Shocking But Not Surprising. By Miko Peled

Is it possible to be shocked and yet not be surprised? Israel’s stupidity and disregard for human life is nothing new. It is a recurring theme in the life of the Jewish state from its very inception. Surely as the destruction in Gaza remains untouched18 months after the murderous attacks that began on December 27, 2008 there can be no surprise at Israeli brutality. Yet as the news unfolded and the images of the Israeli assault on the flotilla to Gaza began to unravel a sense of shock was expressed everywhere.

Israel too is shock stricken. Not by the sheer brutality of its forces, or by the injustice of the siege on Gaza but by the PR blunder and fact that this “military mission” was a failure. Once again Israeli commandos are shown to be weak and helpless. How could the decision makers not see that this would damage Israel’s image in the eyes of world and even worse, in the eyes of Israel’s enemies?

Israeli foreign ministry officials claim that Europe and the rest of the world have increased their diplomatic assault on Israel. They claim the world is emboldened by the fact that the American stand in support of Israel has weakened. This they will say is the fault of President Obama, a President Israelis never cared for anyway. The notion that the world is coming to a point where it is unable to bear the racism and brutality of Israel as a state never enters the conversation. Israeli talking heads will not apologize, will not stray from the official line: We, Israelis are right and they, everyone else are wrong; We are good and they are evil; we are victims of age old anti Semitism and they are hateful, violent Muslims intending to kill innocent Jews.

Lives were lost due to a cowardly reaction of trained assassins who were sent to a mission for which they were clearly unprepared, so in a way one can claim that the killers themselves are not to blame, those who sent them are. In the murky relations between the military and the civilian government in Israel it is quite common to fault the lowest person on the totem poll and more often than not it is the military. In this case the mission was an act of piracy aimed at a very determined group of activists who had no intention of backing down. The fact that this particular group of activists took on this difficult and dangerous mission should have in itself been a warning to the Israeli officials that they would not back down and would put up a fight.

There can be no argument as to the courage displayed by the activists aboard the ships as armed pirates with an overwhelming military power attacked them. The pirates, trained Israeli commandos who are known for their brutality and total lack of regard for human life were armed to the teeth and had the support of the Israeli navy, air force and ground forces. Yet as they boarded the ships they were met with a justifiably angry and clearly determined crowd who were not willing to let go of their boats and cargo. Tragically some of them paid for this determination with their lives.

Will this tragedy bring any change? Clearly the only thing that can bring change is a strategic decision by President Obama to divorce the United States from the dysfunctional relationship with Israel. When the President decides that it is time to end the Israeli war on Palestinians he will engage in a head on collision with Israel and its American bully, AIPAC. It is no secret that advisers whose Zionist prejudice surround the President and naturally one is forced to wonder if a strategic shift of such magnitude is possible. Still, if one judges by the fear expressed in Israel perhaps there is some change, some outrage among the Presidents men.

One is reminded of a country long forgotten, by the name of South Vietnam, a country reduced to no more than a paragraph in the history books. Once it was a major American ally in the fight against communism, a country to whom the US promised never ending support. But one day in 1975 as North Vietnamese forces began to overrun the country, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu requested aid from U.S. President Gerald Ford. The U.S. Senate would not release extra money to provide aid to South Vietnam and in fact the Senate had already passed laws to prevent further involvement in Vietnam altogether.

It was only a few years earlier that my father, Matti Peled, then a retired Israeli Army General visited South Vietnam at the request of the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. He spent a month in South Vietnam and sent reports that Ma’ariv published. My father, who was an armament and logistics expert, reported that US support for South Vietnam was coming to an end. There was nothing in the rhetoric off US officials to support this, but in speaking to South Vietnamese generals he learned that the South Vietnamese army was running out of spare parts and that the US was no longer replacing them.

The moral of this story is that when Americans get tired of something they are not shy about it. It is not unlikely that when Americans get tired of paying $10 million per day of their hard earned money to the state of Israel that the President will act. The question is how many innocent Palestinian lives will be lost until that day arrives.

Thoughts on Gaza

As I sit and view the reports, photos and live videos streaming in from Gaza I find it impossible to make sense of it all.  As a boy growing up in Israel and attending a regular public school, I remember being taught the story of Abraham, the patriarch arguing with God over the decision to destroy the city of Sodom.  “And Abraham stood before the lord. And Abraham drew near, and said: wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked, perhaps there be fifty righteous within the city, wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the righteous that are therein? ..and the Lord said, if I find in Sodom fifty just men within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes” Genesis, 18, 23-26. One has to admire Abraham for his tenacity, arguing with God almighty for the sake of fifty men! Today I heard the argument made that only 50 innocent people were killed in this attack and I thought: God would have spared Gaza for those 50, but not Ehud Barak. 
One has to admire the idea that no matter what, the life of innocent civilians is sacred and must never be compromised.  There can be no doubt that among the 1.4 million people residing in Gaza there are more than 50 righteous men and women, but more importantly, there are 800,000 children in Gaza. According to reports in the Israeli newspapers hundreds of thousands of children were on their way to and from school at the time that 50 Israeli war-planes began a nine hour attack during which they dropped more than 100 tons of bombs.

