The Road They Didn’t Take
Thoughts of mortality, of committing thousands of young men and reservists to war, ought to trouble and concentrate the mind. Worrisome, then, are the loose lips of Israel’s top brass like Eli Yishai, who stated Saturday, “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages”. Disconcerting too are the attitudes of Michael Ben-Ari, who stated he wants to see 2,000 killed in Gaza, and Gilad Sharon, son of Ariel, who wrote in The Jerusalem Post the following:
We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing.
Their detached attitude to combat, the blasé stance on the sanctity of life, the ease with which they would commit their nation to a war of destruction and desolation, is wicked, callous, and truly frightening. It can’t help but bring to mind, during this month in which we mark the conclusion of the First World War, Wilfred Owen’s take on the Binding of Isaac, “The Parable Of The Old Man And The Young”. After the angel of the Lord appears before Abraham and commands him to offer up “the Ram of Pride” over his threatened son, Owen’s verse takes a grim turn:
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Four years ago, Israel was on the verge of a ground war with Hamas and other militant organisations based in the Gaza Strip after a significant uptick in rocket attacks upon civilians living in the Negev. In the elections that followed Operation Cast Lead – which halted the showers of explosives, at a cost of thirteen dead Israelis and 700 dead Palestinian non-combatants – Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud gained fifteen more seats and formed a government of parties opposed to peace, or to use the father Benzion’s adage, in favour of an accord that they must know the Palestinians would never accept.
To say that history is repeating itself, or is in danger of doing so, would be facetious and a little cheap. Yet the familiarity of the position Israel finds herself in – at war with Hamas once more, no closer to an agreement with the PLO, and weeks away from a general election – should certainly sharpen the focus of the Israeli voter and give them just cause to reflect on the Netanyahu administration’s failings.
Taken from an email to the government of Syria, this quote is confirmation, if you needed further evidence, that George Galloway is a slug and a slimeball, a harlet, a fifth column allied to autocrats in the Middle East nestled in our politics, and a friend of the most barbarous and brutal dictators.
The intent of Galloway’s email, Barak Ravid reports, was, as head of Viva Palestina and organiser one of the major flotillas in aid of Hamas, to obtain “assistance from the office of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, requesting it facilitates their departure from the Syrian port at Latakia”.
The exchange between Galloway and Bouthaina Shaaban, who serves as media adviser to al-Assad, occurred in July 2011, even as al-Assad was putting citizens to the sword, and torturing detainees in Syria’s notorious prison network.
This is not Galloway’s first offence, when it comes to cuddling up to genocidal, tin-pot dictators. After all, addressing Saddam Hussein in 1994 (even after the Gulf War and his attempts to exterminate the Kurdish people, no less!), Galloway said, “I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability”.
It’s enough to make you heave.
Gilad Shalit and the Future of Peace
“For this reason was man created alone, to teach that whoever destroys a single life, it is as if he has destroyed an entire world; and whoever preserves a single life, it is as if he has saved an entire world.” — The Talmud
When faced with the impossible choice – whether to protect the security interests of the State of Israel whilst sacrificing a single soul, or save one life and in the process release over one thousand terrorists who took many lives and make take scores more – the Israeli government and by extension the people of Israel elected to do preserve a single life.
The decision to save Gilad Shalit – as part of a deal that saw the release of a disproportionate number of Palestinian prisoners responsible for some of the bloodiest atrocities to occur on Israeli soil in recent memory – is to the credit of those in Israel who lost family members and loved ones in those attacks. As Bradley Burston termed it in Haaretz, the deal speaks to “a remnant of an Israel which is fast disappearing. It is a remnant of a particular brand of quiet, exceptional courage”.
It is also just to commend Benjamin Netanyahu, who after all made the call on an agreement which witnessed the release into the West Bank, Gaza, and elsewhere of individuals who slaughtered some 599 Israelis, and maimed and disfigured many more. “This is still a difficult day,” Netanyahu told the media after Shalit’s reunion with his parents, Noam and Aviva, “because even though the price was lowered, it was heavy”.
