Author of “The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza” tells Salon what he saw in the rubble of a land under seige
Palestinians are saying that the terrorist operation in the kosher supermarket, which was carried supposedly on their behalf, only caused them more harm.
By Amira Hass | Jan. 12, 2015 | 4:10 AM | 2
Only a few hours after the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris last Wednesday, the theory that the Mossad was behind the terrorist attack was heard among Palestinians. The goal: To convince France that Islam in being Islam is the problem, and so they should forget about the Israeli occupation.
Adopting the latest conspiracy theory allowed people to navigate between two poles: They expressed disgust over the murders, but avoided renouncing the murderers themselves, the motives given for the murders (protecting the honor of Islam and the prophet Mohammed) and from the assumed internal motives: discrimination and racism against non-whites within France.
Palestinians cannot but help identifying with other victims of discrimination and racism. But they also feel from up close, and personally, the dread of Arab infighting and the terror of Islamic organizations. It is easy to count the dozens of Palestinians who have been drawn to Islamic State, but it is hard to quantify the continual fear of all Palestinians for the well-being of their families, friends and acquaintances in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – victims of those same internal wars, terror and brutalization – and in the past week, the homeless victims of the cold. Therefore the two polar opposite feelings are the essence of the Palestinian position on the events in Paris.
In theory, after the terror attack on the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher in Porte de Vincennes on Friday and the murder of four French Jews (of North African origin, and two of them at least had “an Arab appearance”), the conspiracy theory was shaken. But then came the reports that Israel would encourage the emigration of the Jews of France and Europe to Israel – and now the conspiracy theory received a boost: The attack served Zionist and colonialist interests.
How far this theory took hold among the Palestinians, it is hard to measure or know. In the meantime, not only Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned and sent his condolences, Hamas did too. The Palestinian Liberation Organization and nongovernment organizations in the West Bank, including the journalists’ union, called for a mass rally on Sunday afternoon for “solidarity with France, the friendly nation, against terror.” And Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in a level-headed and logical speech, said the heretical terror is harming Islam more than any cartoon or book.
To the same extent, Palestinians may realize that the terrorist operation in the kosher supermarket, which was carried supposedly on their behalf, only caused them more harm. Mass immigration of Jews to Israel is not just a point in a statistical competition over the demographic balance. This immigration allows and justifies taking control over more Palestinian land, on both sides of the Green Line. Even before they have arrived in the country, Jews have greater rights here than the Palestinians who were born here. On their arrival, they will receive rights that are denied to Palestinians.
For example: The Jews of France can live in Jerusalem and continue to hold French citizenship. At the same time, Israel is revoking the residence status of Palestinians from Jerusalem who for reasons of work or family acquired permanent status in other countries. In practice, they are expelled from the country. A French Jew can have two homes in Israel and another in France. A Palestinian who lives in Area C, and his family also has a home in Area A, is sentenced to expulsion from his home in Area C. And that is how the West, which enables Jews to hold dual citizenship, is a partner in the discrimination and expulsion of Palestinians.
Palestinians (and other Arabs) who are divided between supporters of the regime in Syria and its opponents are unanimous over one issue: The West, Western imperialism and the close allies of the United States – Qatar and Saudi Arabia – have a hand in creating the disaster: if by supporting repressive Arab regimes, if through indirect and direct support for militias and terrorist movements that operate in the name of Islam that accepts increasingly outlandish and murderous interpretations. The goal: To allow the continued Western control over oil resources, to guarantee the continued profitable economic involvement (weapons, and after the destruction – construction) and to always guarantee the well-being and security of Israel.
The global attention that focused on the dead in Paris reinforces the Palestinian theory in particular, and that of the Third World in general: As far as it is a matter of the policy considerations of the Western powers, the lives of non-whites are not taken into account, only the well-being and comfort of the whites, including among them Jews and Israelis.
And here once again is the unavoidable comparison: Jews, with equal rights in France and with a comfortable economic and social status, who are afraid of attacks by Muslims, will be welcomed with open arms in Canada, and maybe in other Western countries, not just in Israel. Palestinian refugees in Syria whose lives are in danger every moment have nowhere to seek refuge. Europe accepted just a handful of them (and of the refugees from Syria.) Not a single Western leader apparently considers demanding that Israel allows Palestinian refugees from Syria to be absorbed by their close families: in the West Bank, and yes – also within Israel.
