February 8, 2009

A Dispatch from the Border with Gaza

Gaza City from Sderot.jpg

Not since the Second Intifada, when more than a thousand Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers, have Israeli civilians suffered in a way that makes for compelling news copy or TV reports.

The southern Israeli city of Sderot sits right next to the border with Gaza, and it is the target of choice for Hamas and Islamic Jihad's Qassam rocket barrages. The first time I visited the city under fire was immediately after the Second Lebanon War in August of 2006. Israeli civilians were still on their way back to Haifa, Kiryat Shmona, and other urban areas that had been emptied of people when Hezbollah turned the northern sixth of the country into a free fire zone. Lebanese villages were still smoldering, and their dead were still being cleared from underneath rubble. Sderot, by contrast, seemed downright sedate even though rockets packed tight with metal fragments and ball bearings still fell from the sky every day.

The city had been under fire for years before I got there, but the barrages were tolerable, albeit barely. Sderot had never been abandoned. Its residents were never made into refugees. Only a handful of people had been killed by the time I first visited, and not even a dozen more have been killed in the meantime. It's easy to callously ask “what's the big deal?” I wasn’t remotely nervous when I showed up myself, and even many Israelis thought the attacks weren't worth going to war over. That’s the main reason Hamas got away with it for so long.

Sderot from Hill January.jpg
Sderot, Israel

Something changed in December of 2008, however. Suddenly Hamas found itself in possession of Grad rockets that can be aimed with much greater precision than the home-made Qassam rockets that make up the bulk of their arsenal. And Hamas fighters found that they could shoot those rockets much farther into Israel and strike the cities of Beersheva and Ashdod, as well as Ashkelon and Sderot.

“The shorter rockets, the improvised rockets, have a short range,” Major Chezy Deutsch told me. “So a smaller percentage of the population are under that threat. But when they can pull out new rockets and hit a new city, a city that up until now hasn't been hit, the terror affect is much larger. People who, up until then, thought they were fine and didn't have anything to worry about are suddenly within range of the threat. So it has a much larger effect than hitting Sderot again.”

I visited Sderot and the Gaza border region again with some of my colleagues on a trip organized by the American Jewish Committee. IDF Colonel Miri Eisen accompanied us and gave us the Israeli perspective on what was happening.

Our first stop was a hill outside Sderot overlooking the fence separating Gaza from Israel. The date we had scheduled for our visit turned out, by chance, to be the first day after the war more or less ended. Twenty four hours earlier, the area still was a war zone. Even so, I heard the low thump of artillery shells fired somewhere off in the distance.

“I'm hearing artillery shells,” Colonel Eisen said, “which means that it's not totally quiet today.”

It was almost totally quiet, however, and it was hard to imagine what it looked like the day before when the sky was filled with rocket trails and IAF jet fighters.

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Gaza City from Sderot

Gaza was right there in front of us. A fifteen minute walk would have placed us inside if it weren't for the fence.

“The hill that we're standing on, guys, is the tail end of the mortar range,” Colonel Eisen said. “And I have to tell you that as a military person, I have a great respect for mortars. They are very lethal and they're much more exact. Now, when we're talking about mortars, we're not talking home-made. They have a shorter range, but are much more lethal and much more exact. And for a long time I didn't take people to this hill or any hill that was farther west. Because the mortars and their trajectory and the way they fly, we had very little early warning. We didn't know there was going to be a ceasefire, and I would have brought you here anyway. But before we had to come up here with flak jackets, and we've had to tumble down the hill to avoid incoming fire.”

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The border between Gaza and Israel

War correspondence is one of the strangest jobs in the world. War is shit, and only a sadist takes pleasure in watching people get shot at and bombed from the sky. I also don't particularly care for being shot at myself. If I were a war junkie, I'd visit Sri Lanka or the Congo or some other place that's orders of magnitude more violent than Israel.

On the other hand, I was slightly disappointed that our group was a day late for the war. I didn't want the fighting to start again so I could watch, but at least I could have written about it as a witness instead of a researcher had we gotten there just a bit earlier.

“But I say happily that Sderot didn't get the brunt of the mortars,” Colonel Eisen said. “The mortars were mostly on kibbutzim that are within the three kilometer range. In those places no one could be outside at all. They didn't even have a ten second warning. Most of our casualties were from mortars, both civilians and soldiers.”

