Releasing Gilad Shalit and the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace

A major security issue in Israel at the moment is the fate of Gilad Shalit. As I write in my recent essay on last year’s war in Gaza, Shalit is a corporal in the IDF who was captured by Palestinian militants in a border raid on the Gaza Strip in 2006. He has been in captivity ever since. A few weeks ago, it looked as though negotiators had reached a breakthrough, and Shalit would be released in exchange for 450 Palestinians in Israeli jails, though that number may be as low as 100 now. (The uneven numbers give you one idea of how important this issue is to Israelis; more below.) That deal fell through, but there is more hopeful talk of releasing Shalit all the time (here, for instance). Some say a prisoner swap could be the key to peace. I disagree.

Call me a realist, but as readers of the Menso Guide to War know, I have never been hopeful about the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. I study, among other things, the cultural roots of conflict. Culture can legitimise war or peace, and needs to be taken into account when prospecting for either. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian culture is conducive to a real, lasting end to the war. The bitterness would not simply end because one condition for ceasefire has been met. Militant Israelis will continue to push for anything that will protect every last Jewish life. Militant Palestinians will continue to do anything they can to end the occupation. Where does that leave Shalit?

Gilad Shalit has become a kind of national hero in Israel. One TV news anchor ends every broadcast by tearfully counting how many days Shalit has been under lock and key. Haaretz, considered one of the more dovish of Israeli newspapers, runs a counter at Haaretz.com displaying the same time to the second. On his birthday in August 2009, Twitter’s second highest trend was Gilad Shalit. Over a Jewish holiday in 2009, newspapers displayed pictures of Gilad as a toddler, dressed in a sad clown costume. Poor Gilad: an innocent boy kidnapped by terrorists. (The 7700 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, apparently, are all guilty.)

So surely, when Hamas releases Gilad Shalit, Israelis will be so grateful they will demand an end to the blockade of Gaza, right? Why would they? The thing they care most about Gaza will have been returned to them. Hamas’ one bargaining chip will be gone. Where is the incentive to continue negotiations? Though a majority of Israelis favour the current deal, the hardliners are not willing to give up Palestinians with “blood on their hands” to get Shalit back. Many Israelis would see the release of 100 Palestinians as a huge concession to a group everyone hates (Hamas). But attacks on Israeli targets would not end, because they will never end while the occupation continues and in the West Bank, expands. The Israeli right wing would probably push even harder to punish Hamas and refuse to talk. Impoverished Palestinians would be caught in the middle again. Under these conditions, extremism will not go away.

The best we can hope for is that the prisoner swap succeeds and leads to more negotiations. There have been very few moves toward peace of late, but if earnest negotiators can persuade their constituents to give up more for peace, there will be progress. Meanwhile, long term solutions such as intercultural education are necessary to end the cycle of racism that portrays the other as only understanding force. Finally, what Shalit says when he is released will influence public opinion. He could be Nelson Mandela and say that he feels no bitterness, only greater understanding; or he could say nothing constructive and perpetuate the culture of anger. We must hope for the former. Release Gilad Shalit, release the Palestinian prisoners and see it as a chance to end the war.

Paving the Road to Gaza: Israel’s National Role Conception and Operation Cast Lead

On December 27, 2008, the Israel Defense Forces began their assault on the Gaza Strip in what they called Operation Cast Lead. 13 Israelis and as many as 1400 Palestinians were killed in the three weeks of fighting. The war enjoyed wide support among Israelis: according to the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, 94% of Jewish Israelis (76% of Israel’s population) supported the attack. Operation Cast Lead caused enormous suffering in Gaza and has been a thorn in the side of Israelis since its commencement. Numerous human rights organisations have issued reports on the conflict accusing both sides of war crimes, and the Israeli government has denied any but the noblest intentions. How did we get here?

This essay uses national role conception theory to explain how Israel’s political culture approved of Operation Cast Lead and permitted the latest brutal attack on the Palestinians. You can find it at the following link.

A Short History of the Six Day War, part 3

Causes

Finally, we come to the question, how did the war start? It is fair to say that the seeds for this war were planted in 1949, when the Arab armies trying to destroy the nascent Israel were routed, and that the Suez Crisis of 1956 raised tensions in the region even more. But to call those things causes of the Six Day War is like saying World War One caused World War Two; and since the Franco-Prussian War caused World War One, and the Napoleonic Wars caused the Franco Prussian War, we can say that the French Revolution caused World War Two. This is too much of a stretch. Without going back to far, the buildup to the Six Day War started three years earlier, in 1964.

In that year, Levi Eshkol, Israel’s prime minister, and Yitzhak Rabin, its chief of staff agreed on the aims of Israel’s defence policy for the first five year plan for the military. The plan said that the State of Israel did not wish for more territory. Israel would not initiate conflict with an Arab state but if war were imposed on it, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) would move swiftly into the enemy’s territory and destroy its war infrastructure.

More significantly, it was the year border clashes with Syria got deadlier. There were three sources of tension on the border: the demilitarised zones, water and Palestinian guerrillas. Moshe Dayan, Defence Minister during the Six Day War, said that in at least 80% of the clashes with Syria, “We would send a tractor to plow someplace where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarised area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot.” The Israelis were provoking the Syrians.

In addition, the water issue began in 1964. Israel began withdrawing water from the Jordan River. At a conference, the Arab League approved a $17.5m plan to divert the Jordan river at its sources, drastically reducing the quantity and quality of Israel’s water. Knowing that Israelis would not sit back while their country dried up, the same conference also created a United Arab Command to protect the project and prepare for an offensive campaign. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation, or PLO, was yet another outcome of the conference. The Arab League began construction on its diversion plan the next year. The IDF attacked the diversion works in Syria in 1965, exacerbating the border tensions that led to the war.

In February 1966, an extreme left wing, anti-Zionist Baath regime took power in Damascus. It called for a popular war to liberate Palestine and sponsored Palestinian guerrilla attacks on Israeli targets. These guerrilla attacks were not about to wipe Israel off the map, but they fanned the flames of mutual hostility between Israel and Syria.

Palestinian guerrillas, mainly Arafat’s Fatah, carried out 122 raids between January 1965 and June 1967. They were mostly staged from Lebanon and Jordan, but the guerrillas were largely armed, trained and run by Syrian general staff. In response to one such attack, the Israeli Defense Forces attacked the village of Samu on the West Bank. Dozens of Jordanian soldiers were killed. The attack shocked King Hussein and exposed his military weakness. On April 7, 1967, following a border skirmish, the Israeli Air Force shot down six Soviet-made Syrian MiGs in an air battle. The Syrian government was in a rage. The countdown to the Six Day War had begun.

