(From the blog 'Lisa Goldman', January 7th 2009)
Haniyeh and his Israeli
sisters: wartime tales from Gaza and Israel
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has
three Israeli sisters. They live in a Bedouin town near Beer Sheva, which is within range
of Hamass rockets. Back in the 1980s, when a Palestinian from the occupied
territories could become a citizen by marriage, the sisters were married off to Israeli
Bedouin. They are widows now, but they still live in the village with their grown
children. Some of their neighbours - also Bedouin - served in the Israel army. In a
January 4 interview with Yedioth Aharonoths Nir Gontarz, the sisters expressed fear
of the incoming Hamas rockets and worry for their brother Ismail - who is hiding in a
bunker somewhere in Gaza. They called upon both Israel and Hamas to cease firing.
"Hamas must stop firing rockets at Beer Sheva, but so must Israel stop attacking
Gaza. If our children are afraid, then it must be very difficult for the children in
Gaza," said 59 year-old Khaldia Abu Rakik.
Last week I called Gaza, which
has the same local dialing code as Sderot, to check on my friend "Musa," a
journalist in Gaza who regularly files reports for Israeli media (all the Israeli media
have local correspondents in Gaza). Speaking in his still-fluent Hebrew, he insisted that
he was fine - working hard, busy all day, no time to think. "And your children?"
I asked. "Well, my 6 year-old daughter lost the ability to walk - its a symptom
of trauma - so she spends all her time in bed. We only have electricity for a couple of
hours a day and school is canceled, so the other kids have to sit around in the dark doing
nothing all day. We cant let them play outside because of the bombings. Anyway, they
are too afraid to go out. There isnt any water, because you need electricity to pump
it. We have enough food, although my wife could not find bread yesterday. She said there
were about 200 people queued up at the bakery. Its cold and we dont have heat,
but we have to leave the windows open so they wont shatter from the booms. But I am
fine. You havent told me about yourself! How are you?" Musa was always like
that - overdoing the stiff upper lip, even when circumstances would justify some
Suddenly there was a lot of
static on the phone line and we had to shout. "Can you hear me?!" we called out
to one another. "Musa, I
" BOOM. The static cleared. Musas children
were shouting in the background. "That one was very close," he said calmly. Just
before we ended the conversation Musa said, "You know I dont support Hamas. You
know that. So just tell me
do Israelis know what is happening to us here?"
Not really, I told him
uneasily. Israeli television is more focused on how the war affects us. We see
very little of the images from Gaza.
That conversation took place
before the IDFs ground incursion began, and before the air force bombed the central
power plant. Since we spoke, the number of casualties in Gaza has more than doubled. And
there is no electricity at all.
Nor is life terribly pleasant
for children living in the Sderot/western Negev area these days. Then again, its
been pretty bad for the past 8 years - with Qassams falling several times per day and
sirens and safe rooms a part of life. No-one could figure out how to stop the Qassams, but
the people of Sderot thought that the government was not really trying - that they were
indifferent to the suffering of Mizrachim living on the countrys periphery. "Do
something!" they cried out to the government, as elections approached and Bibi
Netanyahu seemed positioned to win.
So Ehud Barak, the defense
minister and leader of the Labor party, which before the war had a very low popularity
rating indeed, decided to do something. A couple of days after Hamas fired 88 rockets in one
day at Sderot and the surrounding communities, the air force attacked Gaza and killed
200 Palestinians in one morning.
It may be true that sometimes
you have to crack some eggs in order to make an omelette. Unfortunately, however, the
campaign against Hamas, now entering its twelfth day, has not stopped the jihadists. They
may be hungry, cold and dirty, but fanaticism is a mighty motivator. They are still
launching rockets at Israel all day long. Several Israeli military correspondents have
explained that it might not be
possible for the IDF to wipe out Hamass military wing.
Writing on his blog, Channel
10s political analyst Raviv Drucker outlines the reasons why the IDF campaign is
unlikely to deliver on the governments promise to stop the Qassams. Journalist Danny
Rubinstein, a noted Middle East expert who speaks fluent Arabic, thinks the
military operation in Gaza is just going to make Hamas more powerful and more popular.
