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The end of an era

My grandparents, Baranovichi, Poland 1936 (Belarus today)

My 92 year old grandmother passed away in the early morning of January 1. It was no surprise, she had been unwell for a long time, and her congestive heart failure was so severe that the doctors who examined her were amazed she was still alive. But she was a stubborn woman and only went into the night when she was finally ready. During her last few days she was intubated in ICU, but still concious and aware. I could speak to her, and while she couldn’t answer, she did move her head and squeeze my hand. But most of all, I could see it in her eyes. She understood it was the end, and had no expectations of going home. In fact, I don’t think she wanted to go on at all. Life had become more effort than it was worth.

Her last few months were the hardest since she found herself unable to read the books that had been her sanctuary throughout her life. During the last few years, I would bring her new books to read every few weeks, and she enjoyed being able to talk to me about them. But in the last year it became harder for her to understand complex story lines, so I had to select books with large print, and a straightforward story.

Every Friday afternoon the family gathered for lunch with Safta, and she loved seeing her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She had a special love for Karen, even though it was usually Matan who gave her the most love. He was always affectionate with her, and she loved it.

As one friend of mine said, “it’s the end of an era”. Truly. Her life story mirrors that of many of the Eastern European Jews who survived. She spoke 8 languages, and studied Hebrew and English while still a high school student in Poland so that she would be able to make Aliya to Israel when she turned 18. Both she and my grandfather were active in Beitar, a Zionist youth group in their hometown. Five years her senior, my grandfather made Aliya to Israel in 1936 to study at the Technion in Haifa. My grandmother made Aliya 3 years later to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. They were reunited and my grandmother married her childhood sweetheart. Together they built a family, and a country, Israel, their dream.

Where are the rockets?

This infographic from Haaretz shows the current situation

U.S. officials: Securing Syria’s chemical weapons could take thousands of troops – Haaretz

My latest and greatest conspiracy theory on possible war in the Middle East came from this story:
U.S. officials: Securing Syria’s chemical weapons could take thousands of troops – Haaretz Daily Newspaper.

The United States, Israel and Western powers have been discussing the nightmarish possibility that some of Assad’s chemical weapons could make their way to militant groups – al-Qaeda style Sunni Jihadi insurgents or pro-Iranian Shi’ite Lebanese fighters from Hezbollah.

Some Western intelligence sources suggested that Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, both close allies of Syria, might try to get hold of the chemical weapons in the case of a total collapse of government authority.”

So perhaps all this talk of war which appears aimed at preparing Israelis for a major operation by yakking across all media about taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities, something everyone agrees won’t actually stop Iran from getting nukes, has a different goal, to prepare public opinion for something else, not a direct attack on Iran, but a ground mission to temporarily secure Syria’s WMD sites (horribly long sentence, my apologies). But then what? How can Israel hold on to them in unfriendly territory until an international force or new Syrian government can safely contain them. Barring a containment plan, it seems unlikely that anyone will be able to keep all kinds of weapons from disappearing in the eventual collapse of the Assad regime, including the most lethal. Only fanatics would be crazy enough to try and handle the stuff on their own, so it will likely be fanatics who get hold of the stuff.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could rely on the Arab League to secure them? Not that it would be in Israel’s interest, but from a global perspective, it would seem to be their responsibility when one of their member states fail.

Ok, I know it’s a completely unrealistic scenario. After leaving Lebanon, Ehud Barak isn’t going to want even a small mission into Syria. They hate us, and no Arab country would thank us for securing the WMD. The opposite, they would accuse Israel of using it as an excuse for imperialism, colonialism, and a bunch of other -isms. Better the US should let the Turks take care of it. Maybe Israel’s challenge will be to sit on the sidelines, and hold tight borders while the Turks secure, and probably acquire, Assad’s WMD.

PS, I will be pissed if Debka takes my idea and runs with it.

Vote for Palestine, per my six year old

Karen, “I hope they give them a state”.
Me, “why do you think they should have a state?”.
Her, “because then we won’t have to fight with them anymore.”

