Israel

In Gaza, Palestinians celebrate resistance and credit it with ‘victory’

8/28/14
Celebrating resistance fighters in Gaza

Celebrating resistance fighters in Gaza

“We are relieved that the war ended, the past 52 days were very harsh as we faced death every second, and we lost many people, houses destroyed including mine. The memories of my childhood and dreams are buried now under the rubble. But we say that we will rebuild what they destroyed God willing. Today I want to say despite all this, the resistance is an asset and a card that we should use in our struggle with our enemy.” — Nader Tamer, 35, father of four from Gaza city.

Fifty two days of an-all out aggression on besieged Gaza ended following an Egyptian mediated ceasefire deal on Tuesday.

“We are excited that finally a long term truce was reached after over 50 days of air raids, tank shelling and massacres. Let it be heard, we will never bow under Israeli occupation. Despite the loss of lives and destruction we still have high spirits and if Israel wages a 4th war on Gaza we will support the resistance,” said Um Asem, 55, a grandmother from Gaza city.

Despite over 2,100 lives lost in Gaza and the destruction of thousands of homes, thousands of Gaza residents took to the streets to celebrate the resistance’s “victory” over Israel.

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Life slowly began returning to normal, as the truce still holding, people poured into the streets to inspect the damage and resume their daily lives. Some choose to go to the breach to have fresh air, away from the dusty streets where piles of rubble and debris lie.

The agreement, which went into force at 1600 GMT on Tuesday, saw the Israeli and Palestinian sides agree to a long-term ceasefire which Israel said would not be limited by time, in a move hailed by the United States, the United Nations and top world diplomats.

Palestinian resistance factions united under the command of Al-Qassam bridges, Hamas’ armed wing held a press conference and military parade, as a large crowds of people gathered in Shijaeyyah neighbourhood which was destroyed during the Israeli aggression.

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Abu Obida, the spokesman of Al-Qassam brigades, said that the conflict had shown the need to completely revise the methods of national struggle. “Negotiations are not enough with these occupiers.”

“Resistance unified the people, and that is our big achievement, we will not return to divisions or disputes.” he added.

Throughout the entire assault, Palestinian fighters from different factions remained in their bunkers and hideouts confronting invading Israeli troops, taking up sniper positions, launching rockets, and fighting invisibly like ghosts in evacuated neighbourhoods. After repeated attempts, we got hold of Abu Huzayfah, a fighter from Al-Quds brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement. He was injured by an Israeli tank shell east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza strip. The severe injury he sustained led to the amputation of both of his legs.

“We fought during the Khuza’a battle on 17th July, that battle was one of the fiercest clashes as we were trying to confront invading Israeli soldiers,” said Abu Huzayfah, a single man, in his 30s, who joined Al-Quds brigades, several years ago.

“I managed to hit a tank with an anti-tank RPG missile, another tank fired shells towards my direction, I was injured with shrapnel. Luckily I was rescued by fighters from Al-Qassam brigades who were in the area and took to a safe area through an underground resistance tunnel and then to the hospital, but later I found out that my legs were amputated,” Abu Huzayfah said.

It is not yet known how many of the victims were combatants and to which factions they belong.

“This ceasefire is no act of generosity from Israel. Do not mistake it for such. This is a victory fought for through resistance, resilience, and strategic calculations. Israel were pushed into a position where to be accepted by their people, they had to accept Hamas’s conditions,” Nidal Salamah from Gaza City said as jubilation prevailed in Gaza.

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A short time before the announcement of the long-term truce, Hamas announced that Israelis could return to their homes safely at 7 pm on Tuesday, Aug 26th, the time when the truce went into effect  That in itself is joy for both sides.

Palestinian resistance was hailed by ordinary people as well as officials.

Some consider Israel’s failure to achieve its goals-namely an end to the rocket fire from Gaza- as a total fiasco, while others say there is much reason for sadness.

“Yes, there are over 11,000 injured people including 3,000 injured children, 1,000 of which now have permanent disabilities and over 2,135 martyrs but yet we say to the Israelis and the whole world that we have the right to resist and we are with the resistance,” said one resident.

Israel says that 64 of its soldiers were killed and more than 1,000 were injured throughout the course of the fighting. The fiercest confrontations took place near the border in northern and eastern areas of the Gaza Strip, including Beit Hanoun, eastern Shujaiyya, and areas east of Khan Younis and east of Rafah.

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Abu Huzayfah said Palestinians are victorious, “I will continue the path of resistance as a field commander despite my disability now, I will be ready to take part in any resistance activity in case the enemy wages any new attack on our soil”.

The seven weeks of an all-out Israeli offensive on besieged Gaza has ended but the countdown until the next round of violence is already ticking.

“I was never a Hamas supporter, but today I say that I highly respect the resistance movements as they managed to resist until the last second. And we tell the Israelis that they will never succeed to break our will. We will reach the love of our country for our children who will continue the struggle to liberate Palestine. We will rebuild what was destroyed; we will defy our fears and fight for a better future,” said Asaad Mahmoud, a businessman of 40 in Gaza city.

