Friday, August 29, 2014

Children want to live

Fifty days. Seven weeks and a day. No doubt, many wars in history had lasted longer than that, and there had been worse horrors than what happened in Gaza. "We did it in the least terrible way possible" says today the IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Still, terrible it was.

Throughout  these fifty terrible days, it was the Coalition of Women for Peace  which assumed the task of keeping alight the flame of opposition to the war. To organize demonstration after demonstration, protest after protest – sometimes  in collaboration with others, sometimes alone or almost alone when no other partners appeared. Also last Saturday night we joined their call for a protest march in central Tel Aviv, from the Habima Square and along Ben Zion Boulevard. To the sound of drums and the chants of "The government’s lies/bring no security!", "Occupation is terror / PR will not help!", "End the killing, no more bereavement / the siege must end! "," In Gaza and Sderot / children want to live!". There was virtually no sign of the extreme right thugs who attacked protesters at the early weeks of the war. Only one tomato thrown near  the end of the protest signified their presence.


"In Gaza and Sderot / children want to live". This is quite a well known slogan. We have been hearing it on the streets for at least five years, every time that the southern border flared up. But never before was it so relevant and poignant. Never before those terrible fifty days had there been so many children who wanted to live, who very much wanted to live and whose lives were nevertheless cut off. The exact number is still being debated, but certainly there were more than five hundred children killed, some of them along with their parents and entire family. Thousands more of wounded children, some of whom will remain physically disabled for life, all of them will bear a trauma.

The sudden ending of the earlier ceasefire, the one which lasted five days, was  accompanied by an attempt to "liquidate" Mohammed Deif, head of Hamas' military wing – in recent months, the man which Israelis most loved to hate. " Deif had nine souls and avoided earlier attempts, but the Israeli Security Service discovered his weak point - the longing for his family, and used it to set him a lethal trap" bragged the well-known commentator known Alex Fishman on the pages of "Yedioth Ahronoth." The security services of Israel and discovered that Deif’s wife Widad and his eight month old son Ali would be in a “safe house” at  the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza - and assumed that the husband and father will be there, too. Israeli Air Force planes dropped no less than five bombs, weighing a ton each, to make sure the entire house will be destroyed and no one in it would possibly stay alive. Haggai Segal, who once served a prison term for attempting to assassinate Palestinian mayors on the West Bank and is now the editor of the right-wing “Makor Rishon” paper, congratulated the army and security services for having overcome moral scruples and taken the conscious decision to kill the mother and her child.

Two days after this affair, the four-year old Daniel Tregerman was killed when hit by a Palestinian mortar shell, while playing at his home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz near the Gaza border. His tragic death was the main topic in the Israeli news media, and on all the front pages was a photo of the smiling boy whose in his life was so suddenly cut short. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that "Hamas will pay a heavy price for this harsh terrorist attack", and the US Ambassador to Israel sent his condolences .

Hanoch Daum, a veteran columnist who lives in the West Bank settlement of Elazar, wrote, "We are going to win this war, because we sanctify Life while our enemies revere Death. Look how deeply an entire country mourned little Daniel, as if he were a family member to all of us."

One day after the death of the child Daniel Tregerman, there was a Facebook message from John Brown - the pen name of a veteran activist from Beersheba: "In the past 45 days, the IDF is on average killing every two hours  a child under the age of 15 in Gaza. In the past few hours it seems to be a bit above this average. Tanzim Judeh and her three children Ra'ad, Rawiya and   Osama were killed east of Jabalya. They were probably been directly, as the children’s bodies completely disintegrated. A bit earlier the one and half year old baby Bilal Abu Takiya was killed in the northern Gaza Strip ".

The State of Israel does not (yet?) censor Facebook, and anyone can write whatever pleases them, However, the above names have not been published in  Israeli communications media except for "Haaretz". Those who get  their information from *the* more widely circulated media outlets have never heard those names. At the beginning of the war, the B’tselem Human Rights organization tried to publish on the radio, as paid ad, the list of names and ages of Palestinian children killed in Gaza (the list was still much shorter...). The Broadcasting Authority rejected the request, and the Supreme Court upheld this decision, the judges stating that "Publication of the names of the dead children would not constitute the providing of objective information to the public - it would be a political statement."

Seventy years ago, when Zionist Jews in this country had yet to create a state, they established underground movements which waged an intense struggle against  the British Mandate authorities. The most radical of these was Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel). Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir survived the years of struggle against the British and ultimately became Prime Minister of Israel. At official memorial ceremonies,  Lehi veterans still their organization’s  anthem, "Unknown Soldiers":

Unknown soldiers are we, without uniform,
Around us horror and the shadow of death.
We were all called up for life,
Death is our only discharge.

In red days of riots and bloodshed,
In the black nights of despair,
In the cities and villages shall we raise our flag,
On which are inscribed War and Conquest.

"Unknown Soldiers" has five stanzas in all. But in recent years, official ceremonies in which it is sung usually do not come up to the last and concluding one:

The tears of bereaved mothers,
And the blood of pure infants
Shall be mortar for the cadaver building blocks
Of which the edifice of the Fatherland shall be erected.

During the fifty days of “Operation Protective Edge”, the Peace Bus had travelled several times from Jerusalem to the Gaza border, on the initiative of activists calling for an end to war and bloodshed and collecting humanitarian aid for the residents of the Gaza Strip. Following what we all hope is the end of this war, they have called for a Day of Mourning to commemorate all who perished in the conflict, Israelis and Palestinians alike. The Peace Bus stopped on its ride today at four points: The IDF Square on the borderline between East and West Jerusalem, between the Jerusalem Town Hall and the Jaffa Gate of the Old City; Manger Square at the heart of Palestinian Bethlehem; The Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, and the town of Sderot on the Gaza Strip border.

"Wearing modest black clothes to express mourning, we light candles and lay down olive branches, flowers, basil and henna powder (a Muslim custom in commemorating slain children). Across the country we create symbolic memorial sites in memory of the people on both sides, who perished as victims of the prolonged and destructive conflict. We hold a Moment of Silence. Those who want to utter a prayer, while others just listen to the whisper of the wind. We express shock and pain at the war and hope to create a common future of peace. We read out the names of the children who were killed and their lives shattered (hundreds of Palestinian children and a single Israeli child). It is not enough to state the numbers - we must read out the names behind these numbers. We speak out, loud and clear: No more war! We are all human, we all suffer!”


