Gaza – a poor investment

Ceasefire or no ceasefire — the talk is already beginning about what happens next in Gaza?  Palestinian leaders are planning to ask world donors in September to cough up $6 Billion to help rebuild what Israel destroyed in just a matter of weeks. (That’s about 2 years worth of USA support given to Israel’s military.)

Should the international community pay for Israel’s wanton act of violence and destruction?  Or should Israelis be required to internalize the cost since an overwhelming majority of them supported Netanyahu’s campaign in Gaza?

I opt for the latter.

Nation-states, just like children, do not learn the consequences of their actions unless they are forced to feel the impacts directly. For nation-states, their pocketbooks can be persuasive.

Of course, this is only wishful thinking on my part.

No one will force Israel to pay for the rebuilding of Gaza even though, arguably, Israel has a legal responsibility to rebuild Gaza because of the military occupation it maintains.

Benjamin_Netanyahu_portrait

It also appears to be an uphill battle at the ICC to hold Israel accountable for war crimes committed in Gaza, so we can expect to see another deadly military operation within the next year or two. Nothing and no one is putting the brakes on Netanyahu.

To top it off, two years ago this month, UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) issued a report that warned that the Gaza Strip will likely be unlivable by 2020 because of severe water pollution problems, electricity shortages, not enough schools, hospital beds, and doctors, among other things. Read the report here.

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin – CodePink

Past attempts to rebuild Gaza have failed, as this recent report notes.

In fact, $4.48 billion in pledges were made [in March 2009 following Operation Cast Lead] – 167% more than the PA had requested – a rare event in donor history. But the dire situation in Gaza today, in which infrastructure and people still suffer from the damage inflicted in that war, raises questions as to what proportion of the funds was ever received and if so, how and where were they disbursed. In fact, to this day, no comprehensive account exists that provides this information.

So it looks like Gaza is a very poor investment.

Why pump $6 Billion+ into this sliver of land when either the Israeli military will return to destroy it again, or Egypt will squeeze it, or it will fail under its own weight by 2020?

1383617_568783166520449_664722818_n

 

1 Comment

Filed under Gaza, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Uncategorized

The Art of Personalizing Propaganda

Without really understanding how Facebook works, (which posts are visible on my news feed? why don’t I see all of my 2,682 friends’ posts?) I’ve been very worried that I’m stuck in an information silo.

Ralls_Texas_Grain_Silos_2010

I suspect that Facebook is reinforcing my existing beliefs and biases by only showing me content that is similar to what I’ve “liked” and  “content that makes [me] uncomfortable, is filtered out.”

That’s not what I want — I really do want to see a diversity of opinions and that’s why I’ve added friends who may not share my opinions — but I think I’ve fallen victim to the silo trap.

Thanks to Gilad Lotan, a self-described data visualization geek from NYC, my fears have been confirmed in his intriguing article, Israel, Gaza, War & Data — social networks and the art of personalizing propaganda. Gilad combines super-duper graphics with his analysis of social media algorithms in a very convincing argument that we (those of us using social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) are burying ourselves in propaganda silos. Yikes!

A healthy democracy is contingent on having a healthy media ecosystem.

I joined Facebook reluctantly a few years ago at my nephew’s urging. “Oh Aunt Lora, you’ll be able to share photos with the family!” The magic threshold was probably 200 or 300 friends. Until then, it was boring and I rarely checked it.

Then I began to see the potential.  I could read posts of friends-of-friends, and they could read mine. I focused on my areas of interest (climate change, sustainable development, city planning, politics and the Middle East) and I “liked” pages of interest and began to connect with more people who shared my interests. Gilad writes: “We construct a representation of our interest by choosing to follow or like specific pages. The more we engage with certain type of content, the more similar content is made visible in our feeds.”

Now I have “friends” from all over the world — Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Germany, Austria, UK, France, Sweden, Norway, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Venezuela, and points in between. Most of them I’ve never met in person, but many I have.

