Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gaza war outcomes; speaking as a Jew; an Israeli checkpoint monitor appeals to Obama

Contents of this post:

1) Gideon Levy on the Gaza war (introduced by Joel Beinin)

2) Michael Ratner on the betraying silence (introduced by Racheli Gai)

3) A Machsom-Watch volunteer's video letter to President Obama (introduced by Lincoln Shlensky)

4) Missile Tov: Jon Stewart on the imbalance of the American discourse (introduced by Lincoln Shlensky)



1) Gideon Levy on the Gaza war

Gideon Levy, one of the few Israeli journalists who criticized Israel's assault on Gaza even before it began, repudiates the triumphalist post-invasion Israeli consensus by arguing that the war was not only a moral failure, but a military failure. Its four proclaimed and implicit objectives: 1) halting rocket attacks on Israel; 2) preventing smuggling; 3) restoring deterrence; and 4) restoring the capability of the Israeli armed forces, were not achieved. The invasion of Gaza made Hamas more popular, and Fatah less popular among Palestinians. And the state of Israel has lost standing in the international community.

(See the text of the article below or visit <>)

--Joel Beinin

2) Michael Ratner on the betraying silence

Michael Ratner is a human rights attorney and the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights(CCR) ( CCR is currently the lead attorneys for those imprisoned without rights at Guantánamo. He is also one of the hosts of the WBAI radio show, Law and Disorder.

In the essay below, Ratner talks about the difficulties (internal as well as external) - that he has encountered, as a Jew, in speaking up speak up on Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. "For too long, and I do not exempt myself - he writes - most of us [Jews as well as non-Jews] have stood silently by or made only a marginal protests about the massive violations of Palestinian rights carried out by Israel." What he (and many of us) have learned from MLK is that, when all is said and done - "A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal", and this time is NOW.

(See the text of the article below or visit <>)

--Racheli Gai

3) A Machsom-Watch volunteer's video letter to President Obama

A member of Machsom-Watch, Israeli volunteers who stand as witnesses at the checkpoints to discourage or document abuse of Palestinian civilians, recently wrote this video letter to President Obama. She asks the newly elected president to visit Israel to help her -- to help the entire country -- lead a happier life. She cannot live normally or contentedly while Palestinians are suffering day-to-day privations because of an occupation that Israel cannot seem to end by itself. The feelings of guilt and shame she feels can only be resolved, she feels, when the Palestinians, her neighbors, are not thwarted so harshly in their own pursuit of happiness. Her feelings are her own, and yet we know they are shared by many Israelis who are outraged and ashamed by the continuing oppression and occupation, but feel helpless to compel a political change. Obama, she hopes, can untangle this knot -- the political one, and the one in her stomach.

(See the video letter at <>)

--Lincoln Shlensky

4) Missile Tov: Jon Stewart on the imbalance of the American Middle East discourse

Jon Stewart does a remarkable job of saying a lot in a short space about the one-sidedness of the American discourse on Gaza. Jewish Voice for Peace, the largest grassroots Jewish peace organization in the US, has launched a campaign to acknowledge Jon Stewart and the Daily Show for daring to speak out against the Gaza war and its typical portrayal in the US media (see the JVP campaign Web site <>).

(See the Jon Stewart video at <>)


Article contents:

1) Gideon Levy on the Gaza war

Gaza war ended in utter failure for Israel

By Gideon Levy

Haaretz, Jan. 26, 2009

Click here for more articles by Gideon Levy

On the morrow of the return of the last Israeli soldier from Gaza, we can determine with certainty that they had all gone out there in vain. This war ended in utter failure for Israel.

This goes beyond the profound moral failure, which is a grave matter in itself, but pertains to its inability to reach its stated goals. In other words, the grief is not complemented by failure. We have gained nothing in this war save hundreds of graves, some of them very small, thousands of maimed people, much destruction and the besmirching of Israel's image.


What seemed like a predestined loss to only a handful of people at the onset of the war will gradually emerge as such to many others, once the victorious trumpeting subsides.

The initial objective of the war was to put an end to the firing of Qassam rockets. This did not cease until the war's last day. It was only achieved after a cease-fire had already been arranged. Defense officials estimate that Hamas still has 1,000 rockets.

The war's second objective, the prevention of smuggling, was not met either. The head of the Shin Bet security service has estimated that smuggling will be renewed within two months.

Most of the smuggling that is going on is meant to provide food for a population under siege, and not to obtain weapons. But even if we accept the scare campaign concerning the smuggling with its exaggerations, this war has served to prove that only poor quality, rudimentary weapons passed through the smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egypt.

Israel's ability to achieve its third objective is also dubious. Deterrence, my foot. The deterrence we supposedly achieved in the Second Lebanon War has not had the slightest effect on Hamas, and the one supposedly achieved now isn't working any better: The sporadic firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip has continued over the past few days.

The fourth objective, which remained undeclared, was not met either. The IDF has not restored its capability. It couldn't have, not in a quasi-war against a miserable and poorly-equipped organization relying on makeshift weapons, whose combatants barely put up a fight.

The heroic descriptions and victory poems written abut the "military triumph" will not serve to change reality. The pilots were flying on training missions and the ground forces were engaged in exercises that involved joining up and firing weapons.

The describing of the operation as a "military achievement" by the various generals and analysts who offered their take on the operation is plain ridiculous.

We have not weakened Hamas. The vast majority of its combatants were not harmed and popular support for the organization has in fact increased. Their war has intensified the ethos of resistance and determined endurance. A country which has nursed an entire generation on the ethos of a few versus should know to appreciate that by now. There was no doubt as to who was David and who was Goliath in this war.

