Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Israeli Circus and the Upcoming Elections (Israeli 2013 Election Coverage, 5)

In the run up to elections, the Israeli political scene has proven to be as exciting as a Grand Circus. During the last month, we witnessed a great number of breathtaking political moves, such as Ehud Barak’s decision to “leave politics,” Tzipi Livni’s founding of a one-election party, the offended Amir Peretz, leaving the Labor party, only to join Livni, and the indictment and resignation of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is poised to return in the near future.

Clearly, the ringmaster of this circus is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has proven once again that he is a superb politician, with all parties courting him even before the elections. In one ring, he has Shelly Yahimovich, Yair Lapid, and Tzipi Livni providing the opening act as the Center Acrobats: Shelly jumping up and down on a trampoline, Tzipi impressing all of us with her ability to do multiple somersaults, and Yair mesmerizing us with his steady tightrope performance. Oh, yes, we forgot Shaul Mofaz; due to his poor performance in auditions, he is the ticket collector, who doubles as the usher.

On the other side of the circus is the extreme right Jewish Home party, set to double their parliament seats in the elections, standing strong in the Lion’s Den. In coalition negotiations, Netanyahu may choose to open the cage and threaten the center parties to accept the consequences of a narrow right coalition being formed if they don’t compromise. Clearly, Netanyahu as the ringmaster does not really need the Center Acrobats; in addition to the Lion, he can rely on the boring elephants that for years just walk in circles, wanting only to be fed and kept warm by the state. Of course, I am referring to the Sephardic Shas party, and the United Torah Judaism Haredi party.

I forgot to mention that even if this circus invites all to participate as spectators, regardless of race, religions, or sexual preference, in order to take part in the circus itself, you must adhere to basic Zionist ideology. However, don’t worry. For anti-Zionists there is an alternative circus tent! It is often referred to as the “Arab Tent” and includes parties, such as Hadash (affiliated with Israeli Communist party), and Balad (a party calling for a liberal democracy based on citizenship), both which also find support among Israeli Jews. The Grand Circus does not interfere in the Arab Tent’s show on a regular basis; however, last week, its election committee disqualified MP Haneen Zoabi from participating in her own tent! This decision will most likely be overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court, who is in desperate need of the Arab Tent in order to justify Israel as a country where tents have equal rights.

It is within this Grand Circus that Israeli politics have played out for years, and it is a marvel how spectators year after year come and join the show.  There was a time last year, during the summer, when the circus sales dropped radically, with thousands of Israelis setting up opposing tents along Rothschild, demanding that a new circus be established. However, with little effort, the Ringmaster Netanyahu succeeded in convincing most to return, and now is set to run the show for another five years.   

Monday, December 17, 2012

Delving into Ottoman Palestine (a link to Ottoman History Podcast)

Here is a link to a recent podcast, where I discuss my upcoming book, which has the tentative title: Ottoman Palestine: The Rise of Jewish Hegemony and Palestinian protest.  In this podcast, I offer my interpretations relating to both the Palestinian and Jewish populations, while focusing on the need to reassess the past history. For the Palestinians, I explain how a Palestinian identity, Palestinianism, dates back to the early 20th century. As for the Jewish community, I argue that for many Zionism was not necessarily a separatist movement, but one that was working to integrate into the Ottoman political world. It was in this reality that the Palestinian-Jewish conflict began in Ottoman Palestine, a period often neglected by historians.  

For my readers, this is also a great opportunity to learn about the Ottoman History Podcast series, a brilliant source for Ottoman history, where there are over 80 podcasts, featuring renowned names in Ottoman history. 

I would also like to thank Chris Gratien and Emrah Safa Gurkan for the great program and interesting questions (not to mention praise to the podcast series)! 

For those interested there is also a useful bibliography to direct you to some historical articles of mine, and related books by other authors.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Israel, Now or Never: 10 Points concerning the Jewish State's future (Israeli 2013 Election Coverage, 4)

Following the UN vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member state, Israel decided to show their appreciation by declaring the building of 3000 housing units in the West Bank. If that was not enough, a day later, it was announced that Israel would hold funds earmarked for the Palestinians. Yes, it seems that the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his FM, Avigdor Lieberman are holding true to their statements that they would work to topple Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, if he preceded to the UN vote.

Despite bringing Israel to one of its lowest places ever in terms of world support, Netanyahu and Lieberman's newly joint election list, Likud Beitenu, appear as if they are set for victory. Most polls place them at receiving between 35-40 seats (out of 120), with the center and center-left parties completely divided. There is no doubt that such an outcome will be detrimental to the future of Israel.

Below are 10 points, made up of comments and questions concerning Israel's future. As a historian, I do not usually look into the future; however, these issues have been on my mind for some time, and I thought I would share them. Further, as a citizen of the Israeli state, and a father of a daughter living there, I obviously have an agenda and a stake in its future. The period of silence is over.   

1. Without a doubt, a Israel refusing to move forward on the peace process and to negotiate with the new Palestinian state, could be met with diplomatic and economic sanctions. While it is highly unlikely that this will happen just "one spring morning," it is an obvious extension of the world's message to Israel: move forward with peace, or else.  

