Articles which have caught my interest. Mostly Israel stuff and other nubbins from the ongoing holy war.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
Latest Developments from the Hudna
Oh, crap. Here we go again.
IDF special forces nailed Sheikh Bassam Sadi, the West Bank head of Islamic Jihad today in Hebron. Sadi was responsible for the murder of 19 people.
According to the reports, the soldiers went in to arrest Sadi, a firefight broke out, and they nailed the building he was hiding in with an anti-tank missile. The building blew up, leading to the suspicion that there were a lot of weapons inside. Islamic Jihad, unsurprisingly, is vowing revenge. Sadi's body was apparently pulled from the rubble.
Same story, different day. And I'll give my usual ambivalent speech.
In principle I have absolutely no problem with the idea that scum like Sadi deserve to be hunted down. The IDF needs to be able to operate against the terrorists, especially since the PA has announced that it is unwilling to do so under any circumstances. On the other hand, you have to consider the timing and the double-standard involved. The hudna is looking more and more like a farce, but nominally the cease-fire is still on. And depsite numerous Palestinian attacks, including the double suicide bombings from Tuesday, the world is going to be quick to blame Israel once the thing falls apart. This is the double standard at work. And when the next terrorist attack comes -- and I am deathly afraid that it's just a matter of time -- there will be a certain undercurrent of world opinion that Israel asked for it.
I don't buy into the cause-effect argument that the terrorist attacks are inevitably a response to Israeli actions. But that doesn't mean that other people don't buy into it. It's a handy excuse for Hamas and Jihad, almost enough to make you forget the wrongness of the equation that a terrorist bastard is somehow the same as a bunch of women and children.
No joy around here and even less to come, I fear.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Tel Aviv, Then
As I was in a crappy mood following yesterday's bombing, I decided to disconnect myself from the news and went to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The museum is currently showing a retrospective of the work of Avraham Soskin. Soskin (1881-1963) was one of the most prominent photographers in pre-state Israel. Along with his studio portraits and Soskin's work for the theater, the exhibition features a lot of photos of Tel Aviv's early days.
I don't know if it's a nostalgia thing or what, but I'm a sucker for old pictures of Tel Aviv. I find it fascinating to compare the places then with what they are today. Soskin was on hand to capture basically the birth of the city as people started moving away from Jaffa and the area borderingit and spreading northwards up the coast. In this picture from around 1915, Soskin captures a land lottery:
These sand dunes are now central Tel Aviv. In another shot, taken a few years later in an area not far away, you see rows of iron poles stuck in the sand. These mark where the future streets of the city will run.
The pictures helped remind me just how much Tel Aviv really is the city by the sea. The Mediterranean looms in the background of many of the pictures, such as this one of Rothschild boulevard as it was being built:
Today, the area is much more built up and you forget how close you are to the beach. This was Tel Aviv's first water tower, at the corner of Rothschild and Herzl st. The patch of sand you see is now a busy intersection:
When you look at these pictures of sand dunes and compare them to Tel Aviv today -- big, sprawling, over-built -- you really have to be impressed at how far we've come in less than a century. If you happen to be in the Tel Aviv area, the exhibition is worth going to see.
Another Altalena Lesson
The Gray Lady discovers the Altalena story.
James Bennet has a little article in the NYTimes today about the lessons that can be learned from David Ben-Gurion's handling of the Jewish extremists in the pre-State yishuv. When Israel was established, B-G had to deal with an internal challenge from the Jewish version of the rejectionist groups, led by Menachem Begin's Etzel. These groups espoused maximalist territorial demands and showed a propensity for terroristic actions against the Arabs, the British Mandate, and the occasional Jew accused of collaboration with the enemy. Instead of coddling Begin and the Etzel, Ben-Gurion smacked them down. He declared that the state could only have one military authority and ordered the shelling of the Altalena, a ship which was bringing military supplies to the Etzel. In doing so, he enforced the concept of rule of law and ensured that political opposition in Israel would not be expressed by military means.
Although Bennet doesn't say so explicitly, the person who needs to learn these lessons is Abu Mazen.
