Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Has Hamas miscalculated Turkey's role?- Some Thoughts on Regional Divisions

It has almost been a month since Israel launched its attack on Gaza, with the world standing by as over a thousand Palestinian civilians have been killed; it being clear that by all estimates Hamas militants killed in the fighting easily makeup the minority of victims.

Despite this, Hamas remains defiant from the start to continue with the “noble resistance” of shooting rockets into Israel, and attacking Israeli civilian and military targets via the tunnels. And, despite their large arms cache, and improved tactics, the Islamist group has proved mostly incapable of penetrating Israel’s iron dome and borders.

After such mass violence -- all claim that this round of violence far surpasses previous rounds of fighting -- it is clear that no protest, diplomatic sanctions, and international pressure, will distract the Israeli government from its onslaught. While it seems that both sides were not interested in the mass escalation, the question is why then have we reached this point where no ceasefire has been able to take hold. 

Anyone surprised at the death and destruction however should take a moment and place the current state of affairs in Gaza into the context of the current state of affairs of the Middle East. Following the Arab Spring, or more correctly, the popular uprising staged against the region’s dictators, the Middle East has become even more polarized, exacerbating regional divisions.   

Egypt’s former president Mohammed Morsi, who represented the Muslim Brotherhood, first brought hopes of change, providing support for Hamas. However, his policies set off mass protests at home, which led to a coup d’état.  The downfall of Morsi was not only a major blow to Hamas but also to Turkey’s Erdogan who saw himself as Morsi’s mentor. Without Egypt, Turkey would now represent Hamas’ stance; albeit, with little success. 

Just like Egypt, the Syrian conflict, which has led to the death over 170,000 people, shook the region and ignited the realigning of previous alliances. Just years before the breakout of the Syrian revolution, Erdogan placed his bets on Assad, which signaled a forming alliance against Israel, Mubarak’s Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and not surprisingly against the Palestinian authority. Once again Turkey landed on the side of Hamas.

As the Syrian revolution turned into a civil war, Turkey realigned itself with radical groups against Assad’s forces, while Hamas was left without Syrian-and Iranian-support. In fact, even if Turkey never officially pronounced its support for these groups, there is plenty of evidence that it supplied arms to ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra fighters and allowed them free movement within their border (with the grace of the United States).  

With this Middle East division, Hamas was left with two countries, Turkey and Qatar. In other words, the deadlock in reaching a ceasefire seems to be due to the fact that Hamas placed its hopes on Turkey and Qatar's ability to successfully lobby on its behalf. However, until now this has clearly failed.  
Just as Turkey's strategy failed in Syria, it seems that its strained relations with Israel and Egypt has made it more irrelevant than ever before. Even if Turkey succeeds in brokering a ceasefire, it will not be much more than a photo-op since in the end it seems it will most likely be dictated by Egypt. Regardless of the outcome, the current crisis has shown once again Turkey's inability to progress regional stability. 

No doubt that in the meantime Palestinians are in dire need of a ceasefire to stop the killing-something that Syrians, Iraqis (and Libyans) most likely will not get the chance to encounter in the near future.  However, rest assured that even if the polarized Middle East has caused a great deal of death and destruction, there could be much more in sight. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Israel Stop the Reckless Killing

The current round of violence between Israel and the Hamas should be condemned, with both sides attacking civilian populations. While there is no doubt that Hamas’ “noble resistance,” of shooting rockets indiscriminately at the Israeli population is also a violation of human rights, this is no way gives Israel a carte blanche to target the Palestinian population at large.

Until now, over two hundred Palestinians have been killed, with 77% of them civilians. In fact, with the new technology of the Iron Dome, Israel is able to protect much of its population under attack, which only highlights the absurdity of Israel’s campaign.  

Today, Human Rights Watch stated the following:

“Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war. Israel should end unlawful attacks that do not target military objectives and may be intended as collective punishment or broadly to destroy civilian property. Deliberate or reckless attacks violating the laws of war are war crimes.”

The human rights organization documented the following case of excessive Israeli violence, which seems set on targeting civilians:

“On July 11, an Israeli attack on the Fun Time Beach café near the city of Khan Yunis killed nine civilians, including two 15-year-old children, and wounded three, including a 13-year-old boy. An Israeli military spokesman said the attack was “targeting a terrorist” but presented no evidence that any of those at the café, who had gathered to watch a World Cup match, were participating in military operations, or that the killing of one alleged “terrorist” in a crowded café would justify the expected civilian casualties.”

