Were the Oslo Peace Accords Doomed From the Start?

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Sandy Tolan / TomDispatch.

When I first traveled to Israel-Palestine in 1994, during the heady early days of the Oslo peace process, I was expecting to see more of the joyful celebrations I’d watched on television at home. The emotional welcoming of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat back to Palestine. The massive demonstrations for peace on the streets of Tel Aviv. The spontaneous moment when Palestinians placed carnations in the gun barrels of departing Israeli soldiers. And though the early euphoria had already begun to ebb, clearly there was still hope.

It was the era of dialogue. Many Palestinians stood witness to Israeli trauma rooted in the Holocaust. Groups of Israelis began to understand the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when 750,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes during the creation of Israel in 1948. In the wake of the Oslo Declaration of Principles, signed on September 13, 1993 — a quarter of a century ago today — polls showed that large majorities of Israelis and Palestinians supported the agreement. Israelis, weary of a six-year Palestinian intifada, wanted Oslo to lead to lasting peace; Palestinians believed it would result in the creation of a free nation of their own, side by side with Israel.

“People thought this was the beginning of a new era,” says Salim Tamari, Palestinian sociologist and editor of the Jerusalem Quarterly.

“It was miraculous,” recalls Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, “a high peak of optimism and hope.” Baskin, an American who emigrated to Israel nearly 40 years ago, remembers the emotional power of “these two parties who refused to recognize each other’s right to exist coming into a room and breaking through that and putting down a formula which, at the time, looked reasonable.”

Euphoria Never Lasts

Even then, however, there were disturbing signs. During that first trip, still in the glow of Oslo, I found myself in the heart of the West Bank, driving down new, smooth-as-glass “bypass roads” built for Israeli settlers and VIPs on my way from Bethlehem to Hebron. I was confused. Wasn’t this the territory-to-be of a future independent Palestinian state? Why, then, would something like this be authorized? Similarly, the next year, when Israeli forces undertook their much-heralded “withdrawal” from Ramallah, why did they only redeploy to the edge of that town, while retaining full military control of 72% of the West Bank?

Such stubborn facts on the ground stood in the way of the seemingly overwhelming optimism generated by that “peace of the brave,” symbolized by a handshake between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in front of President Clinton on the White House lawn. Was it possible we were witnessing the beginning of the end of generations of bloodshed and trauma?

Already, however, there were dissenters. Mourid Barghouti, a Palestinian poet who, like thousands of his brethren, returned from exile in the early days of Oslo, was shocked to find former PLO liberation fighters reduced to the status of petty bureaucrats lording it over ordinary citizens. Israel, he wrote in his memoir, I Saw Ramallah, had “succeeded in tearing away the sacred aspect of the Palestinian cause, turning it into what it is now — a series of ‘procedures’ and ‘schedules’ that are usually respected only by the weaker party in the conflict… The others are still masters of the place.”

Another Oslo critic, Edward Said, the Palestinian intellectual and professor of comparative literature at Columbia, refused a White House invitation to attend the signing ceremony between Arafat and Rabin. Oslo, he wrote, should be considered “an instrument of Palestinian surrender… a kingdom of illusions, with Israel firmly in command. Clearly the PLO has transformed itself from a national liberation movement into a kind of small-town government… What Israel has gotten is official Palestinian consent to continued occupation.”

At the time, many Palestinians wrote off Said as someone intent on obstructing real, if incremental, progress. Arafat himself said that, living as he did in America, the famed professor “does not feel the suffering of his people.”

Or maybe he did. In my nearly 20 trips to the Holy Land over the quarter-century since Oslo, I watched the West Bank settler population quadruple, new settlements come to ring Jerusalem, and Israel keep full military control over 60% of the West Bank (instead of the previous 72%). All those settler “bypass” roads and limited troop redeployments turned out to point not simply to obstacles on the road to the culmination of the “peace process” but to fatal flaws baked into Oslo from the beginning. Indeed, the Oslo Declaration of Principles, which mentioned security 12 times but never once independence, sovereignty, self-determination, freedom, or Palestine, simply wasn’t designed to stop such expansion. In fact, the accords only seemed to facilitate it.

“It was designed to make sure there would never be a Palestinian state,” says Diana Buttu, Palestinian analyst and former legal adviser to the PLO.  “They made it clear that they weren’t going to include the phrases ‘two-state solution,’ ‘Palestinian state,’ or ‘independence.’  It was completely designed to make sure the Palestinians wouldn’t have their freedom.”

The Failure of Oslo

The question worth asking on this 25th anniversary of those accords, which essentially drove policy in the U.S., Israel, the Palestinian occupied territories, and European capitals for a quarter of a century, is this: Were they doomed from the beginning? Billions of dollars and endless rounds of failed negotiations later, did Oslo ever really have a chance to succeed?

“I think it’s wrong to retroactively say that it was all a trick,” says Salim Tamari from the Jerusalem Quarterly’s editorial offices, once located in that holy city, now in Ramallah. The initial agreement was void of specifics, leaving the major issues — settlements, Jerusalem, control of water, refugees and their right of return — to “final status negotiations.” Israel, Tamari believes, unlike the Palestinians, achieved a major goal from the outset. “The Israelis wanted above all to have a security arrangement.”

In “Oslo II,” implemented in 1995, Israel got its cherished security cooperation, which meant that Palestinian police would control Palestinian demonstrators and so keep them from directly confronting Israeli forces. Those were, of course, the very confrontations that had helped fuel the success of the First Intifada, creating the conditions for Oslo. Today, that’s a bitter irony for Palestinians who sacrificed family members or limbs for what turned out to be such a weak agreement. But at the time, for many, it seemed worth the price.

For Palestinians, Oslo remained a kind of tabula rasa of hopes and dreams based on the formula of getting an agreement first and working out the details later. “Arafat thought that if he was able to get into the Palestinian territories, he would manage his relations with the Israelis,” says Ghassan Khatib, former minister of labor and planning for the Palestinian Authority (PA) as well as a prominent analyst and pollster. “And he did not pay attention to the details in the written documents.”

More important to Arafat was simply to return from exile in Tunisia and then convince Israel to end its settlement policies, give Palestinians East Jerusalem, share the region’s water supplies, and come to an equitable agreement on the right of return for Palestinian refugees dispossessed in 1948. Yet Arafat and his cadre of fellow PLO officials from the diaspora, Khatib argues, “had no real understanding of or expertise in the Israeli way of doing things, the Israeli mentality, etcetera, etcetera.”