The Altalena story is well-known. I was less aware and more impressed by the anecdote that Bennet uses to end the article:
In April 1938, members of Etzel, the group Mr. Begin would later lead, opened fire on an Arab bus in stated retaliation for the killing days before of four Jews, including a child and two women, in a car. No one on the bus was hurt, but the British caught the three perpetrators and hanged one of them, Shlomo Ben-Yosef.Can anyone imagine a Palestinian leader expressing shame when a Palestinian decides to murder the father of two children. Can anyone imagine a Palestinian leader expressing anything besides a highly qualified and vague condemnation of terrorism followed by finger-pointing? Herein lies all the difference.
Israel won't respond militarily to the attacks yesterday and will focus instead on trying to increase diplomatic pressure on the PA. So, on the face of it, the cease-fire is still in place. The frustration level, however, is growing daily. Ze'ev Schiff writing in this morning's Ha'aretz sums up the new rules of the game:
The Palestinians have developed a method for maintaining a fake cease-fire. They, including some Fatah members, continue to kill Israelis, even through suicide attacks; Palestinian Prime Minster Mahmoud Abbas condemns the events but blames Israel; the hudna between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which was meant to prevent terror, is not being kept; the terror infrastructure, including tests of Qassam rockets, continues as it has in the past while Israel is blamed for acting against explosives labs providing explosives belts. That is the false cease-fire. Six Israelis have been murdered since it began.The situation seems to fulfill, at least partially, the pessimistic Israeli forecasts regarding the hudna with regards to Israel: that it won't bring peace but it will be used to tie Israel's arms down in the face of Palestinian terror. The terror attacks may be smaller, and kill fewer people, than before, but it will continue.
The Palestinians (judging from Danny Rubinstein's typically apologetic analysis) are miffed at the way things are going as well. They, of course, point the finger at Israel, complaining for instance about the IDF action in Nablus last Friday in which two Hamas terrorists and an IDF soldier were killed. No mention of the fact that the IDF went in to disable a bomb-making factory, something that the Palestinian Authority was supposed to have done itself under the agreement that it signed.
So, we all look to Washington where the Bushies appear to be speaking in two voices again. On the one hand you have White House spokesperson Claire Buchan and Philip Reeker, a deputy spokesman from the State Department calling on Abu Mazen (again) to start doing something about the terrorists. On the other hand, you have Colin Powell, giving this piece of pablum to a group of visiting teens:
We all heard the same tragic news that, once again, in the territories bombs went off, innocent people lost their lives: bombs that were placed by people who were not for the cause of peace, bombs that were placed by people who were doing everything they can to destroy the dreams of Israelis and Palestinians alike.Powell's highly watered-down statements bring back a lot of bad memories of the Oslo years: The same general condemnation of terrorism without condeming the system that allows them to operate, all wrapped up in fuzzy-wuzzy peace cliches.
So, what's next? It would be nice to see the Bush administration stop coddling Abu Mazen and start pushing him to do something -- anything -- to dismantle the terrorists instead of focusing all the effort on forcing the Sharon government to make goodwill gestures. I doubt this will happen, not unless -- God forbid -- the level of terrorim starts rising again to pre-hudna levels.
In any case, the goodwill gestures are going to get kind of meager for the foreseeable future. After all, only an idiot would turn over security control of any more Palestinian cities to the PA. Ditto for lifting roadblocks. As far as prisoner releases, I find it hard to believe that a government which only reluctantly approved the last release -- before the recent bombings and only then for prisoners without blood on their hands-- will be any more forthcoming now. There will, however, be renewed calls to get the security fence built more quickly. The Palestinians will doubtlessly use all these facts as an excuse for continuing to do nothing. Unless we see something dramatic coming soon, I fear that a return to the old routine of open violence is right around the corner.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
More on the Bombings
Hamas took responsibility for the attack in Rosh Ha'ayin this morning. No one has come forward yet about the second bombing in Ariel, but the IDF suspects Fatah. Whether or not the two bombings were orchestrated is another question. In any case, the incidents now put a big question mark over the whole cease-fire thing. At the moment Israel is pointing the finger at the Palestinian Authority, which has repeatedly refused to take any measure against the terrorist groups.
In addition, the next prisoner release has been put on hold until the situation clears up a bit.
The situation is highly tricky. In the sick calculus of violence, today's attacks were small ones. Had we -- God forbid -- seen an attack on the order of the Dolphinarium, I think the government would have had no option but to retaliate hard. For instance, by finally dispatching Mr. Rantisi or Mr. Yassin. With the smaller attacks, Sharon has to think a lot harder about the proper type and level of response. I'm also curious to see what Dubya's guys will do now.
