October 20, 2014

Recognition in the Middle East

                                                                                                                         Tel Aviv -- photo: Reuters

In the UK and Europe, politicians are declaring recognition of a state of Palestine that does not yet recognize the state of Israel.

Yasser Arafat, the first leader of the Palestinian Authority, never did recognize Israel. Even after the handshake with Yitzchak Rabin and the shared Noble Prize for Peace, Arafat continued to wear an image of Palestine that included all of Israel; the Palestinian National Charter that claims Israel has no right to exist and endorses violence to achieve this goal -- never has been changed. The PA operates under this Charter even today.

Meanwhile Hamas, ruling over Gaza, explicitly broadcasts its non-recognition of Israel in its Charter and public statements. The fully Palestinian controlled state of Gaza has not renounced its campaign of firing rockets and missiles at Israeli civilians. And yet, there is a sudden urgency in Europe and the UK to recognize a state of Palestine.

Prime Minster Cameron, who abstained from the British Parliament vote, specified that recognition will not affect diplomacy, and Sweden’s Prime Minister clarified that his parliament’s vote is intended to encourage two states.  Sounds benign but these recognitions seem confused.

The Gaza half of Palestine speaks and acts with unambiguous commitment to violent elimination of Israel. This is not encouraging for a two state solution.

Nor is the West Bank half of Palestine, presided over by Mahmoud Abbas in his ninth year of a four-year term, especially encouraging. President Abbas states both that not a single Jew shall be allowed in the future state of Palestine and that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state should not be required; after all, neither Jordan nor Egypt said the word, Jewish, when they made peace with Israel.

Of course, this word game wasn’t operating when Egypt and Jordan signed peace agreements with Israel since there was no question that they recognized Israel as a Jewish state.

In popular culture in the Middle East, mentioning Israel at all causes conflict.

A recent example:  two Arab-Israeli singers are participating in Arab Idol, the most popular show on Arab television. When the program displayed a map showing all the countries of the participants, viewers were outraged because Israel was included. Quickly an apology was issued and the two singers who live in northern Israel were now shown as living in Palestine.

Those governments outside the Middle East wanting to encourage the two state solution would do well to notice that the state of Israel still needs to be recognized there as well.

September 30, 2014

Only One Safe Place in Middle East -- For Christians

                                                                                                                                       photo Armenia Information Portal

According to someone who speaks with authority on the subject, there is only one place in the Middle East that is safe for Christians. And it’s the same place that’s safe for Jews. 

Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest who is Arab-Israeli, reported last week to the UN Human Rights Council on the situation for Christians in the Middle East and called for an end to the “witch hunt” against Israel. 

“Every year in the last decade a hundred thousand Christians were killed throughout the Middle East, meaning that every five minutes a Christian was killed because of his faith … those who could escape persecution by Muslim extremists, fled, and those that remained are second- if not third-class citizens, under Muslim rulers,” Nadaf said.
“In the societies of the Middle East, there is one country where Christianity is not persecuted,” he said, referring to Israel. “Moreover, there is freedom of speech, worship and security warmly bestowed by Israel, the Jewish State.  

"Leaders, peace activists, end this witch hunt against the only free country in the region..."

Interestingly, Father Gabriel’s statement that one million Christians, because they are Christian, have been killed in the past ten years--the official Vatican calculation--is disputed.  A BBC challenge claimed that because the war in the Congo accounts for the highest percentage of these deaths, it’s inaccurate to attribute the deaths to a religion, that these people were simply caught up in a civil war and further, that blaming Christian deaths on Muslim terrorism is “nonsense.”  

During these past ten years, little attention has been paid to the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
It seems that Middle Eastern Christians are following the Jews in a double way.  Not only are they being forced from their homes by persecution and threats of death -- nearly all the centuries old Jewish communities (2 ½ millennia in the case of Iraq) were decimated due to persecution and attacks -- like the Jews of the Middle East, the Christians’ stories are disputed and silenced.

The only country of Middle East with a growing rather than shrinking Christian population is Israel. There are four times as many Christians in Israel now as there were in 1948.  

September 29, 2014

In Praise of Student Supporters of Israel

                                                                                                                     photo by Israel Campus Beat

                                                                                                                       published at Times of Israel

In spite of the many biases, phobias, anti-"isms" and micro-aggressions studied at universities, anti-Israelism does not seem to be a familiar term in most academic settings.