Just as bad, says Omar Shaban of the Gaza think tank Pal-Think, was the ineptitude of Palestinian institutions in convincing Israelis that they could govern competently. “We didn’t do a very good job… We did not build good institutions. We did not build real democracy. And we did not speak enough to the Israeli public… [to] convince them that we are here to work together, to build together,” and that “peace is good for the Israeli people.”

For Gershon Baskin, however, the failure of Oslo had far less to do with any cultural misunderstandings or bureaucratic mismanagement and far more to do with an act of political violence: the assassination of Rabin by an Israeli right-wing extremist in 1995. His death was “the major event that changed the course of Oslo.”

As Baskin, who served as an adviser to Rabin’s intelligence team for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, recalls, “I know what kind of direction Rabin was moving in when he agreed to Oslo.” In the early Oslo years, the prime minister’s deputies were at work on secret negotiations with the Palestinians — the Geneva Accords and the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement — that would have made major territorial concessions and called for East Jerusalem to be the future Palestinian capital. Some Palestinians were not impressed; they noted that by approving of the Oslo accords, they had already agreed to cede 78% of historic Palestine, settling for the 22% that remained: the West Bank and Gaza. And they pointed out that some settlements remained in both of these unofficial agreements and that neither included any kind of Palestinian right of return — considered by Israelis as a potential death blow to their state and by countless Palestinians uprooted in 1948 as a non-negotiable issue.

“There’s so much revisionist history,” Diana Buttu says.  She points out that when American settler Baruch Goldstein assassinated 29 Palestinians praying in a mosque in Hebron in 1994, Rabin could have seized the moment to end the settlements.  Instead, she points out, he “entrenched the army, entrenched the settlements.  It’s very cute for them to say it all related to the assassination of Rabin.  But it really relates to what he intended to do in the first place.”

The Soldiers Take Control

Yet Baskin believes that when Rabin, having just addressed 100,000 Israelis at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, was gunned down, Israeli priorities changed strikingly. “It was a peace process taken over by the military and the security people who had a very different understanding of how to do it.” This “change of mentality,” he adds, went “from cooperation and bridge building to walls and fence building — creating a system of separation, of permits, of restriction of movement.” The division of the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C, or ostensiblyfull Palestinian control (18%), joint control (22%), and full Israeli military control (60%), was supposed to be temporary, but it has remained the status quo for a quarter of a century.

Whatever the motives and intentions of the Israeli architects of Oslo, they were soon superseded by Israelis who saw the claim of Eretz Israel — all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River — as a prime territorial goal. As a result, the endless expansion of settlements (and the creation of new ones), as well as seizures of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and even of individual Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, has become the endgame for successive Israeli governments, abetted by their American counterparts. “The basic fact is that Israel has their cake and they’re eating it,” says Tamari. “They have the territories. They’re not withdrawing. They’re happy with the security of A, B, and C. There’s no pressure on them from the Americans. On the contrary.”

In the Oslo era, American presidents and secretaries of state, at most, issued mild diplomatic rebukes for settlement building, never threatening to suspend U.S. aid if Israel didn’t stop undermining the “peace process.” The last time that happened was when Secretary of State James Baker threatened to suspend $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel during the presidency of George H.W. Bush in 1992.

And so, steadily, with every new visit to the Holy Land, I would witness the latest evidence of an expanding occupation — new or larger settlements and military bases, more patrols by jeeps and armored vehicles, new surveillance towers, additional earthen barriers,giant red and white warning signs, and most of all, hundreds of military checkpoints, ever more ubiquitous, on virtually every mile of the West Bank. Less visible were the night raids on Palestinian refugee camps and the nearly 40%of Palestinian adult males who have spent time in Israeli prisons, where the military court conviction rate for them is 99.74%. Also on the increase was the Palestinian Authority’s expanding “security cooperation” with Israel. That, in turn, often pitted Palestinians against each other, embittering villagers and city dwellers alike against the governing PA.

As the system of control grew, draconian restrictions on movement only increased. Adults and children alike were forced to wait hours to return home from school or work or a visit to a hospital or relatives in Jordan. Meanwhile, occupied Palestine was slowly being converted into an archipelago of Israeli military control. Clearly, the “peace process” had made things far worse for Palestinians.

“I remember the nice days where there was peace without agreement,” says Shaban of Pal-Think, his tongue only partly in cheek. “Now we have agreement without peace.”

When “Peace” Is a Dirty Word

And so, in the post-Oslo decades, even “peace” became a dirty word to many Palestinians. “They thought that this agreement would lead into an independent Palestinian state,” says Ghassan Khatib, whose initial tracking poll, shortly after the iconic handshake on the White House lawn, showed 70% Palestinian support for Oslo. But when, he adds, “the public realized that this agreement was not good enough to stop the expansion of settlements, they realized it’s good for nothing. Because the peace process for the Palestinians is about ending the occupation. And settlement expansion is actually the essence of occupation.” Twenty-five years later, his polling finds that support for the “peace process” among Palestinians is now at about 24%.

On the ground, what now exists is not two states, but essentially a single state that leaves Israel in de facto control of land, water, borders, and freedom of movement. What connections existed between the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem have been splintered, with little prospect of any kind of reunification any time soon.

Today, when you travel to the West Bank and drive through what was to be the landscape of a free and independent Palestine, you find yourself surrounded by a militarized colonial settler regime. The word “apartheid” inevitably comes to mind, despite its unpopularity among the pro-Israel lobby and their charges in Congress. Sometimes, I wonder whether “Jim Crow” doesn’t best describe the new Palestinian reality.

For me, each successive trip has revealed a political situation grimmer and less hopeful than the time before. Israel’s pursuit of land over peace and the complicity of the American government essentially killed “the two-state solution.”

The final blow came this May when the Trump administration moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In the process, it became clear that U.S. Mideast policy is now largely directed not only by the pro-settler triumvirate of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and Middle East adviser Jason Greenblatt, but also by the Armageddon lobby. Those evangelical Christians are spearheaded by John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, which has surpassed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as the largest pro-Israel group in the U.S. They believe that Israel must remain in control of the Holy Land so that Jesus can return and mete out justice to sinners, after which believers will rise to heaven in the rapture. Hagee, who has described such a moment in detail from his pulpit, is a major contributor to the Israeli settlement of Ariel (population 20,000). It was no happenstance that he was the minister who gave the benediction at the U.S. embassy dedication ceremony in Jerusalem in May, as Israeli forces were gunning down unarmed protesters in Gaza.