2. Along the same line, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement has the chance to grow significantly. Public activism against Israel has received a new surge of energy, and it seems like they will seize the moment.  Now that the world has recognized a Palestinian state, the work of the BDS will be all the easier. In short, Israel will become more and more isolated.

3. The American Jewish community needs to come to terms with the fact that they cannot support a Jewish state at all costs. In fact, if Israel does “act in the name of the Jewish people,” then it’s high time that American Jews understand that now is the time to get involved and pressure Israel to recognize the international mandate for a Palestinian state.  A global pact of Jewish groups from such countries as Argentina, Great Britain, and France, among the many others, might also be of special significance. The fact J-Street came out in support of Israel at the beginning of the Gaza campaign, shows that the liberal Jewish community needs to take a much clearer stance; in fact, following the recognition of the Palestinian state, some Jewish communities in the US came out in support of Palestine and are voicing their opposition to the new settlement plans. 

4. The Israeli peace camp needs to reorganize independently of the center parties, who have only shown us that they are incompetent of leading a true movement. In fact, during this election campaign we have seen how incompetent the Israeli center politicians are, beginning with Shelly Yachimovich, Amir Peretz, Shaul Mofaz, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid (and the list goes on). The only real leader in Israel today is Benjamin Netanyahu; sad to say, but true. 

5. The only alternative the peace camp has is Meretz, the Zionist Left party, and Hadash, the (Jewish-Arab) Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, which is affiliated with the Israel Communist Party. While it is unlikely that these parties will actually ever have the chance to run the country, it would be interesting to see how the Israeli society might flourish under political parties which actually could offer the Israeli citizen a safe and secure home, for both Jews and Palestinian-Israelis (the Palestinians within Israel proper, who have Israeli citizenship and makeup 20% of the population). 

6. Regardless if the Jewish population do not see fit to vote for the non/anti-Zionist parties, like Hadash, or Balad (a Palestinian party supporting a more radical agenda of equality for all citizens, which leans towards a One-State solution), they should at least open their eyes to the fact that there is a 20% Palestinian minority in their state. Building true bridges with Palestinians within Israel could be an important step to reaching peace and equality for all in the region. Also, it could also show the Israeli Jews a third way, one where Zionism can be retained culturally, but does not need to equal political hegemony. 

7. There is a real danger that a Netanyahu-Lieberman team, following the elections, in a moment of desperation, could set out to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, using the Separation Wall as a border; in essence, ending hopes that Jerusalem will be a shared capital of Israel and Palestine. All eyes need remain open to such a scenario. We know from Lebanon and Gaza, unilateral pullouts lead to continued violence. Peace can only be achieved through negotiations.

8. The Palestinians also need to seize the moment, unite all of their factions, and call new elections. No matter what type of government is elected, they will need to continue down the path Mahmoud Abbas has paved: one of diplomacy. This is the only way they will succeed in reaching full statehood. As an Israeli citizen, I will stop here since saying more would be presumptuous on my behalf.  They have plenty of peace-loving people on their side. The point is too build bridges together. 

9. In light of President Obama’s support of Israel, in the near future, he will need to come up with a major-policy shift, addressing Palestinian needs.  Obama won the Nobel Peace prize even before he made any real attempts at peace; now is the time to show us that this was not in vain. 

10. Israel, with its walls, fences, and Iron Dome to protect it skies, has become the largest gated community in the world. This is certainly not the Jewish haven Zionists had in mind. If Israel invested in peace, what it has invested in arms, then it is safe to say they would be living in a  a country where their children, along with the whole region, would thrive. After 45 years of occupation, and a century of violence, Israeli politicians have lead their citizens down a dead-end road. The time has come for the citizens to ask themselves how their own nationalism could be what has kept Israel in such a vicious circle of violence for so many years. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Filistin’in buruk zaferi, İsrail’e güçlü bir mesaj (Turkish Version)*

The UN Vote; Photo from Al-Quds Newspaper website.
Birkaç gün önce Filistin’e, Birleşmiş Milletler tarafından üye olmayan devlet statüsü verildi. Her ne kadar Filistin’in meşru devlet statüsüne sahip olmak için yapması gereken daha çok şey olsa da, tüm dünyaya Betı Şeria ve Gazze Şeridi’nde bir Filistin devleti olması gerektiğinin haklı duyurusunu gerçekleştirmiş oldu. Filistin Cumhurbaşkanı  Mahmoud Abbas, halkının bugün bu noktaya gelmesini sağlayan stratejilerinden dolayı tebrik edilmeli.

Son günlere bakarsak, İsrail cephesinde bu tarihi oylamanın bir önemi olmadığını vurgulamak için gerçekleştirdiği yoğun çalışmalar karşımıza çıkıyor. Her halükȃrda İsrail hükümetinin tutumu, nasıl da gerçek dışı hareket ettiklerini ortaya koyuyor. Başbakan Netanyahu ve Dışişleri Bakanı Lieberman’ın bu oylama sonucu büyük bir yenilgiye uğradıklarını; daha fazla toprak alabilmek için barış sürecini sekteye uğratarak yaptıkları her şey için bir bedel ödediklerini de kabul etmeleri gerekiyor. Asıl önemli olan şeyin bu noktada dile getirilmesi gerekiyor: Filistin’e verilen oylar, İsraillilere aslında “Büyük İsrail” planının yalnızca bir rüyadan ibaret olduğunu gösteriyor.

