Ariel Sharon died on Saturday, and his last major political act was to evict my cousins from the Gaza Strip.
When Israel “disengaged” from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, I was The Economist’s Jerusalem correspondent, and spent quite a bit of my time reporting on how Israel mistreated Palestinians. Two of my cousins were settlers in Gaza who believed it was part of the land God had promised to the Jews. I was gay, atheist, and single; they were strictly religious, married, and had 16 children between them. Aside from our common great-grandfather, we might as well have come from different planets. But they were at the center of the biggest story of the year, I was a journalist, and they were my relatives. So I went to talk to them.
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Few figures could unite Israeli settlers and Palestinians quite like Ariel Sharon.
“God gave him what he deserved,” one right-wing Israeli told me several years after Sharon fell into a coma. “A Jew should not force a Jew from Jewish land,” the man exclaimed, in reference to Sharon’s decision to unilaterally remove Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005. For many Arabs, the name “Sharon” is associated with the word “massacre”—specifically with the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres, which occurred after Sharon allowed Lebanese Christian militiamen to enter a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, where they killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians.
So to some Jewish settlers, Sharon was a traitor; and to some Arabs, he was a butcher. Yet Sharon, who passed away on Saturday at age 85, after an eight-year coma, was also a political architect. More so than to any other contemporary figure in the region, the status quo in Israel and the Palestinian territories can be traced to Ariel Sharon.
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TEL AVIV – Yitzhak Rabin Namsy is, by all appearances, a regular Israeli teenager. The 17-year-old wears a Jewish skullcap, keeps the Sabbath, and upholds many of the faith’s other commandments (mitzvot). Like many Israelis his age, he dreams of enlisting in the Israeli army and fighting as a combat soldier on behalf of the Jewish state. Yet there is nothing normal about Namsy’s life story, beginning with his first and middle names, given to him in memory of the former Israeli prime minister, who was assassinated in 1995 just a few months before the boy’s birth. Then there’s the fact that Yitzhak Rabin isn’t even officially Jewish, let alone Israeli, but a Jordanian Muslim. Forced to flee his country of birth when he was a baby, Yitzhak, along with his parents, has been living as an exile in Israel for nearly 16 years—all because of a name.
These days, Yitzhak and his mother, Miriam, are waiting for the Israeli government to follow through on promises and extend them permanent residency in their adopted home. Since their arrival in Israel in 1998, both mother and son have been living as temporary residents—a status subject to periodic renewal and an unsettling state of affairs given that a return to Jordan is, for them, literally a matter of life and death.
Responses to the family’s petitions from the Israeli Interior Ministry have dragged on for years, but a positive resolution is finally, according to the family’s lawyer, expected soon. The ordeal has made headlines in the local press over the past couple months amid Yitzhak’s efforts to enlist in the military. When reached by phone recently, Yitzhak seemed tired of the press attention.
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Existential issues cut both ways. That is perhaps what is most unnerving—and, for Israel and the United States, potentially dangerous—about Benjamin Netanyahu’s seeming unwillingness to countenance any agreement, either with the Iranians or the Palestinians. Netanyahu wants confrontation, not negotiation, with Tehran—yet that approach has brought Tehran from a mere 164 centrifuges at a single pilot plant a decade ago to a network of secret nuclear facilities and 19,000 centrifuges today, and to the brink of nuclear-weapons status. Netanyahu wants to put off talks on a Palestinian state, yet many Israelis (including the erstwhile uber-hawk Ariel Sharon, before he was silenced by a stroke) have come to realize that time is against Israel on that score because there may soon be more Arabs than Jews under Israeli control, including the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel could come to be seen as an apartheid rather than a Jewish state.
What needs to be understood about Bibi Netanyahu, who may prove in coming months to be the chief obstacle to a longer-term rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran, is that non-negotiation has been an article of faith with him for his entire political career. It is an attitude that goes back to his first term as prime minister in the late 1990s, when he privately boasted that he had “de facto put an end to the Oslo Accords.”
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made headlines by condemning this weekend’s nuclear deal between Iran and world powers as a “historic mistake,” and some fellow leaders have been even harsher. “If in another five or six years a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the agreement that was signed this morning,” Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister, declared on Sunday. According to a poll commissioned by the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, three-fourths of Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis don’t believe Iran will halt its nuclear program as a result of the accord, which places limits on the Iranian program over the next six months in exchange for sanctions relief.