Now, in an effort to end the long-standing right of return of Palestinian refugees, the Trump administration is canceling funding to UNRWA, the U.N. refugee agency that has provided food, shelter, education, and housing in the Palestinian refugee camps for nearly seven decades. The move, spearheaded by Kushner, is part of a broader “deal of the century” to pressure Palestiniansinto a peace agreement on American and Israeli terms. Clearly a bad deal for Palestinians, it is sure to sharply increase poverty and hunger in the camps, especially in Gaza. Strategically, it appears to be an attempt to force Gazans to give up their long-standing national rights, while increasing their dependence on humanitarian aid.

There is another solution, says Buttu.  Instead of approaching this as primarily a humanitarian problem, the international community could “put pressure on Israel to end the [economic] siege, and allow us to live in freedom. If we were able to have a seaport, an airport,” to import, export, and travel freely, “we wouldn’t need handouts.” Yet most of the world, she says, is “too terrified to confront Israel.”

Failed peace, dashed hopes, hunger, apartheid, Armageddon. Not much to celebrate, is there? And there may not be for quite a while. “The dream is still there,” insists Tamari, but he adds that, for the foreseeable future, “I think we’re going to continue to have the status quo. State of repression, colonization for many, many years to come. Until the global scene changes.” Say, a major decline in U.S. influence (something not so hard to imagine right now) or some other less predictable set of events. “Or until the Palestinians undertake a massive civil insurrection. That may tip the balance.”

An Ode to Joy

Many Palestinians see the recent Gaza March of Return and the nonviolent boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which advocates cultural and economic boycotts of Israel, as examples of such civil insurrections. BDS supporters recently celebrated a genuine victory, with the announcements by Lana del Rey and 15 other artists that they were bowing out of the Meteor concert festival in Israel. Yet taken together, BDS and the March of Return don’t come close to the First Intifada, a six-year uprising involving virtually every sector of Palestinian society, which brought Israel to the negotiating table — ironically, for the failed Oslo Agreement.

Still, few are the Palestinians likely to tell you that the national dream is dead. In late July, for instance, I spoke with Laila Salah, a 21-year-old Palestinian cellist, then rehearsing to play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in Jerusalem in an orchestra led by Palestinian violist Ramzi Aburedwan, the founder of the Al Kamandjati music school. Many of Laila’s fellow Palestinian musicians, risking arrest, snuck into the holy city, in part to play Beethoven but also to assert their right to be in their beloved Jerusalem, which they still dream of as their capital. When I asked Laila if she thought Palestine would have its own state one day, she compared her people’s freedom to the fourth movement, or Ode to Joy, in the 9th Symphony. “The fourth movement embodies our freedom,” she told me. “Or at least, being able to go freely around Palestine. It’s a wish to come true. I don’t know when. We might not be alive to see our fourth movement.”

With the endless march of settlements, Israel’s continued impunity, a fractured Palestine divided between the West Bank and Gaza, and a Trump administration empowering people who believe Armageddon is near, a solution to the Israel-Palestine nightmare may seem impossible.  But maybe, Laila, a just peace is coming sooner than you think.

After all, who predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of apartheid in South Africa?

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Israeli Questioning of U.S. Jews at Border Expose Deeper Rift

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by JOSEF FEDERMAN / The Associated Press.

JERUSALEM — When Simone Zimmerman arrived at the check-in window at the Israeli border with Egypt, it didn’t take long for the young activist to run into trouble.

Zimmerman, a Jewish American living in Israel, quickly became a person of interest after telling the border agent that she worked for an Israeli advocacy group that assists Palestinians. She says that led to a series of “super-charged” questions about her professional activities and political views.

The agent wanted to know why she worked with Palestinians, not Jews, and asked for the names of Palestinian contacts in the West Bank. Agents unlocked her phone, asked her opinion of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and threatened to deport her if she lied. After four hours, Zimmerman, who had taken a brief vacation in Egypt, was allowed to return to Israel.

A series of similar incidents at Israeli border crossings has highlighted a growing gulf between the country’s hard-line government and liberal Jewish Americans who say they support Israel but oppose its policies on issues including religion, President Donald Trump and especially the continued occupation of the West Bank.

This shift already appears to be having important implications for what historically has been a close relationship built on almost unquestioning bipartisan support. Some Jewish leaders have begun to criticize Israeli policies publicly, and some predict that the Democratic Party — home to an estimated 70 percent of American Jews — could soon turn away from its support for Israel.

A poll published by the American Jewish Committee in June showed deep differences between U.S. and Israeli Jews on issues like Israeli settlements, religious pluralism and Trump’s policies. Only 34 percent of American Jews, for instance, supported Trump’s handling of relations with Israel, compared with 77 percent of Israeli Jews.

A separate poll conducted by the Pew Research Center early this year found deep partisan differences in attitudes toward Israel, with Republicans more sympathetic to Israel than Democrats by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.

The differences between the world’s two largest Jewish communities have been in the making for years.

Non-Orthodox American Jews have long identified with liberal causes, such as civil rights and social justice, and have become well-integrated into mainstream American society. They have a high rate of intermarriage with non-Jews, are less engaged in Jewish communal life than their parents, and tend to hold relatively dovish attitudes in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, according to Steven Cohen, a prominent sociologist who studies the American Jewish community.

In contrast, many Israelis have more conservative world views. They generally oppose mixed marriage, have a more collective identity and take a harder line toward the Palestinians, Cohen said.

“Essentially, you have a liberal American Jewry confronting an increasingly conservative Israeli electorate, specifically an Israeli Jewish electorate,” Cohen said.

Despite these differences, the Jewish American establishment — led by the influential pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC — has firmly backed the Israeli government and its policies over the years. But a series of decisions by Netanyahu’s government has begun to soften that support.

Netanyahu upset many American Jews by appearing to side with Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election. He openly welcomed Trump’s election in 2016 and has angered many American Jews by forging a close relationship with a U.S. president they see as anathema to their values.

The relationship hit a major turning point last year when Netanyahu, under pressure from religious political partners, called off an agreement to create an egalitarian space where men and women could worship together at the Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy prayer site. The Reform and Conservative movements, which represent most affiliated American Jews, slammed his decision.

