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Is Mondoweiss stupid?

Alexander Gerst 23 Jul 2014

Or, I should ask, the people who edit Mondoweiss, plus the blogger Roland Nikles, whose post on Moshe Feiglin Mondoweiss published the other day (and that was uncritically posted on FB by a prominent MENA historian, which is where I saw it). Now I have no objection to anything Nikles has to say about the unspeakable Feiglin. On the S.O.B., we are in 100% agreement. What got me was this

Over the past month Israel bombed countless targets in Gaza, killed more than 1,800 Palestinians (mostly civilians), wounded in excess of 9,000, destroyed in excess of 10,000 homes, the strip’s only power plant, hospitals, schools, and other infrastructure, and lost 64 Israelis in the process (Haaretz’s tally). The onslaught lit up the sky to outer space.

The paragraph was followed by the above photo, followed in turn by this

If this bombardment speaks a language, it speaks the language of Moshe Feiglin.

The photo of the apparent bombardment was taken by German astronaut Alexander Gerst on July 23rd from the International Space Station. Gerst, who’d been tweeting numerous photos from outer space, had the above one and with this text (as Nikles does not explain or link to the tweet, here it is)

My saddest photo yet. From #ISS we can actually see explosions and rockets flying over #Gaza & #Israel

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen the pic, as various persons posted it in social media. So where are the explosions and flying rockets?

What I see in the photo is Israel (on a west-east axis), with Ashdod to Haifa in the upper right quadrant, Amman the lit up splotch on the bottom right, and El-Arish, Egypt, on the upper left. The streaking lines—what are apparently taken to be flying rockets—link Beersheba with Qiryat Gat (upper right) and Dimona (bottom left; I can’t say where the other little ones emanate to or from). I have no idea what these streaks are but they have nothing to do with Gaza and are definitely not rockets. And they certainly do not involve explosions (who knows, maybe they’re highways, all lit up like in Belgium).

In this outer space photo, Gaza city is the less lit up bit of what it geographically south of Ashqelon. Now I do happen to find this sad, but because so relatively little of the densely populated Gaza strip is lit up, not because it’s exploding or being hit by rockets, of which one sees none at all in the pic. Do people have any idea of what they’re looking at? Don’t they know their geography? Astronaut Gerst may be forgiven for his ignorance of this but the editors of Mondoweiss—who spend their waking hours obsessing about I-P—and all the others who approvingly linked to the pic? Not at all. They have no excuse.

ADDENDUM: In the interest of fairness and balance I should say that Mondoweiss is not stupid 100% of the time. It can, on occasion, run a worthy piece, e.g. the post on July 15th (with updates) by Sam Knight, on the Rue de la Roquette synagogue incident in Paris, which is the most accurate and comprehensive I’ve seen on it in English. I’ll link to it when I do my (long overdue) post—in the coming days, inshallah—on the Gaza war demos, French Jews, and antisemitism in France.

The Gaza war – XIII

Northern Gaza, August 5 2014 (photo: AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Northern Gaza, August 5 2014 (photo: AFP/Mahmud Hams)

[updates below]

With the ceasefire holding—for now at least—voilà a few bilans of the month-long war.

Aaron David Miller, writing in FP (August 6th), asks “Who won the Gaza war?” Assigning a grade to each of the principal actors, the rank order is: Egypt, Israel, Palestinian Authority, the US, Hamas. In other words, Israel won (more or less), Hamas did not.

Nahum Barnea, in a different take (August 7th), says that “In some wars, both sides lose.” He explains why he believes Israel lost, less so why Hamas did.

In an op-ed (August 6th), TOI’s David Horovitz, offering “10 thoughts at the end (maybe) of the summer 2014 Israel-Hamas war,” says that “Israel might have won [but that] Hamas certainly lost.” This sounds right to me, for the moment at least.

More bilans to follow in the coming days, très certainement.

UPDATE: Yehuda Ben-Meir, a former academic and member of the Knesset, asserts in a Haaretz op-ed (August 8th) that “Israel won the Gaza war in a big way.” The lede: After wreaking destruction on the population of Gaza and losing its only strategic card, Hamas is agreeing to what it rejected three weeks ago. Could there be any greater and more obvious defeat?

2nd UPDATE: Gershom Gorenberg, writing in The American Prospect (August 7th), has a very good analysis, “It isn’t about the tunnels. So what is the Gaza conflict really about?” The lede: The Israeli government’s tactical goals shifted repeatedly. At no point, it appears, has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a strategic political vision.