When, at a rally, Israelis are called “Nazis”; when Israel “apartheid” weeks set up on campus; when there is a performance piece about “Israel/Palestine” involving simulated blood, or amplified shouting that Israel should not exist, as in “from the river to the sea/Palestine must be free,” these are simply referred to as free speech.

Students cannot expect that there will be allotted time for Israel’s perspective, or a sharing of “competing narratives” or that Jews will be considered a minority.

As a first world, successful, capitalist, democratic, progressive, multicultural, open society, with a strong military, a starting point for academic discussion of America is often its responsibility for most of world’s problems and its racism. Imagine trying to argue on campus for what is wonderful about America.

Arguing for Israel, students often need to counter claims that are not based on facts but are supported by a view of facts as simply agreed-upon interpretations.  For example:

Anyone spending even a few days in Israel can tell that the apartheid label doesn’t apply (and that this slander diminishes the experiences of people who lived under actual apartheid in South Africa).  But present the overwhelming evidence of Arabs and Jews going about their everyday lives in shared shopping malls, restaurants, buses, and trains; point out that all Israeli citizens are subject to the same laws or that Israeli doctors, professors, Knesset members and Supreme Court judges are Arabs as well as Jews, and your comments may simply crash against the chant of “apartheid wall.”

This stalemate occurs in part because, as a supporter of Israel, you naturally think the argument is about Israel. But creators of Israel “apartheid” week focus on only one state and it is called Palestine.

The separation barrier (the 95% chain link fencing/5% wall that reduced suicide bombing by more than 90%) stands, for them, as an arbitrary intrusion into the country of Palestine – a hoped for territory covering all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza -- from the river along the Jordan border to the Mediterranean Sea at Tel Aviv.

When you realize that they actually mean No Israel, you may find yourself free falling through an Alice in Wonderland space where up is down and the one progressive country of the Middle East is the only one called out as oppressive. (At least, this was my experience.)

The more you know about Israel, the better, but this knowledge will not be persuasive to boycott advocates or apartheid week promoters.

Facts will be useful if you are talking about specific events. Like this. How have the lives of Palestinians and Israelis been impacted by the Jews unilaterally leaving Gaza in 2005?  If you are in a setting where the people with whom you are speaking know that there are no Jews in Gaza and accept that Israel is a sovereign democratic Jewish nation then, yes, facts will be valuable to share and debate. This setting may hard to locate in public campus forums.

The facts are also valuable because knowing them will help you keep some equilibrium when you are going though that Alice in Wonderland free fall.

But facts will not help you argue against ideologies.

Anti-Israel voices on campus have a great deal of ideological support. For starters, there’s the ideology of post-modernism within which there are no impartial facts-- only narratives open for interpretation.

However, your interpretation, because it appears to privilege the oppressors (Israelis) over the oppressed (Palestinians) is not credible.

And your objection that Israelis are not oppressors, even if you also voice your disapproval of particular Israeli policies, likewise is not credible because Israel is Western and first world; it has a powerful military, a high standard of living, a thriving economy, and so on. It is, necessarily, an oppressor.

Because you are standing up for Israel, the one Jewish country of the world, you too are supporting an ideology: Zionism. Knowing that Zionism is the belief that Jews, like the other peoples of the world, have a right their own country, or even if you simply appreciate the reality that Israel is a democratic Jewish state, you can count yourself a Zionist.  It’s not an especially valued ideology on campus, pretty much like American patriotism isn’t especially valued in these post-nationalist times.

Like any other workplace, a university is a cultural setting in which some values are valued over others. Power relationships impact, if not our real freedoms, at least our sense of freedom to say what we believe. It can feel scary to stand up for a minority opinion in any setting.

When, in spite of it all, you get out there with an Israeli flag and say that you support Israel you are doing something important for yourself and for your campus. Most students on campus are not concerned or knowledgeable about Israel but may be open to learning about it.  Because of your presence other students learn that there is more to this story than what they have been hearing. You’ll influence some of these students. You can impact boycott voting even if you can’t expect to influence boycott activists.

And take pride that as a pro-Israel student you are demonstrating one of the longest running and highest campus values: speaking truth to power.

September 06, 2014

Breaking News of No Boycott

Forbes Magazine made a new list of the top 10 health technology companies in the world. Five of them are from Israel. 

Among these is ReWalk Robotics, inventors of an apparatus that allows people who have spinal injuries that keep them confined to wheel chairs to be able to walk with the help of a “wearable exoskeleton” supporting hip and knee motion.

