How cruel is the Israeli siege on Gaza? the IDF spokesperson’s tweets can give an idea.
I follow the IDF spokesperson on twitter (tweets are in English, btw). Every few days, there is an update there on the humanitarian aid and fuel trucks intended to pass through the Erez crossing point into Gaza.
Here are some examples:
Jan 14: #IDF: 108 aid trucks and supply of fuel and natural gas scheduled to cross into #Gaza today. Erez Xing open.
Jan 13: 171 aid trucks and a supply of fuel scheduled to cross into #Gaza today. Erez Xing open.
Jan 11: 74 aid trucks and supply of fuel and natural gas scheduled to cross into #Gaza today through Erez Xing
There are some Israelis who Re-tweet these messages to their followers. Some Israeli embassies do that too. I guess they see it as further evidence to Israel’s claim that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza because of the siege. But the truth is that these numbers tell a totally different story.
There are no natural resources in the strip and hardly any food is grown there, so all the population is dependent on supply of food, fuel and gas from the outside. The economy is on hold since the war, and 80 percent of the people live on humanitarian aid.
According to the CIA factbook, there are 1,551,859 people living in Gaza.
Let’s take the best day of the month, according to the IDF. That was Jan 13, in which 171 trucks crossed the border into Gaza. That’s 171 trucks for 1.5 million people, or one truck for 9,075 people (1,551,859 divided by 171). Now imagine having to feed, give clothing and supply heating and power to 9,075 people – like the population of a not so small US town – with a single truck. Read the rest of this entry »
Almost two weeks of intense political maneuvering ended yesterday. Many people on the Left got worried by Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to split the opposition Kadima party or to have it join his coalition. Both options, it seemed, would have made the PM even stronger, and everything that’s good for Netanyahu is surly bad for the peace process. Or isn’t it?
While I write here regularly against the current Israeli policies, and consider myself to be a part of the Left, I think that the last year have moved us closer to the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, possibly also to the end of the siege on Gaza. The current political circumstances are pretty favorable, to the point that if I could have replaced Netanyahu with other Israeli leaders – say Livni or Barak – I probably wouldn’t go for it.
To understand why, we need to dive into the depth of the complex political dynamics in Israel.
If left to do as he wishes, I have no doubt PM Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t make one step towards the end of the Israeli occupation. His ideological background is one that views the West Bank as part of the land of Israel; he believes that an independent Palestinian state would put Israel’s national security in danger; and his political base has always been on the Israeli right.
But political leaders have to consider political circumstances and limitations, and Netanyahu – unlike the two other PMs from Likud, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon – is extremely sensitive to outside pressure. And pressure came from the first moment Netanyahu entered his office.
First, there was the new approach from Washington. It’s not just Obama, but the whole backlash against the Middle East policy of the Bush administration. Furthermore, the world knew Netanyahu, and remembered him as the man who succeeded Yitzhak Rabin and almost single handedly buried the Oslo accord. And if somebody was ready to consider the idea of “a new Netanyahu”, along came the appointment of Avigdor Liberman to the Foreign Office and fixed the image of this government – quiet rightly, I must say – as the most extreme Israel ever had. Even Israel’s supporters are having troubles in the last year explaining the PM’s fondness for settling in the West Bank or defending the daily gaffe by the Foreign Minister.
And there was the war in Gaza. It’s hard to grasp how differently the international community and most Israelis view operation Cast Lead. Israelis see the war as a justified, even heroic, act against Hamas’ aggression – which was the Palestinian response to the good fate we showed in withdrawing from the Gaza strip – while most of the international community sees Cast Lead as a barbaric attack on (mostly) innocent civilians. And while the Goldstone report might never be adopted by the UN Security Council, the respond it initiated made it clear that in the near future – and unless something very dramatic happens and change everything (we always have to add this sentence in the post 11/9 world, don’t we?) – there won’t be another Cast Lead. The world won’t allow it.
All these elements – the change in Washington, the suspicious welcome the world gave Netanyahu and the respond to the war in Gaza – are forcing Netanyahu to do something he never planned to – at least with regards to the Palestinians: to act. That’s why he announced the settlement moratorium, and that’s why he is willing, according to today’s reports, to negotiate a Palestinian state on the 67′ borders, and even to talk about Jerusalem’s statues. And this is the man that won the 1996 elections after he accused Shimon Peres of agreeing to divide the Israeli capitol.
Yes, I would have preferred a Hadash-Meretz government. But this isn’t, and won’t be an option in this generation. Right now, the political leaders with a shot at the PM office are Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, maybe Shaul Mofaz, and god forbid, Avigdor Liberman. Next in line after them are people with basically the same agenda.
Exactly one year after operation Cast Lead, Gaza is still the world’s largest prison.
The media is discussing the possibility of a prisoner exchange deal, as well as the effort to renew peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, the Goldstone report and the allegations of war crimes, but the real crime is happening right before our eyes: the Israeli-Egyptian siege of the Gaza strip.