Citizens of France from an Arab-North African and Muslim origin are sensitive to this sort of discrimination in European attitudes, and find in it an ancient colonialist approach. If France and Europe want to not only draw intelligence lessons but also sociological and political ones, they must conclude that the continual expulsion and dispossession of the Palestinians is really a central part of the problem, and a truly aggressive policy against the Israeli occupation is part of the solution.
Amira Hass tweets at @Hass_Haaretz
Nazareth. Jonathan Cook
What is Israel’s endgame in Gaza? It is a question that has been puzzling analysts and observers for some time. But indications of the future Israel and Washington may have in mind for Gaza are emerging.
Desperately overcrowded, short on basic resources like fresh water, blockaded for eight years by Israel, with its infrastructure intermittently destroyed by Israeli bombing campaigns, Gaza looks like a giant pressure cooker waiting to explode.
It is difficult to imagine that sooner or later Israel will not face a massive upheaval on its doorstep. So how does Israel propose to avert a scenario in which it must either savagely repress a mass uprising by Palestinians in Gaza or sit by and watch them tear down their prison walls?
Reports in the Arab and Israeli media – in part corroborated by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas – suggest that Egypt may be at the heart of plans to solve the problem on Israel’s behalf.
This month the Israeli media reported claims, apparently leaked by Israeli officials, that Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, had offered the Palestinian leadership the chance to annex to Gaza an area of 1,600 sq km in Sinai. The donated territory would expand Gaza fivefold.
The scheme is said to have received the blessing of the United States.
‘Greater Gaza’ plan
According to the reports, the territory in Sinai would become a demilitarised Palestinian state – dubbed “Greater Gaza” – to which returning Palestinian refugees would be assigned. The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas would have autonomous rule over the cities in the West Bank, comprising about a fifth of that territory. In return, Abbas would have to give up the right to a state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The plan, which would most likely result in significant numbers of Palestinians moving outside the borders of historic Palestine, was quickly dismissed as “fabricated and baseless” by Egyptian and Palestinian officials.
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a spokesman for Abbas, accused Israel of using the proposal to “destroy the Palestinian cause”, referring to Abbas’ efforts at the United Nations to win recognition of Palestinian statehood on parts of historic Palestine.
But Abdel Rahim’s denial raised more questions than it answered. While rejecting suggestions that Sisi had made such an offer, he made a surprising claim: a similar plan, to resettle Palestinian refugees in Sinai, had been advanced briefly by Sisi’s predecessor, Mohamed Morsi.
Morsi, who served as president for a year from summer 2012 until his ousting by Sisi in a military coup, headed a Muslim Brotherhood administration that tried to strengthen ties to the Hamas leadership in Gaza.
He said the plan was based on a proposal made by Giora Eiland, Israel’s national security adviser from 2004 to 2006. Abdel Rahim appeared to be referring to a plan unveiled by Eiland in 2004 that Israel hoped would be implemented after the withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from Gaza – the so-called disengagement – a year later.
Under Eiland’s terms, Egypt would agree to expand Gaza into the Sinai in return for Israel giving Egypt land in the Negev.
The idea of creating a Palestinian state outside historic Palestine – in either Jordan or Sinai – has a long pedigree in Zionist thinking. “Jordan is Palestine” has been a rallying cry on the Israeli right for decades. There have been parallel suggestions for Sinai.
In recent times, the Sinai option has found favour with the Israeli right, especially following the outbreak of the second intifada 14 years ago. Support appears to have intensified after the disengagement in 2005 and Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian national elections a year later.
Notably, the scheme became the centrepiece of the 2004 Herzliya conference, an annual meeting of Israel’s political, academic and security elites to exchange and develop policy ideas. It was then enthusiastically adopted by Uzi Arad, the conference’s founder and a long-time adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister.
He proposed a three-way exchange, in which the Palestinians would get part of Sinai for their state, while in return Israel would receive most of the West Bank, and Egypt would be given a land passage across the Negev to connect it to Jordan.
A variation of the “Sinai is Palestine” option was dusted off again by the right during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 50-day attack on Gaza this summer.
Moshe Feiglin, the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, called for Gaza’s inhabitants to be expelled from their homes under cover of the operation and moved into Sinai, in what he termed a “solution for Gaza”.
