Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I can't believe I'm reading this article in the Washington Post! And on the front page! I guess I should not be so surprised. Israel also publicly debates transferring Palestinians out of Palestine, also known as, Ethnic Cleansing.
This article has absolutely no context to the issue. Of course, the "O" word (OCCUPATION) never used, not even mentioned once. The 58 years of dispossession that most of the Gaza Strip residents continue to live never mentioned either.
It's all a video game. Judge, jury and executioner all via a conference call...ZERO context, ZERO legal due diligence, ZERO human rights, ZERO common sense. They are literally getting away with wholesale cold blooded murder.
This article deserves a FLOOD of letters to the editor. My God, is this what "civil" societies view as worthy of a front page story in a paper of record.
I write this after hearing the shots last night, around 10pm, of an undercover Israeli assassination unit that entered the middle of Ramallah and assassinated, point-blank, Mr. Alla a-Rabi, 24, while he sat outside a cafe. But that was yesterday. Today, and its only 11:30pm, 6 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. Over 200 killed in 2 months in Gaza alone...but who's counting.
FYI: "According to B'Tselem's data, since the onset of the second Intifada, at least 3,448 Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have been killed by Israeli security forces. Of those, 700 were minors under eighteen years old. At least 1,651 of those killed were not taking part in the fighting at the time they were killed." http://www.btselem.org/English/Email_Update/20060621.html
Please, ACT NOW, and send a letter to the editor of the Washington Post at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sick people driving us all to hell on earth,
In Israel, a Divisive Struggle Over Targeted Killing
By Laura Blumenfeld
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 27, 2006; A01
Israel's top military commander sat on the edge of his bed, talking on the phone, rubbing his forehead. The bedroom door was closed, muffling the Saturday clink and giggle of his children at lunch. His chief of operations was on the gray, secure phone, the line that rang louder and sharper and made his heart beat fast.
The report came from the war room: The bomb was falling .
Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon stared at the tiles on his floor, working out two plans: 1) If they die. 2) If they don't. The bomb -- the one he'd been arguing over and deliberating all day -- was plunging 10,000 feet from an Israeli F-16 toward a Palestinian house in the Gaza Strip, where guests sat, eating rice and boiled chicken. Yaalon was hoping, he recalled in an interview, that it would be their last lunch. With targeted killings, it was rarely that simple.
It was Sept. 6, 2003, a time -- much like today -- of open warfare between Israel and Hamas, which Israel, the United States and Europe have labeled a terrorist group, and which now controls the Palestinian Authority. Eight Hamas leaders had gathered to plan terrorist attacks, Israeli intelligence reported.
"It was like bin Laden, Zarqawi and Zawahiri in a meeting, and having the capability to hit them," said Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, then the air force chief, and now the military chief of staff.
The Hamas leaders had gathered in a private home, in a crowded neighborhood, when the children were out of school. A massive strike would mean civilian casualties. "We had to decide if we're going to take them out or not," said Halutz, who said he supervised 80 to 100 targeted killings as head of the air force, "with a 90 percent success rate."
In Israel, targeted killing has become a select weapon. In Lebanon last month, Israel targeted a bunker that officials believed held Hezbollah's leadership, pounding it with 23 tons of explosives. The hit list in Gaza, Halutz said in an interview, consists of 15 names.
"It is the most important, the most important, method of fighting terror," Halutz said.
It is also, arguably, the most morally complicated. Since the beginning of 2006, Israel has targeted and killed 18 Palestinian fighters, according to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization. Fifteen civilians were also killed, the group said.
"We face a tragic dilemma," said Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, chief of military intelligence. "A terrorist is going to enter a restaurant and blow up 20 people. But if we blow up his car, three innocent people in the car will die. How do we explain it to ourselves?"
One morning in 2002, Yadlin recalled, he "woke up horrified" to learn that 15 Palestinian civilians had been killed in an operation. That afternoon, Yadlin called Asa Kasher, a philosophy professor, and began working on ethical guidelines for fighting terrorism. They also asked a mathematician to write a formula to determine acceptable civilian casualties per dead terrorist.
On Sept. 6, a year later, when Israel had the chance to destroy the Hamas leadership, security officials clashed profoundly over the algebra of assassination. Two officials who have been called Israel's leaders in combating terrorism took opposite sides. Avi Dichter, then the head of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, pushed for an all-out assault against the Hamas gathering. "They're the terrorist dream team," Dichter argued.
But for Yaalon, military chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, the Talmudic precept, "If he comes to kill you, kill him first," conflicted with a Biblical commandment, "Thou shall not kill."
Three years later, the men -- much like the society they come from -- are still engaged in debate. "It's still open between us," Dichter said, throwing a scolding look at Yaalon, during a December 2005 forum at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "This isn't settled."
Afterward, in an interview, Yaalon looked out the window and said with a sigh: "There are no good answers."
As chief of staff, Yaalon carried a pad called "the Notebook." Targets were drawn from the pool of names in the pad, a number that ranged from 300 to 1,000 wanted men, he said. Every militant group is color-coded -- red, black, green. When a target was hit, Yaalon drew an X across his page.
"It's the lives of Israelis on one hand, the lives of Palestinians on the other," Yaalon said, balancing his palms like the scales of justice. He is a tall, balding man, with sloping shoulders, thick glasses and a taste for meditative poetry. As a youth, Yaalon joined the leftist kibbutz movement. Despite decades of fighting, he still seems startled by its viciousness.
"When I sign the orders," he said, "my hand trembles."
" This is impossible ," Dichter said as he read the intelligence.
It was Friday morning, Sept. 5, 2003. Dichter had been handed a secret report stating that Hamas's senior bombmakers, strategists and developers of the Qassam rocket would meet the following day. They were marked men. They had surrounded themselves with children, lived in cellars, moved only at night and had stopped using cars or the phone.