Friday, August 15, 2014

The Emperor is naked

At 10.30 pm the website of the Palestinian news agency Ma’an bore an ominous headline: “Ceasefire falls apart in final hours, with no renewal in sight; Palestinian negotiators charge Israel has refused to accede to Palestinian requests”. So, the opposing negotiating teams – which had not met face to face, but sat in adjoining rooms with Egyptians passing messages to and fro - left Cairo. Even before the end of the of 72-hour ceasefire three rockets were shot from Gaza at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon and intercepted in the air by Iron Dome. Israeli ground forces were moved closer to the Gaza border, and commanders made dire threats of “a new ground invasion of Gaza – far deeper than the previous one”.

A friend from Luxembourg wrote “I just communicated with my friend in Gaza, they are already in such a desperate situation. Do you think there is still a chance to prevent a new round of bombing?”  I wrote back “It does not look good but we still have an hour until the ceasefire expiry, on Midnight Middle East  time. That would be 11pm in Luxembourg”.  She wrote: “I cross my fingers”.

And then, forty minutes before Midnight came the reprieve. After all, the cease-fire had been extended for 72 hours, which was immediately amended to 120 hours, a full five days. There was still a brief raid by the Israeli Air Force on nine targets in the Gaza Strip to retaliate for these three rockets at 10pm, but the targets were “chosen with surgical precision in order to avoid casualties” (if only they had done that earlier). And then things calmed down, and the ceasefire went into effect. At least for the next five days, the arena would be occupied by the wrangling of diplomats and politicians – Israelis with Palestinians and Egyptians and Americans and Europeans, and also Israelis with Israelis and Palestinians with Palestinians.

Precisely what did happen behind the scenes in these tense last hours? Commentator Yossi Melman today compared it to the Chicken Game made famous by a James Dean film, where two drivers drive towards each other on a collision course and one must swerve to avoid a mutually destructive collision.
So who did swerve?

Already a week ago Melman used Hollywood imagery in order to explain the Cairo talks: “The Head of Egyptian Intelligence is making to the Hamas leaders a Godfather-style offer”, he wrote, “an ‘offer which can’t be refused’: first you have to accept immediately and unconditionally a 72-hour ceasefire and come to Cairo, then we talk about everything else”.

What did happen in the action-packed week between the Godfather commentary and the Chicken Game? A short recapitulation: Hamas representatives came to Cairo, to hold indirect negotiations with the Israelis; they were informed by the Egyptians at the very outset that the issue of a seaport and airport in Gaza was off the agenda and would not be discussed; they made an angry retort, accusing the Egyptians of being “Netanyahu’s stooges”; they refused to renew the first 72-hour ceasefire, let it break off and engaged in several days of renewed exchange of rockets and bombings; after three days of this they consented to a new 72-hours ceasefire; they went back to Cairo – whereupon the Egyptians came up with a new offer, namely that the issue of a Gaza seaport and airport will be on the agenda within a month.

A month is a long time in Middle Eastern politics, and Israeli governments have wriggled out of obligations far more specific and explicit than this. Still, there is some difference between “Out of the question!” and “Let’s talk about it next month”. Enough, it seems, to make even perennially suspicious Hamas  decide to give this diplomatic track another try and spare the people of Gaza the horror of  a new round of bombings. At least for five days.

And more had happened in the past two weeks – especially in the international arena. The images of death and destruction from Gaza were seen on TV around the world and made a profound impression, and even the horrors emanating from north Iraq failed to overshadow them (as Netanyhau may have hoped). On November 9 there was the world-wide series of demonstrations in solidarity with the Gazans. In particular, the one in London drew a crowd of 150,000 – one of the largest demonstrations on any issue which the British capital saw in recent  years. Israeli exporters were alarmed to hear that European supermarkets no longer wanted to have Israeli fruit on their shelves, since the sight of it angered many customers. Moreover, the European Union informed Israeli dairy producers that as of September 1, dairy products originated at settlements in the Occupied Territories would be altogether denied entry to the European market. The Spanish government declared an arms embargo on Israel, which the British threatening a similar step should the fighting in Gaza resume. Then came the disclosure in the Wall Street Journal  that the Obama Administration had stopped a shipment of appropriately named Hellfire missiles to Israel, apparently out of anger at the Israeli military using American arms in the killing of Gazan civilians.
Then, there was the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva deciding to set up an investigation of Israel’s deeds in Gaza, similar to the Goldstone Commission which investigated the Cast Lead Operation of 2009 and which caused Israel great damage on the international arena. Being engaged on a full-fledged campaign to de-legitimize in advance the UN investigation, can Netanyahu afford to restart a full-fledged military assault in Gaza, inevitably entailing further mass destruction and killings? By all sober calculation, he does not really have such an option, whatever dire threats are made by generals and  hawkish ministers.

But  Netanyahu also has no real option of just letting the war in Gaza taper off inconclusively, with desultory shooting going on in the border region. Such an outcome would be intolerable to the inhabitants of southern Israel, who had suffered considerable hardships in the past month – much less than the inhabitants of Gaza, to be sure, but much more then the inhabitants of central Israel. At the moment idolized by the country’s mass media, inhabitants of the South are in a position to exact a prohibitive political prize from Netanyahu.

On the day after the ceasefire was extended by five days, inhabitants of the South streamed  into Tel Aviv to hold a mass rally in the Rabin Square. It was far from a peace-oriented event. Speakers – mayors and local politicians from various towns in the South - demanded that Netanyahu “Solve the problem once and for all, put an end to the shooting and restore calm to the border area, either by military means or by diplomacy”. Had the government sent the army into an all-out campaign to conquer Gaza, these might have become the most vocal of cheer-leaders. But should the military option be taken definitely off the table and a comprehensive political solution for Gaza substituted, some of the same people might lend it their support.

On August 10, Yediot Aharonot published very prominently a letter written by Tomer Bar Gil, a child from Kibbutz Nirim on the Gaza border:

My name is Tomer and I am ten and a half years old.

