Category Archives: conflict

Fighting fire with fire

When Palestinians and Israelis fight fire with fire it’s easy to get drawn in.

Resist contributing to the hatred. For those of us who are lucky enough not to be directly at risk, it’s far more constructive to hunt out and surface smart alternatives to war from people who want to understand the region and hope for peace in the region. What ideas are coming from the political opposition in Israel? What are Palestinian secularist progressives saying? What are the views of international relations and conflict resolution specialists? We may need to wait a while for the most insightful commentary – it’s the extra thinking and research time that makes it insightful. Meanwhile there are some commentators who want to get to the bottom of things including Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian sets out alternative readings of the recent escalation, Janine Zacharia in Slate makes the case for diplomacy in Israel’s interests.

Remembering the aftermath of Cast Lead, British Jews are braced for the spike in Jew-baiting and antisemitic behaviour which attends Israel’s conflicts. Here’s Steve Bell depicting a Jewish puppet master of other countries’ leaders as if – writes Dave Rich from the CST – he “…reached for the ‘puppeteer’ trope to explain that fact that William Hague’s statement on the conflict was presumably not critical enough of Israel for his liking, as if this is the most plausible explanation for Hague’s view.”

Steve Bell’s response isn’t really doing it for me. I think it might be something to do with his affronted tone. And what he says. As if being accused of antisemitism is worse than antisemitism.  Anyway, if Netanyahu is so powerful why are Israel’s citizens scurrying for their bomb shelters tonight?

Behind a Ha’aretz paywall, Abeer Ayyoub writes from Gaza and Israel Green Movement’s Gershon Baskin’s twitter feed is very well worth following for its links out to Palestinian and Israeli commentary. Unlike the Alqassam Brigade’s which coldly counts off the missiles it has launched at Israeli civilians, and  signals its intent towards the Israeli state by referring to Tel Aviv in inverted commas.

Update: don’t forget to look at the sources on our blogroll.

Show your support for progressive Israelis

The religious right is active in the Middle East, and Israel is no different. Here is Israeli President Shimon Peres on the shame the most recent mosque attack brings on Israel. It is far from only Muslims on the receiving end of the rage of the most extreme sections of Israeli society. Here is a piece from BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on 7th October on Ultra-Orthodox attacks on a Modern Orthodox girl’s school, also covered by the JTA. Israeli army posts have also been targeted by militant settlers.

On the mosque attacks, the New Israel Fund emails supporters:

Something awful happened in Israel on Monday. Unknown assailants torched a mosque in the Galilee village of Tuba-Zangariya. Police report that the mosque was seriously damaged. Korans were burned.

Hebrew graffiti scrawled on the mosque suggests that Jewish extremists perpetrated the arson as part of an orchestrated campaign to deter the Israeli government from cracking down on radical settlers. Mosques in the West Bank, and even Israeli military compounds, have suffered similar attacks in recent months.

We’re not going to let extremists tear Israeli society apart.

Here’s a taste of how NIF is reacting:

Tomorrow, Banish the Darkness — an NIF-funded coalition — is organizing a visit to Tuba-Zangariya to meet with the residents and with the imam of the mosque. Rabbis from across Israel, representatives of Jewish communities in the Galilee, and other dignitaries will take part. 19 organizations will be represented.

The message is simple: Burning a mosque is wrong. It’s not Jewish. It’s especially horrible that it happened during the Ten Days of Repentance. We should be using this time to reflect and to improve the world, not to sow division or to desecrate our neighbors’ holy places.

Thankfully, we’re not alone. Some of these messages have already been echoed by some of Israel’s most prominent figures, including President Peres who made the effort to go to Tuba-Zangariya.

NIF is also mobilizing globally to stand with those in Israel who are building a more peaceful future. Earlier today, we put out a call for rabbis everywhere to sign this statement condemning the violence and praising those Israelis who are standing up to racism.

I need your help with this campaign. Take a moment, right now, to ask your rabbi — or a rabbi who works in your community — to sign this statement. You can just forward them this note.

Especially now — in the midst of the High Holidays — we need hundreds of rabbis to sign on. We must make clear that friends of Israel worldwide are determined to hold onto the vision of Israel enshrined in its Declaration of Independence: “Israel will… safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions.”

NIF is not just responding to the current crisis. We’re working day-in and day-out to combat racism and to build a strong Israeli society. After the media has packed up and gone home — after everybody has forgotten about the small Galilee village of Tuba-Zangariya — NIF will be there, just as we have been for years.