"Why would they risk it?" Dichter recalled thinking, about their meeting. "We suspected it's not true." As head of Shin Bet, Dichter, a sturdy, dynamic, slate-eyed man, who prefers quips to poetry, was busy that morning with other targets: a Hamas fighter and a rocket operator.
Then another source called, confirming the gathering. Dichter mobilized a task force -- wiretapping experts, spy drone technicians, Palestinian informants -- and said: "Separate the signal from the static."
Dichter also notified Yaalon, the military chief of staff, who called Shaul Mofaz, then the defense minister. Yaalon asked Mofaz for permission to plan a hit. Mofaz recalled telling Yaalon: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity -- I approve." But Mofaz had seen the maps; the neighborhood was impenetrable. "I said, 'How are you going to do it?' "
In the prime minister's office, Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant, the military secretary, informed Ariel Sharon. The prime minister banged the table with an open palm, Gallant said. "Get them," Sharon ordered. "This is the most important operation."
It was an operation, for Yaalon, that had evolved from an earlier meeting with an earlier prime minister. In the fall of 2000, when Palestinian-Israeli violence erupted, Yaalon approached Prime Minister Ehud Barak with an idea. Instead of imposing restrictions on all Palestinians, they should launch "surgical operations" against terrorists. Yaalon suggested setting up a joint command post for Shin Bet and the military.
"It wasn't something new -- we were in this business," Barak said in an interview. In 1973, in Beirut, wearing high heels and a woman's wig, Barak helped gun down three of the terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. "I was a brunette, I had a strawberry blonde behind me," Barak said, with a small smile.
As military chief of staff in the early 1990s, Barak had organized undercover units called "Cherry" and "Samson," soldiers who dressed like Arabs and killed Palestinians suspected of violence.
When Barak reactivated targeted killings in 2000, he said, "the first were urgent, but after, I said, 'We need rules.' " An aide exhumed four typed pages in a dusty, plastic sleeve, Barak said. They were the rules of engagement for the avengers of the 1972 Munich massacre.
Barak also secretly asked Daniel Reisner, a legal adviser to Arab-Israeli peace talks, to determine whether targeted killings were legal. Reisner agonized for six weeks. "It was a feeling of -- what on Earth has happened?" Reisner recalled. "Instead of two states living amicably side by side, I have to write opinions on how and when we kill each other."
Reisner concluded it was legal, with six conditions: that arrest is impossible; that targets are combatants; that senior cabinet members approve each attack; that civilian casualties are minimized; that operations are limited to areas not under Israeli control; and that targets are identified as a future threat. Unlike prison sentences, targeted killing cannot be meted out as punishment for past behavior, Reisner said. In 2002, a military panel established that targeting cannot be for revenge, but only for deterrence. A panelist said it took six months and 20 meetings to reach that conclusion.
"It's not an eye for an eye," Dichter said. "It's having him for lunch before he has you for dinner."
By dinnertime on Sept. 5, 2003, Dichter's intelligence network had narrowed the location of the Hamas summit. Only two Hamas members were trusted enough by the leadership to host the meeting. One lived in a private home, the other in a 12-story apartment building. It was 8 p.m. on Friday when Dichter placed a conference call.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," Mofaz, the defense minister, said to his wife and four children on Friday evening, as he ran from the table to pick up the gray, coded phone. He had just recited the blessings over the wine and challah bread.
Yaalon, also on the conference call, said the air force was preparing a plan, "Operation Automatic Gear." For Israelis, 2003 had been a bloody summer. Terrorists blew themselves up at grocery stores, at bus stops and on buses, including one packed with children. Israel declared Hamas's political and military leaders fair game.
Mofaz told Dichter and Yaalon, "Tomorrow may be a historic day."
Yaalon recalled going to bed doubtful that they would attack; intelligence often unraveled. He said nothing about it to his wife. Dichter recalled going to bed confident he would find the location -- but what about the civilians in the 12-story building? He also said nothing about it to his wife.
Who is a 'Ticking Bomb'?
By 6 a.m. on Sept. 6, Dichter was driving to the command center, a windowless room that glowed with computer screens and smelled of the Friday-night leftovers that agents had brought in -- chocolate rugelach and egg salad.
"The intelligence was good, the mood was good," he recalled. By tracking delivery trucks and following guards, Dichter said, Israeli agents determined that the Hamas meeting would take place at the single-family house, not the 12-story apartment building. Dichter felt relieved. Engineers ran computer analyses to prepare the house for destruction, assessing the cement, the structure and the size of the rooms.
Yaalon also woke up early and anxious. If Dichter was intuitive, Yaalon was analytical. The chief of staff jogged down to the Mediterranean and crashed into the waves. He swam out half a mile, pushing against the swells, and contemplated the day's decisions. "It kept my head busy with fresh oxygen," Yaalon said.
Almost every day, Yaalon had to decide who would live or die. "Who is a 'ticking bomb' ? Can we arrest him? Who is a priority -- this guy first, or this guy first?" Yaalon recalled. Once a week, military intelligence and Shin Bet proposed new names. At first, the list was limited to bombers themselves, but several years later it expanded to those who manufacture bombs and those who plan attacks.
"I called it 'cutting weeds.' I knew their names by heart," Yaalon said. How many did he kill? "Oh, hundreds, hundreds. I knew them. I had all the details with their pictures, maps, intelligence, on the table. Where does he live? What is his routine? Is he married? How many children did he have? If he had lots of kids, it crossed my mind."
It was hard to fathom, Yaalon said: "It became a routine to look into their eyes in the photo. In certain cases it's unbelievable -- he looks so naive, a young guy looks nice, a baby face, especially a 16-year-old suicide bomber. It's beyond imagination."
Reisner, the legal expert, was often consulted at the meetings, which he described as "very, very trying. Especially when I said it's okay. I'd go back to my office and ask my deputy, 'Do you agree?' It's a frightening process to be involved in, sitting in a room and talking about killing someone. It's enough to make your skin crawl."