Another case documented shows Israeli targeting of a 20 year old low-ranking Hamas member led to the bombing of his house, killing the member and seven of his family members. In short, we have case upon case of Israeli violation of human rights that have lead to massive destruction and a humanity crisis (which also includes call by the Israeli army to a hundred thousand residents of Beit Lahiya, in Northern Gaza, to evacuate their houses).

On a personal note, this week has proved to be quite a difficult one. Being in Istanbul, I have been appalled by the reoccurring anti-Semitic slurs in the Turkish media and personal attacks on twitter. Perhaps, hardest is being far from Tel Aviv, or Haifa, where I am always able to find protesters, Arab and Jews, who see eye-to-eye with me; together I would be with them chanting “Israel Stop the Killing,” and “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”

Yes, Israeli citizens, whether Palestinian or Jewish, coming together against the growing hate and racism. For many, we are the enemies from within who have been able to penetrate the close-gated community Israel has become, behind its might wall and its skies protected by the Iron Dome. 

The second hardest part is that my only way to connect directly to Israel is via the Israeli media. Watching Israeli Channel Two, one witnesses endless war-mongering among its analysts and even some of its broadcasters. It is this type of incitement that conditions killers like those of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir, which led me to ask in a former blog, can Israelis Mourn  a Palestinian.” What is clear is that the Israeli media has failed to cover the Palestinian side of this story. 

Racism is embedded in Israeli society. We do not even need to look to the revelations of the latest new racist, Ayelet Shaked (I will save this for a future blog), it is enough to look at Arab Knesset Member, Dr Jamal Zahalka (a Palestinian citizen of Israel), being dragged out of a Knesset meeting, with Likud Miri Regev disgustingly calling him a terrorist and yelling at him to “go to Gaza!”

It is the level of racism, the lack of Israeli empathy with the Palestinian victims, that will haunt (and is haunting) the Israeli society and led a whole country to become blind to the Palestinian suffering, not just now, but in general..     

Therefore, it is high time that Israelis shout, not in our name, even if we too are running to for cover, or ones like me, who have genuine fears for loved ones there. Fear is fear. And, my heart goes out to all who are suffering Jewish or Palestinian. However, this cannot distract me, or lead me in anyway to justify the massive killing we have seen this week.

Yes, not in my name. Not in my loved ones’ name. Not in my Palestinian and Jewish friends’ name. And, not in the name of the multitude of Jewish groups inside Israel and abroad. Stop the reckless killing. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Murder of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir: Can Israelis mourn the death of a Palestinian?

There is no doubt that this last week will be one that will be etched into the minds of many Israelis and Palestinians. It started last Monday (June 30) with the terrible news that the bodies of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar, the three teenagers who had been kidnapped by a Palestinian terror group, most likely affiliated with Hamas, were found dead. Three long weeks ended in tragedy. The boys did come back but only to be placed into graves.

Israel HaYom, July 2 2014: A Whole Country with a Broken Heart

On the day of their funeral, however we received news once a gag-order was lifted on the case, a chilling emergency call to the police by one of the kidnapped boys was released in which it became apparent that the teenagers were executed at point-blank range immediately following their kidnapping. In other words, the public was led to believe that they could be alive even though just seconds after one the boy reported to the operator, “I have been kidnapped,” gun shots are heard. This fact was known by many in the media, and once released, it was clear that from the beginning it was estimated that there was a strong chance that they were not alive. 

That is right. A whole nation was held hostage to the idea that these boys might return home safely. Even worse, Israeli government and security official supported a hashtag campaign on twitter, #bringourboysback, gathering international support, all the while making hundreds of arrest, destroying homes searching for the boys, and worse, killing Palestinians who during the raids to find the boys, clashed with forces. It was also ample time to muster up a great amount of "national unity."

It is in this atmosphere, this build-up of emotions, that the Israeli public received the news of the death of the three teenagers. From there, the incitement grew. On Israel Channel Two’s program (June 30, 2013), right-wing politicians seized the moment to spread hate, advocate more settlements, with the only sense coming from the “bitchonistim,” former members of the security apparatus turned in moderate politicians, but in no way representing the peace camp.

All in the studio agreed that the people behind the killing should have their homes demolished as a measure of deterrence, and act of collective punishment. In fact, the program pretty much summed up many Israelis’ sense of Palestinians. They hate us, and they only understand force.

Not twenty-four hours had passed, when following the triple funeral, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, at a special cabinet meeting, declared “May God avenge their blood.” These five words clarified the feeling of many on the street, and surpassed the mumbling right-wing politicians. In place of calming the mounting tension, Netanyahu fanned the flames.

