Israel has begun seizing cryptocurrency wallets used by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, the Associated Press and Al Jazeera reported.
Defence minister Benny Gantz said the group had been pursuing an online campaign to raise finances in the aftermath of the 11-day Gaza conflict, which killed more than 200 Palestinians, including dozens of children and more than 12 Israelis.
“The intelligence, technological and legal tools that enable us to get our hands on terrorists’ money around the world constitute an operational breakthrough,” Gantz said Thursday.
Israel’s national bureau of counterterrorism issued a seizure order on Wednesday against cryptocurrency addresses believed to be controlled by Hamas.
The 84 wallets hold a mix of digital assets including bitcoin, dogecoin, cardano, and ether, according to tracking firm Elliptic. Most of these addresses have been linked to Hamas’s military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, Elliptic’s analysis found.
Officials didn’t specify how much cryptocurrency has been seized. But Elliptic’s report showed Hamas collectively received over $7.7 million in crypto-assets.
A majority of deposits were found to be placed in tether and bitcoin, the report showed.
The militant group had seen a spike in crypto donations, especially bitcoin, since its renewed armed conflict with Israel, a senior Hamas official told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.
Gantz authorized the seizure order late June, saying he was convinced the wallets were linked to Hamas or used to carry out a “severe terror crime.”
As many believe crypto transactions maintain anonymity, cryptocurrencies are regarded as being safe to carry out illegal transactions. But thinking they are untraceable is one of the stupidest things to do, according to crypto ATM operator CoinFlip’s CEO Ben Weiss.
The Israeli military has carried out another round of airstrikes on targets in Gaza, claiming the attacks are a response to incendiary balloons that have sparked fires in southern Israel.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said it struck “military compounds and a rocket launch site belonging to Hamas in Gaza.”
Israeli media reported that the IDF struck 10 targets near Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun after more than a half-dozen fires were reported near the border with Gaza.
The strikes come just two days after the IDF bombed targets it said was associated with the Hamas militant group, again citing “incendiary balloons” being sent across the Palestinian territory’s border.
Last month, days of Israeli airstrikes killed more than 200 Palestinians in Gaza, including more than 60 children. The Palestinian territory, which is ruled by the Hamas militant group, has been subject to a years-long blockade.
The Israeli military has launched airstrikes on the Palestinian territory of Gaza in response to reports of “incendiary balloons,” according to news reports.
The strikes come just days after Naftali Bennett took over as Israeli prime minister, unseating Benjamin Netanyahu, and weeks after an Israeli campaign killed more than 200 Palestinians, including over 60 children.
In a statement, the Israeli military said it had attacked Hamas compounds in the Gaza Strip, Reuters reported. The statement said Israeli stands “ready for all scenarios, including renewed fighting in the face of continued terrorist acts emanating from Gaza.”
No Palestinians have been reported injured thus far, according to the BBC, which cited Hamas-affiliated media.
Israel said the strikes targeted a Hamas compound that had been used for “terrorist activity.”
Earlier, Israel’s Fire and Rescue Services said at least 10 fires had been set in southern Israel by incendiary balloons, the Times of Israel reported.
The attacks follow a right-wing nationalist parade in Israel that saw Israeli police fire rubber bullets at Palestinian protesters, per The Wall Street Journal.
Both sides eventually agreed to a ceasefire on May 20, after 11 days of the bloodiest fighting seen in the region in seven years.
The conflict drew widespread international attention, not just to the chaos of the situation, but also to websites run by the group’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, WSJ said. Heightened interest led to increased donations that are facilitating its operations.
“There was definitely a spike” in bitcoin donations, the Hamas official told the Journal. “Some of the money gets used for military purposes to defend the basic rights of the Palestinians.”
It isn’t clear when Hamas began receiving crypto donations. But its designation as a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, the European Union and Britain means that it had to turn away from the global financial system to rely on other complex networks for funding.
The group has especially benefited from the anonymity of crypto transactions, WSJ said. Last year, US federal authorities seized $1 million in cryptocurrencies tied to the group’s armed wing. A previous investigation by the Journal found al-Qassam converted most of its bitcoin into cash, or gift cards, aided by two Turkish intermediaries.
