Cast Lead Plus Five

On December 27, 2008, the Israeli government launched the might of its U.S.-supplied military against the 1.6 million people of Gaza and the leadership that they– along with their compatriots in the West Bank– had elected to power back in January 2006. The Israeli war aim was to inflict such pain on the residents of Gaza that they would rise up against the quasi-government that Hamas had been running in Gaza since 2006/7. (In June 2007, Israel and the U.S. had tried to use their allies in Mohamed Dahlan’s wing of the Palestinian movement to overthrow Hamas via a coup; but that coup attempt was aborted.)

The Israeli attack of December 2008 was given the stunningly accurate name ‘Operation Cast Lead’. By the time it ended 23 days later– and with Hamas still in power in Gaza– Israel had killed more than 1,400 Gaza residents and left many thousands more maimed or wounded. It had destroyed tens of thousands of homes, just about all of Gaza’s previously bustling network of small manufacturing and ag-processing businesses, and numerous schools, bridges, and other items of vital civilian infrastructure.

International law clearly defines as terrorism any attempt to use force or violence against civilians in order to try to prod them into effecting political change. But in 2008, 2009, as in all of the past 40-plus years, Israel has enjoyed the special protection of the United States. Thus, the Israeli leaders of the time (PM Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the rest) were never called to account for the quintessentially terrorist attack of 2008-09.

Earlier this month, two rightwing Israeli strategic “experts”, Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir, published in Hebrew a study describing Cast Lead as just one example of what they say now constitutes a large part of Israel’s security doctrine: A strategy obscenely called “Mowing the Grass”, which they say, is designed to:

destroy the capabilities of [Israel's] foes, hoping that occasional large-scale operations have a temporary deterrent effect in order to create periods of quiet along its borders.

I actually believe that Inbar and Shamir are painting too “rosy” a picture (from Israel’s POV) of Israel’s achievements in Cast Lead and the other examples they give of its “grass-mowing” military actions. Certainly, in both Cast Lead and in the prolonged assault against Lebanon that  preceded it in 2006, the prime war goal articulated at the time by Israeli leaders was regime change within the country/territory targeted. And by that metric, on both those occasions they failed miserably. It was only around a year ago, in November 2012, when yet another Israeli PM (Netanyahu) launched yet another completed unwarranted military operation against Gaza– just because he could!– that the “goal” of all such operations since Defensive Shield in 2002 became ex-post-facto redefined as “merely a bit of grass-mowing”, not actual regime change as such.

Be that as it may… The whole idea of launching mega-lethal, anti-humane “grass-mowing” attacks against one’s far less powerful neighbors is quite obscene– as is the tolerance with which most of the bought-and-paid-for U.S. political elite has responded to these uses (abuses) of the military support that the U.S. has continued unwaveringly to supply to Israel. These military assaults are particularly obscene, and indeed actually criminal under international law, when they are launched against communities like those in the West Bank or Gaza Strip that are under Israeli military occupation and that are are therefore supposed to enjoy special protection from the occupying power.

* * *

The deliberate and cruel way in which Israel employed its military force against Gaza’s people in 2008 constituted an important turning point in the way many traditionally pro-Israel people in the United States and other western countries came to view Israel. For many westerners who had previously been politically “progressive” on every topic except Israel, after Cast Lead, they shed that exception and determined that the government of Israel should be held to the same standards of international behavior as every other government in the world. They became transformed from being “progressive, except on Israel” to being “progressives, including on Israel,” or as the shorthand goes: from PEP’s to PIP’s. Over the five years since the launching of Cast Lead, the numbers of PIP’s in the United States have, blessedly, been multiplying.

As for the people of Gaza, the vast majority of them did survive the horrors of Cast Lead in one way or another; and most importantly, the integrity of their society survived it. They were not broken. I have had the good fortune to visit Gaza twice since January 2009 (building on the numerous previous visits I made to the Strip over the preceding twenty-plus years.) On both the most recent visits I found the key institutions in the Strip functioning fairly well. The Strip’s (elected) Hamas leadership continued to field some military forces within the Strip– the same ones that had managed to repulse the Israeli ground forces’ repeated attempts to seize control of Gaza City and other key locations during the latter stages of Cast Lead. But as I drove around the Strip in November 2009 and again in June 2011, there were very few signs indeed of a general militarization of society… and no sign at all of the kind of heavy-handed security presence that the rival (U.S.-backed) branch of the PA sees fit to deploy in the Swiss-cheese areas of the West Bank that they are allowed to police.

Over the past year, I have been working with Refaat Alareer, an inspiring and committed lecturer in the English Department of the Gaza Islamic University, to publish a collection of short stories written in English by young writers from Gaza. Our goal was to bring this book out to mark the fifth anniversary of Cast Lead– and we have succeeded! The formal publication date for Gaza Writes Back, Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine, edited by Refaat Alareer, is January 15, 2014– three days before the fifth anniversary of the end of Cast Lead. But we started shipping copies of the book out to interested readers about ten days ago, and many readers now have copies in their hands.

