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News and views from the front and from home

I glance through the SA media coverage of events in Gaza, and drop right through the rabbit hole into Alice in Wonderland. But this is a strange and bizarre fantasy world in which Hamas, having instigated this conflict as rationally as it is within their power to act, in order to inflict civilian casualties on their own population so as to discredit Israel, is the victim. Many in South Africa can see through the circus theatrics, the smoke and mirrors and spin to the core reality, but the distorted messages from our media are so pervasive that the susceptible are inflamed. The Malaysian airline calamity has grabbed a good deal of the spotlight – possibly to the relief of the saner elements within the media community.

So we lurch from one ill-understood “hot topic” to another with little gain in insight and unpredictable public responses. This is the climate within all politicians operate; in many cases they are the architects. Israel is, of course, a unique case. Its frustrating success and courage is like an open wound to the haters and envious. Their whole being is consumed by the intolerable realisation that all their efforts and malice has not stopped this small, democratic, Jewish state successfully defending itself. May they continue to be consumed by the torments of hell.

This post contains two main items. The first is from my cousin Charles Smith living in Israel. He  has the well-organised, realistic and precise mind of an engineer. This is his perspective on Operation Protective Edge:

1. Troops were amassed near Gaza from a week or so ago – top troops, trained in what they might have to do there – and “miluim” troops were called up to take their places in the meanwhile, where they had been in different parts of the country, until the present crisis is over.
2. The reason for this troop preparation was as follows:
    * It was NOT for the purpose of taking over Gaza at some point, or even removing Hamas from the scene completely. Why not? because there are worse fanatical extremists around who have infiltrated Gaza and are just waiting for an opportunity to replace them. In any case the thought of being left responsible for the total mess which is Gaza, which could mean everything – services, water, electricity, roads, sanitation, etc etc etc, salaries, burying wives chopped up for family honour, etc.- yich!!
    * There is a serious limit to how far the missile stores and even launchers can be destroyed from the air, when they are hidden under buildings, including hospitals and in schools and mosques. Similarly with the hundreds of deadly tunnels in Gaza and crossing into Israel. It was realized that the objects of the Israeli assault might not being achieved by aerial bombardment alone. These objects are:
       (a) To stop all Gazan missile-firing at Israel for a very long time
       (b) To remove Hamas’s ability to renew its missile stocks by manufacturing them there or importing them
       (c) Generally to put an end to their construction of an offence infrastructure for war against Israel (at least for a long time)
     * A ground operation is far more efficient, ‘though dangerous and makes for far more casualties, but can in the end clean up virtually completely and achieve the above objects.
     * It seems that the attempted attack on a kibbutz by 13 terrorists through one of the tunnels (whose position was hitherto unknown to Israel of course) was the last straw. The critical danger of these hidden tunnels emerging inside Israel, designed for such terrorist attacks, was emphasized and just impossible to live with. It also came at a time when continuous attempts to bring Hamas to the negotiating table – through all sorts of channels of which I don’t have details – were all refused by Hamas even ‘though some were accepted by Israel, and the bombardment on Israel not only continued but became much heavier with around 100 being fired all over the country each day. Having given other means as much of a chance as humanly  possible, it became necessary to ramp up the action to achieve our goals by moving in on the ground.
3.That’s the background. It seems that the army has prepared meticulously for the possibility of this development, so that they know exactly what they have to do and how they have to do it. There was lots of speculation by the various discussion groups (of very well informed commentators here) on the likely scope of the “invasion”. Many thought that they might just go in to get at the tunnels in the area from which the latest attack was launched. However the troops seem to have quickly moved in to a wide selection of areas in Gaza.
4. By the way, as you may have heard, the residents of the areas into which the army is moving, were given adequate warnings to evacuate beforehand, in the last couple of days. Some did, but some, under Hamas pressure or for other reasons, didn’t. Too bad. In my opinion (as I may have said before) such behaviour renders them party to the conflict and no longer innocent bystanders, with all that that implies.
 5. In any case, the stated plan is to carry on widening and increasing the pressure on Hamas until one way or another, our goals are achieved. The Iron Dome system, the safety precautions practiced by the home front and the resilience of the  population, have allowed the authorities to take the offensive slowly and carefully, increasing the pressure minimally all the time so that as soon as the goals are achieved the action can stop – with minimum casualties on both sides. If each increase in pressure (all according to previous planning) doesn’t do the trick, the next stage is instituted.
5. Since the beginning of the ground action I’ve seen very little news, for various reasons, one being saturation with “the situation” day and night on TV and so on. And since it only just started, I can’t give any more details of how it’s progressing, other than to mention that the missile bombardment of Israel continues so far. It’s accepted here that this could take some time, estimates varying widely.
To this he added the following addendum a day later: 
I think, under the circumstances, we (and you) have a lot to be proud of in the way the country has behaved so far. I’m not even talking so much about the technical achievements and innovation which have allowed Israel to turn the tables completely so that her intended destroyer has become the one who will survive only thanks to the grace of her intended victim. What allows me to feel pride – at least regarding what’s happened up ’till this point – is more the following:

* The outstanding preparations which have been made to withstand an attack like this – first and foremost, Iron Dome, but also the steps taken to protect the civilian population as much as possible, including a range of steps to be taken, from proper shelters to instructions as to what to do when caught out in the open without any physical protection.

* The discipline which the population has shown in carrying out these safety measures, which have saved many lives

* More of a technical point is the amazing alarm system that detects launches immediately, analyses their trajectories and likely landing areas, and gives people between 15 sec. and 2 mins. to find cover after a launching takes place.

* The balanced, careful and sensible way those responsible, from the prime minister down, have decided and planned how to respond, in order to achieve the essential goals of stopping the attack and removing the threat, in a framework calculated to reduce damage to people and places on both sides to a minimum.

* The unprecedented in the whole world, and unheard of precautions taken in war to avoid as far as possible casualties of non combatants on the other side. We’ve had some interesting details of how the British and the Americans (not to mention those from whom we don’t expect any better) have behaved in other zones of conflict. And the Americans have the chutzpah to tell us how to behave now.

* The fact that in spite of everything and all the provocation and in the middle of a war, Israel still keeps the Gazans alive by providing them with electricity, medicines and food. This may sound totally crazy but is the result of non-hysterical balancing of various considerations, and could be largely for those, maybe a small percentage, who are actually humans and are simply being oppressed against their will by Hamas.

* The dignified way in which the continuous debating which we see on our TV throughout this period – it’s either news or discussion forums all day long – are conducted, 98% of the time. The various experts are on the ball, bringing the latest news to us objectively and as it happens. At a time like this (of life and death issues) there are usually quite heated differences of opinion. With rare exceptions – in my experience usually when people from the far left participate – everyone listens to the others’ point of view and in due course expresses his or hers. The discussions have been conducted with maturity and sechel.

* And virtually all our commentators out in the field and all over the country at spots which have been targeted, have been excellent, bringing the facts to our notice remarkably quickly, with virtually no colouring due to personal preferences.
Now for the second component from me. It is more open-ended and contentious (and too idealistic/risky in a treacherous world) – but was not the whole Zionist enterprise exactly that?
Life can pose some intolerable dilemmas; how much more so can war? This rhetorical question is prompted by the (apparent) paradox of a Jewish journalist demanding that Israel assume responsibility for Gazan civilians, even while Hamas is striving to maximise its own civilian mortality, while a non-Jewish Italian journalist asserts Israel’s “purity of arms doctrine” is morally obscene since it assigns less value to Israeli casualties than to those of its enemies.

These introductory comments relate to the sad shelling of 4 Palestinian kids while playing on the beach in Gaza. Needless to say, this was immediately seized upon by Hamas propagandists, including sections of our own media, as an example of deliberate genocide being carried out by Israel. In the utterly crazy world we inhabit, such an assertion is seen as rational factual comment. If one can genuinely internalise this bizarre capacity of the human mind to entertain the most outrageous fantasies as reality, then apparent aberrations like the Holocaust become comprehensible and not simply some mysterious calamity visited upon the Jews by a malevolent fate.

In the horrible calculus of suffering there are no absolute answers, but I am pretty sure about one thing. Hamas will only be “stopped” by an overwhelming defeat that leaves it more or less in the same position as Japan or Germany after WWII. Even then, its malignant nature is such that out of the rubble a new terror threat will slowly arise. Wht other reason does it have for existence.

But I seriously suspect that the only “semi-permanent” answer lies not only in overwhelming victory but in ethnic dispersal and formal reoccupation. Declare Gaza once again Israeli territory. Allow back only those ex-Gazan citizens who swear unambiguous loyalty to the Jewish State of Israel and, of course, then welcome them as full citizens with equal rights to Jews. Fully integrate Gaza into Israel, promote Jewish reoccupation along with their loyal Arab co-citizens, foster rapid economic growth and create a model province of Israel as an example of what Arab and Jew, working together, can accomplish.