Shin Bet: extreme rightists organizing into terror groups – Haaretz

I’ve been following the Arab Spring since @Sandmonkey first posted about Khaled Said’s vicious death at the hands of a brutal Egyptian police force. Sa’id was simply picked at random and beaten to death in an act that may have sparked the Egyptian Spring. I’ve been studying the opinions of the Arab elite online. I define them as the elite because they are educated, plugged in and have excellent English communication skills. But in so many cases, I am disappointed when I see the elite engaging in hysterical anti-Israel conspiracy theories and maintaining a closed mind when parroting classic Arab propaganda talking points. One blog in that category is @Zeinobia blog.

Last year I blogged about the dearth of English language Palestinian blogs written by Palestinians living in West Bank and Gaza. There were plenty of Palestinian bloggers living elsewhere, but I was really interested in the opinions of people living the reality. Today there are many English language Palestinian bloggers and Tweeps. I follow some to try and better understand their view and why they hate us so much. I can’t help but take it personally when I see so much hate directed at me simply for being a citizen of Israel. They feel the same way when they read posts by extreme right wing Israelis and supporters.

Today, as the rift between Israeli and Palestinian seems wider than ever, our homegrown terror groups seem to be gaining strength and audacity. More than their aggression, I worry that like the Arabs, most Israelis find it hard to condemn their religious right against the “enemy”. This makes it impossible to view the situation from the POV of the Arabs. I use “Arabs” rather than Palestinians because it appears that the hatred towards Israel is held among Arabs, almost universally. Likewise, there are few Israelis, myself included, who can see the Palestinian side as clearly as leftist Israeli Tweep, @ibnezra.

The Ha’aretz article linked here just made me further aware of how much hate is being generated by each act. We can’t control what the other side does, but we should be able to control what we do. It’s scary to be an Israeli when the news reports that “a left-wing activist was apparently the latest “price tag” victim…The incident follows last week’s vandalism attack on an IDF base in the West Bank, in apparent revenge for the demolition of unauthorized Jewish construction in settlement outposts there.” If the extremists can target their own armed forces, there to protect them, then how can I not believe any other behavior attributed to them?

Needless to say, it’s embarrassing to be associated with Israelis who are reported to be responsible for “a marked rise in acts of violence against mosques and Palestinian property”. This behavior makes it impossible to believe denials and claims of self defense when the same settlers are suspected of unprovoked physical violence against Palestinians.

Shin Bet: Israel’s extreme rightists organizing into terror groups – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

No one got shot boycotting cottage cheese

First we boycotted cottage cheese because the producers where charging too much, then we sat in tents to demonstrate against the high cost of housing in Israel, and the complete inability of the average salaried worker to own a decent home.

Soaring food prices and outrageous housing costs are problems in many countries. It seems like Israelis are ignoring the elephant in the room to make a big deal over economic issues that are affecting consumers worldwide.

The Arab Spring showed all in our region, that when people are oppressed by a dictatorship they will risk it all to fight for change and relative freedom. Look at the Syrians, braving live fire to take to the streets, and getting killed for their desire for freedom.

It is telling that Israel translated that into consumer activism, which while noble on it’s own, seems ludicrous in a region where the daily news reports on war, missiles, armies and military preparedness. Clearly we need to learn to deal with the primary issue facing our nation, and that is the Palestinian issue. I believe that Israelis aren’t engaging in that discussion expressly because they are afraid to address the real issues. It’s much easier to demonstrate against the government than it will be for us to engage each other in the real issue of final borders, Jerusalem, and most importantly, how to deal with extremists, ours as well as theirs. Those are the real issues facing Israel. Affordable housing is important, but not existential.

Egypt to permanently open Rafah crossing with Gaza on Saturday – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

Looks like things will get real interesting, real fast. Maybe it will be a good thing for everyone. It will end both the recurring flotilla crises and the blockade complaints. If everything can come and go via Rafah, then Gaza can no longer complain that it lacks goods or anything it needs to succeed. “The Occupation” would no longer be an issue in terms of their day to day living standards. Of course, we do hope our partners in peace, the Egyptians, monitor their borders carefully to ensure no military contraband gets across. Tunnels can still be used for smuggling weapons and drugs.

