Tuesday, August 25

The Israeli Bogieman

There is nothing odd about Vice-Premier and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon's speech. He criticized the Peace Now movement and the so-called "elitists" (whoever they are) calling them the "viruses" of Israeli society. He spoke at a meeting of the abominable Likud's Jewish Leadership Movement Faction of extremist right winger Moshe Feiglin.

Ya'alon has said what Netanyahu and his coalition think but never dared to say in public. Netanyahu has somehow adopted a policy of expediency albeit grudgingly. On the one hand he cannot go against Obama which is today the US. On the other hand he has to satisfy his right wing coalition partners. He cannot shoot off his mouth the way Ya'alon can.

It is strange though that Ya'alon, the ex Chief of Staff, has now formed an alliance with right wing extremists, like Moshe Feiglin, who supported the refusal of carrying out army commands that contradicted their right wing ideology. Many of Feiglin's followers were arrested in the past for obstructing traffic in violent demonstrations against the disengagement policies of the previous government.

Another inconsistency in a similar vein is Ya'alon's support for rebuilding Homesh which was evacuated by the army in August 2005. Those who put up stiff resistance were the settlers and their right wing rabbis who goaded soldiers to disobey army orders. While Ya'alon was chief -of-staff he viewed disobeying army orders in a grave light. Now he supports the re-establishment of evacuated settlements even though that is illegal. He is now courting the right wing extremists of the Moshe Feiglin ilk who support those that break the law by establishing illegal outposts.

If a vice-premier can make statements in pseudo-fascist circles demonizing a group of people that support peace by calling them” viruses and elitist", he is laying the groundwork for the possibility of delegitimizing those on the left who seek peace with Israel's Palestinian neighbors. Israel has no shortage of right wing fascists of the Yigal Amir mode (PM Rabin's assassin).

A right wing fanatic could take the law into his own hand and the consequences could end in tragedy. We do not have much to be proud these days. Israel has a right wing government consisting of a strange mixture of Knesset members with extreme right wing views including Barak’s Labor Party which has capitulated to the right and compromised on their ideology. It is matter of time before a stage is reached when a clash with President Obama will be unavoidable.

Ya'alon sounds arrogant and bold when he says that Israel need not be afraid of the US. What he may not realize is that without US support, Israel would not be able to remain a viable state. The US is Israel's best friend - even under the Obama administration!

What about the case of the beating of Palestinians on June 8 2008 in a field near the settlement of Sussia? Tamam Nawaja, 57, her husband Khalil, 70, and their relative Amran were herding their flocks near their encampment about 3 Km from Sussia. Three young men, residents of the area came up to them and told them to leave. They refused and as a result 4 masked men arrived on the scene and began beating them with clubs. (See report).

Settlers who carry out this kind of violence against innocent Palestinian shepherds are patriots according to the Ya'alon definition. It is the peacemakers and the left who are the viruses of Israel and who knows - a danger to Israel's existence!

Right wing settler thugs are by innuendo the true heroes according to the "bogieman". Obviously the establishment feels the same way as the case against the settler thugs who attacked the Palestinian shepherds was closed.

It must have been tough for Netanyahu to reprimand his friend, Ya'alon. Both share a very similar ideology as the latter stated on more than one occasion. Netanyahu has his red line when it comes to appeasing his coalition partners. He will not cross the Rubicon while President Obama is breathing down his neck over the settler freeze issue.

At the same time Netanyahu is ignoring the establishment of new settlements. (See Bypassing the Settlement Freeze - Semi Annual Report)

Israel will probably adopt an ambiguous policy of temporary freezing of settlements to satisfy the US while at the same time it will continue to build in the occupied territories in the guise of "national growth".

Today the Saudi Plan of 2002 seems to be a reasonable starting point for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The establishment of settlements in the occupied territories is the greatest obstacle to a peaceful solution. Times have changed and there is willingness amongst the moderate Arab states to recognize Israel and establish normal relations with it. This will only be achieved if Israel ceases its expansionist settler policies in the occupied West Bank.

The Netanyahu coalition with vice-premier Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon, FM Avigdor Lieberman and the Moshe Feiglin gang in the Knesset are not catalysts for achieving peace.

Saturday, August 15

The Return of Gilad Shalit

The issue of Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who remains in Hamas captivity, is painful. It is a tragedy to his parents and his close family. It is also a tragedy for Israel's soldiers who know that under captivity they stand a chance of abandonment. The concealing of information concerning his wellbeing is a criminal act unforgivable by any standards.

He has been held by Hamas for over 3 years now and the negotiations for his release have achieved nothing. There are Palestinians who say that there is so much concern over Gilad Shalit but no concern over the Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

First, the Palestinian prisoners are not held incommunicado and they have visiting rights including contact with their families. Many prisoners have been involved in violence as well as murder of innocent people which they themselves regard as an essential part of their just struggle against the occupation.

