a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The truth is, Israel doesn’t want peace

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st December 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu told us once Israel wants peace:

“The truth is, Israel wants peace, and the truth is, the Palestinians are doing all they can to torpedo direct peace talks,” Netanyahu told his weekly Cabinet meeting.
(AP via Politico, 9/18/11)

If so, he’s got a funny way of showing it.  First he has a Hamas leader killed who was negotiating with Israeli officials.  Then: a massively disproportionate attack on Gaza — following a history both in the past year and the past twelve years of the same.  And now, after Palestinians gained a limited measure of formal recognition at the U.N.,

Israel plans to build some 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements in response to the Palestinians’ successful bid for recognition at the UN General Assembly this week, a senior diplomatic source told Haaretz on Friday.

According to the source, Israel also plans to advance long-frozen plans for the E1 area, which covers an area that links the city of Jerusalem with the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.

If built, the controversial plan would prevent territorial contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank, making it difficult for a future Palestinian state to function.
(In response to UN vote, Israel to build 3,000 new homes in settlements; Ravid, Haaretz, 11/30/11)

The truth is, Israel doesn’t want peace — at least its government and those who will probably re-elect it don’t.  Judging by its actions, the Netanyahu administration wants conquest, occupation, blockade, and humiliation of Palestinians in their territories.

That’s nothing new, but it’s important to see the plain truth and I think it’s important to be willing to say so.  Because of our nation’s nearly unconditional support for Israel, Americans don’t have right to just claim this is an intractable problem or say a pox on both their houses.  We need to look at facts like those in the map or in this chart, prepared by “Visualizing Palestine“:

Palestinian and Israeli deaths since September 2000
via Visualizing Palestine)

The chart plainly shows an Israel far too interested in just killing alleged enemies (and anyone in the vicinity) — and not interested enough in preventing enmity by not killing first so often.  The same could be said of the U.S., unfortunately.  Yet both countries might actually be more safe the less often they kill in the name of safety.  From a BBC report centered on a Gazan colleague’s loss of a baby boy:

Before I left Jehad’s house, leaving him sitting round a camp fire with other mourners, I asked him – perhaps stupidly – if he was angry over Omar’s death.

“Very, very angry,” he said, his jaw tensing as he glanced at the photos on his phone.

Jehad may well not look for revenge, but other Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank will.

EDIT, 12/1: “–following..” clause and links added.

Posted in Post | No Comments »

Return of “Sorta like mowin your lawn”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th November 2012

*Every* danged week — stuff just keeps growing back.
Maybe just pave it over.

Previously in “Sorta like mowin your lawn”:

The latest in “Sorta like mowin your lawn”:

  • “What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances. In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one. The operative metaphor is often described as “cutting the grass,” meaning a task that must be performed regularly and has no end. There is no solution to security challenges, officials here say, only delays and deterrence.”
    (As Battlefield Changes, Israel Takes Tougher Approach, Bronner, New York Times, 11/16/2012)

Corey Robin observed, “Classic anti-Semitic propaganda depicted Jews as vermin; Israeli propaganda sees Arabs as vegetation.”

With apologies to the incomparable Fafblog!, who meant well, but look at what happened, so I hope Fafnir et al are very, very sorry for what they have done to the art, science, and zen of lawn mowing.:

  • “An right now the level of torture talk has gone from ‘Torture: Bad!’ to ‘Torture: Bad, But Not As Bad As Saddam Hussein’ to ‘Torture: Bad, But What About Ticking Bombs?’ to ‘Torture: Bad, But Not Necessarily Proof That The People Who Ordered Torture Are Bad’ to ‘Torture: We Still Talkin Bout Torture?’ to ‘Torture: Bad?’ An before we get to ‘Torture: Sorta Like Mowin Your Lawn’ I think we should try as hard as we can to wake up.”
    (wake up , Fafblog!, 7/10/2004)

Posted in Post | No Comments »

UN documents disproportionate Israeli lethal force in Gaza this year before November conflict

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th November 2012

A  UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report* documents who had been killing whom in and around occupied Palestinian territory for the week of October 31- November 6, 2012 — i.e., until just prior to the current war.  The report has separate segments for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

UN logoPalestinian casualties by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip:
Killed this week: 1
Killed in 2012: 71
Killed in 2011: 108
Injured this week: 1
Injured in 2012: 291
Injured in 2011: 468
2012 weekly average of injured: 8
2011 weekly average of injured: 9

Sure, but what about Israeli casualties?

