If Only We Could Will Amnesia

In our tradition, we “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” We call forth visions of a time, as we pray, when broken things will be made whole, when strife will cease, when the world will be at peace. We imagine an idealized Jerusalem whose streets are filled with the celebration of brides and grooms and the shouts of children at play. We have seen those streets filled will joy and celebration time and again since the founding of the modern nation of Israel. Yet, the reality that we see before us today is not that Jerusalem, but one filled with darker emotions and too often mourning.

Rav Joseph Soloveitchik said that:

The student of Torah is like the amnesia victim who tries to reconstruct from fragments the beautiful world he once experienced.

We have experienced a taste of Messianic Era Jerusalem: joyous celebrations of life in the Western Wall Plaza, the walls of Old City lit up with colorful lights by the Jaffa Gate, crowded streets filled with people from around the world, of all races, of all faiths, living together. Prayers and songs offered in innumerable languages have risen to the heavens each day, advancing hope for the coming of that day. We long to reconstruct that Jerusalem from memory or to construct it from visions.

Today, we would like to forget for a while, to let go. If only we could remove from our minds the visions of brutality and hatred, blood stained prayers for peace, the sounds of gunfire and the ensuing screams of agony and pain from the families of teachers of Torah, who were viciously torn from the world as they prayed for the reconstruction of its beauty. Would that we could forget their deaths and all of the anger and hatred. If only we could will amnesia upon ourselves.

But for now, let us remember those who perished literally Kidush Hashem, as they sanctified God’s name, in the midst of offering T’filah this morning in Har Nof, only few kilometers north of Yad Vashem:

Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky.

Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg.

Rabbi Kalman Levine.

and

Rabbi Moshe Twersky, grandson of Rav Joseph Soloveitchik.

May we also remember a hero, Officer Zidan Saif of the Druze village of Yanuh-Jat, the first police officer on the scene of the attack, who died this afternoon from injuries suffered this morning.

May their names be remembered for a blessing.

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J Street’s Absurd Manipulation of Poll Data

J Street is one of the worst offenders I have ever seen when it comes to misrepresenting statistics for political purposes. On election night, it conducted a poll about which it is has published conclusions.
Here’s what J Street says about support for an Iran deal

And here’s what it says about support for an “Active” US role in the peace process