At any rate, the bombing brings an even greater sense of urgency to building the separation fence despite the controversy that it has caused. The fact remains that the bombing in Rosh Ha'ayin -- which is inside the Green Line -- could have been prevented had there been an effective barrier keeping the terrorists from coming in.
On a personal note, the attacks have really caused a sense of gloom. I suppose that we all knew the cease-fire was fragile, but the sense of relief was so welcome that we hoped that it would somehow last longer. We were due for a reality check and indeed it showed up.
UPDATE: It turns out the Rosh Ha'ayin bomber was Fatah and the Ariel one was Hamas, not that it really matters. The two victims were a 42-year-old man who was out buying breakfast for his kids and an 18-year-old soldier just out of basic training.
It finally happened. Two Palestinians suicide attacks this morning, one in shopping center in Rosh Ha,ayin and the other one about an hour later outside of Ariel. Two Israelis are dead and about a dozen wounded.
Both attacks happened 5-10 minutes away from where I work. I got in early today, but most of my co-workers are still stuck in the traffic jam that resulted from the attacks.
Does this mean the hudna is finally over?
More to come, I'm sure.
Monday, August 11, 2003
It looks like effing blogger has once again deep-sixed some of my archives. I'll try to come up with a workable solution for it in the next couple of days.
In the meantime, I think it's time to consider the jump to Moveable Type.
Quote of the Day
Dianne Feinstein passed, calling the whole thing a circus ("Mr. Kettle? You're black."), but the fact that she left her name sitting out there for so long cracked Davis's armor. Being in politics makes rising through the ranks of al Qaeda look positively congenial, and when Barbara Boxer was asked last week whether any Democrats would break ranks and run against Davis, she said essentially, We're all behind him; of course, we have to keep our options open. Of course. Thanks so much.-- Larry Miller, looking at the upcoming California gubernatorial race
Our Friends in the North
Haviv Dadon was supposed to celebrate his 17th birthday tomorrow. Instead, he was laid to rest yesterday, the victim of a Hizbullah rocket attack. The terrorist group has been known to launch "anti-aircraft" attacks, ostensibly at Israeli Air Force missions over Southern Lebanon but in reality aimed at Israeli towns near the Lebanese border. In response to yesterday's attack, the IAF today destroyed the Hizbullah artillery position responsible for the attacks of the last two days.
At the moment we're waiting to see what happens next up on the northern border. A lot of it depends what happens on the diplomatic front.
Over at the U.N., Koffi Anan asked for countries which can influence Hizbullah to do so. The main country that can do so, of course, is Syria. Israel has asked the U.S. to put the pressure on Damascus to cool the situation off. If Baby Assad refuses to put the leash on his Lebanes clients, there will be a lot of pressure here for the government to expand the conflict and start bombing the crap out of Lebanon's infrastructure.
This should be an interesting test of America's post-Iraq position in the region.
Sunday, August 10, 2003
Off the Political Deep End
Ha'aretz's weekend magazine this week is in particularly lefty form. Along with Gideon Levy's regular tale of Palestinian woe and a profile of the new poetess of the peace camp, you also find a piece by Ari Shavit profiling two Israeli leftists advocating a binational Jewish-Arab state. The term "binational state" sounds innocuous enough, but it actually represents the left fringe of solutions to the Palestinian issue. Excluding the extremes on both ends of the spectrum -- those who either want to kick out all the Jews or kick out all the Palestinians -- most solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involve some kind of Palestinian state (or non-state entity) living side by side with Israel. Advocates of the binational approach say that both peoples should share all the territory with some sort of shared government.
The idea was once in vogue among those Palestinians who did not demand the removal of all the Jews from the area. In effect, however, it's a more subtle way of achieving the same thing: You have a shared state; the demographics are such that the Palestinians become the majority within a few decades and it isn't hard to guess what happens to the Jews -- who, by now do not have their own army --after that.
Edward Said and Noam Chomsky favor this solution, which should give you some idea about its value and feasibility.
To this list you can also add Haim Hanegbi and Meron Benvenisti, described here as "veteran leftists", both of whom have recently come to the conclusion that the conflict cannot be ended with the establishment of a Palestinian state. I was unfamiliar with Hanegbi, who is a sort of fringe leftist to begin with. Benvinisti is much better known, having served as the deputy mayor of Jerusalem and a familiar face from the Israeli peace movement.