Netanyahu’s government has also passed legislation aimed at curbing the influence of anti-occupation advocacy groups, banned gay couples from receiving state-funded surrogacy services and approved a ban on activists who support boycotts of Israel or Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Last month, Israel approved a “nation state” law enshrining the country’s Jewish character, angering many in Israel’s Arab minority, who said it rendered them second-class citizens.

Jewish American groups have strongly condemned the law, as have Israeli liberals who saw it as undermining democracy and needlessly provoking the country’s Arab minority. This week, a coalition of anti-occupation Jewish groups in the U.S. pledged to demand explanations from any visiting Israeli lawmaker who supported the law.

Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote in The New York Times this week that some diaspora Jews “wonder if the nation they cherish is losing its way.” He said this sentiment is especially prevalent among younger Jewish Americans.

“Jewish millennials are raising doubts that their parents and grandparents never raised,” Lauder wrote. “Passing the torch to this younger generation is already a difficult undertaking. But when Israel’s own government proposes damaging legislation, this task may well become nearly impossible.”

Israel still has significant support in the American Jewish community. AIPAC continues to wield influence in Washington; the White House and Congress remain strongly pro-Israel; and the smaller but more politically engaged Orthodox Jewish minority fervently supports Israel.

Elad Strohmayer, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said Israel and American Jews have a special bond “that Israel does not take for granted and which must always be nurtured.”

He said all of Israel’s diplomatic missions in the U.S. are engaged in “extensive outreach to American Jews and work to strengthen the connection of all Jews to Israel, regardless of their denomination.”

Zimmerman, 27, said she grew up in a mainstream Jewish family in Los Angeles and was raised to show unwavering support for Israel. She only began to ask questions after heading to college, where she said she found it difficult to defend Israel against critics of its policies toward the Palestinians. This led to disillusionment with the Jewish establishment. She became involved with J Street U, the campus arm of a Jewish lobby group that supports Israel but opposes the occupation.

“That really for a lot of young Jews is how the process started for many of us. It was actually just about wanting the space to ask the hard questions that didn’t exist in the community,” she said.

Three years ago, Zimmerman formed “IfNotNow,” a grassroots group that opposes Israel’s occupation. The group claims to have nearly 2,000 trained activists, with chapters in 16 cities and a dozen college campuses.

“Our contribution is to bring the crisis of American Jewish support for the occupation into the center of public discourse and to force a difficult conversation,” she said.

In recent weeks, several other vocal critics of Israeli policies have been detained and questioned about their political views when entering the country. Among them was Peter Beinart, a journalist, TV commentator and university professor who is well known in Jewish circles.

Beinart warned “there is no question” American Jews are growing ever more distant from Israel. “The depth of animosity and alienation has grown dramatically,” he said, predicting that Israelis will be “shocked” by how critical of Israeli policies Democratic presidential candidates in 2020 will be and how much support they will get from young American Jews.

“When you think about how liberal American Jews think about Donald Trump, that’s the way they feel about Netanyahu,” he said. “That’s the emerging demographic majority in the United States.”

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How Media Launders Gaza Massacres by Labeling Them as ‘Clashes’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Adam Johnson / FAIR.

As FAIR has noted before (e.g., Extra!1/17FAIR.org4/2/18), the term “clash” is almost always used to launder power asymmetry and give the reader the impression of two equal warring sides. It obscures power dynamics and the nature of the conflict itself, e.g., who instigated it and what weapons if any were used. “Clash” is a reporter’s best friend when they want to describe violence without offending anyone in power—in the words of George Orwell, “to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

It’s predictable, then, that in coverage of Israel’s recent mass shootings in Gaza—which have killed over 30 Palestinians and injured more than 1,100—the word “clashes” is used to euphemize snipers in fortified positions firing on unarmed protesters 100 meters away:

  • Journalist Among 9 Dead in Latest Gaza Clashes, Palestinian Health Officials Say (CNN4/7/18)
  • Burning Tires, Tear Gas and Live Fire: Gaza Clashes Turn Deadly (Washington Post4/6/18)
  • Demonstrators Wounded as Gaza Clashes Resume (Reuters, 4/7/18)
  • After Gaza Clash, Israel and Palestinians Fight With Videos and Words (New York Times, 4/1/18)

When one side is dying by the dozens and the other is sitting behind a heavily secured wall, firing at will on unarmed people from hundreds of feet away (some of whom are wearing vests marked “PRESS”), this is not a “clash.” It’s more accurately described as a “massacre,” or at the very least, “firing on protesters.” (No Israelis have been injured, which would be a surprising thing if two sides were actually “clashing.”)

New York Times3/25/11

The fig leaf of “clashes” is not needed in reporting on US enemies. In 2011, Western headlines routinely described Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as having “fired on protesters” (Guardian2/20/11New York Times3/25/11). Simple plain English works when reporting on those in bad standing with the US national security establishment, but for allies of the United States, the push for false parity requires increasingly absurd euphemisms to mask what’s really going on—in this case, the long-distance slaughter of unarmed human beings.

Israel has a state-of-the-art military: F35s, Sa’ar corvettes, Merkava tanks and Hellfire missiles, not to mention the most intrusive surveillance apparatus in the world; total control over the air, sea and land. In the Great March of Return protests, the Palestinians have employed rocks, tires and, according to the IDF, the occasional Molotov cocktail, though no independent evidence has emerged of the latter being used. The power asymmetry is one of the largest of any conflict in the world, yet Western media still cling on an institutional level to a “cycle of violence” frame, with “both sides” depicted as equal parties. The term “clashes” permits them to do this in perpetuity, no matter how one-sided the violence becomes.

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How Media Launders Gaza Massacres by Labeling Them as ‘Clashes’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Adam Johnson / FAIR.

As FAIR has noted before (e.g., Extra!1/17FAIR.org4/2/18), the term “clash” is almost always used to launder power asymmetry and give the reader the impression of two equal warring sides. It obscures power dynamics and the nature of the conflict itself, e.g., who instigated it and what weapons if any were used. “Clash” is a reporter’s best friend when they want to describe violence without offending anyone in power—in the words of George Orwell, “to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

It’s predictable, then, that in coverage of Israel’s recent mass shootings in Gaza—which have killed over 30 Palestinians and injured more than 1,100—the word “clashes” is used to euphemize snipers in fortified positions firing on unarmed protesters 100 meters away:

  • Journalist Among 9 Dead in Latest Gaza Clashes, Palestinian Health Officials Say (CNN4/7/18)
  • Burning Tires, Tear Gas and Live Fire: Gaza Clashes Turn Deadly (Washington Post4/6/18)
  • Demonstrators Wounded as Gaza Clashes Resume (Reuters, 4/7/18)
  • After Gaza Clash, Israel and Palestinians Fight With Videos and Words (New York Times, 4/1/18)

When one side is dying by the dozens and the other is sitting behind a heavily secured wall, firing at will on unarmed people from hundreds of feet away (some of whom are wearing vests marked “PRESS”), this is not a “clash.” It’s more accurately described as a “massacre,” or at the very least, “firing on protesters.” (No Israelis have been injured, which would be a surprising thing if two sides were actually “clashing.”)