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Asher Afriat holds up a map showing Hamas' rocket range out of Gaza

Behind us was the small city of Sderot which had been hit far more times with rockets out of Gaza than any other place in the country.

“Sderot has had four days without the sounding of rocket alarms in the last eight years,” she said. “Four days. Why Sderot of all places? 20,000 people live here. Who cares? When they initially started to construct what we call the home-made Qassam rockets, they were very crude. They were very inaccurate. I mean they were inaccurate by a kilometer or two. And their range at the beginning was only five or six kilometers. They have since grown. But when they fire from the northeast corner of the Gaza Strip and they want to make sure Israelis feel it, the largest target they have is Sderot. They get a target which is clear, which is obvious. And that's why Sderot will continue to be the one that gets hit. It's within the range of the lethal inaccurate rockets, and it's the largest target on the horizon.”

Gaza Sderot Ashkelon Map.JPG

Just to the north of Gaza along the shore of the Mediterranean is the city of Ashkelon, which was also routinely hit by Hamas rocket fire. The power plant is in the southern part of the city and therefore the easiest target there for Hamas to hit.

Ashkelon Power Plant from Sderot Jan 2009.jpg
The Ashkelon power plant from Sderot

“The power plant is around seven kilometers away as the crow flies,” Colonel Eisen said, “or as the rocket flies. The city of Ashkelon itself – because the power plant is at the southern edge of it – is nine or ten kilometers from the northern edge of the Gaza Strip.” Much of Gaza’s electricity is generated by that plant, and yet Hamas takes great pleasure in shooting at it.

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Colonel Miri Eisen pointing at Gaza from Sderot

“You see those sand dunes over there,” she said, “and a couple of buildings next to the dunes? That's the northern edge of the Gaza Strip. That's not in Israel, that's in Gaza. And that's the main launching area for Qassam rockets with a range up to Ashkelon. That was one of the IDF ground operation's initial areas. We went into that area in the north of the city of Gaza to stop the launchings there. If you go into those areas, the farthest north that you can reach is the city of Ashdod. The new rockets have a range of 42 kilometers, and if Hamas wants Ashdod to be in it, they need to go as far to the north as they can inside Gaza.”

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The skyline of the city of Ashdod

Ashdod is just south of Tel Aviv. Some Israelis describe it as a suburb of Tel Aviv because it’s within easy commuting distance, but it's 20 miles south and is physically separated by a bit of countryside.

The city of Kiryat Gat has also been hit by Hamas rockets recently, and many Israelis find that disturbing.

“Kiryat Gat means something to us,” she said. “It has the only factory for Intel chips outside the United States. The make the chips there for your computer in the city of Kiryat Gat. Kiryat Gat was hit, as were many of the other cities within the radius.”

Above the border with Gaza are surveillance zeppelins that look exactly like those I've seen used by Americans in Iraq.

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A surveillance zeppelin above the border with Gaza

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A surveillance zeppelin above the border with Gaza

“The zeppelins are part of the early warning intelligence system,” she said. “They're all tethered and are only affected by wind. And it's flat here, so that gives us the height we need.”

“They're up there all the time?” I said.

“They're up there all the time,” she said, “except in very high winds. They are much larger than you can imagine. They're a good kilometer and a half up in the sky. They can go up to two and a half kilometers into the sky.”

Israelis weren't only startled out of their complacency because Beersheva and Ashdod were all of a sudden within Hamas' range. The implications of Hamas' upgrade worried them even more. One more upgrade might put Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear power plant within range of the rockets.

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Outside the walls of Jerusalem

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Inside the walls of Jerusalem

Any rocket or missile that could fly all the way to those targets would inevitably carry a much larger warhead that would deliver one hell of a punch. Hamas, if left undeterred and allowed to strengthen its arsenal, could snap Israel's economy like that and kill potentially thousands of people in a very short time frame. No one would want to be in Gaza if large Iranian-made missiles were exploding into the sides of Tel Aviv skyscrapers every day.

Tel Aviv Skyline at Night.jpg
Tel Aviv, Israel

Two and a half years ago I spoke to an Israeli intelligence officer who said that missile war was about to replace terrorist war, and he was right.