J Street also said in an email sent out to supporters that by 2 to 1 American Jews feel that Netanyahu’s policies are hurting the US-Israel relationship.
I strongly urge those concerned to look at the actual poll upon which its recent Tweets and statement are based, but I will do my best to offer insights on the poll itself. It can be found at this link or at the address below.
Let’s start with the “Active Role” question. Here is the poll question and results.
Q.32 Now, something different. Do you support or oppose the United States playing an active role in
helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict?
Total
Strongly support …………………………………………………………….43
Somewhat support…………………………………………………………..42
Somewhat oppose …………………………………………………………..10
Strongly oppose ………………………………………………………………6
Total Support……………………………………………………………….85
Total Oppose ………………………………………………………………..15
Support – Oppose ………………………………………………………….69
What does “SOMEWHAT SUPPORT” mean? If that means, NOT PRESSURING ISRAEL. Then you could add to it “Somewhat Oppose” and “Strongly Oppose” and conclude that 57% oppose the pressuring of Israel that J Street supports. But wait a minute! Helping the parties could be primarily pressuring the Palestinians and barely criticizing the Israelis! So even concluding that 43% support the kind of role for which J Street advocates would be incorrect!
The next four questions are not only more telling, but DAMNING:
Q.33 (SPLIT A) Would you support or oppose the United States playing an active role in helping the
parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict if it meant the United States publicly stating its disagreements
with both the Israelis and the Arabs?
Total
Strongly support …………………………………………………………….32
Somewhat support…………………………………………………………..41
Somewhat oppose …………………………………………………………..18
Strongly oppose ……………………………………………………………..10
Total Support……………………………………………………………….72
Total Oppose ………………………………………………………………..28
Support – Oppose ………………………………………………………….45
(ref:USROLEB)
[400 Respondents]
Q.34 (SPLIT B) Would you support or oppose the United States playing an active role in helping the
parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict if it meant the United States publicly stating its disagreements
with Israel?
Total
Strongly support …………………………………………………………….17
Somewhat support…………………………………………………………..31
Somewhat oppose …………………………………………………………..28
Strongly oppose ……………………………………………………………..24
Total Support……………………………………………………………….48
Total Oppose ………………………………………………………………..52
Support – Oppose ………………………………………………………….-3
Respondents clearly do not strongly support publicly criticizing Israel, much less pressuring Israel as is seen in question 36 below.
Q.35 (SPLIT A) Would you support or oppose the United States playing an active role in helping the
parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict if it meant the United States exerting pressure on both the
Israelis and Arabs to make the compromises necessary to achieve peace?
Total
Strongly support …………………………………………………………….32
Somewhat support…………………………………………………………..42
Somewhat oppose …………………………………………………………..16
Strongly oppose ……………………………………………………………..10
Total Support……………………………………………………………….74
Total Oppose ………………………………………………………………..26
Support – Oppose ………………………………………………………….48
(ref:USROLEC)
[400 Respondents]
Q.36 (SPLIT B) Would you support or oppose the United States playing an active role in helping the
parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict if it meant the United States exerting pressure on Israel to make
the compromises necessary to achieve peace?
Total
Strongly support …………………………………………………………….19
Somewhat support…………………………………………………………..28
Somewhat oppose …………………………………………………………..29
Strongly oppose ……………………………………………………………..24
Total Support……………………………………………………………….46
Total Oppose ………………………………………………………………..54
Support – Oppose ………………………………………………………….-8
(ref:USROLEC1)
And look at the questions about the Gaza war!
Q.38 Do you approve or disapprove of Israel’s military action, known as Operation Protective Edge, that
took place in Gaza this summer?
Total
Strongly approve…………………………………………………………….47
Somewhat approve………………………………………………………….33
Somewhat disapprove………………………………………………………15
Strongly disapprove …………………………………………………………5
Total Approve ………………………………………………………………80
Total Disapprove…………………………………………………………..20
Approve – Disapprove ……………………………………………………61
(ref:PEAPP)
Q.39 Regardless of whether you approve or disapprove of the military action that Israel took in Gaza this
summer, do you think it made Israel more secure, less secure, or had no impact on Israel’s security?
Total
More secure…………………………………………………………………..55
Less secure ……………………………………………………………………14
No impact……………………………………………………………………..31
More secure – Less secure……………………………………………….41
80% strongly or somewhat approve with Israel’s actions in the Gaza war with most of those being “STRONGLY Approve.”
Now for another “Aha!” moment! J Street said 84% of respondents supported A DEAL WITH IRAN. Look at the poll question below! J Street’s poll question isn’t even remotely close to how they presented the data!!! They published the data as if the question were for ANY deal. This question if for a highly restrictive deal!
Q.43 Now, imagine that the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, China, Russia, and Iran reach a final
agreement, which restricts Iran’s enrichment of uranium to levels that are suitable for civilian energy
purposes only, and places full-time international inspectors at Iranian nuclear facilities to make sure that
Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. Under this agreement, the United States and our allies will reduce
sanctions on Iran as Iran meets the compliance benchmarks of the agreement. Would you support or
oppose this agreement?
Total
Strongly support …………………………………………………………….32
Somewhat support…………………………………………………………..52
Somewhat oppose ……………………………………………………………9
Strongly oppose ………………………………………………………………6
Total Support……………………………………………………………….84
Total Oppose ………………………………………………………………..16
Support – Oppose …….
And regarding Netanyahu’s policies and harm to US-Israel relations, here’s the real question and its responses.
Q.49 Now, something different. Do you think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies have helped
Israel’s relations with the United States, hurt Israel’s relations with the United States, or had no impact on
Israel’s relations with the United States?
Total
Helped …………………………………………………………………………21
Hurt …………………………………………………………………………….40
No impact……………………………………………………………………..40
Helped – Hurt…………..
This data means that 61% feel that Netanyahu’s policies either have improved relations or had no impact versus only roughly 40% who disagree and there is no measure of the extent of that disagreement. In other words, there is no way to know how much people feel like Netanyahu’s policies have harmed the relationship. Furthermore, a blatantly obvious question is missing. Where is the question about whether or not they feel that President Obama’s policies have helped, hurt, or had no impact on the US-Israel relationship? That might have been interesting to know, unless they deliberately didn’t want to know the answer. My guess is that many people will put some blame on both sides if given the option.
This poll was conducted and then interpreted in such a way as to lead to false and misleading conclusions about the views of the American Jewish community regarding Israel. It is shameful.
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The State of the Peace Process. What is a Reasonable Resolution?

