Cheerleaders Abroad, Gaza And Israel

I was composing, in my head, some reflections on Gaza’s past eight or so days, but Jonathan Freedland seems to have beat me to it.

I think the cheerleaders abroad sentiment, is something we should dwell on.

How is it that many in the West take up the pose of football supporters?

Cheering on their team irrespective of the murders, the rockets and the crippling inhumanity of prolonged low-level warfare. It is a form of intellectual hooliganism, desensitizing, brutalizing and demeaning.

You might not unreasonably expect that some of these cheerleaders would show a degree of sensitivity or reflection, once in a while. However, that doesn’t happen and having encountered both sides in the West I find their entrenched attitudes revolting, almost incomprehensible.

Anyone that has genuinely studied the Middle East would know there is no military solution to the conflicts in Israel, in Gaza and the West Bank, and those that cheer on from the sidelines have either lost their humanity or common sense, but Jonathan Freedland expresses it far better than I ever could:

“And through it all is the weariness: of those living – and dying – in the conflict most of all, but also of those drawn into it somehow. I feel it myself, a deep fatigue with this struggle, with the actions of both sides and, sometimes especially, with their cheerleaders abroad.

So yes, I’m weary of those who get so much more exercised, so much more excited, by deaths in Gaza than they do by deaths in, say, Syria. An estimated 800 died under Assad during the same eight days of what Israel called Operation Pillar of Defence. But, for some reason, the loss of those lives failed to touch the activists who so rapidly organised the demos and student sit-ins against Israel. You might have heard me make this point before, and you might be weary of it. Well, so am I. I’m tired, too, of the argument that “We hold western nations like Israel to a higher standard”, because I see only a fraction of the outrage that’s directed at Israel turned on the US – a western nation – for its drone war in Pakistan which has cost an estimated 3,000 lives, nearly 900 of them civilians, since 2004.

I’m tired of those who like to pretend that Israel attacked unprovoked, as if there had been no rockets fired from Gaza, as if Hamas was peacefully minding its own business, a Mediterranean Sweden, until Israel randomly lashed out. I’m tired of having to ask whether any government anywhere would really let one million of its citizens be confined to bomb shelters while missiles rained down. I’m weary of having to point out that, yes, occupied peoples do have a right to resist, but that right does not extend to taking deliberate aim at civilian targets – schools and villages – which is where all but a handful of Gaza’s rockets were directed.

And I’m especially tired that so many otherwise smart, sophisticated people apparently struggle to talk about Israel-Palestine without reaching, even unwittingly, for the dog-eared lexicon of anti-Jewish cliche, casting Israeli leaders as supremacists driven by a (misunderstood) notion of Jews as “chosen people” or, hoarier still, as international puppet-masters. It pains me that too many fail to realise that while, of course, there is a clear line that separates hostility to Israel and hostility to Jews, that border is porous. Traffic moves across it both ways. Witness the Lazio thugs who bombarded Spurs fans with anti-Jewish chants – “Juden Tottenham” among them – during their match on Thursday night, but also brandished a Free Palestine banner, deployed not to declare solidarity with Gaza but to taunt a club with large Jewish support. “

Operation Pillar of Defense Rolling Thread

I imagine that Operation Pillar of Defense will go on for a while so I am having a rolling thread with anything I read, hear or think relevant.

Firstly, John Cook at Gawker puts his foot in it with Israel Names Its New War After Biblical Story About God Terrorizing Egyptians.

The Tablet takes him down a peg or two:

“But don’t tell that to John Cook. Writing at Gawker in a post subtly titled “Israel Names Its New War After Biblical Story About God Terrorizing Egyptians,” Cook—who admits he does not know Hebrew (let alone, one can safely assume, midrash)—lists a few Googled biblical verses in which the pillar of cloud appears…”

Over at Foreign Policy the depressing, Israel Defense Forces live blogs Gaza offensive.

Aluf Benn has a piece entitled, Israel killed its subcontractor in Gaza, which even I found to be incredibly cynical, but on reflection I think he might have a point.

This is a backgrounder by B’Tselem on Gaza.

Reuters explains what it sees:

Hussien Ibish presents a different perspective:

“During most of the period since Cast Lead, the Hamas rulers in Gaza have refrained from attacks against Israel and tried to prevent other militant groups from launching attacks as well. But as 2012 has progressed, that policy has changed — largely due to internal transformations within the group itself.

