Forward Thinking

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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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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I'm Done Apologizing

By Menachem Creditor

A Palestinian gestures as flames rise from the site of an Israeli air strike in Gaza / Getty Images

I’m done apologizing for Israel.

It’s tiring to apologize over and over. Instead, I’ve decided to come clean: I am a progressive American rabbi who leans left pretty hard. I’ve been engaged, as a US faith leader, in work to reform gun laws, extend LGBT rights around the world, grant refuge to illegal immigrants, protect women’s reproductive choice, and more. Paint me blue.

So, when it comes to Israel, many of those with whom I engage in social reform expect me to react to Israel’s military actions in Gaza with scorn and criticism. To be fair, there are times when I do. My Zionism demands I speak out on behalf of the Israel that remains, in my world-view, the most ambitious project-in-process of the Jewish People. Whereas Israel’s 66 short years have witnessed strength and resilience that have redefined Jewish identity in profound ways, the global Jewish family remains interwoven with Israel. If you question this, scan the last week’s news for anti-Israel rallies in Antwerp, Los Angeles, Paris, Boston, and elsewhere that featured widespread anti-Semitic chants and violence against Jews.

So I’m a progressive US faith leader. I’m a Zionist in Berkeley, CA. I’m a Jew in the world, worried for my family. So here is my response to those criticizing Israel this week.

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Is Gaza Fight Israel's 'War of Choice’?

By Brant Rosen

Israeli armored personnel carrier rolls at army deployment near Israel’s border with Gaza / Getty Images

In his piece “Israel’s Moral Army?” in these pages, Michael Mitchell impressively deconstructs the Israel Defense Force’s conduct during its current military operation in Gaza. Using a variety of pedagogical criteria (international law, Jewish tradition, ethical theory) he ultimately challenges Israel’s claim to being a “moral army” — or, to use a title often wielded by its politicians and supporters, “the most moral army in the world.”

Mitchell notes that while there is “evidence that Israel is taking significant measures to minimize civilian deaths,” it is also “quite possible that innocent people have been killed by IDF decisions to strike a target when it knew that doing so could put civilians at risk.”

He concludes:

If the IDF aspires to be a “moral army,” especially one that affirms both the universal dignity of each human life and the respect for the human embodiment of the divine image particular to the Jewish ethical tradition, it is in these instances that its conduct falls from regrettable to wrong.

Given the overwhelming support for “Operation Protective Edge” throughout Israel, the American political world and the American Jewish establishment, it is courageous for Mitchell, a Tel Aviv resident, to openly label the IDF’s actions in Gaza as “ethically wrong.” But beyond his relatively narrow analysis of the ethics of warfare, there are larger issues he leaves crucially unexamined.

Most notably, while Mitchell invokes the principles of self-defense in wartime, he ignores the broader question of whether or not this war itself is, as Israel claims, an actual war of self-defense. While Israeli and American politicians — and Israel-supporters the world over — have been defending Israel’s actions in Gaza by invoking Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas rocket fire, the timeline of events leading up to Israel’s military assault on Gaza suggests otherwise.

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The Cheesiest Terror Push on Facebook

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Facebook

It’s no surprise that in 2014, the war between Hamas and Israel is being fought on the Internet and social media front, as well as from the air (and possibly soon on the ground, as well). Both sides of the conflict are trying to get the world to understand and support their case for being embroiled in these hostilities.

The two sides are also trying to speak to —or rather, intimidate — one another. What is going on here is no joke. But some attempts by Hamas to scare Israelis that have resulted in far more laughter than panic.

First, there is the Hebrew language website of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. Somehow, I can’t imagine that many – if any—Hebrew-speaking Israelis are interested in propagandistic updates on happenings in what the terror organization refers to as “Occupied Palestine” (ie. the entire State of Israel, not just the West Bank).

Maybe if the very basic Hebrew-language site were as rich as the original Arabic site, Israelis would pay more attention. Israelis are too busy running to bomb shelters to bother clicking on links that don’t work.