This war was not a war, it was a massacre

8/28/14

During a brief stint working for UNRWA in Israel Palestine a few years ago I came across a documentary film called ‘No Sharp Objects’Made by the UN agency, it is about 15 children from Gaza who travel to the US. They meet politicians, go to New York, visit the UN and the Holocaust museum and meet American children. I particularly remember one scene where a dying father tells his son, who is about to go on the trip, to show the world that ‘the people of Gaza have principles and values.’

Mohammed Abulriban was one of the children in that film. We became friends. He is now 18. He lives in the Al Nuseirat Refugee Camp in Gaza. As the most recent slaughter in Gaza has unfolded we in the west have heard comparatively little from the Palestinians who live there and are experiencing it. I asked Mohammad what living in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge has been like. The following was written in the middle of August. – Justin Randle

Gaza War

By Mohammad J. Abulriban

The Gaza war on July 8th was the worst war that has happened on the Gaza Strip. Many buildings have been destroyed and lots of sites became buried after the Israeli military tanks threw thousands of missiles on them.

In the first days of this war, every spot on Gaza was a target for Israeli Air Forces. They were using missiles that weighed more than 2 tonnes to destroy a small spot. These missiles caused many civilians to lose their lives. Many children and women died because of these types of missiles that are unacceptable under international law.

During the war when the tanks had started to enter Gaza borders, a lot of sites near the borders were ruined and a lot of people there lost their homes for no reason. In addition to that, many families died because tanks had destroyed their homes above them.

This war is not a war, it is a massacre. Hospitals here in Gaza cannot deal with this big number of injuries, which is now more than 8000. There is not enough medical services for them. There are not enough fridges to carry the dead.

If you walk in the streets here, you will absolutely cry. Here you will find a person who lost his family, you will see a family with no home, and you will see a child with no parents. Here in Gaza and in this horrible war, no one can move in the street at night because he will be killed by these unmerciful planes. Drones are flying in the sky 24 hours and children have become afraid to play in the streets.

Words are not enough to express what goes here in Gaza. Nothing is more expensive than losing your family, your friends, your neighbors or anyone you used to be with. My friend’s house and my father’s farm have been destroyed with no reason. Our neighbours have been killed for nothing. The mosque I used to pray in has been destroyed.

Why? Why is this is happening to us? Why can’t I go to university as any student in this world? What did we do to have to leave our house? What did the people who live right now in UNRWAs’ schools do to have to leave their homes?! It’s not fair to see Palestinian children killed in this cruel way. It’s not fair to destroy more than 2000 buildings and kill more than 1900 human beings.

I will give you some examples of what has happened to my friends in this war to give you the true picture of what this cruel war made and is still making.

Ibrahim said: “I was going to my family house located in the center of Gaza strip, I was surprised that the house has been only partly destroyed as tanks had thrown some missiles on it. As I was looking at the house sadly, a missile fell on the house. I was really afraid, I quickly escaped and I thank God that there were no injuries and my family was not there.”

Mazen said: “I was sleeping inside my family flat in the 7th floor in a tower. I woke up on the sound of a bomb, I quickly ran to the kitchen and I saw some dust. I got out of the flat and I looked for where the bomb had fallen. It was in the 8th floor. It was such a horrible situation.”

The Palestinian message to Israel: Deal with us justly. Or disappear

8/28/14

Until Operation Protective Edge, most of the “messaging” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, certainly that which broke through the mainstream media, came from the Israeli side. Since Zionism’s official beginnings in Palestine some 110 years ago, the Jewish community, whether the pre-state Yishuv or constituted as the state of Israel, never took the Palestinians seriously. They were dark-skinned “natives” wrapped sinisterly in kafiyas, fedayeen or terrorists without names, history or humanity, an existential threat subsumed under the rubric “Arabs.” In 1967, when Israel finally came face to face with an organized, visible, politically aware Palestinian society, the idea of talking to them did not even occur to Israel’s leaders. They preferred to take what land and resources they wanted from the West Bank and “return” its Palestinian population to Jordan. (No one until this day in Israel has the faintest idea what to do with Gaza, except isolate it.) One Prime Minister, Golda Meir, even denied vociferously and derisively that a “Palestinian” people even existed. No Israeli government ever acknowledged the national rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination in their own country, even in a tiny, truncated state on parts of the Occupied Territory. In the brightest days of the Oslo “peace process,” all a Labor/Meretz government agreed to do was recognize the PLO as a negotiating partner. It never accepted the idea of a truly sovereign, viable Palestinian state, even if demilitarized and arising on but a fifth of historic Palestine.

To be sure, the Palestinian people resisted and, when possible, tried to negotiate. Their leadership was often weak, but we must remember that since 1948, when the nascent IDF went from village to village with ledgers containing the names of those who should be assassinated, until the attempted assassination of Muhammed Deif a few days ago, Israel has conducted a systematic campaign of eliminating by murder or imprisonment any Palestinian showing real or potential leadership. Fearful of giving any credit to Palestinian peace-making lest it undermine their own absolute claims by legitimizing a Palestinian “side,” Israelis forget and deride any Palestinian hand reaching out to them. Who remembers, for example, the moving words of Yasser Arafat at the (unsuccessful) conclusion of the Wye Plantation negotiations in 1998?  That’s when Netanyahu decided to stop agreed-upon Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank and his Foreign Minister Sharon publically called on the settlers to “grab every hilltop.” Nonetheless, in the concluding press conference, with nothing to gain and no prompting, Arafat said:

I am quite confident that I’m talking in the name of all Palestinians when I assure you that we are all committed to the security of every child, woman and man in Israel. I will do everything I can so that no Israeli mother will be worried if her son or daughter is late coming home, or any Israeli would be afraid when they heard an explosion.