You and I know that for Jews and Arabs to live in partnership, all Israelis need to feel a sense of ownership for their society.

That’s why Shatil — NIF’s action arm — is pioneering an initiative called “Shared Society.” We’re  bringing together Israelis of different stripes — Arab, Jewish, Ethiopian, Russian, Mizrachi (to name a few) — to engage in meaningful dialogue and to plan joint activities.  Israel shouldn’t just be a place where these communities get by living side-by-side. Israel should be a place where these communities thrive, where they work in concert as part of a truly shared nation.

It’s about relationships. It’s about trust. It’s about forging partnerships.

That’s the type of work that NIF does. Every. Single. Day.

It’s vital work. I’m proud to be a part of it. And I’m proud to have you as our partner.

Daniel Sokatch
CEO, New Israel Fund

Israeli secularists are in urgent need of support.

But the Green Party has tied its own hands, excluding Israeli extremists and progressives alike by participating in the draconian Israel boycott campaign, and sustaining its own harmful internal and external discourse in which Israel is spoken and written of as if its struggling progressives didn’t exist.

A little on Hamas

B’Tselem is a well-respected (current Israeli government aside, perhaps) human rights group in Israel. Here it reports on rocket and mortar fire on Israelis by Palestinians from Gaza. Those firing on Israel often do so from heavily populated areas, demonstrating a disregard for Palestinian lives as well as a murderous intent towards Israelis. Rockets and mortars are always illegal, because imprecise.

For southern Israelis there is more danger from missiles since Israel evacuated the Gaza strip. Greens are good at imagining and sympathising with the effects attacks on civilians have on Palestinian politics. It doesn’t take much imagination to work out the political climate which easily arises from indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians. While I have nothing but admiration for those who insist on a Israeli narrative other than fear, there’s no ignoring or excusing these Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Their small scale makes them no less a war crime.

Hamas is a religious nationalist organisation – Muslim Palestinians always come first. Its leadership in exile is based in Damascus. So when the forces of Syrian head of state Bashar al-Assad rampaged through the Syrian Palestinian ghetto of Latakia, Hamas’ subsequent poor display of support for al-Assad alienated the ayatollahs who fund it. Intelligence suggests that Iranian military support for Hamas has dried up. There are reports that it has not paid its employees.

All this is troubling in itself, and also because, as Israeli Green Gershon Baskin observes, Hamas is emerging as a relatively moderate force in Gaza. This is the same Hamas which is ideologically committed to Israel’s destruction and is the opposite of a moderate force by measures we in Britain would like to carry on taking for granted – for example, criminal justice, treatment of minority groups, or separation of religious and legal institutions. However, according to Baskin, Hamas is not ordering the missiles fired on Israel at the current time. They’re not calling the shots.

Addendum

Surprised to find that this post has been received – at least by a few readers – as an apology for Hamas. Perhaps I put something in the wrong terms. Hamas, being religious nationalist, can never be a force for good. But to flesh out the claim above that it is rivalled by even more violent and fundamentalist groups in the strip, let me refer readers to this 2010 Economist piece on Salafist movements in Gaza. Read it and worry.

Before two states

Cross-posted on Engage.

In two weeks Sudan will become two states. Its last ever president, Omar Al-Bashir will continue to dodge an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity issued by the International Criminal Court. Tonight China (not an ICC signatory) is his host.

Meanwhile the disputed oil-rich border territory of Abyei represents an economic reason for north-south conflict. Yesterday the South Kordufan village of Kurchi was reported to have been strafed with rockets from Khartoum in the north, killing 16 including a three-year-old and a baby, and seriously injuring 32. This is one of many ongoing attacks, and the number of internally displaced people is currently estimated at around 80,000. Today the UNSC voted to deploy 4000 Ethiopian peace-keeping troops.

There is more to the Abyei conflict than oil. Khartoum is targeting people on ethnic and political grounds, but there are some who defy these categories. A Sudan analyst interviewed on BBC Radio 4′s The World Tonight views the conflict as between those who want to impose Khartoum’s sharia law and those – Nuba SPLA, a northern opposition group of Muslims and Christians together – who are fighting for basic economic and social rights in a pluralistic, religiously tolerant society, resisting the fundamentalist policies of Khartoum.