Which is probably why the Hamas
leadership, holed up in cozy bunkers, thinks its a good strategy to keep launching
rockets at Israel while the people of Gaza sit in the dark, terrified, freezing and
hungry, not knowing when the next bomb or tank shell will come and where it will land,
with nowhere to run and no way to protect their children. Indeed, some Hamas militants
took time off from their heroic battle against the Zionist enemy to visit Gazas
Shifa Hospital, where they summarily
executed wounded Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel - with a bullet to
the brain. Sorry for the gore - I just wanted to make a point, in case you are one of
those western fake leftists (a.k.a. anti-democratic reactionaries) who
might be marching in London, waving banners emblazoned with the idiotic slogan
"We are all Hamas now." If you are one of those people, you might be interested
in knowing that the Hamas leadership has completely buggered off, leaving ordinary people
to fend for themselves without any infrastructure - no phones, no banks, no post office,
no schools, etc. So much for the "resistance." So go ahead, I am with you all
the way on the calls for a ceasefire. But please, spare me the apologia for a fascist,
theocratic, thuggish movement.
Not only are the Hamas leaders
not suffering, but they must be figuring theyre about to come out of this campaign
way ahead. Thousands of Arabs are demonstrating on
their behalf, enraged at their own leaders for failing to help the people of Gaza. I
imagine that a certain turbaned gentleman living in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan is
rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of pro-west Arab rulers having to deal with
popular protests that threaten to destabilize their governments. Saves him having to
recruit more suicide bombers, doesnt it?
More strange tales from the
Middle East. On Saturday night, I attended an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv that
attracted thousands of Israelis from all over the country. You can read English language
Israeli bloggers reports about that demo, and view their photos, here, here,
here and here.
The turnout was pretty high - organizers estimate 10,000; I dont know about that,
but I can say that there was a solid mass of people stretching from Rabin Square to the
Cinematheque (maybe 500 meters?).
And yet, to the astonishment of
everyone I know who was at that demonstration (which included former combat soldiers and
those who identify firmly with the Zionist left) the Israeli media either ignored it,
buried it or dismissed it. Israeli journalist Itamar Shaaltiel, who also participated in
the demo, has more details in this Hebrew
blog post. Israeli media reports under-estimated the number of protesters and inflated
the number of counter-demonstrators from a maximum of a few hundred, to several thousand.
In fact - and to my chagrin - the only accurate and neutrally worded report I found is on Al
Jazeeras English website.
That article briefly undermined
my AJ hate-on -but it was quickly revived when I saw an execrable interview from the
Washington studio: guest journalist Marwan Bishara explained to his enthusiastically
receptive hosts that Hamas is not a terrorist organization. Indeed, explained Marwan,
Hamas has committed to ending its violence against Israel as soon as the occupation ends.
Awesome, Marwan. Could we have a source for that astonishingly mendacious statement,
please? I suppose Marwan wasnt thinking of Nizar
Rayyan, the number three Hamas leader and all-round freak who dispatched his own son
to commit a suicide bombing and masterminded several more. Haniyeh just said that his
death was "a painful loss" (the IAF killed him a few days ago, along with his
wives, 12 of his children and some of the neighbours children as well). I did not
receive the memo about Rayyan having disavowed the Hamas charter, although I do question
the ethics of the "collateral deaths" involved in his assassination.
Standing in clusters along the
route of Saturdays anti-war protest march, wrapped in Israeli flags, there were a
few small groups of hecklers who sneered, "intellectuals!", "bleeding
hearts!", "traitors!", "terrorists!" and "go live in
Gaza!" I started filming the guys in the clip below when they suddenly began to pump
their fists and jump up and down like soccer hooligans as they chanted, "death to
Arabs!" (MAH-vet lah-rah-VEEM! MAH-vet lah-rah-VEEM!). It was almost a
pity that they stopped as soon as I pointed my camera at them. But I caught them yelling
"bogdim!" (traitors) and singing an, um, "interesting" version of the
national anthem they purport to cherish.