Colonel Eisen held up a map that showed which cities in Israel would be under attack if the same kinds of rockets flying out of Gaza today were being launched from inside the West Bank.

Miri Eisin Rocket Map.jpg
Colonel Miri Eisen shows which cities would be at risk if Hamas fired rockets from both the West Bank and Gaza

Every major population center in the country would be under attack except Haifa. Yet Haifa is within Hezbollah's rocket range out of Lebanon in the north. When Hezbollah fired its medium-size Katyusha rockets at Haifa in 2006, Haifa was on fire and emptied of people and cars. It was like a city at the end of the world. It's possible, though very intolerable, to live under Qassam rocket attack. It isn't possible to live long at all under Katyusha rocket attack.

If this nightmare scenario ever unfolds, Israel will be in a fight for its life. And Palestinians and Lebanese will be killed in horrifying numbers in order to make it all stop.

*

Fewer than twenty Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza since Hamas and Islamic Jihad adopted the tactic. A few single suicide bombers inflicted more casualties all by themselves. Hezbollah killed around ten times as many Israelis in one month in 2006 than Hamas has managed with crude rockets for years. It's no wonder, really, that critics slammed Israel for its “disproportionate” military response in the Gaza Strip.

It’s not just about casualties, though. Leave aside the fact that Hamas was escalating its attacks with bigger and longer range rockets and that a far deadlier scenario was on the horizon. Living under Qassam and Grad rocket attack doesn't sound like much fun, but it's worse than the low body count makes it seem.

Thousands of rockets have fallen on Sderot. And every rocket launched at the city triggers an air raid alert. Everyone within ear shot has fifteen seconds to run into a shelter.

Rocket Shelter Outside Sderot.jpg
A rocket shelter in Sderot

Imagine sprinting for cover 5,000 times.

Do you know what it's like raising children in that kind of environment? It distorts their perception of the entire world.

Michael Yon visited the border with Gaza just after I did. “According to a pamphlet from the Sderot Information Center,” he wrote, “a kindergarten teacher asked her pupils, 'Why does the snail have a shell?' The children answered in chorus, 'So it can be protected from the Kassam rockets.'”

Major Chezy Deutsch joined us.

Major Chezy Deutsch.jpg
Major Chezy Deutsch

“The small number of physical casualties is not because their weapons aren't working,” he said. “The small number is because the population understands the protection guidelines. They know that they have fifteen seconds to find shelter.”

Fifteen seconds is plenty of time to reach a bomb shelter if you're already next to one. But what if you're outside? In a car? What if you're asleep or taking a shower?

“You have to remember,” Major Deutsch said, “that the damage isn't the number of physical casualties, it's the number of people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The kids in first grade in Sderot were born when rockets were being fired at Sderot. They have lived their entire lives having to think that when they leave the house, when they're walking down the street, when they're playing ball, that they have fifteen seconds to hide from an incoming rocket. And it's not only the kids, it's the parents. I have a friend who won't drive with two kids in the car. If the alert goes off he doesn't want to have to ask himself which of his kids he is going to save. He and his wife don't go out to weddings, bar mitzvahs, or things like that at night because they don't want to leave their kids with a babysitter.”

IDF officials say that in the years prior to last month’s war in Gaza, Hamas fired far more rockets at some times of the day than at other times. “Those times were between seven and eight in the morning,” Major Deutsch said, “and between six and seven at night. Between seven and eight in the morning is when everyone is leaving their home. They're on their way to work, and their kids are on their way to school. They are farthest away from protected spaces and most vulnerable. And in the evening Hamas wanted to be the opening item on the evening news. The school is a choke point. You have kids leaving from all the different places around the city, but they have to congregate around the gate to enter the school. And you'll see that they target areas near schools.”

Inside Rocket Shelter Sderot.jpg
Inside a rocket shelter in Sderot

“How are they able to target the schools?” said my colleague Max Boot from the Council on Foreign Relations.

“When I was little I built Estes [model] rockets in my house,” Major Deutsch said. “We bought them in a kit. We had a slide rule where we figured out at 45 degrees how far it could fly from the amount of time the engine works. It's very basic geometry. Hamas checks and tests their weapons. They know how long a rocket burns, and they know how long it flies.”