The internal dynamic of Hamas has traditionally been that leaders in its Politburo, which is based almost entirely in neighboring Arab countries, were more militant than their compatriots inside Gaza. It was the leaders in exile who maintained close relations with the radical regimes in Iran and Syria, while the Hamas government in Gaza was more restrained because it had more to lose from violence with Israel.

That calculation has been inverted in recent months as Hamas’s foreign alliances have undergone a dramatic transformation and its domestic wing has made a bold attempt to assert its primacy. Hamas’s relationship with Damascus completely collapsed when the group came out in opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The Politburo had to abandon its Damascus headquarters, and is now scattered in capitals throughout the Arab world. This has also created enormous strains with Iran, which is apparently supplying much less funding and material to Hamas than before.

Hamas leaders in Gaza, meanwhile, have increasingly been making the case that the Politburo does not represent the organization’s paramount leadership — but rather its diplomatic wing, whose main role is to secure aid and support from foreign governments. It is the Hamas government and paramilitary force in Gaza, they argue, that are in the driver’s seat, because they are actually involved in fighting Israel. “

Emily L. Hauser’s contribution, I have one question about Israel and Gaza.

One noticeable characteristic of this conflict is how it has ignited passions not seen in the past 18 months. By that I mean, the likes of the Stop the War Coalition are organising a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in London, yet for the last 18 months they have been almost silent concerning Assad’s slaughter of Syrian civilians.

That’s worthwhile comparing and contrasting when it comes to Western attitudes to people in the Middle East.

Simon Tisdall in the Guardian touches upon a real danger, the longer term consequences of this conflict:

“Ironically, Netanyahu’s uncontrollable new Gaza war could also tip the scales in an internal power struggle within Hamas, strengthening the faction gathered around Gaza political chief Ismail Haniyeh at the expense of those Hamas leaders in exile who hope to succeed Khaled Meshaal. Netanyahu’s war may actually end up bolstering Hamas in Gaza, or alternatively cause it to splinter and lose ground to more violently confrontationalist jihadi groups. Neither outcome would serve the all but forgotten cause of peaceful co-existence. “

Brent E. Sasley is astute:

“Given the emphasis on short-term tactical goals, it’s more likely the military operation won’t end neatly, which will in turn cause considerable electoral problems for Netanyahu and Likud-Beiteinu—who are otherwise persistently polling at less seats than they currently have. If this happens, perhaps Kadima—whose otherwise tired image doesn’t bode well for it in January—will have been proven prescient after all: that Bibi really is bad for Israel. In this case, the bad decision-making will become the politics. “

The Daily Kos (which is excellent for US election coverage) has a speculative report, which is based on the word of one individual, Israeli newspaper: Israel attacked Gaza knowing truce was in the works.

According to an informed journalist, Hamas have access to some serious hardware including the Fajr-5 rocket. It is over six metres in length and has a potential destructive distance of about 70 kilometres. What a terrible waste of human resources, building armaments the fire at Israeli civilians.
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Hamas And Likud Meant For Each Other

As Palestinians hide in their homes and Israelis stay in their bomb shelters we could almost be forgiven for thinking that these sorry and terrible events were unforeseeable.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hamas since taking power in a coup d’etat have slowly built up their military capacity and spent $10,000s on equipping their internal security services.

Across the border Likud presides over a motley coalition of rightwing politicians and those far more interested in lining their pockets than finding peace in the Middle East.

In many respects, Hamas and Likud are meant for each other.

Neither of them really wants to go the extra mile, to recognize the reality of the necessary coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. Both are prisoners of their own rhetoric and incapable of moving beyond their own limited mindsets.

The current terrible events, where hundreds of rockets and projectiles had deliberately been targeted at Israeli civilians in the past week, was entirely predictable.

Hamas know that they don’t have the military force to defeat the IDF, so allow Islamic Jihad or their own members to let off steam by targeting Israeli civilians. They do it partly to prove their radicalism and stay in power, and knowing how the Israeli government will respond they garner international support as the IDF’s actions kill Palestinian civilians.

It is a convenient and dismal game that Hamas and Likud play. Hamas provokes the Israeli government, who in turn must be seen to be protecting Israeli civilians, even though this and past incursions into Gaza have not actually stop the rockets and missiles.

Hamas and Likud are more concerned with staying in power and short-term goals than any long-term solution to this conflict.

And that is the problem.

Until the leaders are capable and willing to take the bold steps towards final status negotiations then rockets will rain down on Israelis and the IAF will bomb Gaza every few months.

