Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Israel, Day 3: Gaza and Journalists

Today’s adventure took us to the Gaza Strip and then to Jerusalem, where we will be based for the rest of the week.  (See here for day 1 and day 2)

The first stop near (not in) Gaza was the trade transport entrance very close to the Egyptian border.  We got to see how stuff is brought by trucks to this facility, unloaded and inspected, then picked up by mediator trucks, then talking to the edge of Gaza to be dropped odd and then picked up by Gaza drivers.  One section smelled fishy.... because fish had been transported that day.  The idea is for the Israelis to have no contact with the Palestinians.  We remarked that this was a very inefficient way to so this, but efficiency is certainly not a goal here and maybe inefficiency is seen as a good thing.  And, yes, the lack of trust is intense.

Building the wall downwards
Tunnels are a big deal, not just to escape to Egypt (the use of that word hinted at something one Israeli admitted later: Gaza is a prison) but also to get agents into Israel to kill or, even better, kidnap. The going rate of a kidnapped IDF soldier is more than 1000 Gazans. So, the Israelis are building a different kind of wall: a barrier going 30 meters down under the ground to block tunnels.  The other threats are rockets, snipers and balloons.  The last refers to ballo
ons that are sent out by Hamas with an incendiary device to cause farms to burn.  These various efforts rise and fall but are clearly aimed at providing some costs for the status quo,  the Israeli stance is to let enough stuff to get thru to keep Gaza above water but only barely so.  What we have is a coercive bargaining process with neither side really expecting a bargain.  

While I am not thrilled with the status quo, I had more sympathy today for the Israelis in harm’s way near Gaza than I did for the settlers yesterday in the West Bank.  The big problem with Gaza is that it de-legitimated land for peace in Israeli eyes.   They gave Gaza to the Palestinians who then brought Hamas to power there. That is their perspective, which then makes it hard to give up other lands.... not great.  Strikingly, the Israelis reported that the thing they fear most would beif Hamas could mobilize nonviolent masses walking at the Israelis who would then have to shoot or run.  That Hamas can't do that says something.  The costs of the status quo mount as each side adapts to the other.  

The bus went to an Israeli neighbourhood nearby and also to a lookout area that had a memorial to paratroopers lost in the various wars.  I asked if they ever had a combat jump: once in 1956. But as an elite force, they got involved in much stuff.

The bus then went to Jerusalem where we met two journalists: one befor dinner and one during.  The first discussed how American Jews and Israeli Jews don’t really understand each other, and that Israel’s democracy is not like those elsewhere: the founders did not have political philosophy to build on and did not write a constitution.  So, rights are different.  The best illustration was that the state allows different religions to govern family law and such, which means that the only kind of intermarriage that is recognized is between a Muslim man and Jewish woman... very complicated stuff.  His take on Israeli Jews was that they are tribal with big divides between those of European origin and those from the Arab world. What unifies them? The bargaining that happens with every coalition, that Jews don’t kill Jews (which was contradicted by the archaeologist a couple of days later), and not much else.  
I hadn’t realized that the second intifada disrupted the political system so much, helping to break the left. 
This speaker told of a strange story where the Supreme Court told the military that they had to stop fighting deluding the second intifada until they could rule on whether the military was commmiting war crimes....which means I have a good reason not to include Israel in my current work: it is not comparable.

I got to ask a question that I have had for some time: why is Netanyahu hanging with antisemites in Europe and does he pay a price?  In his eyes, the right wing governments are nationalist, which is fine, but pro Israel where progressive folks are seen as anti Israel.  In essence, right wing anti-semites > left-wing anti-semites.  This seems dumb to me, but the right wing nationalist and, yes, anti semites, such as Orban of Hungary, support Israel so it doesn’t matter if they support anti-semitism.  And, no, Netanyahu is not facing much criticism for this.  So much for never again.  One thing I didn't push: sacrificing one's values to get Hungary's support?  Hungary is the one of the least useful, least relevant, least powerful countries in Europe.  Hungary fights well below its weight.

The dinner speaker was very interesting, providing us with more depth about Israeli politics and the split between Jews in US and Israel.  We pushed him on Israeli stances on Iran.  He finally explained something makes some sense of the Iran obsession.  I had thought that Israel was overly fussed with Iranian nukes since Iran would be deterred by Israeli nukes.  However, Iranian nukes would complicate the current situation: that Israeli nukes currently deter Hezbollah from attacking with many, many more destructive missiles—that is they cause huge amounts of damage, then Israel could nuke Iran since hezbollah gets its weapons from Iran.  If Iran has nukes, it could deter Israel and then Hezbollah could then just attack Israel at will.  I get that, but I think Israel could credibly commit to using its nukes if Hezbollah caused so much damage as it would have little to lose.  Israel doesn’t have to convince Iran 100%, just has to make Iran worry about that possibility.  But yes, Iranian nukes would make all of this harder.

The real lesson of today is that fear and coercion are not working great and may not be sustainable and that alienating American Jews is probably not going to help.

So, yeah, not a very cheerful day.... but the food was really good and tomorrow we fly helicopters to the Golan Heights!

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