The Palestinians’ messaging of peace, security and, yes, justice, was always buried under Israeli spin. At that very same Wye Plantation meeting, Sharon demonstrably refused to shake Arafat’s hand before the cameras. “Shake the hand of that dog?” he told reporters: “Never.” Mahmoud Abbas has gotten little better from Sharon or Netanyahu, despite repeated televised meetings with Israeli students, Knesset members or anyone else willing to listen to his pleas for peace, even at the price of giving up parts of East Jerusalem and some major settlement blocs. Abbas and his Palestinian Authority bear their share of the responsibility for this as well. For his own reasons Abbas has silenced his most articulate spokespeople, filled his Authority’s diplomatic posts for the most part with ineffective political hacks and makes it almost impossible for reporters to get information or responses – all in contrast to Israel’s vaunted hasbara and legions of professional spin-doctors. As a result, there has been little official Palestinian messaging at all. What has saved the day until now has been the efforts of civil society supporters of the Palestinian cause: the contributors to the Electronic Intifada, articulate Palestinian activists and academics on al Shabaka, events and actions initiated on campuses by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the myriad analysts, activists and organizations of the international civil society, including critical Israeli ones, not to forget the growing BDS movement.

That seemed to change suddenly when, on August 26th, Israel announced that it had accepted a permanent cease-fire with no pre-conditions, to be followed by a month of negotiations over issues of concern to Gazans – opening borders, reconstruction under international supervision, the rebuilding of the airport and seaport, ending restrictions on Palestinian fishing and on farming in the “buffer zone,” the reopening of the “safe passage” to the West Bank, release of prisoners and more. Hamas, who led the confrontation with Israel, was careful not to disconnect Gaza from the wider struggle for Palestinian national rights. It was Abbas who announced the cease-fire, not Khaled Mashal or Ismail Haniya, stressing that the struggle was a Palestinian one, not merely Gazan. In fact, although Netanyahu initiated Operation Protective Edge with an eye to destroying a Palestinian Unity Government of Fatah/Hamas, he ended up strengthening it. Hamas emerged the darling of the Palestinian people, as least as far as resistance goes. It was announced that Hamas and Islamic Jihad would be joining the PLO. And, in order to allow a kind of civil relationship with Egypt, Hamas lowered its pan-Islam Muslim Brotherhood profile in favor of its Palestinian one.

Still, the messaging belonged to Hamas, the ones who not only confront the Israeli Occupation but who have seized the political initiative from it. In stark contrast to Abbas, who has declared security cooperation with Israel to be “sacred” and who passively allows Israel to take effective control of Area C, the 62% of the West Bank where the settlements, the massive matrix of Israeli highways and the Separation Barrier spell the end of the two-state solution, Hamas has sent a clear and forceful message to Israel: We won’t submit even if you kill us. Deal with us justly – or disappear.

Yes, even in its moment of triumph – an Israeli commentator wryly noted on TV this week that “a Six Day War this will not be,” and polls show that 59% of Israelis do not believe Israel won – Hamas has left the door open to a two-state solution. Their position, as I understand it and as set out in the Prisoners’ National Conciliation Document of 2006, is nuanced but principled and coherent. Hamas and Jihad reject utterly the legitimacy of Israel, viewing it as a settler colonial state, and thus reject any negotiations with it or any subsequent recognition. That said, if other Palestinian parties (i.e. Fatah) enter into negotiations with Israel and the outcome is a total withdrawal from the Occupied Territory based on conditions that would allow a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian state to arise, and if such a outcome would be approved by a referendum of all Palestinians around the world, Hamas and Jihad would respect that as the voice of the Palestinian people. Thus, while still rejecting the legitimacy of Israel in principle, Hamas has agreed to join a Unity Government that accepts the two-state solution – enough for the Netanyahu government to try and break it apart. Hence Hamas’s post-Operation Protective Edge message to Israel: deal with us justly – or disappear. This is your last chance. The alternative to the two-state solution, which few Palestinians believe is still possible, and rightly so, is a single state. That’s a democratic state in the eyes of the Palestinian left, an Algeria-like situation in which the colonialists leave in the eyes of Hamas and Jihad.

This should give Israel pause, although ironically it is Israel that has eliminated the two-state solution and has left a single state – an apartheid one in the eyes of all Israeli governments, including Labor – as the only other option. Indeed, just last month Netanyahu said publicly: “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.” For 110 years “practical Zionism” has believed it can beat the natives, that it can judaize Palestine and, with its metaphorical and physical Iron Walls, cause “the Arabs” to despair of the Land of Israel ever becoming Palestine.