I live in Kibbutz Nirim, less than two kilometers from the Gaza border. For a month, during the war, I was staying with my uncle and aunt ​​in the North. Three days ago we were told that we could go back to Nirim because the shooting from Gaza had stopped. I was very happy to go home, to my own room, to my games and books. But on the next morning the 72-hour ceasefire ended and there was a Code Red alarm,  and then another alarm, and also mortar shells fell without the alarm sounding. Then I felt we have been told in vain that we can come back to live here, but in fact we have been brought back into an unsafe place. I try to convince my young brother to come out and play football, but he is afraid a missile would fall. Even the steps of my father at home are frightening because they sound like explosions, and I get frightened when a dog is barking, because they sense the Code Red alarms and start barking already before people hear the alarm.

I think we can’t go on like this. On the one hand our life is in danger, on the other hand you can’t just leave your home and run away all the time.

I don’t want this condition to continue. I know that it can be solved and I want the solution to happen already. I am angry with the government for not making a peace agreement with the Palestinians and only attacking them. This is bad for all of us. I want the world to help us make peace with the Palestinians, because then we and they will have a better life.

“(…) The procession went on, when suddenly a little child said "But the Emperor is naked, he hasn't got anything on". And the child’s father said: “Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?". And one person whispered to another what the child had said, "He hasn't got anything on. A child says he is naked." Finally, the whole town was crying “He hasn't got anything on, the Emperor is naked, the Emperor is naked!". The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked on, more proudly than ever.” (Hans Christian Andersen, April 7, 1837).  

"Solidarity with the South and with Gaza"  
 sign at Tel Aviv anti-war demo, Aug. 9

Tomer with his sister Ella, standing in front of 
a protective wall (photo Yediot Ahronot)

Friday, August 8, 2014

How dare they

So, the ceasefire was not renewed, and the war goes on. For how long?

Last night was very restless. Once every hour or two we got up to listen to the radio and look up Israeli and Palestinian and international news websites. There were many rumors and speculations and few pieces of hard news, but past midnight it had become clear that the negotiations in Cairo had collapsed. Or perhaps they had  never been real talks, but rather a  joint Israeli-Egyptian effort to impose terms  which Gazans in general and Hamas leaders in particular found completely unacceptable.  And now the government of Israel declares that it will not negotiate under fire, that the fire must cease in order to make it possible to talk the conditions under which the fire may cease.

Israelis were rather flabbergasted, having been reasonably certain that Operation Protective Edge was over.  More than half of all Israelis consider it to have ended with a draw. With this draw having included 64 dead soldiers, the public did not seem too sanguine about wanting it to continue. Dozens of newspaper articles summed up the military and political and economic and psychological aspects of the war. Economists concluded that war expenses could be covered without major dislocation, if there is no further crisis. The mass circulation papers were preparing to have a few more days of the “Love Our Boys in Uniform” campaign – and after the weekend  the normal staple of gossip and scandals was going to resume. So how dare the  Palestinians, who had already taken such a terrible beating, overturn everything and decide that the war is not over yet?

A few days ago former Knesset Member Yehuda Ben Meir - once an outspoken hawk and nowadays a rather mainstream commentator - made an effort to convince Israel’s citizens that they had indeed won the war: After a month of fighting, Hamas agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire without preconditions; that is, it accepted the original Egyptian diktat – first a cease-fire and only then a discussion on the sides’ demands. The very fact Hamas has agreed to one without getting anything in advance – completely contradicting its stance for about three weeks – is tantamount to a harsh defeat. This isn’t the running of a white flag up a pole, but it’s definitely the raising of one, at least to half-mast”.

Three days later these words turned out to be, at the very least, premature. Rather than a white flag to half-mast, Israel finds itself facing a Hamas determined to go on fighting and holding up a battle flag inscribed with the words “The Port of Gaza”.

Upon their arrival in Cairo, the Palestinians had been informed by Egyptian security chiefs – speaking on behalf of Netanyahu – that the very issue of opening Gaza’s sea port (and airport) is “not on the agenda”. Netanyahu did offer some easing on the movement of goods from Israel into Gaza, some increase in the distance which Gazan fishing boats may move from shore before being intercepted by Israeli gunboats. In short – a bit of improvement in the prison conditions under which a million and eight hundred thousand Gazans are held, but by no means any change in the basic situation of their being held imprisoned by the two closely colluding warders, Israeli and Egyptian, who control all their access to the outside world.

It seems that Gazans would have to fight – and fight hard – in order to gain an open sea port, by which they could start building up their own direct relations and contacts in the wider world and break free of Israel and Egypt alike. A true War of Independence, though no one uses the term. And so, the war is once again escalating, as I write this.


On the second night of the 72-hour ceasefire, we were walking along a side street in a city which had emerged without a scratch from a month of war, thanks to the Israeli technological ingenuity and the American taxpayers’ money which had gone into Iron Dome. There was suddenly piteous mewing. A stray kitten was crying his heart out, under a parked car. About a month old, the time when mother cats stop caring for their children and they have to take care of themselves. Not all of them survive. There was an all-night shop nearby which sold milk, and the sympathetic young attendant provided a small plastic bowl which we placed as near the kitten as we could.

When coming home half an hour later, there was waiting on the computer a harrowing report published in the Christian Science Monitor and sent by an American friend. A detailed eyewitness report of what happened in the neighborhood of Khuzaa between July 21 and 25. The unimaginable gulf separating the two sides of this terribly unequal war.

“Faten Qdeih and her six children had fled Israeli shelling of their home. Her seven-year-old son Anas dashed outside in fear just as another strike landed. Qdeih followed him and found his lifeless body. (…)  A group gathered, and men took off their shirts and shoes to avoid being mistaken for militants. The men  raised white cloths and yelled “peaceful!” as they walked. “We were not expecting to get out alive”. (…) Wael Abu Erjala says he'll be haunted by a boy, dying in the street and calling for help. “I was carrying my aunt so I couldn't go to him… I don't think I'll ever sleep after what I saw.”

Are we going to have more of this in the coming days? On this first day after the resumption of fighting, “only” five Gazans were killed, a far cry from the three-digit death toll which characterized the days of last week – which is no guarantee of anything. But possibly, the outcry at the terrible things broadcast from Gaza to TV viewers worldwide, though not in Israel(!), might have some deterrent effect on the political and military decision makers. Also the firm words of the UN Secretary-General, and the incipient moves towards war-crimes charges. 

