Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October 13, 2015 - Unrest in Israel / Palestine

This month has seen a dramatic rise in violence Israel/Palestine. The past weeks have seen multiple attacks on Israeli and Palestinian civilians, rocket launches from the Gaza Strip, Israeli airstrikes on Palestinians, and a growing series of protests by Palestinians, many of which have been suppressed by live gunfire. In short, this conflict is on the cusp of boiling over and may break out into a full conflict any day.

It is beyond the scope of this post to give a thorough backstory on this conflict, but I would like to call your attention to two items that are fueling it.

In the US, we often hear Israel described in glowing terms as our only democratic ally in the Middle East. It is pictured as a Western oasis of sorts. And like the US, Israel is under a constant threat of terrorism. And every time, Israel launches a new bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip (an area of land held by Palestinians), we hear that Israel has a right to self-defense. In other words, we very rarely hear discussion of Israel that isn't positive. Indeed, the coverage tends to be more uniformly positive than it is of our own government.

This situation is strange for several reasons. But perhaps the most notable reason is that leading Israeli politicians routinely say things that are outrageously brutal or discriminatory. If a major American politician said them, their job would be or their poll ratings would be immediately in jeopardy. But when an Israeli politician does it, it's usually not even a story.

One example of this occurred recently in light of the rising tensions discussed above. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (the equivalent of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter here), recently said that Israel needs to "bring about the liquidation of the terrorist stabber or attacker, the stone-thrower and the like, immediately and on the spot." Mind you, this was at a national, televised press conference. This wasn't a case where a conversation was overheard on accident, this was a position that was stated openly in public. Let's unpack this a little further.

Perhaps it is a reasonable position that a government official should support police killing an active shooter or stabber. And he's referring to them as "terrorist" rather than Palestinian, so it's not overtly racist. But then he goes on to equate stone-throwers with these terrorists. In Israel, many Palestinian protests are accompanied by stone-throwing. And while it cannot be said that a protest with stone-throwing is wholly nonviolent, no one is under any illusion that they pose a threat to Israeli soldiers in body armor. In spite of this, he is advocating for these protesters to be killed.

Cracking down on stone-throwers has been a big priority in Israel recently, as part of a continuous initiative to quell Palestinian unrest without addressing the underlying issues. In pursuit of this goal, the Israeli parliament recently passed a law that could penalize stone-throwers with up to 20 years in prison. But as incredible as this may sound, the statements and death tolls in recent days suggest that even a 20-year sentence has been deemed too lenient. Israel is now tentatively trying out the "liquidation" model instead.

The proof of this can be found in this very graphic footage taken from the Gaza Strip. Here, a group of protesters are throwing stones and projectiles at Israeli troops who are on top of a wall 100 meters away. Israeli snipers respond to the protest with live ammunition that strikes the protesters. Ultimately, 7 were reported killed in this protest and many others were wounded.

Now, after the recent bloodshed, many Palestinians are talking about another intifada, or uprising. And we should hope it doesn't come to that. Whatever one thinks about the Israel/Palestine issue, it is clear that there is no plausible military solution. But whether an armed conflict occurs or not, one thing should be clear: Israel's policies and rhetoric are directly leading to escalation. And frankly, if a non-allied government was engaged in these same policies, there are high odds that the US would already be using it as a pretext for regime change.
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/nation-world/world/article38439015.html#storylink=cpy


  1. The most recent conflict essentially boils down to "rumors" that Jews were trying to change the status quo on how to pray at a shared site, a move even Netanyahu is against and appears to have been fabricated.

    Here's a highly-upvoted reddit comment that digs deeper:
    /u/Boredeidanmark writes @ https://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews/comments/3ok5gx/at_least_21_critically_wounded_in_two/cvy063p

    "There's a compound called the Temple Mount or Noble Sanctuary that has the holiest site for Jews and the third holiest site for Muslims including two mosques - the Dome of the Rock and al-Asqa Mosque. Currently Jews are legally allowed to pray on the lower part where the Jewish holy site is, but not on the upper part where the mosques are.
    Palestinian leaders started a rumor that Israel is trying to change the status quo and allow Jews to pray in the mosques and/or destroy the mosques. Then Palestinians barricaded themselves in one of the mosques with stones, Molotov cocktails, and pipebombs, and began throwing them at non-Muslims (there are four gates to enter the area, three can only be used by Muslims and the fourth can be used by anyone - they threw these things at the fourth). Israel tried to get them out (no one died in this process). Palestinians said "See? They are attacking al-Asqa!" Around the same time, Abbas gave a speech at the UN saying that the Palestinians are no longer bound by the Oslo Accords.