Egypt to permanently open Rafah crossing with Gaza on Saturday – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

The Arab Risings, Israel and Hamas | STRATFOR

By George Friedman

There was one striking thing missing from the events in the Middle East in past months: Israel. While certainly mentioned and condemned, none of the demonstrations centered on the issue of Israel. Israel was a side issue for the demonstrators, with the focus being on replacing unpopular rulers.

This is odd. Since even before the creation of the state of Israel, anti-Zionism has been a driving force among the Arab public, perhaps more than it has been with Arab governments. While a few have been willing to develop open diplomatic relations with Israel, many more have maintained informal relations: Numerous Arab governments have been willing to maintain covert relations with Israel, with extensive cooperation on intelligence and related matters. They have been unwilling to incur the displeasure of the Arab masses through open cooperation, however.

That makes it all the more strange that the Arab opposition movements — from Libya to Bahrain — have not made overt and covert cooperation with Israel a central issue, if for no other reason than to mobilize the Arab masses. Let me emphasize that Israel was frequently an issue, but not the central one. If we go far back to the rise of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his revolution for Pan-Arabism and socialism, his issues against King Farouk were tightly bound with anti-Zionism. Similarly, radical Islamists have always made Israel a central issue, yet it wasn’t there in this round of unrest. This was particularly surprising with regimes like Egypt’s, which had formal relations with Israel.

It is not clear why Israel was not a rallying point. One possible explanation is that the demonstrations in the Islamic world were focused on unpopular leaders and regimes, and the question of local governance was at their heart. That is possible, but particularly as the demonstrations faltered, invoking Israel would have seemed logical as a way to legitimize their cause. Another explanation might have rested in the reason that most of these risings failed, at least to this point, to achieve fundamental change. They were not mass movements involving all classes of society, but to a great extent the young and the better educated. This class was more sophisticated about the world and understood the need for American and European support in the long run; they understood that including Israel in their mix of grievances was likely to reduce Western pressure on the risings’ targets. We know of several leaders of the Egyptian rising, for example, who were close to Hamas yet deliberately chose to downplay their relations. They clearly were intensely anti-Israeli but didn’t want to make this a crucial issue. In the case of Egypt, they didn’t want to alienate the military or the West. They were sophisticated enough to take the matter step by step.

Hamas’ Opportunity

A second thing was missing from the unrest: There was no rising, no intifada, in the Palestinian territories. Given the general unrest sweeping the region, it would seem logical that the Palestinian public would have pressed both the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Hamas to organize massive demonstrations against Israel. This didn’t happen.

This clearly didn’t displease the PNA, which had no appetite for underwriting another intifada that would have led to massive Israeli responses and disruption of the West Bank’s economy. For Hamas in Gaza, however, it was a different case. Hamas was trapped by the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. This blockade limited its ability to access weapons, as well as basic supplies needed to build a minimally functioning economy. It also limited Hamas’ ability to build a strong movement in the West Bank that would challenge Fatah’s leadership of the PNA there.

Hamas has been isolated and trapped in Gaza. The uprising in Egypt represented a tremendous opportunity for Hamas, as it promised to create a new reality in Gaza. If the demonstrators had succeeded not only in overthrowing Hosni Mubarak but also in forcing true regime change — or at least forcing the military to change its policy toward Hamas — the door could have opened for Hamas to have increased dramatically its power and its room to maneuver. Hamas knew that it had supporters among a segment of the demonstrators and that the demonstrators wanted a reversal of Egyptian policy on Israel and Gaza. They were content to wait, however, particularly as the PNA was not prepared to launch an intifada in the West Bank and because one confined to Gaza would have had little effect. So they waited.