3rd UPDATE: Gershon Baskin posted a must read commentary on his FB page today (August 8th): The end of the ceasefire, the renewal of war and the end game.

The Gaza war – XII

Khuza'a, Khan Yunis, August 3 2014 (photo: Reuters)

Khuza’a, Khan Yunis, August 3 2014 (photo: Reuters)

Roger Cohen’s NYT column today (August 5th), “Start with Gaza,” nails it. He gets it absolutely, precisely right.

David Shulman also has an absolutely must read piece (August 2nd), this on the NYRB blog, “Palestine: The hatred and the hope.” On David Shulman, a friend—and college prof of mine some 36-37 years back—thus described him a couple of days ago on FB, where I first posted this essay

David Shulman is one of the most noble souls I have ever met. A Jew from Iowa, he emigrated to Israel in 1967. A recipient of the prized MacArthur Fellowship, he is one of the world’s foremost Sanskrit scholars and a professor at Hebrew University. His work as a peace activist is best described in his book Dark Hope, an indispensable text to understand the Israeli peace movement, struggles to help Palestinian villagers in the West Bank, and run-ins with the Israeli authorities trying to block his activities. That background should be kept in mind when reading this essay, especially those who see no hope in what he writes. There is hope, but it is “dark.” Nevertheless he perseveres, malgré tout.

Human Rights Watch has (August 3rd) some “questions and answers address[ing] issues relating to international humanitarian law (the laws of war) governing the conflict between Israel and Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza that began on July 7, 2014.”

The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch has a short piece (August 2nd) on “An honest voice in Israel,” that voice being Amos Oz. In his praise of Oz, Gourevitch finds the time to critique Columbia University historian Rashid Khalidi, who had a piece in the NYer four days earlier. Speaking personally, between Oz and Khalidi, I will, like Gourevitch, choose the former over the latter any old day.

À suivre.

The Gaza war – XI

Gaza, July 30 2014 (photo:  Oliver Weiken/EPA/Landov)

Gaza, July 30 2014 (photo: Oliver Weiken/EPA/Landov)

[update below]

Voilà the latest links.

Nathan Thrall of the ICG’s MENA program has a must read piece in the LRB (August 1st) on “Hamas’s chances.” This is one of the best analyses I’ve seen of the Hamas side of the current equation. Read it. The whole thing. Now.

For the record, Ariel Ilan Roth, Executive Director of The Israel Institute in Washington, had a piece in Foreign Affairs, dated July 20th—that I was going to post earlier but forgot to—, on “How Hamas won.” It thus begins

No matter how and when the conflict between Hamas and Israel ends, two things are certain. The first is that Israel will be able to claim a tactical victory. The second is that it will have suffered a strategic defeat.

The JDF’s always interesting J.J. Goldberg has an essay (August 1st) on “How Israel refuses to learn [the] lessons of ground invasions past.” The lede: Israel is reliving mistakes of Lebanon and [past wars in] Gaza.

Hussein Ibish, who is also invariably interesting, has an op-ed (August 2nd) in The National on how “For Hamas, [the] war in Gaza is a step[ping stone] towards the West Bank.” Thus the imperative need—for Israel, the US, everyone—to increase the “clout, credibility, [and] centrality” of the PA.

Lefty journalist Haim Har-Zahav has an account (with video) of a far right-wing demonstration in Tel Aviv on the 26th that he witnessed and in which horrible slogans were chanted. The demo, he stresses, was far smaller—albeit much louder—than the left-wing, anti-war demo held in TA the same day. That’s good to know, I suppose.

BTW, there’s a good movie on the type of persons who attend such far rightist demos—i.e. lowlife Jewish hooligans—, ‘God’s Neighbors’, which I wrote about last year.

On the diplomatic front, all sorts of people have been beating up on John Kerry lately, among them Adam Garfinkle, who, writing on his blog on the The American Interest website (July 29th), wonders if the Secy of State is guilty of “Malice or incompetence?” The lede: John Kerry’s ceasefire proposal for Gaza has probably destroyed what remained of the United States’ influence in the Middle East, at least for the duration of this administration’s tenure.

Garfinkle is being a little harsh here and no doubt excessive, but he’s fun to read. And I like his sens de la formule, e.g. here

Then it got worse. By ministering to Qatar, where the head of the Hamas political wing lives at the invitation of the Al-Thani, Kerry strengthened that troublemaking little pissant of a country.