The Hamas official didn’t mention the amount of cryptocurrency it had received, but said overall revenue has been rising. It has also been collecting other forms of donations from supporters.
In one instance, a branch of the Iranian armed forces sent more than $200 million to the group between 2015 and 2019, the WSJ said, citing data from the US Treasury. Iran does not recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a state. Its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, called the predominantly-Jewish state “not a country, but a terrorist base” last month.
For the Palestinian organization, cryptocurrencies offer an easier method of making sure transactions go undetected as they are untraceable.
“Our fundraising strategies keep on evolving as more restrictions are being placed on us,” the Hamas representative said.
Instagram has reportedly made adjustments to its algorithm in favor of news and viral content after internal and external concerns that users were not able to see pro-Palestinian content that was being shared on the app.
Two people with knowledge of the change told the Financial Times that Instagram has changed the way it prioritizes which Instagram Stories are shown first in users’ feeds. Previously, the company prioritized original content in stories over stories that featured content that was shared or reposted from other users.
The app will now rank both original and shared stories equally, sources told the Financial Times.
“Stories that re-share feed posts aren’t getting the reach people expect them to, and that’s not a good experience,” an Instagram spokesperson told Insider. “Over time, we’ll move to give equal weighting to re-shared posts as we do originally-produced stories.”
The company spokesperson said the existing algorithm had “caused people to believe we were suppressing stories about particular topics or points of view,” which the spokesperson said was untrue.
“This applied to any post that’s re-shared in stories, no matter what it’s about,” a spokesperson told Insider.
Earlier this month, Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas agreed to a cease-fire in recent violence, moving to end the bloodiest fighting the region has seen since 2014. At least 232 Palestinians were killed since the fighting began on May 10, including 65 children and 39 women, according to Reuters. Thousands of Palestinians were displaced. At least 12 people in Israel were also killed, including two children and a soldier.
Amid the conflict, BuzzFeed News reported a group of about 30 employees inside Facebook, the company that owns Instagram, had spoken out internally and filed internal appeals to restore pro-Palestinian content they believe had been unfairly removed by the company.
The group of concerned employees has grown to as many as 50, the Financial Times reported Sunday.
Earlier in May, Instagram faced criticism after it removed posts and blocked hashtags about al-Aqsa, a holy Islamic mosque, after it mistakenly labeled the location as being associated with a terrorist organization, BuzzFeed News also reported.
Also in May, Apple refused Facebook’s request to remove negative reviews left on the App Store after pro-Palestinian activists targeted the company with 1-star ratings amid their accusations of censorship, NBC News reported.
“We know there have been several issues that have impacted people’s ability to share on our apps,” a Facebook spokesperson previously told BuzzFeed News.
“While we have fixed them, they should never have happened in the first place and we’re sorry to anyone who felt they couldn’t bring attention to important events, or who felt this was a deliberate suppression of their voice. This was never our intention – nor do we ever want to silence a particular community or point of view,” he said.
In the wake of the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, Israel remains in the spotlight for the civilian casualties and widescale destruction of civilian areas caused by its attacks on Gaza.
Like most democracies whose air wars kill large numbers of civilians, Israel claims the moral high ground. Though acknowledging that the harm caused to civilians was regrettable, Israel argues that its armed forces took all feasible precautions to avoid it, while taking care to aim their strikes at Hamas military targets.
By contrast, according to Israel, Hamas was targeting Israeli civilians directly and intentionally.
But this kind of thinking misses an important point in the laws of war. The requirement to avoid indiscriminate attacks is more than just an injunction against targeting civilians directly.
It also prohibits attacks using weapons systems that would be incapable of being directed at a specific military objective in the particular context of their use, because their effects cannot be limited or are of a nature to strike military and civilian objects without distinction.
The rule prohibiting indiscriminate attacks, found in Article 51 of the 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, was the basis for banning anti-personnel landmines, biological weapons and chemical weapons, among others.
But it is also a general principle meant to guide targeting practices even where specific weapons systems have not themselves been explicitly banned. And it is a rule worth considering as the international community assesses the actions of Israel in Gaza and the wider question of how to apply humanitarian law in urban spaces, in particular.
