Friday, May 21, 2021


 Today we awake to a complete and unconditional cease fire between Hamas and Israel.  Yea.  It is better than killing, and I am grateful.  Now, let's look at reality for a moment.

Please re-read my last post.  Everything in there has held up to be solid, correct analysis.

So here are basic facts that everyone must assert against memes and tweets.

1)    The legitimate political protests about questions like housing policies in East Jerusalem were hijacked by Hamas in this conflict.  Protests in Jerusalem, debate and advocacy in Israel and the international community were all part of a healthy democracy (Israel) struggling to address the needs of its citizens and residents.  

2)  By launching rockets, Hamas stole the attention away from the Palestinians in East Jerusalem and made it about war instead of peace.  Do you really believe that 2,000 missiles fired at Israeli towns is a legitimate response to the pending eviction of 6 families from Jewish owned buildings in East Jerusalem? Hamas did this intentionally and knowingly, sacrificing any likely Arab party joining the Israeli government, and destroying any chance that peaceful protests could continue.

3)  Measuring the number of deaths as a yard stick for justice is grotesque and stupid.  Israeli towns spent the last 7 years since Hamas' 2014 missile attacks building more bomb shelters and defensive missile interceptors.  Hamas spent those years building rockets and hiding them in civilian population centers.  Of course more Palestinians died as a result.  Every civilian innocent death is terrible.  But tell me why the numbers are so different.  Be real.  There is no such thing as "proportional response" against Hamas' military missile barrage against Israeli citizens.  Would Israel shooting 2000 missiles randomly back at Palestinian towns be more acceptable because it is "proportional?"  Or is Israel meant to just sit back and absorb the attacks until Hamas runs out of missiles?  Give me a break.

Every person who wants genuine peace for Israel for Palestine should work to create a peaceful Palestine.  Hamas is the biggest problem in the equation. 

  1. The West Bank's Palestinian Authority should be supported and encouraged to re-establish democratic norms through elections with the support of the International Community.  
  2. Hamas should be disarmed as a condition of large scale international aid to rebuild the destruction in Gaza.  
  3. And a national commission should be formed to investigate the internal violence in mixed towns within Israel over the past two weeks, prosecuting violent attackers no matter who they are.

And yes, the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood which provided part of the spark for this war is a legitimate issue, highly relevant to ongoing policies of land development and land reclamation in and around Jerusalem.  Minimizing it will not make it go away.  

The essential inequity of the Sheikh Jarah case does not lie in the court rulings to assert Jewish ownership from pre-1948 buildings in East Jerusalem.  Those rulings are correct, even if unhelpful.  The real inequity lies in the fact that there is no equal and reciprocal law for Palestinians to do the same on the other side of Rte 60.  As long as the law is written only for one side, the courts will have to rule in favor of a system of inequality and the unrest and protest will continue to grow.

For now, the war is over.  Welcome that, but work for peace.


Thursday, May 13, 2021

2021 - Gaza War, Intifada, Civil War or Peace?


This week, a perfect storm of long running political events converged to spark a widespread and complex conflict in Israel, The West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  My teenage children's social media is full of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric without any depth of knowledge of the current conflict or its players. We absolutely must be fully informed as to what is actually happening, and why. Then - only then - can we stand in front of the noise and the fray and reasonably, calmly speak truth over chaos.

Here are the factors that contribute to the current equation.

1) Hamas is the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people in Gaza, and has become that voice on a platform of social services to its people, religious fervor, and violent resistance to any expression of Israeli sovereignty anywhere.  Any opportunity to amplify their voice in those three areas will be taken advantage of.  The current conflict provided a stage for the second and third items of their power base.

2) The PLO, in leadership of the Oslo Accord's domestic Palestinian Authority, is one of several political organizations leading a peaceful infrastructure in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas is a rapidly fading star.  Abbas cancelled PA elections in the last few weeks, knowing that Hamas and other opponents stood to oust his leadership in the polls.  This created anger and frustration from all parts of the Palestinian political spectrum, who were actively engaged in criticism of Abbas when the conflict broke out.

3) Internal conflict between Hamas and Abbas is real, has been violent in the past, and is as important or more important to both of them than their actual conflict with Zionism.