Because the survival of the Baath regime was important to the USSR, the Soviets sent a report to Nasser that Israel was concentrating its forces on its northern front and was planning to attack Syria. The report was false. Some who were observing at the time said that, although the Soviet warning about Israel’s amassing troops on its northern border was wrong, the Israeli cabinet was planning to attack Syria and the Soviets had gotten wind. Nasser knew the report was untrue but he felt that, as the Arab world’s leadership was in question, he could not fail to act. Syria already had a defense pact with Egypt. There is general agreement among historians that Nasser neither wanted nor planned to go to war with Israel. What he did was brinkmanship: pushing Israel to the brink and hoping war would not be necessary.

He did so for several reasons. First, he could not afford to look weak in front of his restive public. A major share of his army was already in the Sinai, and it would have been humiliating to pull them back. Second, the other side of the coin, continuing the troop buildup would enhance his status at home and in the Arab world. Indeed, reactions to the move were, in Michael Oren’s words, “enthusiastic, even ecstatic”. Finally, if there was no imminent threat to Syria, Nasser could take credit for increasing Egypt’s troop presence in the Sinai without fear Israel would attack. After all, he had already been assured it would not.

Nasser sent a large number of troops into the Sinai, removing the UN troops already there, and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. The Straits were important because, although few Israeli vessels actually transversed the Straits, it was where Iranian oil tankers exporting to Israel sailed. But more importantly, according to Aharon Yariv, Israel’s chief of intelligence, failure to act to end the blockade of the Straits would make Israel lose its credibility and deterrent capacity. These tools have been essential for Israel ever since.

In all countries, the masses were whipped into a war frenzy. They heard about the hourly radio reports from Arab countries about Israel’s impending doom, and the general feeling was of a noose tightening around the nation’s neck. Israel’s Holocaust survivors were particularly scared when Israeli newspapers likened Nasser to Hitler. According to Charles Krauthammer, “It is hard to exaggerate what it was like for Israel in those three weeks [before the war]. Egypt, already in an alliance with Syria, formed an emergency military pact with Jordan. Iraq, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco began sending forces to join the coming fight. With troops and armor massing on Israel’s every frontier, jubilant broadcasts in every Arab capital hailed the imminent final war for the extermination of Israel. ‘We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants,’ declared PLO head Ahmed Shuqayri, ‘and as for the survivors–if there are any–the boats are ready to deport them.'”

Everyone predicted a war. Eshkol was expecting a war; Cairo Radio said “our forces are in a complete state of readiness for war”; Syria’s government said “The war of liberation will not end except by Israel’s abolition.” Israel’s preemptive strike on its enemies was justified to end the tension and the fear–to stop waiting to die and start fighting to survive.

On May 12, in a newspaper interview, Rabin said “the moment is coming when we will march on Damascus to overthrow the Syrian government”. On May 19, Rabin told his generals, “[t]he politicians are convinced they can solve the problems through diplomacy. We have to enable them to exhaust every alternative to war, even though I see no way of returning to things the way they were. If the Egyptians blockade the Straits, there will be no alternative to war.” Nonetheless, Rabin also did not think Nasser wanted war.

On May 30, King Hussein flew to Cairo to sign the mutual defense pact with Nasser. An Egyptian general was appointed commander of Jordan’s army. On June 3, two Egyptian commando battalions were flown to Jordan, and on the following morning an Iraqi mechanised brigade crossed into Jordan and moved to the Jordan River. Egypt and Iraq, traditional enemies, signed a mutual defense pact.

Israel attacked when it did because it obtained approval from the US. Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defence, gave Israel a green light to attack Egypt. However, Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, said he was outraged that Israel attacked at all.

What was the most important factor in starting the Six Day War? At a glance, it would appear to have been Nasser and Egypt’s amassing of troops in the Sinai and closing of the Straits of Tiran and Gulf of Eliat. The closing of the Straits was an act of war in itself. But historians disagree with this explanation. First, there is evidence that Nasser did not want war. His public was highly belligerent but he knew Egypt could not simply defeat and occupy Israel. He had learned from the Suez Crisis of 1956.

Second, there are alternative explanations. Avi Shlaim says that border skirmishes with Syria were the main cause of the war. “Israel’s strategy of escalation on the Syrian front was probably the single most important factor in dragging the Middle East to war in June 1967”. Israel had been forced to abandon its plan to divert water from the Jordan in the central demilitarised zone to the Negev desert (southern Israel) in 1953. The Arab states, led by Syria, poked and prodded Israel by diverting the Jordan River. Israeli and Syrian troops clashed and Israel gained the upper hand. “Having been defeated in the water war,” says Shlaim, “the frustrated Syrians began to sponsor attacks on Israel from their territory by Palestinian guerrilla organisations.” The violence escalated.

Michael Oren believes that, because (arguably) water politics led to fighting on Israel’s northern border, more than anything else, “the war would revolve around water.” The Arab League’s plans to take most of Israel’s water was provocation bigger than its threats, and the dry noose was the catalyst for Israel’s decision to strike.

Diplomacy came to naught. Tempers were not defused, the noose was not given any slack, and the push to war continued. At 07:45 on June 5, Israel attacked Egypt, beginning the Six Day War and setting in motion all the conflicts and killings Israel has suffered or delivered since.

Bibliography

Oren, Michael: Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East
Finkelstein, Norman: Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Shlaim, Avi: The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World
Morris, Benny: Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001
Charles Krauthammer: Prelude to the Six Days: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/17/AR2007051701976.html

The complete Short History of the Six Day War can be found at http://www.scribd.com/doc/22787004/A-Short-History-of-the-Six-Day-War.

A Short History of the Six Day War, part 2

Conduct

Why did Israel win the Six Day War? There are a few reasons. First, it attacked preemptively. Israel’s attack may or may not have been justified (though, as I will explain in the third section, the historical record implies that it was) but it was a surprise. Surprise attack is a good strategy. Second, Israelis generally felt that their backs were against the wall. The prevailing feeling in Israel before the war had been one of fear (which, again, we will go into in the final section of this account), and when fear is translated into fight (as opposed to flight) it is deadly. The prevailing feeling among Arabs was hubris. Third, Israel had superior forces, and relied on air power at the beginning of its campaign. Fourth, the Arab armies had poor leadership and organisation, and were not as prepared, as numerous or as mighty as they had thought. This section will expatiate on the most important events of the war.

By 07:30 on June 5, 200 Israeli planes were aloft and heading to Egypt. A Jordanian radar officer noticed and radioed his commanding officer in Amman. The officer in Amman relayed the information to Cairo. However, the Egyptians had, just the day before, changed their codes and had not notified the Jordanians. The Israeli aircraft destroyed most of Egypt’s air force and antiaircraft weapons on the ground.

