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gaza tunnel

Hamas fighters in Gaza tunnel

One of the most dynamic developments in the current Gaza war is the massive system of tunnels dug by Hamas militants in the past three years.  The tunnels honeycomb the Strip and allow access for fighters not just to the battlefield within Gaza, but to the Israeli border itself, where there was a successful attack that killed two IDF officers.  The tunnels, like those dug by Hezbollah in Lebanon, allowed Palestinian fighters to engage with the IDF when it was to their advantage and to disappear when it wasn’t.  Unlike Operation Cast Lead, when Hamas largely evaporated and gave the IDF the run of Gaza, this time Hamas has stood and fought.  Ten soldiers were killed in the 2009 war and 33 have been killed in this one.

But one question few people inside Israel are asking is: how could Israel’s vaunted intelligence agencies not have known what was going on in Gaza?  Why were they virtually in the dark about a development as important as this?  How could they have sent their forces into ambushes that cost so many lives and in which the troops sometimes didn’t know what hit them?

Yisrael HaYom notes that on the eve of the war, Israeli intelligence believed there were 9-13 (depending on which agency you asked) tunnels in Gaza.  So far the IDF has identified 31.  But U.S. satellite intelligence has detected at least 60, saying there may be more than that.  That means that either the IDF is lying when it offers the smaller number; or it really believes there are only 31 and has further proven the slipshod intelligence offered to it.

I should add that the above Jerusalem Post report is based on information provided by Steve Emerson, an entirely unreliable source.  But whether Emerson is wrong or right, it seems eminently reasonable to assume that the IDF, which didn’t know the extent of the tunnel network going into the war, may not yet know the extent of the network even after having its troops on the ground in Gaza.

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Israeli War a Mix of Sex, Lust and Death

standing with the idf

One of the images of the Standing with the IDF Facebook page

Israeli women have added a new bizarre twist to Operation Protective Edge.  They’ve pledged their bodies in explicit photos published on Facebook to the soldiers fighting on behalf of the homeland.  Add this to the Israeli calls to sexually brutalize Palestinian mothers and calls in Israeli social media to figuratively rape Gaza and you have a heady mix of sex, violence and death.

The pictures Israeli women displayed on Facebook remind me of the German World War II images of pure Aryan maidens waiting to mate with their Teutonic male counterparts and produce exemplary Aryan children.  It smacked of the Nazi purity of race doctrine.  To be sure, the Israeli women aren’t proclaiming their racial superiority.  But they’re certainly offering their bodies on the altar of Israeli patriotism.

standing with the idf

“Hamas in my ass”

What’s missing is any hint of the death these boys they purport to love are raining down on Gaza.  These images reinforce the life force (sex); but deny the death that the enemy faces at the hands of these IDF Adonises.  They also deny the death that faces IDF troops themselves, 33 of whom have died.  The nexus between sex, lust, and death is very strong in these images.

I suppose you could argue that the Facebook images are versions of the pin-up girl photos circulated to U.S. troops during World War II to remind them of the girls they left behind.  But in those pictures, the models never offered their bodies so explicitly and never seemed to be bartering their bodies on behalf of the war effort.

Another bizarre characteristic of the images is that very few display the faces of the women pictured.  They either display breasts, crotch or the behind.  Which leaves you with the eerie feeling that once the troops return they won’t be enjoying sex with women, but only with parts of their bodies.  This goes to the dysfunctional nature of relations between the sexes in Israeli society.  But that’s a different subject entirely.

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In one of the most heinous civilian atrocities of the Gaza War, at least four Israeli tank shells struck a UN school in Beit Hanoun in which Palestinian civilians had vainly sought shelter from combat raging around them.  As food and water had become scarce there, the UN had asked the refugees to gather in the courtyard for evacuation by bus to a relatively safer alternate location.  Fifteen minutes before the scheduled arrival of the buses, the shells made direct hits on the compound.  Both civilian refugees and UN personnel were among the dead.

un school massacre gaza

Relatives of Palestinian boy murdered in UN school massacre mourn at morgue

The IDF’s lame excuse offered before it finally admitted it was at fault was that it had told the UN to evacuate the school days earlier since it was too close to a combat zone.  Of course, the UN already has 100,000 refugees crowding its facilities throughout the Strip.  So moving them elsewhere wasn’t a matter of finding a safer facility with space available.  It was a matter of crowding them into a place that was already overflowing with the needy and desperate.