Palestinian Observer State officials are threatening to bring a resolution before the UN Security Council that essentially calls for all of their demands to be met. The US will veto the proposal. Nothing will be accomplished. The only result will be that the Palestinian side will make it once again appear that the US is protecting Israel from having to make concessions for peace. The reality continues to be that what is possible for Israel to concede in regard to resolutions of the conflict is not enough for the Palestinian side to prioritize reaching an agreement over and above continuing to fight; and what is demanded by the Palestinian side is seen as more harmful by Israeli leaders than continuing to face violence and anti-Israel activism.

The idea that there is an obvious solution to the conflict with generally agreed upon parameters misrepresents the reality. Here are five major issues:

  1. There is no solution that addresses the reality in Jerusalem that can please both sides and there are many solutions that would result in nightmare scenarios for the future.
  2. While the “Right of Return” of Palestinian refugees to homes in Israel is almost certainly not a viable possibility, no alternative is likely to be politically, much less religiously, acceptable to Palestinians.
  3. There may have been discussions about “territorial swaps based on the 1967 lines,” but there are numerous problems that are obfuscated by that simple summation.
  4. Movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank may be necessary for Palestinian unity, but it is a security nightmare for both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
  5. Finally, Israeli control over the Jordanian border seems to be mandatory for the foreseeable future in order to meet current security concerns.

Let’s start by looking at the last of the five. International forces have all failed miserably to halt sectarian violence. Suggestions that any such force could step in and prevent Islamic militants from moving into the West Bank and causing problems for both the Palestinian Authority and Israel are laughable. International forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Sinai, Sudan and other places in the region have proven incompetent in maintaining security, preventing rearming of militant groups, or even in preventing major wars and genocides. This means that any agreement will necessarily have Israeli troops on the Jordanian border for a long time into the future.

Movement between the northern and southern West Bank could be easily ensured, even if access between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea was maintained. However, with the level of militancy in Gaza at present, traffic between the Palestinian territories will need to be closely monitored. There is no way that people could simply be allowed to travel through Israeli territory on their way to and from Gaza at this point. Remember that Egypt currently has sealed off its own border with Gaza because of threats coming from Gaza and that Israel has fought multiple wars with militant groups based in Gaza. There are ways to substantially increase economic cooperation between the territories, but because of the weaponry available in Gaza, all shipments will need to be closely monitored for years going forward from a peace agreement.

The basis of the idea of “territorial swaps” is that the Palestinians need enough territory and the proper kind of territory to form a viable state. It is not that the Palestinians are entitled to all of what was Jordanian occupied territory 1948-1967. The latter concept is an impediment to  negotiations for, among other reasons, because it violates the most basic concept of the negotiations. Israel must have secure borders after a peace agreement. Without them, future violence is ensured and any agreement that the two sides reach will not be worth the paper on which it is written. The 1967 lines were far from secure.

The Separation Barrier, with some possible exceptions, runs along the path that provides the necessary security against terrorism that Israel requires. Thus it is the current route of the Separation Barrier, not the 1967 lines, that is the most viable basis for negotiations. There are opportunities for that path to be altered during negotiations and some Israeli settlements may end up on the Palestinian side following such negotiations.

The idea of “territorial swaps” itself is problematic because it specifically implies two falsehoods. First, it implies that the Palestinians have a right to negotiate from a position that they never held, namely authoritative control over the West Bank, and that their claim to that much land, much less all of that specific land, is superior to Israel’s claim to it. While there may be public sentiment to that effect across much of the world, it is a legal fiction. Control of the land is an obviously essential characteristic of any valid claim to it. Legal control passed from the Ottomans to the British to Jordan to Israel with each in turn applying its own national laws to the territory, demonstrating control. Moreover, the concept of “territorial swaps” would involve trading one piece of land for another. Would the Palestinians really consider land near Gaza or abutting the southern West Bank as equivalent to neighborhoods around Jerusalem or in the Galilee? Of course not. The presentation of this concept as a basis for negotiations is then extremely flawed.