In clean technology, Israel outranked every country in the world in 2014 according to the World Wildlife Fund and the Clean-Tech Group that compared 40 countries in terms of their renewable and environmental energy development.  Israel is especially good at water management and in this area is “many levels ahead of other countries.”

An Israeli company has just signed a billion dollar agreement to improve water systems and tackle water shortages in Kazakhstan. “Mekorot will assist the Kazakhstan government in developing the local water system and establishing a national water company…”  

Israel recently contracted with Jordon to send them $15 billion worth of natural gas from the Leviathon energy field over the next 15 years. This is in addition to the $500 million worth Jordan already ordered from the Tamar gas field. Egypt and the Palestinian Authority also import natural gas from Israel.  (The PA was Israel’s first customer.)

“The Jordanians turned to Israel because their supply of natural gas from Egypt had been halted by repeated terrorist attacks on the gas pipeline from Egypt.”

And the beat goes on: Legends--Beach Boys; Metal—KISS; Indie-- Emperor X; and whatever category is Lady Gaga--are performing soon.

August 29, 2014

Gaza War Grade: Incomplete

The IDF prevented a disaster by demolishing the tunnels through which Hamas had planned surprise terror for Rosh Hashanah. The rockets, guns, IDF uniforms, handcuffs, drugs, and even motorcycles stored in the tunnels were to be used in massive attacks and kidnappings at kibbutzim and homes closest to the Gaza border.

Dozens of other tunnels and huge stockpiles of weapons were destroyed. The IDF killed many terrorists and a number of Hamas terrorist leaders. According to a poll conducted by Geocartography Institute, 61% of Israelis feel that the IDF won.

But interestingly, the question was framed in this way: “Do you agree with the statement that the IDF won while Israel lost?” That a majority agreed with this statement may be explained by another question in the same poll: 

Respondents expressed frustration with the ceasefire that ended the operation with Hamas still in power in the Gaza Strip. Fifty-eight percent said the IDF should have been allowed to continue the operation in order to degrade the terrorist organization’s military abilities and called the truce a mistake that wastes the achievements of the Israeli armed forces.

Meanwhile, as in previous wars, Hamas has declared itself victorious.  An excellent Gatestone Institute article explains what’s wrong with that assessment and even Mahmoud Abbas blames Hamas for the deaths and destruction in Gaza that he now says “could have been avoided.”

The photo above (why is there no dust on that white robe?) represents winning to Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader who has not appeared in Gaza during the war until now and is pictured here, smiling, raising his hand in a V for victory sign amid the rubble of his own house.

August 18, 2014

UN, Media: No Outrage

Last week in Syria, one percent of the al-Sheitaat tribe was killed, 700 people, some by beheading. Their murderers are members of ISIS, known also as Islamic State.

On a single weekend last month, another 700 people were killed in Syria. Syria’s war death toll is up to nearly 200,000.

This past Friday, in one small village in Iraq, ISIS executed 80 Kurdish men and kidnapped 100 women and children. Elsewhere in Iraq, they hauled off 300 Kurdish women to rape. Young girls returned to their families and committed suicide.

On a single day this month, ISIS slaughtered 1,500 Iraqi Christians. Christians have been fleeing Iraq, where they will be murdered unless they convert to Islam. At least 200,000 have fled to Kurdistan.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority apparently believe that ISIS is responsible for some of the rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. 

ISIS objects that Hamas is “not doing enough to destroy Israel” and Hamas considers ISIS to be a threat to their own power.  But they have the same long-term goals—establishing an Islamic caliphate.

A practical difference between ISIS and Hamas at the moment is that Hamas is attacking Israel, a strong country with a strong army. The Jews of Iraq, a community with a 2500-year history, experienced over many years what the Iraqi Christians are experiencing now. There are no longer Jews in Iraq.

Like ISIS, Hamas uses terror, targets civilians, and executes political opponents. They kill their own people as “suspected collaborators.” Using cement intended for building homes to instead build terror tunnels, setting up headquarters in hospitals, launching rockets from neighborhoods, ordering their own citizens not to evacuate dangerous areas and at the same time preventing or intimidating journalists from filming or reporting Hamas’s actions are all in line with their strategies that may seem more complex than those used by ISIS. But their larger agendas are the same.

That there is so little attention to the horrific slaughters by ISIS or to the violence and subterfuge of Hamas threatens all of us who are their intended targets.