Palestinians Celebrating from Al-Quds Newspaper Website
Bu oylama, 1948 yılından önceki Filistin’in olmasa da Batı Şeria ve Gazze Şeridi’nin sömürgeleşmeden kurtulmaya başladığını gözler önüne seriyor. İsraillilerin şu soruları hem politikacılarına hem de kendilerine sormaları gerekiyor: Politikacılar son 45 yıldır sivil ve politik hakları gözetmeksizin meşru olarak büyük bir kitleye hükmettikleri fikrine neden sıkı sıkıya bağlılar? İsrail halkı adaletsizlikleri neden görmezden gelip herkese sırt çevirdiler? Belki de süregelen çatışmaların ağır yorgunluğu tüm bu kötü gelişmelere sebebiyet vermiştir.

Daha iyimser olmak isterdim ancak geleceğe şüpheyle yaklaşıyorum. Bundan böyle olacaklar her iki taraf için de oldukça acılı olacak. Şiddet, bir anda nasıl olduğu anlaşılmaksızın kontrolü yeniden ele geçirebilir. Bundan dolayı her iki tarafın da kendi içerisindeki problemleri halletmek için elinden geleni yapması ve bu sayede barış için ortak bir paydada buluşması önem teşkil ediyor. Unutmamak gerekir ki bundan tam 65 yıl önce Filistin'de, Araplar ve Yahudiler arasındaki kanlı savaşın tam ortasına atılmış; her iki tarafın nüfusunun yüzde birinin yok olmasına ve günümüze kadar gelen göçmen problemine neden olmuştu.

Son olarak, hem Filistin’de hem de İsrail’de bu konu üzerine şüpheyle yaklaşan kesimler yalnız tek bir devlet olması; liberal demokrasinin getirdiği temel ilkelerin kabul edilmesi ve her iki tarafın yalnız bir bayrak altında yaşaması gerektiğini savunuyorlar. Ben ise iki ayrı devlet oluşumundan yanayım: Eğer bu kaos sonucunda barış elde edilirse sınırlar olmaksızın iki devletin varlığı, konfederasyon oluşumu ya da tek bir devlet olma gibi her iki taraf içinde yapıcı çözümlere ulaşabiliriz. Her halukȃrda tüm bu çözümlere nihai kararı halkların vermesi kanaatindeyim.

Şimdilik, son gelişmeleri göz önünde bulundurarak önce Filistin’i ve ardından Filistinlileri kutluyorum. İstanbul’daki evimden Birleşmiş Milletler’in oylamasını izlerken Filistinliler ve İsrailliler bir arada Filistin’in özgürlüğü için katıldığımız onca gösteri, döktüğümüz onca gözyaşı, kimi zaman yaşadığımız üzüntü ve sevinçler aklıma geldi. Önceleri, İsrail devletinin yanında özgür Filistin devletinin olması gerektiği çok uzak bir ihtimal gibi görünürken, bugün bu fikir hiç olmadığı kadar yakınımızda ve bir o kadar da gerçek.

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*Bu makale İngilizceden tercüme edilmiştir: "This Time for Palestine: A Melancholy Victory and a Strong Message to Israel" (30.11.2012)

Friday, November 30, 2012

This Time for Palestine: A Melancholy Victory and a Strong Message to Israel

The UN Vote; Photo from Al-Quds Newspaper website.
Less than an hour ago, Palestine, was recognized by the UN General Assembly as a state. Even if the Palestinians still have a far way to reach statehood, tonight confirmed the urgency in establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza strip. The President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, must be congratulated for his strategy of taking practical steps, which has led his people to this day.

The Israeli government has worked hard during the last few days to downplay the significance of tonight’s vote. However, their recent actions just show us how out of touch with reality they have become. Now that the vote is over, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, cannot escape the fact that the vote for Palestine was a major defeat for a government that did everything possible to grab more land, while stalling the peace process. However, more importantly, the vote for Palestine marks something much more significant, showing the Israelis that the dream of a Greater Israel, was only that –a dream.

Palestinians Celebrating Photo from Al-Quds Newspaper Website
Yes, tonight marks the start of the decolonization of Palestine; not of historical Palestine, but of the West Bank and Gaza strip. Tonight, Israelis need to ask their politicians why for the last 45 years, they have clung onto the idea that Israel could legitimately rule over a mass population, stripped of civil and political rights. Or, ask themselves, why have they opted to ignore the injustices, and turned their backs, perhaps in sheer exhaustion of the conflict.  

I wish I could be optimistic; however, I also fear the future. The work ahead of us will be painful on both sides. Violence can erupt at a moment’s notice, spiraling out of control. Therefore, each side will have to work to do its utmost to work for reconciliation in their own camps, preparing the way for a comprehensive peace agreement. Let us not forget, that it was 65 years ago tonight that Palestine was thrown into a bloody civil war between Arab and Jew, costing each side one percent of their population, and leading to a refugee problem which continues until today.