The Right of Return would seem to be the easiest of the problems to overcome. There is no way that Israel can bring in hundreds of thousands, much less several million, Palestinians and maintain the character of Israel as a Jewish state. Neither can Israel bring in hundreds of thousands of people hostile to its existence and not face civil war and strife. Reasonable alternatives to the Right of Return include restitution, but any financial settlement for properties would likely be far less than actual value today and would certainly not be preferable in many cases to ownership of the land. By way of comparison, Holocaust survivors have received millions of dollars in restitution for losses which at the time of the restitution agreement were worth well into the tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars.

Finally, there is no resolution to the situation of Jerusalem that will please both sides and there are few solutions that will maintain the security of the city, its economic and civic viability, and access to its archaeological and holy sites for people of all faiths. Jews will be able to securely access the Old City of Jerusalem with its holy sites only if they remain under Israeli sovereignty.

Furthermore, there is no way to maintain security in the area of the holy basin, the area centered on the Temple Mount, unless Israel controls the entire basin from the top of the hill of the Mount of Olives to the west. Neither is it possible for Silwan, to the south of the Temple Mount, to be under Palestinian control for the same reason. To be honest, the entirety of City-of-David-connected Silwan should be a nationally controlled archaeological park and a major tourist site. The area between the northern access to the Temple mount and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus also must realistically remain under Israeli sovereignty or Hebrew University will be cut off from the rest of Jerusalem.

One could argue, and many do, that the neighborhood of Isawiya, northeast of Mount Scopus, could be put under Palestinian sovereignty along with areas to the southeast of Silwan such as Abu Dis. The area known as E1, between the large Jerusalem suburb of Malei Adumim and Mount Scopus, also abuts Abu Dis and is an obvious connector between the southern and the northern West Bank.

E1 is an area that would make sense to be included in the territory of each side, but to place it on either side of a barrier would create a major problem. If it is on the Palestinian side, Malei Adumim becomes an island, surrounded by Palestinian territory. No Israeli government could allow this. If E1 remains Israeli, someone traveling from Bethlehem to Ramallah through Abu Dis and Anata would have to travel at least ten additional miles to do so, going around Malei Adumim unless a road were constructed that allowed for travelers to cross from south to north through E1. Such a road or tunnel would become essential in such a scenario. Meanwhile, northern Jerusalem’s near suburbs like Ramat Shlomo are certain to remain on the Israeli side in any reasonable peace agreement.

What is holding up an agreement is not any possible concession from Israel, but a willingness on the part of the Palestinian side to admit the reality of what I discussed above. This means that no amount of pressure brought on Israel by European nations or the United States can realistically do anything to advance the peace process. The only affect of such pressure is harm to Israel. In order to advance the peace process, America and European nations need to help the Palestinian side reach an understanding of a reasonable resolution that is viable.

For the most part, Israel has already accepted what it can and must concede for peace. The question is simply, “Will the Palestinian side choose to accept it at the negotiating table if it is offered?” The answer to that depends on which is more painful, accepting a peace they don’t like or continuing to fight a battle that cannot be won and at the cost of suffering and death in every generation.

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No Cause for Celebration

This morning’s Ynet carried an AFP banner photograph of a Palestinian child brandishing a semi-automatic weapon as Gaza celebrated its “victory” over Israel in the recent war of attrition. 

In its never ending campaign of deception, Hamas seeks to persuade war weary Gazans that it was all worthwhile, that the borders will now be open to free trade and that an airport and seaport will be constructed.

The inability of the Palestinian leadership to face facts and come to terms with the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East will continue to lead them down a path paved with delusion, frustration and disappointment.

Gazans have paid an incredibly high price for having once again chosen to rain rockets down on Israel’s cities and kibbutzim. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed and much larger numbers injured. They and their families will bear the physical and emotional scars of this war for the rest of their lives.