I’ve never “unfriended” someone for disagreeing with me, but I suspect several have “unfriended” me. I cherish a diversity of opinions, I just don’t have time for rudeness or disrespect.

Take Egypt last summer for example.

It seemed to me that I had an equal number of “friends” on Facebook who supported the military coup and those who supported President Morsi. I engaged with them all, learning from them all, and drawing my own conclusions. One year later, I see almost nothing about Egypt in my “news feed”.  I know about the ongoing suffering and internal turmoil, and the role Egypt is playing in the miserable siege on Gaza. But my Egyptian Facebook friends have nearly disappeared. Are they dead? Fallen silent due to government censorship? I’m worried.

So back to my silos.

Another Facebook friend from Gaza, someone I met in person during my extended visit, recently opined that “Homogeneous societies or groups are usually conservative and they are putting us at risk and danger! Diversity is power, essential and necessary.”

I think he’s on to something here.

The topic for another blog post, but I think my personalized Facebook has become just a little too homogeneous for comfort. I’m going to search for some new friends from Mongolia.

I highly recommend Israel, Gaza, War & Data — social networks and the art of personalizing propaganda.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media, People

I stand for Gaza @ the Grand Canyon

Two different planets.

That’s what it feels like to be an American at the Grand Canyon in Arizona today while the death toll exceeds 1,800 men, women and children in Gaza.

Visitors @ Grand Canyon

Visitors @ Grand Canyon

How can there be so much beauty and peace in my corner of the planet, while my friend Mohammed’s home in Jabalyia is blown to pieces by Israel?

Sunset at the Grand Canyon

Sunset at the Grand Canyon

How can tourists from different parts of the world meet to share in this natural wonder — (I heard German, Russian, Italian, French, and Japanese today) — when Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side don’t trust each other?

Truly, it feels like we must be on different planets.

But we’re connected. And I want people in Gaza to know that I think about you 24/7. There won’t be peace in my corner of the world until there is peace and justice in yours.

P1280358

Leave a comment

Filed under Gaza, Uncategorized

What we don’t know

The brokered 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza fell apart only 90 minutes after it began. Both sides blame the other for the failure. That is the only fact anyone knows for sure.

P1280195

We don’t know with any certainty –

  • What actions did the IDF take immediately before and after the ceasefire began? I’ve heard the following:
    • Destroying tunnels (allowed by the terms of the ceasefire)?
    • Invading houses in Rafah looking for entrances to tunnels?
    • Advancing beyond the front line?
    • Hurting and/or killing Palestinian civilians in their homes in Rafah?
Hamas spokesman

Hamas spokesman

  • What actions did the Palestinian fighters in Gaza take immediately before and after the ceasefire began? I’ve heard the following:
    • A suicide bomber killed 2 IDF soldiers before the ceasefire began……or maybe after the ceasefire. Conflicting reports.
    • An IDF soldier was captured (or kidnapped in the Israeli version), but Hamas and Islamic Jihad both deny they have taken an Israeli soldier.
    • Israel has shown pictures and identification of the missing soldier. Is he alive, wounded or dead? Has he been secreted away somewhere in Gaza, or in the Sinai or in Israel?

P1280182

  • We know President Obama believes Israel’s version of the story because, he says, Israel has provided convincing evidence. What evidence? I’d like to see it. CNN asked the IDF spokesman for the evidence but he refused saying he didn’t feel the need to prove his point with Hamas terrorists.
  • Who violates all of the ceasefires proposed over the past 3 weeks? Israel says Hamas does. Hamas claims Israel does. No evidence has been provided to validate either side.

P1280206

So, what are the possible scenarios?

  • Hamas never intended to honor the ceasefire but merely used it as a ruse for their own purpose.

P1280172

  • Hamas thought the IDF violated the terms of the ceasefire and so retaliated in self-defense.

P1280181

  • Hamas doesn’t control other militant groups in Gaza, and maybe another group violated the ceasefire and abducted the IDF soldier.

P1280213

  • Hamas wanted to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible on Palestinians in order to gain the world’s sympathy, and they knew or should have known that Israel would retaliate very forcefully.

