Zero Hour

Today was a shit day, but it could have been worse. Working for a newsroom is pretty exhilarating during war time, even though it’s a very strange time to officially jump into the job. I barely kept up, but I hope I was at least somehow helpful. I didn’t want to leave work because being there keeps me busy, and keeps me from being alone in my apartment waiting for a siren to go off. I’m not scared of it, although it is fuckin’ scary, but it’s the anticipation of it that kind of drives me crazy. 

I went to bed last night with a lot of hope. I had just come home from my International Law class at Tel Aviv University, and really felt better informed about the situation after discussing it in an academic setting instead of sticking to the syllabus and ignoring the painfully obvious reality of war surrounding us. I started thinking about the situation more objectively for the first time since it started, and I was finally able to be less emotional about it. We discussed options in the class and what the Israeli government was dealing with in international law terms. For the first time, I was grasping what was going on because it wasn’t coming form an emotional place. I came home feeling a bit better about everything and hopeful that a cease-fire could be negotiated and felt that even a temporary solution would be better than this constant and terrifying back and forth. 

But today was a bad day in Tel Aviv. An explosion was set off on a public bus in the city center, wounding about 20 people. No casualties were reported, but for Israelis an image of a burned/shattered/bombed-out bus is their worst nightmare. And it’s been more than 6 years since a suicide bomber (Hamas’ responsibility) attacked in Tel Aviv. There is a reason why the Israeli government builds settlements, and although I don’t 100% agree with the rationale behind them, it’s mainly to keep the majority of the Israeli population, who live in the country’s center, safe. So for me, an American, it was horrible, brutal, tragic and really scary. For everyone else around in me in the newsroom, who have more experience with this, it was a wave of intense emotions. People calling their loved ones to make sure everything is ok, text messages, and the website needed to be updated. It was probably one of the most intense things I have experienced, professionally and humanely. 

As of thirty-three minutes ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that there is a cease-fire with Gaza. The agreement was organized by Egypt’s Morsi (Islamic Brotherhood) and in my (poorly) legally trained eyes makes no sense. See text here. More importantly, I don’t understand why it took 8 days, US and Egyptian intervention, and a lot of rockets, casualties, and stress to broker such simple terms without really addressing the “hows”. Basically both sides agree to to give assurances to Egypt – ok, that’s good. We definitely need a third party to mediate between the two and I commend Egypt for stepping up. I also commend the US for getting more involved than I had anticipated. But back to the terms, it’s a simple statement that both sides wont bomb each other any more. But there is no time frame on it and no concessions are mentioned if either party should break the agreement (except that both parties are to answer to Egypt – this might have weight, but I’m not entirely sure how much). Perhaps this has to be done hastily at first, before something more concrete can be arranged in the coming days? But the bottom line is that this region is always like this, what is going to change? The negotiations mention nothing to this effect. It’s all politics – international law is politics. But maybe I don’t care because this is a step in the right direction?

I skipped my classes tonight because I didn’t want to get on a bus, but also because I am emotionally and physically exhausted from all this and I woke up at 6 in the morning and spent the rest of the day in a very intense and stressful environment. It’s also been 8 days of surprises. Seeing this conflict as an outsider living in the cozy States a few years ago was an entirely different and very objective/logical experience. I don’t support violent means to create peace – it was simple, just like Israel’s statement about not negotiating with terrorists. But being in the here, now, I understand so much more why each side is so determined to protect their clan, their territory and their religious convictions (although I’m fairly certain that the conflict has gone way beyond overly simplistic categories of Jew v. Arab). Non-violent means are simply not a reality in this region, and it pains me to admit this, but I now understand why both sides resort to force. I also understand this Israeli sentiment of “them” being animals, but I also comprehend that Palestinians feel caged by “us”. I do not believe I was not born into this conflict like most people living here, even though I am Jewish, but I still am angry and most of my anger is directed to the “other” side. But it’s only because I’m experiencing it from here. The anger is legitimate on either end but for the first time in my life, I truly understand what it’s like to be blinded by it. 

There is a theory, although it is very far-fetched, that Israel invented Hamas in order to create an alternative to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during  negotiations with Yasser Arafat in the early 1990s. Israel’s motto “we do not negotiate with terrorists.” Arafat was a terrorist, but isn’t just saying that very statement a negotiation in itself? It’s certainly an offer at the very least, or perhaps an invitation to use force? One thing is certain, Israel definitely had a hand in creating a stronger Hamas – if you identify someone as a leader, they become one; you push them, they bite back; you undermine their rights, they get angry and use that as strength. In 1992 during the First Intifada, Ehud Barak was in charge of ordering the arrest and deportation of all Islamic group leaders. They are all deported to Lebanon in a secret mission. The operation was appealed to the High Court, eventually Israel won and after a year, after the Intifada ends, the angry Islamic leaders return. Except now they are angrier, more anti-Israel and they use their deported status as a rite of passage, so to speak – those who had not been deported were deemed not important enough in Israel’s eyes (not a big enough threat) and therefore could not even claim membership as a Hamas leader. Didn’t the same thing happen in Afghanistan and al-Qaida? The United States supported a Russian Afghanistan, thereby giving a movement momentum and allowing them to use their anger to organize. 

Bottom line, I think that the cease-fire is a good idea because it’s another route. No one knows if it’s a good one or what will happen, but it’s an option that has not been utilized before and the old methods are simply not working anymore.

ISRAEL: their red line keeps getting extended, rockets are flying over central cities such as Tel Aviv. They no longer have an excuse not to use force. They had/have 2 options at this point:  

1) Attack Gaza, occupy it, kill everyone 

cons: lose IDF soldiers and international support of any kind                                                                          

2) Negotiate with Hamas (cease-fire agreement)

cons: this is an achievement for a terrorist organization (Israel does not negotiate with terrorists); Israel loses its ability for improving deterrence and control of the situation; Hamas also sets an example for other groups surrounding Israel – force is the only way to get their attention (compare to the non-violent Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, where Abbas offers concessions).

Both options are bad ones; however, Israel has already attempted to solve the conflict using the first choice. Operation Cast Lead back in 2008 was thought to be a success at its conclusion, but considering 4 years later tensions have increased, the method has not worked. Also, realistically if Israel goes in they won’t eliminate the problem, only postpone it. They’ll probably be able to occupy Gaza within a week but most of the Hamas leadership and other factions in Gaza (including Islamic Jihad) will run away to Egypt. In a few more years they will rebuild. But, as we have learned before, they will be stronger and more popular. History repeats itself.

A third option is needed, but that will not be decided tonight. 

10:23 P.M. Gaza militants fire 12 rockets into Israel during hour after cease-fire was announced. The rockets landed in open areas and caused no damage or casualties.  (Reuters) – from Haaretz’s LIVE BLOG 

10:47 P.M. Khaled Meshal: Palestinians to respect truce if Israel does. “If [Israel] does not comply, our hands are on the trigger.” (Reuters)

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