But once the evidence was presented, Reisner said, when they identified the cafe the terrorist was planning to blow up, or the movie theater he hoped to destroy, "you're reminded of what you're trying to avoid."
When the prime minister approves a target -- a requirement that can take months -- the name is transferred from the Notebook to a shortlist typed on a laminated card. Commanders carry the card in their pockets, along with bus passes and keys. Each target is assigned a file, with instructions on when and where he can be killed. Specialists mark up maps -- green lines for open roads where killings minimize civilian risk, red lines for congested areas to be avoided, Yaalon said. An operation can take 200 people, thousands of man hours, and cost $1 million, Halutz said.
When a target is hit, Reisner said, the feeling is "complicated."
Not for Avi Dichter. "After each success, the only thought is, 'Okay, who's next?' We really have a bottleneck," the former Shin Bet chief said. One time they completed a killing at 5:30 a.m. "I said, 'What are we going to do for the rest of the day?' Nothing limits Hamas attacks, except terrorists still prefer their heads attached to their shoulders. If the M-16 delivers the message, the F-16 delivers it better."
On Saturday morning, Sept. 6, 2003, six F-16s were waiting off the coast of Gaza. Mofaz, the defense minister, sat in his office and changed the channel on his TV from CNN to live footage of Gaza from a reconnaissance drone. By noon, several Hamas leaders had arrived at the home of Marwan Abu Ras, a religion professor who was also a Hamas activist. The Israeli cameras zoomed in to catch the details.
"Some came on foot, some came by car, some parked far away and walked," Mofaz recalled. "They covered their faces with kaffiyehs and wore flowing clothes so they'd be hard to track."
A Shin Bet agent in the command center called out the identities of the men. "It was the 'Who's Who' of Hamas," said Gabi Ashkenazi, then Yaalon's deputy. "People we'd been hunting for years."
"It got intense," Yaalon recalled. "The reports -- 'Here comes Mohammed Deif.' 'Here comes Adnan al-Ghoul.' 'Here comes Ismail Haniyeh.' They said the names, I pictured each one, and I pictured blown-up buses and disco bombings, and shootings, murders of children, and kidnapped soldiers."
Gallant, the prime minister's adviser, called Sharon at his ranch and told him about the extraordinary gathering. "We're talking about people responsible for killing hundreds of Israelis," Gallant said. "They're planning on killing hundreds more."
Sharon was setting up for his grandson's sixth birthday party. He asked, "Are the planes ready?"
In Gaza, the last Hamas member arrived in a white station wagon. Dichter himself had arrested him twice, "with these hands," he said, holding up thick, calloused fingers. It was Sheik Ahmed Yassin, a paraplegic and Hamas spiritual leader. As his wheelchair disappeared into the house, an agent called the sheik by his code name: "the Carcass."
Yaalon said to the air force chief: "Ready?"
'No Civilian Casualties'
Yaalon was directing the operation by conference call from his bedroom, where he sat in a blue tracksuit, scribbling notes. The air force chief was on the line, assessing the likely impact of the bomb. He said there was a problem.
A half-ton bomb wouldn't finish the job, the air force chief said. A one-ton bomb would blow out the neighboring apartment building, which was filled with dozens of families.
Immediately, Dichter and Yaalon began to argue. Dichter favored the heavy bomb; Yaalon wanted to abort the operation. They both had worked for decades in counter-terrorism, had served in the same secret commando unit and had, as Dichter put it, "traveled together without passports deep into Arab lands."
But they had emerged with different conclusions. For Dichter, "the barrel of terrorism has a bottom." If you captured or killed enough terrorists, Dichter believed, the problem would be solved. "They deserved a bomb that would send the dream team to hell," Dichter said. "I said, 'If we miss this opportunity, more Israelis will die.' "
Yaalon disagreed: "We won't get to the bottom of the barrel by killing terrorists. We'll get there through education. Dichter thinks we'll kill, kill, kill, kill, kill. That's it -- we've won. I don't accept that."
While Yaalon said the army had to consider the support of the Israeli public -- unlikely to favor civilian deaths -- and international legitimacy, Dichter said that from an operational point of view, a one-ton bomb made sense. "There is no fair fight against terrorists," Dichter said. "Never has been. Never will be."
The debate lasted for hours, observers said, and grew louder and larger. The prime minister's adviser, Gallant, sided with Dichter. The defense minister, Mofaz, sided with Yaalon. Dichter recalled: "If you didn't have a strong heart, you'd have a heart attack."
"How can we look in the eyes of our pilots if they kill innocent people?" Yaalon argued.
"And if the terrorists walk out alive, and tomorrow another bus explodes, how do we explain it to our people?" Dichter said.
It was a familiar debate. How many civilian casualties were acceptable? The mathematician whom the military had enlisted had failed to produce a formula. Reisner, who had stipulated that targeted killing was legal "only if all is done to minimize civilian casualties," served on a seven-member committee that also failed to agree on a standard they could use. The numbers the men had suggested averaged 3.14 civilian deaths per dead terrorist, Reisner recalled. If the civilians were children, the figure was smaller.
More than half of all targeted operations have been called off, a senior military source said, because of danger to noncombatants. The current air force chief, Maj. Gen. Elyezer Shkedy, said in an interview that collateral damage had been decreasing from one civilian death per assassination in 2002 to one civilian death for every 25 terrorists killed in 2005. One reason was technology, Yaalon said. At first, Apache helicopters fired Hellfire antitank missiles, he said. Yaalon asked Rafael Armament Development Authority, a Defense Ministry affiliate, to manufacture smaller warheads.
"A person isn't a tank," said Avi Galor of Rafael, who supervises a team that is miniaturizing missiles. Rafael is developing "the Firefly," a warhead the size of a soda bottle. Galor said, "We want to kill terrorists -- and not little girls, and it's on CNN, and you can't explain it."