During the 2006 Lebanon War, there was an Israeli airstrike on a UN facility called Qana that killed 44 civilians.  This will likely shape up as this war’s Qana.  Till now, the Obama administration has merely begged the sides for a ceasefire, while doing almost nothing to address Hamas’ legitimate demands that the illegal Israeli and Egyptian siege be ended.  Now, it can continue with this charade or it can pull out all the stops and get the killing to stop, while rectifying the worst injustices of Gaza’s plight.

ramallah protests

Massive protests in Ramallah against Gaza massacre

In a development that could change the calculus of the current war, thousands of West Bank Palestinians rallied in towns throughout Palestine to protest the massacre.  The IDF killed at least three demonstrators and wounded 60 through the use of live ammunition in street combat that begins to echo the pogroms initiated by the army a few weeks ago.  Then the army, under instructions from the political echelon, engaged in collective punishment after the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish youth.  7 Palestinians were killed during those protests.

People like to throw around threats of a third Intifada.  I’ve heard them too many times to credit this one as the one that will turn into a full-fledged people’s revolt.  But it certainly has the basic elements necessary to provoke a mass uprising.  Remember Tunisia?  There it only took a street vendor lighting himself on fire to start the Arab Spring.  What will happen next in this case?

If the Obama administration had any guts or vision, it would take advantage of this Israeli atrocity to exert maximum pressure for negotiating a larger resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It could get concessions from the Palestinians while demanding concessions from the Israelis along with a threat of sanctions if Israel doesn’t comply.  That could redeem Kerry’s failed peace talks.  But I fear that while there may be vision there are no guts for such a diplomatic Hail Mary.

As I wrote yesterday, while there will be enormous pressure for a ceasefire now, the effort will be totally wasted unless it addresses Gaza’s needs in a real, verifiable way.  End the siege.  Open the borders.  Allow Palestinians to have a unity government.  Talk to Hamas.  Short of this, everything else is a charade.

Here’s a perfect example of the charade in action (from Haaretz):

A senior Israeli official said that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has drafted a new cease-fire proposal and presented it to both sides.

Both sides?  What does that mean?  It sure doesn’t mean the proposal was presented to Hamas because the U.S. won’t talk to Hamas.  The U.S. will talk to Egypt’s junta and Mahmoud Abbas.  But neither has the trust of Hamas.  So which side exactly is Kerry talking to?  It somehow satisfies the U.S. and Israel that they’re talking to someone who is proximate to the other side in this argument.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether they’re reaching the party they need to be speaking to.  And that’s the problem in a nutshell, isn’t it?  We define who will speak to.  We define the problem on our terms.  Everything else is peripheral.  It’s all us (whether “us” is Israel or the U.S.): our interests.  The other side, if they have interests, doesn’t concern us.

COMMENT RULE NOTICE: I have instituted a temporary comment rule change due to my diminishing patience with hasbara efforts in the comment thread.  If  you are a new commenter or an existing one who posts propagandistic comments, arguments, etc. that have been published earlier by others; or which blame Gazans or Hamas for what’s happened, you will be immediately moderated.  I will also moderate commenters whose statements demean Israel with claims of Nazism, etc.  I will approve comments that respect the comment rules.  But if your comments appear to be part of the hasbara apparatus, they may not be.  I can only repeat arguments and produce evidence so many times before I lose all patience.

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I have nothing against John Kerry, really I don’t.  He served bravely in the anti-war movement in his youth.  He seems like an honorable man.  But for someone of his presumed intelligence, to become engaged in the Israel-Palestine conflict and do such a bad job at it, is shocking.