The population in Gaza, which has sustained such a severe blow, will not become more moderate now. On the contrary, the national sentiment will now turn more than before against the party which inflicted that blow - the State of Israel. Just as public opinion leans to the right in Israelafter each attack against us, so it will in Gaza following the mega-attack that we carried out against them.

If anyone was weakened because of this war, it was Fatah, whose fleeing from Gaza and its abandonment have now been given special significance. The succession of failures in this war needs to include, of course, the failure of the siege policy. For a while, we have already come to realize that is ineffective. The world boycotted, Israel besieged and Hamas ruled (and is still ruling).

But this war's balance, as far as Israel is concerned, does not end with the absence of any achievement. It has placed a heavy toll on us, which will continue to burden us for some time. When it comes to assessing Israel's international situation, we must not allow ourselves to be fooled by the support parade by Europe's leaders, who came in for a photo-op with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Israel's actions have dealt a serious blow to public support for the state. While this does not always translate itself into an immediate diplomatic situation, the shockwaves will arrive one day. The whole world saw the images. They shocked every human being who saw them, even if they left most Israelis cold.

The conclusion is that Israel is a violent and dangerous country, devoid of all restraints and blatantly ignoring the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, while not giving a hoot about international law. The investigations are on their way.

Graver still is the damage this will visit upon our moral spine. It will come from difficult questions about what the IDF did in Gaza, which will occur despite the blurring effect of recruited media.

So what was achieved, after all? As a war waged to satisfy considerations of internal politics, the operation has succeeded beyond all expectations. Likud Chair Benjamin Netanyahu is getting stronger in the polls. And why? Because we could not get enough of the war.


2) Michael Ratner on the betraying silence

[On the Celebration of King's Birth, January 19, 2009]

On the celebration of King's birth I often read or listen to the anti-war speech that he gave at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967-A Time to Break the Silence. It was a powerful statement of his opposition to the Vietnam War. He spoke of how he was told to not oppose the war because his opposition would anger President Johnson and harm the civil rights movement. He was warned that "Peace and Civil rights don't mix." King admitted he held back because of this possible consequence for too long and failed to speak out earlier.

I bring this up today when I think about Israel's recent invasion of Gaza. While we are celebrating King's birth and the inauguration of Barack Obama, Israel invaded Gaza killing over 1200 people, men women and children, and injured thousands. It targeted UN buildings, homes, mosques, police stations, universities and media outlets. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed-a ratio of one hundred Palestinians for each Israeli. The international law violations have been well documented: disproportionate military force, attacks on civilian targets, collective punishment. The killings of the three daughters of a Palestinian doctor gave a face to those killed in way that numbers could not. Members of my broader family knew the doctor, had visited him in Gaza and heard from during the Israeli onslaught. He was terrified for his family, but had no way out.

When I heard the news of the murders of the doctor's children I was at the Sundance film festival and had just viewed an amazing and moving film about radical lawyer Bill Kunstler called Disturbing the Universe. The film shows Bill in Chicago during the 1969 Chicago 8 trial. During the time of the trial Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was murdered by the Chicago police. Bill was appalled by the murder, but he did not just blame the Chicago police. He blamed himself and all white Americans. For it white Americans that for too long had remained silent and accepted the pervasive racism and the murder of Blacks in our society.

This brings me to Gaza and role of American Jews and, in fact, of almost all Americans. For too long, and I do not exempt myself, most of us have stood silently by or made only a marginal protests about the massive violations of Palestinian rights carried out by Israel. I recall a conversation I had some years ago with the political artist Leon Golub, famous for his outsized oil paintings of torture carried out by American mercenaries in Central America. Leon told me that he had been invited to attend a panel to address what it meant to be a Jewish political artist. He said he had never thought of himself as a "Jewish political artist" but only as a "political artist." Then he thought some more. Of the works of art he had made, none concerned Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. And then he knew, at least for himself and probably many others: to be a "Jewish political artist" was to be an artist who avoided depicting the horrors inflicted on Palestinians. Of course, that is true
for more than just artists. Many Jews who are very involved in human rights, ending poverty and war, and fighting for the underdog avoid criticism of Israel. They wrongly think that human rights are divisible; or that like ostriches they can hide their heads and pretend not to see what is clearly staring them in the face and makes them uncomfortable: the inhuman treatment of Palestinians.

Some of our willful blindness and refusal to act is a result of our ambivalence about condemning the actions of a people that have experienced pervasive anti- Semitism and the holocaust. Some of our hesitation to act results from the condemnation and opprobrium anyone, but especially Jews, encounter with even mild criticisms of Israel. Organizations that take a position against Israeli actions subject themselves to a loss of funding from foundations and individuals. Few can afford to do so. As long as this silence continues, so will the U.S. billions in aid and arms that facilitates the killings of Palestinians. As long as this silence continues, more and more settlements will be built. As long as this silence continues, there will be more and more Gazas and more and more children murdered.

The lesson here is simple, but difficult to act on. We are, each of us, responsible for the murders in Gaza. Our silence is betrayal. Each time we hesitate to speak out; each time we moderate our condemnation we become accomplices in killing. The time, if there ever was one, to show courage is now. Yes it will be difficult for many. As King said about the reluctance of some to oppose the Vietnam War:

"Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainly; but we must move on.

We must take King's words to heart. We, each of us, "must move on."

We must begin somewhere even if it just means saying the issue is not off our agenda. Begin the discussion; begin to act; show that you care. And remember,

"A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal." That time has come.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
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