Israel Aircraft Industries, which makes spy drones, is trying to "close the sensor-to-shooter chain," or to compress the relay time, said a manager at the firm, Ofer Haruvi. He added, "Mistakes happen because the commander says shoot, and then the situation changes."
One senior intelligence official recalled watching in horror as a missile flew toward a target, while a woman approached the man. It was too late to divert the rocket, the Israeli said: "We were saying, 'Whoa! Where is she going? Move away! Move away!' " An instant later, the man was killed, the woman, wounded.
In 2006, despite improved technology, civilian casualties in Gaza have risen. David Siegel, a government spokesman, said the air force launched three times as many targeted attacks in the first eight months of 2006 as it had in all of 2005, increasing the probability of mistakes.
Only once, Yaalon said, did he knowingly authorize a hit that would also kill a noncombatant, the wife of Salah Shehada. Shehada helped found Hamas's military wing, which had asserted responsibility for killing 16 soldiers and 220 Israeli civilians. In 2002, the air force dropped a one-ton bomb on his home. The blast also destroyed a neighboring house, which Yaalon said he had thought was empty. Fifteen civilians were killed, including nine children. It felt, Yaalon said, "like something heavy fell on my head."
When Yaalon makes this kind of decision, he said, it must pass "the mirror test": At the end of the day, will he be able to look at himself in the mirror?
The Shehada deaths, he said, shaped his thinking on Sept. 6, 2003. But his mother's life played a more important role. Yaalon's mother, a Holocaust survivor, was the only member of her family who was not killed by Nazis. She never talked about it, yet Yaalon absorbed a lesson from her.
"I learned, 'Remember and don't forget.' I drank it like mother's milk. It meant that Jews shouldn't be killed, but it also means that we don't kill others. You need strength to defend Israel, and on the other hand, to be a human," Yaalon said. "This is the tension, the heaviness of the decision."
On Sept. 6, Yaalon felt heavy, not happy, when the prime minister favored his recommendation over Dichter's: Mission aborted. Sharon called off the strike to decapitate Hamas, Yaalon said, because Sharon demanded "no civilian casualties."
Yaalon stood up and opened the bedroom door.
"Where's Dad?" he could hear his daughter ask.
"He's busy saving the state of Israel," his son said.
Dichter was seething. "I'm not going to let it happen," he said, standing in the command center. The decision to hold fire, he recalled thinking, "was unprofessional and counterproductive." And he had done some math of his own. For every suicide bomber or terrorist caught, Dichter calculated, you saved 16 to 20 lives and 100 other people from being injured.
Dichter called the prime minister. "Arik, it's a huge mistake," Dichter said, using Sharon's nickname. "We must drop the bomb on this house. The arch-terrorists will never meet like this again."
"So try to convince Mofaz," Sharon said.
Dichter made a round of calls, he recalled: "I felt like the kid with the finger in the dam, fighting all the people."
Dichter's sense of urgency shaped his thinking on Sept. 6, 2003. But on a deeper level, his father's life played a role. Like Yaalon's mother, Dichter's father was a Holocaust survivor and the only member of his family who was not killed by the Nazis. Dichter's father never talked about it either, and yet Dichter absorbed a lesson from him.
"I swore since I can remember, I'm not going to let anyone kill a Jew, just because he's a Jew," Dichter said. He was named for his father's father, Abraham, who was murdered in Poland by the Nazis. "I swear to remember him, and never to forget."
On Sept. 6, as the 4 o'clock prayer time for Muslims approached, Dichter felt his chance to save Jews was slipping away. "Our sensors were watching the house, any minute the terror summit could end," he said.
Then an agent offered an intriguing piece of information. The house was three stories high. The curtains were closed on the third floor. Perhaps the Hamas leaders were meeting up there?
Gallant, the prime minister's adviser, called Sharon with a revised battle plan from Yaalon: The air force could drop a smaller bomb -- a quarter-ton -- destroy only the third floor and spare the civilians next door.
"I heard kids laughing in the background," Gallant recalled. Sharon was in the middle of his grandson's birthday party.
"What do you think?" Gallant said.
In two minutes, an F-16 roared over Abu Ras's house in Gaza. The house was surrounded by apartment buildings. In the war room, Halutz, then the air force chief, watched drone footage of the attack. The accidental Shehada deaths weighed on him: "When the bomb was falling, I was afraid it would miss," Halutz said.
For a combat pilot, the endless seconds between firing and impact can be terrifying, said Major Y. Prohibited by the military from giving his full name, Major Y said he has performed 15 to 20 targeted killings from a Cobra attack helicopter.
"You see a small house on a video screen. I just say, 'Hit the target, hit the target, hit the target.' And then, pshew -- " He exhaled loudly, his blue eyes widening.
"Until you hit the target, you can barely breathe. You hope nothing comes into the cross hairs, like a person. When I take off my helmet, my hair is wet, my undershirt, soaked with sweat. You feel like you lost 20 pounds. I can't say the feelings are good, even on a successful mission. You feel bad, but you know what you did was necessary."
On Sept. 6, 2003, another pilot was on the mission, firing from the cockpit, as a voice from the command center boomed into his headphones.
"Did you hit it?" the general asked the F-16 pilot. The billowing smoke from the bomb obscured the screen in the war room. The generals couldn't see a thing.
" Whoa! " The generals shouted as coils of ash turned white to black.
Mofaz's military secretary, Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog, was phoning in reports to the defense minister.
"We did it -- a direct hit," Herzog told him.
A minute later, Herzog called again: "The results are unclear."
A minute later: "It seems people escaped alive."
Another " Whoa !" filled the war room, one of disappointment.
Dichter recalled: "We saw people running out of the house faster than Olympic runners."