Last month, he ended an ill-fated year-long attempt to broker a peace deal between Israel and Palestine.  He and his chief aide, Martin Indyk, largely blamed Israel for the failure.  Now, Kerry has set his sights on negotiating a ceasefire in Gaza.  While the general goal is admirable, the way he’s going about doing it is ass-backwards.  Meaning it too must fail.

kerry ceasefire

John Kerry’s statement on landing in Egypt for ceasefire discussions with UN’s Ban Ki Moon and others.

Here are the problems: Kerry wants to stop the killing so things can go back to the status quo.  He’s basically trying to sweep up the mess Israel has made so that it doesn’t jeopardize Israel’s standing any more than necessary in the world community (an outcome Israel itself seems to care little about).  This is a quick fix.  In and out.  Israel stops bombing, Hamas stops rockets.  Kerry goes home looking good and gets back to solving problems that ‘really matter,’ whether that might be Ukraine or saving the U.S. relationship with Germany from being destroyed by the CIA and NSA.

But let’s say a quick fix wasn’t the worst outcome.  Let’s say it was a reasonable goal.  Even if you concede that, Kerry is pursuing it like a boxer with one hand tied behind his back.  How do you negotiate a ceasefire between two parties when you’ve refused to talk to one party?  Not just refused, but you’ve assigned a substitute (Mahmoud Abbas) who doesn’t have the trust of the party (Hamas) he’s supposed to represent.  This is a recipe for embarrassment and failure.

If you look at Kerry’s statement in the accompanying image you can see a man who’s either a robot and one of the Walking Dead.  How can you be “deeply concerned” by someone engaging in “appropriate and legitimate” behavior?  And as for “no country can stand by when rockets are attacking it,” can we say the same for Gaza?  Why should Hamas stand by while Israel is reducing it to a heap of smoking rubble?

The first stab at a ceasefire was a comedy of errors.  Anyone who doesn’t read this blog doesn’t know the half of it.  Not only did Egypt make a ceasefire proposal that had been written by Israel, it essentially said “to hell with Hamas” in every way it could.  What’s ludicrous is that the U.S. is still viewing Egypt as an interlocutor representing some vague Arab interest in the ceasefire process.  Egypt is useless, discredited.  It’s military junta doesn’t even represent Egyptians, let alone Palestinians.

Returning to that quick fix approach: it’s also destined to failure because every previous Gaza war has ended with a short-term ceasefire that’s led to war within a year or two following.  What’s the point of a ceasefire that temporarily ends fighting only to see it resume in even greater fury shortly afterward?

While I have no great affection for Hamas, Khaled Meshal, its political leader, has a valid point.  He’s said: “Enough with the quick fixes.”  Negotiate with us about the issues that really bother us.  End the siege.  End open season targeted killing of Gazans by the IDF.  Do that and we can talk about everything else.

Just as Israel’s ultra-nationalist leaders added a demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state to the peace talks (which helped sink them), now Israel is adding a new demand to the ceasefire negotiations.  It wants to “demilitarize” Gaza.  That’s all well and good.  I’m for demilitarization too.  Let’s demilitarize Gaza…after we demilitarize Israel.

I’m not even talking about demilitarizing Israel as a whole, which obviously would be foolish.  Let’s just demilitarize the border between Gaza and Israel.  Let’s forbid Gaza militants and IDF soldiers from being anywhere near the border.  I don’t care how you do it.  Put international observers there.  Put sophisticated listening posts and surveillance gear financed by the U.S.

But talking about demilitarizing one side while leaving the other fully locked and loaded and hunting for bear–that’s a failure waiting to happen.

Finally, as long as the U.S. continues along this path, it will fail.  Even if there is a ceasefire in the coming days, as long as it ignores the points I’ve raised above, it’s doomed in the short-or medium-term.  War will resume.  People will die (again).  In greater numbers than the time before.  And each time they do, Israel will sink a little lower in international standing.  It’s ability to determine its own future will become incrementally weaker.  The end won’t be pretty.  If that’s the way the parties choose to go.

