments among members of his units as to whether the IDF should and would actually enter Gaza. “Then word came down about the ceasefire. Though there many who were angry that we wouldn’t be going in, the sense of relief that slowly swept through the company was palpable,” he wrote.
There had been a relative calm in my small part of the world — a gentrified area of south Tel Aviv where the tree-lined narrow streets are scattered with bustling restaurants and coffee shops — where my biggest concern was finding a working Telo-Fun bike machine.
Before last week, words like miklat (bomb shelter), Iron Dome, red alert siren and bus bombings were not part of my daily vocabulary or thoughts. How quickly that changes.
Mixed with the usual sounds of Bob Marley singing and chopping vegetables, an unfamiliar howl lofted into our studio apartment. “Is that a siren?” we said, in disbelief. Sure, the chances of rockets are more likely than rain in this part of the world. But the reality that one would actually be aimed for in Tel Aviv is a different story. After pausing for a second in shock, we followed the sounds of footsteps to the ground floor, where all of us living in the same building quickly discovered the lack of any bomb shelter.
Ehud Olmert, Israel’s former Prime Minister and the center left’s “if only” man, is expected to confirm any moment that he won’t be running for Knesset.
Soon after the January 22 election was announced, speculation has abounded that if Olmert made a comeback and pulled together a broad center-left alliance he could actually win and once again become Prime Minister. From there, it was said, the Middle East would be his oyster — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently said that he was close to a deal with Olmert in 2008, intimating that the two could return to this point if Olmert returned.
There was some polling to back up this dream. In fact, it appeared that when Likud decided a month ago to run on a joint ticket with Yisrael Beytenu it was a case of Netanyahu trying to ensure that he would have the most Knesset mandates behind him even if Olmert entered the race.
But then came Operation Pillar of Defense, knocking the issues championed by the center-left — Israeli-Palestinian peace and socio-economic issues — off the public agenda and putting security at the forefront. Even if it was right a couple of weeks ago, the national mood in Israel isn’t right for Olmert now.
And so, for the second time in his career, Olmert leaves us all wondering what could’ve been. What could’ve been on the Israeli-Palestinian front had scandal not forced him out of office when it did? Was he planning on running in the coming elections? If so, what could’ve been during and after the election has it not been for Pillar of Defense?
After an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire kicked in last night, the Israel-Gaza border has been calm today. The residents of Southern Israel can once again go about their business without running for cover, and residents of Gaza no longer have Israeli planes overhead, striking terrorist targets but also scaring and sometimes killing or harming civilians.
However, it seems that most Israelis are against the ceasefire, or at least they were before it went in to force.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a good idea that this was the case when he confirmed the ceasefire. “Now, I realize that there are citizens who expect a harsher military action and we may very well need to do that,” he said. “But at present, the right thing for the State of Israel is to exhaust this possibility of reaching a long-term cease-fire.”
Now, pollsters are presenting evidence for this feeling. According to Shiluv Millward Brown surveys for Israel’s Channel 2, some 70% of respondents were against a ceasefire a few hours it went in to effect.
I spoke with Izzeldin Abuelaish this morning, as fighting raged between Israel and Hamas. His anguished words could serve as a rallying cry for the way forward.
Abuelaish is the Gazan doctor whose daughters and niece were killed by Israeli bombs in the closing days of the last military conflict with Hamas, his desperate cries captured on Israeli TV. I met him after the publication of his memoir, “I Shall Not Hate”, and was impressed by his humanity and stubborn optimism. The book is being issued in paperback in France, and I caught up with him by phone in Paris.
The optimism remains, but you have to search hard for it. He sounds furious that the violence was once again destroying his home and making the kind of coexistence he champions that much more elusive.
Forward editor-in-chief discussed the battle in Gaza and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an appearance on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC.
Eisner pointed out that Palestinians are plagued by internal divisions that complicate the peace process. She also noted that many American Jews are watching the conflagration with nervous concern.
MSNBC host Chris Hayes lavished praise on the Forward’s Larry Cohler-Esses for his groundbreaking interview with top Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook. Watch the entire show below.
For a cartoonist, how to say “Jews are controlling international affairs” without actually having to say it?