For Abu Ras, the Hamas leader whose home had been bombed, "it felt like an earthquake. A big, black smoke," he said in an interview. His guests had sat down to lunch. "I was so happy to host them," Abu Ras said. "What was our crime? I'm an ordinary citizen, not a terrorist. We have no terrorists among the Palestinian people."
Haniyeh was serving rice to Yassin. Then an explosion shook the room, and Yassin looked at the ceiling. "Why all this dust? Where is it coming from?" said Yassin, who was lightly wounded in his hand along with another Hamas member and 12 neighbors.
Haniyeh laughed bitterly, "We are hit, Sheik."
But the men were gathered on the ground floor of the house. The quarter-ton bomb destroyed only the third floor. Abu Ras's wife and four children, on the second floor, survived. And the Hamas leadership was safe.
'We Blew It'
That evening, Yaalon's deputy, Ashkenazi, came home and slammed the door. He walked into the kitchen, he recalled. He kicked the wall.
"What happened?" his wife said, staring at him.
What happened, according to Gallant, the prime minister's adviser, was simple: "We blew it. You either attack or you don't."
Mofaz, the defense minister, recalled a colleague needling him that evening. "Boy, you made a mistake," the colleague said. Mofaz retorted: "We'll get the terrorists later, better not to kill 20 kids."
Today, Mofaz is sidelined, serving as the minister of transportation. Sharon suffered a stroke and lies in a coma. Gallant is a major general, commander of Israel's southern sector, directing operations in Gaza.
The Israelis did kill Ghoul, in October 2004, and Yassin, in March 2004 -- "a missile in his lap," said an Israeli general. Abu Ras, the Hamas host, bought a new home. In July, Deif, the master bombmaker, survived another attack. In February, Haniyeh was elected prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.
"When I see Haniyeh, I ask myself, how is he alive? He shouldn't be there," said Halutz, the former air force chief. Today, Halutz serves as Israel's top military commander.
"Three years later, I'd say we should have used the heaviest bomb to ensure this leadership would be eliminated, and to save Palestinian and Israeli lives," Halutz said. At the time though, Halutz thought they had made the moral decision.
"Three moral successes don't equal one operational success," Dichter said, rapping his desk with his wedding ring. "We failed. Period." Since Dichter left Shin Bet, he has risen in politics, and is serving as internal security minister. Hamas rockets have struck his home town near Gaza.
Yaalon, the chief of staff in 2003, is reportedly considering joining the Likud party, as a candidate for defense minister. He was bumped from his military post, observers say, among other reasons, for stating publicly that he thought Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 would lead to another war.
He is haunted by Sept. 6, 2003, especially now, given Hamas's rise to power.
The night of the failed operation, Yaalon sat with his wife watching the news, drinking mint tea from their garden. "We didn't talk about it. It was a very bad weekend," Yaalon said. "Until today I'm not sure if I was right. I thought about it again, and again, and again. All day long."
Yaalon had wanted to make the right decision, to "save the state of Israel," as his son had said. At midnight on Sept. 6, he recalled, he went to brush his teeth, and took a long, painful look at himself in the mirror. Then he watched the last newscast: Hamas supporters were marching, demanding revenge.
"You will pay a price for this crime," Yassin said of Ariel Sharon. Protesters waved giant green Hamas flags. They fired assault rifles into the air. They marveled at the miracle that their leaders had survived an Israeli airstrike.
Up and down the Gaza Strip, people repeated the phrase:
"Allah saved them."
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
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Hey Monty, Let’s Make a Deal: The Gaza Disengagement a Year Later
In July 2005, I wrote a lengthy analysis of the Jewish Diaspora tradition and the way that it has influenced modern Zionism. The essay was occasioned by the imminent fulfillment of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza Disengagement plan; an attempt to unilaterally resolve the matter of Israel’s long occupation of the Gaza Strip, one of the most debilitated places on the planet.
A very conscientious reader of our newsletter pointed out that I had not properly addressed the issue of the Disengagement, which at that time was the talk of the Jewish community. Within the Religious Zionist part of the Jewish community—whose strictures have brutally taken over the Brooklyn Sephardic community, further eroding its noble cultural heritage—there was a blanket condemnation of the plan as it put to rest the idea of the so- called “Greater Israel.”
Greater Israel and “Poolside” Zionism
The concept of “Greater Israel” represents the messianic belief, espoused by Religious Zionists as well as their Christian fundamentalist counterparts, that resettlement of the entire land of Israel promised in the Bible (it should be remembered that even the land included in the British Mandate is only a portion of this promised land—the true “Greater Israel” would encompass portions of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon) marks the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies.
As I have consistently pointed out, New York’s summertime “poolside” Zionists, have a discernable tendency to become extremely militant despite the fact that none of them serve in the Israeli military or vote in Israeli elections.
So, when I wrote my essay, I choose definitively not to discuss the matter that was of burning concern in the Modern Orthodox community—where did I stand on Sharon and his plan?
I muted my comments on it because in the larger perspective I did not see the plan as something that would resolve the perpetual conflict. But, like many progressives Jews, I was moderately impressed that the penultimate hawk Sharon, the father of the settlements, was willing to adopt a tiny fragment of reason. In relinquishing Gaza, Sharon tacitly acknowledged, as has now become commonplace in Israel, that there would have to be two states to accommodate the two peoples.
Disengagement as the New Jewish Ghetto
As impressed as I was, I knew that the plan of one people “disengaging” from another remained a dicey proposition. It meant that Israel was effectively giving up on any sense of political normalcy and was reinforcing the historical image of the Jewish ghetto by admitting that it could not come to any bilateral accommodation with the Palestinians.
