Comment | Protesting “Pillar of Cloud” in Tel Aviv
New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Friday, November 16, 2012 23:59 - 3 Comments
By Jon Simons
Since Israel launched its military offensive against Gaza on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 14th, which it codenamed “Pillar of Cloud” in Hebrew, but translated as “Pillar of Defence”, Israel has gone into war mode. The broadcast media immediately began the cheerleading, marvelling the technical and intelligence precision of the assassination of the Hamas commander, Ahmed Al-Jabari, replaying the video of the explosion of his car from above.
The radio and TV also repeated the claims of the Israeli Security Minister, Ehud Barak, that the air force had destroyed all of the Fajr 5 long-range missiles in Gaza it knew of, so that at least the central area of the country, especially Tel Aviv would be spared the anticipated reaction by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
The leaders of the mainstream parties hoping to defeat Netanyahu in the forthcoming elections, on 22 January 2013, Shaul Mofaz of Kadima, Shelly Yachimovich of Labour, and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, soon fell in line by announcing their full support for the military offensive and the government.
The war has become a “media event” in Israel, as broadcasting schedules have been given over to extended coverage, while Israelis in the area immediately surrounding Gaza, and students in an area up to 40 km from the Gaza border, have been stuck at home as daily life was suspended. As rockets have also been fired at targets as far away as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, setting off the automatic sirens, many more Israelis feel on high alert, emotionally mobilised on the home front.
There are few media reports of Palestinian civilian casualties, or even distinctions between armed militants – usually referred to as terrorists – and civilians. Even in the days before the current wave of violence escalated into a full-scale operation, Adam Keller, spokesperson of the two-statist peace group Gush Shalom, commented sadly on the difficulty of caring for the children of the enemy in a time of war.
Israeli media rely almost entirely on other sources for news from Gaza, so there is sparse coverage of what’s happening on the ground there. Last night (Friday) the TV news channels seem to have concluded that Hamas are deeply disappointed by their inability to inflict significant harm on Israel or to mobilise international public and governmental support.
Reports point to apparently unfounded Gazan claims that an Israeli F-16 jet was downed, to unseemly photo-ops of Hamas figures with the corpse of a 1 year old child, but there are no items about how the war impacts regular Gazans to match those on Israeli about the lives of Israelis. The commentators disagree between themselves about how much can be achieved by force of arms, and what the goals of the war should be, but they all share the assumption that military might is both legitimate and effective. Somehow this time, they say, it will restore deterrence, it will put pressure on “them” to stop, it will bring “us” peace and quiet.
There are dissenting voices from the trumpets of war. In the afternoon after the assassination, radio commentators wondered aloud whether the timing of the offensive had anything to do with the upcoming elections. The war has effectively neutralised opposition to the government and side-lined the troubling socio-economic issues around which its challengers intended to campaign.
Noam Shalit, father of the Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas and released after five years in October 2011, expressed no regret about the killing of Al-Jabari, who was widely suspected of being behind his son’s capture, yet said that there would be no alternative but to talk to Hamas in the end. The moderate militarist experts soon began to say in newspaper columns that the first hours of aerial attack had achieved as much as Israel could expect to gain, and that the next step must be a ceasefire mediated by the Egyptians or someone else. That is close to the line of the left Zionist party Meretz, which insisted both on “Israel’s right to defend itself” and a political-diplomatic solution to Israel’s relations with Gaza.
More dissent appeared in Israel’s liberal newspaper, Ha’aretz, with Aluf Benn arguing that Israel had killed the person best placed to keep the more radical groups in line, and Barak Ravid suggesting that the Israeli government had used the Egyptian brokered-truce that was taking hold in the day before the assassination to lull Hamas into complacency.
More alarming was the report from Gershon Baskin, a peace activist involved in the negotiations with Al-Jabari for Gilad Shalit’s release, that the Hamas commander was negotiating a long-term truce with Israel. Given that, declared IPCRI (Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information), with which Baskin has been associated: “Netanyahu and Barak launched a cynical election campaign war”.
The first Israeli demonstration against this war was held before it really started. On the night of Tuesday, November 13th a small group held a candlelit vigil by the Prime Minister’s residence, holding up the names of the three Gazan minors who had already been killed by Israel in the military violence that began on November 6th: Mohammed Harara, Ahmed Harara, and Ahmed A-Dardasawy.
When “Pillar of Cloud” began the next day, a protest of about 100 people, organised on Facebook was held outside the Security Minister’s home in Tel Aviv by 8 pm. It was covered by Israeli Social TV, but not mainstream media. Another protest was held in Jerusalem at 9:30 pm. The next evening in Tel Aviv a few hundred gathered to decry the war, much more vociferously than the night before, in a demonstration organised by Hadash – a Jewish-Arab party for democracy, peace and equality.
The demand to end the shooting was shouted loudly, as was a call for negotiations not just for a ceasefire with Gaza but for a two-state solution to the conflict. There were also demonstrations earlier in the day on the campuses of Haifa and Tel Aviv Universities, and in the evening in Jerusalem and Haifa too.
For the following day (Saturday) the bi-national peace group Combatants for Peace is planning a joint demonstration in Beit Jalla, West Bank, and another protest is being put together on Facebook for later that evening in Tel Aviv. The veteran Yesh Gvul group against mobilisation of reservists for service in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or other non-defensive purposes has called on people to refuse the call-up orders that are currently being issued to thousands of reservists.
Amid the awful clamour for “the right to defend ourselves” that entails attacking Gaza, these dissenting voices and protests indicate that the Israeli consensus is perhaps a little less solid now than it was at the start of Cast Lead in 2008.
We have been in this movie before. Whether the dissent grows depends in part on how big a toll Hamas’ and the other Palestinian groups’ unlawful targeting of Israeli civilians exacts, on whether Israel launches a ground assault into Gaza, on the number of Palestinian civilian casualties, and on international pressure.
It’s not unusual for protest against a war in Israel to begin slowly, on the margins, and then grow – the clearest example being the first time there was such an anti-war protest in Israel, during the 1982 Lebanon War. For now, it’s the small but determined Hadash party that’s leading the way, both in organisation and in articulating the need for a full agreement with the Palestinians.
The Israeli peace movement is currently fragmented into dozens of small groups and organisations, mostly focused on the occupation in the West Bank, and lacks either a coordinating body or a coherent discourse to connect their opposition to this war. But if the groundswell of protest grows, if the initial excitement of “teaching them a lesson” turns into a costly mess, there might once again be tens of thousands of Israelis protesting against the war.