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Flight board at Ben Gurion Airports flashes the bad news (AP/Dan Balilty)

UPDATE: Israel Army Radio reports that the FAA has lifted its flight ban.  FAA confirms this.  Haaretz states that Israel offered unspecified security “assurances” that convinced the federal agency to lift its ban.  But other international airlines have not yet followed suit.

Yesterday, the FAA announced it was cancelling all flights to Israel due to a Hamas rocket that landed a mile from Ben Gurion Airport and damaged two homes and injured a resident.  Then today, it renewed the flight ban.  Most of the rest of the world’s airlines followed suit.  Even though the pro-Israel Harper government did not issue a flight ban, even Air Canada cancelled flights to Israel.

Israel protested there’s nothing unsafe about flights into Ben Gurion.  But its reassurances somehow rang hollow:

“We knew about that rocket,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. “We were tracking it for about three minutes, our Air Force. We could have taken it down, but because we saw that it wasn’t going to hit inside the airport, we let it through.”

So, if the IDF knew about the missile and “let it through,” it allowed it to strike Israeli homes causing great damage and injuring one person.  Does that sound reasonable or logical to you?  If it’s true, then those responsible for Iron Dome targeting should be demoted.

Not only is Israel worried about its perception in the outside world, it perceives a flight ban as creeping boycottism (as in BDS).  And there’s some truth to this.  Though commercial aircraft are worth $300-million each, I seriously doubt the FAA believes any aircraft are in danger.  My guess is that John Kerry wants to bring home his claim a few months ago that Israel’s intransigence is making BDS become a real threat.

The travel ban is a form of official BDS.  Not organized from the grassroots or the result of pressure tactics by the activist community, but the product of Obama administration anger at the mounting stacks of Palestinian dead, including 150 children.  Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray, a trusty mouthpiece for the pro-Israel Lobby voices Aipac’s lament that the flight ban is politically motivated:

The most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington has come out against a Federal Aviation Administration ban on U.S. airlines flying to Israel…saying that the ban “sends the entirely wrong message.”

“…We are concerned the ban could have the effect of isolating Israel at a time when we should be demonstrating our strong solidarity.”

…The Weekly Standard argued that “Obama administration is using the travel warning to exert pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire.”

…Sen. Ted Cruz alleged that, via the FAA ban on flights to Tel Aviv, the Obama administration “has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands.”

Gee, I don’t know, it sounds pretty good to me.  Why shouldn’t the European vacation plans of the Israeli elite be inconvenienced when its army is eviscerating a large part of an entire nation?  In fact, I maintain that this is the ONLY way to get Israelis to pay attention.  Otherwise, they’re fully absorbed in their own narcissism to the exclusion of those who are their victims.

Israel (by which I mean mostly its leaders, though many ordinary citizens as well) behaves like an obstinate mule.  Sometimes what’s necessary is to whack the poor animal on the head and make it realize that life won’t be as pleasant if it doesn’t pay closer attention to what its owner (or in Israel’s case, the rest of the world) wants.  I apologize to mules for the analogy.

gaza buffer zone

IDF “buffer zone” expelling residents from half of Gaza.

Israeli tourism, one of the country’s top revenue-generators is taking a huge hit.  Foreign tourism has dried up.  The flight ban will only reinforce the notion that Israel may not be a safe place to visit just now.

The IDF has created a “buffer zone” for the duration of its invasion that includes over half of the territory of Gaza.  It consists of 3 km on Gaza’s north, east and southern border with Israel.  Since Gaza’s width is between 3.7-7.5 miles, this effectively turns those living in over half of Gaza into internal refugees.  Gazans, of course, cannot be refugees in the normal sense, since they cannot leave the place (besieged as they are by Israel and Egypt).  Nor can they find refuge in UN shelters which are already filled with 100,000 Gazans.  I suppose they might learn to levitate and find refuge in thin air or dig their own personal underground bomb shelters (with what materials I don’t know, since they’re embargoed by Israel).