    Then the shit started hitting the fan."

    A US Today article confirms the basics as well so it isn't just some random guy on reddit (the comment just summed it up nicely)

    This is a tough one to see as a "two-way street" issue for me. I can agree that Israel may be overeacting as they are prone to do, but if Sounders fans were roaming Portland attacking people because a rumor came out that a Portland fan snuck into their home locker room, it would be tough to not go "WTF sounders fans?" (man that is a shit analogy)

  2. You are killing me with your Reddit reading. They could be right on this, but I'm skeptical. I'll look into it.

    In any case, the recent killing of innocent Palestinians (not the ones allegedly attacking someone) and the general 50+ year occupation is kind of a big part of it too. More substantive response later.

  3. The article you linked to actually contradicts the Redditor's comments. It indicates that Israel received reports that Palestinians were going to interfere with a tour of Jewish worshippers as part of the New Year and thus Israel pre-emptively acted on those reports. That article is actually considerably more even-handed than I would have anticipated. It does mention that a random right-wing MK called for changing the status, but it doesn't cite that as causal. It also indicated that the Defense minister had just banned two Arab-Israeli protest groups, which it kind of implies was an escalation. But it doesn't really try to paint a precise chronology.

    Whatever the case the exact details of that though, clashes over Al-Aqsa are actually quite common. Last year Israel briefly shut it down to everyone when tensions were high, for example. (I was looking into it and it turns out searching for Al-Aqsa conflicts is actually a very non-specific search term.)

    In any case, that incident is not what my sources saw as the spark that ignited the most recent things. You could argue abandonment of the Oslo Accords is part of it, but the Oslo Accords have been abandoned in all but name pretty much forever (they require amongst other things, Israel to be working towards a two-state solution--given that they could literally do that any time they wanted to, obviously, they're not quite living up to the deal). Though this clip on how Netanyahu brags about playing the Americans on Oslo is a beautiful thing and should be watched, since we're on the subject. Good old Bibi speaking honestly when he didn't know a camera was on. Gotta love it. TL;DR he said screw America and the Oslo Accords. And note that while I don't speak hebrew, Ha'aretz (Israeli newspaper) also had an editorial linked within below that attested to the broad contours of his comments.


  4. But that was an aside. What I was going to say was that is that Al-Aqsa isn't the only or even really the primary issue here. Israel also murdered a random Palestinian at a checkpoint (http://mondoweiss.net/2015/10/palestinian-israeli-planted) that happened well before the Al-Aqsa thing, and before that there was the arson attack by Israeli settlers that killed two random Palestinians. Sometimes it's possible to draw causal linkages in flare-ups in this conflict, as was clearly the case last summer. There was one specific incident that led to that, by and large. But here, it's much less clear. Yes, there was Al-Aqsa, but there was also an arson killing a two-year-old and a Palestinian getting shot, apparently, pretty much just because she didn't speak Hebrew and had to go through a checkpoint. And oh by the way, checkpoints are only a thing because Israel has occupied Palestine for almost 50 years. This article gives a chronology of some of the recent clashes, as reported by the Times. (It's making a different point, but it serves as a useful chronology).

    My favorite part is how the Times describes again and again Israel annexing Jerusalem in a move that hasn't been internationally recognized. Oh yeah, just like Putin in Crimea. NBD. Oh wait, no, everyone freaked out about that. I mean, it's not their fault, space considerations and what-not, but it is always astonishing that continuous military occupation is not an issue. That's the root cause of any of these conflicts as you well know.

    1. Also, I was wrong on the 50+ year occupation note in my first post, math fail.