Change direction – move towards peace!

The next round of fighting can be prevented.

No to the way of wars - we must have a political solution!

Mass rally – Saturday, August 9, 2014, at 8.00 pm, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv.

On Saturday, Israel’s Peace Camp will rally at the Rabin Square.

After an agonizing month of war and death, in face of mounting waves of incitement and hatred which increasingly tear up the Israeli society, we stand up to demonstrate for peace and for democracy.
The next round of fighting can be prevented. It is far from inevitable that we continue the descent into an abyss of ever more cruel wars, of extreme hatred and the destruction of our neighbors and of ourselves.

There is another way: an immediate dialogue with the Palestinians – for a fair peace and for the reconstruction and opening of Gaza; a determined joint stand of Jews and Arabs against racism; a struggle for a future of Life.

Only a political solution of two states, Israel and Palestine side by side, will ensure independence, justice, security and hope for all who live in this land.

On Saturday night we will stand together – Jews and Arabs, residents of the South and of the whole country. Together we will call for an end to the cycle of bloodshed. The next war can and must be prevented, Israeli society should be healed.

Mass rally – Saturday, August 9, 2014, at 8.00 pm, Rabin Square

Organizations sponsoring this rally include: Meretz, Hadash, Peace Now, Combatants for Peace, Gush Shalom, Peace NGOs Forum, Young Labor in Tel Aviv and many others.

Transportation: Be'er Sheba Merakaz Ha'Morim near the University - 18.00 Contact: Immanuel 054-6480024 Jerusalem: Gan Ha'Paamon 18.15, Binyaney Ha'umma 18.30 Contact: Neta 054-4792073 Haifa Migdal Hanevi'im, Hadar (Al Middan Theatre) 17.45 Contact: Eyal 054-7843210

Now - Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Friday, August 1, 2014

Physical and mental tunnels

On Wednesday afternoon I went into our neighborhood pizzeria and noticed that their TV was no longer tuned to the non­stop 24­hour war channel. Rather, there was a non­Israeli music channel featuring a Spanish guitar player. That evening came the news that the army had presented to the Inner Cabinet a detailed plan for the complete conquest of the Gaza Strip, forecasting months of fighting and hundreds – possibly thousands – of dead Israeli soldiers. Even the outspoken cabinet war hawks Lieberman and Bennet shied away from supporting that plan.

So, it looked like the tide was turning and that the State of Israel has come up against the limitations of its mighty power. The atmosphere seemed to be improving a bit, with some fissures in the "war mania consensus", and such staunch mainstream commentators as Nahum Barne’a and former Mossad Director Efraim Halevy started to change their tune a bit.

The maverick Ari Shavit tried to analyze seriously how the past month affected us. The unexpected fighting abilities exhibited by Hamas, which had spent years preparing for this war, have broken up the complacency in which Israel had lived in the past decade. Feeling secure in overwhelming military superiority, Israeli society had shrugged off Kerry’s feeble attempts of peace­making, confident of an ability to “manage the conflict” without solving it. Israel was to go on indefinitely as “a villa in the jungle”, a prosperous high­tech enclave splendidly self­isolated from the stormy region all around. But it was a wafer­thin false security, as evident by how easily it was shattered and replaced by a deep­seated anxiety.

The success of Iron Dome in deflecting the missiles shot from Gaza, making it
possible for life to outwardly continue as normal in the cities of central Israel, was far from making Israelis feel truly secure. The panic around the Hamas cross-border tunnels was understandable for inhabitants of a kibbutz two kilometers from the Gaza border: “They could at any moment burst out of the earth and kill us all!”.  From Tel­-Avivans the same outcry probably refers to issues far deeper and profounder than physical tunnels dug in the sandy soil of the Gaza border zone.

Israel might count itself lucky that the war with Iran, towards which Netanyahu was pushing for years (and on preparing for which he spent a great deal of money) is (hopefully!) not going to happen. It might have been an even more rude and painful wakeup call.

Yesterday night I went to bed hoping that the tide was truly turning, that a UN/US brokered 72­hour ceasefire would be the beginning of long­overdue negotiations, with our side woken up from the illusion of omnipower and ready to talk rather than dictate. This morning had seen a new rude awakening, the Gaza avalanche not stopped but gathering an even greater destructive momentum. The prime minister’s nightmare has come true – once again an Israeli soldier is in the hands of Hamas.

Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers had been introduced into the Hamas’ home ground of the Gaza Strip, and Hamas managed – as they announced in advance they would – to use the opportunity and capture one of them (“kidnap” as official Israeli statements put it). Until now, Israeli society had
been extremely sensitive to soldiers held in captivity, and ready to pay very high prices in order to get them back. Would that still hold with regard to Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin?

Who has broken the ceasefire? During the night, Israeli forces had advanced into the Rafah area so as to create a fait accompli before the 8.00 ceasefire deadline and take possession of several square kilometers of ground they had not held before. Strictly, that would not be considered a ceasefire violation, though it would not exactly be an act in good faith. (Good faith is in extremely short supply on either side to this conflict...) Israeli forces then proceeded to uncover and prepare to destroy a Hamas tunnel discovered in this same area. And then, apparently, the tunnel disgorged Hamas fighters who killed two soldiers and captured one and carried him with them back deep into the earth.

Did all this happen at 7.00 before the ceasefire was to enter into effect, or at 9.30 when it was supposed to be in force? Did the ceasefire terms entitle Israeli forces to go on blowing up tunnels in the areas of Gaza presently under their direct control? Did the ceasefire terms entitle Hamas fighters presently inside these tunnels to do something about the possibility of the tunnels and themselves being blown up? Did the ceasefire terms refer at all to these complicated issues? Diplomats might long argue about all this, and a Professor of International Law might eventually set it as an interesting thorny problem to his students. To thirty-five Palestinian inhabitants of the Rafah area, killed in the immediate massive Israeli retaliation, all this would no longer make any difference.

The madness goes on.


Saturday, 2nd of August. 20:00, Habima Theater Square, Tel Aviv

We continue to call for an immediate cease fire, putting an end to the war and bloodshed, while simultaneously seeking a political solution

Stop the attack on Gaza!