Well, the creation of Israel has made it very easy in this regard. Just replace ‘Jews’ with ‘the Israel lobby’ (or ‘Israel’ itself) and substitute ‘the United States’ or maybe ‘the United Nations’ for the usual ‘international government’ or ‘global finance’, and you’re good to go. And, if you can throw in an image of a prominent Israeli looming large over the scene, perhaps controlling world events as a puppeteer might work his instruments, even better.
The Guardian’s Steve Bell in today’s paper has done just that. His creation portrays an oversized, slightly hunched image of Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by a phalanx of rockets decked in the blue and white of the Israeli flag, standing at a lectern with his hands mastering two small dolls. On the left is William Hague, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary who has said that Hamas bears the “principle responsibility” for ending the violence in the region, and Tony Blair, the Middle East Peace Envoy for the Quartet, on the right.
Bell’s canard has been swiftly condemned. The Community Security Trust – the organisation responsible for the protection of the UK’s Jewish community – stated, “What is striking about Bell’s cartoon is that he seems to have reached for the ‘puppeteer’ trope to explain that fact that William Hague’s statement on the conflict was presumably not critical enough of Israel for his liking, as if this is the most plausible explanation for Hague’s view.” The Jewish Chronicle is reporting that the barrister Jeremy Brier has already lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission, labelling the drawing “plainly anti-Semitic.”
There’s nothing funny about war. So it’s unsurprising that a trending Twitter hashtag #HamasBumperStickers is being met with equal parts horror and glee.
“What’s the martyr with you?”, “I don’t break for Jews,” and “My other car is also a mass of blackened, twisted metal” are just a few of the Tweets cascading out today under the #HamasBumperStickers hashtag.
For those unfamiliar with Twitter, a hashtag is a way of marking — with a # — a keyword or topic that other people can follow and post to. The People’s Cube, a satirical, conservative website, claimed credit for launching #HamasBumperStickers at 10pm on November 14. By Novembers 15, as Israeli and Palestinian Twitter feeds did virtual battle, #HamasBumperStickers was among the hottest trending topics on Twitter worldwide.
But not everyone was amused. “So disgusted that something like #HamasBumperStickers is trending,” wrote Malak. “It’s easier than ever now to identify racists and advocates of child murder on twitter,” wrote Patrick Galey. “Just follow #HamasBumperStickers.”
When both sides are done flinging insults at each other, they might want to head over to Cafe Press, which offers a wide selection of pro- and anti- Hamas and Israel bumper stickers, from a Hamas flag rectangle decal ($5.20) to a “JIHAD THIS” bumper sticker ($5).
Contact Paul Berger at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @pdberger.
REFRESH TO SEE THE LATEST #HamasBumperStickers TWEETS
Since Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday, fighting around the Israel-Gaza border has been intense. The death toll stands at three on the Israeli side and 13 on the Palestinian side. A few minutes a rocket wounded ago three Israeli soldiers.
In the last 24 hours, 138 rockets from Gaza has struck Israel and Israel has targeted 156 sites in Gaza. Israel appears to have achieved some of its significant aims, in assassinating Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari and eliminating large stocks of Hamas’ long-range rockets which it feared could be used to retaliate deep in to Israel.
And so the question is: What does Israel want now? How long will it continue with its offensive?
Israel’s security cabinet is being vague in the information put out to journalists today. It decided “to continue vigorous action against the terrorist infrastructures operating from the Gaza Strip against the civilian population in Israel in order to bring about an improvement in the security reality and allow a normal life for the residents of the State of Israel.”
Unless the aim is to end Hamas rule in Gaza which seems highly unlikely, there’s no single moment when a light flashes in Israel announcing “Game Over” or “Misssion Complete.” The various comments of Defense Minister Ehud Barak don’t give any better insight in to what is planned. Naturally, the concern isn’t that this information isn’t being made public, but rather that it stands undecided.
After Operation Cast Lead, it was widely said that Israel didn’t know when to stop and try to calm the situation. This time around, Hamas, having been humiliated with the killing of such a high-profile leader will need to appear vengeful to its followers, and will be hesitant to stop firing. The ball is in Israel’s court, but is a firm game plan there too?