--published at Times of Israel

August 10, 2014

Ceasefire Media Fail

How hard is it to tell when a ceasefire is broken?  Aren’t there thousands of eyewitnesses?

In fact, all of the ceasefires have been broken when rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. 

So why the misleading language?  

“Gaza Attacks Resume as Ceasefire Expires; Truce Talks Up in the Air.” That’s the LA Times on the latest ceasefire. If you read carefully, almost between the lines, you can figure out that Israel did not break the ceasefire.  But it is as if the paper is trying for lack of clarity, casting doubt on the story even as it tells it, and using quote marks around “terror sites,” as if these might be something other than terror sites:

The Israeli army spokesman’s office said in a statement that “terror sites” across Gaza had been targeted following the resumption of Palestinian rocket fire. Hamas disavowed responsibility for the initial volleys of rockets after the cease-fire’s end, with smaller Palestinian factions claiming to have carried out the attacks.
At least two projectiles were intercepted by Israel’s antimissile system, with others falling in open areas in southern Israel.
Since the Iron Dome intercepted two “projectiles,” that is, rockets, there really isn’t a question about who broke the ceasefire. A “smaller faction” of Gaza terrorists rather than the larger faction, Hamas, still clearly means the attacks are coming from Gaza though the headline suggests attacks on Gaza or that the ceasefire expired due to actions from both sides.

Similarly—but more so—The Guardian’s headline, “Israel and Hamas Resume Attacks as ceasefire talks remain deadlocked” suggests that the failure of the talks caused the fighting to “resume” rather than the refusal of Hamas to continue the ceasefire. The Guardian also uses quotes around “terrorist targets” to even greater obfuscation than the LA Times, by not indicating that Hamas places their launchers and rockets in these locations:

Israel's military said it had hit 33 "terrorist targets" since midnight. These included several mosques and houses across the length of Gaza.
And CNN equalizes the ending of the ceasefire with this headline, “Israel Carries Out Strikes on Gaza After Rocket Fire Resumes.” After twenty-four paragraphs detailing the ongoing fighting and Hamas demands, the article does include a quote from Israeli UN Ambassador, Ron Proser responding to UN President, Ban Ki Moon:

"Your statement said that you were disappointed that the parties were unable to agree to an extension of the ceasefire. I couldn't help but notice that you didn't mention one of the parties, which happens to be the party that violated the ceasefire. This party has a name -- they are called Hamas."

August 05, 2014

Where is the Hamas Offensive?

We get constant news of the “Israeli offensive” and the “Gaza offensive” but both refer to action by Israel. What about the Hamas offensive?

This phrase does not exist in mainstream media.  It doesn’t come up in a Google search.

And without the concept of  “Hamas offensive,” the fact that Israel is fighting a defensive war stays out of focus.

American and UK media report on IDF soldiers and Palestinian civilians.  Hamas fighters are invisible.

We hear about Hamas rockets, though not often about the ones landing inside Gaza. Mostly the rockets are mentioned in terms of their uselessness against the rather mysterious Iron Dome.

Israelis who are not currently serving in the IDF are nearly as invisible as Hamas fighters.  As the war reporting continues, Israelis seem to be receding into the background, as if each story is titled, “what did the IDF do to Gaza today?”

The gruesome casualty count continuously reported from Gaza -- but not from other conflicts -- does not distinguish Palestinian combatants from civilians.

The source for this count, so far, is Hamas itself or the Gaza Health Service that is run by Hamas. And the familiar words: “most of them civilian,” cannot be accurate given that a majority are men of fighting age.

Simultaneous strikes at a Gaza hospital and the Shati refugee camp provoked outrage. Israel showed photos to demonstrate that they were not targeting these areas and reiterated that they never target civilians.  But media went with identifying Israeli strikes or equalizing Hamas and Israeli “claims.”

Yet, whenever a reporter is brave enough to say what’s really happening we hear the truth, as occurred last week in tweets from Italian reporter, Gabriele Barbati:

Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris
@IDFSpokesperson said truth in communique released yesterday about Shati camp massacre. It was not #Israel behind it

Journalists could help by acknowledging the limitations of their sources and the intimidation reporters and photographers face from Hamas.  There could be blazing headlines with information of the kind Gabriele Barbati shared.

Luckily, there are some in the media who do get it.  But right now, they’re the exceptions.

 published at Honest Reporting