Monday, November 19, 2012

Israel Gaza fighting: What’s it’s like to be in Jerusalem as the conflict escalates

Really good article by Dahlia Lithwick of Slate on What’s it’s like to be in Jerusalem as the conflict escalates. She's in Israel for the year working on a book about the Supreme Court and also because her parents live in Israel and they wanted to spend a year with them. She's there with her two sons, who are 7 and 9. Her description of the atmosphere in Jerusalem and Israel at a time like this is perfect.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sirens Disrupt the Sabbath in Jerusalem

An article from the New York Times about how the tranquility of Shabbat last night in Jerusalem was disturbed by the air raid sirens going off, warning of the rockets launched at the city by Hamas.
When dusk descends on Jerusalem on a Friday, it usually brings a moment of rare harmony and almost magical tranquillity. A steady siren announces the onset of the Jewish Sabbath just hours after Muslims wind up the special Friday noon prayer at Al Aksa Mosque in the Old City. 
So this Friday, when a rising-and-falling wartime siren wailed out at twilight, followed by at least two dull thuds, many did not immediately grasp what was happening. 
In the 48 hours since Israel began its military operation in Gaza, militants’ rocket attacks have extended farther and farther north, starting in southern Israel and advancing to Kiryat Malachi, then to Rishon Lezion and off the shore of Tel Aviv. 
Throughout it all, residents of this disputed capital said they had felt largely immune from the battle by virtue of the city’s religious sites and its huge Palestinian population. Until they heard the siren blaring. 
“I thought, ‘Is that for Shabbat?’ ” said Judy Axelrod, a resident of West Jerusalem, a predominantly Jewish area. When she realized it was not, she walked off King David Street into the Y.M.C.A. for safety, even though most of those around her just carried on....
By firing at Jerusalem, about 48 miles from the Gaza border, Hamas had set a brazen precedent. The city was even off limits to Saddam Hussein, the fallen Iraqi leader, when he fired Scud missiles at Israel during the first Persian Gulf war in 1991. 
The military wing of Hamas boasted that it had aimed at the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament. In fact, the rockets fell short of the city. One landed in an open area near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, just south of Jerusalem, and other explosions were heard in the same area.
The article then describes prayers at congregation Kol Haneshama in the Baka neighborhood. When I was in Israel this year, I often went to the Friday night services, which are usually attended by a large crowd and cultivate a very peaceful, contemplative atmosphere. There is a lot of singing and the service ends with a prayer for peace in Hebrew and Arabic. In the late 1980s, when I was a visiting graduate student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman introduced this prayer into the service, at the height of the first intifada.
When the siren sounded, Levi Weiman-Kelman, an American-born rabbi, was preparing to lead Sabbath services at Congregation Kol Haneshama, where worshipers recite a special prayer for peace on Fridays in Hebrew and Arabic.

He described the mood in synagogue as “extremely tense and antsy.” Hoping the service would pass quietly, he said, “My prayers had an added intensity.”

About half the usual crowd turned up, but with the Israeli military poised for a ground operation and a massive call-up of reservists under way, there were more parents of soldiers than usual.

Across the invisible line that divides West Jerusalem from the contested eastern part of the city, there was anxiety, too.

Out in his car at night in the near-empty streets, Taisar Ahmad, a municipal worker from the Arab neighborhood of Jebel Mukaber, said that striking Jerusalem should be “forbidden.”

“It’s scary,” he added. “Everyone was frightened.”
When I heard that Hamas had launched rockets toward Jerusalem, I called a good friend in the city, who described going into the stairwell of her building, as people had been instructed to act when they heard the sirens. She sounded shaken up and wondered what would happen if a siren went off when she was at work - she works with children at a kindergarten with Jewish and Arab children.

May this war end soon!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rockets land in Rishon LeZion, Holon, and Tel Aviv

From reading Haaretz online and also the Twitter feeds of Israeli friends - air raid sirens have sounded in Tel Aviv. Three rockets fired there.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hussein Ibish on the conflict between Israel and Hamas

Hussein Ibish, in Operation Cast Lead 2.0, provides a good discussion of what's at stake in Israel's attack on Hamas and its possible repercussions.

Map of rocket ranges

This slide shows the range of the various rockets that Hamas has in its possession - image from Haaretz, with some translations from the Hebrew by me.

Map of bombings and rockets in Israel & Gaza today

From Haaretz:

Israeli bombingl targeted Fajr missiles

Fajr missiles, from Iran, can reach as far as Tel Aviv. Apparently many of the air raids launched by Israel today were aimed at destroying the missiles before they could be fired. Below is photo distributed by the IDF Spokesperson's office showing Fajr launch sites in Zeitoun, Gaza.