War does not lead to security, it merely claims more and more causalities.

Say yes to a political solution that will make possible a secure life for both people.

*** There will be assigned stewards. Please follow their instructions as for the location of the protest, the conduct during the protest and the dispersal***

We ask that all participants will avoid any violent conduct.

Coalition of Women for Peace & The Da'am Workers’ Party

Lighting candles at the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, 
in memory of all Palestinians and Israelis killed in the Gaza War.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A tsunami of pent-up animosities

In Gaza and Sderot, children want to live

The 17th day - Friday, July 25, 2104, 3:30 pm

Two and a half weeks into the horror in Gaza. Netanyahu convenes at noon the Inner Cabinet. According to the radio news, the agenda will include both a possible cease-fire and "expanding the operation". Reportedly, some IDF generals have become tired of “pussyfutting at the margins of Gaza” and prepared plans for penetrating deeper. The number of fatalities in the Gaza Strip passed the eight hundred mark. As long as the State of Israel employed in Gaza only its Air Force, the number of dead was making double-digit increments. Since the artillery came on the scene, the jumps are in three digits. Also today the newsreader mentioned in passing "continuing heavy artillery shelling in northern Gaza".  Artillery had been sowing death in civilian populations centuries before the airplane was invented.

After the air raid alarm yesterday morning, the radio reported that heavy shrapnel fell on the main streets of Tel Aviv. Sharp steel fragments are the bigger danger. Most of the rockets fired from Gaza are intercepted in the air by the Iron Dome system, and only few of them land. But the sharp debris is falling down after each interception, and a sliver of the Iron Dome counter-missile can kill you just as dead if it falls down on your head. So, it is advised to stay under cover for ten minutes after hearing the alarm and the blast of interception.

Yesterday afternoon came the news of the killing at the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun.  Fifteen killed, and horrible footage was broadcast on TV around the world (except, of course, in Israel.) The IDF announced that it was investigating the unfortunate incident. Government and military speakers repeatedly reiterated that it is in no way the policy of the State of Israel and its armed forces  to kill unarmed civilians, that there is no intention to perpetrate any such act, and that we are deeply sorry when it does happen. And in reality it does happen again and again – always accidentally, always without intention and indeed despite all the army’s good intentions to the contrary, and the army is always very sorry when it happens. In the UNRWA school at Beit Hanoun were not only students of the school itself but also refugees who fled their homes elsewhere in Gaza, responding to the warning issued by the IDF telling them that their homes were under threat. But for the Palestinians in Gaza there is no safe place to escape to, death can come at them at any place and any time and from any direction.

“The Siege Goes On" stated a big headline in yesterday's paper. The reference was to the decision of international airlines to stop landing at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport because one of the rockets fired from Gaza fell quite close to the airport. Many Israelis were left stranded at various locations all over the world. Israel’s national airline, El Al, continued flying but raised prices. However, after the paper was already printed and on the stalls, AIPAC exerted  its influence and American companies resumed flights after a break of two days, and enabling the launch of an airlift to return the stranded Israelis before the weekend.  

Elsewhere in the same paper, the political correspondent noted that the government does not intend to accede to Hamas' demand to lift the siege on Gaza in the framework of the ceasefire. First they should stop shooting and then we'll see. The International Airport in southern Gaza which the Palestinians built during the Oslo years was closed down by the State of Israel after two years of operations. In 2001 Israeli tanks and bulldozers arrived and plowed down the runways. Will aircraft ever take off from there again? Certainly not any time soon.

Earlier this week, after the bombardment which left dozens of killed civilians lying in the streets of Shujaiyeh, Gush Shalom published an emergency ad in several papers: “Enough! The bodies of civilians are piling up in the streets of Gaza. Dozens of children were killed. Israel is sinking into a new swamp in Gaza. Enough! We must end the bloodshed and lift the siege of Gaza.
There are no military solutions. Only negotiations can achieve a quiet border.”

On the following day we got an angry phone call: "How dare you write such things? Don’t  you see how they are slaughtering us?" "Are they slaughtering us? Are you sure you are not a bit confused? Are you sure you do not have confusion?" "Certainly they are slaughtering us. Every day they shoot hundreds of missiles at us." "In case you have not noticed, Iron Dome is intercepting these missiles." "So, we have to apologize for knowing how to protect ourselves?" yelled the caller and hung up.

The majority of Israeli citizens are indeed effectively protected by their government. Under the Iron Dome protection, we in Tel Aviv we can lead an almost normal life. War enters our daily lives only with one or two alarms per day and a bit of nervousness for the rest of the time. It is only the “unrecognized villages" in the Negev, home to some eighty thousand Bedouin citizens of Israel, which are not covered. The Iron Dome computer system defines the Unrecognized Bedouin villages as open empty spaces.  In normal times they do not get water and electricity, and in times of war they do not get protection from missiles.

One of the rockets which was not worth the Iron Dome’s effort to intercept fell and exploded last week near Dimona, precisely on the spot where some 200 members of the Jenayeb Tribe, citizens of Israel, live in tin huts (more solid houses they are not allowed to build, and if they try to build them anyway the State of Israel takes care to demolish what they built) . Shrapnel thoroughly pierced the tin hut next to which the rocket exploded and killed the 32-year old Ouda Lafi al-Waj, seriously injuring in the head his three months old daughter, Aya - now anesthetized at the pediatric intensive care unit at Soroka. The rocket was fired from Gaza in this general direction because the Jenayeb Tribe happens to live near the city of Dimona which gave its name to the Dimona Nuclear Reactor which is well-known worldwide, also in Gaza. But Hamas's rockets are inaccurate weapons. As is the Israeli artillery this morning heavily and inaccurately shelling northern Gaza.

Dov Koller, peace activist from Karmiel in the north and an old friend, sent me this morning a communiqué: “Out of our duty to speak out in shared citizenship, we hold a protest vigil at Noon today in the Karmiel West Junction. We, Jews and Arabs in the Galilee, will stand there to jointly call for an end to  the bloodshed, for stopping the war. Jews and Arabs do not want to be enemies!".