“It's not just a question of targeting the schools,” Colonel Eisen said. “It's also about the hour. When kids are out and about all over the city, when parents are taking them to school. If we educate the population on how to live within this kind of environment, we can radically reduce the number of casualties. For the people of Sderot it's the most obvious. They're not the ones who stand outside and look at the rockets. They hear the alert, and they run into the shelter. They have ten to fifteen seconds, and they know that. They've kept themselves alive here. Sderot doesn't really have casualties now.”

“The explosion on impact is lethal,” she continued, “and the explosion goes up, so all the instructions in Israel are for you to lay down flat and put your hands over your head. But if it lands right next to you, it doesn't leave you a lot of room. A woman protected her son in Beersheva a few days ago. They got out of the car, they lay down, she was laying over him, and he got a fragment in his head. He's been in critical condition ever since.”

She showed us a house across the street from a school. A rocket exploded in the front yard the day before. The family was watching TV in the living room and ran for shelter as soon as they heard the “incoming” alarm. They would have been killed if they hadn’t because shrapnel from the explosion tore apart their living space. Their outdoor furniture at ground level caught on fire and the exterior walls were pocked with shrapnel holes that looked almost like bullet holes. The windows were, of course, broken. The house looked as though somebody had parked in front and assaulted their home with automatic weapons fire and a grenade launcher.

Qassem Shrapnel Sderot Jan 2009.jpg
Shrapnel from Qassem rocket attack

Life can and does go on under the circumstances, but would it be possible for an entire country to endure these kinds of attacks? Perhaps that’s the wrong question. What country in the world would tolerate these kinds of attacks? Almost certainly none. They are only tolerable if a small percentage of a country’s population is exposed, and they're only barely just tolerable for a while.

The Sderot police station has an enormous collection of rockets out back that the officers like to show visitors.

Rocket Sample Sderot Police Station.jpg
Rockets at the Sderot police station

“This is only a sample,” Major Deutsch said. “These are only some of the rockets that have landed in Sderot most recently.”

I visited Sderot two years before and saw an entirely different collection of rockets that recently had been fired at the city. The rockets are rotated in and out.

The first Qassam rockets were home made. Now they’re built in factories as well as in houses.

Building them isn’t difficult. Minimal knowledge of chemistry is all that it takes to make home-made explosives. And materials for rocket shafts aren’t hard to find, either. Poles that hold up stop signs and parking meters can be used, for example, as can pipes used for plumbing. Some of the simplest materials in the world have dual-use. Sanctioning and blockading Gaza to keep out the rocket parts therefore is difficult.

Back of Rocket Sderot Police Station.jpg

And Hamas has been upgrading lately.

“During the last three and a half years since we left the Gaza Strip,” Colonel Eisen said, “Hamas has smuggled in professional grade explosives. When we talk about smuggling tunnels, you have to understand that there are hundreds. They're not big. They can be small. You can smuggle in Grad rockets, but you can't necessarily smuggle in the launcher. So the launchers are improvised, and that’s affected the distance, the radius, that they can fire them. They have also smuggled lots of anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft missiles. The missiles themselves, which are Chinese and Iranian, can be smuggled in in parts. You can see that they come apart. They can't have the long regular grade missiles fit through the smuggling tunnels, so they take them apart and put them back together.”

I tried to imagine what it would be like in the city if Hamas fired all of its rockets in a single day.

Michael Yon added up the number of pounds of explosives they’ve packed into their Qassams – 140,000 – and ran the numbers. “There are many types of fragmentation hand grenades that are designed to kill people,” he wrote. “One of the most widely used, the deadly American M67, contains a little more than 1/3lb of explosives per grenade. (The entire M67 grenade including fuse and casing weighs 1lb.) This means that 140,000lbs of explosives would be roughly equal the ‘net explosives weight’ of about 350,000 grenades launched randomly against civilians.”

“We have to remember not to underestimate Hamas,” Major Deutsch said. “Okay? They're not stupid. They know what they're doing. Even if it's a primitive weapon, it's effective.”

“Do you have automatic counterbatteries for the rocket and mortar attacks?” said Mario Loyola from National Review magazine.

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Mario Loyola, from National Review magazine, at the Gaza border

“No, no,” Major Deutsch said. “Because if they fire a mortar from inside a school, we don't want to automatically shoot back.”