Then, there is this propaganda video titled, “Shake Israel’s Security,” showing fatigue wearing, masked Hamas fighters building, transporting and shooting rockets at Israel. http://youtu.be/HiUWgWjL24U

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In Tel Aviv, Keep Calm and Mind the Rockets

By Ben Sales

Israeli family seeks shelter in parking garage as rocket sirens blare. / Getty Images

(JTA) — “In Tel Aviv, we expect the skies clear with a temperature of 32 degrees,” our pilot said upon taking off from Milan’s airport Wednesday, with no discernible hint of irony.

The thermometer in Tel Aviv did fill up — 32 degrees Celsius, 90 Fahrenheit — but the skies have, sadly, been far from clear. As the Israel Defense Forces’ Operation Protective Edge in Gaza finishes its second day, Israel’s coastal metropolis has experienced an unprecedented rain of rocket fire.

Enduring rocket attacks used to be the province of Israel’s north and south; Tel Aviv, by contrast, has derisively been called “the bubble,” a central-Israeli city of relaxed beach-goers removed from security threats to Israel.

Hamas aimed its first few rockets at Tel Aviv during its last conflict with Israel in 2012. On Tuesday, Tel Aviv endured several more volleys — all shot down by Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense shield.

On the morning of our flight, two rockets headed for Ben-Gurion Airport, also intercepted by Iron Dome. When we descended onto Israel, our plane swooped in a semicircle north of Tel Aviv rather than flying directly over the city, a flight path altered to avoid potential rockets. When we entered the airport, just after the sign bidding us “Welcome to Israel,” another one pointed us to a bomb shelter.

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Praying for Kidnapped Teens — and Israel's Sanity

By Chemi Shalev

Getty Images

(Haaretz) — Like (almost) everyone else, I hope against hope for the safe return of the three kidnapped yeshiva students. One can only imagine their nightmarish ordeal as well as the agony and anguish of the father or mother whose child has disappeared under such bone-chilling circumstances.

But it is not only the immediate families that I am concerned about. In fact, the dignified and even inspiring public appearances of the worried parents leads one to pray that they will be able to cope with the worst, if it should come to that, God forbid. But Israel - or at least large parts of Israeli society - may not be so resilient: the killing of the three boys could push us closer to the edge that we’ve been long approaching.

I am not talking security here, though that too could deteriorate in the wake of what seems to be Israel’s strategy of achieving long held objectives under the guise of searching for the missing students. And I don’t think there is much cause for concern at this point about Israel’s international image, as the world’s attention is on the World Cup in Brazil and the disintegration of Iraq and, if there’s anything left, on the ongoing turbulence in the Ukraine.

I am less focused on the tangible and more on the emotional and psychological toll of the kidnapping on the Israeli psyche. No one can deny that Israeli society has grown more insular and less tolerant, especially over the last decade: prone to bouts of self-righteousness, blind to its own transgressions, allergic to dissenting points of view. The despicable crime committed by the terrorists who carried out the kidnapping could hasten this dangerous and ongoing process.

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Is Israel Playing Into Hands of Hamas?

By Nathan Jeffay

Palestinians celebrate new Fatah-Hamas unity // Getty Images.

A few days ago, Israel was engaged in a bitter blame game with the Palestinians, with each side accusing the other of being responsible for sabotaging peace talks. Now, Israel is competing for recognition as the party that brought the flagging talks to an end.

The Palestinians aren’t prepared to extend talks beyond their deadline on Tuesday unless Israel fulfils certain criteria which the right-wing government is Jerusalem is set against, including a release of the Palestinian prisoners who were scheduled to be freed in late March and a building freeze.

But Jerusalem is apparently not content that the talks would come to an end because of Palestinian refusal to renew them, and announced yesterday that it is walking away. Israel declared that it is suspending talks, due to its fury about the reconciliation accord which the Palestinian Authority and its rival, Hamas, have just signed.

The declaration is strange. Israel is taking a principled stance not to take part in peace talks that aren’t happening. And on the grounds that rival Palestinian factions have signed a reconciliation pact, which they have done before only to fail to implement it.