According to the CIA Factbook, there are 1.5 million people living on the strip’s 360 sq. km (slightly more than twice the size of Washington, DC). They are not allowed to travel anywhere, and their lives are reduced to little more than survival. Israel does not allow building material, supply for farming or factories, school needs and many food items into the strip. 80 percent of the population in Gaza depends on humanitarian aid for its survival. The houses which were destroyed in the war can’t be rebuilt, and thousands of people are forced to pass a second winter without shelter. 4.5 billion dollars collected for the reconstruction of the strip can’t reach Gaza.
You can read more about the siege and it’s consequences on Gisha site.
The Israeli government does not explain the reasons for the siege. It’s obviously not part of an effort to force the return of Gilad Shalit, since the siege is not part of the deal discussed between Israel and Hamas. It’s not about the rockets as well – since there aren’t almost any these days.
The IDF just launched a special page on its internet site to mark a year to the war. It’s titled “Days of Quiet”. One of the articles on the page tells the story of the Kabatim, the security officers of the Israeli towns and settlements around the Gaza strip “who used to look for missile launches at nights… and now have to fight boredom.” That’s not Peace Now saying; it’s the IDF.
So why does the siege go on?
It’s not about preventing the Hamas from stocking arms. Hamas does that through the tunnels below the Egyptian border, and Israel is checking any cargo entering the strip through its side. Forbidding trucks of pasta from getting into Gaza – as Senator Kerry was shocked to find Israel doing – has nothing to do with national security.
Is the siege a way to make the people of Gaza bring down Hamas, something both Jerusalem and Washington wishes for? If so, it’s both an immoral and inefficient way. If operation Cast Lead and the year following it proved something, it’s that Hamas is here to stay. It’s bad news for Israel and possibly for the peace process as well, but collective punishment against 1.5 million people is not a legitimate response.
Asked about the siege, most Israelis would say that the Palestinians deserve it: they elected Hamas, which launched rockets and does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, so they got it coming, more or less. This is basically the same rational terrorists use for justifying suicide attacks against Israeli civilians: they supported the occupation and all it lead to, they elected Likud, so they also have it coming. Both rationalizations are false. Suicide attacks are unacceptable, and so is the siege.
Most people who criticize the Goldstone report in the US have never been to Gaza, not even before Cast Lead. But Congressman Brian Baird from the state of Washington (D) visited the strip after the Israeli offensive, and these are the wise and sensitive words he had for his fellow legislators, just before an overwhelming majority of them (344-36) backed a resolution calling “the President and Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the [Goldstone] Report“:
Brian Baird is coming from a district that split almost equally between Democrats and Republicans – it went 53-47 to Obama in the 2008 elections – so his approach cannot be seen as an attempt to please the West Coast liberals (which don’t like him very much anyway, after he opposed the health care bill on Saturday’s vote). It seems that his February visit to Gaza – he was in Israel and traveled to Sderot as well – really made him question the administration’s unequivocal support of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. Read the rest of this entry »
Here are some more excerpts from the interview Maariv’s Sari Makover-Belikiv did with Benjamin Netanyahu’s father, Prof. Ben Zion Netanyahu. The PM’s office tried to prevent this interview from being published, and with a good reason.
Prof. Netanyahu: “The problem with the Left is that it thinks that the war with the Arabs is like all the wars that nations around the world are conduction. These wars end with a compromise after one side wins or after both sides get tired from war and understand that victory is not possible. But in the Arabs’ case, their nature and character won’t allow any compromise. When they talk of compromise, it’s a way of deceiving. They want to make the other side stop doing its best efforts and fall into the trap of compromising. The Left helps them with that goal”
Q: If compromise replaces war, what is the damage?
A: “compromise is not realistic. It weakens our positions and brings us to a state of limpness, of false believes, of illusions. Every illusion is weakening.”
Q: What is your position regarding Syria? There are those who claim that Netanyahu will try to advance there.
A: “I would not return the Golan Hight. We conquered the Golan because the Arabs were shooting from these mountains and killing our farmers across the Jordan River. And anyway, you don’t give back land that was conquered in war, and for which we spilled our blood. It should be clear that parts of the Land of Israel that will fall into our hands – we will defend our right to hold them until all generations end. You don’t return land, just like you don’t return people.”
My paper, Maariv, published an eight pages interview Sari Makover-Belikov did with professor Ben Zion Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu’s 99 year old father. Netanyahu often refers to his father as the person who inspired him the most. When he resigned from the government just before the disengagement from Gaza, Netanyahu mentioned his father as one of the reasons for his move (Prof. Netanyahu opposed the disengagement plan). “From you I’ve learned, father,” said Netanyahu that day.
In this interview, Prof. Ben Zion (who’s mind and thinking are clear as ever – in fact, he is about to go on a work tour to the US) explains his political views in length, discusses the dangers from the Left in Israel, and even passes judgment on his son’s character. He also discusses personal issues, such as his relations with Netanyahu’s wife, their kids and how he misses his son, Yoni, who was killed leading Operation Entebbe in 1976.