This conversation is already taking place in high-level forums. By coincidence, the Israel-Hamas conflict occurred just ahead of this week’s previously scheduled discussions at the United Nations on the organization’s Protection of Civilians mandate.
And as highlighted in a briefing to Security Council ambassadors on the issue by the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, Mark Lowcock, the choices of weapons systems and target contexts by belligerents have significant implications for protecting civilian lives during conflict.
What observers are rightly beginning to ask is whether it can ever be reasonably claimed that it is possible to use explosives discriminately in urban areas. That is because explosive weapons in densely populated urban areas simply cannot be used in a precision manner or be limited in the ways envisioned by the Geneva Conventions.
As Lowcock pointed out Tuesday, 90% of the people killed when explosive devices are used in urban settings are civilians, compared to 20% when they are used in rural areas. Even the most carefully conducted attacks using explosives have wide area effects.
Civilians are harmed by shrapnel, shock waves and fire. They are buried in rubble. Even if they survive, the destruction of civilian property and infrastructure claims lives.
Israel and Hamas are hardly alone among states and nonstate actors in using or implicitly condoning the use of aerially delivered explosives as a weapon of war in ways that cause disproportionate civilian harm.
Russia’s BM-21 Grad is the most widely deployed multiple-rocket launch system in the world, capable of firing 40 rockets in 20 seconds over a wide area and designed to deliver fragmentation effects. The United States continues to reserve the right to use – and arm countries, like Saudi Arabia, that do use – cluster munitions, a form of weapon that releases bomblets over wide areas, causing numerous explosions in a way that cannot be aimed precisely at military targets.
On the other side, even among armed groups whose goal is to engage security forces rather than civilians, nonstate actors often use mortars and improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in ways and under weather conditions that render them more inaccurate.
But even explosive weapons that are designed to be as precise as possible and are deployed with attention to minimizing casualties often harm nearby civilians or destroy infrastructure needed for civilian health and survival.
In Gaza, for example, hundreds of civilians were killed and over 1,000 injured by “precision” weapons Israel claimed were aimed solely at Hamas. Moreover, over 100,000 civilians were displaced, with massive damage to essential infrastructure including power-generating plants, water treatment facilities and hospitals.
As the Costs of War Project at Brown University documents, when one accounts for the civilian casualties from preventable disease, hunger, violence, displacement and loss of livelihoods, the toll becomes much higher than that reported during the initial conflict.
The inherently indiscriminate effects of explosive violence in urban areas, which is generally used by both sides of a conflict, has drawn attention in recent years from humanitarian disarmament NGOs.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, is also seized of the dangers to civilians of explosives used in populated areas. In a recent blog symposium on urban warfare, the ICRC echoed these concerns and committed to “stepping up its engagement” in this area – a sign that the issue is becoming a more urgent priority on the international agenda.
With the UN Protection of Civilians discussions in New York coming to a close on May 28, humanitarian advocates hope that diplomats will continue to discuss measures to address this matter, including a Political Declaration committing to avoid using explosives in urban spaces.
These conversations are not happening because of Gaza. They are the result of normative currents that have been percolating in global civil society for a long time. But ironically, the timing of the Gaza conflict – coming just before the UN discussions began – may have become an illustrative impetus raising the salience of this issue on the global scene.
Charli Carpenter is a professor of political science and legal studies at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, specializing in human security and international law. She tweets @charlicarpenter. Her WPR guest column will appear every other Friday.
Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota on Wednesday denounced a recent spike in attacks on Jews in the US and abroad while warning against treating “legitimate criticism” of the Israeli government as synonymous with antisemitism.
“The rise in antisemitic attacks at home and abroad is appalling,” Omar tweeted. “We must be clear and unequivocal: antisemitism is unacceptable and has no place in any movement. Fighting bigotry of any kind means fighting bigotry of every kind.”
The Minnesota Democrat went on to say, “And it also means we cannot equate legitimate criticism of the Israeli government, its policy, and its military occupation with antisemitism. Connecting the actions of a foreign country’s government and military with an entire faith does nothing to keep the Jewish people safer.”