Now in control of the air, Israel sent tanks across the Sinai desert. They suffered many casualties but still did better than the Egyptians. Major General Ariel Sharon, prime minister during the Second Intifada, was commander of one of the most powerful of the armoured divisions that took the Sinai. Battles continued and Israeli tanks kept advancing. By day 4, there was no more doubt that the Egyptians were defeated and that Israel had taken the Sinai.

A few hours after the attack on Egypt, the US consul-general in Jerusalem mused that Jerusalem might have been spared the violence that was raging around the region. At first, things were calm. King Hussein of Jordan, which controlled East Jerusalem and the West Bank, received a phone call from Nasser saying that Israel had suffered great losses. The Iraqis told him their aircraft were already engaging with Israel’s. Hussein ordered the attack.

Bombs from planes and cannons shook Israel for a few hours but then Israel performed two lightning strikes that destroyed Jordan’s planes and airfields. They took other positions in Jordan, and over the next two days occupied much of the West Bank. This new territory included the Old City–East Jerusalem. Jews were ecstatic. This was a big cause of their feeling at the end of the war that God was truly on their side: not only had they triumphed over seemingly (but not actually) overwhelming odds, but they had taken back the holy lands of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the now united holy city of Jerusalem.

On day 2, Nasser declared, erroneously, that the US was actively aiding Israel in the fighting. He asked the USSR for equal assistance to ward off the Americans. Radio stations in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere claimed, also erroneously, that American or British planes and ships were causing all kinds of trouble. As a result, mobs attacked American embassies throughout the Middle East. Ten oil-producing Arab states including Saudi Arabia and Iraq limited or banned oil shipments to the US and Britain. This began the 1967 oil embargo and the use of the “oil weapon”.

The United States continued monitoring the conflict from a distance. The USS Liberty, breaking with the 6th Fleet, came close to the Sinai coast. Yitzhak Rabin, then Israeli chief of staff (later prime minister), had warned that all unidentified vessels traveling at high speed would be sunk. The Liberty was not identified fast enough, and Israeli jets and boats attacked it. The ship was badly damaged and 34 American crewmen died. The US and Israeli governments both conducted inquiries and found that the attack was an accident. However, some US diplomats and officials say it was not. The Israeli government later paid nearly $13m in settlements. To this day, there are many unanswered questions about the USS Liberty incident.

Back to the front. Syria had also believed the reports that Israel was nearly defeated but nonetheless moved with some caution. When the Israeli Air Force was finished with the Egyptian Air Force, it turned its attention to the Syrian Air Force. In the evening of the first day of the war, the Israelis destroyed two thirds of Syria’s fighter jets. Several Syrian tanks were put to rest as well. Syria’s army began shelling positions in northern Israel but were soon pushed back again. By day 5, the battle for the Golan Heights was raging. The Golan Heights are a plateau bordering Israel, Syria and Lebanon. In two days, they became an occupied territory and in 1981 were annexed (like East Jerusalem but unlike Gaza and the West Bank) by Israel.

After the last gun had been fired over the Heights, the war was over. The ceasefire was signed the next day, on June 11th. Israelis proved to the world that it took more than some local bullies to bring it down. But its troubles were not over.

Yesterday, we saw the consequences of the Six Day War. Part 3 will show us how we got to June 5.

A Short History of the Six Day War, part 1

On June 5, 1967, Israel went to war with its neighbours. By June 10, Israel had more than tripled in size. In a decisive victory in six short days, Israel defeated Egypt, Syria and Jordan, who in turn had help from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Tunisia. Soon dubbed “the Six Day War”, this short, regional conflict would go on to have enormous implications for Israel, the Middle East and the peace and security of the world.

This series of posts will summarise, in three parts, the causes, conduct and consequences of the Six Day War. It attempts to give a simple but not simplistic account of the facts, inasmuch as the facts can be ascertained from noteworthy historical accounts of the war.

This account will begin with the consequences, followed by the conduct of the war in its most important events and finally, the war’s causes. We start with the consequences of the Six Day War in order to show the reader the enormous impact this small war has had, and why he or she should continue reading.

Consequences
The Six Day War’s consequences were numerous and far-reaching, and some of them plague the region to this day. The changes of perceptions of threats in the area, the 1973 Yom Kippur War and subsequent Egypt-Israel peace accord, the hostage massacre at the Munich Olympics and the increased importance of the Middle East as a Cold War hotspot are some of the war’s short term outcomes. I will attempt to outline the longer lasting ones here. They are the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the occupation the Palestinian territories and military and nonmilitary conflict.

First, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, or Islamism, or jihadism, or whatever you want to call it, is an indirect consequence of the Six Day War. Before the Six Day War, Pan-Arabism was the motto of the day. Egypt, under Gamal Abdel Nasser, had become the leader of a kind of anti-colonial, anti-Israeli, socialist movement in the Arab world. This movement was a source of unity and the reason why Arab states combined their armed forces on the eve of the Six Day War. In a very unusual act as governments go, Egypt and Syria had even united under one state to form the United Arab Republic, though only for three years. Nasser was very charismatic and popular and, in the lead up to the Six Day War, was assured a win by those around him.

One year before the Six Day War, in 1966, Nasser ordered the execution of Sayyid Qutb, a leading intellectual member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qutb was not a terrorist (and the Brotherhood is not a terrorist organisation), but he played a big role in the rise of Islamic terrorism. When he was executed, he was made a martyr. His ideas spread and “jihadist” organisations like al-Qaeda followed them.

The transnational Islamist movement arose in a vacuum. After the Six Day War, the Arab leaders (the losers) bickered and fought. Each heaped culpability on the others and suddenly, unity was no longer a priority. Some leaders, such as Jordan’s King Hussein, wanted a peace accord with Israel, while Nasser engaged Israel in the pointless but deadly War of Attrition. Pan-Arabism thus discredited, Islamic fundamentalism became the new ideology of the Muslim world. While most Muslims do not fall under this banner, Islamism has attracted people from countries as diverse as Indonesia, Morocco, India, Iraq, Britain and Spain. And the main target of anger and terrorism in the name of Islam has been Israel.

In the second lasting consequence of the Six Day War, Israel acquired the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank of the Jordan River, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It occupies the last four of these to this day. The return of the Sinai to Egypt was the major reason that Egypt and Israel were able to sign a peace agreement in 1978. Israel and Jordan signed a peace accord in 1994 but return of the West Bank was not part of the deal. It was believed that the Golan Heights could be returned to Syria and the West Bank to Jordan for peace accords, but they were not. The Heights were not of sufficient importance to Syria and peace with Syria not of sufficient interest to Israel to ever make the exchange. And no one wants the Gaza Strip. What problems these territories have caused.