Will Hamas target Tel Aviv with missiles?

From Haaretz: Israel holds its breath for Hamas' decision: Target Tel Aviv?
Bradley Burston 
Tel Aviv is holding its breath. This war is the same war, fought for years far to the south, out of sight and firmly out of mind. But abruptly, without warning, it threatens to become Tel Aviv's war.

And the decision rests with Hamas.

In one fiery stroke - the Wednesday Israeli air strike that killed Hamas' most influential and powerful military mind, Ahmed Jabari - the rules of the Holy Land's oldest established permanent floating chess game were, for the umpteenth time, utterly changed.

Rocked by the assassination, Hamas, its strategic hierarchy shredded, now faces a fateful choice. Pressed by a broad coalition of Gaza militants to retaliate and exact revenge, Hamas could order the launch of the Iranian-developed Fajr-5 missile, straight north.

For the first time since the waves of suicide bombings in Israeli cities during the Palestinian uprising, Hamas could target Tel Aviv.

The decision will not be a simple one, however. Hamas has always been hair-trigger sensitive to Palestinian public opinion, particularly in its birthplace and power base, the Gaza Strip. Gazans at the grass roots level have already made it known that they fear a reprise of the devastation and severe loss of civilian lives which Israel's Operation Cast Lead wrought on the Strip four years ago.

Israel, meanwhile, has made it plain that Tel Aviv is the trip wire.

"Today we attacked strategic Hamas targets with precision," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the press late on Wednesday. "We significantly harmed its capability to launch rockets from Gaza to the center of the country."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak added, "Most of the Fajr missiles have been hit."

There was a warning in their words, to Hamas. But there was an implied, if unintentional, threat to residents of Tel Aviv, as well. Hamas can still hit them, should it choose to do so.

Mindful of the significance of a possible attack on Tel Aviv, Israeli leaders spared no effort to head it off. Immediately after the Jabari assassination, the next phase of the newest war was unleashed, an onslaught to destroy Gaza launch bunkers housing Hamas' Fajr-5 missiles.

Wave after wave of Israeli air strikes were launched. Dozens of Fajr launchers were hit.

But not all of them.

As Wednesday night wore on, IDF civil defense officials began to be asked about whether Tel Aviv residents should take special precautions ("There have been nationwide drills, and citizens will know how to respond," one replied). Police and ambulance crews were placed on heightened alert, Israeli media reported.

And, perhaps inevitably, analysts noted the timing of the Jabari assassination, in the thick of an Israeli election campaign in which both Netanyahu and Barak are intent on holding on to their jobs.

As both well know, past wars - Cast Lead among them - have demonstrated that the longer, more complex, and more unresolved a military operation becomes, the more likely it is to claim its initially victorious initiators, among its victims.

Tel Aviv is the trip wire, as well, for candidates Netanyahu and Barak. If Israel's financial, cultural, and media capital is successfully attacked, much of the political capital accrued by the prime minister and his defense minister, will suddenly, literally, go up in smoke.

It's war again: Israel launches military operation in Gaza

It's war again - Israel launches military operation in Gaza. Israel just assassinated the top Hamas military leader in Gaza and attacked more than 20 targets. Thus far, 8 Palestinians dead, 30 wounded. This is after days of rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israeli communities. The rocket fire is now continuing.

Name of this operation - Pillar of Defense (in English), עמוד ענן (in Hebrew - Pillar of Cloud, a biblical reference).

I hope this ends quickly.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Romney concedes!

It seems that Romney has just called Obama to concede, and he's about to speak at his headquarters in Boston. "I have just called President Obama to congratulate him." "I pray that the President will be successful in guiding our nation." Clapping from the audience. Now thanking Paul Ryan.

President Obama Reelected!

It appears that all our worrying is now followed by relief - President Obama has won reelection according to the New York Times and all the television networks, with up to 332 electoral votes, depending on what happens in Ohio and Virginia.

Another exciting victory - gay rights has won in several states. Maryland has approved gay marriage (51.7%-48.3%), Maine has defeated a referendum to overturn gay marriage (currently 54%-46%). It also looks like Washington State has approved gay marriage, although there's only 50% of the vote reported thus far. And Minnesota may have defeated an anti-gay marriage amendment (only 53% reporting).

Tammy Baldwin seems to have defeated Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, thus becoming the first open gay person in the Senate.

And here's a great picture of Barack and Michelle -