Sunday, January 4, 2009

Anger and frustration

Ksenia Svetlova is an Israeli freelance journalist who is particularly adept at examining the conflicts between Israel, its Arab population and the palestinian Arabs living in Judea and Samaria from the Arab POV. This article, entitled Shattered Calm, reports on the protests against Operation Cast Lead that have erupted in East Jerusalem over the past week.

Amid widespread condemnation of the operation and calls for a third intifada in the Arab world, east Jerusalemites have not remained indifferent to these images pouring from their TV sets, voicing their reaction loud and clear through demonstrating, stone throwing and flag burning. The first wave of violence began early on Saturday, soon after the operation in Gaza was launched.

In the Shuafat refugee camp, walking distance from Pisgat Ze'ev and French Hill, angry youths threw stones at Border Police jeeps, chanting "Death to Israel! We will redeem you, Gaza."

The next day, similar images from Silwan, A-Tur and Sur Bahir kept on coming. Dozens were arrested, others were warned by the police and by the dignitaries in their neighborhoods, but the situation continued to be tense.

Israel, so far, has been doing an unusually good job of explaining its actions and motives in this operation to the international community. Israel's enemies, for a change, have not. Part of the reason for this, no doubt, is ambivalence. Hamas has the support and backing of Iran and Syria, but most other Arab governments would prefer to see it defeated or at least weakened. And yet the mantras of "disproportionate force" and "brutality" are still dutifully dragged out and repeated endlessly. Israel must, of course, be criticized, condemned and demonized, regardless of the context. This message, though, is apparently being communicated more forcefully to "the street," than to the media at this point.

Munir Khalil, a butcher from the Shuafat camp, echoes Rami's sentiments. "It's our brothers who are dying there. Israel says that this war is against Hamas, but it seems to me that they are victimizing the entire Palestinian population in Gaza. That is why I participated in the demonstrations that took place in the camp."

Khalil, a handsome bearded man of 25, denies any affiliation with Hamas, yet there is a huge Hamas poster in his shop. Green flags hanging from the rooftops are not an unusual sight in the camp streets as well. But Khalil says that it's not important. "You can be Hamas, you can be Fatah, you can be independent or not at all affiliated with any party, but you just can't stay calm when your brothers are being massacred in cold blood," he says, and quotes from the Al-Quds newspaper lying on the table: "The harshest attack since 1967."

Back then, Israel fought armies; now it's hitting inside the densely populated areas of Gaza, the butcher says. This is the reason for people's anger and frustration, his assistant adds. "We've never seen anything quite as brutal and horrible," he explains.

This is, of course, all irrational nonsense. What is truly brutal and horrible is the launching of thousands of rockets, missiles and mortars into Israeli streets, homes, kindergartens and playgrounds. What is truly brutal and horrible is the way the Hamas thugs have stolen the funds, goods and services meant to make the lives of "their people" more liveable and diverted them into the procurement, production and delivery of weapons and the construction of smuggling tunnels. These are just causes for anger and frustration. But, as always, the anger and frustration are deliberately directed elsewhere.

After eight years of rockets falling indiscriminately on the civilian populations of the Negev, increasingly deadly rockets with greater and greater range, after three and a half years since Israel left Gaza with no respite in the attacks, after a failed "truce" that only allowed Hamas to restock and rearm, after innumerable attempts by the EU, the US and the Egyptians to stop the rocket fire through diplomacy, threats and other non-military means, Israel has finally embarked on the only course that can conceivably return life to a modicum of normality for its citizens. It's beyond comprehension that anyone can look at this situation and demand that Israel do any less.