The acquisition of territory by conquest and the settling of it with the conquering state’s citizens are both strictly prohibited by international law. With the exception of East Jerusalem, which the vast majority of Israelis refuse to give up, the government of Israel once hoped that the occupied territories could be returned for peace treaties (“Land for Peace”). At the same time, however, it was allowing Jewish settlers into all areas of the territories. Settlements began springing up everywhere. Settlements in the Sinai were uprooted to return the land to Egypt, and settlements in Gaza were removed in 2005 for reasons we will not go into here. But there are still half a million Jewish settlers in all the occupied territories. Going into all the trouble they have caused for both Israel and the Palestinians is the subject of the book “Lords of the Land” by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar; suffice it to say, the occupation and settlement are the primary reasons the Palestinians are angry.

Third and most important, and related to Israel’s territorial gains, it may be fair to say that all major violence against Israelis and Palestinians since June 1967 has been due to the consequences of the Six Day War. One consequence of the 1948 war, the first Arab-Israeli war, was the beginning of the Palestinian refugee problem. The Six Day War exacerbated it. The Palestinians were pushed in greater numbers into refugee camps in places like Lebanon and Jordan. Palestinians were a big presence in western Jordan, and around 1970 had almost carved out an autonomous enclave on the East Bank of the Jordan River. The Palestinian organisation Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat, conducted border raids on Israel and fought with Jordanians as well.

In September of 1970 (“Black September”), Palestinians attempted to assassinate King Hussein. They also hijacked airplanes and, after removing the hostages, blew them up on television. The Jordanian army attacked and, after a year of fighting, drove them out of Jordan to Lebanon.

The Six Day War is also known as the third Arab-Israeli war; the fourth one was in 1973; and the fifth one was Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975, and after a short time staying out, Arafat’s guerrillas entered the fray. The Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, entered Lebanon in an attempt to shore up a friendly government and take out the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. For some time it occupied Beirut, but was forced to retreat to a small part of southern Lebanon that it held as a buffer. Israel’s invasion is generally held as the progenitor of Hizbullah, which prodded Israel into violence several times since, most evidently in the 2006 Lebanon War. In what many Israelis saw at the time as unprovoked and unnecessary violence, in 1982, the IDF killed several thousand Lebanese, enabled the massacre of more than 800 Palestinian refugees and suffered more than 600 casualties.

The occupation of the territories turned the IDF from a defense force into a police force, setting up checkpoints, defending settlers and bulldozers, arresting and shooting Palestinians for violating curfews. This oppressive policing of Palestine led to the first Intifada. The typical image of the Intifada is the Palestinian boy throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. The first Intifada was an uprising against Israeli control of the Palestinian territories and lasted for six years. The second Intifada, characterised less by stones and more by suicide bombings, also lasted several years (when it ended is disputed) and a third one may be in the works.

Contrary to what many Israelis believe, the Intifadas were spontaneous, not planned. They were not the attempted destruction of the State of Israel by the Palestinians but may be likened more to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis: people were herded into terrible conditions and handled with violence. Only the most sheeplike people would not consider fighting back. Things have not gotten any better in the occupied territories and there is no solution in the works. The Palestinians were the real victims of the Six Day War, a war that, in the minds of too many people, has never been resolved.

Tomorrow, we will look at the conduct of the war itself.

You cannot derail a train no one is on

A spokesperson from Israel’s foreign ministry warned the United Nations that if the Goldstone Report on war crimes in the Gaza War of early this year is endorsed by the UN Security Council, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will be in jeopardy. Surely, this is a joke.

The peace process has yielded no results since the second Intifada. The Palestinians herded into Gaza elected Hamas, which has no interest in peace, and the screws have tightened on Palestinians everywhere. The Oslo Accords, the closest things to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord ever signed, are a distant memory. “Natural growth” of settlements continues. Israelis retain all the power in negotiation. Would Israeli government movement away from peace be a sudden turn, or would it be on course? It is not much of a threat to say you will derail a train no one is on.

Israel’s courts will try soldiers that are accused, by Israeli fact-finding commissions, of war crimes. Israel has never been a country that desperately sought approval from others, and is unlikely to start now. It will not give into blackmail. Any anger that outsiders’ actions generate within Israel will make it easier to go to war again the next time.

The goals of the war, Operation Cast Lead, were long term ones. An article in Haaretz says that Israelis hoped its success would mean Egypt and Israel’s working together to produce results in Gaza, such as inter-Palestinian reconciliation, which in turn could lead to negotiations with them. It implies that, all because of forces outside of Israel’s control, such as the shrinking stature of Mahmoud Abbas and the growing one of Iran, ferment in Jerusalem and fighting in Gaza, the long term results the war aimed to achieve will never materialise. Things just never seem to go right when you are the victim.

Sarcasm aside, it is hard not to agree with Israeli claims that the report is biased. The annoying words “anti-Semitic”, the words that imply that the only racism that matters is that against Jews, words used so often one might be forgiven for thinking that everyone outside Israel is an anti-Semite, may in fact be a fair accusation in this case. As I have said before, the UN Human Rights Council is hopelessly biased against Israel, and the UN has not been much better. The Human Rights Council is full of human rights-violating Arab states that hate Israel. The Council’s existence throws the UN’s legitimacy into question.

The Council’s anti-Semitism is so blatant that it has made no attempt at a reference to Palestinian (presumably mostly Hamas) crimes during or before the war in its resolutions condemning Israel. Amnesty International’s report was not similarly biased, and its authors called for all crimes to be punished. We can clearly see which organisation is truly interested in human rights.

Because of the lack of legitimacy of the body that commissioned the Goldstone Report, the report’s veracity is too difficult to ascertain. Because there was little trace of a peace process to start with, things could easily degenerate into violence. And because Israel is used to this sort of bullying, nothing is likely to change between Israelis and Palestinians.

One week of Israeli-Palestinian conflict bias-balancing: Conclusions

Day 7: Conclusions

I have spent the past week reading and analysing newspapers from Israel and Palestine to try to make sense of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By balancing the biases from news media, we can get a good picture of what is going on, what the people think and why things are the way they are.

One unspoken job of the newspapers is to give its readers reasons why they are right. If you believe Palestinians should not have their own state, you read the papers that not only agree with you but give you well-reasoned arguments as to why yours is the only logical position to take on the issue. Thus, when you read other newspapers that say Palestinians deserve sovereignty, you can denounce them dextrously. The newspapers I read, particularly Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, the Palestine Chronicle, the Alternative Information Centre and Arutz Sheva were very good at telling their readers how to think and why.