Well, Israel has given it its best shot. After grabbing almost all the land, driving most of the Palestinians out, imprisoning and impoverishing them in tiny enclaves in both Israel and the Occupied Territory, after burying the Palestinian presence and patrimony under Israeli-only cities, towns, kibbutzim and national parks, after assassinating its leaders and leaving its youth with no hope of a future, it now brings the full force of one of the best-equipped militaries in the world against two million poor people living in an area the size of Mobile, Alabama. More than 2000 killed in Gaza, another 12,000 injured. Some 20,000 homes destroyed, 475,000 people displaced. Six billion dollars in damage to buildings and infrastructure. And for what? Israel may have finally discovered the limits of force and violence. After taking its best shots for more than a century – and, it is true, dealing the Palestinians devastating blows, as Netanyahu and the IDF proudly claim – Israel has gained one thing: an opportunity before it is too late to learn that the Palestinians cannot be beaten militarily, that Israel itself will never know security and normal life for all the “blows” it administers the Palestinians, as long as it maintains its Occupation. Indeed, for all its strength, it is liable to disappear if it doesn’t deal justly with the natives.

At least Abbas seems to have gotten the message. He now discards further pointless negotiations with Israel as brokered by the US, preferring to have the UN set a target date for Israeli withdrawal, and perhaps going to the International Criminal Court. Hamas is likely to prevent any backsliding on his part. Maybe Israel will never get the message, its hubris blinding it to tectonic shifts in the geopolitical landscape, especially among the people of the world. But the collapse is happening. Perhaps slower than in apartheid South Africa, the Soviet Union, the Shah’s Iran or Mubarak’s Egypt, but happening none the less. Having lost the power of deterrence, Israel will either have to deal justly with the Palestinians or, indeed, disappear.

Yale Protestant chaplain says Americans must curb Israel so as to curb anti-Semitism

8/28/14

Everyone is talking about this. Last week the New York Times ran an op-ed by Deborah Lipstadt saying that anti-Semitism is returning to Europe in ways reminiscent of the Nazi era, in which Lipstadt blurred the line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, citing protests of Israel’s slaughter in Gaza. Well, the Times has now run a simple and eloquent letter from the Episcopalian chaplain at Yale that many people have passed along.

To the Editor:

Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond.

The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.

As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.

(Rev.) BRUCE M. SHIPMAN
Groton, Conn., Aug. 21, 2014

The writer is the Episcopal chaplain at Yale.

So Shipman is saying that American Jews have a responsibility to curb Israel’s war crimes because this is feeding anti-Semitism. The pushback against Shipman has already begun. David Bernstein (who ran me and Max Blumenthal down as no-accounts who would have no reputation were it not for the great career opportunity of Jewish anti-Zionism) smears Shipman, in the pages of the Washington Post. Yale has distanced itself from Shipman and Shipman has himself clarified his original statement, without neutering it. Writes a friend:

I read this in the NYT and immediately knew someone was going to call this poor man an anti-semite. But he doesn’t say that all Jews are responsible for Netanyahu and he doesn’t say anti-semitism is justified. What he says is that Israel’s behavior contributes to anti-semitism and the best way to fight this would be for Israel’s patrons to pressure Netanyahu.

Now in many cases the antisemitism is deeper than just what Israel does, but it’d be odd if Israel’s arrogance and brutality didn’t contribute to some of it. Obviously it contributes. And when people in the Jewish community make unquestioned support for Israel an integral part of being Jewish, that isn’t going to help. And anyway, even if the pastor is simply wrong it doesn’t mean he’s an anti-Semite.

Also, of course, nobody in his right mind denies that Muslim terrorism increases bigotry against Muslims. It doesn’t justify it, but in what universe would anyone deny that there is some connection? I’m a Christian and I despise the Christian Right for its support for various cruel policies.. I despise the knee-jerk pro-Israel Jewish religious community for the same reason. I wonder if it’s okay to say that in public? Probably not.

I know the way liberal Protestants think–I am one. It’s obvious that Shipman wasn’t justifying anti-semitic violence. In the Yale Daily News (linked at Bernstein’s site) he called acts of anti-semitic violence “deplorable” and he hoped that the two communities (Israeli Jews and Palestinians) would both flourish and said they both had claims to the land.   Sounds like a real Nazi, doesn’t he?

What really burns me is this–Bernstein quotes a Rabbi Rosenstein attacking Shipman, and it’s obvious that Rosenstein is someone who justifies Israeli war crimes. That’s within the range of respectable thought, while Shipman’s comment is supposed to be on the edge of Nazism.

This ties into my claim the other day that American Christians are going to overcome their fear of the anti-Semitism charge and start to criticize Israel– that Javier Bardem won’t suffer career damage for saying Israel committed genocide. Shipman’s challenge underlines my point. He has an elite appointment, and he looks into the barrel of the anti-Semitism paintgun and doesn’t blink. More and more Jews and non-Jews are going to express themselves over the Gaza horror show of 2014, that was a sequel to the Gaza horror show of 2009 and a sequel of 25 years of peace processing and colonizing more Palestinian land– a pattern demonstrating that Israel has not a clue about how to deal with its Jim Crow constitution except to marginalize, sequester, and kill brown people.