Heres the part that seems
perfectly normal in Israel, and probably perfectly strange to foreign observers: The
Border Police who impassively and non-violently formed a human barrier between the
anti-war demonstrators and the racist counter-demonstrators were mostly Druze Arabs. Yup,
true. Arab citizens of Israel protected the right of a bunch of thugs to yell racist
reports that some anti-war activists (Palestinian-Israelis) were interrogated by the
police and put under house arrest in Jaffa, on suspicion of incitement to terror and
non-recognition of the state. One of the activists under house arrest is Omar Sikseck, a
member of the Tel Aviv municipal council. I wonder how he can be accused of not
recognizing the state, since he is an elected participant in one of its institutions.
Haaretz has more on police
intimidation of Israeli citizens who oppose the war.
And as long as were on
the subject of Palestinian-Israelis, lets talk about how the war against Gaza is
affecting them. Documentary director Ibtisam
Maraana, whose prize-winning films include Paradise Lost, Three Times Divorced and Lady
Kul el Arab, dropped
her candidacy from the Meretz list in the upcoming election because the left-Zionist
party supported the military action in Gaza. Meretz has since changed its position,
but for Ibtisam it was too little, too late. As she wrote in response to my message on her
I could not lend a hand to Barak and his campaign of killing and
terror, which will fall upon the people of both Gaza and Sderot." Ibtisam speaks
fluent Hebrew, lives in Tel Aviv and socializes easily with both Jews and Arabs. A firm
believer in co-existence between Arabs and Jews, she has represented Israel at prestigious
international documentary film festivals. For many Jews, however, her stance against the
war was a matter of indifference ("number 12 on the Meretz list?" sneered one
friend. "She never had a chance of getting elected anyway"), while Arabs
wondered why the hell she was a member of a Zionist party in the first place.
Karen Alkalay-Gut, a professor
of English literature at Tel Aviv University, has published a letter from one of her Arab
students on her blog. "
there is no one who is right and no one who is wrong,
there is no good guy and no bad guy and whats happening is inhumane from both
sides..," he writes. Read the rest here (scroll down
to January 4 entry).
Sayed Kashua, a novelist who
writes in Hebrew, wrote a brilliant satirical piece for Haaretz about the military
operation in Gaza. Apparently inspired by Jonathan Swifts A Modest Proposal, Sayeds piece includes
So now I am telling you:
Our aim is to grind them into the dust. We will soften them up with missiles until they
understand that for every blasted Qassam they let fly at us, they will get a hundred tons
in their face. And it wont end, either. Who said it has to end? Hey, the rules of
the game have changed. How long can you be good to them? Hey, was there a cease-fire?
There was. What happened? All they did was figure out how to plan the next blow. So we
didnt open the transit points? Is that our fault? They brought Hamas on themselves.
Let them deal. Click here
to read the entire article.
Unfortunately, an appreciation
for fine satire seems to be increasingly rare in our self-righteous corner of the globe.
Things got so bad, with Arabs calling Kashua a monster and Jews calling him a fifth
columnist, that the soft-spoken writer felt compelled to defend himself in this interview,
broadcast yesterday evening on Channel 2. Its clear that the host, Oded Ben-Ami,
sympathizes with Kashua. But he still had to ask the insulting question, "Do you have
the same feeling [of sorrow over Palestinian deaths] when you see news of a rocket falling
on Sderot, or on a kindergarten (God forbid)?" Kashuas answer: "I think
thats the wrong way of looking at the matter. I think non-combatants should be
excluded from this conflict completely." Then he added that he agreed with Barack
Obama, who visited Sderot and
famously said that he would do everything to protect his daughters if someone was
shooting rockets at them. "Everything," says Kashua, "Includes attempts to
and it certainly does not include killing 300 people in one day, killing
children and entire famlies with bombardments. As far as Im concerned, theres
no difference between the IDF saying it accidentally killed families while targetting
Hamas militants, and Hamas militants claiming that rockets which hit Sderot were meant for
a nearby military base."
The Arab man from Ramle who
sells me fresh eggs and home-cured olives from his stall in the Carmel Market just smiled
at me sadly as he weighed the olives and then added a few more, as he always does.