It was for this reason that at in my essay, I strove to explain the religious and historical implications of the Sharon plan as they were seen from the perspective of the Three Weeks; that point in the traditional Jewish calendar that marks the period between the final siege of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans and its subsequent destruction. At the time of Sharon’s Gaza move, a bold stroke that served to marginalize the “theocolonial” ambitions of Religious Zionists, all sorts of apocalyptic messages were being heard in the Jewish world. Following their own nationalist logic, these messages were casuistically connected to the anti-Arab racist animus that serves to form the template of Jewish political thought since 1948, contending that the Gaza plan would lead to both intra-Jewish and Arab-Jewish violence, and would not bring peace.
So here we are a year later and—surprise, surprise—we have no peace and a resumption of violence on a scale that has not been seen for many years.
Extremism Holds the Day
In this sense, as expected, the Jewish and Arab extremists have held the day. The “Disengagement” was based on the complete lack of concern by Israelis for their Palestinian Arab neighbors. The central idea behind the plan was not to build a fence to separate two peoples in order to facilitate coexistence, but to build a barrier that would allow the Israelis to finally be left alone in their very own ghetto. The goal of the Sharon’s strategy was not to normalize the relations between Israel and Palestine, but to make sure that they would not have any contact with one another.
The problem is that Sharon’s plan did not permit the swift creation of a Palestinian state. It pretended as though there was no one on the other side to separate from. For all intents and purposes, it was a deal struck between Israelis.
From its inception, Israel has convinced itself that the Palestinians were not a political entity and could not represent themselves. Over the years, the Zionist de-legitimization of Palestinian political aspirations has been a constant, emphasizing military over diplomatic solutions to Israel’s ongoing struggles with the Palestinians. For example, for many years it was against the law for Israelis to speak to PLO members. When the Oslo breakthrough took place, the initial reaction of Israelis was one of confusion. In the Israeli mindset, Palestinians could not be legitimate dialogue partners. Yet, Israelis were now seeing that Yasser Arafat (frequently compared by Israeli politicians to Hitler) was shaking hands with Israeli leaders on the White House lawn.
The shock of Oslo never really dissipated for either side. The Israelis could never see the Palestinians as humans, while the Palestinians could never find a way to trust an Israel whose behavior on the ground often contradicted its stated diplomatic aims. Throughout the years of the peace process, Israel continued to build and expand existing settlements, perpetuating the Occupation it was allegedly negotiating to end.
A July 6th New York Sun article by the Arab journalist Youssef Ibrahim, which has been widely distributed in the Jewish community, tries to speak directly to the Palestinians and their supporters, telling them that the war is over and that they should give up because Israel has won. I forwarded the article to another one of our savvy readers, who told me that perhaps it was Israel who needed to accept victory. In this response we can see that it is not Palestine that is the problem, but Israel. In reality, Israel has never spelled out its own terms of surrender to the Palestinian people or told them what it expects of them. Before the Zionist chorus of boos begins to take shape, it should be noted that in most normal cases we rarely expect the victim to come up with solutions. The victorious party is usually the one who dictates the terms of resolution.
So I asked a New York Zionist friend of mine, ‘What is it that Israel really wants? His answer was a variant on the Sharon ethos as he told me “We just want to be left alone.”
I am not sure how nations in this day and age can find a way to be rid of each other. Aside from the facts of globalization that now permeate all aspects of our existence, the prosaic elements of daily life—the distribution of vital strategic resources like water, food, energy and the rest—demand that entities that are linked by territory must find a way to productively interact and engage with one another.
What my Zionist friend was actually saying, perhaps without realizing it, was that Israel is not a modern Jewish state, but a medieval Ashkenazi ghetto that cannot live as a part of its region. The Zionist dream has thus been reduced to a temper tantrum and is uncertain of how it is to exist in the world.
Solutions to the Conflict
There is little doubt that there remain only two ways of solving the conflict.
The first is the conventional plan to separate Israel and Palestine by creating two states. Palestinians have agreed to this but Israel has yet to decide where these two states should be. The internationally accepted line of demarcation—and this includes U.S. policy as well—is the pre-June 1967 “Green Line.” The entire world is in agreement that this is the boundary separating two states—the entire world, that is, except Israel. Israel has never defined what the border between itself and Palestine should be, and this has caused a great amount of confusion among Palestinians and Arabs in general.
The second plan is to annex all the land that was once part of Britain’s Palestine Mandate and create one state. Here again, the Palestinians have agreed while Israel has not. And while there may be a small percentage of those Jews and Israelis who continue to dream of a complete expulsion of Palestinians from Mandate-era Palestine, most reasonable people understand that this will never happen and that it is idiotic to even consider it. The one state solution is very troubling to Israel and the vast majority of its Jewish citizens because it would create a possibility that the Arabs could take over the state through democratic means.
American Democracy as a Potential Model for Israel
After having fought and won the Civil War and abolishing slavery, the U.S. government continued to face the emergence of a post-war South that set limitations on the civil rights of freed slaves, which did not allow them to live as equals. It was at the ballot box where this battle was fought. Blacks were not uniformly given the right to vote, and in this way whites continued to control government and the legal system. In D.W. Griffith’s racist masterpiece Birth of a Nation we see the white southern nightmare of a black-controlled legislature where the “Negroes” are slobbering down fried chicken and causing a big ruckus in the seat of government. The age of “Jim Crow” was one that took another century to rectify. With the final passage of the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act in 1965, for the first time in American history, federal legislation sought to endow black Americans with the same fundamental rights as whites.
But in Israel there is no similar official policy of ethnic and religious pluralism. Israel is a Jewish state, which means that non-Jews cannot have the same status in the country. Discriminatory legislation must be inbuilt into the system in order to ensure the prerogatives of a Jewish majority, despite the fact that the Basic Laws (Israel’s “interim” substitute for a constitution) pay lip service to the social equality of all Israelis. Functionally speaking, Israel has been able to accommodate an Arab minority and provide it with rights, but those rights can still never be substantively equal to those of Israel’s Jewish population.