Omar’s tweets came after a group of Jewish Democrats in the House on Tuesday sent a letter to President Joe Biden decrying House lawmakers for calling Israel an apartheid state and accusing it of committing acts of terrorism. The letter didn’t explicitly name Omar or any other lawmakers, but she was among a group of progressive Democrats who employed such rhetoric regarding the Israeli government in over the past few weeks.
In a tweet amid the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas, for example, Omar said, “Israeli air strikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism. Palestinians deserve protection. Unlike Israel, missile defense programs, such as Iron Dome, don’t exist to protect Palestinian civilians.”
In response to this tweet, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) released an ad superimposing Omar’s image over Hamas rockets and distorting her words – prompting condemnation from Democratic leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Progressive Democrats have sought to normalize criticism of the Israeli government, and a number of them – including Omar – were heavily critical of Biden’s response to the recent Israel-Hamas fighting. Biden offered full-throated support to Israel as airstrikes pummeled Gaza in response to Hamas rocket attacks, most of which were intercepted by the US-funded Iron Dome defense system. And the president initially tiptoed around offering any public support for a cease-fire.
As the fighting was still ongoing, Omar at one point said the administration was “devoid of empathy and concern for human suffering.”
With a cease-fire in effect as of last Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited leaders in the Middle East this week as part of an effort to ensure the fragile peace holds up. Among those Blinken met with was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“The aspirations of the Palestinian people are like those of people everywhere,” Blinken said on Tuesday after their meeting, underscoring that the US is committed “to working with the Palestinian people to realize these aspirations.”
During his visit to the region, Blinken announced that the US would reopen a consulate in Jerusalem to handle diplomatic relations with Palestinians, which was shut down under the Trump administration.
The top US diplomat also said the US was giving $110 million in new economic assistance to Palestinians, including $5.5 million in emergency assistance for Gaza. Blinken said this brings the total level of assistance to Palestinians from the Biden administration so far to over $360 million. The Trump administration, which unabashedly supported the agenda of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government, cut off virtually all assistance to Palestinians.
A group of more than 500 Amazon workers signed an internal letter asking its top executives Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy to support Palestinians, The Verge reports.
Andy Jassy is set to take over from Jeff Bezos as Amazon CEO later this year.
“As Amazonians, we believe it is our moral responsibility to stand in solidarity with and speak out on behalf of the millions of Palestinians who, for decades, have not only been dispossessed of their voices and victimhood, but, in essence, their humanity,” the letter reads.
“Amazon employs Palestinians in Tel Aviv and Haifa offices and around the world. Ignoring the suffering faced by Palestinians and their families at home erases our Palestinian coworkers,” it adds.
The letter makes four specific demands of Amazon’s senior leadership, including severing contracts with government and corporate entities associated with human-rights violations. The letter names the Israel Defense Forces as an example.
Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud division, signed a deal Monday with the Israeli government to provide cloud services to the country’s military and public sector. Google also signed a similar deal.
Israel and the militant group Hamas agreed to a cease-fire Thursday after 10 days of the bloodiest fighting the region had seen in years. The Israeli bombardment of Gaza killed at least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children and 39 women, according to Reuters, citing health authorities. Nearly 2,000 people in Gaza, the Hamas-controlled territory that is under an Israeli blockade, were injured, and the UN said about 58,000 were displaced.
Militants in Gaza fired more than 4,300 rockets that killed at least 12 people in Israel, including two children and a soldier.
The letter also asks Amazon to start a relief fund for Palestinians affected by military violence, to publicly acknowledge “the continued assault upon Palestinians’ basic human rights under an illegal occupation,” and to reject publicly and internally any definition of antisemitism that says criticism of Israel is inherently antisemitic.
“It is important to clarify that our stance against the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian people is not a stance against the Jewish people. Antisemitism has no place in our cause. Our narrative is a stance against a state continuing to perpetuate settle colonial violence against an indigenous people: the Palestinians,” the workers wrote in the letter.
Sen. Bernie Sanders said that the United States should take an “even-handed” approach to the tensions between Isreal and Palestine.