That little pissant of a country Qatar. I love it! Garfinkle continues

Then worse still: Kerry ministered to arguably the world’s foremost anti-Semite, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Richard Cohen’s piece today, “Erdogan’s anti-Semitic fetish”, also leaves me bereft of criticism in the face of another Washington Post columnist who also regularly irritates me.)

Garfinkle gets it exactly right on both RTE (anti-Semite) and Richard Cohen (irritating but sometimes on the mark).

Re US diplomacy and the I-P conflict: For those who haven’t seen it, Jerusalem-based journalists Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon have an essential, must read enquête in TNR (July 20th) on “The explosive, inside story of how John Kerry built an Israel-Palestine peace plan—and watched it crumble.” It was a fool’s errand but Kerry really tried. And it could have maybe, possibly worked—if Israel had had different leadership. The article is long—25 pages printed out—but well worth the read.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Yedioth Aharonot editor Sever Plocker has an op-ed in Ynetnews.com (August 8th) asking “What if John Kerry was right?” The lede: US secretary of state’s ceasefire outline was not driven by hostility towards Israel, but rather by concern. He realized that Hamas would drag Israel into an entanglement with unimaginable results.

The Gaza war – X

Gaza, July 28 2014 (photo: Euronews)

Gaza, July 28 2014 (photo: Euronews)

More links to informative and/or interesting analyses/commentaries read over the past few days.

Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport, writing in Middle East Eye, says that “New boundaries [are being] drawn in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” with Israel, “[a]s its deterrence operations become increasingly futile…indicat[ing] its readiness to reoccupy Gaza, even at huge human cost.” Rapoport’s conclusion

We are still very far from full reoccupation of Gaza by Israel. There is little doubt that such a move could lead to terrible bloodshed. But what is interesting in this change of heart of the Israeli establishment towards Gaza, in this readiness to reoccupy it even at the cost of many Israeli lives, represents an understanding that Israel cannot keep on running away from Gaza, hat Gaza will not drown itself in the sea of its own free will. After years of negation, Israel finally admits that Gaza could not be separated from the West Bank, that there will be no solution to the Palestinian problem without a solution to the problems of Gaza. Is this not what the people of Gaza, and even Hamas, wanted all along? Is this not the reason they didn’t settle for the Egyptian “quiet against quiet” formula? What is sure is that the Gaza war is changing the map of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Walter Russell Mead—a geopolitical analyst I alternately find interesting and smart or irritating and stupid—has a commentary (interesting, smart) in The American Interest (July 25th) on the Gaza war and “When strategies collide.” The lede: Many wars are fought over accidents and misunderstandings. This is not one of those times. With key interests at stake, the conflict in Gaza is likely to continue.

Dennis Ross, who requires no professional identification, explains, in Politico Magazine (July 30th), “How to think about the new Middle East [and w]hat the Obama administration gets wrong about [it].” However one feels about Ross, he’s worth the read here.

The Times of Israel’s Avi Isaacharof, writing on the “Earthquake in Gaza” (July 27th), recounts the story of his fixer in Gaza of years past—until, as an Israeli journalist, he could no longer travel there—, with whom he stayed in touch and what has happened to him in the current war. Devastating and tragic. Isaacharof rhetorically asks if the destruction being wreaked on Gaza will “achieve deterrence or a thirst for revenge?” Poser la question c’est y répondre…

A piece in TOI (July 29th) asks if those Hamas tunnels may have been burrowed into Israel not to carry out heinous terrorist attacks against civilians but to abduct soldiers—which, as abhorrent an eventuality as this may be to Israelis, cannot, stricto sensu, be labeled terrorism.

And also in TOI—a webzine I have come to find as interesting as Haaretz, if not more—is a blog post (July 29th) by the Council on Foreign Relations’s Steven A. Cook, who regretfully concludes that it may be too late to salvage Mahmoud Abbas.

Nahum Barnea, in an in-depth piece (July 29th) on Ynetnews.com, “Tumbling into Gaza, and climbing out again“—in which he focuses on the tunnels—evokes the World War I/March of Folly parallel that has occurred to more than one in regard to the latest Israel-Gaza war, i.e. a war that neither side wanted but that both blundered into.

Peter Beinart has an on target piece (July 30th) in Haaretz—and that’s making the rounds on social media—on “Gaza myths and facts: what American Jewish leaders won’t tell you.”