For Hamas, a shift in Egyptian policy was the opening that would allow them to become militarily and politically more effective. It didn’t happen. The events of the past few months have shown that while the military wanted Mubarak out, it was not prepared to break with Israel or shift its Gaza policy. Most important, the events thus far have shown that the demonstrators were in no position to force the Egyptian military to do anything it didn’t want to do. Beyond forcing Mubarak out and perhaps having him put on trial, the basic policies of his regime remained in place.

Over the last few weeks, it became apparent to many observers, including the Hamas leadership, that what they hoped for in Egypt was either not going to happen any time soon or perhaps not at all. At the same time, it was obvious that the movement in the Arab world had not yet died out. If Hamas could combine the historical animosity toward Israel in the Arab world with the current unrest, it might be able to effect changes in policy not only in Egypt but also in the rest of the Arab world, a region that, beyond rhetoric, had become increasingly indifferent to the Palestinian cause.

Gaza has become a symbol in the Arab world of Palestinian resistance and Israeli oppression. The last war in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, has become used as a symbol in the Arab world and in Europe to generate anti-Israeli sentiment. Interestingly, Richard Goldstone, lead author of a report on the operation that severely criticized Israel, retracted many of his charges last week. One of the Palestinians’ major achievements was shaping public opinion in Europe over Cast Lead via the Goldstone Report. Its retraction was therefore a defeat for Hamas.

In the face of the decision by Arab demonstrators not to emphasize Israel, in the face of the apparent failure of the Egyptian rising to achieve definitive policy changes, and in the face of the reversal by Goldstone of many of his charges, Hamas clearly felt that it not only faced a lost opportunity, but it was likely to face a retreat in Western public opinion (albeit the latter was a secondary consideration).

The Advantage of Another Gaza Conflict for Hamas

Another Israeli assault on Gaza might generate forces that benefit Hamas. In Cast Lead, the Egyptian government was able to deflect calls to stop its blockade of Gaza and break relations with Israel. In 2011, it might not be as easy for them to resist in the event of another war. Moreover, with the uprising losing steam, a war in Gaza might re-energize Hamas, using what would be claimed as unilateral brutality by Israel to bring far larger crowds into the street and forcing a weakened Egyptian regime to make the kinds of concessions that would matter to Hamas.

Egypt is key for Hamas. Linked to an anti-Israel, pro-Hamas Cairo, the Gaza Strip returns to its old status as a bayonet pointed at Tel Aviv. Certainly, it would be a base for operations and a significant alternative to Fatah. But a war would benefit Hamas more broadly. For example, Turkey’s view of Gaza has changed significantly since the 2010 flotilla incident in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish civilians on a ship headed for Gaza. Turkey’s relationship with Israel could be further weakened, and with Egypt and Turkey both becoming hostile to Israel, Hamas’ position would improve. If Hamas could cause Hezbollah to join the war from the north then Israel would be placed in a challenging military position perhaps with the United States, afraid of a complete breakdown of its regional alliance system, forcing Israel to accept an unfavorable settlement.

Hamas had the same means for starting a war it had before Cast Lead and that Hezbollah had in 2006. It can still fire rockets at Israel. For the most part, these artillery rockets — homemade Qassams and mortars, do no harm. But some strike Israeli targets, and under any circumstances, the constant firing drives home the limits of Israeli intelligence to an uneasy Israeli public — Israel doesn’t know where the missiles are stored and can’t take them out. Add to this the rocket that landed 20 miles south of Tel Aviv and Israeli public perceptions of the murder of most of a Jewish family in the West Bank, including an infant, and it becomes clear that Hamas is creating the circumstances under which the Israelis have no choice but to attack Gaza.

Outside Intervention

After the first series of rocket attacks, two nations intervened. Turkey fairly publicly intervened via Syria, persuading Hamas to halt its attacks. Turkey understood the fragility of the Arab world and was not interested in the uprising receiving an additional boost from a war in Gaza. The Saudis also intervened. The Saudis provide the main funding for Hamas via Syria and were themselves trying to stabilize the situation from Yemen to Bahrain on its southern and eastern border; it did not want anything adding fuel to that fire. Hamas accordingly subsided.