And of the reconciliation does pan out, would silence not have served Israel better? By taking peace talks off the table in a scenario of real Palestinian unity, Israel has lifted from Hamas any real pressure to make tough decisions if it does make it in to a coalition within the Palestinian Authority. Is won’t need to respond to pressure from moderate Palestinians to be prepared to talk, because Israel will have closed the venue of talks.

Israel’s hardball response to Palestinian unity may play straight in to Hamas’ hands.

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Qatar's Growing Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Yermi Brenner

Qatar’s two-faced policy towards Israel was on display this week, as Doha hosted a competition of FINA, the international governing body of swimming and other water sports.

Members of Israel’s national team were granted visas to the Gulf monarchy where Israeli passports are normally rejected, and there were no boycotts of competitions against Israelis. But the Qatari television that broadcasted the event worldwide, did not present Israel’s flag on screen, instead opting for a white rectangle every time Israeli swimmers competed. Israeli news website Ynet’s showed a screen shot of the bizarre political statement.

The incident reflects Qatar’s policy towards Middle East politics, which is best characterized as an ongoing balancing act, especially when it comes to the delicate region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

In 1996, Qatar became one of the first Arab countries to establish trade relations with Israel, but the alliance ended when as a response to the 2008-09 Gaza war – in which Israel’s military killed over 1200 Palestinians — the Qataris shut down the Israeli trade office in Doha and expelled all Israeli representatives. Recently, Qatar suggested a renewal of diplomatic ties, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government rejected the offer.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s on-and-off ties with Israel have not stopped it from being a friend and a financial supporter of Hezbollah and of Hamas — whose head, Khaled Meshaal, is currently based in Doha. Further emphasizing its contradictory alliances, Qatar is home to the largest American military base in the Middle East but also provides safe haven to hardline Islamists from all over the Arab world.

So why should we even care about the foreign policies of a peninsula half the size of New Jersey, that is located over a 1000 miles away from Israel and seems to be eager to please all sides?

Because the carbon-rich Qatar, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has been using its money to do much more than just build shiny skyscrapers in the middle of the desert. By cultivating broad relations with all main Middle East stakeholders, Qatar — a country with a population of less than two million people – has become an influential regional player.

Secretary of State John Kerry, just spent an entire press conference yesterday praising Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah for being one of the main forces behind the Arab Peace Initiative. Kerry also thanked Qatar for its decision to provide $150 million in much-needed debt relief to the Palestinian Authority.

It is not the Qataris seemingly endless money flow that makes them important. It is their stance as a major player that is on nobody’s side. Last year, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Qatari Emir, was the first head of state to visit Gaza since 1999, meeting Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and launching a humanitarian reconstruction project valued at $250 million. As the Kerry-led peace talks continue, Qatar could play the critical role of bridging between Hamas and Fatah, an essential step on the path to a sustainable long-term solution between Palestine and Israel.

Find Yermi Brenner on Twitter: @yermibrenner

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Iraq's Lesson for Syria: Be Careful What You Ask For

By J.J. Goldberg

getty images

I doubt I’m the only one who noticed the irony of Defense Secretary Hagel affirming Syria’s likely use of chemical weapons, touching off a clamor among congressional hawks and the now familiar gaggle of neocons and liberal interventionists for American intervention in the civil war there, on the very day that President Obama was in Texas dedicating the George W. Bush presidential library. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

The irony is only compounded by the fact that the library officially opens to the public on May 1, 10 years to the day after Bush’s misbegotten “Mission Accomplished” speech on board the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, declaring that the war in Iraq had ended in victory. Of course, it wasn’t over, and by the time we pulled out eight years later, it was pretty clear that America hadn’t won. Saddam Hussein was gone but the country had descended into years of horrific, violent chaos, and it ain’t over. And for what? Saddam was never shown to have anything to do with 9/11 or Osama bin Laden. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was toothless.

But it was much worse than pointless. Removing Saddam eliminated neighboring Iran’s worst enemy, allowing the Islamic Republic to emerge as the regional superpower. Indeed, it would be fair to say that Iran was the biggest winner from the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Listen to U.S. News owner Mortimer Zuckerman, one of the invasion’s most outspoken boosters. Here he is in October 2002, in one of his many get-Saddam editorials in the run-up to the invasion: “We are in a war against terrorism, and we must fight that war in a time and a place of our choosing. The war’s next phase, clearly, is Iraq.” Now, here he is four years later, in December 2006: “Question: What’s the most dangerous geopolitical development in the 21st century? Answer: Iran’s emergence as the Middle East regional superpower.” And here he is again in April 2007: “Ironically, Iran has been the great beneficiary of the war in Iraq.”