Israeli casualties by Palestinian fire from Gaza
Killed in 2012: 1**
Injured this week: 3

Injured in 2012: 19

Thus, according to OCHA reports, there was 1 Israeli death in 2012 due to hostile fire from Gazacompared to 71 Palestinian casualties by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

Now even one Israeli death by violence is one such death too many.  (Of course, by 71 of the same tokens, 71 Palestinian deaths are 71 too many as well.)  But like other analyses have suggested, these facts show there’s a bit of a problem with claiming the current hostilities are all Hamas’s fault.  However much we’re trained to assume that.

* Via the “Moon of Alabama” blog.
** This line is documented in the  Oct 10-16  report, but (currently) not in the subsequent three reports (Oct 17-23, Oct 24-30, Oct 31-Nov 6).


Posted in Post | 1 Comment »

Assassinating negotiation

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 17th November 2012

Gershon Baskin is a respected Israeli peace activist, columnist for the Jerusalem Post, and co-director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, who helped arrange the 2011 release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held in captivity in Gaza for five years.  He had been trying to arrange a more permanent cease-fire along the Gaza-Israel border — but had his efforts bombed out from under him by the IDF.  Here’s the key part of “Assassinating The Chance For Calm” that Baskin wrote on Thursday, November 15 for the Daily Beast’s “Open Zion” section:

Both Israel and Hamas had decided months ago not to take action on my proposed ceasefire option, which included within it a mechanism that would prevent Israeli pre-emptive actions and would enable Hamas to prove that it was prepared to prevent terror attacks against Israel. Both sides responded very seriously to the proposal, but without any signal that there was an openness on the other side, neither was willing to advance the possibility for testing it.

Several weeks ago, I decided to try once again and, through my counterpart in Hamas, we both began speaking to high level officials on both sides. A few days ago I met my counterpart in Cairo and we agreed that he would draft a new proposal based on our common understanding of what was required to make it work.

Yesterday morning, hours before Israel assassinated Ahmed Jaabari, my counterpart in Hamas presented the draft to Jaabari and to other Hamas leaders. Senior Hamas leaders on the outside had already seen it and had instructed him to check the reactions to it in Gaza. I was supposed to receive the draft yesterday evening to present to Israeli officials who were waiting for me to send it to them.

That option is now off the table. Jaabari is dead and so is the chance for a mutually beneficial long term ceasefire understanding…

There does not seem to be any dispute that Jaabari and Israeli officials were in dialogue, via Baskin, shortly before Jaabari was killed.  In comments to Ha’aretz, Baskin made clear he had no illusions about Jaabari — “[h]e was in line to die, not an angel and not a righteous man of peace.  Meanwhile, the Obama administration dutifully strongly condemns the Hamas/Gaza rocket attacks. But while it also claims “[t]here is no justification” for them, many analyses put that in dispute — as often the case in the past: Israel had been engaging in numerous, generally deadlier attacks of its own in the prior weeks, but with bullets, not with missiles.  Meanwhile most (though not all) Gaza rocket attacks were either operationally or intentionally symbolic, falling on open spaces rather than on Israelis.

Should Hamas be rocketing Israel, or letting others do so?  Of course not.  But if Israel and Israelis actually want to get to peace, at some point they’ll need to talk to the people on the other side with their fingers on the triggers and launch switches, not provoke them into one-upsmanship — let alone kill them.  But getting to peace is clearly not what Benjamin Netanyahu or his base want —  they prefer assassinating negotiations instead.

Now a dangerous, deadly ground war looms for Gaza — just like four years ago, after a U.S. general election and before an Israeli one.  If that happens, it will be even more difficult than usual to end.  After all, who in Gaza will want to be a part of  peace talks, when Israel has made that a death sentence?

I have the sinking feeling Netanyahu et al think they’re engaged in tough, clever realpolitik with both Hamas and Washington.  To me, their actions seem like a stupid, bloody, and deeply cynical waste of time and lives.

