Saturday, August 13, 2005

24 hours to the Gaza withdrawal...

From SP-S (a classmate), comes this piece of eyewitness political analysis:

With 24 hours to go before the Gaza withdrawal begins, the mood here in Israel
is extremely tense. The U.S. State Department has issued a warning to all of
us U.S. citizens here in Israel telling us to be careful and stay away from
potentially violent settlers protesting the pullout. The irony, of course, is
that a huge number of the gun-toting ultra right-wing settlers in Gaza and the
West Bank who have been running around the country wearing orange T-shirts, headbands and even muzzles to protest the disengagement are, you guessed it, Americans! They are now being warned to beware of themselves. If only they would listen. (To the government’s credit, they did deport one 18-year old American settler after he attended the funeral of the Jewish terrorist who murdered four Israeli Arabs last week.) Something tells me the rest of his comrades are too busy plotting how to prevent the army from carrying out a law passed by a democratically elected government with 60 percent public support to read the State Department website. Or, as settler leader Sheera Yuval threatened in her weekly Ha’aretz column earlier this week “to turn the country upside down.”

Bibi Netanyahu upped the ante by withdrawing from the government a few days ago to protest the disengagement, which was interpreted by most as a future challenge to Sharon for leadership of the Likud party. But the settlers see it as an immediate challenge to Sharon and are now gleefully calling for elections because polls show that Netanyahu would beat Sharon in a Likud primary held today; this, they hope, could stop the withdrawal. Fortunately, Netanyahu seems to have undermined his chances by royally fucking up the economy as Finance Minister; stats released last week show that 33% of Israeli children now live below the poverty line, the highest child poverty rate in the industrialized world. He has also made the politically astute decision to leave the country for a family vacation in the U.S. while Israel prepares to go through its biggest crisis in decades.

The real question in the next 24 hours is whether Sharon will have the balls to arrest and disperse the settlers and other anti-pullout demonstrators, many of whom have infiltrated the Gush Katif bloc of settlements in Gaza in the last few days even though they do not live there. Interestingly, most of the Gaza settlers being evacuated are cooperating and preparing to leave. It's the West Bank settlers who have gone down there to show solidarity who are causing real problems. So far the army has been extremely delicate with the right-wing extremists who are openly threatening to disrupt the withdrawal from Gaza and are advocating violence against the state. By contrast, in the last few days, the IDF has used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful demonstrations against the separation wall by left-wing Israelis, Palestinians and foreign nationals near the West Bank town of Qalqilya. The army has close ties with the settlers and is being extremely soft on them because protecting them has been the IDF’s primary task in the region for many years. The last time the army put on its kid gloves, the militant right succeeded in thwarting withdrawal from the illegal settlement of Sebastia in 1975. Go here for an excellent Haaretz editorial on the danger of the army appeasing the extreme right.

There were 150,000 of the Orange people (“the fascists” as my Israeli cousins here prefer to call them) in Tel Aviv two nights ago demonstrating and vowing to stop the disengagement by any means necessary. The real problem is that the police are not arresting people who are inciting violence against the army, namely the settler rabbis and YESHA Council leaders (YESHA is a Hebrew acronym for Judea, Samaria, Gaza). If they stop the leadership of the settler opposition, it will scare the followers. The army has acknowledged that even if only 1/4 of Thursday’s protesters go down to Gaza tomorrow night they could become a serious obstacle because the army is using only 42,000 UNARMED troops in an effort to keep the withdrawal peaceful. But the settlers are generally heavily armed and many of them have given up only their army-issued weapons and not their personal arsenals. It is worth noting that if the protesters were Palestinian the IDF would shoot them with rubber (or real) bullets. Because there is a glaring double standard that won't happen (nor do I advocate it).

To make matters more complicated, Sunday is Tisha b'Av, the 9th of Av, a very solemn holiday and a fast similar to the one on Yom Kippur. It commemorates the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples, as well as various other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people on this date, such as King Ferdinand's 1492 expulsion of the Spanish Jews. The settlers are no doubt going to exploit this for all its worth and frame disengagement as yet another catastrophe for the Jewish people (Sharon certainly could have picked a less provocative date to avoid playing into their hands rhetorically). Meanwhile, the Israeli Arab leadership has called a mass rally to protest the murder of four Arabs by a Jew last week and to “defend the Haram al-Sharif” (whence Mohammed ascended to heaven) against the right wing Jewish settlers who consider it an abomination and openly advocate blowing it up (settlers last attempted this in the mid-1980s and have since been released from prison). There will be tens of 1000s of very hungry and thirsty religious Jews praying and protesting at the Western Wall at the same time tomorrow evening, which is directly below the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. It's a recipe for disaster if you ask me. Jerusalem will be on high alert tomorrow morning with helicopter patrols and 1000s of troops deployed throughout the old city. If the security forces had any sense they would ban both demonstrations. Otherwise we could see a civil war and a third intifada start on the same day.

Let’s hope that I’m wrong
--Sasha

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