But the Lipstadt piece followed by the reaction against Shipman demonstrates that there is a bifurcated discourse in the U.S. on Israel that recalls the bifurcated consciousness of the O.J. trial. Those friendly to Israel look at the whole situation one way, and those on my side look at it another way. We are simply in different realities, and who is right? Well my side is right; I’ve been to the occupation. But what will it take to break down the epistemological walls of the other reality? Sadly, I think violence in Israel and Palestine and then the U.S. is what will do it. Though the media and BDS and the great young Jewish awakening can help to force a reckoning. The New Yorker has at last acted to marginalize AIPAC. Eight years after Walt and Mearsheimer did so in the LRB, twelve years after Michael Massing did so in the American Prospect, The New Yorker declared AIPAC a corrupting organization. And good for The New Yorker, I hope it keeps moving. And this same week Philip Giraldi writes in the Unz Review that a group of Jewish billionaires wants to take the U.S. to war in Iran. This is a far more sweeping view of the lobby’s role, and a correct one I believe. One of those billionaires is Thomas Kaplan of United Against Nuclear Iran, who is married to an Israeli and who helped appoint the neocon at the head of Harvard’s Belfer Center and is chairman of the 92d Street Y (which discriminates against Palestinian authors). Incredible, huh? The New Yorker’s piece and Giraldi’s are actually compatible, they speak to the same underlying reality, and in a few years these accounts will be reconciled. Yes I understand, it’s a delicate issue, but people have a right to talk about it.

Thanks to Scott McConnell.

Elizabeth Warren says killing Palestinian civilians is ‘the last thing Israel wants’

8/28/14

Ten days ago Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders yelled at constituents to “shut up” and threatened to call the police (below) when they got angry at him over his stance in support of Israeli massacres. Well, at least Sanders abstained on the vote to give Israel another $225 million during the Gaza onslaught.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren supported that funding, and she also got it from constituents last week. And she mouthed Israel’s talking points in responding. Her answers are so scripted I believe she has ambition for higher office and knows that opposing Israel would be disqualifying.

From the Cape Cod Times’s Ryan Barber, a week ago:

“We are disagreeing with Israel using their guns against innocents. It’s true in Ferguson, Missouri, and it’s true in Israel,” said Harwich resident John Bangert, who identified himself as a Warren supporter but said the $225 million could have been spent on infrastructure or helping immigrants fleeing Central America.

“The vote was wrong, I believe,” he added, drawing applause from several in the crowd.

Warren told Bangert she appreciated his comments, but “we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.”

“I think the vote was right, and I’ll tell you why I think the vote was right,” she said. “America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren’t many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world.”

Warren said Hamas has attacked Israel “indiscriminately,” but with the Iron Dome defense system, the missiles have “not had the terrorist effect Hamas hoped for.” When pressed by another member of the crowd about civilian casualties from Israel’s attacks, Warren said she believes those casualties are the “last thing Israel wants.”

“But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself,” Warren said, drawing applause.

Noreen Thompsen, of Eastham, proposed that Israel should be prevented from building any more settlements as a condition of future U.S. funding, but Warren said, “I think there’s a question of whether we should go that far.”

Incredible. She can’t even punish Israel for the illegal colonization that destroyed any hope of a partition plan. As Robert Naiman says, she’s a two-state faker. Also, note that even American military officers are saying that Israel’s destruction of Shuja’iyeh, killing scores of civilians, was “indiscriminate” and “disproportionate,” as Mark Perry reports in Al Jazeera. War crimes.

Thanks to Adam Horowitz.

Chancellor Wise, why not accept the scholarly inquiry of your colleagues over the politicized judgment of Salaita’s critics?

8/27/14

26 August 2014
Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise
University of Illinois

Dear Chancellor Wise,

As a long-time participant in the university world, I implore you to reverse your decision in regard to Professor Steven Salaita and now to recommend the approval of his appointment to the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

I write you as an admirer of the remarkable achievements of the historians, literary scholars, and anthropologists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  I have seen the lively and creative exchange among professors and graduate students close up as an invited guest of the History Department, and cannot believe that you would want to jeopardize this learning experience by the inappropriate and misguided criterion of civility.

I write further as a Jew, growing up in Detroit during the rise of Nazism and the anti-Semitic sermons of Father Coughlin; a Jew committed to that strand in the Jewish sensibility that still places justice and universal values at its heart; committed to the uses of rabbinical and Talmudic debate, which sought truth by language not always decorous; and to the old tradition of Jewish humor, which put laughter and mockery to the service of helping the oppressed.

As a distinguished physiologist, you have surely heard “disrespectful words” among scientists as they argued the pros and cons of research.  I certainly have, as I listened to scientists go at it on grant committees, including when the important subject of gender-based biology was on the table.   If words thought “demeaning” were uttered, the speaker was not excluded, he or she was answered.

The role of vigorous expression is even more central in the humanities and social sciences, where we are examining thought systems and actions that range from the violently cruel to the heroically generous.   What, following your Principles of August 22, would we make of the writings of the great François Rabelais, who used every comic metaphor available, especially the bodily ones, to plead the cause of those who had been silenced by the Inquisition or harmed by unjust war?