Colorado College political science prof David C. Hendrickson has a sharp essay (July 29th) in The National Interest on “The Thrasybulus syndrome: Israel’s war on Gaza.” The Thrasybulus syndrome, FYI, is another way of saying “mowing the lawn.”

And political science MENA specialist Marc Lynch, writing on the Monkey Cage blog (July 29th), says that “political scientists are about to get a whole lot of interesting new research questions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” I doubt I’ll be doing any of that research myself, though I’ll certainly report on it.

The Gaza war – IX

Shuja’iyya, Gaza, July 26 2014

Shuja’iyya, Gaza, July 26 2014

Is Israel committing war crimes in Gaza? The mountains of press reports and accounts aside, the above photo alone would suggest that it is indeed. When one razes with bombs an entire, densely populated section of town—no matter how many rockets may or may not have been fired from there (and I personally will not take the IDF’s claims on this at face value)—, one may charitably say that it was done with wanton disregard for civilian casualties (of which there were, in Shuja’iyya, a few hundred). And if Human Rights Watch says Israel has been committing war crimes in Gaza, that’s proof enough for me.

À propos, Hussein Ibish, writing in NOW (July 22nd) on “Israel’s latest self-inflicted wound,” says that “[t]he incredible level of human suffering and civilian casualties in Gaza will haunt Israel for years to come.”

Eyal Weizman—an architect and, entre autres, Professor of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London, and author of Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation—has a piece in Al Jazeera English (July 14th) entitled “Gaza attacks: Lethal warnings.” The lede: International law is being abused in order to enable attacks on civilians in Gaza.

In a somewhat different vein, the prominent columnist Nahum Barnea argued on Ynetnews.com (July 21st) that “Hamas, not Israel, is running [the] conflict.” The lede: Shift to ground warfare pushed aside Israel’s huge advantage thanks to Iron Dome system. All weapon systems Hamas specializes in are now being used against IDF soldiers.

Former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin, in a must read interview in Spiegel Online International (July 24th), asserted that “‘All the conditions are there for an explosion’.” Among other things, “he speaks of the current clash between Israel and the Palestinians, what must be done to achieve peace and the lack of leadership in the Middle East.” Again, this one is worth reading.

Since the IDF launched its Operation Protective Edge on July 8th—and which has killed far more civilians in Gaza than the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense—, one has been struck by the muted reaction in the international community, as it is generally referred to, and particularly among the Arab states—and despite the street demonstrations in Western cities and elsewhere, not to mention the blood-curdling rage on social media. How to explain? In point of fact, the major international actors—including Arab states—are supporting Israel in its campaign to degrade Hamas. The deaths of civilians are naturally regretted but, geopolitically-speaking, Israel has the international green light to do what it is doing.

The US and collective European position does not need to be detailed here but as for the Arab one, this piece (July 25th) in Middle East Eye that I came across today, “Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in daily contact over Gaza,” is most interesting. Money quote

The war aims of the [Israel-Saudi Arabia-Egypt] troika are described by Debka [Net Weekly, a publication of a website close to Israel’s foreign intelligence service Mossad] as smashing Hamas’ military wing, downgrading its political influence, preventing the US from interfering in their policy, and installing a new government in Gaza once Hamas has been crushed. Debka says that in order to get Saudi and Egyptian consent, Netanyahu had to sacrifice one of the central tenets of Israeli policy – to keep Gaza and the West Bank separate. He consented instead to the rise of a unified Palestinian Authority.

Très intéressant, comme j’ai dit…

Also in this vein is an earlier report (July 20th) by Middle East Eye’s David Hearst on how the “Saudi Israeli alliance [is] forged in blood.” The blood being that of the Palestinians killed in Shuja’iyya…

And then there’s this item, dated July 10th, on Vladimir Putin telling a visiting delegation of rabbis that “‘I support the struggle of Israel’“…

One of the big revelations—to le grand public at least—in this IDF mowing operation is Hamas’s military tunnel network—not only its existence but its extent. E.g. see the Ynetnews analysis of July 21st on “[h]ow Gaza became an underground monster,” plus this one of July 22nd on how the “[t]unnel threat could have been removed long ago.”

And then there’s this important piece (July 26th) by The Jewish Daily Forward’s J.J. Goldberg on the “Gaza tunnels: How they work, what Israel knew,” in which he translates portions of an analysis by Yediot Ahronot’s military analyst Alex Fishman, who concludes that

The preparations that Hamas undertook in the area of tunneling, rocket production, smuggling military equipment, training forces and strengthening their endurance all point to one clear conclusion: this is not an army of barefoot hooligans. There is planning, command, technology and doctrine. It’s possible to tip one’s hat to their professionalism for a moment, before going in and demolishing their national projects.