Lastly, to the skeptics, among them Palestinians (and a minority of  Jews), who support a one-state solution, believing the two peoples should live under one flag, with the principles of a liberal democracy of “one person one vote.” I say the following: let us work towards the two-state solution, and if peace prevails, together we can think of creative solutions, such as two-states no borders, a confederacy, or, yes, a one state solution. In the end, it will be the people on both sides who decide. 

For now, I will take this opportunity, to congratulate Palestine, and the Palestinians. As I watched the UN Vote from my home in Istanbul, I took the time to remember all the demonstrations for Palestine we took part it in, Israelis and Palestinians together, remembering the tears we shed, both from happiness and sadness. Now, a once distant thought of a free Palestine, alongside Israel, seems closer than ever. 


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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gazzeye bakış: Kim zafer kazandı? Hamas mı yoksa İsrail mi? (Turkish Version)*

İsrail’in Gazze’ye olan saldırısı iki tarafında ateşkes ilan etmesiyle sonuçlandı. Hamas, İsrail’in Gazze’ye karşı son 4 yılda 2. kez düzenlediği saldırının ardıdan zaferini çabuk ilan etti. Halbuki bu büyük saldırı gerçekleşmeden bir hafta önce taraflar süregelen kavgaları bitirmek üzere çalışma içerisindeydi. Neredeyse bir hafta süren operasyonda İsrail, kendini savunma bahanesiyle Gazze’nin her yerini bombaladı ve 160’dan fazla kişinin ölümüne neden oldu. İsrail’in, kendi sivillerini hedef alan roketleri durdurabilmek adına savunma amaçlı saldırıları gerçekleştirdiğini ifade etmesi şartlar her ne olursa olsun bu saldırıların kabul görüp göz yumulmasını haklı çıkarmıyor. İsrail, Hamas lideri Ahmad Al-Jabari’yi öldürmeseydi savaşla sonuçlanan bu gerginliğin durdurulması ya da başlamadan önlenebilmesi de mümkün olabilirdi.

Diğer yandan İsrail, kara harekȃtı gerçekleştirmekten kaçındığı için ateşkes ilan etmiş gibi görünüyor. Başbakan Netanyahu baştan savma planlanmış olan bu harekȃtın Ocak ayındaki yeni seçimler için hazırladığı planları sekteye uğratabileceğini çok iyi biliyordu. Büyük bir yıkımla sona eren öc alma planının, her ne kadar seçim planlarıyla da alakası olmadığı düşünülse bile bundan böyle Gazze’den gelecek roketleri durduracağının da garantisini vermiyor. Bu bağlamda İsrail’in kazanmış olması da mevzu bahis değil. Peki kaybettiğinden bahsedilebilir mi? Tabi ki hayır. Hamas, Tel Aviv’i vurmasının ardından gücü elnde bulundurduğunu yani bir bakıma amacına ulaşmış olduğunu düşünebilir. Ancak bu eylemi gerçekleştirmesi, İsrail’den bir farkının olmadığını da gözler önüne seriyor. Bu nedenle bir bakıma mağduriyet ekseninden doğan Hamas zaferi, gerçek dışı olduğu kadar kabul de edilemez. Dışarıdan bakıldığında, tarafların umarsızca yaptığı politik kavgalar doğrultusunda hayatını yitiren sayısız insanın, bu savaşın kaybedenleri olarak kayıtlara geçmesine neden oluyor. Dolayısıyla uzun yıllar boyunca, deyim yerindeyse süren bu kirli oyunun maalesef kazananlarının olmadığı sonucu ortaya çıkıyor.

Ne Hamas, ne de İsrail. Zafer Filistin halkının olmalı.
Umarım bu kirli oyun, yaşanan tüm olay ve acılardan sonra Filistin halkının zaferiyle sonuçlanır. Dört gün sonra, 29 Kasım’da, Birleşmiş Milletlerin Filistin’in Arap ve Yahudi devleti olmak üzere iki ayrı devletten oluşması gerektiğini açıklamasından tam 65 yıl sonra, Filistin ilk defa Birleşmiş Milletler’e üye olmayan devlet statüsüne sahip olacak. Durum böyle olunca, İsrail’in her ne kadar başarılı olduğu takdirde Filistin’in ilerleyip bu noktaya gelmesini sağlayan Cumhurbaşkanı Mahmoud Abbas’ı devireceğini söylese de, BM’den gereken oyları toplayacak gibi görünüyor. Geriye ise tüm dünyanın Filistin Devleti’nin varlığını kabul etmesi kalıyor. Bu durum aynı zamanda Barack Obama’ya kabul edilebilir bir barış antlaşması hakkında ciddi olduğunu gösterebilme şansı da doğuruyor. Ancak Amerika ya da Avrupa, özellikle son Gazze saldırısından sonra hala Filistin’i meşru bir devlet olarak kabul etmeyip yeni engellere gebe olursa, bu kararları kendilerine yapışacak kara bir leke olarak yorumlanabilecektir.