The book contains 23 stories. So starting tomorrow, December 27, Refaat and I want to ask everyone who can get hold of a copy of the book to read (and reflect upon) one story each day… which will take us all to the end of this somber, five-year anniversary.

Here on the U.S. east coast, we’re still on December 26th, so I’m going to start by re-reading the Introduction that Refaat wrote to the book.

On pp.16 and 17, he wrote this:

During the offensive, Palestinians in Gaza realized more than ever before that no one, no matter who and no matter where, is immune from Israel’s fire. Israel cast lead indiscriminately hither and thither, aiming to melt not just our bodies, which it did, but also our allegiance and our hope and our memories, which it could not do. Twenty-three days later, the people of Gaza rose to dust themselves off and to start an arduous journey of rebuilding houses and infrastructure, and reconstructing what the missiles had dispersed and scattered. Twenty-three days of nonstop Israeli hate and hostility—and Gaza rose from it like a phoenix.

The people who queued at the morgues and bade farewell to their loved ones days later queued at bakeries that did not raise their prices, and went out to the grocery stores that also did not raise their prices. And they came back home to distribute what little they bought to the people who were unable to buy because they did not have the money. The people of Gaza were never this close before. Gaza was now more deeply rooted not only in the hearts of every Palestinian, but also in the hearts of every free soul around the globe… But this is not to romanticize war. War is by all means ugly. “There was too much pain in those twenty-three days, and some of us who wrote about Cast Lead, did so to heal some of the pain caused by the horrendous memories. And no matter how beautiful the spirit of resistance that overwhelmed us, this beauty should never override the ugliness of pure injustice,” as [book contributor] Sameeha Elwan put it.

The social psychology of what Refaat was describing there would be quite familiar to, for example, any British people like my father who survived the Blitzkrieg that Nazi Germany launched against London in 1940…

So now, over the next 23 days, we’re going to be posting a short excerpt from each of the stories, every day, on the Gaza Writes Back Facebook page. I’d like to invite all readers of Just World News to buy a copy of the book (which you can do here, if you haven’t done so already: Note that we’re offering free shipping worldwide if you place your order before December 31!) And also, to join the conversations about the stories as we post the excerpts from them on the Facebook page… and of course, to recommend this amazing and important book to all your friends!

At the Paris International Cookbook Fair

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Gaza Kitchen at the Paris International Cookbook Fair, 2013

Today is the second day of the Paris International Cookbook Fair, which is taking place all around me in the Salles du Carousel, at the Louvre. It’s been pretty exciting to be here representing the team that put together the fabulous Gaza Kitchen cookbook. This morning I went to a talk given by the main Fair organizer, Edouard Cointreau of Gourmand International magazine. He made the very important point that producing a cookbook is ALWAYS a team effort– and that has very much been the case with Gaza Kitchen!

I wish that Maggie Schmitt and Laila el-Haddad, the co-authors– or at least, one of them– could have been here too! But sadly, both of them have smallish babies at home to look after. (Last year, in addition to birthing the book, each of them also had a new baby. Wonderful babies! Fabulously talented and capable women!) Laila, Maggie, Juan Alarcon the graphic designer, and I as publisher formed the core of the Gaza Kitchen team,

Gaza Kitchen at the Paris Cookbook Fair

Gaza Kitchen at the Cookbook Fair

But all of us (especially I) have had a lot of other people we’ve needed to draw on throughout the project. When Ed was talking about teamwork this morning, he said that some cookbook projects have 30 or even 50 photographers working on them! That made me even more admiring of Laila and Maggie, who between the two of them produced ALL the content in Gaza Kitchen… the recipes, the photographs, and the info-boxes. And the quality of their photographs certainly holds up to the best of what I’ve been seeing here. In fact,because the photos have not been extensively “styled”, to me that makes them even better.

Talk business at the Paris Cookbook Fair

Talking business at the Paris Cookbook Fair

There have been two main benefits to being here. One has been that I have learned a LOT here! I wish, actually, that I had come last year, or two years ago, when we were still planning the project. There is a huge display on the upper level, showing many hundreds of cookbooks that have been published around the world in the past year or so: An invaluable learning tool. Then, there are all the displays on the floor of the exhibition hall… and the talks that are scheduled throughout the day in two or three different venues. Finally, many of the presenters and other attendees whom I’ve met here have been generous with their advice and their interest.

The other big advantage of being here is that I’ve been able to make some fabulous contacts… I’ve had two fairly solid expressions of interest from people who are considering buying foreign-language rights to the book; and a couple of good leads to other possible rights deals.

Some other big points from Ed Cointreau’s talk this morning on ‘Trends in Global Cookbook Publishing’, in brief, were as follows:

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United Airlines mag in contortions over Palestinian food…

I’m in Paris. I brought Laila el-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt’s fabulous book The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey here, to the Paris International Cookbook Fair. So what do I discover in the seatback pocket on my flight over from Washington? A multi-page series in the United Airlines seatback mag that’s about the “wonderful” food scene in Jerusalem.

Hilariously (or not, depending on your POV), it says this

what’s long been considered Israeli food– hummus, falafel, mixed grilled meats, fresh chopped salads– is in fact cuisine borrowed from the local Levantines.