I believe that the same policy may also be applicable to the West Bank.

Is this remotely politically possible? Would the risks be so great that an uncertain but undoubtedly volatile and threatening future is still preferable to such a high stakes gamble with an enormous pay-off; not only for Israel but as an example to the world? Is it moral?

I also used the phrase “semi-permanent” since, given human nature and the Darwinian struggle between competing human groupings, nothing can be regarded as permanent. The reality is that large parts of the world are trapped in spirals of dysfunctionality which not only emmiserate their own populations but threaten even apparently stable sustainable societies. But the incorporation of Gaza back into Israel, so long as it is accompanied by due regard for the moral dimensions of human co-existence and interaction, could serve as one possible model for the future.

So, despite all the uncertainties and moral dilemmas, if I had the strength of character and the power, that is the program I would implement. Then, perhaps, the deaths and sacrifices would be worthwhile. Has not the entire Zionist enterprise been built on this balance between realism and daring against all probability and prediction?

I would like to publish some excellent commentary from Geoff Boner, but will keep it for another day. Don’t forget to follow links – they are worth reading. And, finally, your reaction, ideas, additional information are all welcome.

Mike Berger



3 responses to “News and views from the front and from home

  1. montlaskymontlasky July 24, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Excellent articles and comment(s)
    Charles’s comments are very good-afterall he is on the spot. I personally would not make any comments for fear that Charles would tear me to pieces!


  2. Bev Goldman July 19, 2014 at 4:19 pm



  3. Geoff Boner July 19, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Dear Mike,

    This war is continuing and there is no clear end in sight.
    We do receive a lot of information but not all. The information we receive on the damage done by our troops within Gaza is quite superficial, and contains numbers of buildings destroyed, number of casualties, almost exclusively on the Gaza side and the fact they many tunnels have been exposed. There are no exact details. It is important to realize that providing exact details will also provide the Gazan side with details of what is going on and where the Israeli troops are. Gaza may be a small area but it is still important not to provide too much information.

    In Israel one subscribers having Cable or Satellite TV are able to find literally hundreds of stations including many news stations in many different languages. There are three main Israeli channels, which also provide news. One channel is government, whereas two channels are private. Over the past few days all three channels have changed their programming to continuous descriptions on what is going on (information provided by army spokesmen, reports of injured from hospitals and reports of rocket landings from all over the country) and to commentary. All these channels have excellent presenters with excellent analysts and commentators. All of them are able to show all points of view and have often managed to contact people living in Gaza. In the crazy world we live in one channel showed a film about a young Gazan girl who had been treated in the oncological department in the Rambam hospital in Haifa. She had been there 9 months accompanied by her father and was due to return to Gaza. The child who had not been home or seen her mother in 9 months was anxious to get home but when they reached the border post they were told that it was closed because of hostilities in the area.

    You quite rightly stated that the best outcome of this war would be the complete defeat of Hamas. The Americans and allies did this in WWII, but the world would never let Israel attain a complete victory. This has been so in all our previous wars. The major world powers and many smaller nations can indiscriminately kill civilians. The examples are too many to mention. A relatively small number of civilians get killed either due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time or by mistake and there is a world outcry. We will have to continue to remain strong and to defend ourselves.

    As to protecting ourselves, there are many air-raid shelters throughout the country but they are often not close enough and when you have a warning of 15 seconds to 2 minutes it is difficult to reach them. People have been advised to build their own safe rooms or convert other rooms into safe rooms New apartment buildings all have safe rooms. We decided about two years ago to add on a safe room to our house.There was a construction firm, who took on a number of constructions of safe rooms in or area. We are talking of a room of 3 meters by 3 meters, with wall and roof of 30 cm reinforced concrete. Their are special steel windows and doors and air vents. As this room forms part of our house, we are now protected. Over the past few days there has been one warning in our area. This was not a cheap exercise and cost us close to 100,000 shekels or about $30,000. But we are safe.

    My suggestion for an outcome to the Gazan crisis would be the annexation of Gaza to Egypt. After the war of independence in 1948 Egypt ruled Gaza until the Six Day war in 1967. It was never independent. It is too small with too many people and no real means of support to be completely independent. Forming part of Egypt would allow the economy to become part of the Egyptian economy. The same would apply to the West Bank which should become part of Jordan, as it was from 1948 till 1967. However, neither Egypt or Jordan wants this burden.



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