Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cast Lead

Palestinians surveying the wreckage

It's been a while since I posted a blog, part of the reason being a very welcome family visit. During this time, the bits of news that filtered through the family fun focussed on the growing debate over the necessity of a military operation against Hamas in Gaza. This reached a new peak on Wednesday about 80 rockets were fired into Israel . By Friday, the media were reporting that the decision had been taken to undertake a limited military operation with "defined goals". Yesterday at about 11 a.m. we started to hear 100 planes bombed Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in a "shock and awe" opeation that came earlier than everyone expected.

You can get an idea of what Gaza looks like here. This morning there was a second air strike and the the death toll in Gaza is approaching the 300 mark. Unclear how many were civilians and how many were armed. The reports that I've heard talk of overflowing hospitals, a complete breakdown of services, panic and shock. Some people are fleeing areas near security installations.

On our side a women was killed in Netivot in a steady rain of rocket fire, about 40 falling so far today, but reaching further than before, two in Ashdod, a mere hour's drive from the rooftop. The government has authorised the mobilization of 6,500 reservists and and with mechanized vehicles moving towards Gaza there are signs that a ground offensive will also be launched.

Kids in Sderot. Some are being evacuated. They won't be going back to school on Wednesday, after the Chanuka break.

Here's a round up of international responses. Meanwhile, in the Arab world, the press in the PA, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are openly telling Hamas "we told you so..." but elsewhere there are plenty of demonstrations. In Israel too, a few thousand Arabs have been demonstrating againt the attack and Ghaled Majadle, the Arab minister for sport and culture refused to attend today's cabinet meeting.

As I happened to write in the last post, there are no easy answers when it comes to Gaza. The incessant rocket attacks are criminal enough to warrant a military response but of what kind , and to what end? This morning's Ha'aretz (doveish, highbrow) has already taken a very critical attitude towards the war and is rightly asking some probing questions.

Here's an extract from its editorial:

"But understanding is no substitute for wisdom, and the inherent desire for retribution does not necessarily have to blind us to the view from the day after. The expression "time for combat" still does not elucidate the goals of the assault. Does Israel seek to "just" send Hamas a violent, horrifying message? Is the intention to destroy the organization's military and civilian infrastructure? Perhaps the goal is far-reaching to the point of removing Hamas from power in Gaza and transferring rule to the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas? How does Israel intend to realize these goals? The aerial assault on its own, as one may recall from the Lebanon War, cannot suffice. Does the IDF plan on deploying thousands of soldiers in the streets of Gaza? And what will the number of casualties be at this stage? "

Is it possible, in view of the surprising news that the PA is fully ready to retake control of the Gaza Strip, that this is the real aim of the Operation 'Cast Lead'? All the government spokesmen are saying is that idea is to "change the security conditions", but it's far from clear what that actually means.
Zvi Barel in Ha'aretz, thought that it wasn't but couldn't see the point of fighting for what might have been achieved (he believes) through diplomacy:

"Essentially, Israel is telling Hamas it is willing to recognize its control of Gaza on the condition that it assumes responsibility for the security of the territory, like Hezbollah controls southern Lebanon. It is likely that this will be the outcome of a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip if Israel decides it does not want to rule Gaza directly. Why, then, not forgo the war and agree to these conditions now?

Gideon Levy was extremely clear on whether the response was proportional:

"Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom.

What began yesterday in Gaza is a war crime and the foolishness of a country. History's bitter irony: A government that went to a futile war two months after its establishment - today nearly everyone acknowledges as much - embarks on another doomed war two months before the end of its term."
In a short time, after the parade of corpses and wounded ends, we will arrive at a fresh cease-fire, as occurred after Lebanon, exactly like the one that could have been forged without this superfluous war.

Here's the entire piece.
to be continued and continued and continued...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shipless in Yafo

On my Sunday morning bike through Yaffo this morning I heard (on the radio/phone) that the government had decided to block a ship carrying humanitarian supplies for Gaza from sailing from Yaffo port. The ship was sponsored by the Israeli Arab community (the Islamic Movement according to Ha'aretz) and nearly all Arab members of Knesset were supposed to have been on board. Since I was nearby, I decided to take a look. It wasn't hard to pick out the knot of cameramen around the grounded MKs.