New York Times3/25/11

The fig leaf of “clashes” is not needed in reporting on US enemies. In 2011, Western headlines routinely described Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as having “fired on protesters” (Guardian2/20/11New York Times3/25/11). Simple plain English works when reporting on those in bad standing with the US national security establishment, but for allies of the United States, the push for false parity requires increasingly absurd euphemisms to mask what’s really going on—in this case, the long-distance slaughter of unarmed human beings.

Israel has a state-of-the-art military: F35s, Sa’ar corvettes, Merkava tanks and Hellfire missiles, not to mention the most intrusive surveillance apparatus in the world; total control over the air, sea and land. In the Great March of Return protests, the Palestinians have employed rocks, tires and, according to the IDF, the occasional Molotov cocktail, though no independent evidence has emerged of the latter being used. The power asymmetry is one of the largest of any conflict in the world, yet Western media still cling on an institutional level to a “cycle of violence” frame, with “both sides” depicted as equal parties. The term “clashes” permits them to do this in perpetuity, no matter how one-sided the violence becomes.

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Israel Launches Scores of Airstrikes as Gaza Fire Persists

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ILAN BEN ZION / The Associated Press.

JERUSALEM — Israeli warplanes struck dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip and three people were reported killed there, while Palestinian militants from the territory fired scores of rockets into Israel in a fierce burst of violence overnight and into Thursday morning.

The flare-up comes as Egypt is trying to broker a long-term cease-fire between the two sides. At least three Palestinians died — a pregnant woman, her 1-year-old daughter and a Hamas militant, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

On the Israeli side, at least seven people were wounded.

Israeli and Hamas officials both threatened a further intensification of hostilities. The U.N.’s Mideast envoy appealed for calm.

It was not clear if the escalation, the latest in a series of intense exchanges of fire in recent months, would derail the indirect negotiations between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas militant rulers.

Air raid sirens signaling incoming rocket fire continued in southern Israel on Thursday morning, raising the likelihood of further Israeli reprisals.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007. Despite the animosity, the bitter enemies appear to be working through Egyptian mediators to avoid another war.

Hamas is demanding the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade that has devastated Gaza’s economy, while Israel wants an end to rocket fire, as well as recent border protests and launches of incendiary balloons, and the return of the remains of two dead soldiers and two live Israelis believed to be held by Hamas.

But the continued outbursts of fire have jeopardized those cease-fire efforts. On Tuesday, the Israeli military struck a Hamas military post in Gaza after it said militants fired on Israeli troops on the border. Hamas said two of its fighters were killed after taking part in a gunfire parade inside a militant camp.

The incident occurred while a group of senior Hamas leaders from abroad were visiting Gaza to discuss the ceases-fire efforts with local leaders.

A top Hamas official told The Associated Press that the group waited for the delegation to leave Gaza before responding with rocket fire late Wednesday.

The Israeli military said over 150 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel, and Israel carried out over 140 airstrikes targeting Hamas militant positions.

Gaza’s Health Ministry identified those killed in the airstrikes from Wednesday to Thursday as Hamas fighter Ali Ghandour, 23-year-old Enas Khamash and her daughter Bayan. The ministry said the militant and the civilians were killed in separate incidents.

Kamal Khamash, brother-in-law of the killed woman, said the family was asleep when the projectile hit the house.

The mother and daughter died immediately and the father is in critical condition, Kamal said.

“This is a blatant crime and Israel is responsible for it,” he said.

Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus insisted Israel only targeted Hamas military targets in Gaza.

In southern Israel, two Thai laborers were among the seven wounded by rocket fire, and rockets damaged buildings in the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon. The military said it intercepted some 25 rockets, while most of the others landed in open areas. Israel said it launched airstrikes targeting rocket launchers, weapons stockpiles, tunnels and other Hamas infrastructure.

Israeli Cabinet minister for construction and housing, Yoav Galant, said that “whatever is needed to be done to defend our civilians and soldiers, will be done, no matter what would be the price in Gaza.”

Conricus wouldn’t comment on Israeli media reports of troops preparing for a possible ground operation, but said Israel “had ground troops that are ready to deploy. We are reinforcing the southern command and Gaza division.”

Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special envoy who is involved in Egyptian efforts to broker a truce, said in a statement on Thursday that he’s “deeply alarmed” by “multiple rockets fired toward communities in southern Israel” the day before.

Mladenov warned that “if the current escalation however is not contained immediately, the situation can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people.”

On Wednesday, the Israeli military shelled the Palestinian territory after civilians working on the Gaza border fence came under fire. Hamas militants responded with a cross-border fusillade that sent Israelis scrambling for air raid shelters.

The Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing classified negotiations, said that cease-fire talks were in their final stage but that disagreements remained. He said Hamas is demanding the complete lifting of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while Israel has offered only to ease the restrictions.

Tension along the Israel-Gaza border has escalated since late March, when Hamas launched what would become regular mass protests along Israel’s perimeter fence with Gaza. The protests have been aimed in part at trying to break the blockade.

Over the past four months, 163 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including at least 120 protesters, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and a local rights group. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Gaza sniper during this period.

Israel says it has been defending its sovereign border against infiltration attempts by Hamas. But it has come under heavy international criticism for its frequent use of force against unarmed protesters.


Associated Press writers Mohammad Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Fares Akram contributed to this report.

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Jared Kushner Tries to Strip Refugee Status, Aid from Millions of Displaced Palestinians

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Juan Cole / Informed Comment.

According to Jared Kushner and other hard line Zionists, the Palestinian people don’t exist. Ever since they ethnically cleansed the majority of Palestinians, the Israelis have been hoping that they will just go away. They look out on Galilee, the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, and Lebanon, and ask, “why are you still here?” as though the Palestinians were a houseboy in their mansion that they had fired last week.