The analyst also expressed deep regret at the “depressingly little” international attention paid to this conflict:

“This struggle is particularly important because it is offering one of the few alternatives to division between north and south, between Christian and Muslim, or black and Arab, so the lack of international support is really shocking at this stage, even if we put aside the immediate suffering of innocent people.”

Sudan will split on 9th July.

Challenge

Here’s a 2004 New Internationalist piece by Asma Agbarieh, a political organiser based in Jaffa. She writes against antisemitism and against antisemitism as moral justification for acts of oppression by the Israeli government. The piece is full of historically-grounded insight and never blames the victims, Palestinian or Israeli:

“Because Israel purports to represent Jews in general, the hatred it arouses is readily extended to Jews in general. Yet not so long ago, we should remember, the attitude on the Palestinian street was different. Through the period of the first Intifada, most Palestinians were careful to distinguish between Zionists and Jews, because they related to the conflict as a political one as opposed to a religious or racist one.”

Following up on Asma Agbarieh (now Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka) brought me to Challenge magazine, a 17 year-old Tel Aviv-based periodical of socialist perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where I found this from the Israeli workers’ party, Da’am – The 1967 lines or apartheid – yes to the democratic Arab revolution! alongside Asma’s own class analysis:

“We believe that apart from the fence that separates Jews and Arabs, there is a very different kind of fence. This new fence positions on one side all workers of the world, the victims of neoliberal economics: Arabs, Jews, Americans, Greeks, Spaniards, Egyptians, Iranians, Indians, Chinese and more. On the other side stand the wealthy of all nations, backed by their governments, who exploit, oppress, and make profits. Here is a large space for action, because the forces that unify are stronger than those that divide.

The task is not easy. The hatred is abysmal, and each side clings to its narrative. Such division is influenced by the atmosphere of religious and nationalist extremism in both camps. But the common denominator is bigger. The Jewish worker is beginning to grasp the fact that he or she is being transformed into an “Arab”—that is, one who has no privileges in the Jewish State, which itself has become a State for the Rich. This new reality confronts Jewish workers with a major challenge: Will they go on risking their lives in Israel’s wars—for the sake of sixteen families?

But there is also a challenge for Arab workers. Will they realize at last that the national-religious agenda leads to ruin, and that the only way out is to find their class partners on the other side?”

And this from Michal Schwartz on racism against Israel’s African asylum seekers, again with analysis relevant to any wealthy country which seizes upon cheap labour (though the final sentence about legitimacy is a shame).

There is plenty of analysis on why Oslo failed.

Based on the pieces I have read, Challenge doesn’t essentialise, demonise, or single out. Its arguments penetrate and are based in principles which extend. Jews, Israelis, Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs and others reading Challenge may respond strongly, but that response will be on political grounds rather than because their identity has been attacked. For this reason Challenge’s trenchant criticisms stand out from the dross about Israel and Palestine we wade through on a daily basis, and deserve to be widely read by those interested in a better Middle East.

Prisoners of Hamas

Human Rights Watch posts a letter to Hamas from Amnesty, B’Tselem, Gisha, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Gaza and others as the imprisonment of snatched 24 year old French-Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, without trial or access to his family approaches its 5th anniversary.

We hear much less about 26 year old Mohamed Abu Muailek, member of a Fatah unit who refused to fire rockets into Israel from the Gaza strip. This unfortunate and courageous man is a dissident on the terms of both Fatah and Hamas, and is unlikely to become a bargaining chip in any negotiations for prisoners’ release:

“They will say that I am a collaborator, and I don’t care much…because these are the basics of a real Muslim: to tell the truth and be a peaceful man—whether it kills him or gives him more life.”

Or BBC journalist Paul Martin, who went to testify on Abu Muailek’s behalf when he was eventually arrested as he feared. Martin himself was arrested on the spot and imprisoned for 26 days threatened with a death sentence. Abu Muailek’s trial is set to conclude in July. Collaboration is one of the most shameful crimes you could be charged with in Gaza. He is held incommunicado, is reported to have been tortured, faces possible execution, and Amnesty are following his case with concern.

Paul Martin’s film, Rocket Man Under Fire, is below. I recommend watching it in full. It is claustrophobic and its perspective of the containment of Gaza as something which, as well as effectively imprisoning all Gazans, also enables Hamas’ net to close around dissidents, is rare and valuable.

As Paul Martin observes, the Arab Spring has not reached Gaza. The only visitors who need not be afraid there are those who do not challenge Hamas.