Breaking the Silence in Israel

The war last summer between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead and reduced vast areas to rubble. On Monday, a group of Israeli veterans released sobering testimony from fellow soldiers that suggests permissive rules of engagement coupled with indiscriminate artillery fire contributed to the mass destruction and high numbers of civilian casualties in the coastal enclave.

“The organization of active and reserve duty soldiers, called Breaking the Silence, gathered testimonies from more than 60 enlisted men and officers who served in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

… “The 240-page report, “This is How We Fought in Gaza 2014”, was released Monday and accompanied by videotaped testimony that aired on Israeli news programs.”

Washington Post

Also from Tel Aviv, Philosophy professor, Anat Biletzki, sees the “Protective Edge” operation as one among several markers on the road moving from implicit understanding to explicit expression.

In Israel, we are used to hearing that everything is more “complex” than one might think. Situations are typically described as variegated, imprecise or intangible and they seem almost intentionally so. Implicitness — about politics, religion, military actions, and human rights — rules. But I would argue that that situation has changed. In the past year in Israel, things have become clear and precise. Things have become explicit.

The government that will be formed this week is the most clearly articulated, narrowest, most right-wing, most religious and most nationalistic government ever assembled in Israel. A combination of the fundamentalist Orthodox clerical parties with the nationalistic chauvinism of the Jewish Home, led by Naftali Bennett who makes no attempt to hide his annexation plans, has been orchestrated by Benjamin Netanyahu in no uncertain terms. Along with Likud, Netanyahu’s home, which is the largest party in Israel today, and Kulanu (All of Us – a breakaway of Likud), this whole bloc is unambiguous in its Jewish, nationalistic agenda.

… When the Firm Cliff fighting officially started, the Israeli media, whether on its own or while quoting political, cultural, religious and military leaders, was replete with clearly voiced messages of racism and hate toward any and all Arabs or Palestinians. “Death to the Arabs,” a call previously shrugged away as an instigation used mainly by erstwhile extremists and soccer fans, could be heard loud and clear. And antiwar protesters, now encountering without police protection the so-called “nationalist” supporters of the war, heard the loud and explicit “Death to the Leftists.” The long-brewing enmity between Jew and Arab, which had always been understood but sometimes unspoken, came out in full force, rising to the boiling surface. We were facing the nebulous — but no less substantial for that — move from the implicit to the explicit.

Feminists in Iran

During all the fear-mongering about Iran and repugnance at the position of women in fundamentalist Islam, it’s good to read that amazing changes, mostly unseen in the West, are happening for the women of Iran.  Here from a BBC report

The revolution, Farah says, was very good for women.

“The revolutionists supported women coming out of their homes to demonstrate. They used women to show their strength, but they never anticipated these women also believed in their right to exist outside the home,” Farah remembers.

… Iran’s genies were let out of the bottle. The same genies have gone on to become active members of theological schools and hold positions as judges and engineers. “I don’t care what they spread, radical or fundamental, whether I believe in it or not, they have a voice, it makes me happy,” Farah says proudly.

There’s no greater evidence of women in the workplace, than where we’re sitting [on the Tehran underground], surrounded by women on their way to work. It’s another outcome the Ayatollah hadn’t expected, but with Iran’s economy battered by the revolution, women had no choice but to join the workforce.

Iran and Women

“It forced men to acknowledge that their wives could go out and earn money,” Farah says. Growing up, Farah only remembers affluent families allowing girls to work outside the home. Now, she says, “Nearly all boys prefer to marry a girl who has a permanent job and good salary. Often the women work harder, and longer hours than their husbands, so they do more of the housework – cleaning and preparing meals.”

Much more, with photos….

Where ISIS Came From

In thinking about ISIS and their campaign of terror, I don’t have any better ideas about the best response than anyone else I’ve read recently.  I do notice however several things about their origins:

At the top the organization is the self-declared leader of all Muslims, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a radical chief executive officer of sorts, who 1) handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago.

He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team 2) includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army. (Disbanded by the US invasion)

They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.

The pedigree of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi who has seen documents seized by the Iraqi military, as well as by American intelligence officials, helps explain its battlefield successes: Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with 3) terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.

NY Times; Hubbard and Schmitt

These three points can be expanded by several others.  Not only 3) techniques but logistics of 4) supply and 5) delivery have been developed against American forces.  They know where to get guns, gas, food and water, and how to get all of it to blitzkrieging company sized units.  As any student of warfare can tell you, these are not incidental to taking and holding territory and killing the enemies, they are central.  Had the Americans not invaded Iraq, or carried out the war they way they did, it seems safe to say the practices honed thereby would not exist — at least to such a high degree. These points do not even mention the high-grade and heavy equipment and ammunition left, which have been scooped up and used with some degree of skill. So, 6 ways in which ISIS sprang from American actions.