It may appear as though Israelis can’t be bothered about the well-being of civilians in Gaza, especially after they bombed that already tormented society for several weeks in a row. But I found that isn’t true.

Regional Medical Clinic for the People of Gaza.jpg

A temporary field hospital was set up by the State of Israel at the Erez Crossing at the northern end of Gaza.

Palestinian civilians who needed medical attention were invited to come to Erez for treatment by Israeli doctors.

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An Israeli doctor at the Erez field hospital

Humanitarian goods facilitated by the IDF also went through Erez into Gaza throughout the conflict, and the crossing was open to Palestinians with dual nationality who wanted out.

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An Israeli doctor at the Erez field hospital

“We were asked by the government and the Ministry of Health to operate this regional medical clinic,” an Israeli doctor told me. “We've put everything here we can provide in a first-line clinic. It's not a hospital. We won't be able to operate here. But we need a humanitarian clinic to treat patients who need medical assistance.”

The Erez crossing has been one of the most dangerous places near Gaza for a while now. It has been targeted by suicide bombers several times.

It was not what I expected to see. Erez looks like it was built as a border control point for a normal country like Jordan. It doesn't look anything like an entrance into the crowded, impoverished, and war-torn dystopia beyond.

The Qalandia checkpoint into the relatively peaceful and prosperous West Bank from Jerusalem looks like a gateway to a prison camp, but the Palestinian city of Ramallah beyond it is clean, pleasant, and tranquil – at least it is these days.

Qalandia Checkpoint Barbed Wire.jpg
Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank

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Inside Erez Crossing

“Think about what this kind of structure means and what it meant for Israel,” Colonel Eisen said. “I look at this as a vision of what we want. When you think about the fact that we just fought a very bloody three-week campaign, it's very tragic. But think about what this kind of structure means. We want to go forward where we use this kind of terminal in a very different way.”

“This isn't at all what I thought it would look like,” I said to my colleague Rick Francona, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force who works now as a military analyst for NBC News. “Such a contrast to what's on the other side.”

“It's like the border between North and South Korea,” he said.

Rick Francona Gaza Border.jpg
Lieutenent Colonel Rick Francona, US Air Force, looks into Gaza from the Erez Crossing

“This is so us,” Colonel Eisen said and put her hand on her heart. “This is what Israel is all about, and it always has been. It makes me proud. Lots of foreign reporters come here.”

I could see that. The waiting area was packed with reporters from all over the world.

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Journalists at the Erez field hospital

“But they almost never write about this,” she continued. “We try to get the word out, but most of them just are not interested.”

I tried to imagine how different this conflict would be if Hamas set up medical facilities for Israeli civilians wounded by Qassam rocket attacks. The very idea, of course, is absurd.

“I wonder what Hamas thinks of all this,” I said to Rick Francona. “Do they even understand it?”

“They probably think it's a trick,” he said.

Perhaps Hamas understands very well what it means that Israelis opened a clinic for wounded Palestinians. Perhaps they feel like it’s a different kind of threat altogether.

The Israelis had to close the place down. Only a handful of patients ever came through, which didn’t surprise me. I didn’t see any Palestinian patients there when I visited. Hamas didn’t allow their wounded to be treated by Jews.

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 8, 2009 11:41 PM
Comments

"Hamas didn’t allow their wounded to be treated by Jews."

Why am I not surprised?

Posted by: ElMondo Author Profile Page at February 9, 2009 8:00 AM

"Hamas didn’t allow their wounded to be treated by Jews."

Natural selection at work.

Posted by: Lindsey Author Profile Page at February 9, 2009 1:41 PM

"Hamas didn’t allow their wounded to be treated by Jews."

Hamas - The Equal Opportunity Death Cult

Posted by: Li'l Mamzer Author Profile Page at February 9, 2009 3:05 PM

Michael,
Exceptional report - thank you.

Once again you've brought your unique "man on the street" perspective to the story; without your report, I was still convinced that Israel's recent offensive was justified. After reading your report, one realizes just how great Israel's restraint has been - it gives a whole new perspective on tolerance for terror. The choices that parents are making to protect their kids are mindboggling to those of us who live is a free and safe community.