Bu noktada Gazze’nin, devlet olabilmek için gereken unsurları bir an önce yerine getirmesi gerekiyor. Bu durum gerçekleştiği takdirde dünya; ambargoyu kaldırma, fakirlik, işsizlik, gezegendeki en yüksek doğum oranı sorunsalı gibi Gazze’nin gerçek problemlerini çözmek üzere sorumluluk alabilme fırsatına da sahip olacaktır. Şu anda hangi hükümetin iktidarda olduğuna, hangi eylemlerin gerçekleştirildiğine bakılmaksızın onyıllarca süren bu acının sona erdirilmesi gerektiğinden, zaman “Gazze zamanı”dır.

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*Bu makale İngilizceden tercüme edilmiştir: "Who can declare Victory, Hamas? Israel?, Plus a Look at Gaza" (25.11.2012) 

Who can declare Victory, Hamas? Israel?, Plus a Look at Gaza

Following the Israeli Gaza bombardment, the second in the last four years, Hamas was quick to declare victory. The two sides had reached a ceasefire, which most likely was similar to the one that they were about to sign just a week before the Israeli operation began. During the week long campaign, in the name of self-defense, the Israelis used excessive force (an understatement), bombing Gaza’s infrastructure, and killing over 160 people. While Israelis claim this was done to stop the firing of rockets on their civilian population, which under no circumstances can be condoned, it is safe to say that the escalation could have been avoided, and was sparked by Israel, following the assassination of Hamas leader, Ahmad al-Jabari. 

Israel signed the ceasefire seemingly to avoid a ground invasion. Prime Minister Netanyahu knew too well that a botched operation could spoil his plans to be re-elected in January. And, if it was not due to election speculation, the fact is that Israel was not able to stop the rockets from showering Israel, even after wreaking mass havoc. So, in that sense, Israel did not win. But, did they lose? Certainly, not; in this game that has gone on far too long, there are no "winners," and the losers are the masses of people who are caught up in the fire of their politicians, who recklessly "fight in their name." 
On Gaza Affair and Regional issues, plus Hard Questions for Israel, click here

Relation between the Gaza Affair and Israeli Elections, click here
Therefore, an Israeli non-victory also does not equal a Hamas victory; something Hamas claimed, following the signing of the ceasefire.  Yes, they succeeded to hit Tel Aviv with their rockets; the last time this happened was in 1991, when during the first Gulf War Iraq fired scud missiles, much larger than the Hamas rockets. Hamas also succeeded in holding their own; but to claim that this was a victory is absurd. Especially, at what cost! During the midst of fighting, I simply did not buy Hamas’ persistence to shoot rockets into Israel as a noble resistance, and I placed it on the same level as the Israelis’ sick obsession of bombing the hell out of Gaza. The Hamas’ policy of continued resistance (shooting rockets) can only be interpreted as one of "we will go down with the ship no matter what, taking all of our passengers with us." And, for all those claiming victory, they should open their eyes and see that for Hamas, this was a major blow, but for Gaza it was much bigger.

Not Hamas, Not Israel, let the Palestinian People be the Victors  

I should hope that after all this pain and suffering that the real victors will be the Palestinian people. In four days, on November 29, 65 years after the UN declared that Palestine would be divided into a Jewish and Arab state, it is likely that Palestine is going to be recognized by the UN General Assembly as a non-member state. As it stands now, the Palestinians have a chance to win the needed 2/3 of the vote, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas set on moving forward, despite Israel’s threats to topple him if he succeeds.  Now, the time has come for the world to stand up and recognize Palestine. Yes, most likely, the United States and Europe will object or sustain; yet, if they do so, this will be a stain on these countries, especially after the Gaza operation. For US President, Barack Obama, this is gus chance to prove to the world that he is serious about reaching a comprehensive peace settlement (see former blog related to this)    

For Gaza, they urgently need the status of statehood.  Once this is achieved it will be a golden opportunity for the world to take steps to end the blockade, and second, to take responsibility to solve the real crisis in Gaza: mass poverty, unemployment, coupled with one of the highest birthrates on the planet (see below). The time has come for Gaza, regardless which government rules there, or what actions are taken, that the world take notice of the suffering that has gone on there for decades. 


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I have provided some staggering statistics below, which show the sheer desperation Gazans face on a daily basis:

Population: 1,710,257 (Gaza City is one of the most densely populated places in the whole world!)
43.8% 0-14 years of age (male 384,494/ female 363,818)
54.7% 15-63 (male 469,528/ female 448,182)
65 years and over: 2.6% (male 17,939/ female 26,296) (2012 est.)
Median Age male-17.9 years old (some statistics places this even at 14)
Infant mortality about 17/1000 births
Unemployment rate: 40% (184th country out of 201)
Poverty Rate 38%
Literacy rate: 92.4%