But not all Israelis are opposed to the deal. Israeli leaders like President Shimon Peres and former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin have expressed cautious optimism about the diplomatic breakthrough, and some in the press have thrown their support behind the initiative as well, including some prominent commentators for Channel 2, Israel’s most-watched television network.
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Excavating a ruined palace in Tel Kabri, Israel, this summer, a group of archaeologists made a discovery: an old wine cellar. A very old wine cellar. A cellar they estimate—according to findings presented today at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research—to be some 3,700 years old. Within the cellar, over a period of six weeks, the team found 40 wine jugs, each one just over three feet tall.
The liquid contents of the jars, alas, have not survived. So how did the researchers know they were wine jugs, and not some other vessel? The team, composed of scientists from George Washington University, Brandeis University, and Tel Aviv University (and who, it’s worth noting, have yet to publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal) analyzed the organic residues trapped in the pores of the jars. Emphasizing pottery fragments collected from the bases of the jars, which would have been guaranteed to have had contact with whatever was stored inside them, the team analyzed the chemical components of the residues. They found, among other things, tartaric acid, which is a key component in grapes. They found traces of other compounds, too, suggesting ingredients that would have been added to the wine—among them honey, mint, and other herbs.
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NABLUS, WEST BANK–Suhad Abu Fiad hikes up her bulky black abaya, slides onto the sonogram bed, and immediately tears up at the sight of her unborn baby’s tiny feet and fingers. She’s hoping for a girl but, as she’s only four months pregnant, it’s still too soon to tell.
After the routine prenatal discussion, doctors speak with Suhad in hushed, somber tones about the prisoner release last month in which 26 Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis were set free as part of ongoing peace talks. “Inshallah,” God willing, they say, her husband Samir will be released in the next exchange, but she shakes her head. Samir was imprisoned only in 2009, while those let free in October were jailed for attacks committed before the 1993 Oslo peace accords. The chances for his early release are slim.
According to Suhad and the doctors at the Razan Infertility and IVF clinic in the West Bank city of Nablus, the pregnancy is a “miracle,” and not only in the way most people mean it. Suhad hasn’t touched Samir in more than three years. He’s serving an 11-year sentence at Israel’s high security Megiddo prison for participating in terror attacks on Israelis, though, she stresses, “there is no blood on his hands.” And while “security prisoners”—the term used by Israel to define Palestinians incarcerated on charges related to the ongoing conflict—aren’t entitled to conjugal visits, Suhad claims Samir’s sperm made its way across security checks and into her uterus.
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calmnessity asked: Hello, I was just wondering if you knew anything about the conflict between the Arabs and Jews and the history of it? :)
If you’re interested in learning more about the Arab-Israeli conflict, try these articles.
- Is Peace Possible? A collection of articles from the last two years looking at the politics between the players, settlements, and more.
- The Arab Spring Comes to Israel
- All Fall Down: The Uncertain Future of the Only Solution for Israel and Palestine
Two weeks ago, Israel expanded its robust “public diplomacy” efforts, which include an active Twitter presence and a popular military Instagram, with a post written by its American embassy (@IsraelinUSA) on the redoubtable viral news and entertainment juggernaut BuzzFeed.
Instead of something in line with the light fare normally found on the community section of the website, which is home to such items as “15 Ways That Cats Are Trying To Take Over Our Lives,” ”18 Inappropriate Places to Twerk,” and other ephemera created by readers, the Israeli embassy’s debut tackled a more solemn subject. Headlined, “Threats Facing Israel, Explained In One (Sort of Terrifying) Map,” the post outlined and detailed the menacing perils on the country’s borders.
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Deliberate neutrality and ambiguity have thus far governed Israel’s reaction to the Syrian civil war, but America’s deliberations over whether to strike Assad have revealed its true stance.
“We take no part in Syria’s civil war; but if attacked, we’ll react, and react fiercely,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the gas attacks.
Israel has, however, intervened in Syria. The Jewish state deployed strikes in July against Syrian missile convoys destined for one its principal enemies on its northern border, the Lebanese-based Hezbollah.
Netanyahu and his administration have remained mum on their four unilateral missile attacks since Syria fractured into civil war. The oft-quoted line from the film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly neatly encapsulates Israel’s approach: “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”
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