At this time that I am writing, the "Peace Bus" is making its way  Jerusalem to the Gaza border, for the second time since the war began. "We set out from Jerusalem towards Gaza in a bus full of flowers and adorned with slogans of peace. Because - it will not end until we talk" wrote the initiators. "We are going to convey a message of dialogue and solidarity. Put an end to  the war. Start talking about peace. Out of the bus we will be making a live broadcast. Love of humanity. Speaking to the people of Gaza. Protest. Singing. Hope. Craftsmanship."

Tomorrow night we will all gather for a demonstration against the war at the  Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, which hopefully will be bigger than pervious demonstrations. And yet, there can be no illusion - we, opponents of the war, are isolated in the Israeli society (at least, in the Jewish Israeli society). Opposition to this Gaza war is the business of a radical, determined minority. It is unlikely that a mass protest movement could be precipitated in the Israeli society, such as flourished during the First Lebanon War.

In the first week of that war in June 1982, the missiles fell on Kiryat Shmona and the communities of Northern Israel, and peace demonstrations were very small and isolated. But after that first week, the IDF crossed the Forty Kilometer Line - at the time marking the maximum range of Palestinian missiles. The shooting of missiles stopped, but the army continued racing northward to Beirut, promoting the schemes of Defense Minister Sharon to create “A New Order in the Middle East”. That was the point when the crowds began to take to the streets and protest, and the soldiers who were killed in increasing numbers on Lebanese soil seen as having fallen in vain at a foreign country where Israel was sinking in a swamp. Eventually mothers organized and demanded to bring the boys home, and ultimately they succeeded.

Nowadays,  the firing of missiles continues over large parts of Israel, and the country’s leaders have warned the public that the shooting will continue until the last moment of the war, and that this is not the measure by which victory will be defined. Precisely when I wrote these words, the daily alarm sounded and we ran to the staircase to sit in the building’s most stable part, and strengthen our ties with our neighbors in this four floor building. And then I returned to the computer, to continue writing and note that Hamas was able apart from shooting missiles to organize effective guerilla warfare and that the IDF forces entering the Strip suffered far more losses than the High Command expected. An infantry soldier who was there told Yedioth Ahronoth: "There were no face to face battles. We entered Beit Hanoun on foot, they shot at us with anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles and small arms. We were searching for them. Sergeant Major Ben Sira was killed right next to me."

In 2014 Israel these soldiers are seen as fighting and falling "to defend out homes", their deaths in a worthy cause and not in vain. Tens of thousands came last week to attend the funerals of “lone soldiers” whose families do not live in Israel. The initiative for this did not come from the government or the army, but from an organization of soccer fans who had sent out via Facebook the call to attend the funerals.

At my neighborhood supermarket today, I found a large carton box at the cash register where customers were asked to put in gift packages for soldiers. The supermarket management took care to save the customers’ time and provide  them with a ready-made dedication letter: "To the Soldiers With Love! Dear Soldier! We are proud of you! We salute you and think about you a lot. To make things easier for you, if only slightly, we have prepared for you a package full of personal warmth and love. Take care of yourself and of us, and most importantly, return home safely. "

Amnon Abramovich, a well known Israeli media, embarked on his career as a  very staunch and outspoken opponent of the First Lebanon War. Yesterday he expressed his support for the current war in Gaza: "The cross-border tunnel system established by Hamas is truly horrifying. They could have come at night and taken over Kibbutz Nir Am, of which my parents were among the founders. I find it hard to stop imagining the nightmare scenes of what horrors they might have perpetrated. The French philosopher and writer Albert Camus, a Frenchman born in Algeria, objected to the way France maintained control of Algeria. But he said that ‘those who oppose French rule are placing bombs on  buses. These are the buses on which my mother is travelling. If that is Justice, then I choose for my mother." And so, it seems, does Abramovich. In fact, in all cases where Hamas made use of these tunnels, its members who crossed the border clashed with soldiers rather than attack civilians - but somehow this is not registered.
Near to us at the suburb of Holon lives a man named Perez, whom from time to time we run across in the street and talk about politics. He had been originally  a supporter of the extreme right, but over the years he mellowed and moved to the political center. In the last election he voted for Tzipi Livni. Monday night, a little after the alarm, we met again and talked about the current situation. He  surprised us a bit in understanding the situation of the Palestinians under siege in Gaza: "If someone had locked me up in the bathroom and prevented me from reaching other parts of the apartment, it could well be that I would start  rampaging and running wild. But make no mistake, I'm with my people. I'm not the man in the bathroom. I am the man in the living room who is a bit  afraid of that man in the bathroom and of what he might do if he broke out."

When yesterday I cleared up old files clogging up my computer I came across an article written a bit less than four months ago in Le Monde under the title "If Kerry fails, what then?." The Jewish-Palestinian co-writers - Tony Klug and Sam Bahour - started with the words: “Suppose Kerry fails to cajole the Israeli and Palestinian leaders into finally ending their conflict. What would happen next? A tsunami of pent-up animosities is likely to be unleashed, with each side holding the other responsible for the failure and calling for retribution. Attempts to indict and isolate each other would gather pace and violence might return with a vengeance. The toxins let loose will inevitably have global spillover.” Few prophecies were fulfilled in such a swift and chilling manner.

And here John Kerry is back - this time with a more modest goal. Not an end to the conflict but just putting off the immediate combustion in the Gaza Strip. "The tireless Kerry has drafted a ceasefire proposal somewhere in between the Egyptian proposal, which was designed to grind Hamas to the ground, and the Qatari proposal aimed at giving Hamas a grand triumph" writes Nahum Barnea today. "It would offer a temporary respite, during which all the demands of Hamas will be taken up. Israel will have to negotiate about all these issues  under the eyes of Kerry and the Europeans - a bitter pill for Israel to follow." At least hawks in Netanyahu's cabinet consider it far too bitter, and they are yelling and screaming and demanding a continuation of the operation and a deeper and deeper penetration into Gaza. Which suggests that  there  just might be a reason to take it seriously. And so we come to the meeting of the Israeli Inner Cabinet which is still going on as I write, and has already gone on for a long time. And presumably, an equivalent meeting of the Hamas leadership somewhere to deal with the same issue.