On the sidelines, I heard one worried man saying that the police had confiscated his ship last night. The man in the middle with the grey beard (click pic to enlarge) and the scarf is Sheikh Riyad Saleh, formerly the mayor of Um el Fahem and today the leader of the main wing of Islamic Movement in Israel. To his right, in a sweater, is Knesset member Mohamad Barakeh, who leads the secular/communist mainly Arab Hadash party. Since the ship had been whisked away by the authorities, this was obviously a media opportunity designed to show that there was unity in the ranks of the Arab community when it came to caring about the residents of Gaza. They eventually announced that they would not be deterred and would try to get a truckload of supplies in by land.Two young girl solders from Galei Tzhal (The IDF's radio - much less militaristic than it sounds)
added an incongruous touch alongside the keffiyeh wearers. I heard one woman tell them, politely, that since she didn't recognise the IDF, she would not be interviewed by it. The girls didn't seem to be too bothered and other interviewees seemed less hesitant.

Someone started handing out hats with a slogan, the cameras rushed forward and I moved on.

Over the weekend over 20 missiles have fallen on towns and villages in the western Negev. In effect, the tahadiyeh or lull that we 've been enjoying for the past few months has effectively ended. At the same time, the world has increasingly condemned Israel's seige of Gaza as a case of collective punishment prohibited under international humanitarian law. What to do about Gaza is therefore a burning question that everyone in the political arena - Jewish and Arab parties alike - uses for his own political purposes.

The options range from military operations to accepting the Hamas' offer of a long term hudna (cease-fire). Each option has the potential to turn out horribly badly. As a result the Israeli government seems to be more intent on managing the situation than resolving it.

The militant Palestinian groups in Gaza fire rockets, not only at innocent civilians in Israel but also at the very crossing points that bring them aid, and at the power station that supplies them with electricity. Consequently, Israeli public opinion favours tough responses: if not a military invasion that would bog Israel down in a bloody conflict for months, then at least some punishment that will make them see the error of their ways. In practice the result has been counter-productive. The Hamas government has been effective in persuading Gaza's residents that heroic resilience is the only alternative in the face of the seige and the occasional IDF strikes against rocket launchers. To help matters. the Egyptians allow supplies to flow into Gaza through hundreds of tunnels that allow Gazans to ward off starvation and conduct some sort of basic black economy. Meanwhile, in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority, busy mopping up pockets of potential Hamas opposition in the West Bank, wants to bring Hamas to its knees no less than Israel but has to tread a fine line between condemnation of the seige, and ensuring that its arch-enemy Hamas is not handed a victory.

Little wonder then that no-one knows what to do.

Monday, December 1, 2008

An evening with Rufus

Saw Rufus Wainright at the Mann Auditorium (heychal hatarbut) which is the home of the Israel Philharmonic. Rufus, who gave us a terrific show - his songs an amalgum of campy pop, classical, Broadway and folk - seemed (strangely) a bit overawed by the respectable surroundings. Hasn't he ever played in a concert hall before?

Anyway, he did a lot of rapping with the audience, and seemed to be having a good time in Tel Aviv. He was open and friendly and the crowd, which included a large contingent from the local gay community, lapped him up. He also brought out his mum, Kate McGarrigle - the Kate half of Kate and Anna McGarrigle - who has a great voice and seemed like a feisty lady.

I used to be a fan of Rufus' dad, Loudon Wainwright III, who by the looks of his website is still going strong. I remember, through the mists of time, seeing him in concert, circa 1969, at Manchester University where he sang his big hit 'Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road". I heard him say on a later recording that that song helped pay for a lot of child support (for Rufus?) Anyway the Wainwright-McGarrigle musical clan, with the possible exception of Loudon III, seems to prove that a family that plays together stays together.

Here's a clip with a few songs from Rufus Wairwright in Tel Aviv (you'll find more on You Tube)

At the risk of offending the audience, which he didn't, Rufus told a (true) Holocaust joke.
Walter Mathau was visiting Auschwitz and just as he was entering the gas chambers, an American lady recognised him, approached him and asked him for his autograph. Walter refused, telling her that he didn't think it was an appropriate moment. Once outside, the lady accosted him again and angrily told him : "I just want you to know that you've ruined my entire visit to Auschwitz!"

(Rufus' official site here ).