These dishes have “long” been considered Israeli food… By whom? And for how long? Longer than, say, 65 years?

And then are those mysterious “local Levantines”. There are a number of references to these strange creatures throughout the article, which was written by someone called Wendell Steavenson. But zero references to Palestinians or even “Arabs”… just denatured, completely de-cultured “Levantines”.

I could understand, maybe, an Israeli magazine publishing something parochial and silly like this. But the seatback mag of a major American airline? And one that flies to large numbers of destinations around the world– including, more than a dozen in Arab countries? Really, United Airlines, this is pathetic.

I’ve been on vacation…

… with the whole family. It proved ways harder to pay attention to the news than I’d expected. Something to do with having three grandchildren to pay attention to, and very limited web access.
Anyway, lots to blog about. Watch this space.

Changed travel plans

By the way, I know I’d blogged earlier that I would be in Cairo and Beirut around now. I’ve postponed those visits. My (somewhat childish, let’s face it) journalistic impulses urge me to go– at least to Cairo, right now! But I have a business to run here: some great book projects underway. Also, some good, important things happening in the family.
I shall be continuing to write about Egypt (and everything else) as I have time to… but from here in the U.S.
For the best on-the-ground reporting in English from Egypt, follow Issandr El-Amrani, or Jonathan Wright.

Nothing to add

… to the “news” from the State Department about the “media note from George Mitchell that we have begun indirect talks and that he will be returning to the region next week.”
Nothing to add, that is, to what I wrote here last week, that with all this business of “proximity talks” it looks as if we are rushing forward helter-skelter… to 1949.

Khomeini guardian’s jarring question

Iran’s ongoing internal “chess match,” the intense controversy over Iran’s presidential elections and the aftermath, is not only “not over,” it’s getting profoundly interesting. The charges & counter-charges continue to fly, with both sides dredging up extraordinary heavyweights, figuratively and literally, to their cause. A few mind-boggling examples:
Those notables who boycotted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-inauguration included no less than Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the very Ayatollah who led the 1979 revolution. Khomeini was otherwise occupied visiting one Alireza Beheshti, son of a famous clerical martyr from the early years of the revolution. Beheshti had just been released from imprisonment — for being a close aide to Mir Hossen Musavi, the still resisting leader of the green wave.
From another direction, Mohammad Javad Larijani is the newest prominent voice blasting Musavi and Khomeini for “treason,” for betraying the revolution (etc., etc.) Curious. I’ve long followed Javad Larijani’s work. When not being a genuine “theoretical physicist,” he’s been a noted “facilitator” behind various efforts to improve ties to the US. He’s also a member of the extraordinary brothers Larijani (e.g. Ali, current Parliamentary speaker and Sadegh, the new Judiciary Chief).
Topping that comes a pointed question for Larijani from Mohammad Ali Ansari, a keeper of the flame (if you will) for Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini as the director of Khomeini’s Publications. While defending the house of Khomeini, Ansari tosses his own rhetorical doozy:

“how can we criticize a ban on holocaust investigations calling it an undemocratic act, and then adamantly deny a simple demand for a probe into a recent election in Iran?”

What a question.

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Meshaal: the longer NYT text, and a question about Haaretz

So, later in the day on Tuesday, after I had complained about the NYT only running tiny snippets from Taghreed al-Khodary’s five-hour interview with Hamas head Khaled Meshaal, the NYt did put some longer excerpts from the interview onto its website.
That’s excellent news. (I had looked on the website for some longer version of the interview, a couple of times during the day Tuesday, but never found them. Thanks to the friend who sent me this link.)
Here is the first topic he speaks to, which is very important:

    On the Hamas Charter and a Palestinian State:
    The most important thing is what Hamas is doing and the policies it is adopting today. The world must deal with what Hamas is practicing today. Hamas has accepted the national reconciliation document. It has accepted a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders including East Jerusalem, dismantling settlements, and the right of return based on a long term truce. Hamas has represented a clear political program through a unity government. This is Hamas’s program regardless of the historic documents. Hamas has offered a vision. Therefore, it’s not logical for the international community to get stuck on sentences written 20 years ago. It’s not logical for the international community to judge Hamas based on these sentences and stay silent when Israel destroys and kills our people.

The rest of it is really worth reading, too.
Today, there is news (e.g. here) that the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fateh are in a bad state.
But beyond that, Haaretz is running a story that starts thus:

    The Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas will not accept a two-state solution as a means to end the conflict with Israel, the movement’s Damascus-based politburo chief Khaled Meshal said Saturday.
    Meshal said that Hamas rejects the two-state solution but could still be part of a national unity government if a Palestinian state is established based on 1967 borders.

They give no further details regarding the context or provenance of that “news”. They do not have a correspondent in Damascus (!), so they must have gotten it from somewhere– though they give no clue as to where, let alone giving due attribution to the source.
I did a quick search to see what news report it might be they were referring to. Can anyone help identify the source? Or is their lede there just based on a misunderstanding? Or is it a really mendacious piece of disinformation?
Haaretz is, generally, a pretty good source of information. But there are, certainly, people who work there who are strongly opposed to Hamas.