The risk he undertook with this deal speaks not only to his courage, and the bravery of the Israeli people, but also to Judaism itself, a value system which sanctifies and places emphasis on the price of life, unlike those faiths which seem to believe that what happens after death is somehow more important.
The question the Shalit deal seems to have raised, as the New York Times so puts it, is the following:
If Netanyahu can negotiate with Hamas — which shoots rockets at Israel, refuses to recognise Israel’s existence and, on Tuesday, vowed to take even more hostages — why won’t he negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority, which Israel relies on to help keep the peace in the West Bank?
It is utterly mendacious, first of all, to create an equivalency between what took place between Israel and Hamas over Gilad Shalit, and the greater problem of coming up with a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The former was a hostage negotiation, whereby Hamas prised a unequal bounty out of Netanyahu by dangling the prospect of one man’s death over his head (evidently forgetting the Qur’an’s commandment, “If anyone saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind” (5:32)). Any talks between Netanyahu and Abbas would occur under more agreeable circumstances, free of preconditions.
But the larger answer to the Times’ question can be discovered in an examination of the Palestinian response to the gift they received as part of this bargain. The response in Gaza to the repatriation of wanton criminals and murderers was a cocktail of jubilation and vitriol. A crowd of 100,000 Gazans lined to streets to welcome the released back to Palestinian territory. At a rally in the Strip’s capital the assembled cried, “We want another Shalit!” Yehiye Sinwar, a freshly unshackled Hamas leader, even stated clear as day, “We urge the al-Qassam Brigades to kidnap more soldiers to exchange them for the freedom of our loved ones who are still behind bars”.
This has come to be expected of Hamas, an organisation which, after all, does not recognise the right of the state they were bargaining with to exist. Yet on the West Bank – the territorial flank the Times asserts to be the moderate wing – the reaction was equally as strident. “We thank God for your return and your safety,” Mahmoud Abbas said. “You are freedom fighters and holy warriors for the sake of God and the homeland”.
Abbas greeted the prisoners by adding that he wished soon that those freed would be reunited with such mass murderers as Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sa’adat. Barghouti was the head of al-Tanzim, the armed wing of Abbas’ party Fatah, and was a leading figure responsible for the organisation of the al-Aqsa Intifada, which resulted in the deaths of 731 Israeli civilians between 2000 and 2008. Sa’adat led the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and ordered the 2001 assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.
Gilad Shalit’s capture, imprisonment, possible torture, and its tawdry aftermath demonstrate that not only is the chasm between Israel and the Palestinians one of policy and principle – over borders, Jerusalem, and the right of return – but also a state of mind. Whilst families all across Israel were contemplating the nature of the deal they had shaken on to save one life, and remembering those struck down by the killers they had just set free, people across the West Bank and Gaza were lionising individuals complicit in some of the most grievous and heinous acts of terror to occur on Israeli soil.
Shalit’s live, back in his village of Mitzpe Hila in northern Israel, is being to return to something which might be described as normalcy. “He’s begun going out of the house a little bit, riding his bicycle, he wants to take walks, he’s playing some ping-pong and he’s seeing some people, meeting childhood friends,” his father said. His freedom is something to be celebrated, and news such as this is uplifting. But five years of incarceration following a kidnapping will inevitably have deep psychological and physical consequences of which we do not and cannot yet know. His scars are too etched onto Israeli-Palestinian relations – greatly damaged by Shalit’s ordeal.
A Note on Palestinian Statehood
“The core issue here is that the Israeli government refuses to commit to terms of reference for the negotiations that are based on international law and United Nations resolutions, and that it frantically continues to intensify building of settlements on the territory of the State of Palestine.” — Mahmoud Abbas, September 23, 2011
Avi Shlaim stated in a 2010 lecture at the LSE that the obstacles to peace can be surmised in three words: settlements, settlements, settlements. In 2009, some 304,569 Israelis lived in West Bank settlements, with growth rates topping out at 4.5pc in places like Modi’in Ilit. Estimates suggest too that around 192,000 reside in East Jerusalem.