All newspapers are biased, though some more obviously than others. It is hard to tell which are the right-wing papers and which are left-wing, as the basic positions are the same. The divisions would be more accurately described as into doves and hawks. I didn’t find as many doves as I expected. I know there are peace activists among Israelis and Palestinians but there is just so much anger that they are clearly fighting an uphill battle. Others, meanwhile, claim to want peace, but since there could never be peace while the other exists, they must be held down or eliminated.

My take on the two-state solution

The biggest issue at play in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is, in my opinion, independence for Palestinians. There are other issues too but they would all be solved if this one was. For example, the right of return of Palestinian refugees. If there was a Palestinian state, it would be able to accommodate them. So the two-state solution is the solution. But it is still a long way off.

Netanyahu’s ideas on a Palestinian state are that, since it is a dangerous tiger, it should have its teeth, claws and one eye removed. Having nominally endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state, he can say he is on the side of the US. However, he has shown his hawkish side is the one he will follow. A Palestinian state must agree to recognise Israel as a Jewish state; a demilitarised Palestinian state; no control over Jerusalem; and Jewish West Bank settlements will keep growing. He made this proposal because he knew Palestinians would reject and get angry at it, making his government look like the peacemakers whose olive branch was rejected by the unreasonable Arabs. He started his speech by saying “Peace has always been our people’s most ardent desire.” What he meant was, Peace for Jews is our desire. If others need to be repressed or killed to secure it, fine.

That said, there is no reason to believe the two-state ideal is dead, as some Palestinian journalists have claimed. Netanyahu will not be in power forever. The Barack administration will keep up the pressure. Jimmy Carter’s point of view is valuable as well. But a viable Palestinian state does, nonetheless, seem a distant prospect.

The Israeli press spends too much time writing about why everything Israel does is right, and why everyone who disagrees with anything it does is wrong. If the newspapers reflect and reinforce public opinion, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter are hated in some circles of Israeli society. These are the peacemakers. How can Israelis claim they want peace if they shoot the peacemakers? And how can they find solutions if everything is the fault of Arab terrorists?

Israelis in general also need to get over the idea that theirs is the only legitimate claim to the land of Israel. Was there nobody there before the Aliyah? Why do Jews but not Arabs deserve a nation state? There is no reason that Jews, Muslims and Christians, Jains, Daoists, dogs and monkeys cannot all live in harmony in Israel. All it requires is accepting that our group is no better than theirs.

How should Palestinian leaders proceed? Being far less powerful than the Israeli state, Palestinian leaders might be better to commit to non-violent resistance and creative solutions. I know, I know, in the face of aggression, one wants to be aggressive. I can understand the Intifada and the radical groups and the anger and bitterness of the Palestinians. But violence by Palestinians has two major consequences. First, it means retaliation, and if the blockade of and war in Gaza were any guide, violence is just not worth it. The Israeli Defence Forces should have made that clear. Second, it means less international sympathy for the people committing violence. If the Palestinians can play the peaceful yet oppressed minority, they could garner the support needed for recognition of their plight, and the world would put enough pressure on Israel to give them their own state. Or perhaps that is already the case and the result is not statehood but the status quo. Perhaps everyone needs to work harder to achieve peace.

The media can play the role of the hawk, by presenting narrow views and arguments that never compromise, or it can play the role of the dove, by presenting a variety of viewpoints, each one reasonable, from people of all ideologies in the conflict. Too many play the hawk. More critical thinking, more balanced biases, and more recognition of the legitimate claims of the other are the only way to achieve peace.

One week of the Israeli-Palestinian war of words

Day 4

It has become clear to me that it is too difficult to report every day on the same four newspapers I set out to on day 1, simply because not all of them change every day. My two choices for Palestinian papers, especially, are slower to change and not really written by Palestinians in Palestine. I am also having trouble keeping up with the workload of reading and analysing several newspapers a day. I will take from a wider selection of newspapers while keeping my main objective in mind: aiding our critical thinking by comparing reporting bias in Israeli and Palestinian news media.

Palestinian Information Center

The Voice of Palestine (or the Voice of Hamas), the PIC “aims to promote awareness about Palestine, the Palestinians and the Palestinian issue and to balance the often distorted picture presented in the mainstream media.” It is available in eight languages.

The leader reads “Palestine resistance fighters clash with an IOF [Israeli Occupation Force] patrol”. It is an interesting change of words. If this headline had been written for Israelis, it would have read “Palestinian militants clash with an IDF [Israeli Defence Force] patrol”. They even had a name for the organisation that released the information and conducted the attack: the Palestine Eagles Brigades. Newspapers give names to people they want to make seem more human, and ignore the names of those who are less than human. (One might read, for instance, “10 foreign terrorists were killed fighting with local citizen Menso El Rey.”) “The Eagles added that its fighters managed to withdraw safety and that the attack was within the framework of retaliating to occupation crimes against the Palestinian people in the West bank and the Gaza Strip, especially the aggression on farmers.” The article is only 107 words long.

Down the right side of the website, which always attracts my attention before the left side, are the following links (with pictures): Palestine: What it’s all about; T-shirts mock Gaza killings; Farming under fire and F16’s in Gaza; Attacks on medics during Gaza war; Use of phosphorus bombs in Gaza; Al Nakba: The catastrophe of Palestine, 1948. I do not contain my curiosity and go straight to the link about the t-shirts. It led to an Al Jazeera video on Youtube you may want to watch. (You can find lots of other Al Jazeera videos on how evil Israel is from here.)

Other PIC articles are also short. There is less attempt at providing an analytical justification for why the Israeli state must be destroyed; they just get to the point. One talks of a meeting between Hamas and the Egyptian government and combines this news with a Hamas statement that the “PA [Palestinian Authority] security apparatuses’ practices against Hamas and the resistance in the West Bank” must end. It is not clear how these two issues are related.

I find three links to an item titled “Barak calls on IOF to prepare for fresh war on Gaza” all visible at the same time. One was “Most Read”, one “Most Printed” and the other was running across the top banner. Clearly, this was an article I am supposed to read. A picture of an unsmiling Ehud Barak greets us. The article does not say much beyond the headline, except that it uses words like “deeper” and “larger” than in January to describe the threatened offensive in Gaza. Remember what I said yesterday about numbers being used to evoke sympathy, anger and evidence? This article ends with the following: “The latest Israeli war on Gaza that started late December 2008 and ended in late January 2009 claimed the lives of almost 1,500 Palestinians and wounded almost 6,000 others.” This is a quarter of the words in the article.

Another feature of note on this website is the left-hand banner, part of which reads “Palestinian Memory Bank”. Apparently, every day the site reports something that happened to the Palestinians in history on that day. There are two dates, 1996 and 1974, and neither is particularly damning or interesting. But since they presumably have something to put there every day, what this section is saying is that on every day of the year, the Israelis have been assholes.

