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.

The Gaza war – VII

Shuja'iyya, Gaza, July 20 2014 (photo: EPA/Mohammed Saber)

Shuja’iyya, Gaza, July 20 2014 (photo: EPA/Mohammed Saber)

I have refrained from posting anything on Israel-Palestine since the June 12th kidnapping of the three Israeli teens, which set off the latest crisis. It’s the same old shit story. It never ends. As I wrote in my first post on the last round of this endless war—dated November 17, 2012; for the last post (nº VI) of the series, go here—, flare-ups in the Israel-Palestine conflict are like riots in French banlieues: there’s a dreary sameness to them, one knows the causes, they invariably play out according to the same script, and end after a few days (or in the case of big ones, two or three weeks). And one knows there will be another one at some point in the not-too-distant future. As expected, my FB news feed has been one collective scream over the past six weeks, first from the pro-Israel camp and then, since the July 2nd abduction and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, from my more numerous pro-Palestine FB friends (plus their friends), who have been out of their minds with rage—and whose rage has mounted by the day. If this conflict continues much longer they risk having a collective aneurysm. As is my wont, I’ve posted a number of pieces on FB and intervened on several comments threads, arousing reactions such as that experienced by Jon Stewart here, i.e. people figuratively screaming at the top of their lungs. C’est fatiguant.

As in 2012, I will, in lieu of offering my own views, link to a few of the more interesting analyses and commentaries I’ve read over the past couple of weeks. Mais d’abord… I will say that whereas the responsibility for the unleashing of hostilities in the 2012 flare-up was, in my estimation at the time, more or less equally shared between Israel and Hamas, the onus this time must be laid on Israel’s doorstep. On this, I direct the reader to J.J. Goldberg’s analysis in The Jewish Daily Forward—dated July 10th, two days after the launching of Operation Protective Edge—on “How politics and lies triggered an unintended war in Gaza.” In a nutshell, the Israeli authorities knew that the three kidnapped boys had been murdered almost right away and that the crime was most certainly not ordered by the leadership of Hamas—that it was carried out at the initiative of a rouge Hamas faction-cum-crime family in Hebron—, but lied to the public on the score, using the abduction as a pretext to carry out a massive operation against the Hamas network on the West Bank—and imposing collective punishment on a large swath of the territory’s population in the process. And with the discovery of the teens’ corpses 2½ weeks after Netanyahu & Co. knew they were dead, then followed by the revenge kidnapping/murder of the Palestinian youth by Jewish extremists two days later plus the beating administered by IDF soldiers to his visiting American cousin in East Jerusalem—and with both Jews and Palestinians now chauffé à blanc and in a state of collective hysteria—, all hell broke loose. And which inexorably led to the current conflagration, that neither the Israeli security establishment nor Hamas wanted. And certainly not Mahmoud Abbas and his beleaguered PA, which has been undermined ever more by the Israeli action. Despite Hamas’s current politique du pire, Israel is largely responsible for this round. Point barre.

The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg also had a post, dated July 5th, relating the words of a former Shin Bet head on how “Israel’s illusions fueled [the] blowup.” It begins

Yuval Diskin, who served as director of Israel’s Shin Bet security service from 2005 to 2011, posted some rather blunt observations on his Facebook page this morning regarding the tit-for-tat murders of teenagers, the Palestinian rioting in East Jerusalem and the Triangle (the Arab population center south of Haifa) and what he fears is coming down the pike.

It strikes me that he’s probably saying a lot of what IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz was thinking at this week’s security cabinet meeting, when Gantz’s far more restrained comments led to a tongue-lashing from Naftali Bennett. In other words, this is how the current meltdown looks to much of the top Israeli military and intelligence brass. It’s what they’ve been saying privately while in uniform and publicly after retiring (and occasionally even while still in uniform). I’ve taken the liberty of translating Diskin’s Hebrew into English.

To read what Diskin wrote on his FB page, click on the above link.

Journalist Larry Derfner, in the same vein as J.J. Goldberg’s aforelinked analysis, had a commentary (July 9th) in +972 on “How Netanyahu provoked this war with Gaza.” The lede: [Netanyahu's] antagonism to all Palestinians—to Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority no less than to Hamas—started and steadily fueled the chain reaction that led to the current misery.

Also in +972 is a depressing piece (July 12th) on the “frightening new era of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.” The lede: Attacks by Jewish hooligans on Arabs, unprecedented incitement by right-wing politicians and clashes between Israeli Police and Arab youth. We’ve been here before, but never like this.

Writing in The New Yorker (July 9th), Ramallah lawyer and writer Raja Shehadeh reflects on “The meaning of Mohamed Abu Khdeir’s murder.”

One of the more informative and useful analyses I’ve read is the International Crisis Group’s latest Middle East Briefing (July 14th), “Gaza and Israel: New Obstacles, New Solutions” (10 pages in PDF). The lede: To break the violent impasse, Israel must change its policy toward Hamas and work toward a lasting ceasefire, recognising how much its own stability depends on the stability of Gaza.

What this, in short, means for Gaza—and which everyone in the know in Israel knows—is that, at present, the only alternative to Hamas is ISIS-like jihadists—which unfortunately means that there is no present alternative to Hamas. And which means that Israel, faute de mieux, has no alternative but to work out a modus vivendi with Hamas via Egyptian intermediaries, that will enable the reentry of the PA into Gaza’s affairs and the United Nations as well. The April reconciliation agreement between the PA and Hamas—had Israel not undermined it—could have brought this about.