Prof. Netanyahu gave the interview without informing the PM’s office. As walla.co.il reported, Benjamin Netanyahu tried to prevent the publishing of this interview, and even called Maariv’s publisher, Ofer Nimrodi, on the matter. Finally it was agreed that because of the father’s age, the PM’s brother, Ido, will have the right to go over his answers. I believe this makes this interview even more valid, since Ido wouldn’t have let Maariv publish a text which doesn’t reflect the father’s personality and views.
Military Advocate Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit announced today that the military police’s investigation into the soldiers’ testimonies concerning the fighting in Gaza found out that those “were based on rumors and not first-hand experience.”
It’s good to hear that the army investigated these incidents, and I do hope that the events described by the soldiers never actually happened. I am, however, concerned by the fact that the army doesn’t check all the other evidences of misconduct during operation Cast Lead – use of illegal weapons, looting, and other cases of reported intentional killings. Even in this latest case, the army knew about the soldiers’ testimonies well before they were handed to the media, but chose to investigate them only after it got all the bad press.
It was the former Militry Advocate, Brig. Gen. Menachem Finkelstein, who, during the 2ed Intifada, cancelled the army procedure of investigating all incidents resulting in the death of civilians. Now we know what makes the army open an investigation: a headline in the New York Times.
Israel Defense Forces Chief Gabi Ashkenazi said Sunday that he did not believe Israeli soldiers harmed Palestinian civilians in “cold blood” during the offensive in the Gaza Strip.
”I can say that the IDF is the most moral army in the world,” Ashkenazi told a group of new recruits
(In other words: what’s the point in insisting all the time we have “the most moral army in the world”? claiming we have “a moral army” would do just fine. Why do we have to be “the most moral”, unless we have this sub-conscious suspicion that we are not moral at all?)
The biggest news of the week were the IDF soldiers’ testimonies regarding intentional killing of civilians, destruction, abuse and luting of property during operation Cast Lead. The story got considerable attentionaround the world. Even Jeffrey Goldberg got worried. However, there are always those who will refuse to believe there is anything wrong with the actions of Israel, the IDF and the occupation in general.
This is why I do believe these testimonies:
1. First, although it’s true that Haaretz’s reporterthe reporters who broke the story hadn’t spoken directly to the soldiers, this doesn’t make the case any weaker. On the contrary: the testimonies were given during a graduates meeting at the Oranim College military preparatory program, where the soldiers weren’t asked to give them at all, and had started talking about what happened in Gaza at their own will. Danny Zamir, the head of the college, was shocked. He didn’t publish the evidences immediately, but contacted the army first, and gave them the opportunity to launch their own investigation on the matter. Naturally, nothing was done.
2. Haaretz published the story on its web site Wednesday evening, which probably means that other papers had the story as well, since newspapers in Israel prefer to keep the big stories for their printed editions. The fact that Maariv and Yedioth were able to follow the story so fast supports this theory. (see the update below)
3. All media organizations in Israel – and I say this based on first hand knowledge – had some sort of evidences of war crimes in Gaza, even during the operation itself. The problem was that the sources for these stories were Palestinians and human rights groups, and there was no confirmation from the Israeli side. Contrary to common believe, the media in Israel almost never publishes stories that come from the Palestinian side. As for stories from third parties, such as the UN and human rights groups - they are met with many doubts, and published under many reservations, if at all. The difference this time was that the story came from within the ranks of the IDF.
4. Getting stories from soldiers is becoming extremely difficult: the army wouldn’t let reporters into Gaza, and hadn’t used reservist units on the front line. This is important because while soldiers on mandatory service are not allowed to speak to the media – and reporters don’t have back channels to them as well – getting stories from reservists is easier (many reporters are reservists themselves). The army knows that, and prefers to keep the reservists far from the line of fire when possible (there are other reasons for this as well – a reservist’s death usually receives more media coverage, and the soldiers on mandatory service are considered better trained and better equipped).
5. From my experience as an infantry soldier – and later an officer – during army operations, a relatively small portion of what’s actually happening ever gets out. The media usually covers major and unusual events, or the ones it accidentally captures on camera. But most of the time there are no cameras around.
All this leads me to believe that the evidence from Gaza published this week are not only true, but that things might have been even worse. Much worse.
To get more sense of the IDF’s spirit these days, check out this story. and also this.
UPDATE: I was told that Maariv got the story together with Haaretz. The story appeared on both web sites together.
Here is something Yeditoth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea, maybe Israel’s top diplomatic reporter and political analyst, wrote in his influential weekend column:
“Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was meant to reestablish Israel’s deterrence towards Hamas and to change the rules of game in the south. On both objectives, it was a complete failure. Hamas wasn’t deterred nor softened, and smuggling of guns into Gaza goes on, as does the rocket launching. The people of Gaza are now viewed worldwide as victims of Israeli vengeance. The US and Europe are demanding to lift the siege and are raising money to rebuild the ruins in Gaza. Egypt is working to establish a “national unity” Palestinian government, which might help Israel in the long term, but is bad news in the short term.