P1280235

  • IDF never intended to honor the ceasefire (we know there was considerable reluctance among Israeli leaders to agree to the ceasefire), and so they provoked Palestinian fighters into responding so that Israel would have an excuse to wreak more death and destruction in Gaza. (IDF killed 95 civilians in Rafah within 24 hours of the end of the ceasefire.)

P1280174

  • IDF wanted the ceasefire to work but engaged in actions (eg. destroying tunnels) that Palestinian fighters interpreted as violations of the ceasefire.
IDF Spokesman

IDF Spokesman

P1280166

What’s the truth? We don’t know …. yet. But everyone is jumping to conclusions.

Meanwhile, the massacres in Gaza continue.

P1280242

4 Comments

Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Israel Defense Forces

I’m tired

I feel guilty even admitting it because I know my weariness is so minuscule compared to how Palestinians in Gaza feel after three weeks of massacre on top of massacre on top of massacre.

But I am tired.

Thoughtful, well-meaning friends and family have been asking good questions. Why did Hamas start this violence? Why does Hamas want to destroy Israel? Doesn’t Israel have a right to defend itself against terrorism? Whose ultimately responsible for the death and destruction in Gaza?

I appreciate the questions and the thoughtful responses, but my frustration level is growing.

I don’t spend time with the nuts or the Israeli-apologists. I don’t need the heartburn. And I don’t take it personally when someone “blocks” or “unfriends” me on social media.

But my friends and family are asking with an open heart.

The mainstream media’s pro-Israel slant is partially responsible, as well as the unthinking, knee-jerk support from Congress and the White House. When a lie is repeated often enough, the truth is buried.

The truth about Israel and Palestine is buried very deep in the United States. Thank goodness the majority of nations don’t succumb to these lies.

I was thunderstruck when I heard Rabbi Henry Siegman on Democracy Now this week. Siegman is the former head of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America. He was born in Germany shortly before Hitler rose to power and his family fled, eventually ending up in the U.S.

His father was a leader of the Zionist Movement responsible for the creation of the State of Israel (1948). Siegman was ordained an Orthodox rabbi by Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project.

Palestinian boys on the beach in Gaza killed by IDF July 2014.

Palestinian boys on the beach in Gaza killed by IDF July 2014.

On July 22, Siegman wrote an opinion piece in Politico in which he explained how Israel provoked this battle in Gaza. I agree with his analysis.

Any thoughtful person — Jew or Gentile — should listen to Rabbi Siegman’s interview on Democracy Now.

Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009)

Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009)

I’m tired of explaining history and sharing facts. The answers to all of your questions are right here ….. in two segments. If you disagree with Rabbi Siegman’s analysis, then you disagree with me and there’s nothing more I can share to change your opinion.

Please listen and watch — segment one and segment two. Two hours total.

All you need is an open mind, an open heart and the ability to see beyond tribal allegiances and lies.

Operation Cast lead (2008-2009)

Operation Cast lead (2008-2009)

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, People, Uncategorized, Video

Capitol Hill Briefing 8/1

The Israeli bombardment in Gaza has intensified over the past couple of days, and the deaths are mounting. Friends in the United States are asking “What can we do?”

Just asking the question is important. My friends are paying attention and care. We can each make a difference!

Here’s one tangible action every American should take now:

CALL YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS and urge him/her to attend the Congressional Hill Briefing on this question: Is Israel complying with U.S. and International laws?

Friday, August 1st, 2014

2:00 – 3:30 pm ET

2103 Rayburn House Office Building

Panelists will address the question through personal experience and professional expertise.

Tariq Abu Khdeir – Palestinian-American teenager from Tampa, FL who was brutally beaten by Israeli security forces while restrained and unconscious.

Suha Aby Khdeir – Palestinian-American, mother of Tariq.

Hassan Shibly, Esq. – Council of American-Islamic Relations – Florida

Sunjeev Bery – Amnesty International

Brad ParkerDefence for Children International – Palestine

Laila El-Haddad – Author of Gaza Mom and former journalist with Al Jazeera.