According to Foreign Policy, Kushner has bought into a theory that Palestinian identity, and Palestinian desire to return home to what is now Israel, have been artificially kept alive because millions of Palestinians are recognized by the UN as refugees. And the UN Relief and Works Agency provides schooling, vocational training, and sometimes makeshift housing to these families that the Israelis forced into tents in the wilderness.

So if you wanted to wipe Palestine off the map, you’d want to decertify the Palestinians as refugees and destroy UNRWA.

Without that infrastructure, the spoiled rich bigot Kushner thinks, why the Palestinians will fade away and stop asking to go home.

The far, far right Likud Party that rules Israel has finally found a White House that despises the poor and oppressed as much as it does, and which is happy to try to dissolve the body of the displaced Palestinians in the acid bath of malign neglect, for all the world like “cleaners” in a mob movie.

This theory is incorrect, of course. Palestinian identity is passed on by families, cultural practices, songs, books, and memories, not by UNRWA. One anthropologist who worked in the camps in Lebanon to which the Israelis expelled the Palestinians found that the Palestinians had arranged themselves within the camp according to their original village. They made the camp a microcosm of Palestine. UNRWA workers did not tell them to do that.

However, it is true that UNRWA keeps the wolf from the door for many Palestinians, and that infant mortality will certainly go up if it is dismantled.

Yes, I am saying that Jared Kushner and Nikki Haley are trying to kill Palestinian babies.

They are even worse than Jeff Sessions, who just wants to steal the babies.

I once visited the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. An old man told me that in 1948 he and his mother were in their apartment in Haifa when a Zionist gang barged in and took it from them, expelling them over the border to Lebanon. He stayed there a year. Then the UN put him on a train up to northern Lebanon to a camp, far from home, where he had been ever since.

Lebanon is a balancing act between Christians and Muslims, and the Christians refused to offer the Palestinians, mostly Muslim, citizenship. They also did not let them own property or work in most professions. They could not travel because they have no citizenship and nobody trusts them enough to let them in.

“We are in jail,” he told me. He took me next door where two old women were lying on mattresses, taking oxygen, having fallen ill. The only medical care was arranged by UNRWA.

He took my forearm. “Is this any way to live?”

Most of the Palestinians in Nahr al-Bared were just living their lives and trying to get buy. But camps are lawless, and disturbances in 2008 had angered the Lebanese army, which destroyed the camp to get at a small criminal gang of 50, that were characterized as terrorists. The man’s apartment building was destroyed, along with most of the camp. Most of them had nothing to do with the gang.

 Nahr al-Bared, 2010. (Juan Cole)

UNRWA had given them prefab units to live in until Nahr al-Bared could be rebuilt.

 Nahr al-Bared, 2010. (Juan Cole)

Getting rid of UNRWA will increase the misery of Palestinians. But that man’s children know they are Palestinians, they know they will never be allowed to fit in in Lebanon, nor do they want to. They want to go home to Haifa.

When the British conquered Palestine away from the Ottoman Empire during WW I, it had about 680,000 Palestinians. The British established the Mandate of Palestine over their heads without asking their permission, denied them the sort of nationhood achieved by Iraq and other League of Nations-designated Class A Mandates, and then tried to flood the country with European Jews so as to create a local population favorable to long-term colonial occupation. By 1946, this Palestinian population had grown to 1.3 million.

In 1947-48 the British declared they were going home and that the Palestinians would just have to deal with the half-million European Jews that the British had brought into the colony over Palestinian objections. The Jewish community was highly organized and had wealthy backers, and they launched into action to ethnically cleanse hundreds of thousands of hapless Palestinian villagers. When they declared Israel in 1948, only 165,000 Palestinians remained within it. Most Israelis now think it was a mistake to let that many stay, since they have grown into about 20% of the current Israeli population.

Some 720,000 Palestinians were made into refugees. That is, they were forced out of their homes by concerted Zionist campaigns that in some cases involved massacres of innocents. They were penniless. The immigrants, whom they viewed as illegal, stole their houses, apartments and farms. Some 70% of Gaza’s population is refugee families from 1948.



Other hundreds of thousands were forced to the West Bank (grabbed by the Jordanian army), to Jordan proper, to Lebanon. A few ended up in Syria and Egypt.

Over time, the population increased. There are now nearly 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel has occupied since 1967. Many still live in refugee camps. Of the 9.5 million Jordanians, probably some 6 million are of Palestinian heritage, having been chased from their homes in 1948 and 1967 by the Israelis. Although the UN says there are 450k Palestinians in Lebanon, probably it is half that, with many having slipped away to Europe. But over 200,000 people in refugee camps is still too many.

Al-Awda writes,

    “There are about 7.2 million Palestinian refugees worldwide. More than 4.3 million Palestinian refugees and their descendents displaced in 1948 are registered for humanitarian assistance with the United Nations. Another 1.7 million Palestinian refugees and their descendents, also displaced in 1948, are not registered with the UN. About 355,000 Palestinians and their descendents are internally displaced i.e. inside present-day “Israel”. When the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied in 1967, the UN reported that approximately 200,000 Palestinians fled their homes. These 1967 refugees and their descendants today number about 834,000 persons. As a result of house demolition, revocation of residency rights and construction of illegal settlements on confiscated Palestinian owned-land, at least 57,000 Palestinians have become internally displaced in the occupied West Bank. This number includes 15,000 people so far displaced by the construction of Israel’s Annexation Wall. Such dispossession of the Palestinian population continues today.”


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Top 5 Things Palestinian Activist Ahed Tamimi Learned in Colonial Israeli Prison

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Juan Cole / Informed Comment.

Ahed Tamimi and her mother were given petty and mean-spirited sentences of 8 months by an colonial Israeli military judge presiding over stateless, occupied people who are intensively patrolled by the Israeli jackboot while their land, water, and well-being are gradually stolen from them by the judge’s cousins. Tamimi as a 17-year-old girl slapped a couple of Israel Occupation personnel attempting to barge into her home. She and others had participated in a demonstration against Israelis squatting nearby on Palestinian land and encroaching on her home town, during which there was some stone throwing at the Israeli troops who came to stop people from protesting. Those troops shot her cousin in the head with a rubber bullet. That was when Ahen went out and slapped them.

Amazingly, Tamimi used the experience of being jailed, as many colonial subjects in imperial detention cells have–including Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi–to her advantage. Kuwait’s KUNA news service reported:

1. Tamimi finished high school in jail! She organized a study group of other young women, and she succeeded in completing the high school examination while imprisoned. She turned her dreary sentence, intended to deprive her of nearly a year of her youth, into an educational opportunity. Lesson One: Any time you have free time on your hands, use it for self-improvement rather than stewing over your predicament.