You speak of your responsibility “ to ensure that. . . differing points of view be discussed in and outside the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner.”  In the classroom: one of the exemplars of master teaching was the late George Mosse of the University of Wisconsin, refugee from Nazi Germany and historian of the rise of Nazism.  His lectures were celebrated for his sharp affirmations and his simultaneous invitation to the students to respond in kind—which they did – and for what one observer has called the “cross-fire” between him and a Marxist colleague.   Not surprisingly, he had good friends among both Israelis and Palestinians.

Outside the classroom?  But surely one knows that “differing points of view” are being discussed by members of your large faculty all the time, using every kind of speech, some of it uncivil and disrespectful.   How would one enforce your criteria at the University?  By “speech-police” in every classroom, college restaurant, sports arena, and living room?

Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita

Since this cannot be your intention, I come to the case of Stephen Salaita, whose scholarship, publications, and teaching were reviewed and warmly approved by colleagues, specialists, and university executive committees.  You say in your statement of Principles that the “the decision regarding Prof. Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel.”  If this be truly the case, then what could lead you to overturn the well-established evaluation and appointment procedures of your university and (according to the commentary by legal specialists) even hazard a possible lawsuit?

Professor Salaita’s tweets in regard to the Israeli bombing of Gaza in the last months seem to have been the trigger: as reported in information obtained by Inside Ed, they prompted some seventy emails to you, including from students who, as Jews, said they feared he would be hostile to them if they happened to take his course.  (What their majors were was not specified in the report.)

Indeed, some of Professor Salaita’s tweets were vehement and intentionally provocative: he used strong language both to criticize the deaths from Israeli bombing and to attack anti-Semitism.  The lack of “civility” in some of his tweets is linked to the genre itself: a tweet is often an answer to a tweet, and a tweet always anticipates a response.  It is a form of concise communication based on give and take, on the anticipation that the respondent may respond sharply or critically to what you have said, and that the exchange will continue.   Thus, in his public political life, Professor Salaita participates in a mode that always leaves space for an answer, thus, extending the respect to the individual respondent for which you call in your Principles.

The classroom is, of course, the critical space for assessing a professor’s educational performance, and from all reports, Professor Salaita has been a very successful teacher and much appreciated by his students.  Why not accept the careful and extended scholarly inquiry of your University of Illinois colleagues over the hasty and seemingly politicized judgment and fears of the emailers?    Further, Professor Salaita would be joining the Department of American Indian and Indigenous Studies, which on its web site commits itself to “free academic inquiry” and “the best ideals of academic freedom.”  Why not leave it to the professors in this fine department to insure that a new colleague fulfills the highest goals of teaching?   Indeed, the practices of careful listening and full speaking are very much part of the American indigenous tradition.  Professor Salaita would thus be in a setting where he could expect to do his best teaching and make the significant contribution to scholarly inquiry hoped for by the University of Illinois professors who have been seeking his presence.

I urge you, Chancellor Wise, to rethink your position and to recommend that the Board of Trustees give its approval to the appointment of Professor Salaita.   This would be an honorable course, and one that would restore the academic values which should and can prevail at a great university.

Natalie Zemon Davis,

Henry Charles Lea Professor of History emeritus, Princeton University
Adjunct Professor of History, University of Toronto

‘NYT’ continues using discredited figures suggesting parity between Israeli and Palestinian attacks — Updated

8/27/14
For a month from July 8th – August 8th, The New York Times inserted a grossly misleading interactive into each of their online stories that included a comparison between “targets in Gaza struck by Israel” and “rockets launched at Israel from Gaza.” The resulting figures suggested near parity in attacks by both sides. They appeared intended to show some balance in comparison to their other dramatically imbalanced statistic, “Palestinian deaths” and “Israeli deaths.” I suggest this because the comparison itself made no actual sense.

“Targets struck” has no meaning without a definition, and it means nothing in comparison with “rockets fired.” Struck by how many of what needs to be defined. Israel was firing rockets and shells, and dropping bombs all of various sizes – some gigantic – from planes, boats, drones, artillery and tanks, all at “targets.” A somewhat more valid comparison might have noted the number of Israeli rockets, shells and bombs, versus the number of Palestinian rockets and mortars. An even more accurate analysis would have compared the tons of ordnance or explosives used by both sides. Comparing “targets struck” to “rockets fired” doesn’t even reach the level of comparing apples and oranges.

Screenshot from the New York Times website.

Screenshot from the New York Times website.

These statistics, seemingly provided regularly by the apparently unbiased Israeli army, appeared to be at best a lazy, and at worse a deliberately deceptive way, for the New York Times to shield readers from what was clearly a dramatically imbalanced situation, by repeating an Israeli government framing of events.

I had just this morning sent off perhaps my fifth email to New York Times reporters and editors asking if they should not address their inappropriate use of this comparison over a one month period, when I was shocked to find that they had returned to the comparison again today! In an article posted online this afternoon summarizing the aftermath of the fighting, Jodi Rudoren wrote again, suggesting near parity, “But many analysts and others criticized Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership of the campaign, in which the Israeli military said it struck 5,263 targets in Gaza, while 4,564 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel.”