4) Israel, under PM Netanyahu in particular, has given up on the Oslo Accords, worked to consolidate its security control at the Gaza Border and in the West Bank, and has methodically grown the habitation of Israeli towns and villages in and around Jerusalem and its other major settlements in the West Bank.  Israel is accurately viewed as engaged in military occupation of Palestinian population centers, West Bank roads and commerce, and growth of settlements.  However, it is not involved in the direct military rule of Palestinian towns - which is what that word "occupation" would typically mean.

5) In recent years, various private and public entities have purchased and expanded Jewish ownership in largely Palestinian-Israeli neighborhoods near the Old City, such as the City of David.  This legal process is resented by, and highly symbolic for, the local Palestinian population, who are citizens of Israel.  Land owners do get to choose their tenants, but the resulting evictions contribute to the broader conflict's rhetoric of "stealing land," "ethnic cleansing," or "apartheid."  None of these accusations are factually correct in this context, but they are politically powerful.

6) Israel just had its fourth deadlocked election, and one week prior to the conflict Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government.  President Rivlin gave Yair Lapid, an opposition leader, the task of forming a left-wing government coalition.  This would, however, have to include Naftali Bennet's right wing party (not loyal to Netanyahu) and probably the Ra'am Islamic Religious party in the new coalition! If successful in joining the government and leading significant cabinet positions, Ra'am would undermine Hamas' main point that only violent resistance can produce results for the Palestinian People. While improbable, the common desire not to have Netanyahu had been leading them towards the first realistic scenario for Netanyahu to lose the PM's chair in years.

In summary, 

  1. Abbas has lost the faith and support of his people in the West Bank, and is vulnerable. 
  2. Hamas needs to continue to separate from Abbas, preferably showing him weak in their three areas of power (social services, religious fervor, violent resistance), if they are to take over the West Bank's Palestinian Authority.  
  3. Ra'am is an Islamist alternative to Hamas for Israeli Arab citizens, and therefore a threat to Hamas.
  4. Even legal removal of Palestinians from their homes is a trigger for political manipulation.
  5. Netanyahu has been the leader of strength in the face of threats to Israel, but is vulnerable in times of peace.  He is currently at risk of losing his position to the left.

Here are the sparks:

A small number of Palestinian families are living in Jewishly owned buildings in the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood, just north and a little bit east of the Old City of Jerusalem.  The Jewish legal ownership was recently confirmed in the courts, and the owners began charging rent. Those families refusing to pay rent, are being evicted (others are not).  This is a very Palestinian neighborhood, though they are also Israeli citizens.  It is socially and culturally part of "East Jerusalem."  These evictions are being politically amplified with accusations of ethnic cleansing, apartheid and racism - which resonates strongly after the removal of Palestinians in the City of David in recent years.  At first, the protests were typical - marches, slogans and some rock throwing and burning of barricades in front of riot police.  

It is Ramadan, just ending today with the festive celebration of Eid al-Fatir.  During Ramadan, fasting each day ends with family and communal celebrations.  Gatherings in homes, community centers and mosques swell at this time of year, and opportunities to communicate and organize abound.  The amplification of both the discontent with Abbas and the anger at the Sheikh Jarad court case grew exponentially as a result.  The nightly post-meal protests in Jerusalem swelled proportionally and garnered international news attention, further growing the flare up.  But these protests provided Abbas a platform to be a leader against Israeli "occupation."  Hamas can not afford to permit that.

Netanyahu was engaged in a full blitz against Naftali Bennet for considering joining a left-wing coalition, and the most ardent right-wing members of his party, and the other right wing parties, were using every tool to marginalize and shame them - forcing Bennet into a position of asserting his pro-settler, pro-strength credentials as the conflict grew.  In an open conflict against Jewish settlement, Bennet can not afford to separate from Netanyahu and the coalition to the left becomes impossible.

Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem unification day from the 1967 war was last week.  The very predictable protest/counter-protest, riot/rock throwing/police response played out according to script.  However, during this time Hamas also began organizing on the Temple Mount, stockpiling rocks, etc., and sleeping over in the Al-Aksa to avoid the growing Israeli barricades and road blocks.  The Israel police entered the Temple Mount, breaking up the growing platform for violence - but symbolically invading/desecrating an Islamic Religious site at a peak religious observance.  Ra'am can not support the Israeli government, if it is oppressing Islamic Religion, and their participation in the coalition becomes impossible. Hamas knows this too.

How it became a war.