  • Gazan households spend 56 percent of their expenditures on food, with 52.5 percent eating lower quality food and 67 percent buying food on credit as a result of high food costs.
  • 54 percent of households face food insecurity, defined as inadequate physical, social or economic access to food. An additional 12 percent are considered vulnerable to food insecurity. Only 20 percent of Gazan households are food secure.
  • 38 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
  • Since the blockade began, the number of Palestinian refugees completely unable to secure access to food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water (‘abject poverty’) has tripled to 300,000.
  • 75 percent of households polled by the World Food Programme in the Gaza Strip received outside aid.
  • Gaza’s hospitals are at “zero stock levels” for 178 of 480 essential medications, with another 69 at low stock. Of 700 essential medical supplies, 190 are at “zero stock levels” and another 70 at low stock.
  • Due to lack of fuel, the Gaza Power Plant runs at 45 percent capacity, leading to daily blackouts of eight to twelve hours. Given this fuel shortage, 90 percent of private cars are no longer driven and of public services, only 15 percent are operational. (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, The Illegal Closure of the Gaza Strip: Collective Punishment of the Civilian Population, December 10, 2010)
  • The Gaza aquifer provides 90 percent of Gaza’s water. Only ten percent of that water meets the standards of being suitable for consumption. Water-borne diseases cause 26 percent of illnesses in Gaza.
  • Because of lack of treatment capacity and electricity, Gaza authorities must release around 80,000 cubic meters of sewage into the Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis.
  • The construction of 86,000 houses is required to meet natural growth and recover from previous Israeli invasions.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Makings Sense of Gaza Assault: Continued Stalemate between Hamas and Israel

We are well into the fifth day of the Israeli assault, named by them as “Pillar of Defense.”  Until now, no ceasefire agreement has been reached, failing to bring calm to the Strip, which has been bombed continuously since the breakout of the Israeli campaign. Parallel, the Hamas, and some fringe groups, have been able to continue to shoot rockets into Israel, with their range reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

For the Israelis, in a historical perspective, they have had it out for Hamas for years. This one-time branch of the (once radical, now mainstream) Muslim Brotherhood for years sat quietly, being used by Israel as a tool to balance out the Palestinian Liberation Organization.  However, in 1988, following the first Intifada, which took place in the Palestinian territories, occupied by Israel in 1967, Hamas started to take the lead in its opposition to the “Zionist occupiers.” Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, which immediately showed signs of failure, the Hamas became the main voice of the Palestinian opposition, which quickly radicalized opting for suicide bombers to fulfill their mission in the streets of Israel, killing hundreds of innocent citizens.

As ties between the PLO and Hamas worsened, the Palestinians, themselves were thrown into civil conflict.  Growing tensions reached a boiling point after the Palestinians elections in 2006, when Hamas received the majority vote, eventually joining together with the PLO in a National Unity government. From this point on, events have spiraled out of control. First, Israel, the US, and the European Union, refused to recognize the democratic outcome, freezing all funding and suspending relations. Then, the PLO and Hamas were thrown into months of armed conflict, with the Hamas taking over the Gaza strip in summer 2007, and setting up a mini-state. While Israel is not occupying the Gaza Strip, through their blockade, they have turned Gaza into what some call the largest open air prison.   

Gaza, at the reins of the Hamas, quickly turned into a challenge for Israel, and as tensions arose, the Hamas adopted a new strategy, the shooting of homemade rockets over the border.  These rockets over the years have turned from homemade ones to more sophisticated rockets, such as Grads, and more recently, the Iranian made Fajr 5, which were smuggled via Egypt to tunnels linked to the Strip. After less than a year-and-a-half of Hamas rule in Gaza, in late December 2008, Israel embarked on Operation Cast Lead, at an attempt to cleanse Gaza of Hamas control, which came after a three-week Israeli campaign launched in June 2006, when the Hamas was able to kidnap the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was returned in healthy condition only last year.

Operation Cast Lead in some senses was a watershed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; with Gaza battered by massive bombardment, killing over 1500, it seemed that the Palestinians had reached the lowest point since the 1948 Nakbah. For the Israelis, it will be remembered as another war of theirs, that once the dust settled, left people questioning what they achieved, and at what cost. Clearly, within months, the beaten down Hamas, collected itself together and once again proved its ability to challenge Israel.

My memory of Operation Cast Lead was one of an overly obsessed Israel, which became more entrenched once they saw the Hamas, even under mass bombardment, would not cave in. The numerous pictures of the dead were haunting, similar to ones we are seeing once again. As I write, the death toll in Gaza, which includes children, has almost reached a hundred. The flip-side is that over the five years, most Israeli children living in the south have become accustomed to the fact that they cannot play out in the open; as children in the world watch weather reports to see if rain is expected, Israeli children before playing outdoors check the forecast for rockets. And, in the event there is a direct hit, the rockets also kill, as we saw last week, when three members of an Israeli family were killed.

The question of why the Israelis decided now to set on a campaign is mind boggling (see links to related articles below). It is hard to imagine that they will be able to declare a decisive victory against Hamas, and in the end, they will sign a ceasefire not giving them any real advantage. For now, a massive ground operation seems unlikely, especially since the Israeli government, just before elections, cannot afford to have soldiers returning home in coffins. Moreover, in terms of humanity (if that is not enough, diplomatically) how can they justify a campaign, which causes massive terror over a civilian population; are the children of Gaza less entitled to life than that of Israelis?