See also Goldberg’s accompanying dispatch, “Israel’s latest fib: ‘Gaza tunnels were [a] ‘surprise’.”

For a mainstream Israeli view of what’s been going on, see the commentary (July 23rd) by The Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz, “The terrible cost of thwarting Hamas.” The lede: The Israeli national mood is now a mixture of anguish at the toll of IDF dead, anger at aspects of the international response, and confidence in the troops and (atypically) the political leadership.

And for an Israeli non-leftist academic perspective (July 20th), see Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir, both of Bar Ilan University, on “Mowing the grass in Gaza.” Executive summary:

The Israeli military offensive in Gaza reflects the assumption that Israel is in a protracted intractable conflict. It is unlikely that Israel can purge Hamas from Palestinian society, nor is a political solution likely to be achieved. Instead, Israel is acting in accordance with a “mowing the grass” strategy. After a period of military restraint, Israel is acting to severely punish Hamas for its aggressive behavior and degrade its military capabilities – aiming at achieving a period of quiet.

Doesn’t sound good for the people of Gaza, that’s for sure.

À suivre, très certainement.

The Gaza war – VIII

Gaza, July 9 2014 (photo:  Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gaza, July 9 2014 (photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

More links to worthwhile analyses and commentaries I’ve read of late.

Mouin Rabbani, senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut and co-editor of Jadaliyya—and who previously worked for the ICG in the Palestinian territories—, has a piece in the LRB (July 18th) on “Israel mow[ing] the lawn.” For those not in the know, the expression “mowing the lawn” in the Israel-Palestine context refers to Israel militarily intervening in Gaza every two or three years to degrade the military capacity that Hamas had built up since the previous intervention. Whacking the mole, as it were, except with the mole popping up in the same place.

Probably the most sophisticated exposition of the Palestinian position in the latest flare-up by a representative of the Palestinian Authority that one is likely to hear is PA ambassador to the EU Leila Shahid’s July 10th interview on France 24 (here, en français).

And here’s one of the more powerful TV reportages I’ve seen from Gaza, “‘Why did they destroy a hospital’?,” from Great Britain’s Channel 4 News (July 18th).

On why Hamas has adopted the strategy that it has in this war, Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the East Jerusalem think tank Passia, explained it well in an interview in Libération (July 10th), “«Pour le Hamas, il n’y a pas d’autre option que la fuite en avant».”

À propos, here’s a quote by University of California-Irvine historian and MENA specialist Mark LeVine—who is engagé, très gauchiste, and 100% pro-Pal—that he posted on July 11th on one of his FB comments threads

… I’ve been [to Gaza] many times. I’ve spoken with many activists over 15 years, and Hamas members too. I’ve been told by senior Hamas members as far back as the late 90s that “we are addicted to violence. We know it doesn’t work but we don’t know how to stop using it.”…

On Hamas rebuilding since the 2012 flare-up, journalist and columnist Shlomi Eldar explains in Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse (July 23rd) that “Hamas [has become] the first Palestinian army,” i.e. that it has built itself in a short period of time into the most formidable Palestinian army—not ragtag Fedayeen—that Israel has ever had to contend with. Eldar’s conclusion: Hamas is sufficiently dangerous for Israel that it needs to be smashed no matter what, even if ISIS-style jihadists take its place—and who would not pose a greater threat to Israel in any case.

The very smart GWU political science prof and MENA specialist Nathan J. Brown has an op-ed in WaPo (July 18th) on the “Five myths about Hamas.”

Jeroen Gunning, Executive Director of the Durham Global Security Institute, has an analysis on the BBC News website (July 18th) asking—and then trying to answer—”What drove Hamas to take on Israel?

I found the analysis by Avi Issacharoff (July 19th), The Times of Israel’s Middle East analyst, “Euphoric Hamas needs to hear that Israel will oust it from Gaza if necessary,” to be quite interesting. Even 100% pro-Pal FB friends agreed on this score (on the analysis’s interest, if not its conclusions).

Also in TOI is an analysis (July 17th) by its political correspondent Haviv Rettig Gur, “The tragic self-delusion behind the Hamas war.” The lede: In the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, weakness is power, and power—well, it’s complicated.

Yes, complicated indeed. More next time.

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