IDF reservists have published an eloquent statement in the Washington Post, in which they not only denounce the Gaza War, but the entire military system with its sexism, physical abuse of women, and toxic effect on Israeli society:

We are more than 50 Israelis who were once soldiers and now declare our refusal to be part of the reserves. We oppose the Israeli Army and the conscription law. Partly, that’s because we revile the current military operation. But most of the signers below are women and would not have fought in combat. For us, the army is flawed for reasons far broader than “Operation Protective Edge,” or even the occupation. We rue the militarization of Israel and the army’s discriminatory policies. One example is the way women are often relegated to low-ranking secretarial positions. Another is the screening system that discriminates against Mizrachi (Jews whose families originate in Arab countries) by keeping them from being fairly represented inside the army’s most prestigious units. In Israeli society, one’s unit and position determines much of one’s professional path in the civilian afterlife.

To us, the current military operation and the way militarization affects Israeli society are inseparable. In Israel, war is not merely politics by other means — it replaces politics. Israel is no longer able to think about a solution to a political conflict except in terms of physical might; no wonder it is prone to never-ending cycles of mortal violence. And when the cannons fire, no criticism may be heard.

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anti-Palestinian sign

“Soldiers: Pound their Mom so you can return safely to yours.”

In last night’s post I noted some of the ghoulish reactions by Israelis to the war, from Prof. Mordechai Kedar’s call for raping the sisters and mothers of Palestinian terrorists to Rabbi Dov Lior’s halachic ruling that it’s permissible both to kill Palestinian civilians and raze Gaza to the ground.  Tonight, yet another choice example both of hatred of Palestinians and misogyny toward Palestinian mothers.

The pictured banner was created by the town council of Or Yehuda, just outside Tel Aviv.  It’s addressed to the local boys who serve in the IDF:

Soldiers: Residents of Or Yehuda are with you!

Pound their Mom so you can return safely to yours.

David Sheen first posted this image in his Twitter feed and Ofer Neiman drew my attention to it.  I was struck by the Hebrew slang kansu.  It derives from the verb whose original meaning is “to enter.”

protests against gaza war

Montage of protests against Gaza slaughter from around the world

That immediately brought to mind the clear sexual connotation of the word in English.  Two Hebrew speakers I trust, one of them Ofer, confirmed the term has a violent and vulgar connotation that might have a sexual intimation.  Sheen himself wrote this about the phrase in Muftah:

This English translation of the Hebrew “Kansu” as “pound” (or its synonym “bang,”) literally means to beat, but also has a colloquial meaning connoting sexual penetration. In the Hebrew original, the double-entendre is inverted: “Kansu B’” has the colloquial meaning of physically attacking someone, but literally means to enter, sexually or otherwise – this sexual connotation can be found on multiple Hebrew-language sex blogs.

The phrase “their mother,” “ima shelahem” in Hebrew, also has the colloquial meaning of “with great intensity.” The idiom developed precisely because, for many people,  witnessing their mother being assaulted is more painful than  receiving a blow to their own person. In the context of the city’s banner, the language of sexualized violence is borrowed in order to articulate ruthless subjugation of Gaza’s Palestinian population.

Some Hebrew speakers disagree, but I don’t find their claims as persuasive as David Sheen’s. In fact, those who attack me in the comment thread here and on Facebook are using language as an extension of the hasbara war over Gaza.  Their false claims that the term cansu b’ has no sexual connotation and that the reference to Palestinian mothers is a figure of speech rather than outright misogyny represents the use of language to evade moral responsibility.  This is at the heart of the pro-Israel enterprise.

The very least we can say is that a major Israeli town is urging its soldiers to debase and beat up Palestinian mothers.  All in the name of protecting Israeli mothers.

Just when you think you’ve seen or heard it all and things can’t get any worse–they do.

In the meantime, I happy to say that the world is beginning to wake up to the slaughter in Gaza.  The accompanying image displays a montage of demonstrations from around the world.  All I can say is it couldn’t happen a moment too soon.

 

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m 113 apn

Israeli M-113 APC destroyed by anti-tank missile resulting in deaths of 7 IDF troops

Israeli defense minister, Bogie Yaalon, has been locked in a major fiscal battle with Finance Minister Yair Lapid over funding for the IDF.  Lapid is desperately trying to cut ministerial budgets, while the IDF naturally tries to expand its funding in every budgetary cycle.  The IDF is the nation’s 800-pound gorilla.  It sucks up money. It sucks up manpower.  It’s used to considering the national budget its personal piggybank.