“I think the United States has got to develop an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Sanders said on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday. “We have to be pro-Israel, but we have to be pro-Palestinian. And I hope and believe the president understands that.”
“I was delighted to see that he is moving forward to try to rebuild with the international community…rebuild Gaza after all of that destruction,” he added.
Earlier this week, Isreal and Palestinian militant group Hamas, designed as a terrorist by the US, agreed to a cease-fire on Thursday. According to France 24, more than 240 Palestinians, including 66 children and about 12 Israeli’s, died due to the violence. In a statement, President Joe Biden lauded the agreement.
Biden said that his administration would coordinate with the Palestinian Authority to send aid to the Gaza Strip for its reconstruction following Israeli airstrikes, as Insider’s Azmi Haroun reported.
During the interview, host John Dickerson asked Sanders about how to implement an “even-handed” approach when dealing with “terrorists who wanted to destroy Israel.”
“You have a very difficult situation. You have Hamas – a terrorist group. You have a right-wing Israeli government, and the situation is getting worse,” Sanders responded. “And all I’m saying is that the United States of America has got to be leading the world in bringing people together, not simply supplying weapons to kill children in Gaza.”
Sanders continued:” “This last series of attacks killed 64 children and destroyed a large part of the infrastructure of Gaza in a community that has already been one of the most uninhabitable territories in the world.”
Dror Moreh is the Oscar-nominated director of the 2012 documentary “The Gatekeepers,” in which he spoke with six former heads of Israel’s secret security service Shin Bet. Remarkably, all these lifelong warriors agreed that Israel’s long-term security hinges on its efforts to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Moreh’s new film, “The Human Factor,” takes you through decades of the Israel/Palestine peace process, as told through extensive interviews with the US negotiators.
Insider columnist Anthony Fisher spoke via Zoom with Moreh, from the filmmaker’s home in Berlin.
Moreh says that the end of the day, leaders of nations are just human beings, and the human touch is what keeps peace negotiations alive.
He also says right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas (the Islamist extremist group that controls the Gaza Strip) are more similiar than they’d care to admit, and he’s less optimistic about the hope for Mideast peace than he’s ever been. Moreh thinks “coexistence” – rather than “peace” – might be the best-case scenario.
This interview has been edited for style, clarity, and length.
Whenever there’s a conversation to be had about Israeli-Palestinian politics and the conflict, I always tell people to see “The Gatekeepers.”
And it’s fairly incredible timing that your new film – about the long-dormant peace process – is coming out right now.
Thank you. I wish the film wasn’t so relevant, but you cannot really control those issues.
In “The Human Factor,” one of the US diplomats said his Arab counterparts made it clear that they don’t view the future the same way as the US or Israel. To them, it’s about fixing an injustice, and only then negotiating about the future, rather than “moving on” from the past and focusing on the future.
It feels like this gulf is an eternal stumbling block in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.
When I heard that sentence, I understood something fundamental which I didn’t really realize up until then. It’s just a fundamentally different way of approaching the future.
Having said that, I think the whole region, including the Israelis, are approaching this with the traumas of the past. Israelis – and I’m an Israeli – think about the Holocaust as something that is very fundamental in the approach to everything they see. Our leaders also use that.
Palestinians and Arabs see the past, judge the past, and say we cannot speak about the future. They want to address the Palestinian Naqba, the establishment of the state of Israel, and that Israel now occupies what they see as historical Palestine.
Everybody loves … James Baker?
Early in “The Human Factor,” there’s a segment about former Secretary of State James Baker, who was perhaps the quintessential Reagan/Bush White House Republican.
It’s almost unthinkable in our current political climate, but he was a fairly successful diplomat because he supported Israel, while also vocally criticizing the Israeli government. He would not just rubber-stamp every Israeli demand. And he was insistent that the Israelis meet the Palestinians on a level playing field, at least for the negotiations.
Across the board with all of the negotiators that worked with James Baker, they’ll say if he had stayed on as US secretary of state, there would definitely be at least one peace agreement signed. [Baker left government when President George HW Bush lost reelection in 1992.]