Laila El-Haddad

Laila El-Haddad

Moderator: Josh RuebnerUS Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

There’s even a sample conversation here to help you make the call. PLEASE! It’s important that Congress hear from these voices. If our Representatives and Senators can’t make it, ask their foreign affairs staff to attend.

Briefing sponsors:

American Muslims for Palestine

Council on American-Islamic Relations

Defence for Children International – Palestine

Jewish Voice for Peace

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

P.S.   I’d like to hear what response you receive from your member of Congress.

1 Comment

Filed under Gaza, People, Politics, US Policy

Ceasefire conditions

Two friends — one a Hasidic Jew who supports Israel and the other a solidarity activist who supports the Palestinians — asked me for my recommendations to end the bloodshed in Gaza.

Here goes.

#1  Have a clear understanding of the current position of each side. 

Every Palestinian I’ve talked with says the same thing – “We would rather die together with our families than return to the status quo which was a slow death with no dignity. No ceasefire unless Israel lifts the 7-year siege.” Hamas makes the same demands.

Netanyahu can’t give Hamas a “win” by lifting the siege. He wants to eliminate the tunnels between Gaza and Israel and a demilitarized Gaza. He’s also stated he wants to eliminate Hamas altogether because he views Hamas as an existential threat to the State of Israel.

#2  The mediator must be neutral.

OK …. I know that’s an obvious point but apparently it’s beyond the comprehension of President Obama who has sent Secretary of State John Kerry to mediate a ceasefire. Kerry has no street cred with either side. I won’t explain the whole long sorry tale here but suffice it to say, the parties need a neutral mediator to help them hammer out a lasting agreement.

Since most nations of the world have already taken sides in this match, I think the United Nations is the only party capable of serving in that capacity.

#3  Israel and Hamas must talk with each other.

I know, I know, I know. Israel doesn’t recognize Hamas and refuses to endow it with any legitimacy by talking or negotiating with Hamas. The mediator can ferry messages back and forth between the parties if the two can’t sit in the same room, but a viable ceasefire will not come through dictates (as Israel and Egypt attempted a few days ago). There must be honest and transparent negotiations and both sides must be treated as equals.

#4  The Rule of Law must govern.

This should be a no brainer but it’s not acknowledged, and it should be. Both sides must be held to the rule of law. Israel doesn’t want the responsibilities or legal duties that flow from the Law of Occupation. Israel claims the right of self-defense and Hamas claims the right of self-defense but both endanger innocent civilians in contravention of international law and the laws of war. Unless the world is descending into lawless anarchy, the mediator must stipulate the ground rules — and the Law of Occupation, International Humanitarian Law, Refugee Law, etc. must be the basis for any negotiation.

#5  Address the legitimate needs of both sides.

The State of Israel needs security but can’t bomb its way to a sustainable peace with its neighbors. The people in Gaza need the suffocating siege lifted. Each side has more demands that will require more trust before compromises can be made, but to end the bloodshed now, these two issues (Israel’s security and lifting the siege on Gaza) must be addressed immediately.

Since every indication is that Netanyahu is not inclined to lift the siege, he needs outside “help” to make the right decision. It’s time for sticks, not carrots. Ideally, President Obama should signal his intention to withhold $8.5 million per day that the U.S. sends to support Israel’s military. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not proven to be a very effective partner for peace in the Middle East despite Obama’s words to the contrary. So the EU and others who have already taken steps to wield some serious sticks at Israel should be counseled to do so now.

In exchange for lifting the siege, the tunnels between Gaza and Israel should be dismantled under the supervision of an international body. This must be documented to the satisfaction of Israel and the community of nations.

There’s much more that could be said —- should be said —- about the occupation and the long-term prospects of co-existence. For the time being, the bloodshed must end. The rule of law must prevail.

As international correspondent Jon Snow says — “We can each make a difference if we care.”

1 Comment

Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy, Video