If we do have a ceasefire, it will be too late for Sergeant First Class Yair Ashkenazi, 36-year-old reservist from Rehovot. Like all the soldiers killed, the media is filled with his photos and the story of his life and the reactions of his grieving family members and friends. And the cease-fire would also come too late for the fifteen killed at the UNRWA school yesterday, and for more than eight hundred Palestinians whose names will never be heard and their faces never seen in the Israeli media.

The Human Rights group B'Tselem tried in vain to place a radio spot giving the names  and ages of more than a hundred children, ages fifteen or less, who were killed in Gaza in the past seventeen days. In response, B'Tselem posted the censored spot on Facebook, where it got quite a wide attention.

So, what can be hoped for, may this list be definitely closed and no further names added to it. And that the siege of Gaza be truly opened, not just in empty promises, and the people of Gaza get some fresh air. And then perhaps there would be no countdown to the next round of fighting.

Meanwhile, we continue preparations for the rally of tomorrow night.

Stop the War Demo – Saturday, 8pm, Tel Aviv, Rabin Square

We Are Not Afraid Of A Political Solution!

On Saturday, the peace camp takes a stand at Rabin Square
The war is taking a heavy toll in lives and injuries on both sides, in destruction and horror, in bombings and rockets. We answer this by taking a stand and making a demand: end the war now!

We must end the war and start talking with the recognized Palestinian leadership of the West Bank and Gaza, to end the occupation and the siege and to achieve independence and justice for both peoples – in Israel and Palestine.

Instead of being drawn, again and again, into more wars and more military actions, it is now time to lead the way to dialogue and political settlement.

There is a political solution. What price must we pay – the people of the South and the other residents of Israel, and the people of Gaza and the West Bank – until we reach that solution?

Together, Jews and Arabs, we will overcome occupation and war, hatred, incitement and racism – and offer a path to life and hope.

Haifa-17:45 Al-Midan Theater (Migdal Haneviim), contact: Danny (0525655542)
Jerusalem- 18:15 Gan Hapaamon, 18:30 Binyanei Haouma, contact: Sahar: 0545683419

Friday, July 18, 2014

Walking between the drops while it’s raining death in Gaza

Last Sunday, the Ma’ariv daily did report “At least 15 children killed in the bombing of a mosque and a residential building at Gaza’s Tufah Neighborhood.” It appeared even on the front page, but on the very bottom - and in much smaller characters than the very warlike banner headline on the top - referring the reader to a news item on p.6, where it was more cautiously worded; the killing of 15 children was not presented as a fact, but as something which “the Palestinians assert.” The whole gave the impression of a compromise achieved after a power struggle between news editors.
Three days later, with the killing of the four boys playing soccer on the Gaza beach, there was no room for the ambiguity of “the Palestinians claim that…”. They were killed some two hundred meters from where the representatives of the international media are staying, and TV cameras sent the footage of the small blood-stained around the globe in real time.

And so, the four boys from the beach made it to the Israeli banner headlines. Unnamed diplomatic sources in Jerusalem  bewailed that the mishap of killing the boys on the beach had undone the international credit which Israel amassed due to Hamas rejecting the Egyptian ceasefire proposal. It was probably because of the dead boys that Netanyahu felt obliged to accept the UN proposal for a five-hour humanitarian pause in the bombing of Gaza.

We have decided to go to central Tel Aviv during that pause, reasoning (correctly, as it turned out) that it minimized the risk of being caught by the air raid siren while inside a bus.  In the  bus we encountered the irritated passenger. About forty years old, nothing special about him, he was seated in a back seat, quietly reading his paper.Suddenly he got up, flung the paper violently halfway across the bus and burst out shouting, addressing no one in particular: “The cheek of these Hamas bastards! Making demands in exchange for agreeing to a ceasefire! Actually m aking demands! The release of prisoners, the opening of border crossings, the works! Damn them all to Hell!  And Netanyahu is sending people to Cairo to negotiate with them? What a disgrace! No concessions, I say, no concessions to damn terrorists! Just send in the tanks and smash them all to pulp, crush them, crush them!”

A family visit to Y., an old man who is more mainstream than us – though still rather leftish as compared with the general Israeli spectrum – did degenerate into political debate. “You want to go to this reading of testimonies of soldiers from Gaza? What the hell for? Do you think it will change anybody’s mind?” “No, probably it will not affect anyone who is not convinced already. People nowadays close themselves off to facts which don’t fit the opinion they already have”. “So why are you doing it? Just to provoke people?” “It is not we who are doing it, Breaking the Silence are organizing it. Soldiers’ testimonies are their thing”. “Nonsense! What is the use of that? Nothing!”. “Sometimes  there are things which need to be said, whatever the outcome”. “That’s total nonsense”. We parted on less than cordial terms.

In a small shop with a sign reading “Operation Protective Edge – 50% discount” the radio was blaring into the sidewalk. A small crowd gathered to hear the news bulletin. The news reader informed us in a rather shaky voice that “Aside from the four children killed yesterday, there were also four killed in bombings today – three on the roof of a residential building and a three-year old in the bombing of another house”.  Later on, we found that the three had been playing on the roof as their parents did not realize that the humanitarian pause was already over. 

Two hours until the reading of the testimonies. We met R., an old friend and fellow activist, at our accustomed place, Garcia’s Café on the tree-lined Massarik Square. Chatted with her trying to ban the war from our mind.

Walking along King George Street we passed two religious women with hand-painted placards. One read “Let’s all cry out as loud as we can: How long is it going to last?”. The other one  had “Our Lord God, oh please send us the Messiah right now!” Then turning to Habimah Square, where several hundred people already gathered for the reading of the testimonies.

Just as we came, the testimony of a soldier who had taken part in the 2009 invasion of Gaza was being read. “We were on the roof of a house. We saw somebody walk towards us in the darkness, a light wobbling in his hand. We wanted to fire a warning shot to make him stop, but this would have given away our position. Finally he came very close, close enough that if he were a suicide bomber he could have blown us up. Standing orders were to take no chances, so we opened fire and killed him. We examined the body and found he was an old man, unarmed, no threat whatsoever.”