UPDATES, 11/17: Moshe Dayan explains it all for you (Corey Robin); 11/19:  Israel’s Shortsighted Assassination (Baskin to NYTimes); I Didn’t Come Back to Jerusalem To Be in a War (Lithwick,; 12/30: Who Started the Israel-Gaza Conflict? (timeline -Wright/Hauser, The Atlantic), addl. timelines above (“many”,”analyses”,”often the case”), see also “Visualizing Palestine” timeline graphic.

Posted in Post | 8 Comments »

Ezra Nawi and the laughing soldiers

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th August 2009

I admire people like Ezra Nawi, people with the cussedness and determination and confidence to just keep doing simple right things. In Nawi’s case, that means being an Israeli yet sticking up for Palestinians on the West Bank near Hebron — people who are being viciously and criminally (they’re really the only words that will do) harassed by nearby Israeli settlers.

To the right is a short video of the incident that has led to Nawi’s conviction for “assaulting” an Israeli officer. (Nawi is in the green jacket as the video begins.) As you’ll see, I think, if there was an assault it was pretty hard to spot. Be that as it may, the first point of this post is to ask you to go to and add your name to a petition asking the Israeli justice system to forego jailing Mr. Nawi.

But the real point is what was happening to the Palestinians. Writing for Ha’aretz in mid-June, David Shulman (who says he knows Nawi and is certain the charge is untrue) explains:

On February 14, 2007, the Israeli authorities sent army bulldozers to demolish several Palestinian shacks in a tiny place called Umm al-Kheir, 25 kilometers southeast of Hebron. Umm al-Kheir embodies the everyday reality of the Israeli occupation like no place else: The 100 or so impoverished Bedouin who call it their home, eking out a livelihood by grazing goats and sheep on the dry, stony hills, live in rickety structures of canvas, tin and stone. The land is theirs: Originally refugees from Tel Arad in the Negev in 1948, they bought it for good money from its Palestinian owners in the early 1950s. Israel, however, has put up a large settlement called Carmel right next to Umm al-Kheir, and like all settlements, Carmel (founded in 1981) is constantly expanding, encroaching on the lands of its Palestinian neighbors. As documented in detail in police records in Kiryat Arba, settlers also regularly attack these neighbors, whom they would like to remove altogether from this area.

House demolitions in the Palestinian territories are routine, and there have been several at Umm al-Kheir, too. The legal justification is always that the houses were built without a permit. But Palestinians living in Area C in the territories have almost no hope of getting a building permit. (To give some idea: on average, in all of Area C, only one building permit is granted to Palestinians each month, whereas some 60 demolitions orders are issued, of which 20 are carried out. Fewer than 5 percent of Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C are approved.)

You may have skimmed past the “settlers also regularly attack these neighbors” part above, or imagined a shouting match or some scuffles.  Wrong.   Nir Rosem, writing about Nawi for Ha’aretz in 2005, reported nearby Israeli “settlers” poisoned livestock, destroyed olive orchards, plowed up fields, committed arson, and beat the Palestinian village children and foreign volunteers accompanying them to school badly enough that several needed hospitalization.

I don’t really know that much about the lay of the land over there.  So I wouldn’t usually have a feeling for whether what’s happening or happened in and around Umm al-Kheir is an outlier, or whether it’s as everyday as Shulman says it is.

Except for that video.  Because the worst thing about it isn’t the soldiers breaking in to the metal shack, it isn’t even the bulldozer demolishing the old house next to it while villagers cry and curse.  The worst thing was that the IDF soldiers laughed when they were done. Like it was no big deal at all.

You can also visit for ongoing news about the case and the cause.

Posted in Post | 3 Comments »

Many, many eyes for an eye

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th December 2008

Israel has now declared “all-out war” on the Gaza strip Hamas government for its continued rocketing of nearby Israeli towns and settlements.  The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan and Griff Witte report the death toll stood at 364 — including at least 57 civilians, according to a separate (and heartbreaking) report on the death of five sisters when a neighboring mosque was bombed.  The numbers and high civilian casualties are in large part because the aims of the Israeli government are broader than ever before:

While previous Israeli assaults on Gaza have pinpointed crews of Hamas rocket launchers and stores of weapons, the attacks that began Saturday have had broader aims than any before. Israeli military officials said Monday that their target lists have expanded to include the vast support network that the Islamist movement relies on to stay in power in the strip. The choice of targets suggests that Israel intends to weaken all the various facets of Hamas rather than just its armed wing.