The Jerusalem Post

Apparently, the number that turned out to vote for the next president of Iran was “massive”. As I clicked on this leader, the first thing I noticed was not the body of the article but a banner: “The Iranian Threat”, a small picture of Iran and an apelike Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I wonder, if Ahmadinejad is defeated at the polls, will they replace his picture with one of Ayatollah Khamenei. In wording almost identical to something I read yesterday, the article asks if Iran will keep “hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power or [elect] a reformist who favors greater freedoms and improved ties with the United States.” Whom would you rather elect, a hardliner or a reformist? The Post conceals its bias against Ahmadinejad like a burka made of air. I wonder if it would not be more effective to be more subtle. Anyway, says the article, it does not really matter who wins because “crucial policies are all directly controlled by the ruling clerics headed by the unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”

And if the Ayatollah were not enough reason to give up hope, the next article says “Mousavi [that’s the other guy running for president of Iran] win would not stop nuke drive”. Oh dear. Then what’s the big deal? Do Israelis really care if the Iranian government stops cracking down on bloggers?

More headlines about Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday. “Noam Shalit gives Carter a letter for son” is probably just a way of reminding everyone that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in Gaza. “Israel better at security issues than US” is a funny headline about a funny subject: comparing the numbers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to those killed in Israel and Palestine, the numbers of minorities incarcerated in the US to those incarcerated in Israel, and the better life expectancies in Israel to those in the US, Egypt and Syria. If one is digging for the point of this article, it is probably to say to the US, “you have no business telling us how to treat people, because our record is superior to yours.” In other words, we will keep building settlements in the West Bank whether you like it or not.

And then we come to a thoughtful, relatively balanced article: the op-ed. I am used to Canadian and American newspapers, where the bias is most visible in the op-eds and editorials because they come right out and state their affiliations and beliefs. The articles feel more balanced. However, this feeling may come from my having been socialised by North American news media and not Israeli or Arab. It is possible that those socialised by the kind of reading I am doing this week find the language normal and balanced; and it is the differences that enable me to see bias more clearly.

Today’s op-ed is called “Peace vs. Reality”. Allow me to represent the opening passage. “Palestinian and Israeli youth gather on a soccer field for a friendly match as part of a sports peace program. Two steps forward. IDF soldiers kill Palestinian civilians in the war in Gaza. Two steps back. Bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents meet each other to share their pain and promote peace and reconciliation. Two steps forward. Hamas launches dozens of rockets daily on the South, killing and terrorizing civilians. Two steps back.

“However many steps forward the grassroots peace process takes, the harsh winds of reality, fanned by the political leadership on both sides, send peace spiraling backward.”

At multiple levels, attempts at peace are being made. It is not just the governments that are talking. This piece discusses an argument that broke out among Israeli and Palestinian teenagers at a meeting arranged by the Peres Center for Peace. It then describes a documentary of the uphill battle Palestinian and Israeli peace activists face. The article makes little use of numbers and instead shows the humanity, the legitimate grievances, the bad choices, and the killing on both sides of the conflict. This editorial is my favourite of anything I have read so far this week. I will stop for today in order to preserve the hope with which it was written.

One week trying to understand Israeli and Palestinian newspaper bias

Day 3

Palestine Media Center

The official mouthpiece of the general secretariat of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). The two-state solution is a big thing here. Three headlines have the words “two-state” in them. Another headline uses the word “Apartheid”, and there is an apparently separate link saying “Israeli Apartheid” next to it. I would not deny that the plight of the Palestinians is apartheid, only that it is a very strong word. If life is as bad for the Palestinians as it was for non whites under apartheid, they are in trouble.

The most interesting thing is to hear Ehud Barak himself using the word. He says that, if there is only one state, and if the Palestinians cannot vote, “it will be an apartheid regime.” Fancy the defense minister of a right wing Israeli cabinet admitting something like that. Are we actually making progress?

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says, according to the leader, that a two-state solution is coming sooner or later. (Yet another article on foreign pressure for a two-state peace says is about Javier Solana, Foreign Minister of the European Union.) Egypt and Israel are on reasonably good terms—Egypt is one of the only two majority Muslim countries, with Jordan, that recognises Israel—so pressure for Palestinian independence is likely to come from them. The US is pushing for the two-state thing, and Egypt and Jordan are its allies, so they may feel emboldened to push too. President Mubarak also said the Palestinians must work hard to achieve unity. That might be the biggest obstacle to peace.

For the past two days, I have seen talk about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday. The Palestine Media Center (PMC) says “Netanyahu will adopt ‘two-state’ language on Sunday speech.” Seems a little vague. They might as well have said “Netanyahu will give all the Palestinians a job and a pension”. Any politician can speak in terms that sound good. Only action can make peace.

According to the PMC, Netanyahu will be asking for a lot in return for Palestinian independence. The Palestinians must recongise Israel and “[h]e will ask [not demand?] Arab states to normalize relations with Israel during negotiations, rather than after Israel withdraws from occupied Arab land”. I do not feel the bitterness from the PMC that one feels in other media from Palestine. Of course, they are just as prone to bias as any other medium; but you let your guard down when you hear relatively conciliatory tones like these.

As the PMC points out, Palestinian independence is only one condition of peace negotiations. “It is unclear”, it says, “whether Netanyahu will accept the other condition, which is US President Barack Obama’s demand for a total halt to all construction in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.” In fact, the PMC has a set of links entitled “Permanent Status Issues”, and they are Jerusalem, Settlements, Refugees, Water, Borders, Summary of Palestinian Positions. Each is like an encyclopedia entry on Palestinian grievances for each issue, along with a long list of links regarding the issue you are reading about.

For instance, on the subject of Jerusalem, while the Israeli papers talk of the long history the city has had as capital of a (future) state of Israel, this section says the opposite. “For centuries, Jerusalem has been the geographical, political, administrative and spiritual center of Palestine.” It begins the Israeli story at the 1967 war, several thousand years after the Jews do, and says that since then, the Israeli state has taken over and expanded East Jerusalem in “a classic example of ethnic gerrymandering.” The PMC continues, talking about the illegality of Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem according to “a long line” of UN Security Council resolutions; discrimination against Arabs; Jewish settlement; and forced evictions and demolitions. “The Palestinian Position” (or that of the PLO, anyway), is, basically, follow Resolution 242 (here and here—apparently the PLO did not initially accept 242), and make Jerusalem a free city. They make some good points.

Haaretz

Like yesterday, the Holocaust museum gunman tops the list. I am interested that some senile American racist shooting up the Holocaust museum is so important to Jews (or the ones writing this newspaper, anyway) that they put it right at the top. The article was very long (more than 1100 words) and read as a mixture of a report of the shooting and the biography of a white supremacist.