For Hamas, I think too it is high time that they rethink their strategy.  Is all the pain and conflict inflicted by the Israeli strikes worth it, when in the end we all know a ceasefire is in the waiting? After weeks of shooting rockets at Israelis, were you surprised that they seized the moment?  Clearly, Hamas must know that they have little to gain from this short term conflict, and a long term conflict which even be worse. With Egypt electing a Muslim brotherhood backed President, could Hamas not have found better ways to promote their agenda?

Let us hope that the two sides will come to their senses and work for an immediate halt in violence. I will address in an upcoming blog what will come after a ceasefire, but what is clear is that both Israelis and Palestinians have some serious questions to ask their leaders. This might come tomorrow, or perhaps a decade from now, but clearly both sides have failed radically to promise a better future for the young generation.  

I hope I have been able to make a little sense out of this sheer madness.  


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Here are links to my previous blogs on aspects of the Gaza events:

On Regional issues and Hard Questions for Israel, click here

Relation between the Gaza Affair and Israeli Elections, click here

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Gaza Crisis: Some thoughts on Region and Questions to Israel

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, seems to have read the region well before he started the recent military campaign in Gaza. With the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Syria in the midst of a civil war, and Turkish-Israeli relations at the lowest point ever, Israel will be able to continue with their military operation with little interference.

Since the overthrowing of Hosni Mubarak, Israeli-Egyptian relations have been put to a test.  The new president, Mohammad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood which is aligned with Hamas, has had to walk a tight rope between pleasing his constituency and keeping the US satisfied. Clearly, for Israel, this marked a change; Mubarak, had been a strong ally of the Jewish state: Egypt, together with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Saudi Arabia, had unofficial alliance against Hamas, and served as a force countering Hezbollah.

Immediately before the Israeli escalation, which was set off by the assassination of the Hamas military leader, Ahmad al-Jabari, Egypt had been in the midst of writing up a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. The fact that Israel chose to disrespect the Egyptian efforts (something they did to Turkish PM Erdogan right before Operation Cast-Lead), must have outraged Morsi to no end; once the Israeli massive bombardment of the Strip began, the Egyptian ambassador to Israel was recalled. Nevertheless, just two days later it seems that all eyes are on Egpyt to broker a deal. Just this morning the Egyptian PM, Hesham Kandil, paid a visit to Gaza. On Sunday, Erdogan will be arriving for an already planned visit aimed at boosting economic ties between Egypt and Turkey, and the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon will arrive to Cairo on Tuesday.  In other words, Egypt is still in the picture and it seems that Morsi will continue to straddle the tight rope, at least in the near future. However, if the Israeli Operation turns into a long term operation, similar to Operation Cast Lead, which took place almost four years ago, Israel could be entering dangerous waters, perhaps crossing a line in which they will not be able to salvage their relations with Egypt. Of course, Israel knows this, and it seems like they will work to cut this operation short.

On Israel’s northern front, Hezbollah opted not to act during the last major Israeli operation in Gaza (it did so in the summer 2007), so it is unlikely that they will now. Especially, since there main supporter in the region, Syria, is caught up in a civil war. The fact that the Assad regime has managed to kill over 30,000 of his citizens, has taken a great deal of support away from the Palestinian cause, also making the Israelis work a bit easier. Put bluntly, who in Syria will look towards defending the Palestinian cause when they are struggling and dying on a daily basis, with almost 500,000 Syrian refugees dispersed in the surrounding countries.  As for the Hezbollah, they too know that any misguided act could throw Lebanon into chaos, something which would not serve them well for now. It seems that the Israeli government also took these issues into consideration.

Perhaps, most important of all is Turkey. During the last decade, Israeli-Turkish relations have deteriorated. While most attribute this solely to PM Erodgan, we need to keep in mind that the Turkish people have always been overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian. In fact, warm relations with Israel have always been contingent on Israel’s progress at securing a peace deal with the Palestinians. Some might be surprised that Erdogan, during the first years of his tenure, breathed new life in the relations with Israel, after his predecessor, the late (secular) Bulent Ecevit, accused Israelis of committing genocide in the Jenin Refugee camp in 2002. Now that Erdogan has taken the reins of the Turkish state away from the Turkish army command, Israel is left with no internal support. Ironically, due to Turkey’s placing Israeli-Turkish ties on hold following the Gaza Flotilla incident, there is little Turkey can do for the Palestinians. Last year, in an article published in Haaretz (translated to Turkish in Radikal), I argued that if Erdogan really wanted to help the Palestinians, he would have to strengthen his ties with Israel. The current Gaza affair has shown how true this is. With no ambassador, and minimal diplomatic ties, what can Erdogan do?

For now, it seems Erdogan will use the strengthening of relations with Egypt as a way to pressure Israel, perhaps even establishing a strategic military alliance. While some analysts are speculating that in the post Arab Spring period, Turkey and Egypt will compete for regional hegemony, we need to remember that recently Turkey loaned Egypt one billion dollars. Egypt needs Turkey, and economically, Turkey needs to branch out into new markets. Further, the loan deal should also be seen as a tide change in regional trends since for decades Egypt has relied solely on US financial support. 