In other words, the Iraq invasion, which Zuckerman spent months demanding, resulted in “the most dangerous geopolitical development in the 21st century.” So what’s he up to now? Well, last week, even before the chemical weapons bombshell, he was calling the administration’s cautious approach “feeble” and urging some sort of stepped up involvement—either military engagement or full-scale arming of the rebels.

All this doesn’t make Zuckerman a bad man. But it does make him and his neoconservative allies extremely unreliable guides to the uncertain politics of the Middle East. The crowd that pushed us into Iraq created a disaster. And now they’re calling for firm action in Syria.

We know what they didn’t understand about Iraq. So what are they getting wrong about Syria?

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Hamas's Not-Too-Subtle Reminder to Obama

By Nathan Jeffay

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.”

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Ex-Mossad Chief: Time for a New Obama Peace Bid

By J.J. Goldberg

Just about everybody who follows Israeli affairs with any seriousness these days agrees that the peace process is dead, that the two sides are too far apart for any deal and besides there’s nobody to talk to. The one big exception is the Israeli intelligence and defense establishment, which remains a stronghold of optimism that a deal can be reached in the near term. Which is weird, because they’re the ones who presumably know the inner workings and thinking of the two sides better than anyone.

When you bring this up to people who care about Israel, the usual response begins something like, “But don’t they realize that Israel’s minimum security needs require…” or “… that the Palestinians are dedicated to…” And you’re left wondering: What does this person know that Israeli intelligence doesn’t? And: Can’t you hear what you sound like?

Still, it’s understandable that the concerned observer would wonder how a peace process is supposed to square with Hamas’s refusal to accept Israel and the growing turmoil in the broader Arab world. Conveniently enough, former Mossad director Efraim Halevy (appointed by Bibi Netanyahu, 1998; succeeded by Meir Dagan, 2002) answers those questions and sketches the broad contours of a possible peace process in an important piece posted today at The New Republic, “The (Very) Quiet Peace Talks Between Israel and Hamas: The Middle East’s storm clouds have a silver lining.” His bottom line: Given enough pragmatism on both sides, the confluence of Hamas’s interest in stability, Egypt’s quiet mediation and the still-alive Saudi/Arab Peace Initiative make for “a very promising moment to forge durable agreements between Israel and Palestine.” Not a permanent end of conflict, but a viable modus vivendi.

“As Obama prepares to travel to the region,” Halevy writes, “one can fairly hope that he recognizes the value of the cards in his possession. He may not have any aces up his sleeve, but kings and queens should suffice for the moment.”

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Hamas Accepts 2 States, '67 Borders: Report

By J.J. Goldberg

Zvi Barel, Haaretz’s impeccably cautious Middle East commentator, reports (might be paywall; here is the Hebrew original) that Hamas secretary general Khaled Meshaal has agreed to accept a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state alongside Israel based on the 1967 borders. This follows talks in Amman this week between Meshaal King Abdullah of Jordan. Barel cites a Saudi newspaper, A-Sharq, which in turn cited “Jordanian sources.”

He said Meshaal had authorized Abdullah to pass the new Hamas position along to President Obama.

The report continues:

The meeting is also said to have covered Palestinian reconciliation and relations with Jordan. So far neither Hamas nor Jordan has officially verified the Saudi report, but Meshal’s public statement after the meeting, in which he said, “Jordan is Jordan, and Palestine is Palestine, and any talks about relations between a Palestinian state and Jordan will only be held after the establishment of a Palestinian state,” more than hint at an essential change in Hamas’ position.