Center-right commentator Shalom Yerushalmi at Maariv argues that the rockets from Gaza seem likely to turn the upcoming Israeli elections once again into a referendum on who has bigger guns, meaning a Likud reelection. Sadly, he says, that would again bury the election that seemed to be shaping up, the one that Israel deserves, the one that’s typical in normal democracies, over the country’s intolerable social and economic inequities.
This assumes, at least in part, that Israel launches a serious attack into Gaza to stop the rockets, in some sort of reprise of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Military correspondents Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff at Haaretz think that’s unlikely and will have to settle for less aggressive action, like resuming aerial targeted assassinations of Hamas leadership. They say Bibi’s freedom of action is limited because
…the diplomatic reality now is far different than it was when that offensive was launched in 2008: Israel fears a direct confrontation with the new regime in Egypt and it knows that neither the United States nor Europe will be as tolerant of a large-scale military operation this time around.
Here’s my question: Is it possible that Hamas has heated up the border, after close to three years of relative quiet (broken mainly by jihadi groups) because it wants the Likud to win – that it fears a possible victory by an Olmert- or Livni-led center-left leading to renewed negotiations with Abu Mazen? Is this Hamas’s bid to ward off a two-state solution and keep Palestine indivisible? I’m just saying …
Dozens of rockets launched by militants in Gaza have pounded down on southern Israel today, wounding three Israeli civilians. The round of violence began last night when Gazans launched an anti-tank missile which scored a direct hit, wounding four Israeli soldiers — an act that was followed by Israeli airstrikes on Palestinian targets in Gaza.
This escalation has a clear human cost. Aside from the wouned Israelis, thousands of residents of southern Israel have stopped their daily routines and sit in bomb shelters listening for “code red” announcements. On the Palestinian side, several people were killed in retaliatory strikes by Israel.
But it also has an important political impact.
Will the campaign for the coming January 22 Israeli election tackle pressing social issues head-on, as several parties hope, or will security dominate the agenda? The answer seems to change every day. For a day at least, politics in Israel seems to be a competition for who can talk tougher, who can apply more no-nonsense rhetoric about the Hamas regime in Gaza and what is coming to it.
Look at the report on today’s cabinet discussions. Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Likud) remarked that the “rules of the game in the south are about to change.” Water and Energy Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) asked rhetorically if the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is “able to stop the firing from Gaza?” Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beytenu) said that “Hamas is accountable and will pay dearly.” And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he is “ready to step up our response.”
Today, politicians like these on the Israeli right can give their strategists a vacation day — the script writes itself, and trumps the centrist and left-wing parties who want a more varied pre-election discussion. But all their talk doesn’t help the residents of the south who are stuck in their shelters.
Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu once again avoided speaking to each other yesterday, as they have done for the past three years. Despite both claiming that they want to restart conflict-ending talks, there was little evidence of that in either leader’s speech to the United Nations’ General Assembly.
Abbas was on the attack from the outset. Speaking as the representative of an “angry people,” he leveled a familiar list of charges against Israel. Ethnic cleansing, settler violence, unlawful detention and the closure of the borders with Gaza all got a mention. Most were met with applause. So too, the call for Israel to be “condemned, punished and boycotted.” He noted that the Palestinian population is young and frustrated, hinting that violence could once again return. Yet, he claimed, Israeli policy and an aggressive brand of Israeli political discourse means that the Palestinian Authority, the guardian of Palestinian political and security relations with Israel, is under threat of collapse. There is only one way to understand this and only one conclusion to be drawn, he said. The Israeli government rejects a two-state solution.
Not so the Palestinians. Although time is running out, there is a chance — “maybe the last” — to return to talks. And he reassured the General Assembly that there is no need for marathon negotiations or to solve an “intractable riddle.” The solution already exists. All it needs is a return to the UN’s own terms of reference and the Arab Peace Initiative.
But even whilst calling for a “new approach,” Abbas actually drove peace efforts further up last year’s cul-de-sac. His announcement that he would be seeking a General Assembly resolution to grant non-member status to the Palestinians is anathema to Israel. It is also a pale echo of last year’s thwarted application for full UN membership. Abbas wants the support of the UN to draw the 1967 green line on the maps ahead of any negotiations, and for talks to then discuss changes to that line. Israel’s precondition for talks is that there are no preconditions, and thus rejects this approach. So, we can assume, will the next U.S. president.