They say it will take up to 10 years to repair the damage caused to infrastructure, homes and commercial properties in a war that lasted just 50 days.

Meanwhile, the mood in Israel is not one of celebration. While the rockets and the mortars have ceased and air raid sirens are no longer sending us rushing to our shelters, there is nevertheless a sense that the outcome of Operation Defensive Edge was not clear-cut or decisive and that this could have been just another round in a never ending conflict.

People are looking at Israel’s military and civilian casualties and are wondering what has really been achieved and at what a price in both human and material terms. Hamas was not forced to surrender unilaterally much to the disappointment not only of many in Israel but also of Egypt’s military rulers.

Israel cannot afford to return to the status quo ante. Next time Hamas will have more sophisticated rockets and other weaponry and will be better placed to target Israel’s civilian population.

Had not Amir Peretz faced down skeptics and pushed for the development of the Iron Dome rocket interceptor system during his term as Minister of Defence, the current war would have turned out very differently. Israel would have had no alternative other than to launch a ground offensive and many more soldiers would have lost their lives.

It is significant that Prime Minister Netanyahu did not bring the proposed current ceasefire to his Cabinet for approval. Had he done so, he would not have found the majority he needed.

Now all will depend upon the outcome of indirect negotiations scheduled for next month. Israel cannot afford to accede to Hamas’ demands for an airport and seaport without placing the nation in serious danger. Were the Palestinians to agree to Israel’s demand for a demilitarized Gaza Strip, it would be another matter. However, that isn’t about to happen. 

If any progress is to be made, it will have to take place in a much broader political context in which the Palestinian aspiration for statehood is addressed and Israel’s legitimate security concerns are met.

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“We reject this State that calls itself Israel”

On Saturday 2 August 2014 George Galloway, MP for Bradford West, attended a political party meeting of the far-left in Leeds, Yorkshire. With the Palestinian flag draped behind him, he proclaimed:

We have declared Bradford an Israel-free zone. We don’t want any Israeli goods. We don’t want any Israeli services. We don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or the college. We don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford, even if any of them had thought of doing so. We reject this illegal, barbarous, savage state that calls itself Israel. And you have to do the same.

(With respect, having visited Bradford frequently, I think it hardly unlikely that any Israeli tourist would wish to add it to the list of places in the UK worth visiting!)

It is that same maverick George Galloway who visited Iraq in 1994 and delivered a speech to Saddam Hussein, which concluded with the words: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”

According to a 2011 census, Bradford’s population is close to 30% Asian or Asian British. It has the third highest percentage of South Asians of any city in England and Wales. Given the number of Muslims living there, Mr. Galloway’s remarks about Israel will no doubt have been well received by many of his constituents. However, he has a problem.

It is reported that Israeli water treatment company “Mapal” has provided its technological solutions to Anglian Water, supplying around 6 million homes, and Thames Water supplying around 14 million customers in the London area. What is Mr. Galloway going to drink when he is at Westminster representing Bradford West?!

However, that is not the point. As Europe’s Muslim population continues to grow, politicians will increasingly be challenged to define their position on the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Defending Israel is not going to be popular and that will impact, as it already has, upon Europe’s relationship with the Jewish State.

Returning to Mr. Galloway; if he were not the biased, bigoted person that he is, he would surely sit down with Israelis and hear their views on the Middle East conflict. However, that is not about to happen. Already back in October last year he walked out  of an Oxford University debate declaring: “I don’t debate with Israelis.”

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Why Does Hamas Fight?

Why Does Hamas fight?

Every time Hamas fights, the West pressures Israel to give them a concession to stop. This encourages Hamas to keep fighting rather than to negotiate, strengthens them in their ability to fight, and harms Israel in the long run. Israel has generally given in.

But not this time. The cost for Israel to continue this game is too high. Any circumstance in which Hamas is strengthened will result in the death of more Israelis and Israel is obligated to prevent that.

The way to bring peace to both peoples and promote prosperity for the people of Gaza is to completely nullify any hope that violence will result in progress. Moves toward peace must be met with improvement for sure. Yet moves toward violence must result in increased suffering, not betterment.