2. That achievement, of completing high school in jail, did not come without struggle (nothing in her short life has). She said, “I was afraid I would miss the school year, so I managed with a group of prisoners to study. We challenged the occupation, which tried to ban us from study.” She is indicating that colonial, illegitimate Israeli prison officials actively tried to stop her from studying, and that she organized some sort of effective protest such that someone overruled the anti-intellectuals. (I say “colonial” and “Illegitimate” because they are not from the Palestinian West Bank, which they illegally occupy, since they have held it for 50 years and have altered its people’s lifeways dramatically). Lesson Two: If someone treats you unreasonably and unjustly, organize and protest.

3. Tamimi said she intends to go to law school and that she hopes to specialize in human rights law so that she can defend Palestinian activists and prisoners on the international stage. Lesson Three: When you encounter injustice, acquire the social and legal tools to combat it!

4. She said that prison taught her to love life, since she was nostalgic for her own room, her friends and her books. Lesson Four: Stop and take a moment to appreciate the good things in life, since they could go away at any moment. We’re often so stuck in our grievances about the past or so anxious about the future that we don’t bother to Be Here Now.

5. On her arrival in her home town of Nabi Saleh, she said, “I am a witness that the Resistance will continue until the end of the Occupation.” Lesson 5: Never give up hope in the victory of a just cause. The British occupied Bengal for 200 years, but in the end were forced to leave by the Indian Freedom Movement. The French took Saigon in 1859 but were forced to leave in 1954. The Palestinians will not be stateless and helpless forever.

It is not easy to send money to Palestinian causes, since the big American financial corporations are partisans for keeping the Palestinians down, buying into Israeli discourse about these people the Israelis have warred on, displaced, and occupied being irrational and dangerous. One of the purposes for which the Israelis keep Palestinian stateless is precisely that stateless people don’t have the right to have rights– and certainly not the right to securely hold property or receive money transfers.

But if there were a way to set up a donation account to establish a fund to send Ahed to law school, I’d give, and it would be a great good thing.


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Palestinian Protest Icon Tamimi Released From Israeli Prison

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH / The Associated Press.

NABI SALEH, West Bank — Palestinian protest icon Ahed Tamimi returned home to a hero’s welcome in her West Bank village on Sunday after Israel released the 17-year-old from prison at the end of her eight-month sentence for slapping and kicking Israeli soldiers.

Ahed and her mother, Nariman Tamimi, were greeted with banners, cheers and Palestinian flags as they entered their home village of Nabi Saleh.

Ahed was arrested in December after she slapped two Israeli soldiers outside her family home. Her mother filmed the incident and posted it on Facebook, where it went viral and, for many, instantly turned Ahed into a symbol of resistance to Israel’s half-century-old military rule over the Palestinians.

With her unruly mop of curly light-colored hair, the Palestinian teen quickly became a local hero and an internationally recognizable figure.

Her supporters see a brave girl who struck two armed soldiers in frustration after having just learned that Israeli troops seriously wounded a 15-year-old cousin, shooting him in the head from close range with a rubber bullet during nearby stone-throwing clashes.

In Israel, however, she is seen by many either as a provocateur, an irritation or a threat to the military’s deterrence policy — even as a “terrorist.” Israel has treated her actions as a criminal offense, indicting her on charges of assault and incitement. Her eight-month sentence was the result of a plea deal.

In Nabi Saleh, supporters welcomed Tamimi home Sunday with Palestinian flags planted on the roof of her home. Hundreds of chairs were set up for well-wishers in the courtyard.

“The resistance continues until the occupation is removed,” Ahed said upon her return. “All the female prisoners are steadfast. I salute everyone who supported me and my case.”

From her home, Ahed headed to a visit to the grave of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. She laid a wreath and recited a prayer from the Quran, the Muslim holy book, and was then taken with her family to a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah.

“I will continue this path and I hope everyone will,” she said. “The prisoners are fine and we hope the struggle for their release continues.”

Her father, Bassem Tamimi, said he expects her to take a lead in the struggle against Israeli occupation but she is also weighing college options. He said she completed her high school exams in prison with the help of other prisoners who taught the required material. He said she initially hoped to attend a West Bank university but has also received scholarship offers from abroad.

Since 2009, residents of Nabi Salah have staged regular anti-occupation protests that often ended with stone-throwing clashes. Ahed has participated in such marches from a young age, and has had several highly publicized run-ins with soldiers. One photo shows the then 12-year-old raising a clenched fist toward a soldier towering over her.

In a sign of her popularity, a pair of Italian artists painted a large mural of her on Israel’s West Bank separation barrier ahead of her release. Israeli police say they were caught in the act along with another Palestinian and arrested for vandalism.

Abbas, after meeting Ahed on Sunday, called her “a symbol for the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence.”

“The popular and peaceful style of struggle that Ahed Tamimi and her village and nearby villages have been practicing, proves to the world that our people will remain steadfast in this land, defending it no matter how much needs to be sacrificed,” he said.

Tamimi’s scuffle with the two soldiers took place Dec. 15 in Nabi Saleh, which is home to about 600 members of her extended clan.

At the time, protests had erupted in several parts of the West Bank over President Donald Trump’s recognition 10 days earlier of the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. She was arrested at her home four days later, in the middle of the night.

Ahed was 16 when she was arrested and turned 17 while in custody. Her case has trained a spotlight on the detention of Palestinian minors by Israel, a practice that has been criticized by international rights groups. Some 300 minors are currently being held, according to Palestinian figures.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians are increasingly disillusioned about efforts to establish a state in those territories, after more than two decades of failed negotiations with Israel.

Israeli Cabinet minister Uri Ariel said the Tamimi case highlighted what could happen if Israel lets its guard down.

“I think Israel acts too mercifully with these types of terrorists. Israel should treat harshly those who hit its soldiers,” he told The Associated Press. “We can’t have a situation where there is no deterrence. Lack of deterrence leads to the reality we see now … we must change that.”

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With Nationality Law, Israel Openly Declares Apartheid and Racial Supremacy

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Juan Cole / Informed Comment.