I’m not of either of  the two camps currently giving ‘expert’ advice on what should be done about the carnage, neither those who claim that had Obama been tougher in Syria two years ago this would not have happened, and so the lesson is to Get Tough Now, nor with those who say a) this has nothing to do with American interests, or b) American intervention will only fuck it up more, therefore, from both at this end: do nothing.

I come from the ‘citizen of the world’ camp, which used to be a commonplace among many of my friends.  The threatened and the dead along the ISIS trail are not neighbors as near as those in California, but they are neighbors nonetheless.  What should, and what can, be done to stop the carnage?  What is available to those out of danger to help those deeply in it, which will not repeat the catastrophic errors enumerated at the top?  How can the guns, gas, water and food to the fighters be pinched and choked off until their threshing machine comes to a halt?  How can the fuel of war-is-wonderful, god approves, be diluted?

Malaki Steps Down

A step back from the edge but the cliff is still crumbling and the wind blowing hard.  What next?

Nouri al-Maliki has stepped down as Iraq’s prime minister and given his backing to Haider al-Abadi as his successor, Iraqi state TV reported.  Al Jazeera

War Itself is an Act of Terror

IN THIS war, both sides have the same aim: to put an end to the situation that existed before it started.Once And For All!

To put an end to the launching of rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, Once And For All!

To put an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt, Once And For All!

So why don’t the two sides come together without foreign interference and agree on tit for tat?

They can’t because they don’t speak to each other. They can kill each other, but they cannot speak with each other. God forbid.

THIS IS NOT a war on terror. The war itself is an act of terror.

Uri Avnery

The Toll, day by day

West Bank Protest of Gaza Shelling

West Bank Protest of Gaza Shelling

Now, the West Bank joins in. As Avnery says, “History has shown time and again that terrorizing a population causes it to unite behind its leaders and hate the enemy even more,” and is so showing now.

What would a self-defense  look like that had as a strategic objective diminishing the motivation to attack? It wouldn’t start out with round ups, lock ups, shooting back regardless of the consequences.  If Gary Cooper in High Noon had gotten into the show-down while towns people stood in the path of fire, let’s say a tow-headed little boy got his face blown away, he would have been run out of town, not hailed a hero.

In this year of a terrible war starting, 100 years ago, we can see the slow drift again, of bad intelligence, wrong predictions, miscalculation,  contempt for them, blinding pride in us, though it’s worse now.  Then the Austrians didn’t like the Serbs nor the Serbs their Imperial occupiers; now Israelis loath the Palestinians and vice-versa.  Exterminist rhetoric is coming from both sides and any, small, good ideas are lost in the din.

I wonder sometimes, in my cynicism, if pictures of dead pets were shown instead of people, if the will to cease-fire would be found?

Turmoil Re-Escalates in Turkey

On Sunday a 22 year old man in the ancient city of Antioch, now called Antakya, in southern Turkey where it dips below the east-west border with Syria, was killed by a tear gas canister to the head.  Ahmet Atakan had joined a demonstration against highway construction and calling for remembrance and justice for a 14 year old boy, still in  coma from a tear gas hit to the head in the June, Gezi Park demonstrations when he died.  Protesters have now added his name to the growing grievances against the government, particularly its heavy-handed police response to outpouring of feeling against the growing authoritarianism and the turn to religion of the regime.

Turkey sept 2013

Although the June demonstrations, triggered by an government urban redevelopment plan for the popular public park in Istanbul, had simmered down after a pull back of police and a promise not to develop there, the underlying seismic forces were still in play.  In Antakya the mixture is even more explosive as a substantial number of Alevis, a sect of Shiism, itself the largest minority in Sunni dominated Turkey, live there.  Atakan’s family is Alevi, which not only is a minority within a minority in a country recently encouraging the majority religion, it also has affinities with the Alawites of Syria — at the center of the Assad war against non-Alawites.  Turkey, in the form of Prime Minster Erdogan, has been a prime mover in taking on Assad.  The demonstrations, at least in the Antakya area, have merged the anti-Erdogan , anti-authoritarian feelings of young Turkish liberals with anti-Erdogan, anti-intervention, fellow-feeling with Assad’s base.

The result of increased frustration, increased police violence, a serious dose of sectarian religious fervor have turned the demonstrations more violent, with hurled stones, burning barricades, more tear gas and strip searches of young protesters.  At least 8 journalists have been reported injured.