This is why ceasefire talks continue to fail.

In spite of growing antisemitism and the threat of boycotts, Israel will not give in, because it cannot give in. It is that simple. The next flare-up of this conflict may well see rockets strike Ben Gurion Airport, the Towers in Tel Aviv, or Hotels in Jerusalem and terrorism resulting in terrible carnage. It is not an option for Israel to offer concessions and to hope that Hamas decides not to exploit them as they have every other time.

For the US to help bring peace, it must not only avoid pressuring Israel to make concessions, but it must demand of our allies very publicly that they also refrain from pressuring Israel as well. Hamas must see that support for Israel will not be undermined if they continue fighting. Israel’s obligation–not merely its “right”–its obligation to defend itself must not only be defended in public by our President and Secretary of State, but actively supported. Otherwise, the fighting and the suffering will go on.

 

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Why the US Opposes Israel on Gaza

During a recent interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, President Obama argued that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s high approval ratings among Israelis make him less willing to “engage in risky and divisive political endeavors” and therefore a hindrance to progress in peace negotiations. Yet, we know that to be generally untrue. Political weakness, not strength, prevents leaders from taking actions that might be unpopular. Popular leaders both have more ability to weather a storm of criticism and more ability to convince populations that needed but unpopular actions should be done. President Obama is certainly not unaware of this.

What does he mean then when he says that a strong and popular Netanyahu is “less inclined to engage in risky and divisive political endeavors?” It certainly hasn’t meant that Bibi is less capable of arguing against positions of members of his cabinet who are pushing him. He’s even been applauded by the Israeli opposition leadership in regard to his actions in Gaza and has the support of around 90% of the Israeli Jewish electorate for his conduct of this conflict. The Israeli people generally trust him to do the right thing. What this means for Netanyahu is that the population is more inclined to support him if and when he takes risks. Thus, right now, PM Netanyahu is precisely in a position from which he can make hard decisions for peace, the opposite of what President Obama appears to argue.

However, what President Obama means when he says that Netanyahu is less like to “engage in risky and divisive political endeavors” is that PM Netanyahu is less likely to be pressured by America and Europe to take steps that Netanyahu believes are wrong and are dangerous and risky for Israel. There is little doubt when this happened recently. We know dates, in fact. It happened over the weekend of July 25-27, when Sec. State Kerry and then President Obama himself reached out to PM Netanyahu to put pressure on him to agree to concessions demanded by Hamas in order to achieve a ceasefire. Netanyahu’s response to the US was to tell the US to “not ever second guess me again (on Hamas).” It also has happened over the past few days when Israel refused to agree to similar concessions demanded by Hamas.

Both the Obama Administration and PM Netanyahu likely believe that any likely alternative to Hamas rule in Gaza will be worse, but their assessments of what that understanding necessitates in the aftermath of this conflict differ. The United States would like to negotiate the end of the naval blockade and the weakening of border restrictions with the belief that the goal is to improve prosperity in Gaza under Hamas’ rule, knowing that doing that will result in the strengthening of Hamas politically and potentially militarily, but believing that to be the best of only bad possible outcomes. This policy is also one supported by Qatar and Turkey.

Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority all disagree with that plan, believing that in the least Hamas must be weakened politically and militarily after this conflict. Israeli doves would like to see Israel pursue peace with the Palestinian Authority and believe that a Hamas controlled Gaza is an impediment to the establishment of a lasting peace with the Palestinians. Therefore, in the least, they would like to see the Palestinian Authority strengthened, perhaps taking over border control in Gaza as well as supervising funding transfers and the distribution of goods that enter Gaza. Notably, this puts Israeli doves in direct opposition to the ceasefire plan proposed by America.

The vast majority of Israelis, left and right, believe that Israel cannot live with the consequences of Hamas both remaining in power and growing in strength. In fact, it appears that Israelis can no longer tolerate living alongside Hamas as it was before this conflict, able to construct tunnels, fire rockets across the nation, and disrupt Israeli lives substantially. They are less willing to live alongside a potentially much more disruptive and deadly Hamas a year from now with relaxed border controls in place.