Gilad Shalit has had no contact with his family. Nobody knows his place of captivity, or the condition of his health. This is not the case with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. The prisons where they are being held is known as well as the right to receive visitors has not been curtailed.

The negotiations for Gilad's release are tough and the bargaining for the release of Palestinian prisoners, including those imprisoned for murder, have not achieved any results. While imprisonment is no vacation it is less harsh than what Gilad Shalit and his family are being subjected for reasons already mentioned.

The price for Gilad's release is very high and there is a question mark as to whether he will be released eventually. It does create a moral dilemma as to whether thousands of Palestinian prisoners, including those convicted of murder, ought to be released in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

The answer to this is a two-edged sword, but for Shalit's family no price is too high for Gilad's release.

The Hamas hate for Israel is so great and their desire for Israel's destruction no less so, makes any form of negotiations an impossible mission.

However, despite these insurmountable difficulties, Gilad must never be abandoned to his fate. Even the release of prisoners "with blood on their hands" is not too great a price to bring Gilad home.

Another well known prisoner who should be released in exchange for Gilad Shalit is Marwan Barghoutti. We are aware that he was condemned for the organization of the murder of 4 Israelis and 1 foreigner. Barghoutti has great influence amongst his people. He has been elected to third place in the recent Fatah elections.

Some Knesset members such as Benjamin Ben Eliezer and Prof Avishay Braverman support his release despite his heavy prison sentence.
The release of Palestinian prisoners including those accused of terrorism and murder as well as Marwan Barghoutti must be seriously considered as an exchange for Gilad Shalit's release. There is no other option. A military option is a far greater risk and is unrealistic.

The only other alternative is to abandon Gilad Shalit to his fate which is unacceptable! The moral repercussions to IDF soldiers serving are great. They will get the feeling that under certain circumstances they will be abandoned by Israel if they are kidnapped by Hamas.

The release of Shalit is essential and the price for his release is painful but will not be a security risk for Israel or a danger to its existence. It would strengthen the moderates in the Palestinian camp and could weaken Hamas.

Saturday, August 8

Demonization in Israel

The intense and cruel summer with its merciless sun is upon the people of Israel. Israel, being part of the Middle East, also shares the same intolerable heat with its neighbors. Things seem to be more intense here. Behavioral patterns of many people deteriorate and tolerance levels between people lowers.

Something is rotten in the State of Israel. It is common practice to demonize the Palestinian People irrespective of whether they are associated with a terrorist group or not. Generalizations are common place. These stereotypes are held with a passion. The problem is that those who generalize against another people are not immune from generalizations towards their own.

In Jerusalem, the wrath of the ultra-Orthodox was leashed against the car park being opened on the Sabbath in the city center. Garbage cans were set on fire. Street lamps were smashed and those who "desecrate the Sabbath" were stoned. This has been going on for weeks now. Is this the "United Jerusalem” Israel portrays to the world? Jerusalem is a divided city - divided between Palestinians and Israelis as well as between Ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis. Surely the time is ripe to accept this and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine! The Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) must decide whether they are part of Israel or Palestine. The extremists amongst them are against Israel and do not accept Israel's jurisdiction over them.

Any attempt to "unite" Jerusalem is futile! A two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine deserves support. There is no third way.

Some elements in Israeli society are developing disturbing patterns of violence and intolerance to those who are different.

The attitude towards migrant workers is shocking if not inhuman. It all began with the legalizing of contract labor from overseas. Many unscrupulous contractors enlist foreign workers by enticing them to come to Israel to work under contract. This is done by emissaries who go to countries where the economic situation is poor and many people are looking for a way out. The Philippines, Thailand, Nigeria, and India are a few examples. These workers replace Palestinian workers who are unable to get permits to enter Israel to work. On arrival, the reality is far different to what was promised. Many contracted workers have their passports confiscated by their contractors and are housed in overcrowded inhuman conditions. The salaries they receive are poor. Many of these workers are employed as care givers for the elderly, agricultural workers, building laborers and other jobs that Israelis are not prepared to do.

When their contract expires, many remain in Israel illegally. They are hounded by the immigration police who imprison them under inhuman conditions until deportation to their countries of origin. Some of these workers are married and have children born in Israel. These children are Israelis, know only Hebrew, and attend Israeli schools. They live in intense fear of deportation and their parents are on the run in fear of being discovered by the immigration police known as the Oz Unit. To date no solution has been found to legalize these people's status in Israel. A three month reprieve has been given in order to find a solution.

The authorities consider the migrant workers a threat to Israeli job seekers. The truth is that they are no threat. They seek jobs that Israelis are not prepared to do. This is why contractors enlisted them to work in Israel. They did this by stealth.