Hamas then resumed its attack this weekend. We don’t know its reasoning, but we can infer it: Whatever Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria or anyone else wanted, this was Hamas’ historic opportunity. If Egypt returns to the status quo, Hamas returns to its trap. Whatever their friends or allies might say, missing this historic opportunity would be foolish for it. A war would hurt, but a defeat could be turned into a political victory.

It is not clear what the Israelis’ limit is. Clearly, they are trying to avoid an all-out assault on Gaza, limiting their response to a few airstrikes. The existence of Iron Dome, a new system to stop rockets, provides Israel some psychological comfort, but it is years from full deployment, and its effectiveness is still unknown. The rockets can be endured only so long before an attack. And the Goldstone reversal gives the Israelis a sense of vindication that gives them more room for maneuver.

Hamas appears to have plenty of rockets, and it will use them until Israel responds. Hamas will use the Israeli response to try to launch a broader Arab movement focused both on Israel and on regimes that openly or covertly collaborate with Israel. Hamas hopes above all to bring down the Egyptian regime with a newly energized movement. Israel above all does not want this to happen. It will resist responding to Hamas as long as it can, but given the political situation in Israel, its ability to do so is limited — and that is what Hamas is counting on.

For the United States and Europe, the merger of Islamists and democrats is an explosive combination. Apart, they do little. Together, they could genuinely destabilize the region and even further undermine the U.S. effort against jihadists. The United States and Europe want Israel to restrain itself but cannot restrain Hamas. Another war, therefore, is not out of the question — and in the end, the decision to launch one rests with Hamas.

The Arab Risings, Israel and Hamas is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

And again…please don’t let it be Intifada3

Just when I get all optimistic about potential for peace with our Arab neighbors, and when the entire Arab world is using non violent demonstrations to achieve political goals, somehow they can’t seem to integrate the success of these non-violent approaches to their war with Israel.

I didn’t notice the creep, but yesterday in the elevator, my neighbor said, “Here we go again. It started with the massacre of a family in Itamar and continued with more than 50 rockets fired into Israel over the weekend. Yesterday it was clear that things wouldn’t return to normal when bus bombings, a symbol of the last Intifada, returned to Jerusalem.

A week ago I was posting about Palestinian unity. Before that, I wrote about how great it was to see the “Arab Street”, achieve political change in non-violent demonstrations. I expressed hope that this success would bring the Palestinians to a decision to try and achieve their national aspirations non-violently. Apparently not going to happen, this round, at least.

Tweeting Palestinian unity

Twitter has given me insight into the mindset of many of the leaders of the currant Arab revolutions. Many are calling them Facebook or Internet revolutions because much of the planning support and especially the reporting from the actual scene of unfolding events is all taking place online, in real time.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the one feature that stood out to me, was the ability of the crowds in Egypt to maintain a non-violent stance in the face of police brutality. This model is now repeating itself in other Arab countries and in the Palestinian territories. Via Twitter, I read about plans for peaceful demonstrations in Gaza and Ramallah. While the demonstrators may have intended peaceful rallies, those in power had other ideas. In Gaza the ruling Hamas attacked demonstrators, while in Ramallah it was the Fatah/Palestinian Authority that used force against them.

What were they demonstrating about that so angered both Hamas and Fatah?
For unity. The Palestinians are tired of sectarianism and want to maintain a united front against Israel. Apparently neither Hamas nor Fatah appreciate this attempt at creating a unified Palestinian people.

Just think, if the Palestinians take the lessons learned in Egypt, and apply them against the Israel. True, demonstrations occur regularly at the border fence with Israel, but they are limited in scope and location. During Intifada II, there was one point where Hanan Ashrawi called on Palestinian women to march non violently. But her voice was drowned out in the series of suicide bombings that wracked Israel at the time. Palestinians seemed to honor martyrs much more than anyone trying a non-violent approach.

Now that they’ve seen the success of a popular revolution in Egypt, I think it more likely that they will adopt a similar method for regime change. In my opinion, Israel can have no real response to a non violent revolution and declaration of statehood. Palestinians have a window of opportunity that may not remain open for very long.