Turkey sept 2013 b

To add to the turmoil, several Turkish F-16 fighter planes scrambled from a base near Antakya after a massive explosion across the border in Syria set the region on edge.

More at The Washington Post


Iran and US Talking?

Wouldn’t this be amazing?

“Signaling a possible thaw in long-frozen relations, the Obama administration and the new leadership in Iran are communicating about Syria and are moving behind the scenes toward direct talks that both governments hope can ease the escalating confrontation over Tehran’s nuclear program.

“President Barack Obama reportedly reached out to Iran’s relatively moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, through an exchange of letters in recent weeks. The pragmatist cleric is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 24, and after years of the United States cold-shouldering his ultraconservative predecessor, U.S. officials say it’s possible they will meet with Rouhani on the sidelines.

“Beyond that, U.S. and Iranian officials are tentatively laying the groundwork for potential face-to-face talks between the two governments, the first in the rancorous 34 years since radical students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and founded the Islamic theocracy. Diplomatic relations have been broken ever since. …

Read more here:

Anti Authoritarians Rise in Turkey

The news of civil unrest is not diminishing.

Violent protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan engulfed Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, on Saturday and spread to other cities, including the capital, Ankara, as tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in a second day of civil unrest and faced the tear gas and water cannons of a harsh police crackdown.

 …the protesters presented a long list of grievances against Mr. Erdogan, including opposition to his policy of supporting Syria’s rebels against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, his crackdown on dissent and intimidation of the news media, and unchecked development in Istanbul.

As we all know, nothing is certain once a well ordered train leaves the rails.  As the article points out, the demonstrations have been spontaneous, with nothing like an organizing force emerging.  Energies will certainly drain from the exuberation of the first manifestations; repression may rise or, if the government is as smart as it has been up to now, co-option will begin.  Promises to stop the development at Taksim Square would be an obvious first step.

The stakes are high, of course, with Syria imploding next door, and sectarian religious violence beginning to heat all over the area.

On Turkey

On Sectarian Violence

Israel Fires on Syria, Second Day

The not-going-very-well situation in Syria is veering further off the once narrow road of hope.  Assad and his army is not giving in.  The opposition, having long ago given up massive non-violent struggle, is riven with separate claims and ideologies and only under threat of losing weapons support from the outside has it come up with a joint command and leader.  Turkey has already returned fire across its border and is staggering under the influx of refugees.  Now Israel, having been fired at in the annexed Golan Heights is joining the fray.  Why the current Syrian government would want to add another foe to its troubles isn’t immediately clear, though it would allow them to play the anti Jewish card to rally wavering supporters behind them.

Or why Israel would return non-lethal fire with its own direct hit on mobile artillery units, likely to be lethal to those in them, is open to question as well.  In the three dimensional chess game called war any number of things could be supposed, and known.  All manner of theories of human behavior taken as Torah Truth.  It is even possible that shooting into Syria is a proxy warning to Hamas which has recently fired into Israel from Gaza.

Whatever the reasons and emotions on all sides, the debris flow already in motion is picking up speed and mass.  It will likely spill across borders and engulf many more lives before it runs out of the blood and certainties that power it.

 Israeli tanks made a direct hit on Syrian artillery units on Monday, the army said, responding to mortar fire that fell near an army post in the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

It was the second consecutive day thatIsrael confronted fire along its border with Syria. On Sunday, a mortar shell crashed in from Syria, prompting Israel to respond with what its military described as “a warning shot” at a Syrian position across the frontier for the first time in 39 years.

NY Times

Israel: Hawks Pressing their Case

The NY Times runs down the players in the increasingly loud ratchet up to a third US war in the Middle East:

With Israeli leaders warning of an existential threat from Iran and openly discussing the possibility of attacking its nuclear facilities, pro-Israel groups on all sides have mobilized to make their views known to the Obama administration and to Congress. But it is the most hawkish voices, like the Emergency Committee’s, that have dominated the debate, and, in the view of some critics, pushed the United States closer to taking military action against Iran and another war in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, US Generals, following on a classified war game, are not happy about the loose talk:

A classified war simulation exercise held this month to assess the American military’s capabilities to respond to an Israeli attack on Iran forecast that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, according to American officials.

When the exercise had concluded earlier this month, according to the officials, General Mattis [who commands all American forces in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, ] told aides that an Israeli first-strike would likely have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there.

Peter Beinhart, in an Opinion piece headlines To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements argues that to preserve a two-state solution, which Israel is in the process of making a mockery of, and which he claims  a new Palestine initiative called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) could could also destroy:

…we should call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel.” The phrase suggests that there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.