Those whose lives are actually on the line, Israelis on both sides of the political spectrum, the Egyptians, and the Palestinian Authority all believe that no concessions that would strengthen Hamas politically, much less militarily, can be allowed as a result of this conflict and that the worst case scenario that can be allowed is for Hamas to remain armed and in power with the blockade continuing and the borders remaining sealed.

Because the US policy position concerning Gaza appears to be that border controls should be eased, the United States opposes Israel’s position on Gaza.

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A Letter to Baroness Warsi

Dear Lady Warsi,

I have read of your decision to resign from the UK Government in protest at Britain’s policy on Gaza. You say that Britain’s policy on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is “morally indefensible”.

Seeing the destruction in Gaza, the dead being paraded through the streets and the injured being rushed to hospital, I can empathize with your distress.

I too am appalled by the loss of life in Gaza and particularly by the death of hundreds of innocent children. I share the pain of their families, perhaps even more so than you, because my son, Jonathan, was killed by Islamic, Hezbollah terrorists. I know what it is to lose a son.

There are some who argue that the number of Palestinian deaths is “un-proportional” to the number of Israelis who have been killed in the present round of fighting. I agree. As rockets rained down on our cities and kibbutzim, we huddled in our concrete bomb shelters, which our government demands that we build as a condition for receiving building permits.

I cannot help but wonder how many Palestinian lives could have been saved if Hamas had used its steel and concrete to build bomb shelters rather than using these precious materials to construct underground tunnels for the purpose of infiltrating Israel and killing and kidnapping our civilians.

Our detractors argue: “Gaza is a prison. Gaza is under siege.” They are right. (Incidentally, not only Israel strictly controls the import of goods to Gaza. Egypt adopts a similar policy. I wonder why.) I would love the people of Gaza to have a seaport and an airport of their own. However, I have the right to know that they will not be used to import sophisticated weapons to destroy my country.

If the people of Gaza are really interested in peace, why would they possibly object to a demilitarized Gaza as a condition for lifting the blockade and opening their borders?

There is something I don’t understand. Why did Hamas intimidate journalists to the extent that they did not dare file reports showing “activists” firing rockets on Israel’s civilian population? We saw plenty of heart-rending pictures of dead Palestinian children, but why did we never see any wounded or dead Hamas fighters even though we know that close to 1,000 of them were killed over the past month?

It is as if there was a deliberate intention to paint a picture of innocent Palestinians being killed without cause by brutal Israelis. Where there is no context, there is no truth.

I understand that, as a Muslim, it is particularly painful for you to see your fellow religionists being killed. Perhaps you can use your influence to persuade their leaders to make peace with Israel rather than seeking to destroy her. Then we shall not have to suffer the loss of innocent lives.

Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Michael Boyden
Hod Hasharon
Israel

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The Arab Summer and Its Implications

The primary split in the Arab world is between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The Arab Spring brought a second conflict to the fore, one between Nationalist Arab governments either led by Military Dictators or Monarchs on the one hand and Islamists mainly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood on the other. The conflicts in Egypt and Syria, let’s call them the “Arab Summer,” have dramatically altered the way nations in the Arab world interact with one another and with Israel, especially when the Sunni vs. Shia conflict is added to the mix. The region is now focused on a morphed conflict, Nationalist and Shia regimes vs. Sunni Islamist ones and the implications of that for foreign policy in the region are profound.

In negotiations between Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Islamist Hamas and Israel, for example, Arab Nationalist governments, once arrayed against Israel, are on the same side as Israel. The only nations in the Arab League in fact that are supportive of Hamas at the moment are the Sunni Islamist state of Qatar and Turkey now lead by the Islamist Erdogan Administration. Iran and Hizballah, certainly no big fans of Israel, are not happy with the Muslim Brotherhood’s actions against their ally in Syria which has led to the rise of the Islamic State. In Shia Syria and Iraq, there is no doubt that the Islamic State is far more of an immediate concern than anything going on with Israel. Importantly, this is also true in the Nationalist Arab states and that is also impacting how Sunni Nationalist states are relating to Israel right now. Just today, Imam Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared that Jihad against Israel can wait, because Jihad in Syria is more important.