With Israeli elections scheduled for February, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is hoping to once again become Prime Minister, has once again unleashed the Israeli military on the civilian population of Gaza. Barak who has earned the dubious distinction of being Israel’s most decorated soldier, is guaranteeing that Israelis and Palestinians will see more violence and more loss of innocent lives. With columns of tanks, and brigades of infantry ready to attack the already destroyed Gaza, Barak hopes to prove that he is a candidate that can deliver. But unlike the biblical story, there is no one willing to stand up to General Barak and argue for the lives of fifty righteous men, not to mention, eight hundred thousand children.

The 800,000 thousand children of Gaza were the reason that Nader Elbanna and I in our capacity as co chairs of the Elbanna-Peled Foundation, decided to travel to Gaza to deliver essential medical equipment to Ahli hospital in Gaza city. We flew from SD in mid November, passing through Europe, Israel and Jordan to Cairo; then traveling overland we crossed the Suez Canal, stopping at endless Egyptian security checkpoints along the way to reach the gates of Gaza at Rafah. It was there that we were told that the border to Gaza is closed. We spent three days trying to get in, with Nader arguing, negotiating passionately setting aside the excruciating pain from his ear and throat infection. In the end, standing merely 50 yards form our destination the truth came out of the mouth of one intelligence officer at the Rafah crossing who exclaimed: “but we can’t let you cross, the Israelis are watching.”

We knew that an Israeli-Egyptian-American agreement was keeping the people of Gaza imprisoned, impoverished and malnourished but we hoped that with support and assistance we secured from Rotary in Egypt and other connections we could outsmart the system. The help we received was tremendous, but we had underestimated the system. Interestingly, the toughest part for us was not being denied entry, but rather it was calling Dr. Suheila Tarazi, of the Ahli hospital in Gaza and telling her that we would not be able to enter and deliver the equipment to the hospital. Dr. Tarazi thanked us for our efforts, described the intolerable conditions in Gaza and told us that with God’s help we will all have peace one day. But the optimism and good wishes could not mask the grim reality evident in her voice. If the problems a doctor or a hospital administrator in Gaza had to face were insurmountable until a few days ago, now they are pure hell. As Israel shut off the electricity and shut down the supply of fuel, there is no refrigeration and medicines go bad and have to be discarded. Machines that need power to help people breath; dialysis and other life support machines stop working. Now with hundreds of casualties and little equipment or medicine one cannot imagine what it must be like for Dr. Tarazi and others who are entrusted with the lives of the sick and the injured.

The Elbanna-Peled Foundation, was founded in memory of two little girls who were victims of the Palestinian-Israel war: Smadar Elhanan, killed 1997 at the age of 13 when two Palestinians blew themselves up in Jerusalem, and Abir Aramin, killed at the age of 10 by an Israeli sniper in January 2007. The Gaza project was a third of its kind initiated by Nader Elbanna and I. Having met in a living room dialogue group in San Diego in the year 2001, our work together is done in an effort to demonstrate two points: Palestinians and Israelis are bound together by their ties to a mutual homeland and this bond can bring them together as allies; the second point is that an Israeli Palestinian alliance is a powerful tool that can transform the region and stop the bloodshed.

The question has been raised of whether or not the Israeli attack on Gaza is disproportionate to the threat that Gaza presents to Israel. The answer to that lies not in numbers, not in comparing how many rockets were fired or how many of the dead are actually Hammas people and how many were bystanders. The answer lies in the biblical Abrahams admonition towards God in Genesis 18: “Far be it from thee to slay the righteous with the wicked.”

Looking beyond the grim reality of today, I remember something that was written by another doctor from Gaza, Dr. Mona El Farra. In a piece published in the US about a year ago she wrote: “This may seem an unlikely time to discuss the prospect of one state with equal rights for all, but the fighting in Gaza makes clear that a cordoned-off Gaza Bantustan is no solution.” In response to this is wrote the following: The question that Dr. El Farra raises it monumental: Why is it right to speak of equal rights everywhere except for Israel and Palestine? Indeed, it may be an unlikely time but it is never the less the right time to discuss the establishment of a secular, democratic state in Israel/Palestine in which human and civil rights are guaranteed to all its citizens.

Hope in Gaza

Israel’s assault on the people of Gaza is so horrendous that it will not soon be forgotten. This vicious attempt by Israel to destroy an entire nation has tipped the scales for good and Zionism will forever be remembered as a blemish in the history of the Jewish people. The people of Gaza, however, give us hope and they will forever be remembered for their courage and resilience during these trying times.