The principal author of the (unsigned, as always) ICG report, Nathan Thrall, had an op-ed in the NYT (July 17th) explaining “How the West chose war in Gaza,” in which he asserts that “[b]y preventing payment of Hamas workers’ salaries and free passage to Egypt, Israel and the West laid the groundwork for the latest escalation.”

Slate’s Fred Kaplan had a very good piece, dated July 17th, entitled “Israel’s deadly gambits.” The lede: The Israeli government has lost the ability to think strategically.

The NYT’s Roger Cohen had a spot-on column, dated July 14th, on “Israel’s bloody status quo.” Cohen, who is so stupid when writing on France, has been getting it exactly right on Israel-Palestine.

More links in the next post.


Adam Shatz, contributing editor at the London Review of Books and visiting professor at the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University—and dear personal friend—, has a must read essay/personal reflection in the latest issue of The Nation (dated August 4th) inspired by his fifteen-odd years of reporting on the Middle East and North Africa. The essay is a revised version of the Hilda B. Silverman Memorial Lecture, at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, that Adam gave this past May, and which he fraternally sent me for comments beforehand. It’s typically excellent. As for watching the lecture—as the above image indicates one may do—this will apparently be possible sometime this fall.

Bastille Day 2014

(photo: AFP)

(photo: AFP)

I’ve had a Bastille Day post every July 14th since launching this blog (here, here, and here) so voilà this year’s. As I’ve been saying for decades, the Bastille Day parade down the Champs-Elysées is the greatest parade in the world. Period. This year’s was particularly noteworthy, as it’s the centenary of the beginning of World War I, so all the belligerent powers of that war—including the successor states of empires, making a total of eighty states—were invited to participate (only China and Vietnam declined), with three soldiers each from their respective armies, and led by French soldiers dressed in World War I uniforms preserved from the era. Not bad. The presence of Algerian soldiers got the extreme right all bent out of shape but that’s their problem. Vive la France!

(photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo)

(photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo)

(photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo)

(photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo)

(photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo)

(photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo)

(photo: Stéphane de Sakutin/AFP)

(photo: Stéphane de Sakutin/AFP)

(photo: Alain Jocard/AFP)

(photo: Alain Jocard/AFP)

(photo: Benoît Tessier/Reuters)

(photo: Benoît Tessier/Reuters)

The World Cup – X

Rio de Janiero, July 13 2014 (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Rio de Janiero, July 13 2014 (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

A well-deserved victory by Germany, which was the best overall team in the tournament. As Slate senior editor and soccer aficionado Jeremy Stahl wrote à chaud after the game, one should not cry for Argentina or Lionel Messi, as “This Germany team is [indeed] one of the best in years.” And it is certainly more sympathique than the Mannschaft teams of the 1980s.

So that’s it. My evenings will no longer be consumed by sports as they have for the past month. And save from any new developments on the 2022 Qatar question, this will likely be my last soccer post until the Euro 2016, i.e. for two years. Back to politics and movies…

The World Cup – IX


[update below]

I watched with slack-jawed incredulity the unbelievable Brazilian collapse against Germany on Tuesday, my sentiment no doubt being shared by all the several hundred million people tuned into the game across the globe. I felt so badly for Brazil, team and people. The best analysis I’ve read so far on the game is an article in Slate by Irish Times journalist Ken Early, “Why Brazil lost.” The lede: Rather than make a real plan, [the Brazilians] abandoned themselves to romantic notions of passion and desire.

Early’s piece is well worth the read. He suggests, among other things, that some soul-searching will have to be done in Brazil. The reception the Seleção receives from the hometown crowd at Saturday’s consolation game in Brasilia will be instructive. If it’s even somewhat akin to that received by the German Mannschaft at their third place match in Stuttgart in 2006, as Early describes it, that will be good and salutary. But if Brazilian fans greet their team with negativity—e.g. pelting them with garbage and hurling insults, as happened in 1986 at Rio de Janeiro airport upon the Seleção’s return following its quarterfinal elimination from the tournament that year (I remember the TV news image of this)—and pile on the humiliation, I will lose a lot of sympathy for them.

On Brazil, here’s a piece dated June 17th in the Afro-American-oriented webzine The Root, by journalist Dion Rabouin, on how “Black identity and racism collide in Brazil.” The lede: The country’s complex history with race gains the spotlight as the World Cup attempts to address the recent wave of racist attacks against black players.

And here’s something from the NYT (July 7th) on “Neymar’s injury sidelin[ing] effort to end World Cup racism.”

I was hoping for a Brazil-Netherlands final but Germany put paid to that. Then I thought a Germany-Netherlands final would be pretty cool but now that won’t be happening either. The Argentina-Netherlands game yesterday was not nearly as “exciting” as the one on Tuesday, though I didn’t think it was as dull as did various media and FB commentators. Both teams played very well defensively, particularly the Dutch, though the latter were admittedly insipid and uninspired on offense—no shots on goal in regulation time and too many free kicks that went nowhere—, so Argentina’s victory in the shootout was merited. But La Albiceleste hasn’t been overly impressive in the tournament, depends too heavily on a single player (L.Messi), and has had such an odious reputation over the decades—of playing dirty and bad sportsmanship—that I’ll be all for Germany on Sunday.

UPDATE: Cambridge University political theorist David Runciman, who’s been posting on the World Cup on the LRB blog, has a good commentary on the Brazilian debacle. See also his successive post, on Argentina’s inglorious 1978 World Cup victory.


greetings from brazil


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