“There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel,” said a senior Israeli military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Hamas’s civilian infrastructure is a very, very sensitive target. If you want to put pressure on them, this is how,” said Matti Steinberg, a former top adviser to Israel’s domestic security service and an expert on Islamist organizations.

This is a formula for all-out, total war indeed.  But it presupposes you’re fighting people who’ll accept different leadership when it’s over — and by that measure, Israel’s war may well have the opposite effect.  In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Palestinian journalist Daouad Kuttab notes that Hamas had been increasingly unpopular in Gaza — its support stood at a Bush-like 17% level among Palestinians in November, with Hamas trailing Fatah even within the Gaza Strip.  As importantly, it had lost support around the Arab world, in part for scuttling Arab-sponsored talks with the rival Abbas government in the West Bank.  That’s all a thing of the past:

The disproportionate and heavy-handed Israeli attacks on Gaza have been a bonanza for Hamas. The movement has renewed its standing in the Arab world, secured international favor further afield and succeeded in scuttling indirect Israeli-Syrian talks and direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. It has also greatly embarrassed Israel’s strongest Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan. While it is not apparent how this violent confrontation will end, it is abundantly clear that the Islamic Hamas movement has been brought back from near political defeat while moderate Arab leaders have been forced to back away from their support for any reconciliation with Israel.

But the same poll showing low Hamas approval ratings showed Palestinians essentially uncommitted to the Hamas 6 month truce with Israel: a clear majority (41%) felt it had made no difference, with the remainder statistically tied between judging the truce had served or harmed the national interest.

The question was whether even an eye for an eye — let alone many, many eyes for an eye — was the right way to go under these circumstances. It’s interesting and a little sad to note that the “original intent,” as it were, of the “eye for an eye” phrase may be quite different from what it’s assumed to be.*  Exodus 21:23-25, in the King James Version, reads as follows, with emphasis added:

23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

To be sure, other biblical passages (e.g. Lv 24:19-20, Dt 19:21) are more clearly about punishment to be exacted, and there’s apparently room for debate with this one, since other translations replace the “give” with “take.” But this discussion suggests that the original Hebrew for this Exodus passage amounts to “being in place of being” — i.e., it actually comes closer to suggesting proportional, functional substitution of something new for that which was lost, by you, for your own misdeeds rather than narrowly equivalent penalties on someone else for theirs; the writer proposes that a person blinded by your fault would be compensated by a seeing servant.

But in any case, the fundamental idea is “proportional” — and also in any case, these biblical passages aren’t the end of all wisdom on the topic.  It’s all too easy for me to sit here in safety and pontificate, but I think hilzoy is right:

I imagine what people on both sides are thinking is something more like: do you expect us to just sit here and take it? Do you expect us to do nothing? To which my answer is: no, I expect you to try to figure out what has some prospect of actually making things better. Killing people out of anger, frustration, and the sense that you have to do something is just wrong. For both sides.

* In case it’s not obvious, I’m no biblical scholar; I’m just following up on leads from the Wikipedia “eye for an eye” entry.

Posted in Post | No Comments »

This is what a suicide bombing really looks like

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th June 2003

Gil Shterzer, quoted in full:

This is what a suicide bombing really looks like. Warning, uncensored gruesome hard to watch photos.

No prescriptions or wannabe smart forecasts here — or balance or “balance.” It just makes me understand the fury Israelis must feel, I feel some of it myself.

Posted in Post | No Comments »

More bombings

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 21st May 2003

Sad to say, I lost track, there have been so many terrorist attacks in Israel in the last week. Israeli blogger Imshin provides links to brief bios of each victim in a bus bombing in Jerusalem that left 7 dead, not counting the shithead who did it. The contrast between the apparently relatively affluent teenage engineering student bomber and the 5AM shift workers he murdered was striking. Imshin writes,

Why are the cold-blooded murders of these people seen by so many as fitting revenge of the weak? Why is this young, good looking, physically strong and economically secure kid perceived as being more desperate than a 67 year old economics lecturer making his way in the soft early morning light to his dead end job as a guard in a car park?

Gil Shterzer (“Israeli Guy”) posts a devastating photo of two victims of the attack. I think one victim in the photo is Mr. Ostinsky, the car park guard.