The Kingdom of Jordan is fully allied with Israel regarding the Islamic State with Israel prepared to defend Jordan’s borders against threats and to use force even within those borders if necessary to defend the monarchy. Al Sissi controlled Egypt sees Israel as an ally against its enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood. There is little doubt that Saudi Arabia is not only in agreement with Egypt concerning its primary enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, but also sees the importance of Israel’s defense of Jordan in providing security for Saudi Arabia’s northern border against advancement by the Islamic State.

This means that when one looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one finds a situation that would have appeared entirely out of the twilight zone only a few years ago. The Palestinians are now on both sides of the active conflict in the Arab world, the Islamist vs Nationalist one. Not only is there now relatively limited criticism of Israel’s military action against Hamas in Gaza from Arab leaders, but there is even public ridicule of Hamas and often tacit approval of Israeli military actions. Egypt would greatly appreciate Israeli efforts that would lead to the removal of Hamas as the governing power in Gaza, but so would the Palestinian Authority and Saudi Arabia.

This also means that the United States is a difficult situation as it tries to mediate between strategic allies Qatar and Turkey on the one hand and Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia on the other. There are limited resolutions of the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza, even temporary ones, that have a chance of being acceptable to both sides, if there are any at all. Mediation often involves appearing to advocate for both sides, rather than advocating for neither side. This has resulted in the United States appearing to be siding with the Islamists by supporting portions of Hamas’ negotiating position.

The argument made by President Obama yesterday that the sealing off of Gaza cannot continue, even in the context of arguing against Hamas’ actions, is problematic in this regard because it puts the US directly at odds with both Israel and Egypt which are enforcing sealed borders. With Hamas remaining armed and in power, anything that smacks of a gain by Hamas in ceasefire negotiations will be problematic in the short term, strengthening Hamas politically, and anything that actually results in the strengthening of Hamas militarily such as better access to importation of weaponry, will harm Israel and possibly Egypt as well in the long term. Thus, an easing of the blockade at this point or anything related to opening borders will necessarily be opposed by Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Any good long term resolution of the conflict in Gaza that could promote security and prosperity for the residents there requires the removal of Hamas as the governing body of Gaza and the disarmament of any governing body that succeeds it. Any other resolution will almost certainly lead to us discussing the same issues within a couple of years as fighting resumes, only more intensely and with more casualties.

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When the War is over

There is a general feeling of frustration in Israel. Operation Protective Edge has not brought peace to our country. Approximately 119 Hamas rockets have been fired on Israel today. (The figure increases as I write these words) One hit a school, and fragments of another fell in the playground of a park in Ramat Gan.

More than 60 soldiers have been killed and many hundreds more wounded, some critically, in a so-called “Operation” that is far from being over.

The government prefers to call it an “operation”, because, were they to call it a war, it would have financial implications in terms of the compensation that would have to be paid to those whose livelihoods have been severely affected over the past month.

Life along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip has virtually come to a standstill. When you have only fifteen seconds to reach a bomb shelter, many have preferred to leave their homes and kibbutzim and seek refuge further to the North.

Even if the war were over, there is still considerable anxiety as to how many Hamas tunnels still remain undiscovered only to be used to attack Israel’s civilian population at a later time. No one wants to live and bring up a family under such conditions.

While Operation Protective Edge may have uncovered and destroyed tunnels, rocket launchers, arms caches and weapons workshops, there is a feeling that there is much that is still left undone. No less than 73% of Israelis believe that Israel’s power of deterrence has been damaged rather than strengthened by this war, which is far from over.

In a thought provoking article today, Shahar Ilan, who is far from being a Right-winger, argues that we should recognize that the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 had failed and that the time had now come for soul searching.

“When the war is over, the Left and the Centre will have to do some intensive soul searching and formulate peace initiatives that are appropriate for the Palestinians we have rather than for those we would prefer to have.

“Just as we expect the Right not to be messianic and not to rely on prayers and miracles when it comes to Israel’s fate, so we too must demand of ourselves that we be rational.

The entire peace process will have to ensure that the Islamic Movement will never, but never, assume power along our borders. True, it’s not easy to come to terms with the fact that our enemies are so problematic, but nobody chooses his enemies.”

 

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