Did Morsi offer Sinai?
Given that the rationale of the Sinai option is to remove Palestinians from what the Israeli right considers Greater Israel, and such a plan is vehemently opposed by all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, why would Morsi have backed it?
Further, why would he have proposed giving up a chunk of Egyptian territory to satisfy Israeli ambitions, thereby undermining his domestic credibility, at a time when he was fighting for political survival on many other fronts?
One possibility is that Abbas’ office simply made up the story to discredit Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and by extension Abbas’ political rivals in Hamas, and thereby win favour with Sisi.
But few Palestinians or Egyptians appear to have found the claim credible, and Sisi has shown no interest in pursuing this line of attack against Morsi. Why would Abbas fabricate a story that might rebound on him by linking him to underhanded moves by Egypt, Israel and the US?
There are two further pieces of the jigsaw suggesting that there may be more to the Sinai story than meets the eye.
The first are comments made by Abbas shortly before the Israeli media began reporting the alleged offer by Sisi, as rumours started circulating in the Arab media.
Abbas signalled at a meeting with Fatah loyalists on August 31 that a proposal to create a Palestinian state in Sinai was still of interest to Egyptian officials.
He reportedly said: “A senior leader in Egypt said: ‘a refuge must be found for the Palestinians and we have all this open land.’ This was said to me personally. But it’s illogical for the problem to be solved at Egypt’s expense. We won’t have it.”
The Times of Israel website said it had subsequently confirmed the comments with Abbas.
The Palestinian leader made similar remarks on Egyptian TV a week earlier, when he told an interviewer an Israeli plan for the Sinai had been “unfortunately accepted by some here [in Egypt]. Don’t ask me more about that. We abolished it, because it can’t be.”
What about Mubarak?
The second clue was provided in a barely noticed report in English published last month on the website of the Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, headquartered in London but with strong ties to the Saudi royal family.
It claimed that in the later years of his presidency, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak came under concerted and repeated pressure from the US to cede territory in Sinai to the Palestinians to help them establish a state.
The article, based on information reportedly provided by an unnamed former Mubarak official, stated that pressure started to be exerted on Egypt from 2007.
The source quoted Mubarak as saying at the time: “We are fighting both the US and Israel. There is pressure on us to open the Rafah crossing for the Palestinians and grant them freedom of residence, particularly in Sinai. In a year or two, the issue of Palestinian refugee camps in Sinai will be internationalized.”
In Mubarak’s view, according to the report, Israel hoped that, once Palestinians were on Egyptian soil, the combined area of Sinai and Gaza would be treated as the Palestinian state. This would be the only territory to which Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return.
Anticipating later statements by Abbas’ office, the Egyptian source said a similar proposal was put to Morsi when he came to power in 2012. A delegation of Muslim Brotherhood leaders travelled to Washington, where White House officials proposed that “Egypt cede a third of the Sinai to Gaza in a two-stage process spanning four to five years”.
US officials, the report stated, promised to “establish and fully support a Palestinian state” in the Sinai, including the establishment of seaports and an airport. The Brotherhood was urged to prepare Egyptian public opinion for the deal.
Pieces of the jigsaw
So what sense can we make of these various pieces of the jigsaw?
Each in itself can be discounted. The Asharq al-Awsat report is based on an anonymous source and there may be Saudi interests at work in promoting the story. Likewise, the Israelis could be waging a disinformation campaign.
But taken together, and given that Abbas appears reluctantly to have conceded key elements of the story, it becomes much harder to ignore the likelihood that the reports are grounded in some kind of reality.
There seems little doubt – from these reports and from the wider aspirations of the Israeli right – that a Sinai plan has been crafted by Israel’s security establishment and is being aggressively advanced, not least through the current leaks to the Israeli media. It also looks strongly like variations of this plan have been pushed more vigorously since 2007, when Hamas took exclusive control of Gaza.
Israel’s current rationale for the Sinai option is that it undermines Abbas’ intensifying campaign at the United Nations to seek recognition of Palestinian statehood, which Israel and the US adamantly oppose.
It also seems plausible, given the strength of its ties to Israel, that the US is backing the plan and adding its considerable weight to persuade the Egyptian and Palestinian leaderships.