Posted by: Lisa-in-DC Author Profile Page at February 9, 2009 6:51 PM

I'm amazed that Israeli's have not formed 'militia' groups and fired back rockets themselves. At some point unless the Israeli government ignores the UN and rest and simply smashes Hamas irrespective of the Palestinian casualties, the urge for Israeli's to strike back will become irresistible resulting in militias or vigilante groups that the government won't be able to control.

Posted by: cubanbob Author Profile Page at February 9, 2009 6:59 PM

Thank you, Michael.

The parents and their children...really gets to me.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at February 9, 2009 10:43 PM

As an Israeli, I can only be grateful that there are journalists like MJT who are willing to look at the Israeli side of the conflict. How often do we see the mainstream media sneeringly dismiss the qassam attacks as "crude, homemade rockets" that don't kill anyone. Most of the world is engaged in a willful suspension of imagination and empathy for Israeli civilians, while wallowing in every suffering of the Palestinians - real or imagined.

One point made in the article with which I would mildly disagree is the suggestion that Israel was nonchalant and passive in the face of qassam attacks, because it was limited to a small number of civilians in the south, and the body count was low. This isn't really true. For a long time Israel was locked in a game of cat and mouse with Hamas rocket squads, with rapid aerial response teams often taking them out as they fled the launch site. Then there was the ceasefire that lasted for about six months, and which Hamas refused to renew.

The larger point to this is that Israel did engage in a policy of proportional responses, and it didn't work. Then they tried a truce, and that didn't work. So all of the howling about disproprotionate responses is made by people with a historical memory that does not go beyond last week's headlines.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at February 10, 2009 8:59 AM

Without addressing the snake's head in Tehran this is endless. Even then, bad actors abound. Today's election in Israel, and its consequences, are huge.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at February 10, 2009 2:08 PM

The election results show that the peace camp is in the minority. This will undoubtedly mean an election victory for Hamas in the west bank, and that the peace process, if there ever really was one, is dead. So be it. Maybe this is part of some inexorable dialectic where 1948 will have to be fought over again, and this time the winner will take all.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at February 10, 2009 10:05 PM

On the other hand, has everybody seen the picture of Bar Raffaeli on the cover of Sports Illustrated? http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1063143.html

VA-VA-VOOM! There's always something to be joyous about.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at February 11, 2009 12:07 AM

MarkC,

"So be it."

I made a mental note-to-self a while back to pay particular attention to your posts; you've struck me as a savvy observer with a cut-to-the-essence realist's eye that resonates with me.

For what it's worth, from the luxury of shelter that distance provides me here in America, I feel tremendous sadness and apprehension; I guess it's somewhat like the feeling I acknowledged as a conservative when our November election results finally were reality. I can easily see near term as well as longer horizon events careening out of anyone's control, perhaps in a cataclysmic chain reaction of inevitability, engulfing warriors, the innocents, the guilty...everyone and everything.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at February 11, 2009 12:08 AM

Paul S -

Thanks for the compliment. There is something about living in a place, especially as an outsider, that gives you a realist's perspective. I see no room for optimism. As somebody said, hope makes a good breakfast but a poor supper, and we ate breakfast fifteen years ago.

So, what do you think of Bar Raffaeli?

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at February 11, 2009 5:32 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/11/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at February 11, 2009 11:21 AM

Once again MJT, awesome reporting!

Posted by: dclydew Author Profile Page at February 11, 2009 1:22 PM

MarkC,

Leonardo's one lucky dude.

Be still my heart...
:-)

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at February 11, 2009 3:11 PM

(Got here via someone who is familiar with you, MT)

Most Israelis may talk about wild optimism for short periods of time, mostly before elections when they are convincing themselves of the option of change.

Most times, I'd describe what Israelis employ as "wary pragmatism". They hope things will be different, but most don't believe they will, not in the next decade or so, unless something changes radically. And in a decade from now, they'll believe the same, most probably.
They believe there can be change, but that the process will be slow, unless like Michael posted some posts ago, in his interview with the local reporter, there is something decisive and which changes things radically, such as a total seperation and cold peace.

Optimism is good. But when things are considered to have been more or less "the same" with only brief respites to hope for, and "normal relations" being amiable cold peace, it's not dead, but it's deep within the drawer.