“Rightists to Peres: Not your place to call for Palestinian state”. A picture of Israeli President Shimon Peres shows him looking deeply pensive in his chair. The president is largely a figurehead, so he does not have much power. For this reason, two right wing Israeli parties, one of which is in the governing coalition, spoke out against Peres discussing the two-state matter with Javier Solana. One of the parties, the National Union, said the president should cancel such meetings in future. Though the prime minister is likely to give some form of endorsement to the Road Map to Peace and the two-state solution in his speech on Sunday, it is likely that the parties that objected to Peres’ meeting with Solana feel it puts undue pressure on him. A link to this article from a couple of weeks ago says that President Peres criticised a right wing politician’s suggestion that Jordan should be the base of the Palestinian state. It was a fatuous suggestion, but was Mr Peres within his bounds to say so? And why is there so much stress on the right and left? The ideological divisions in Israeli society may be particularly wide; or perhaps Haaretz is keen to exploit them.

Another major story in today’s paper is that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released documents saying that Iran began its plan to enrich uranium in 1987 under the moderate Mir Hossein Mousavi. If a moderate could start a nuclear weapons programme, this implies, the Iranian state must be evil through and through. That said, buying centrifuges does not mean you are trying to make a bomb. The article does not mention that. And it repeats the fact that the centrifuges were bought on the black market.

The IAEA reported that the nuclear facility in Natanz was spinning 5000 centrifuges, up by 1000 from February, and has 2000 more ready to start enriching. I do not know how many that is. It is just a number. Do Israelis know how many bombs could be made with 7000 centrifuges? (According to the New York Times, it is enough to make one or two nuclear weapons a year.) I have noticed that numbers are a good way to win an argument. Since they can be manipulated, like all facts, numbers of bad things are always bigger on their side than ours, even if we do not know what the numbers denote. The article ended on the subject of the upcoming Iranian election in which Ahmadinejad and his opponent, Mousavi (the one who started enriching uranium) will be competing and left few wondering whom the newspaper was supporting. The public were reflecting “on whether they want to keep hard-line President Ahmadinejad in power or replace him with a reformist more open to closer ties with the West.”

Finally, Palestinian police found a 15-year-old boy hanged for allegedly collaborating with Israelis. His father, uncle and cousin confessed. Tragic and senseless, of course; but like the story about the little Zionist town in yesterday’s Palestinian Chronicle, we seem to be picking at small things about our enemies to exploit for propaganda’s sake. See how messed up they are? the journalist is saying.

The Alternative Information Center

To mix things up today, we are going to look at the Alternative Information Center, a joint effort between Israeli and Palestinian activists. The AIC calls itself internationally oriented, progressive (I like those words, even if I don’t know what they mean) organisation engaged in “dissemination of information, political advocacy, grassroots activism and critical analysis of the Palestinian and Israeli societies as well as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” It strives for equality, freedom and rejection of separationist ideology. Perhaps not all news from the Middle East is anti- or pro- something. Or perhaps it is. Let us see what we can learn from this website.

The first thing that catches my eye is a video about a weekly protest of the separation barrier in a Palestinian village near Bethlehem. The speaker, a Palestinian, makes it clear he considers it apartheid, and says this wall is pushing the suffering of his people. Not all the protestors were Palestinians, however. An Israeli citizen had joined the demonstration, expressing his support for the tearing down of the wall. They are brave people, face to face with a dozen or more soldiers.

The podcast of a press conference by the parents of an American activist who was injured by the Israeli military. Jail time for those who deny the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or who commemorate the Naqba (the 1948 Palestinian exodus). Criticism of Netanyahu for his inaction on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Photos of the Israeli attack on the UN mission in Gaza in January. A UN report on an Israeli order for more Palestinian housing demolitions. Another on checkpoints. A “new wave of unopposed attacks” by Jewish settlers on Arabs. If this truly is unbiased or evenhanded news, the Israelis have a huge amount to answer for.

But it is not. There are Israeli Jews on the editing team but that does not make it balanced. A neutral, equal parts Israeli and Palestinian perspective of reporting would not use words like “occupation”, because it is one-sided word. It would also show the perspectives of moderate Israelis, Jewish settlers and perhaps someone who had been injured by a Palestinian rocket attack. The AIC had none of those. While its points may be valid, even a cursory glance at the website evinces that its claims to critical analysis are unconvincing.

Tomorrow we will examine different newspapers, including the news from Hamas’s point of view.

One week of Israeli-Palestine conflict news from the source

Day 2

The Jerusalem Post

Today’s headline reads “Security cabinet directs IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] to respond to any Gaza aggression.” That doesn’t sound good. Next to it is a photo of guys in a quarry wearing ski masks jumping through a hoop of fire with the caption “PRC [don’t know] terrorists train in the central Gaza Strip.” The US wants Israel to ease the blockade of Gaza and the Israeli security cabinet is trying to figure out how to allow more goods to be traded without endangering Israelis.

The Gaza Strip is treated like a kind of rat’s nest: don’t let any of them out or they could bite you. Keep them stuffed in there and if any tries to bite you from inside, throw the poison down. According to the Post, a terrorist attack near the Karni crossing was foiled earlier this week. And the matter of the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit could lead to a prisoner swap. Interesting that they refer to an Israeli prisoner by name but do not hint at the name of any Palestinians. Perhaps the Palestinians do not have names.

“[D]efense officials continue opposing bringing concrete and steel into the Gaza Strip, arguing that it would be used not only to reconstruct buildings, but also to construct arms smuggling tunnels and rebuild Hamas’ rocket building capacity.” So do not expect a lot of reconstruction in the material sense. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak maintains there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We cannot know from this article if he is right because it does not mention food. But the security cabinet, Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu all reaffirmed their commitment to the security of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

A video of “Arafat’s ex-manager” reads “Israel and America killed Yasser Arafat”. Another video shows US Mideast envoy George Mitchell shaking hands with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Related articles are titled “Some Islamic extremists respond positively to Obama’s speech,” “Hillary Clinton’s troubling transformation on Israel” and the one I read yesterday, “Why Obama is wrong on Israel and the Shoah.” It is possible that the Jerusalem Post is trying to systematically take apart the Barack administration’s stance on Israel and Palestine in order to legitimise Netanyahu’s government’s dissent from it.

One article quotes Ehud Barak at length on Arab-Israeli matters such as Barack’s speech in Cairo, the two-state solution and Iran’s nuclear development. It is rare that one sees a Canadian or American newspaper with such full quotes of their leaders. It is perhaps an effort not to take Mr Barak out of context. The same article shows a photo of him shaking hands playfully with a group of smiling seventh graders.