So we see that the current violence is an outgrowth of the vacillation of Israel in its inability to define the parameters of the conflict. Israel has no solution that it can unilaterally impose because it has none.
A History of Palestinian Violence and the Failure of Arab Liberalism
In this context it must be acknowledged that the Palestinian people have not remained inert. Electing the Hamas movement as their governing body in the winter of 2006, the Palestinians have, as has been their wont since 1948, defaulted to the violent option in the wake of Israeli intransigence and occupation.
Having lost its intellectual leadership in the wake of British interference in the 1930s, Palestinian nationalism has insisted on violence as a means of resistance. Just like their Zionist enemy, the Palestinians have placed their faith not in ideas and knowledge, but in the power of the gun. Having lost any conventional military capability many years ago with Israel’s military might being impossibly stronger, Palestinian resistance has taken on ever more lethal and horrifying forms of engagement that frequently targets Israeli civilians. The mark of the Palestinian resistance has gone through a number of stages: First, there were the Fedayeen guerillas of the 1950s; then there was the hijacker and hostage taker of the 1960s and 1970s, followed by the rock-throwing, slingshot youths of the first Intifada in the 1980s. Since the mid-1990s, Palestinian resistance has been characterized by the distinctly psychotic archetype of the Shahid, or suicide bomber, willing to give their life for the cause of independence.
The merger of the suicide bomber with the political wing of Palestinian radicalism has brought some sense of symmetry between the two sides in the following sense: The origin of Zionist military activity was also that of terror, and its ethos was defiantly Jewish in an ethnocentric sense. Israelis and Palestinians now mirror one another, with a process of “Zionification” having taken place in the Palestinian community. The irrational zealotry of the Palestinian suicide bomber is founded on the same type of deeply paranoid sense of hopelessness that feeds the Zionist sense of Jewish fatalism and persecution.
[As proof positive of this linkage of extremes, just a couple of days after writing the initial draft of this essay I heard a Shabbat afternoon talk given at the Young Israel of Flatbush by the right-wing Israeli professor Israel Aumann, recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on Game Theory. When asked to comment on the current state of affairs in Israel, Aumann lavished praise on the Palestinians for their commitment to their cause. He insisted that the Palestinian extremists were acting, in his words, as “rational human beings” because their interests were served by the suicide bombers. Israel, as he related it, lacked the commitment to its own interests because it was intent on giving back land to the Palestinians, whom he refused to call by this name because this was in his eyes a capitulation to the legitimacy of their claim to statehood. It is also worthwhile to note that the theme of Aumann’s lecture on the week’s Torah portion was delivered as a frontal assault on Maimonidean rationalism, which Aumann explicitly termed “not a Jewish way of thinking.”]
Taking into account the election of Hamas, an energized Lebanese Hizbullah Shi’ite radicalism in the hands of Iran (with the help of the Iraq debacle), and a general suppression of liberal activists in the overall Arab world, we can see the lines of the conflict more clearly. Israel’s many years of occupation have led to the impossibility of a military solution, as there are no clearly defined national entities on the ground. Palestine is now being run by radical militias that have relations with other such entities in Iran, Syria and Lebanon—perhaps even Iraq. Israel’s gambit to set up the fundamentalist Hamas as a counterweight to the secular- nationalist PLO has led to disaster—just as Ronald Reagan’s empowerment of the Mujahadeen in Afhganistan has led to disastrous consequences for the U.S.—a disaster we are now witnessing with Bin Laden’s Al Qa’ida.
Having spent many years worrying about Palestinian leadership, the Israelis and their constant meddling and demonization of the Palestinian national movement have turned out the bottom of the garbage heap. Each time the Israelis defeated its Palestinian political rival, the beast morphed and created new tentacles.
Such has been the bitter fruit of military might and its tragic pitfalls.
The Israeli Macho, Jewish Diaspora and Ashkenazi Pilpul
In light of the tremendous loss of life it has inflicted upon both sides, and the way that it has colored Israeli society as an arrogantly macho world of military idolatry—something that has most definitely captured the imagination of many Diaspora Jews who have been deeply affected by the Charles Atlas imagery that has served to counter the model of the “weak” enfeebled Jew of anti-Semitic lore—such violence sadly continues and remains central to the conflict. Machismo has been the model for the Israeli Jew even as it has masked many layers of cultural dysfunction and psychological torment within the national spirit.
And here we can return to one of my favorite analogies: The Israeli ethos has been formed by the mechanisms of Ashkenazi casuistry—that famous Pilpul that often turns a fact into its opposite. The blood and sinew that is identified with Israeli victory is often a mark of its cultural weakness. When an Israeli soldier is captured by the enemy, the complete arsenal of Jewish self-pity and paranoia is deployed and the country is ground to a standstill. The military option is all that is available because of the ghetto mentality that permeates the culture.
This Ashkenazi fatalism and self-defeatist paranoia has permeated the Sephardim as well. Amir Peretz, who ran on a platform of openly engaging the Palestinians, is now Israel’s Defense Minister and is showing how “tough” he is—a true Israeli Zionist macho. That he has reversed his historical political position 180 degrees is something that is not really remarked on in the current context. Peretz’s Ashkenazification is one that is seen as natural for any Sephardi in Israel because sooner or later assimilation into the dominant culture must take place in order for there to be a “normalization” process to take place in the Sephardi identity. Rather than understanding that the escalation of the conflict plays into the hands of the extremists, the defense establishment, now led by Peretz, believes it has no choice but to follow the logic of today’s violence to its bloody, apocalyptic conclusion.