My analysis might seem cynical, but years of watching the respective parties do little but stay in power or enhance their own prestige makes me pessimistic about the future.

As an antidote to my cynicism I recommend readers follow Hussein Ibish on Twitter. He’s smart, clear headed and attacked from both sides, which is not a bad sign!

This is one of his latest columns (written prior to the current conflict), MB and Salafists: the Closest of Frienemies is worth a read.

Ibish’s Hamas Rising? from October 2012 was prescient.

Israelis, Social Justice And Moshe Siman

I had not heard of Moshe Siman until I read Mystical Politics’ account of his protest.

When reading that what struck me was, how little we hear of the real Israelis’ struggles in the Western media.

Contrast that with the excellent coverage of Greece, the Banks, the economy and more importantly the people, their lives, the daily effort of Greeks to exist and the dire poverty that many suffer, after almost a year without pay.

Whilst Greeks receive subtle and sympathetic coverage, there is barely a word on Moshe Siman’s self immolation and what real Israelis think and do. It is simply not heard in the West.

True enough, if there’s a bombing, shooting or knife attack in Israel there will be a video clip or mention in the news, but not the rest of people’s lives there.

It is a hard life for Israelis, faced with a Right-wing government and pressures on their existence every day. Whatever the reason behind Moshe Siman’s decision to set fire to himself this story should have been covered better in the West.

On Google news there are three stories, but they are Israeli based so you would expect that.

There is nothing on the BBC, but its news site does have a piece on the nonsense about “Yasser Arafat poisoning claims to be investigated”. Paranoid balderdash, as ably demonstrated by Hussein Ibish.

The Indy and Guardian have relegated it to their specialist Middle East sections and it can’t be found via the search function.

I am sure if this terrible event had taken place in any other country in the Middle East then it would have received widespread and proportional coverage.

However, for that to happen the Western media would have to humanises Israelis, understand them, deeply, and treat them as they do everyone else in all other countries.

I doubt that will occur in the Western media any time soon.

David Hirsh On The Merchant Of Venice And Habima

Over at Engage, David Hirsh has scrutinized, picked apart and provided informed cultural analysis on Shakespeare’s Merchant Of Venice within the context of Habima, and some decidedly non-Shakespearean bigots

“When I see a production of the Merchant of Venice, it is always the audience which unsettles me. The play tells two stories which relate to each other. One is the story of Shylock, a Jewish money lender who is spat on, excluded, beaten up, and in the end mercilessly defeated and humiliated. The other is an apparently light-hearted story about an arrogant, rich, self-absorbed young woman, clever but not wise, pretty but not beautiful, and her antisemitic friends. Shakespeare inter-cuts the grueling detailed scenes of the bullying of Shylock, with the comedic story of Portia’s love-match with a loser who has already frittered away his large inheritance.

Shakespeare offers us an intimately observed depiction of antisemitic abuse, and each time the story reaches a new climax of horribleness, he then offers hackneyed and clichéd gags, to see if he can make us laugh. It is as if he is interested in finding out how quickly the audience forgets Shylock, off stage, and his tragedy. And the answer, in every production I’ve ever seen, is that the audience is happy and laughing at second rate clowning, within seconds. And I suspect that Shakespeare means the clowning and the love story to be second rate. He is doing something more interesting than entertaining us. He is playing with our emotions in order to show us something, to make us feel something.”

The Habima Theatre Of Israel, For Want Of Rational Discussion

At the moment I am not much of a theatre goer but I thought this guest post at False Dichotomies asked relevant questions of those who support BDS:

“I tried to talk to the group making their brave stand next to me. I pointed some of the above out, by way of introduction. The women to my immediate left stared vacantly past me, possessed of her own righteousness. “What of the 5 million Palestinians who don’t have a voice”, she said to herself, as I attempted to find out what she knew of the siege of Nahr El-Bared by the Lebanese army in 2007 as compared with the Battle of Jenin in 2002 – whether, as people often wonder, Palestinian suffering counts when it is inflicted by the Lebanese, or Syrians, or Jordanians, or themselves – by anyone, in fact, but the Jews.

No reply.

Perhaps the best one of the night – and this is not saying much – came when a man stood up and pompously intoned “do the Palestinians not have eyes” and “if you prick us, do we not bleed” as he was taken out. Someone told him to piss off, to gales of laughter. As Shylock hesitated on stage, a voice cried out for him to carry on, “we’re all with you”. And, bar a lone woman shouting out that Israel was an apartheid state built on stolen Palestinian land in the street outside, that was it. To her, and all the others I saw in action tonight, I would ask the following questions.