The continued use of this comparison, despite concerns raised about them, is to me inexplicable and suggests a complete lack of accountability to the truth. On July 16th, Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch raised concerns about the comparison with relevant New York Times staff, but The Times continued using it daily, with no changes. Sunjeev Bery of Amnesty USA tweeted concerns about these New York Times statistics on July 30th. On August 2nd on Mondoweiss, I noted a very rough comparison, suggesting that, as of July 16th, Israel may have fired 5.49 times as much ordnance at Gaza as Palestinians fired at Israel, and this was likely an underestimate of the disparity. Sunjeev Bery repeated his concerns about this Times interactive in more detail on the Huffington Post on August 8th , and his article was later posted again by Amnesty USA.

In the meantime, statistics reported over the last few weeks have proven beyond any doubt the absurdity of this comparison, but Times reporters seem not to be paying attention to them. What in the world do “5,263 targets in Gaza” have to do with 59,973 Israeli strikes, 7000 shells fired into Shija’iya in 24 hours, 1000 shells fired at Rafah in 3 hours, and 32,000 total artillery shells fired?

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Update: After I sent three emails, including the link to this article, to New York Times editors and reporters about this issue Tuesday, and had a brief email exchange with Jodi Rudoren late Tuesday afternoon, I found that today’s article was updated late Tuesday evening to read in a more appropriate manner:
The Israeli military said Wednesday it had struck 5,263 targets in Gaza, many with multiple bombs, missiles and shells. Palestinians estimate 10,800 buildings were demolished and more than 50,000 others damaged, including 277 schools, 270 mosques and 10 hospitals.
Hamas and other militant groups fired 4,564 rockets and mortars, the Israeli military said, 3,641 of which exploded in its territory, while 735 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
The edits that were made can be seen here via newsdiffs.
While this is certainly an improvement over the earlier version of today’s article, I don’t believe that it should have required so many communications with The New York Times by multiple actors over a period of more than a month to get the paper to stop using this inappropriate comparison. Additionally, the issue of the grossly misleading interactive using that comparison that was integrated into articles daily from July 8 – August 8 and that remains on the Times website, remains unaddressed.
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[Original post continues]

Today on Al Jazeera, Mark Perry reported on the 7000 shells fired in 24 hours, writing, “According to this senior U.S. officer, who had access to the July 21 Pentagon summary of the previous 24 hours of Israeli operations, the internal report showed that 11 Israeli artillery battalions — a minimum of 258 artillery pieces, according to the officer’s estimate — pumped at least 7,000 high explosive shells into the Gaza neighborhood, which included a barrage of some 4,800 shells during a seven-hour period at the height of the operation. Senior U.S. officers were stunned by the report.”

Euromid reported on August 24 that, “Gaza has been hit 59,973 times — 7,690 by air, 15,673 from the sea and 36,610 on the ground.” Euromid’s figures seem to reflect about the same level magnitude as statistics reported in the Israeli press. Ha’aretz reported on August 15th that, “On July 20, some 600 artillery shells were fired in less than an hour at the east Gaza City neighborhood of Shujaiyeh, in order to extract troops under fire….” “On August 1, in Rafah, more than 1,000 artillery shells were fired in the three hours following a Hamas cell’s capture of Lt. Hadar Goldin….” And “It is thought that at least 32,000 artillery shells were fired in Protective Edge.”

On August 14th, YNET reported, “The IDF provided its combat brigades with 4.8 million bullets, 43,000 artillery shells and 39,000 tank shells. Sources in Atal estimate that 60 percent of the supply was used, while the rest was returned to storage.”

The New York Times repeated and continued use of this comparison between “rockets fired” and “targets struck” constitutes journalistic malpractice. The only question is whether anyone within The New York Times will address this issue. Based on the record, I’m not hopeful.

And all this leaves aside another important and related failure -The New York Times failure to ever detail Israel’s vast military arsenal, and the origin of much of it in the US, despite The Times repeated articles on Palestinian rockets and tunnels. At least The Washington Post did finally take one step in reporting on that issue.

‘New Yorker’ limits its expose of Israel lobby to AIPAC

8/27/14

Connie Bruck has a big piece on AIPAC in the New Yorker that includes some good Capitol Hill reporting on AIPAC’s corrupting influence over the Congress. Friends are passing the piece along to me as an expose, and several are thrilled by it. The article is titled, “Are American Jews Turning Against AIPAC?” and suggests that AIPAC is losing power. But for all its merits the piece represents some musical-chair-switching inside the lobby: The New Yorker is turning against AIPAC, in favor of J Street.

The piece is misleading on two fronts. Throughout the piece, Bruck calls AIPAC the Israel lobby; and thereby sets up J Street and other groups as being opposed to “the lobby.” This is self-serving inasmuch as Bruck’s own husband the former congressman Mel Levine (with whom she is pictured, above) is part of the J Street/Israel Policy Forum crowd that is trying to pressure AIPAC from the liberal-center. Per Bruck, he’s not in the hated “lobby.” The truth is that the Israel lobby includes everyone who presses for the continuation of the special relationship, for US funding for Israel, and more broadly who advocates for the need for a Jewish state in the Middle East. It includes Dennis Ross who works for a pro-Israel thinktank spun off by AIPAC and was doing his job on PBS News Hour last night, defending Netanyahu. It includes United Against a Nuclear Iran, which is led by Thomas Kaplan, who Eli Clifton reports is devoted to Israel. It includes Lester Crown who calls Israel a miracle and funds the Aspen Institute and Jeffrey Goldberg who calls Israel a miracle and speaks at the Aspen Institute. It includes Ari Shavit who calls Israel a miracle speaking on the stage of the 92d Street Y, and it includes the 92d Street Y, which canceled a Palestinian author’s appearance because he could not be “balanced” by an Israeli. It includes Eric Alterman and the old Freda Kirchwey Nation but not Katrina vanden Heuvel’s Nation.  A “loose coalition” was the Walt and Mearsheimer definition of the lobby, and it’s accurate; and Bruck reprises much of the scholars’ argument, eight years later, though she’s got tunnel vision for AIPAC.