Setting all this into a historical Jewish context, we can see the stark contrast between the current Israeli situation and the period of the Three Weeks, a time of circumspection and repentance for observant Jews. The Three Weeks is an affirmation of the model of Jewish politics that was fashioned by the Jewish sages, Hakhamim, in the wake of the political defeat at the hands of the Roman imperium. Rather than respond to the defeat by fighting and being destroyed, the Hakhamim elected to accept defeat and grow Judaism as a non- territorial entity. The Hakhamim never completely eliminated the national-territorial aspect of Jewish life—they simply reprioritized and reoriented Jewish values to elevate the cognitive over the territorial. Jewish national identity would be defined not exclusively by the land, but by fidelity to Scripture and to the pronouncements of the Sages. It permitted Jews to live peacefully under the Roman imperium and practice their faith and traditions in a way that did not preclude loyalty to their host government.
Zionism, as we know, sought to repair this “unnatural” state of affairs. The national Jewish identity as defined by its Diasporic condition was seen as a form of socio-political sickness and could only be corrected by the use of force to take back the land that was lost centuries earlier. This dynamic was informed by the ways in which Talmudic Diasporism was understood and lived by the Ashkenazim in their shtetls. A fierce opposition between inertia and aggression became manifest in Ashkenazi culture as Modernity emerged. Among the Sephardim who lived in the region that encompassed the Holy Land, such an opposition never took root. While there was a continuing awareness of Jewish powerlessness in Sephardic thinking, it never took on the magnified aspect as it did in Ashkenazi culture. Indeed, Arab Jewry had never lived in ghettoes and had not suffered the cruel persecutions that Ashkenazi Jewry did. The two cultures saw things in a different way, leading to a cognitive and socio-cultural dissonance that has remained in Israel to this day.
The Three Weeks, Tish’a be-Ab and Zionism
The Three Weeks culminating with the fast of Tish’a be-Ab affirm the ascendance and ultimate centrality of the Hakhamim and their worldview in Jewish life. In so many ways, Zionism has served to scale back and, in places, completely eviscerate this rabbinic centrality. The unholy hybrid merger of rabbinism and Zionism has led to the messianism that has created a holy militarism akin to forms of Islamic radicalism, even though the Jewish messianists have rarely been empowered in a political or military sense. In contrast, secular Zionism shorn of its rabbinical component has proven to be a nationalism that has struggled to define itself in ethno-cultural terms and remains without a coherent solution to the matter of liberal democracy for the inhabitants of its state territory.
While all this inner-Jewish drama plays itself out, the ongoing confusion of Zionism has placed the Palestinian Arabs in a situation in which their own national and political identity remains unclear. Are they a separate state or are they part of the Israeli state? Should they seek integration or separation—the latter often becoming violent in the wake of Israeli oppression and the emergence of a fundamentalist Islamic identity—with the Jewish majority of Israel?
What we see today unfolding in Lebanon and Gaza is the outcome of a violent ethos that is part of the confusion of national affiliation in the region. Arab liberalism has been defeated by a canny combination of Western imperialism and the internal authoritarian mechanisms of Arab regimes like those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which have proven to be useful to the Western nations that see the region exclusively in terms of its own strategic interests—oil and Zionism—rather than as a place where political life should be democratically free and open.
Thus, out of this volatile engine the forces of obscurantism and violence emerge. All the parties articulate their aggrieved frustrations and violently lash out at one another. Moderates on all sides are stymied by the maniacally-inspired apocalyptic religiosity of those extremists who have been buoyed by military violence.
Islam and Judaism as Quietist Faiths in the Midst of Violence
The quietism of Islam and Judaism, the streams of religious thinking in both faiths that counsel patience, tolerance and mutual respect, is thus suppressed in this maelstrom of war and hate. The values of God are reduced to the level of tribal vendetta and bloody revenge. Sacred texts are parsed for their hateful passages and Modernity is interpreted to mean victory against one’s national enemy at any cost. All of this, of course, is clothed in the militant pieties of religion.
This ensures that more people will die and more people will become converted to the faith of war and destruction. Positions will harden and solutions will be harder to come by. Such is the way that has become commonplace in the Middle East. It is a path that has been constructed out of the detritus of history in its most reactionary forms. People believe that only their understanding of history is correct and that there is no room for other interpretations. Rigidly defined and monitored orthodoxies are thus created, and enforcement mechanisms are put into place preventing the emergence of alternative ways of seeing.
Hey Monty, Let’s Make a Deal
The title of this essay reminds us of Monty Hall and his game show Let’s Make a Deal, a television show in which contestants would be given merchandise or money to trade for the unknown entities that would be behind curtains up on the stage. The whole thing was a gamble as one did not know which would bring in more value—the object in the hand or behind the curtain.
In a similar way, the peoples of the region are all dealt out. Each one thinks that they can make a better deal for what is behind the curtain. The guiding belief that permeates each of the sides is that they will get the big prize if only they keep trading. Each tries to “rig” the game by adopting a violent posture that would seek to force the hand of its opponent. None of them realize that the game itself promises nothing but a bloody crapshoot whose only certain result will be an endless road of death and hatred—not much of a way to lead a rational existence. We can take chances, but when those chances lead to the inexorable loss of life and the extinguishing of hope, the game has proven itself to be a sham.
There are no “deals” left for anyone. Monty has become an angel of death.
As we begin the observance of the Three Weeks as prescribed by Talmudic tradition, we should remember the cunning innocence of the Sages and their deeply sophisticated political ideology. This ideology, rejected by Zionism and its radical Islamic cognates, is one that was once functional in the Middle East, where pluralism and tolerance once existed. The collapse of the traditional values of the region—values based on a religious humanism inculcated over many centuries of multiethnic and multireligious coexistence—has led it on a downward spiral that is not the work of one entity only. It is as if an outbreak of wild fever has now gripped the majority of people in the region, both Jewish and Arab, who cannot seem to find a way out.
David Shasha is the director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage in Brooklyn, New York. The Center publishes the weekly e-mail newsletter Sephardic Heritage Update as well as promoting lectures and cultural events relevant to Sephardic culture. He can be reached at email@example.com
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