Why are you unable, for the most part, to engage in rational discussion with people about the issues you protest? Why does the BDS movement appear to reject a solution that reflects the aspirations of both peoples for independence and self-determination?

Why is your “justice” so partial, so one-sided?

Why are you so palpably consumed by hatred?

Why do you never, ever, address the appalling treatment of the Palestinians by the countries in which they are left to rot in refugee camps? Why do you not recognise that it is impossible to turn the clock back to 1948? Why are you so obsessed with the need to self-aggrandize yourself in actions which merely make you look foolish and ignorant and do nothing to contribute to a better future for the people you purport to represent? ” [my emphasis.]

Gerard Donovan, Israel And Ireland

The novelist, Gerard Donovan, has been targeted by anti-Israeli activists as Ha’aretz reported recently:

“Irish writer Gerard Donovan has attacked the pro-Palestinian boycott movement for trying to “bully” him to abstain from visiting Israel and take part in the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem this week. Donovan, a prominent novelist and poet, accused the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) of “outright intimidation.”

Over the last few weeks, Donovan has been the focus of a campaign by pro-Palestinian activists to observe a pledge to boycott Israel, signed in 2010 by 219 Irish artists, and not to legitimize Israel’s occupation of the West Bank by participating in the writers’ festival. Open letters and petitions were addressed to him over the internet but Donovan, who is currently living in a cabin in New York and recovering from cancer, said in an interview with the Irish Times that he was unaware of the letters. He explained that he had cancelled his visit two months ago due to his ill health and that the activists were “idiots” for targeting him.

“If I had been well, I would have gone to Jerusalem,” he told the newspaper. “It is the job of the novelists to write things people don’t want to read and to go places where other people don’t want to go. Nobody tells me where I can or cannot read my work. I’m not going to allow myself to be drawn into any political controversy for any people’s ends, I don’t care how many other writers they line up, it is completely irrelevant to me.”

Last week, two Irish bands cancelled concerts in Israel due to pressure from the boycott movement. Cathy Jordan, the leader of Dervish, one of the bands, apologized for the cancellation saying that I wasn’t quite prepared for the extent of the venom directed at us.” Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter accused the activists of “cyberbullying.” “

Donovan Gerard is not giving in to their bullying. He replied in the Irish Times:

“I have always had a mistrust of organised mobs. I marched against one in the 1970s beside my father, who was active in the Itinerant Settlement Committee, along with a handful of others. Our family used to get bullets in envelopes, and my father made the front page of The Irish Times getting himself beaten up. Everyone has certain memories branded on to their young minds – that day is one of mine. Even if those mobs have in time changed to keyboard warriors expressing a more cultivated umbrage, the threats are still threats.

My brother Richard, a high-profile figure in the ultramarathon world, reached out to Dr Deane by email and phone.

There followed an exchange of emails. I would have imagined that Dr Deane would have welcomed dialogue with a leading sports figure. Instead, he terminated my brother’s polite and thoughtful points, including the obvious one that sports and politics should never mix, with the following response: “This discussion, as far as I am concerned, is hereby terminated. And further reply from you will go to spam.” “

(H/T: Eamonn McDonagh)

Not A Word About Tibetans, Only Israelis

Some Israelis want to perform a Hebrew version of the Merchant of Venice in Britain.

Not unsurprisingly some members of the English intelligentsia are annoyed.

Some thespians would like to attack the Israeli government, but can’t, so they settle for attacking Israeli actors.

Apparently, the National Theater of Israel is guilty of some crimes in the eyes of these members of the English intelligentsia.

Even the actors’ trade paper, The Stage, puts a negative spin on the matter.

Astute readers will notice, however, an almost deafening silence when it comes to the National Theatre of China.

There’s no talk by English ‘lovies’ of China’s colonisation of Tibet, the invasion some 60 years ago nor of the murderous treatment of Tibetan civilians.

None of that resonates with said hespians, but should some Israelis want to perform a play in Hebrew then all hell breaks loose.

Engage describes the issues.

The Stage’s welcoming article on the collaboration of Scotland and China’s National Theatres in 2010.

I do hope that those genuinely concerned with human rights will inform themselves on China’s rule in Tibet and avoid posturing.