The failure to prevent their expansion has, undoubtedly, hampered progress towards a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the commencement of Benjamin Netanyahu’s reign. Principally, settlements continue to act as a barrier not only because of their implications on the ground, in relation to the building away of the Palestinian state, but because parties to the talks have made it more of an issue than it need be.
The various proposed concords over the past thirty years have taken account of the fact that land scarred by concrete can not be returned to nature. Whether we’d prefer it or not, the major settlements will become part of the future State of Israel, once a Palestinian counterpart has been established. Indeed, Ehud Olmert’s plan provided for the incorporation of all major localities in the Seam Zone, the patch of land between the Green Line and the Security Barrier: Gush Etzion, a collection of villages south-west of Bethlehem; Ma’ale Adumin east of Jerusalem, and Ariel in the north near Salfit.
Thus settlements aren’t really the core issue, at least not at this precise moment anyway. Rather, I’d assert that it is government, or an absence of it, that remains the greatest obstacle to the foundation of Palestine. In Israel, there exists an administration led by Netanyahu yet, in terms of the Palestinian issue, commandeered by extreme nationalist and religious elements, which intends to delay the coming of Palestine to the point where annexation becomes the sole alternative to perpetual occupation.
But Mahmoud Abbas needs to recognise that no viable or contiguous Palestinian state can be established when its two territorial blocks are divided between two psuedo-democratic governing parties, one of which is a Islamist terror organisation bent on rolling back Israel to the point of non-existence. How can Abbas stand in front of the United Nations and ask for statehood, when he does not speak for nearly half of all Palestinians in the former Mandate?
A reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas was attempted in June 2011, but was derailed after the latter rejected the idea of Salam Fayyad as the unified Prime Minister. Before there is to be Palestinian state — an entity which is essential to the security, prosperity and vitality of a Jewish state — the question of who rules Palestine needs to be answered.
First as Tragedy, Then as Farce
Freedom Flotilla 2, as it was so generously styled, as been an abject failure. The Canadian vessel got as far as Crete before being boarded by the Greek coastguard and turned about by strength to the port of Agios Nikolaos. They were four miles short of international waters. The American ship - helmed in part by the second-rate wordsmith Alice Walker - did not even make it out of port. Due to the moral and political authority of the Greek government, the Western Friends of Hamas were stopped before they could make their last stand by the shores of Gaza.
First they sailed at sea — now they try by air. For, this Friday, Haaretz reports that between 600 and 1,200 protestors are due to arrive en masse at Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv. The aim - as they term it - is to travel from said airport to Bethlehem in the West Bank, as part of a demonstration against travel restrictions in the Palestinian Territories. “Confrontation with Israel isn’t the goal in this case”, one of the organizers, Lubna Masarwa, told the paper. I fail to see how such an act can be construed as anything other.
This protest will fail, as others have before it, because the State of Israel will not tolerate such flagrant disregard for their legitimacy as a sovereign body. This is, as Netanyahu as said, a direct act of provocation at Israel’s borders at its one and only international airport. Israel has the right to do what is reasonable and necessary to prevent choas and disorder at its gates. Government agencies are said to be preparing for extreme scenarios, such as an activist trying to set himself on fire.
The lingering questions are two in number: who are these people? and what do they hope to achieve? To the first, that they are targetting the West Bank would indicate that, on the one hand, they are not as trenchant and militant in their allegiance with radical elements as the boat people. However, that this demonstration is being staged in concord with the flotilla makes them ipso facto allied with the aims and intents of the former and thus complicit with the Friends of Hamas.
In terms of what it might achieve, on this we can be fairly certain, for they must know their demonstration will not succeed in its ostensible aim of reaching Bethlehem. With this in mind, their clear and explicit intent must be to force the Israeli state into acts which weaken their standing in the international community and undermine their existence. This aerial bombardment is the same as last year’s flotilla and this season’s Naqba and Naqsa Day protests in the Golan Heights: they are built to fail as to shame and embarrass the Jewish state. No more; no less.