Once the symbolic issue of the Al-Aksa Mosque was added to the symbolic issue of "stealing" Palestinian homes, Hamas is left with two options:  1) stay on the sidelines and watch Abbas slowly consolidate his power, perhaps even holding those elections and winning; or 2) Dramatically escalate their violent resistance in defence of the Al-Aksa, applified by the end of Ramadan and the Israeli celebration of Yom Yerushalayim.  It is clear that firing off every rocket they own before Israel could destroy them was the easy conclusion.  Chaos reigns, and Hamas wins.

What is happening now:

Prepare for enormous saber rattling, and a limited Israeli invasion of Gaza to knock out remaining Hamas military infrastructure.  If Netanyahu does not prove military victory over Hamas' ability to strike Israel, he will lose.

We saw a similar situation in 2014, with PM Netanyahu calling up reserves (check), mobilizing tanks towards Gaza (check) and invading Gaza in a harsh and unsavory urban war with devastating effect.  The outcome for Israel was the discovery of tunnels, munition factories, and more, and they left only when every piece of military potential to attack Israel had been destroyed.  The buildup last time took about 2 weeks. We are right now in that 2 week window, when a street fight with tanks can yet be avoided or not.

Winners and Losers:

Winner:    Hamas.  Clear and unmitigated.

Winner:    Netanyahu.  No coalition can form against him in this circumstance, and he remains the caretaker PM in the meantime.

Loser:    Ra'am.  With the collateral damage of civil conflict in mixed Jewish/Arab Israeli towns like Lod and Acco, "working as Israeli Arabs in peace" is a hard sell.  If Israel moves to a fifth election, which it must by law in the absence of a majorty coalition, Ra'am stands to lose a great deal.

Loser:    Naftali Bennet.  How can he maintain his right-wing credentials in this scenario?  Only by pulling back and regrouping, which is not a path to greater enthusiasm for him at the ballot box.

Winner:    Benny Ganz.  Ganz still is in line for a rotation into the PM chair, based on the last coalition agreement.  While I seriously doubt Netanyahu will ever allow it, the failure of Lapid to coalesce a government, Ganz's military leadership credentials in war, and the possibility that he may actually become PM during the next election is revitalizing his failing stock.

I will be speaking on the topic this Shabbat morning, May 15, 2021 at Bnai Shalom.  Please join us.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Jerusalem Day, 2021 - Conflict and Background at the Moment


Dear Federation and Community leaders,
Our national Jewish Federations office in Israel has prepared the following useful update on the violence in Jerusalem and beyond.
Recent days have seen significant clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli security forces. While the violence has centered on Jerusalem, it has now also spread to other parts of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Since Friday, more than 300 Palestinians as well as least 25 police and security officers have been injured in violent clashes. On Saturday night, the main protestors emerged from a crowd of more than 90,000 Palestinians who gathered on the Temple Mount for prayers to mark the Muslim holiday of Laylat al-Qadr.  
While violence has centered on the area of the Temple Mount, it has also spread to other areas of Jerusalem, especially the Old City’s Damascus Gate and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. In addition, violence has now reached beyond the capital, with clashes taking place in many locations, including Jaffa and Hebron. Israel Police have also thwarted a “major attack” in Jerusalem, when three Palestinians opened fire at troops in the West Bank on Friday. According to police, the terrorists had planned to commit a “major attack” against civilians in Israel. Israel Channel 12 reported that there are acute alerts of other potential terror attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem in the coming days. In the current unrest, Palestinians have hurled stones bottles, fireworks and more at police, and in at least one incident, shots were fired at Israeli security services. Israel Police has significantly bolstered the number of officers in Jerusalem, and the IDF has deployed additional troops throughout the West Bank.
Police have tried to limit their response by using non-lethal crowd control devices such as tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. In a sign that this policy is succeeding, despite the severity of the rioting, no rioters, or police, have been killed. In an attempt to control the situation on Saturday, Israel Police stopped numerous buses traveling to Jerusalem in an attempt to prevent additional young Arabs from heading towards the Old City. However this caused further anger with claims that Muslim worshippers were being prevented from reaching their holy sites, and all buses were eventually permitted to continue. Also, as a result of the bus stoppages, major traffic jams were reported on the roads leading into the capital, with traffic coming to a complete standstill at the main entrance to Jerusalem, Highway 1.