To date, Hamas has rejected the two-state solution, although it welcomed the Arab peace initiative whose core was the existence of two states based on the 1967 borders. In the past, however, Meshal has stressed that the 1967 borders are only a first step in the ultimate liberation of all of Palestine. This change in position is an extension of a previous shift in orientation in which Hamas, after fierce opposition, decided to support Mahmoud Abbas’ effort to gain international acceptance of Palestine as a non-member observer nation in the United Nations.

No official confirmation from Jordan or Hamas, but Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator with Israel, seems to take the report very seriously:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Saeb Erekat, Palestinian Authority, King Abdullah, Arab Peace Initiative, Khaled Meshaal, Hamas, Jordan

Hamas Gains Popularity After Gaza

By Nathan Jeffay

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.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: fatah, gaza, hamas, israel, mahmoud abbas, marwan barghouti, palestinian, politics

No Divisions Between Jews When Rockets Fly

By Steven C. Wernick

Steven C. Wernick

Like many Jewish leaders, I have devoted the majority of my professional life to advocating on behalf of my denomination. Sometimes the need is concrete, other times ideological. From supporting the worldwide network of the 600-plus Conservative kehillot to agitating on behalf of a Judaism that is pluralistic, intellectually compelling and rooted in tradition, my religious identity is often inextricable from my personal Jewish “brand.”

Much of this is unavoidable. Not a month goes by without an invitation to speak about a topic of endless fascination to the Jewish public: the current state of Conservative Judaism. Whether joining together with the heads of my sister organizations to construct a wide lens view or honing on a particular geography — I will be moderating a panel discussion on the renaissance of Conservative Judaism on Manhattan’s East Side in December — I declare myself, time and again, a spokesperson for Conservative Judaism.

But I was reminded of the limits of denominationalism this past week in the course of my hastily arranged Solidarity Tour to Israel on Day 7 of Operation Pillar of Defense. Organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, I joined with a group of North American Jewish leaders from United Synagogue to the Union for Reform Judaism to the Orthodox Union to the Jewish Federations of North America and other Zionist groups.

Together, we visited the mayors of the cities most affected by Hamas missiles, the injured civilians and soldiers, the damaged property, the brave Israeli citizens under threat of extinction every single day. Together we met with Israeli president Shimon Peres. Together we boarded buses from Ashkelon to Beer Sheva to Jerusalem, united as Jews, representatives of our denominations, yes, but stripped of the agendas that occupy us back in our offices in North America.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: reform, pillar of defense, orthodox, jewish, israel, hamas, conservative, rocket

Sticking It to Hamas, on Twitter

By Paul Berger

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 berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger.

REFRESH TO SEE THE LATEST #HamasBumperStickers TWEETS

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: twitter, palestinian, jewish, israel, hamasbumperstickers, hamas, gaza

Will Gaza Rockets Reelect Bibi? Is That Hamas' Aim?

By J.J. Goldberg

getty images
Benjamin Netanyahu

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 …

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tzipi Livni, Shalom Yerushalmi, Rockets, Israeli Elections, Jihadis, Maariv, Hamas, Haaretz, Gaza, Ehud Olmert, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avi Issacharoff, Amos Harel, Abu Mazen

Rabin's Killer+Hamas=BFF

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images
Yigal Amir

The brother of Yitzhak Rabin’s killer has said that the assassin gets along fine with jailed Hamas terrorists and sees “no difference” between himself and the sworn enemies of Israel.

Hagai Amir made the comment in his first interview since his release in May. His brother Yigal Amir, Rabin’s killer, is still in prison.

For Hagai Amir, being in the same bracket as terrorists isn’t troubling. Asked if he feels remorse for the killing, which was intended to derail the Oslo peace process and is widely thought to have succeeded, he replied: “Of course not. It didn’t just happen out of the blue. We thought about it for two years, we acted according to the Jewish halacha, and one must not regret doing a mitzvah.”

He and his brother “did the only single act that could have been done at that particular point in time and in the conditions that were present.” He insisted: “We did not do it for us but for the Jewish people, simple as that, and behind the act was a good intention. At the end of the day, a good intention does not go to waste and it will bear fruits.” Asked is he is proud of his brother he replied “of course.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: israel, hamas, hagai, Yitzhak rabin, Yigal Amir, jewish




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