The second way Bruck misleads is that the piece purports to describe shifts in American Jewish attitudes that are causing AIPAC to seem rightwing. Yes, but don’t worry, all those liberated Jews are Zionists:

Today, a growing number of American Jews, though still devoted to Israel, struggle with the lack of progress toward peace with the Palestinians. Many feel that AIPAC does not speak for them. 

Bruck even says that some Jews are for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. But it’s a glancing reference. Most of her Jewish change section is devoted to J Street and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. Let’s be clear, J Street is part of the Israel lobby. It largely supported the Gaza massacre. It wants the U.S. to continue funding Israeli military occupation of Palestine. Young Jews who are turning away from the lobby don’t want this stuff. That’s why they formed #IfNotNow and why Jewish Voice for Peace’s ranks are burgeoning. I suppose that Bruck will get to those Jews in another eight years, when it’s an old story. She writes:

Many young American Jews believe that criticism is vital to Israel’s survival as a democratic state, she writes.

Actually the trend she describes is one that is more concerned about equal rigths than about Israel’s survival per se. 

Roger Waters at Salon is more accurate than Bruck:

support for Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has skyrocketed over the last month as members of the American Jewish community, appalled at Israel’s actions, have looked for a place to register their concern. JVP advocates for an end to occupation and the siege on Gaza, for Palestinian rights – as dictated by international law – and peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike. 

But let’s not leave out Bruck’s achievement. There is some excellent reporting in the piece about the pressure on Congresspeople, including Texan Beto O’Rourke, who refused to send another $225 million of arms to Israel during its recent massacres in Gaza. Bruck takes us inside the Senate on that vote too:

The Senate, preparing for its August recess, hastened to vote on the Iron Dome funding. At first, the appropriation was bundled into an emergency bill that also included money to address the underage refugees flooding across the Mexican border. But, with only a few days left before the break began, that bill got mired in a partisan fight. Reid tried to package Iron Dome with money for fighting wildfires, and then offered it by itself; both efforts failed, stopped largely by budget hawks. “If you can’t get it done the night before recess, you bemoan the fact that you couldn’t get it done, and everybody goes home,” a congressional staffer said. Instead, Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, the Republican leader, decided to stay over, even if it meant missing an event at home. The next morning, with the halls of the Senate all but empty, an unusual session was convened so that McConnell and Reid could try again to pass the bill; Tim Kaine was also there, along with the Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham. “There were five senators present and literally no one else!” the staffer said. “They reintroduced it and passed it. This was one of the more amazing feats, for AIPAC.”

Leading Jewish organization celebrates Israeli settlement products

8/27/14

Adam sent me this photo today from a doctor’s waiting room. The article is all about wine from the Judean Hills around Jerusalem. At least one of the vineyards is in the West Bank, in the illegal settlement of Psagot (and others vaguely alluded to are in the Golan); but the article doesn’t refer to settlements. And that’s the point, there is no Green Line. Israel is on both sides. So this is an article celebrating settlement products, from B’nai B’rith, the 170-year-old voice of the global Jewish community and a champion of “human rights.” The settlement project, now approaching its jubilee year, is embraced by the American Jewish establishment.

At Huffington Post, Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy argues that liberal Zionists could force our government to pressure Israel to accept a two-state solution if they only engaged:

The most crucial failing of the Liberal Zionists has been that they have been politically passive, unwilling to fight politically for their stated beliefs, using the same nonviolent political pressure tactics that a labor union or an environmental group or a women’s group would use to force the changes in government policy that they want.

Right. They haven’t done that because a policy of official Jewish cohesion — B’nai B’rith’s program — means sticking by the settlers. So they never grabbed the opportunity for a two-state solution offered by the Palestinians and the Arab League because they didn’t want to sell out a large portion of their community. J Street never really took a hard line against settlements. I remember asking a J Street official how he felt about settlement wine I was served at a bar mitzvah. I wouldn’t drink it, he said. But the organization refused to boycott it.

Now it’s one state, and Naiman says the most effective course of political action is to engage liberal Zionists; because the two-state solution is more realistic than a one-state solution because there is “official” acceptance of the two-state solution, and even if we all want equal rights for all citizens of Israel and Palestine, there is no realistic program to force western governments to force Israel to accept equal rights. (I’m not convinced. The movement inside Jewish life is for equal rights, BDS is for equal rights and gains more traction every month, and the most contested territory in the Middle East is between American Jews’ ears. What if they reflected their own political reality and abandoned the belief in the need for a Jewish state? B’nai B’rith would have to accept that, the same way they bought Zionism as an expression of Jewish consensus.)