In a statement, the police said that they “respect all religions and will continue to allow freedom of worship. At the same time, (we) will not allow protesters to arrive in Jerusalem for the purpose of participating in violent disturbances.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu similarly stated, “We are acting responsibly to ensure law and order in Jerusalem while maintaining freedom of worship at the holy sites.”
Gaza and Israel’s North
In response to the rioting and in “solidarity with the protestors,” a rocket was launched toward southern Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. No injuries or damage were reported as the rocket landed in an open field.

In response to the rocket fire, the Israel Air Force struck a Hamas military target in the Strip.  
Palestinians in Gaza also launched numerous incendiary balloons which flew over the border. One landed in the backyard of an Israeli family, but caused no significant damage.

In addition, major confrontations took place along the border with Gaza on Saturday night. Thousands of Palestinians rioted near the border fence, hurling explosive devices and other objects at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. There are no official reports of the number of injuries, although some media are reporting Palestinian protestors who were injured after having been shot by rubber bullets.

The tensions above also come as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) prepares to launch its largest ever exercise on Sunday called "Chariots of Fire." The four-week long exercise will simulate war on multiple fronts, including with Gaza and Hezbollah. Lebanon-based Hezbollah has raised its alert level as a result of the exercise. Hezbollah leaders reportedly fear that the maneuvers could be used as a smoke-screen to launch an attack, and have deployed additional forces in both Lebanon’s south and in Syria, where the terror group also operates.
Backdrop and Causes
The Calendar
The current clashes come at a moment when an unusually large number of occasions are all coinciding due to the differences in the Muslim, Jewish and Gregorian calendars. (Some have described this week as a “perfect storm brewing.”) Many of these events mark a time of heightened sensitivity among both Muslim and Jewish worshippers.

May 7, when the main rioting began, was the last Friday of Ramadan, and tens of thousands gathered on the Temple Mount for prayers.

Saturday night was known as Laylat al-Qadr, which marks the day in Islam in which it is believed that the Quran was first sent to the world from Heaven.

Sunday - Yom Yerushalaim begins according to the Jewish calendar. This day marks 54 years since the city’s reunification under Israeli rule and is usually celebrated with tens of 3 thousands of Jewish worshippers parading with flags through the Old City and ending at the Western Wall.
This Wednesday will mark Eid El Fitr, a major Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

Also, coming later in the week, is May 14, which is known by Palestinians as Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, which is the anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel in the civil calendar.
Finally, International Quds Day is an annual event held at the end of Ramadan that was initiated by the Iranian regime in 1979 to express support for the Palestinians and to oppose Zionism and Israel.
Other Causes of Current Tension
Israeli yeshiva student Yehuda Guetta z”l, who was shot in a terror attack at Tzomet Tapuach last week, died of his wounds on Wednesday night. The IDF has now arrested a suspect in his killing.  
Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled in favor of two Jewish non-profit groups claiming ownership of homes in the predominantly Arab, Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The decision could potentially lead to the eviction of the Arab families currently living in the building, (around 70 people in total).
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week announced that he was cancelling the long awaited Palestinian elections, blaming Israel for not allowing polling stations to be set up in Jerusalem. Elections for the Palestinian presidency have been cancelled on numerous occasions, and were last held in 2005.

Political uncertainty in Israel has also led to instability. Many Palestinians are nervous about the prospect of Naftali Bennett, a long time Israeli hawk, becoming prime minister.
International Reactions
The United States’ State Department spokesperson Ned Price urged both sides to “exercise decisive leadership and work cooperatively together to lower tensions.”

The EU's senior diplomat, Josep Borrell, called for a de-escalation in tensions, saying "Violence and incitement are unacceptable and the perpetrators on all sides must be held accountable."
The UAE, which normalized relations with Israel last year, “strongly condemned” the clashes and the potential Sheik Jarrah evictions. UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khalifa al-Marar, urged Israeli authorities to reduce tensions.

Hamas has threatened to attack Israel if the eviction from Sheikh Jarrah goes ahead.
Our colleagues from our national Jewish Federations’ Israel office, as well as our Greater MetroWest representatives, are keeping a close watch on events on the ground, and will keep us apprised of developments.
With hopes for a safe and peaceful week ahead,

Dov Ben-Shimon
Executive VP/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ
901 Route 10 | Whippany, NJ 07981
(973) 929-2939 | fax (973) 884-7361 

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