A highly-placed Likud politician revealed to me today that as part of that battle, Yaalon ordered that the IDF use an obsolete 50 year-old model of armored personnel carrier in the Gaza war. He hoped that either the APC would fail in battle (as it did) or at least he’d be able to point to use of the vehicle as a shameful example of budgetary penny-pinching forced on the army by finance ministry cuts, which diminished operational readiness of the IDF.

Haaretz’s Amos Harel points out the fallacies that underlie the IDF claim:

It turns out the General Command hadn’t even known that M-113s, which are ancient, poorly protected vehicles, were being used in Gaza. Only after that incident did the Southern Command issue an order forbidding M-113s to enter Gaza.

The army promptly cited this incident in support of its demand for a budget increase, but the mishap wasn’t due to lack of funds. The fact is that immediately after that attack, a convoy of modern Namer and Achzarit APCs, which have better protection, began making its way from the Lebanese border to Gaza. In short, there was no budgetary problem here, but one of planning and resource allocation.

As a result of this political maneuvering, 7 soldiers were incinerated during a street battle during which a Palestinian fighter fired an anti-tank missile, which destroyed the vehicle.  Only one soldier survived.  Two of the dead were U.S. citizens.

In other words, Yaalon gambled the lives of these boys away hoping for a budgetary advantage.  The dead were sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

Increasing the severity of the incident, the only reason why the Palestinians got a shot at the APC was that the ancient, outdated vehicle had broken down and was waiting for another APC to pick up its passengers and take them to their destination.  Clearly, whoever ordered these vehicles into battle should be court-martialed or, in the case of Yaalon, fired.

In a new development, Nana reports that 30 IDF reservists have publicly announced they will refuse to travel in the Zelda M-113s in the event they are stationed in Gaza and asked to travel in it.

When people wonder where the supremely confident, well-trained and equipped IDF of the 1967 War went, they should know it deteriorated precisely over such corrupt, borderline criminal behavior such as this.  I’ve documented other examples of outright IDF corruption.  This tragedy ranks right up there in cynicism.

Every minister has his dutiful Boswell regurgitating his talking points for the Israeli media public.  Ben Caspit seems to serve that role for Yaalon.  In a report dripping with patriotic fervor (Hebrew) for the boys who made the ‘ultimate sacrifice,’ he goes into high dudgeon over the obsolete “Zelda” (M113) into which these poor boys were packed:

I want these soldiers to have enough ‘Namer’ (a more modern, protected vehicle) APCs, so they won’t have to enter Gaza in the Zelda, like the one that was hit resulting in 7 dead…I want a ‘windbreaker’ for every tank and Iron Dome for everyone.  And tanks even more heavily armored, and sufficient budget to train these soldiers, so that they have every good thing that can be provided for them by this country including a decent, even indulgent salary to compensate them for the personal and family sacrifices they’re making, so we can look out for them as they’re looking out for us.

When Caspit’s reporting days are over he can be assured of a job as Yaalon’s publicist and speechwriter.  Another tidbit about Caspit, he’s one of the odd bunch of Israeli journalists featured in Al Monitor’s Israel Pulse section, which also boasts an avowed settler ultra-nationalist contributor.  That should make Caspit feel right at home.

Of course, my source has his own bone to pick with Yaalon.  Most of the Likud now expect, after Lieberman’s break-up of the governing coalition, a new election in 2015.  It’s every man for himself.  Every potential candidate for party leader, should Bibi step down, seeks a political angle.  They’re all positioning themselves for maximum advantage.  Even though Yaalon is a cynical scumbag who caused the deaths of those 7 boys, his enemies are taking advantage of his inexcusable decision to make life miserable for him.

But the truth is that every one of these Likud mini-Bibis have skeletons rattling around in their closets.  No one is Mr. Clean.  Most importantly, they’ll all lead Israel even farther into the darkness than Bibi has.

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