Long Days in Israel
When Prime Minister Netanyahu has no time for questions and Defense Minister Barak dons his leather combat jacket and sunglasses, as both they did Wednesday night for the press conference that announced the assassination of the head of Hamas’s military wing, and when these leaders promise that the campaign and anticipated retaliation are far from over, we all know our leaders are in their comfort zones and that our anxiety is only beginning.
Earlier in the day, the absent member of the triumvirate, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, dominated the hourly radio broadcasts with the release of a Foreign Ministry report that allegedly called for the overthrow of the Palestinian Authority, if Mahmoud Abbas dared to go ahead with his plan to upgrade the P.A. to permanent observer status at the United Nations.
In a normal country, such a report would express state policy, and threatening to depose a neighboring governing entity, even if it is not exactly a state, would provoke outrage at home and abroad. But as our Foreign Minister oversees relations with Eastern Europe, everywhere else managing trial balloons and tirades, particularly against Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority (the West Bank being dubbed Fatahland to distinguish it from Hamastan in Gaza), the Prime Minister is allowed to contrast himself as a grown-up centrist.
But Netanyahu did not disassociate himself or his government from the report, and it looked like the Likud-led coalition was threatening to punish—or even terminate—the Palestinian Authority for pursing non-violent unilateral resistance to our unilateral settlement expansion, while it simultaneously allowed Hamas to score points by sending more than a hundred rockets our way. (The Palestinian status change at the U.N. does pose risks to Israel—particularly through granting the P.A. access to international courts—though it is still non-violent.)
Haaretz meanwhile reported that the Foreign Ministry report had offered recognition of Palestinian Statehood within provision borders provided that the Palestinian Authority promise not to make any unilateral moves, such as by seeking to upgrade its status at the U.N.
But there was no time to parse out the schizophrenic mindset offering legitimacy or doom—or whether conflicting messages came from the report or the reporting, or to figure out Bibi’s stance on Lieberman’s threats to invade the West Bank—because we were soon back in a shooting war with Gaza. By the time the news cycle got going in the U.S., the targeted killing took the headlines and the report was forgotten.
Rival politicians Shelly Yachimovich, Yair Lapid and Shaul Mofaz lined up behind the Prime Minister in patriotic mode, as did much of our unquestioning media. Mofaz suspended the Kadima campaign with its slogan, Bibi Yesabech Otanu! (roughly, Bibi will get us into a mess!), and with its color photo of a mushroom cloud. And today Yachimovich followed suit. Now that we suffered our first tragic fatalities in Kiryat Malachi and many of us are in the firing line or have family that are, and now that warning sirens have been sounded in Tel Aviv and the rumors have circulated that the Palestinians recently fired a missile at a plane, we will get sucked into the comforting vortex of jingoism and our empathy for the other side’s suffering will soon evaporate.
Hamas has long been pushing the envelope, and Israelis should not have to endure rocket attacks or scramble for shelter ten times each day–the four hundred brand new Ethiopian immigrants in the just-opened absorption center next to Sderot must be even more traumatized than the rest of the population—and few Jewish citizens of Israel will cry for the Hamas leader Ahmad Jabari, but there’s also no question that his assassination was not the only possible response to the rockets.
By midnight, nobody remembered that the day had started with the Lieberman report or, for that matter, with the celebration by tens of thousands of Ethiopian Israelis of the Jewish People’s renewal of its covenant with God in their annual celebration of the Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd, on the promenade adjacent to U.N. headquarters in Jerusalem. The army of videographers that recorded the white robed elders, colorful umbrellas of the Kessim (Cohanim), and plaintive prayers will have to store their footage for next year.
Viewers of Israeli news were treated Wednesday night to an endless loop of aerial shots of Jabari’s car driving on a relatively empty street—highlighted in a yellow circle like in a video game—and suddenly transformed into a flaming mess with one section flying off, while the vehicle sped forward, presumably now driverless, out of the frame. Yesterday the shots were of the gaping hole in the fourth floor apartment that cost three Israelis their lives.
Today the focus is on the solidarity visit of the Egyptian prime minister to Gaza and Egyptian threats to Israel about future relations. The timing of this attack has already raised questions, coming only weeks before the Likud primaries and, as in past operations, coming shortly before elections. But being under attack is what ultimately drives us—and the Palestinians—to cling to solidarity, and it blinds us from engaging in a critical debate to asses where we are heading.