Today’s Must-Reads includes “Taking a stand on Iran”, about Canadian legislation called the Iran Accountability Act, holding Iran and apparently everywhere else accountable for genocide. The article says that, while all signatories to the 1948 Convention of the Prevention of Genocide have a responsibility to stop genocide when it happens, “they have largely ignored…the world’s greatest threat [Iran].” Apparently, Iran is the most likely country in the world to commit genocide.

One Op Ed piece recognises, for the first time as I have read this week, the ideological divisions within Israeli discourse regarding human rights and security concerns. The rest of the articles tend to leave the impression of consensus, and the consensus is of taking a hard line on the enemy. This one, by senior fellows at the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank, says that the US could learn something about counterterrorism from Israel, and that the ideological differences between Dick Cheney’s “no middle ground” on terror attitude and President Barack’s constitutional approach parallels the debate in Israel today. Thank you, gentlemen, for showing there are both soft and hard views in Israel on security and not simply varying degrees of hawk.

The Palestine Chronicle

“Lebanon’s Election Results and the Age of Resistance”: An election observer named Franklin Lamb, who saw it all, describes at length first the peaceful prayer that took place after the election in Lebanon on Monday, and then the peaceful elections. From his description, they sound very much like elections I have worked for in Canada, except with soldiers. The losing coalition is described as “disappointed but civil”. Mr Lamb quotes a member of Michel Aoun (leader of the losing coalition)’s senior political bureau, two members of Hezbollah and no one from the winning group.

On an angrier note, Mr Lamb proceeds to say that the Barack administration is disappointed their side did not perform better in the election, that they violated Lebanese voting laws by campaigning for their favourites and felt contempt for Lebanon’s voters. With regard to the weapons of “the resistance” (Hezbollah), which was such a big issue in this election, Israel insists on decommissioning them, but political will in Lebanon to do anything about it is weak. In other words, don’t expect Hezbollah to give up its arms.

At the end of the article, Mr Lamb puts somewhat confusing rallying calls for the National Lebanese Resistance to “defend a Zionist-terrorised Lebanon, staking their lives on their basic belief in God and the independence and sovereignty for their country and the Liberation of Palestine…. As this era of Resistance to Zionism spreads around the World and intensifies here and abroad, every hour that Lebanon resists brings the region closer to justice and real peace.”

The Chronicle featured two interesting commentaries on the US government: “Obama Spoke to Muslims for Oil, not Humanity” and “Obama’s Outreach to Muslims: Same Old Policies”. They might as well have been the same article. One writer suggests Barack’s campaign slogan should have been “Continuity We Can Believe In”. Without a lot of analysis, he says Barack was using “soft power” (influence through carrots rather than sticks) and peripherally examines his choice of Egypt to give his speech as likely to be popular with Americans. He also disagrees with Barack’s statement that the image of the US as a self-interested empire is a stereotype. The writer finds it “difficult for those with knowledge of American foreign policy history to believe.”

As with yesterday’s Palestine Times (and all newspapers, really), there are some perfunctories attacks on the paper’s enemies. One is about a town of 170 Jewish families in Israel. The town has begun requiring its citizens to take an oath of loyalty to “Zionism, Jewish heritage and settlement of the land”. The article called this “a thinly veiled attempt to block Arab applicants from gaining admission.” Really? It is veiled? I would call it an unveiled attempt to keep Arabs out. It was a move by the town council to put “Zionist values and Jewish heritage…at the heart of [the town’s] way of life. We don’t see this as racism in any way.” While I believe towns should have this right, it is clearly racist and highly reminiscent of the town of Herouxville, Quebec, that did something similar a few years ago. Nonetheless, does blasting a small town’s prejudiced choices really advance the Palestinian people’s cause?

I just realised that the Palestinian Chronicle is written largely by non-Muslims. The names of the contributors are most Anglo-Saxon or German (Jewish?)-sounding. Makes sense: get non-Muslims on your side to show that others agree with you, and even that the world is on your side. Its tagline reads “global voices for a better world”. Considering the nature of the articles, on the sinister US, terrorist Israel, and the plight of the Palestinians, it seems ironic to use a “better world” tagline and photo of olives, friendship and art to represent your cause. The paper is more about how they are making the world worse than how we can make the world better.

Haaretz

Being a newspaper more for English-speaking Jews around the world than Israelis alone, the leader of today’s Haaretz was that an 89-year-old (89!) white supremacist opened fire at a Holocaust museum in the United States. (When I return to the Jerusalem Post, its first article has been updated to the same news.) The second article was the same as the first of the Jerusalem Post, “Cabinet to IDF: Repond to any attack from Gaza”. This is clearly a big issue in Israel and it scares me to think of that “any” aggression from Palestinians in Gaza could mean a repeat of the war at the beginning of this year.

“US envoy: Obama won’t yield on settlement freeze”. This article says that Netanyahu has rejected the US demand, though it is an obligation under the Road Map to Peace. It also makes the first mention I have seen so far that George Mitchell, Barack’s Middle East envoy, was a a senator and the broker of the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland. This is the first article mentioning anyone from the US administration that makes an American seem human.

This item references Prime Minister Netanyahu as saying “Israel is acting to advance peace and security with the Palestinians and the Arab world,” and yet gave no details. Is this short statement meant to appease Israelis? To me at least, the lack of any details on this seemingly noteworthy act is suspicious. But perhaps I am in the minority, and Israelis reading it will nod their heads in understanding. The article gives more voice to Mr Mitchell and has him state clearly, “Let me be clear. These are not disagreements among adversaries. The United States and Israel are and will remain close allies and friends.” That’s pretty clear.

Writing on Ehud Barak’s speech to the Council for Peace and Security, comprising IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad veterans, one journalist says it was filled with the “staples: a little peace, an open hand extended to our neighbors, an existential threat or two.” He got a short interview with Mr Barak and protrays him as somewhat pessimistic. On one hand, his government is committed to the Road Map and the two-state solution; on the other, says Barak, “[t]he Road Map should be changed now that Hamas is in power.”

The Defense section had more words from Defense Minister Barak’s speech, tainted with the fear that American weapons to Lebanon’s army would end up in Hezbollah’s hands; and yet another on Barak and his comments foreshadowing more wars like Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in January. I don’t like labeling people I do not know personally, but it could be fair to call Barak a hawk.

A lot more of the headlines are related to Jewish West Bank settlements, though some are about Jewish comedy, a Tel Aviv gay pride parade and Liberian warlord Charles Taylor’s conversion to Judaism. And most interesting to me, both Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post have side bars about Jews marrying non-Jews. Scandalous!