That’s because he was an effective mediator. Baker knew how to use the tools of diplomacy and the status of America as the global superpower to force people who were reluctant to move forward, and to bring them together to create something which was not there before. All of that changed when he left office.
When President Clinton took office, he appointed Warren Christopher as secretary of state. He had a completely different approach. He was much more hands off.
My problem with American involvement in the peace process is in how America deals with a prime minister of Israel who is reluctant to move forward towards peace. With a prime minister who’s for peace you just have to support him and give him assurances that the United States will back him up.
With [current Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, I think America has much more leverage over Israel than it uses. If America decides that bringing peace between Israel and its neighbors is a core American interest, the way that America approaches it should be different when you’re dealing with a prime minister like Netanyahu, who’s not for peace.
“Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas”
There’s a scene in “The Human Factor” where one of the diplomats tells you that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin warned of a coming Israeli civil war over the peace process.
A few years later, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing extremist. Can you talk a little bit about that moment?
Rabin, even before he took the first steps toward peace, said to [US Middle East envoy] Dennis Ross, “When I reach the point where I give the Palestinians what I need to give them, there’s probably going to be a civil war. And I need my boys in the army’s support.”
It was amazing how clearly he saw what was going to happen, he almost predicted it. And even in spite of that, he went for peace. That’s the personification of leadership to me.
Rabin, who was defense minister during the the first intifada, saw the uprising of Palestinian youngsters going to the street, not afraid of bullets, not afraid of guns and saying, “We are here. We want independence. We want to control our lives.”
And Rabin started out as defense minister saying, “break their arms, break their legs.” But by the time he became prime minister he said, “This is an existential threat to Israel, and I have to solve it while there is this window of opportunity, while America is the only global superpower, and the world has changed.”
Even though he saw the risks, Rabin said, “I have to go for peace.”
After him, the only leader was Ariel Sharon, who [in the mid-2000s] decided on disengagement with the Palestinians. The rest were merely small petty politicians.
Sharon had a reputation of being a tough-as-nails warrior for Israel’s interest. He was even accused of war crimes. And then as prime minister, he was for total disengagement. He even left the right-wing Likud party to form his own Kadima party and unilaterally pulled the Israeli military and settlement presence out of Gaza.
At the time, the majority of Israeli society was firmly behind Sharon and still believed in a two-state solution. It feels like after 12 years of Netanyahu, that public sentiment for peace is no longer there. Would you agree?
Totally. Netanyahu basically killed the two state solution. I don’t see any hope any more for a two state solution. The biggest shift for Israeli society is the constant movement to the right by Netanyahu.
When he came to power in 2009, Netanyahu said, “I’m going to crush Hamas.” There have been four conflicts with Hamas since then. Basically, Netanyahu and Hamas are keen brothers. They work for the same goals.
If we go back to Rabin, the first suicide attack was by Baruch Goldstein, [the Jewish extremist] who committed the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Hamas was not doing suicide bombing before then, because there was support among the Palestinian people for the peace process. After the massacre, Hamas started suicide bombing.
So in a way, Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas. He became prime minister the first time after the huge wave of suicide attacks in the beginning of February 1996, which crushed [then-Prime Minister Shimon] Peres and brought Netanyahu into power.
By the way, a week and a half ago, Netanyahu was on the way out, there was a very big chance that Yair Lapid would establish a unity government. And then Hamas sent those missiles to Jerusalem and all hell broke loose. And now Netanyahu’s still there and nobody’s speaking about a unity government.
The nail-biting negotiations over a handshake
In “The Human Factor,” there’s a remarkable scene detailing the intense negotiations that went into the handshake between Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.
Rabin insisted that Arafat not carry a gun, not wear his military-style uniform, and that there’d be no kissing. It’s kind of a light moment in the movie because it seems so silly. There’s so many lives at stake and this is what they’re quibbling over.
And yet, it was a great story because it illustrated the difficulty of the diplomats’ jobs. It showed how these things that seem so trivial and ancillary to the true crisis could be, in fact, deal breakers.
The biggest revelation is the importance of “the human factor.” You see these moments where a historic peace agreement is signed between two leaders. But at the end of the day, it’s about two human beings coming together and learning to know each other.