“How many testimonies like this would come out of the present round?” wondered R. From a bit off, the extreme-right counter-demonstrators were shouting “Death to the Arabs! A Jew has a soul, an Arab is a bastard!”. The Breaking the Silence had taken care to install powerful loudspeakers, and the reading of the testimonies proceeded.  The police did their job (more or less) and there were only minor scuffles.

The siren did sound when we were waiting for the bus on the way back, again on King Geroge Street. A long, long wailing sound, longer then usual. We run into the nearby shop. It was quite big, we could get deep in, far away from the glass of the front display window. Several minutes and we could hear the dull explosion which means interception in the air, different from the heavier sound of ground impact. (How quickly does one gain that expertise!). Since we were in the shop anyway, we bought a small jar of Yemenite hot sauce.

“Did you see how hysterical some of these people were, how they started crying out in panic when the siren started? Don’t they know that the chance of anything actually getting through  the Iron Dome and falling exactly on their heads is astronomically small? It is the people in Gaza who need to seriously worry. Not us.” “Don’t contempt these Tel Aviv people. The danger now might be small, but they get the taste of a less and less secure future. Israel is now less safe than it was twenty years ago. How safe will it be twenty years from now? Especially if the American Empire goes the way of the late British Empire?” “So, what political conclusions will the people of Israel draw from that?” “Each according to his or her taste. We say Israel should make peace and get integrated in the region before it is too late. If it’s not too late already. But others will say we have to dig in and increase the Israeli military power and give not an inch”. “So, what shall we do?”. “As for me, I will come to the demo on Saturday night and pick up the sign ‘Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies’. At least the specific Jews and the specific Arabs in the demo mean it, completely”.

And now – the ground invasion in Gaza. R., was late last night awakened by what she thought was a missile, but turned out to be the sound of a helicopter - and she knew right away that there were Israeli casualties being transported to the nearby hospital. One dead and three wounded up to now. The dead soldier was identified as the 20-year old Sergeant Ethan Barak, killed in the north Gaza Strip when his jeep was hit by a Hams anti-tank missile (or by “friendly fire”). His former school principal spoke on the radio and said what a swell guy Ethan Barak had been, and how greatly he was loved by schoolmates, and how highly motivated he had been to join a combat unit in the army, a dream which he duly fulfilled. “I know all this sounds like a cliché” apologized the principal. Indeed, that is how it sounded.

Twenty-four Palestinians were also killed in the initial stage of the ground invasion. Among them, it was noted in passing, a five-month old baby,  killed when his family home was hit by tank fire. A baby who will remain nameless.
The occupation is killing all of us

Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 8:00 pm
Habima Square, Tel Aviv

It is forbidden to shoot at civilian populations. It is forbidden and still it happens. Both sides do it. Hamas shoots on the population of Israel. The IDF shoots at the population of Gaza.

Two equal sides? Far from it. The State of Israel has enormous military and economic strength. With massive financial assistance from the United States, the State of Israel built the "Iron Dome" system, a great technological achievement  which protects us. Therefore, the missile attacks on Israeli cities are mostly a nuisance. The air raid alarms are irritating, a bit disruptive to the routine of life, sometimes frightening – but not much more.

Gazans have no Iron Dome, no protection whatsoever against the death which falls down on them from the air and the sea and the land. The State of Israel is pounding Gaza, killing and killing and killing. True - The State of Israel has no premeditated purpose of killing innocent civilians, women and men and the elderly and children playing football on the beach. There is no premeditated purpose – but there is a reality. The killing of unarmed civilians in Gaza is going on, day by day and hour by hour. More than two hundred Palestinians have been killed. A large part of them were unarmed civilians, dozens of them were children. And it goes on.

"Why are they shooting at us?" Wondered righteously the outgoing President of Israel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. "Why did they not make of Gaza a flourishing Singapore?". But Shimon Peres forgot to mention that the city state of Singapore, whose population and size are comparable to those of the Gaza Strip, has one of the largest ports in the world. There is no one to block thousands of ships from all over world sailing in and out of that port, maintain the flow of trade on which the wealth of Singapore is built. The minuscule port of Gaza is closed and blockaded. The Israeli Navy is ever vigilant to prevent even the smallest vessels from reaching it, and shoots at Gazan fishing boats which venture  more than a few kilometers from shore.

Gaza is a big prison for its residents, nearly two millions of them. The State of Israel and its neighbor Egypt – with whom relationship has tightened considerably since General Sisi seized power - cooperate in imposing the siege on Gaza and holding its population effectively  incarcerated, unable to come and go to the outside world. Gazas live on a seashore. They can swim and play on the beach (on days where lethal shots  don’t come at them out of the sea). But they can’t get on a boat and sail into the sea, nor on a plane flying to any destination anywhere in the world. Also the land crossings are almost completely closed. For years, millions of people are locked up in the little, narrow and extremely crowded piece of land called the Gaza Strip.

"We imposed a siege on them because they are shooting at us," say the leaders of Israel. (By the way, the siege on Gaza began long before Hamas took power there). "We shoot because you impose a siege on us. We will not agree to a cease-fire which does not include the lifting of the siege," say Gaza residents this week (not all of them  Hamas members).

There is no point to a ceasefire which would simply restore the situation that existed two weeks ago. The situation of two weeks ago was unbearable - a situation of a tight siege over the Gaza Strip, causing suffering and economic suffocation and extreme poverty for the majority of its inhabitants. The siege of Gaza has spawned several rounds of conflict. Continuation of the siege is a sure recipe for another round in a year or two.

Only the lifting of the siege on Gaza, enabling its residents to come and go by land and sea and air, export and import goods  and develop their economy, can open up for them a hope for the future. Only the lifting of the siege can give a chance for peace and quiet on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.

On Saturday night Gush Shalom will join with peace and human rights  organizations in a protest against the cruel and unnecessary war called "Operation Protective Edge".  Last week, an earlier demonstration on the same location was attacked by extreme right thugs. Organizers of the current protest have taken precautions to make sure this is not repeated - and of course, what happened will not deter us from expressing our position on an issue vital to our future.

As we were informed, demonstration marshals and stewards will be present on the spot, and anyone intending to come should follow their instructions regarding location, conduct of the demonstration and its dispersal, and refrain from taking any violent action from our side.

Transportation from Jerusalem: Parking lot, Liberty Bell Park Registration: Connie 052-6375033