Harder to read, however, is whether Egypt might have responded positively to such a campaign.
An Egyptian analyst explained the expected reaction from Sisi and his generals: “Egypt is relentlessly trying to keep Gaza at bay. Tunnels are being destroyed and a buffer zone is planned. Bringing more potentially hostile elements closer to Egypt would be a dangerous and reckless move.”
This is true enough. So what leverage do Israel and the US have over Egypt that might persuade it to override its national security concerns?
Turning the screw
Aside from the large sums of military aid Washington gives to Egypt each year, there is the increasingly pressing matter for Cairo of dire fuel shortages, which risk inflaming a new round of street protests.
Israel has recently discovered large offshore deposits of natural gas, which is it is ready to export to its neighbours. It is already quietly agreeing deals with the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, and is reported to be in advanced discussions with Egypt.
Is this part of the pressure being exerted on Egyptian leaders to concede territory in Sinai? And has it been enough to make them overlook their security concerns?
Finally, there is the Palestinian leadership’s role. Abbas has said firmly he will not countenance such a deal. How might Israel think it can change his mind?
One controversial possibility, which throws a very different light on the events of this summer, is that Israel may hope it can “soften up” Palestinian opinion, especially in Gaza, by making life even less bearable than it already is for the population there.
It is noticeable that Israel’s large-scale operations attacking Gaza – in the winter of 2008-09, 2012 and again this year – started shortly after Israel and the US, according to Asharq al-Awsat, began turning the screws on Mubarak to concede part of Sinai.
The massive and repeated destruction of Gaza has the added advantage for Israel that it would allow Cairo to cast its offer of a small slice of the Sinai to the Palestinians as a desperately needed humanitarian gesture.
The success of Israel’s approach requires isolating Gaza, through a blockade, and inflicting massive damage on it to encourage Palestinians to rethink their opposition to a state outside historic Palestine. That precisely fits Israeli policy since 2007.
The Sinai option may be difficult to confirm at this stage but we should keep it firmly in mind as we try to make sense of unfolding events in the region over the coming months and years.
A version of this article first appeared in Middle East Eye
Dozens reservists and former members of an elite Israeli army intelligence unit have condemned alleged “abuses” of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
The forty-three reserve soldiers expressed their condemnation in an open letter addressed to Israel’s prime minister, armed forces chief, head of military intelligence and distributed to media on Thursday.
“We veterans of Unit 8200, reservists past and present, declare that we refuse to take part in activity against Palestinians and refuse to be tools to deepen the military control in the occupied territories,” the soldiers wrote.
“There’s no distinction between Palestinians who are, and are not, involved in violence, we cannot continue to serve this system in good conscience, denying the rights of millions of people” they wrote.
The soldiers went on to express their concern towards human rights abuses and the disruption of Palestinians everyday lives.
They clarified that they will no longer take part in any act that harms innocent people and called upon all soldiers to join their cause and speak out.
“We call for all soldiers serving in the Intelligence Corps, present and future, along with all the citizens of Israel, to speak out against these injustices and to take action to bring them to an end.”
One soldier also told Channel 10 TV he feels most of the work was motivated by “political reasons” to cement Israel’s control over the West Bank and not security concerns.
The letter was published less than three weeks after the military’s fierce offensive against Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip killed more than 2,200 people, many of them civilians.
The 8200 army unit is one of Israel’s best and brightest unit , taking care of surveillance and communications monitoring in addition to sharing information with Israel’s civilian intelligence agencies.
A former commander of the unit, reserve Brigadier General Hanan Gefen, accused the letter’s authors of a grave breach of trust.
“If this is true and if I were the current unit commander, I would put them all on trial and would demand prison sentences for them, and I would remove them from the unit,” General Hanan Gefen said on Friday.
January 3, 2014
People in Yarmouk camp, Damascus, express their hatred for Assad, Khamenei, Nasrallah, and Mahmoud Abbas who is ignoring their plight.
“Where are the women they took at the checkpoints? Where are the young men?… Khamenei, come and slaughter us. We’re ready for death. We die of hunger, we die under shelling. At the start when a mortar fell everyone ran to hide like mice. Now the shells fall and the people walk in the street. Nobody bothers asking about it…. Not just in the camp – this is the situation in all the suburbs. We Palestinians are with the Syrian people, not with this regime.”