It’s hard to disagree with Imshin’s (apparent) support for the security wall, or Gil Shterzer’s angry call to “waste” Hamas leaders like Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi or Mahmoud Al-Zahaar in retaliation. May be easier said than done, though.

I continue to support ending the West Bank/Gaza settlements, and think the “road map” or the Nusseibeh/Ayalon agreement could be ways out of the conflict. But I read (via Imshin) that Arafat is insisting on “right of return” again, which together with non-stop suicide bombings makes either peace plan seem like it should be in your bookstore’s “fantasy” section. What does Abu Mazen say? If that matters.

Meanwhile, consider helping Israeli terror victims by supporting NAVAH.

Posted in Post | No Comments »

Barak’s offer at Camp David

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th April 2003

Benny Morris interviewed Ehud Barak about the year 2000 Camp David negotiations for a New York Review of Books article. An excerpt:

But in the West Bank, Barak says, the Palestinians were promised a continuous piece of sovereign territory except for a razor-thin Israeli wedge running from Jerusalem through from Maale Adumim to the Jordan River. Here, Palestinian territorial continuity would have been assured by a tunnel or bridge:

The Palestinians said that I [and Clinton] presented our proposals as a diktat, take it or leave it. This is a lie. Everything proposed was open to continued negotiations. They could have raised counter-proposals. But they never did.

Barak explains Arafat’s “lie” about “bantustans” as stemming from his fear that “when reasonable Palestinian citizens would come to know the real content of Clinton’s proposal and map, showing what 92 percent of the West Bank means, they would have said: ‘Mr. Chairman, why didn’t you take it?'” (emphasis added)

This partly supports a Palestine Orient House map (via MidEast Web), showing two Israeli wedge-and-corridors through the West Bank: a northern one via Ariel and Shilo and a southern one via Maale Adumim and Shilo. A Israeli-controlled Jordan river corridor connects these two, resulting in at least three major Palestinian West Bank “islands” bounded by relatively narrow Israeli corridors or the Israeli “mainland.” Calling these “bantustans” is only a slight exaggeration (the South African bantustans were a bit more far-flung)– assuming for a moment that the Orient House maps accurately reflect Camp David discussions.

As noted, the Morris article suggests they at least got it partly right, by arguably describing the map’s southern corridor. Barak and the Palestine House maps thus seem to agree on one thing: the West Bank was to be gerrymandered, to preserve at least some of the Israeli settlements. The accuracy of descriptions like “razor-thin” (Barak) and “bantustan” (Arafat) is in the eye of the beholder.

Given the fluid situation at the summit described by most participants, it’s possible that the two versions of the West Bank refer to two different proposals floated at the summit; of course, it’s also possible one or the other (or both) are inaccurate in its details. But assuming (as I do) that Barak isn’t lying, the offer he described to Morris would have further subdivided a Palestine already split between the West Bank and Gaza — and preserved a string of galling settlements through the center of the West Bank.

I’m writing about this as part of an ongoing conversation with Gil “Israeli Guy” Shterzer, who took mild exception to my offhand description of the Barak offer as a “patchwork territory criss-crossed by Israeli roads and zones.” In his comments, Gil said, “I’ll take Barak’s word in any given time, especially when the countering is Arafat’s word, and we all know his credibility.”

Well, here is Barak’s word. It may not amount to the “criss-crossed patchwork” I described, but it’s not difficult to understand why Palestinians weren’t overjoyed by the idea. At any rate, I still hope the “People’s Voice” proposal gains support.

Posted in Post | No Comments »

Keep your eyes off the ball…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th April 2003

says honorable blogparent Matt Welch; I hear and obey:

  • 4/7: ANC gets two-thirds majority in South Africa’s Parliament; Prime Minister (and noted HIV/AIDS scholar) Thabo Mbeki now has the power to rewrite the South African constitution. (via UK blog Conservative Commentary)
  • 4/7: Israel allows a settlement in Palestinian Jerusalem (same story referred to below).
  • 4/8: China blocks North Korea resolution in Security Council.
  • 4/9: Hundreds dead in Congo massacres.
  • …and much, much more, via Daniel Drezner, on Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe, etcetera!

    …unless you’re in …

  • 4/7: Palo Alto, where the City Council is considering a ban on eye-rolling. (via Educated Guesswork)
  • Posted in Post | No Comments »