"Lets hope for better times," he said. Meanwhile, a friend asked me to
visit someone she was close to, a wounded Gazan man who had been evacuated to a Tel
Aviv-area hospital. Which reminds me: I have been trying without success to obtain a
laptop for him, so that he can follow the news on the internet. If anyone in the Tel Aviv
area has a spare laptop to lend him for a week or so, please send me an email.
On last Tuesdays episode
Nehederet, the countrys most popular satire show, one of the skits, "The
Big Restaurant," is about an Arab restaurateur in Akko (Acre/Akka) and his Jewish
customers. Ali Hamoudis traditional Arab restaurant has been empty since the Yom
Kippur riots, which scared away the Jewish customers upon whom he depends for a livelihood
(in Arabic, Hamoudi is derived from the name Mahmoud; but in Hebrew it means
"cutie," an endearment usually directed at a child). So when a stylishly dressed
yuppie couple and their two children timorously enter the restaurant, he does everything
to relax them. "You are in good hands," he says, piling traditional appetizers
and far too many main courses on their table. The macho husband, Shmulik, tells his
neurotic wife Dalia, "I told you there was nothing to worry about. These are
Christian Arabs. They love us." But in the end Ali Hamoudi and his staff are so
delighted to have customers that they freak the couple out with their hospitality
overkill. Dalia and Shmulik end up running away from Ali Hamoudis restaurant. Since
the entire episode of Eretz Nehederet was about the war (which was only in its fourth
day), the unspoken question seems to be, "What will happen to Arab-Jewish relations
now, with the war in Gaza?"
And in a final twist of
unintended irony, the new season of Survivor,
the reality show that takes place on a Caribbean island, started off with its first-ever
female Muslim contestant - Nasreen
Ghandour. The daughter of a university professor from Haifa, she has two graduate
degrees and once aspired to be the first Muslim flight attendant for El Al. Shes
Nasreen was voted off the show
during the first week of the Gaza operation (uh, everyone knows the show was recorded a
few months ago, right?), but first there was quite a bit of sexual tension between her and
a macho gungh-ho army guy from a West Bank settlement. File under "complexities and
anomalies of Israeli society."
Eamonn asked me on the second day of the
war why I was, according to my Twitter status,
"outside the consensus." On that day, when we were told that all those people
killed in the initial bombardments were Hamas militants (later we found out that those men
in uniform were actually a class of newly trained civil police at
their graduation ceremony), I outlined my views in an email that morphed into a guest post on the Z blog.
As you will see, I took a pragmatic stance. Mohamed
said it doesnt sound like me; too cold, he said.
The thing is, Ive noticed
that the response to an ethical argument against the war tends to be derision at best.
Some people become absolutely enraged. An expression of compassion for the people of Gaza
is interpreted as an expression of indifference to the people of Sderot and the rest of
the southern towns under bombardment from Hamas operatives in Gaza. I find this reaction
astonishing and sometimes frightening. On more than one occasion, some people I was
actually friends with turned absolutely psychotic - attacking me in writing, yelling at me
and accusing me of being a Hamas supporter - just because I said that I oppose this war.
Over the past 11 days, more
than 600 Gazans have been killed and around 4,000 injured. Entire families have been wiped
out. Parents have lost all their children in one split second. Schools packed with
refugees looking for a safe haven from the bombardments have been hit by artillery shells
that killed dozens of people and wounded many more. The hospitals are completely
overwhelmed. Buildings have collapsed on multi-generation families of 52 members, killing
them all at once. Given these circumstances, in addition to those described above, I feel
compelled to speak out - even though I know that my voice will not make any difference. As
my sister put it, after
musing about why she had not attended any protest marches in Toronto, "In Israel,
however, where you can say I love Israel, I deplore these actions - here I
would have marched." And so I marched: because I love Israel, but I deplore its
actions in Gaza.