Posted by: Guy Shalev Author Profile Page at February 14, 2009 5:02 PM

Guess the author of this piece is seriously trying to convince himself that Israel's killing of 1000+ humans (mostly civilians) and laying waste to big swaths of Gaza was really about stopping the incoming from Gaza to Israel. Let's play along here:
Was Israel's action effective? No. Rockets still fly towards Israel, last I heard.
So does this mean that Israeli leadership is
a) incompetent
b) sadistic
c) out to achieve a totally different goal than that stated in this post?
You be the judge.

Posted by: Persephone Author Profile Page at February 17, 2009 9:54 AM

Persephone, you ignorant slut (remember SNL from the eighties?)

As usual, you blithely pass off falsehoods as though they were accepted truisms. Israel claims that two-thirds of the casualties were militants. Undoubtedly you believe that Israelis are shameless liars, as well as psychopathic murderers, but that doesn't alter the fact that your facts are contested.

Second, the operation undoubtedly had a deterrent effect. The small number of rockets Hamas is firing for show cannot compare with the onslaught we had before the operation, and we are now on the brink of a ceasefire agreement that should include the return of the Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit.

In short, you're full of shit.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at February 17, 2009 10:35 AM

Persephone, have you ever been to Israel? It's a very small country. At one point, you can drive from the border with the West Bank to the beach in 20 minutes. And that's with traffic. The threat described here is very real.

It's a more likely scenario than Iran's threats of nuclear attack. If Iran's non-nuclear rockets are used by Hezbollah and Hamas against Tel Aviv, Israel would be forced to attack Lebanon and Gaza. Then Iran's Mullahs and Hamas' Saudi supporters could sit safe and sound, cheering the destruction. Which has been the Saudi/Iranian modus operandi all along. They won't even break a nail. It's a lot less risky than nukes.

PS. - what is this supposed to mean?

c) out to achieve a totally different goal than that stated in this post?

What do you think the 'totally different goal' could be?

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at February 17, 2009 2:59 PM

Persephone,

Look at it this way.
If one warning is not enough there will always be another.
Eventually even you will hid it, not to mention Hamas.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at February 17, 2009 3:40 PM

I almost decided not to comment on this piece, but today I came across

http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/jerusalem/2009/02/the-white-flags-of-gaza-part-ii.html

this - the links are needed.

Luckily, there are multiple journalists in the world. As a piece in a mosaic, the sort of report above is... okay. Or, to be more descriptive, a sincere, well-written, factually accurate (as far as I know), convincing piece of excellent pro-Israeli propaganda.

The stuff about the effects of Hamas rockets on Israeli civilians is very moving if you have no inclination to think about the same effect times, oh, fifty, in total ordinance volume, on the far side. Or even if you do, actually. So, um, good work, I guess.

For the record, I don't entirely agree with Persephone, either.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at February 18, 2009 6:24 AM

Doesn't surprise me you wouldn't comment on this, glasnost. Someone might accuse you of putting aside blind belief and attempting objectivity. Wouldn't be me though. I have no use for blind ideologues. I hope we never meet; I have a short fuse.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at February 18, 2009 12:51 PM

glasnost,

Few questions.

What is the reason you take those reports you linked to for granted while Michael's piece comes through as nothing but propaganda, however well written?

How do you know it was IDF and not Hamas who scribbled messages on walls then suddenly discovered it?

How do you know that white flags were waved at all (most likely true)?

How do you know civilians waving white flags were shot or even shot at?

How do you know there were civilians?

How do you know those were IDF soldiers rather than dressed up Hamasis?

Assuming allegations in your link are true what makes you believe it is pattern rather than exception?

Do you know whether Israelis are investigating those claims or not?

Thank you.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at February 18, 2009 7:35 PM

Leo,

What is the reason you take those reports you linked to for granted while Michael's piece comes through as nothing but propaganda, however well written?

I don't specifically disbelieve any of the factual assertions in Mike's piece, which is why I called it "factually accurate".

Assuming allegations in your link are true what makes you believe it is pattern rather than exception?

You're putting words in my mouth; I didn't say anything about patterns or exceptions. I wouldn't have assumed that I'd be reading these articles until I read them.

How do you know there were civilians?

Letting this stand in for all the factual questions: How do I know that there are tunnels under Gaza? How do I know how many people died in the Beslan school shooting? How do I know who won the Israeli elections last week? I don't have physical, first-hand evidence of any of this. Just like everyone else, I read words on a screen that make claims and try to make judgments about them. The Mcclatchy link discusses a variety of stories in several MSM newspapers. It's pretty clear that there are unanswered questions.