Mobsters initiating gang wars leave a trail of blood because of targeted killings for revenge. Unfortunately innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire. Recently there was a tragic attack on a lesbian and homosexual support center in the center of Tel Aviv. The perpetrator shot and killed 2 people and wounded 15 others. The police to date have not found the killers. The motive for the killings is unknown. Speculations are countless. There is one theory that could hold water. Homosexuals and lesbians are considered bestial and are much maligned by the religious extremists including their mentors well represented in the Knesset and their "rabbinical sages" who pull the strings in decision making at a national level. They must share the blame for the atmosphere leading to these brutal killings. They have virtually outlawed the right of homosexuals to lead their lives according to their choice. One need not overstretch one's imagination to realize that a religious extremist could take it open himself to murder homosexuals for their sexual preferences as they have committed a sin worthy of capital punishment according to his mentor's interpretation of the Torah.

On the Palestinian track, there is an uneasy calm on Israel’s borders. No progress has been made for finding a solution to the conflict. Hamas has ceased its violence against Israel. Is this the lull before the storm? Violence could begin at the slightest provocation.

Saturday, August 1

Are There Signs of Moderation in Hamas?

These days it is quiet on the Israeli-Gaza border. There has been a cessation of rocket fire into Israeli towns in the south. Is it because of the lull before the storm or is it because Hamas is changing its tactics? Maybe it is neither or a mixture of both. The war in Gaza has had some effect on the tactics of the Hamas rulers in Gaza.

The war had weakened Hamas considerably.
More than 1 400 Palestinians were killed including at least 900 civilians, and over 5000 wounded in the offensive. Some 3 000 homes were destroyed as well as many government buildings, schools, universities, mosques, hospitals and factories.

In retrospect, a pointless war achieved nothing as far as the Gaza Palestinians are concerned. For Israel, it has heralded a temporary cessation of Hamas hostilities and an unofficial cease-fire. No matter how many investigations are carried out, there is evidence that
serious war crimes were carried out by both Israelis and Palestinians. However, much of the blame is due to Hamas's intense missile firing into Israel resulting in severe damage, injury and deaths to Israeli citizens living in towns relatively close to the Gaza border.

Another factor is the unrest in Iran which is involved in suppressing the uprising of its own citizens against President Ahmadinajad who, by proxy, is Hamas's “godfather”. Iran has been involved in supplying weapons to Hamas. Now the emphasis is on solving internal problems rather than focusing on arming Hamas for its terrorist activities against Israel's population in the southern towns.

Hamas has been weakened by Israeli military actions against it as well as the difficulties of weapons smuggling via tunnels linking Gaza with Egypt.

Khaled Mashal, the Hamas leader, who resides in Damascus, has also had the wind taken out of his sails by the civil unrest in Iran. The movement of Syria towards the US and its desire to improve its relations with the US will steer Syria away from Iran. The consequences of this are still uncertain as far as Hamas is concerned.

Perhaps this could result in Hamas moderating its tactics towards Israel without losing face by giving up the "armed struggle" against Israel as their leadership puts it. As the situation stands now, PM Ismail Haniyeh of Gaza has stated that Hamas will not oppose the two-state solution. Surely we are a step closer to Hamas recognition of Israel even though we are still very far from this.
Hamas, in its desperation, has issued a decree that woman attorneys who appear in court must dress modestly and wear the
hijab to cover their faces in public. The people of Gaza are mainly secular and this decree will drive many Gaza Palestinians against Hamas. Hamas will not tolerate opposition to its policies. It is not a democratic movement by any stretch of the imagination nor is it a movement fighting for Palestinian human rights or personal freedoms. It survives on hate, clericalism and dogmas.

The serious dispute between Hamas and Fatah does not help much either.
One must also remember that Israel was instrumental in strengthening Hamas against Fatah in the early years of Hamas's establishment.

The intense poverty, unemployment and lack of progress in the economic spheres have taken its toll on the Palestinians in Gaza. The Palestinian People are beginning to realize that Hamas is no godsend. The hopelessness of the Palestinians somehow is grist to the mill of Hamas's survival. While the situation in Gaza remains bad, no foreign aid will be forthcoming. This could also result in Hamas moderating its stand towards Israel in the end although this may not be so evident at this stage.

On the other hand, it could be resorting more towards Islamic fanaticism in desperation as its power in Gaza shows a decline, an example of which is its attitude towards woman attorneys as mentioned earlier in this article.

It also remains to be seen how the unrest in Iran will affect the relationship of the brutal Ahmadinajad regime on Hamas rule in Gaza. If Ahmadinajad is deposed and a more liberal regime replaces this dictator it could move Hamas towards a more moderate and pragmatic position vis a vis Israel. The moment Hamas loses its support from extremist Islamist regimes this could result in drastic changes which would affect the region of conflict positively.