Today I watched two video clips
that affected me strongly. The first is a Channel
2 news report about the soldiers who were killed by friendly fire. In a typical
cross-section of Israeli society, they include a religious-national ("settler")
soldier whose first child was born four months ago, a secular guy from the center of the
country and a 19 year-old Druze. The interviews with the bereaved families are
hearbreaking. Sobbing, the Druze soldiers younger brother, Amir, chokes out, "I
dont know how I will live without him. And I hope he is the last soldier killed in
The second clip, from SKY news,
is an interview with Norwegian physician Mads Gilbert, who has been working at a Gaza
hospital since December 31. Dr. Gilberts report, on top of all the information
Ive obtained from friend in Gaza (before the phone lines were cut off) and
international media reports, leads me to conclude that the cost of this military action -
justified or not - is too high. Whether intended or not, our armys actions are
causing unspeakable suffering to innocent people. This must stop.
Even the military experts
interviewed ad nauseum on Channels 1, 2 and 10 confirm that the best we can do is
"change the reality" for a few months, until Hamas regroups and attacks again.
Surely this does not justify sending teenage soldiers to fight and die; surely we cannot
shrug off the fact that the bombardments have caused enormous suffering to the ordinary
people of Gaza. I do not understand why people I know and respect and love - doting
parents, generous friends, intelligent, educated people - fold their arms over their
chests and look away from the suffering of Gazan civilians. "Well," said one
friend, "I am sorry for them, but they should not have voted for Hamas."
"They started it";
"but theyre terrorists"; and "its worse in Darfur" are
not, in my opinion, intelligent responses. I do not live in Darfur. I am a voting,
tax-paying citizen of Israel, so this is where I have the moral obligation to speak out
when I see something that is wrong.
Yes, Hamas is a bunch of
fanatic thugs. I remember that they threw Fateh people off of multi-story buildings during
the July 2007 coup. I know that they use civilians as human shields. I do understand that
Israel has got itself caught in a struggle between Iran, which is funding Hamas, and the
Arab states, which hate Hamas and fear Iran. And yes, Hamas could stop the war if they
would just cease firing the rockets. But they will not do that. So it is up to us: we have
it in our power to stop the killing. We can stop the war. And we should stop it,
immediately. For their sake and for ours.
Because it is undermining our
morality. Because it is costing us hundreds of millions of shekels. Because it is a
shocking waste of life, money and
goodwill from moderate Arabs. Because if we plan to live in this neighbourhood called
the Middle East for the long term, we need to find a modus vivendi with our neighbours.
We neednt love one another. We just need to stop killing each other. And to those
who say one cannot negotiate with a terror organization that refuses to accept
Israels right to exist, my response is - perhaps you are right; but have you tried?
Ive been writing this
blog post for days, which is why it is so long. If you are still with me, thank you. And
if you are curious about mainstream sentiment toward the war, I recommend the blogs of Liza and Israeli
Mom. Both express regret for the suffering of Palestinians, alongside a belief that
the war is necessary. As Liza put it in a IM chat yesterday, "I love you, but I
totally disagree with you."
Below is a summary of Israeli
blogs and other media sources that express a more definitive anti-war stance.
Blogger Shuki Galili put
together a list of 80 Hebrew-language
bloggers who are against the war. The black-white-red poster at the bottom of his post
reads, "Civilians are not cannon fodder. Not in Gaza. Not in Sderot."
Attorney Jonathan Klinger
explains his opposition in this self-translated post (from the Hebrew), Between Gnosis and Genocide.
Well-known Haaretz journalist
Avirama Golan moved last year to Sderot in order to express her solidarity. She writes a blog about life in Sderot in Hebrew.
And she is certainly not the only Sderot resident who opposes the war.
Bloggers opposed to the war who
write in English:
Freelance journalist Ido Levin
(see also this post
on the mainstream Israeli medias largely uncritical coverage of the war);
Daniella Cheslow, at The Truth Herzl;
Yohay E., at Things.co.il;
Ilany, at OCCUPIED;
Yuval Ben-Ami, at Everywhere;
Leila Segal, at The Other Side;
Haim Watzman at South
Yishay Mor, at YabaYaba;
Life Goes on in Gaza and Sderot is co-authored
by a Palestinian from Gaza and an Israeli from Sderot. They call themselves Hope Man and
- Lisa Goldman is
an Israeli-Canadian freelance journalist/writer, and resident of Tel Aviv