From the article, it is clear that Hanegbi has always favored the binational approach, having feuded in the past with others on the extreme left. The fact that Benvenisti -- who, dovish as he may be, has always been fairly mainstream -- has also jumped on board is the real piece of news here. Supporters of the binational approach have a number of nifty intellectual justifications for it that don't involve getting rid of the Jews.
A binational state, they'll argue, will overcome our nationalist prejudices and put us on the road to a "Star Trek" vision of the future. Says Hanegbi:
The attempt to achieve Jewish sovereignty that is fenced in and insular has to be abandoned. We will have to come to terms with the fact that we will live here as a minority: a Jewish minority that will no longer be squeezed between Hadera and Gedera, but will be able to settle in Nablus and Baghdad and Damascus, too - and take part in the democratization of the Middle East. That will be able to live and die here, to establish mixed cities and mixed neighborhoods and mixed families.It just fills you with a warm, sugary rush of happiness, no? Too bad he hasn't asked any Baghdadis or Damascenes what they think of the idea.
In addition, Hanegbi and Benvenisti share a worldview colored by nostalgia from their childhoods spent in pre-State Jerusalem. Both wax poetically about the Arabs and imagine a golden age of harmonious coexistence between the peoples in those pre-lapsarian times:
I am a native son. But this is a country in which there were always Arabs. This is a country in which the Arabs are the landscape, the natives. So I am not afraid of them. I don't see myself living here without them. In my eyes, without Arabs this is a barren land.Oy, where to begin with all of this?
All of which makes me wonder: what is the point of this feature? The binational solution isn't viable, it's barely newsworthy, and it helps reinforce the notion that the peace camp are a bunch of helplessly deluded saps who want to lead the country -- whether or not they recognize it -- to destruction.
Bad to Worse
The news from the North just got much worse. Hizbullah renewed its shelling attacks, this time on the northern Israeli town of Shlomi this afternoon and managed to kill a young Israeli and wound four others.
I hate to be knee-jerk about this, but it's quickly getting to be time to go after the little bastard in Damascus. Babty Assad greenlights this shit and Baby Assad should be made to pay. I mean, we've already gotten rid of one Ba'athist dictatorship this year. Is it too much to ask to get rid of the other one?
A Rotten Weekend
Just when we were getting used to the peace and quiet, we had a weekend to remind us that the cease-fire is fragile and might fall apart at any time.
On Friday, IDF special forces raided a home in a refugee camp near Nablus in order to capture Hamis Abu Salam, a senior Hamas operative. A firefight broke out in which Roi Oren, an Israeli soldier, was killed along with Abu Salam and another Hamas member. Following the incident, riots broke out in Nablus and two additional Palestinians died.
Hamas has been threatening revenge for the operation and spent the weekend firing rockets at a Gaza Strip settlement and at IDF tanks.
Also this weekend, our friends from the north decided to make their presence felt again. After six months of quiet on the Israeli-Lebanese border, Hizbullah began bombarding IDF positions with rocket and mortar fire. They also lobbed a couple of shots at the town of Kiryat Shmona and other population centers. Hizbullah's excuse for renewing the violence was the death of one of their operatives in a car bombing in Beirut last week. So far, no one has been able to show any connection to Israel.
The IDF responded with artillery fire on Hizbullah positions. Israel also lodged an official complaint with the U.N.
As a reminder, despite the fact that the IDF withdrew from Southern Lebanon three years ago, Hizbullah has maintained the conflict with Israel using a disputed piece of land called the Sheba'a farms. The U.N. however, declared that Israel had complied with all resolutions concerning its conflict with Lebanon, which is one of those rare incidences where Israel and the U.N. actually see eye to eye.
The complaint to the U.N. appears to be more for protocol than anything else. First off, the U.N. has done absolutely nothing about Hizbullah in the past and there's no indication that it means to start now. At any rate, Hizbullah's primary patron, Syria, has recently been named as the head of the U.N. Security Council.
Right now, the $64K question is whether either of these incidents will continue to escalate. Most military experts interviewed over the weekend seem to think that they won't. On the Palestinian front, Hamas leaders realize that it's still in their best interests to maintain a general level of calm. With Hizbullah, they tend to flare up and quiet back down. Still, it does serve as an unpleasant reminder that the quiet we currently enjoy should not be confused with a state of peace