Now to the Iranians; it seems that they must know that the current Israeli operation in Gaza, very well could be preparing the Israeli home front for a war with Iran.  One of the Israeli scenarios was if they went to war with Iran, Hamas would join in, causing havoc on the southern front. However, with a beaten Hamas, Israel will be able to focus on its northern front, in case Iran has Hezbollah join the escapade. Further, an obvious outcome of the current conflict, even if not planned, is with Hamas rockets falling on the Tel Aviv metropolitan are, the Israeli government will be able to assess the overall situation, if in the not too-far-future, Iran's missiles will be falling on Israel's largest population center.   

Perhaps Netanyahu, along with his FM, Avigdor Lieberman, who seems keen on wrecking all of Israeli ties with Arab and Muslim countries, might have taken all of the above scenarios into consideration. However, with all the political gambles being taken, it seems that they still are far from answering the real questions: How much longer will Israel be able to remain an isolated Middle East state, occupying Palestinian territories? Why would they exchange a peace with Egypt,  albeit a cold one, for a hostile one? Why does the current government not do more to improve their relations with Turkey, since it was Israel who led the botched Flotilla campaign. Why have they recently threatened to topple Palestinian moderates, like Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas?
If you get rid of Abbas, who will Israel speak with?

The essential question really then is what are the Israelis waiting for?  If the Israeli electorate does not wake up and pressure their leaders to work towards a comprehensive agreement they might find themselves living in a de facto bi-national state, one that will need to rely on an apartheid system to continue its existence. Time is running out, and an operation in Gaza will do little to solve Israel's real existential questions. 


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Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Escalation in Gaza: its Twitterization and how Operation Hits at the Heart of Israeli Democracy (Israeli 2013 Election Coverage, 3)

Late yesterday afternoon (in Istanbul), while doing my evening shop in a supermarket a beep came from i-phone. It was an update from Yedioth Ahronot, informing me that Israel had set off on Operation Pillar of Defense against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. I sighed, grabbed enough food to make dinner, and within minutes had returned home to see the developments. 

Twitterization of the Conflict

Well, my fears were immediately confirmed. First, turning on the BBC, news was coming in of a massive Israeli onslaught, which began with the targeted assassination of Hamas military leader, Ahmad al-Jabari.  However, as a relatively new twitter user, I knew this would provide me with good sources to see how this struggle was playing out.  In English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish, I scanned the tweets, one by one.  One tweet was from Gaza announcing bombs going off, another Gazan mentioned that rockets had just been fired at Israel; within minutes, an Israeli tweeted that sirens had just gone off in Beer Sheva. In other words, I was watching the war from my home in Istanbul, succumbed by the feeling that I was there.  Definitely, a post-modern reality. Not surprisingly, I later learned that the Israeli army first announced the beginning of the operation via their twitter account.  

I myself began to tweet in different languages. In Turkish I tweeted one thing, in Hebrew another, and English something different (need to add Arabic fonts!), trying to speak to different communities. It turned out to be a frustrating exercise since I know if I was in Israel I would have been out in the street demonstrating, shouting out in a full voice: no to escalation, no to war! Yes, by tweeting I was actually addressing a group, who I could not see. In a street demonstration, I can capture the eyes of thousands, it is real-time, with real reactions of people, some clapping and others cursing. In fact, almost four years ago, I was in Israel during Operation Cast Lead and we did that: together Jews and Palestinians, we took to the streets.

The Escalation and the Upcoming Israeli Elections

Yes, it has been four years since the last Israeli-Palestinian war in Gaza. Sadly, neither social media, nor people protesting, have succeeded in finding some way to convince both Israelis and Palestinians to give up arms and find a solution. This latest escalation is typical.  It began last week as skirmish on the Gaza-Israel border between Hamas and the Israeli army, leading to Israeli reprisal and Hamas shooting rockets into Israel’s southern cities. Which side was “first” is not important.  By targeting Jabari, Israel knew that this was a declaration of war, and rather than continuing the negotiations for a cease-fire, they escalated.

What is worrying is the timing of the escalation.  With the Israeli elections just a little over two months away, many analysts are accusing Israeli PM Netanyahu as using the onslaught to convince the Israeli people of his ability to manage a major operation, especially since he has made it clear that he believes Israel should target Iran, in the event they are close to obtaining nuclear arms. For his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, who now leads the small Atsmaut (Independence) Party, after defecting from Labor, a successful operation might actually give his party enough votes to cross the threshold to enter parliament. 

Well, we can speculate all we want, and I am sure that there was not a scenario where Netanyahu and Barak sat down and said to one another, “time to start a war.”; however, how could this not be in the back of their minds. In any case, Netanyahu must be quite confident of the operation's success since dragging in Israel to a major conflict could also lead to him losing elections. With Israel being militarily superior, this scenario seems unlikely.*

I will conclude by saying then, yes, Israel has a right to defend itself, just like the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves. However, what might be at stake here is actually the Israeli democracy itself. The truth be known, the recent escalation could have been diverted, which leads us to the simple but loaded question:

In a democracy, doesn't the launching of such an operation before an election counter the essence of a democratic system? I would say yes, and therefore argue that the timing of this operation is not only an attack on Gaza, but also on democracy and the future essence of the Israeli state.

*Israeli superiority is also related to changes in regional politics, which I will address in an upcoming blog.