Israel has for decades been running the occupied territories of Palestine–Gaza and the West Bank– with Apartheid tactics. As with black South Africans under Apartheid, most Palestinians have been deprived of citizenship in a real, recognized state. Their villages have been isolated by a network of what often amount to Jewish-only highways. They have trouble getting to hospital through checkpoints. Their territory in the West Bank is patrolled by the Israeli army, and the Israeli state is actively depriving them of their property and giving it to white squatters.

One reply had been that while the Occupation regime may have Apartheid characteristics, it is temporary. It has become abundantly clear, however, that the Occupation is forever and the Palestinians will be kept stateless in perpetuity (they are the largest group of human beings in the world entirely lacking citizenship and nationality– a condition much worse than having a nationality you don’t want, as with many Kurds).

Another reply had been that in Israel proper, 20% of the population is Arab (i.e. Palestinian-Israeli), and they are equal citizens of the Israeli state with full democratic rights. That assertion was all along de facto untrue, since Palestinian-Israelis suffered various forms of discrimination. Some of their villages were unrecognized, and were hence forbidden to conduct repairs or building expansions. Only 1% of Bedouin Israelis have a college degree.

But now the Israeli parliament or Knesset has passed a law openly declaring Palestinians to be second-class citizens. Building squatter settlements on Palestinian land is made the official policy of the state (well, it has been for decades de facto, but now it is de jure). Arabic is demoted from being an official language.

It would be as though the US passed a law designating America as a state for white Christians, excluding African-Americans and Latinos, and making English the only official language.

It is difficult to see how Zionist Jews can complain about being second class citizens in Christian societies if their movement treats non-Jews this way in Israel.

Sovereignty is vested solely in the 80% majority of Jewish Israelis. Israel is no more a democracy now than Turkey is. Both have regular elections and in both the Right routinely wins, and probably fairly so.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization correctly declared this system to be unadorned Apartheid.

The implications are enormous. Some critics of the crushing of the Palestinians had made a distinction between boycotting the squatter enterprises on the West Bank and boycotting Israel itself. There simply is now no longer a difference. The law will certainly invigorate the movement to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel.

Apartheid is defined in the 2002 Statute of Rome as a war crime, and Israeli politicians could be indicted on these grounds.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has taken Israel in the direction of illiberal ‘democracy,’ attacking the freedom of the press, the judiciary, and Non-governmental Organizations.


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Cease-fire Holds After Day of Intense Israel-Hamas Fighting

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ARON HELLER / The Associated Press.

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military lifted its restrictions along the Gaza border Sunday, indicating it had accepted an Egypt-mediated cease-fire that ended a 24-hour round of fighting with Hamas militants that had threatened to devolve into all-out war.

The military had shut down a popular beach and placed limitations on large gatherings as residents kept mostly close to home on Saturday amid dozens of rockets that were fired from Gaza. But after several hours of calm it said residents could resume their daily routines.

On Saturday, the military carried out its largest wave of airstrikes in Gaza since the 2014 war, hitting several Hamas military compounds and flattening a number of its training camps. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an airstrike in Gaza City, while four Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home.

The military said several mortar shells were fired even after Hamas announced the cease-fire as sirens warning of incoming projectiles wailed in Israel overnight again. The military struck the mortar launcher early Sunday but the calm held, with neither side appearing eager to resume hostilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not accept a cease-fire unless it included an end to all militant hostilities, including incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza that have devastated nearby Israeli farmlands and nature reserves.

“The Israeli military has delivered its most punishing blow against Hamas since the 2014 war. I hope they got the message. If not, they will get it later on,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting.

After several balloons drifted into Israel Sunday, the military said it targeted the Hamas squad that had launched them from the northern Gaza Strip.

Hamas police also announced an explosion Sunday at a house in Gaza City that killed a father and son, aged 35 and 13. The explosion appeared to be an accidental blast related to militant stock piles of explosives. Hamas said it would investigate.

Israel said it unleashed Saturday’s barrage in response to weeks of violence along Gaza’s border — including a grenade attack Friday that wounded an officer — as well as sustained Hamas rocket attacks and a campaign of incendiary devices floating over the border.

Hamas responded with more than 200 projectiles toward Israel communities, evoking memories of the three wars the sides have waged over the past decade. Israel said its Iron Dome defense system shot down more than 20 projectiles.

On Sunday evening the military announced that following a “situation assessment” it had reinforced Iron Dome batteries in central Israel and in the south of the country. It added that a small number of reserve army soldiers were called up.

Israel also destroyed several Hamas attack tunnels, as well as factories involved in the production of the incendiary kites and balloons, and a Hamas battalion headquarters in northern Gaza.

“We have no intention of tolerating rockets, kites, drones or anything,” said Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “I hope that Hamas will draw conclusions and if not, they will have to pay a heavy price.”

Two teenagers were killed and several others were wounded when Israel struck an unfinished five-story building near a Hamas security compound and a public park in Gaza City, reducing the structure to rubble. The military said Hamas was using it as a training facility and had dug a tunnel underneath as part of its underground network.

The rare strike in the heart of Gaza City blew out windows at a nearby mosque, an art gallery, government offices, a tech start-up company and dozens of houses, leaving light fixtures and wiring dangling. The Al-Azhar university said its classrooms and the dentistry college lab were also damaged.

Speaking to thousands attending the two teenagers’ funeral, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh vowed to continue Gaza protests and to take revenge for the teens. He also met with the U.N. Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, who urged both sides to maintain calm

“Yesterday we were on the brink of war, and it has taken the concerted efforts of everyone to make sure that we step back from confrontation,” Mladenov said in Gaza. “Everybody needs to take a step back.”

The strike that killed the teenagers unleashed a Hamas’ launch toward the Israeli border town of Sderot, where a rocket hit the Buchris family home.

“We were sitting in the living room and all of a sudden, the aquarium exploded and there was smoke everywhere and glass flew everywhere,” said Aharon Buchris, who was wounded along with his wife and two teenage daughters, as he awaited surgery in hospital.

Israel has been warning Hamas that while it has no interest in exacerbating hostilities, it will not tolerate Gaza militants’ continued efforts to breach the border and its campaign of incendiary attacks on Israeli border communities.

Hamas-led border protests are aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30.

With Israel focused on efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military foothold in neighboring Syria, it has been wary of escalating violence in Gaza. Netanyahu has also come under pressure from southern Israeli communities under rocket fire from Gaza.

Hamas, meanwhile, has been trying to break out of its isolation and spotlight the hardships of the impoverished strip without invoking the full wrath of Israel.


Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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