It seems clear from the article that Palestinians told journalists that these things happened, possibly with or without producing physical evidence of unknown uniqueness. (From what I recall of the article, there was some physical evidence displayed). Obviously, like all human beings, Palestinians don't always tell the truth. However, it's very morally and intellectually convenient to assume that every unpleasant fact you hear about the IDF from a Palestinian is a lie. That's what I'd guess your default state of mind is. You've been conditioned.

I think Mike cares about the factual accuracy of his pieces, to some extent. Better than many, even. Lies are for amateurs, anyway. The world as a whole is moving past that kind of crude manipulation into much subtler types of manipulation - practiced constantly by ordinary people in our daily lives and all types of instittutions - created by selective presentation of some types of information and disinterest or hardwired disbelief in others. This is actually progress, sort of, or it could be.

I think the apocryphal reports here of the IDF shooting civilians are about as unverified or verified as the reports we have managed to hear about of Hamas shooting civilians. The New York Times would report both. But trips to Israel sponsored by the types of organizations who are the only ones offering these kinds of trips for free, are not the kind of trips where both types of rumors will make it to Mike's ears.

I think he could try harder to push on the bubble that he is economically and psychically comfortable in.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at February 20, 2009 6:52 AM

glasnost':

You're putting words in my mouth; I didn't say anything about patterns or exceptions. I wouldn't have assumed that I'd be reading these articles until I read them.

Then I am confused because of this:

"I almost decided not to comment on this piece, but today I came across

http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/jerusalem/2009/02/the-white-flags-of-gaza-part-ii.html"

It seems pattern did not deserve comment while exception did. Is pattern simply too boring too comment on? Then my assumption was wrong and I apologize.

leo: "How do you know there were civilians?"

glasnost': "Letting this stand in for all the factual questions: How do I know that there are tunnels under Gaza? How do I know how many people died in the Beslan school shooting? How do I know who won the Israeli elections last week? I don't have physical, first-hand evidence of any of this. Just like everyone else, I read words on a screen that make claims and try to make judgments about them."

There is indisputable evidence to Gaza tunnels, to Beslan school massacre, and to Israel election results. In those cases it is not necessary for either you or me to have first hand evidence. There are plenty of respectable alternatives. However, Palestinians were caught in a lie before and more than once (remember Jenin massacre for example?). I for one refuse to buy anything they are selling unless it can be corroborated by evidence rather than hearsay and empty allegations.

"But trips to Israel sponsored by the types of organizations who are the only ones offering these kinds of trips for free, are not the kind of trips where both types of rumors will make it to Mike's ears."

Of cause it is propaganda but it does mean it is a lie. And if it does not then I do not care whether it is propaganda or not.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at February 21, 2009 9:42 PM

I wonder, Michael, did you ask for the Bios of Major Chezy Deutsh and Col Miri Eisen? In particular, were they born in Israel? This may seem irrelevant information to you, but I bet Palestinians who can trace their history in Palestine back thousands of years think it matters.

Also, did you not see the obvious contradiction in your article? The part where you say the Erez waiting room was "packed with reporters from all over the world", and a photo to prove it, yet Eisen says "But they almost never write about this".

Excuse me, but the world did know about this. Why? Well, the reporters weren't allowed into Gaza (in the interests of free speech, of course) so what else do they write about? We downunder heard all about it, I can assure you, esp from the Israeli point of view.

And when I clicked on the link "Hamas didn't allow their wounded to be treated by Jews" I found the article actually said "Hamas discouraged..." and that Palestinians were, in fact, treated at a Jordanian facility set up within Gaza. Really, Michael, the story here is that there was no story.

But, according to you, Israelis are so humane that they they will set up a hospital for those they are trying to kill.

It's like the humanitarian aid Israel allows into Gaza: just enough to keep them alive so Israel can kill them at their leisure.

Anyway, I would be very appreciative if you could get back to me on my opening question.

And, if you don't mind, can you give me a contact at AIPAC so I can apply for a free trip to Israel too?

Posted by: kbrmrebutted.blogspot.com Author Profile Page at March 7, 2009 2:36 AM
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