All the while, reports emerged on social media of Jews taking matters into their hands, not waiting to “let the IDF do the job.” We heard of the woman and her child on the Jerusalem tramway, who was cursed and thrown off; reports came in of radical right wing groups roaming the streets, shouting “death to Arabs,” just looking for a Palestinian to tear into, at times checking passing cars. Yet, the Israeli government overall remained silent despite the frightening atmosphere of revenge in the air.

Yediot, July 7 2014: Incomprehensible, 6 Jewish suspects burnt alive  the
 Palestinian youngster from Shuafat -Cruelty from Among us
If things could not get worse they did- in the early morning of July 2, a 17-year old, by the name of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir was kidnapped in Shuafat, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem of a young Palestinian boy, in the early hours of the morning. As Palestinians took to the streets in protest, many Israelis at first took this with a grain of salt. 

Clearly, this was just another Palestinian killed by a Palestinian-most likely part of a blood feud, some even hinted that  the young man might even be gay and it was an honor crime. As protests broke out, some in the Israeli media even accused Palestinians for jumping to conclusions, causing unnecessary problems.   

Well, two days ago (July 6) six Jewish suspects were arrested for the kidnapping and murder of Abu-Khdeir, and are accused of burning him alive; while the story is still under a gag-order, we know that three of them are minors and that a group of them have reenacted the crime; in fact, the police clearly stated the kidnapping was done as an act of revenge.

Importantly, Abu-Khdeir's kidnapping was the group's second attempt. Israel Channel two interviewed a nine-year old boy, together with his parents. Luckily, the child was able to break away from the attempted kidnapping. However, even though this was reported to the police a day before, it seems to have been brushed aside. If only the police had taken this serious perhaps Abu-Khdeir would still be alive. 

Yes, it was clear at this moment, that “we are not better than them.” Israeli social norms shaped this fascist and racist group of youngsters and if Israel would like to prevent such acts in the future, it will be necessary to take major steps weeding out racism present in the society and opening its doors to the other. However, this is easier said than done.

Israeli society is one that is based on unity of its Jewish community. For example, once news that the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli boys hit the media, Jews from all backgrounds, religious and secular, united lighting candles in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, just as they do in schools on Holocaust Day and the Memorial Day for Fallen soldiers. But who among the Israelis will light candles for Mohammed Abu Khdeir?

Yes, strong condemnation was voiced by Israeli politicians, but for most Israelis memorializing the young Palestinian is beyond their capacity, since from a very young age they are placed into a bubble and never recognize the fact that Palestinians exist. Israelis grow up in a country where not only memorial days exclude 20 percent of its citizenry, but every holiday-whether religious or secular (in the same way state emblems and national anthem are exclusively Jewish). 

True, a growing number of Israeli Jews meet Arabs at schools, as their teachers, or in hospitals, as their doctors. However, many more meet Arabs at retail stores and fast food chains, working together, in some cases, but in most cases, being served by them. In fact, in order not to disturb Israeli clientele there have been documented incidents were Palestinians workers are forbidden to speak Arabic (the language of the enemy) making them even more invisible.    

Jews who have Arab friends and who frequent leftist protests often come head-on with this racism. For the ones with Arab friends, they will encounter the warning by their fellow Jewish compatriots, "be careful, not to get a knife stabbed in your back while visiting the Arab village."

For Jewish protesters, we are of course traitors, and the Jewish women who join in with Palestinians are Jewish “whores.” Twenty years ago they spat on us, just as they did numerous times this week. And, throughout years, we come directly in contact with the fascist and racist slogan “death to Arabs,” a slogan yelled at football matches towards Arab teams or players. However, it is just not hooligans: I myself heard this numerous times among university students, my workplace, and while teaching in high schools. Jewish racists hate the fact that there are "Jews and Palestinians who refuse to be enemies," a slogan often used at leftist demonstrations.

The current bleak situation is strengthened by the fact that there is a total lack of will by the Israeli state to promote co-existence and to educate the Jewish population about the national minority within them, that they too have a legitimate right to the Land. In fact, while the current government plans at allocating money to strengthen Israeli ties with the Jewish diaspora, there are none for creating a safe haven for its non-Jewish citizens. 

Of course, any co-existence is difficult as long as Israel continues to occupy Palestinian territories, and even takes Israeli Jewish school children on field trips to Hebron in order to come in touch with their Jewish heritage (which in itself is scandalous since it is not even Israel by Israeli law). However, do these school children learn about the ugly side of occupation and the continued daily abuses against the Palestinian people? 

Perhaps, a good way to start educating their children is to integrate the story of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir into the classrooms starting in September, and showing Israeli children the true and horrific price of racism within their society; showing them that we as a people not only can mourn Palestinian deaths, but need to if we want to work our way out of this vicious circle.