The people of Gaza, while being deprived of rights and resources, still find the inner strength and the belief in their destiny to send their children to school. There are close to 800,000 children living in Gaza; they make up more than half of the population. The mothers and fathers and teachers of Gaza are creating hope where others see none, and they are building a future where some would claim there is none. But the price of education in Gaza is dear as the number of children targeted by Israeli violence rises continuously.

In a previous article (“It’s time to visit Gaza“) I quoted from journalist Charles Glass’ The Tribes Triumphant and I wish to do so again here. Glass, unlike CNN or any other news agency is not obsessed with violence but is impressed as we all should be by the children: “Thousands and thousands of children’s feet padding the dusty paths between their mother’s front doors and their schools … Beautiful youngsters so innocent that they could laugh even in Gaza.” One can only imagine the mothers preparing lunches for these children, and making sure their clothes are ready and clean as they send them off to school. But the road to school in Gaza is an uncertain one, and risk of death by Israeli death squads is imminent.

I was deeply moved by Ramzy Baroud’s recent piece about his late father (“There are no checkpoints in heaven“). Clearly the man was head and shoulders above most people and clearly he recognized the need to defy the occupation and maintain his dignity as a man and as a Palestinian. He paid dearly for this, because there is nothing more threatening to Israel’s occupation than a man who would defy its brutal force.

Ramzy’s story is similar to that of another friend of mine who is also from Gaza and who was also prevented from visiting his dying father. This gentleman is a physician and is devoted to saving the lives of children. He is an inspiring man of deep religious conviction and optimism. When I visit Gaza, as I am determined to do before this year is out, I hope that they will be able to join me. In fact, I hope to be able to go with a delegation.

For over 60 years Gaza has proven itself to be an endless source of optimism and courage. Even with a population density that is among the highest in the world, and a lack of resources that seems hopeless, and even with a brutal occupation and severe restrictions that have been part of life for Gazans since the destruction of Palestine some 60 years ago, still Gazans fight on. Resistance to the occupation, education and steadfastness are only a few of the hallmarks of the people of this ancient land.

I recall the first time I heard first-hand about the type of torture that is the daily bread of people in Gaza. It was more than 20 years ago, while I was living in Japan as a student, a young Israeli who I mistook for a friend shared the following story from his days of service as an officer in Israel’s “glorious” naval special-forces, or as Israelis call it, “The Commando.” He told us how, as a matter of routine he and his unit would patrol the Gaza coast aboard their naval warships. As they came upon a Gazan fishing boat they would stop the boat and force the fishermen to jump into the water. Then, they would blow up the boat. Once the boat was blown to bits, the Israeli sailors would shift their attention to the helpless fishermen in the water. Under gunpoint, one by one, they would force the fishermen count from one to a hundred. One by one these men, who eventually could no longer hold themselves above water, drowned to death. This, the young Israeli officer said, was done “to instill fear in the Arabs, and to teach them who was boss.”

This young Israeli officer was one of Israel’s “finest,” the product of the finest Zionist education system. He saw no wrong in letting men drown in front of his eyes, and felt no urge to save a helpless human being from certain death. But he is not alone in his disregard for human life.

The Israel newspaper Haaretz’s online edition recently published that “[Israeli] Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday defended the Israel Defense Forces’ operations against Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip as necessary for the advancement of peace negotiations.” According to Haaretz, Livni said: “I would expect that when civilians are harmed by deliberate terrorism, people won’t make a comparison between them and Palestinian civilians that are harmed during Israel’s defense operations.” Furthermore, according to Haaretz: “Livni expressed concern at what she termed a growing trend of de-legitimization of Israel in world public opinion. Livni does not see the connection between Israeli actions and the reaction of the world community.”

Livni is no different than the young officer who murdered Gazan fishermen. She and other members of the Israeli cabinet along with the military top brass see no problem with Israeli forces killing Palestinian children, and they seek and often receive the support of the world community. In their minds, Palestinians do not deserve the same rights as Israeli Jews, and therefore it is permissible to torture them and murder their children. What is not permissible is to criticize Israel for the killing innocent Palestinians. Livni and her comrades are disturbed that the rest of us do not see this as clearly as they do.

But rather than give attention to the lies and accusations of Zionist militants, we would do well to focus our attention to the people of Gaza and in particular to the children who are forced to live in this concentration camp. These children and their brave and caring parents represent hope in its truest form. They need courageous people who, like Ramzy Baroud’s late father, are willing to defy the brutal Zionist regime but who unlike him are free of the restraints of that regime. People who live in Israel and the US need to stand by the people of Gaza and help them to tear down the walls of this ghetto.