If you look at the Clinton White House photographer’s pictures right before the historic Rabin/Arafat handshake, you see the expression on Rabin’s face. He looks at Arafat and Bill Clinton in the middle, and his face says, “What am I doing here? Who is this guy? What the hell is going on?”
Then a year and a half later, Rabin and Arafat meet. And there’s the beautiful scene in the film where they have to decide whether the Palestinians will have a police station in the Oslo II Accord.
Arafat says, “Whatever is acceptable to the prime minister.” And Rabin says they will have a police station. You see their two faces, and you see the change between the handshake and this moment later. That’s the whole story in a little capsule.
You just talked about Netanyahu and Hamas having a sort of symbiotic relationship. Going back to “The Gatekeepers,” there’s a section where the Israeli right turns against the Oslo Accords – which established the Palestinian Authority as a legitimate government entity that recognized Israel’s right to exist.
There were young kids and their fathers in the street chanting, “With blood and fire we will throw Rabin out.”
And in short order Rabin was assassinated, Netanyahu was elected for the first time, the peace process fell apart, and Hamas got exactly what it wanted.
Yeah. It’s a strange combination. I see a lot of parallels between Hamas and the extreme religious right-wing in Israel.
Both of them think the land of Israel [or] the land of Palestine is Holy Land. And nobody’s allowed to give that up. When you see the texts of the extreme right-wingers in Israel, and the texts of Hamas, they’re very similar. In that sense, they work with each other very well.
I wish there were an island where we could put them both together, and let the moderates live peacefully. It would be much better.
But regrettably in the peace process, and also today, the extremists from both sides are the ones that dictate the day.
Rabin’s whole concept in 1993 when he signed the Declaration of Principles [which led to the Oslo Accords] was very vague. It was to be a process, like the first Camp David meetings [in 1978] with Egyptian and Israeli negotiators. You build a process on relations and trust, and then you move to the really hardcore negotiations.
But the more time passed, the more cynical people got, and the less people trusted the process because those extreme factions came and basically killed it altogether. And the height of that was the assassination of Rabin by an extreme right-wing Israeli religious fanatic.
“No strategy, just tactics”
In “The Gatekeepers,” one of the former Shin Bet chiefs said that no matter whether the prime minister was Menachem Begin of Golda Meir or Shimon Peres – there was no political strategy to achieve long-term security, just tactics to tamp down on security threats.
Rabin certainly tried to challenge the status quo politically, as did Sharon – albeit in a much different way. Do you see support from the Israeli people now to change the status quo – which is basically permanent occupation? Is there any desire in Israel to resume the peace process?
Look, I can speak for myself. I cannot speak for all Israelis. There’s a variety of opinions. My point of view is that the status quo is what keeps the moment.
Rabin said this will kill Israeli society – this occupation, and containing people who do not want to be occupied and want their freedom. It will be corrosive to Israeli society. Sharon, when he became prime minister, said the same thing. They were leaders trying to move something in order to resolve the problem. We don’t have that now.
When you see what Sharon did with the disengagement from Gaza, and the amount of effort to do that and all the resistance from the Israeli right and extremists, it looked like a mission impossible.
And here we are speaking about Gaza – we are not speaking about Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank), the biblical ancestral lands of the Jewish people, the place where our forefathers walked and all kinds of stupid [arguments from the right].
When the prime minister has to decide to go for something like that, which he knows will tear Israeli society apart, you need to be very brave to do that. But the Israeli people get promises [for those exchanges] that they’ll get to live in peace.
After the Oslo Accords, there was the eruption of suicide attacks, the collapse of the [second] Camp David negotiations, the second intifada – and also the disengagement from Gaza, which allowed Hamas to take over Gaza and fire missiles constantly into Israel.
That’s the reason most of the Israeli public doesn’t really trust that there is a partner on the other side that can maintain security.
I totally agree with what [former US Middle East diplomat] Aaron David Miller said in “The Human Factor,” which was, “Let’s take the word ‘peace’ out of the vocabulary, and let’s try to build coexistence. That is what we can aim for, at least for the next few decades.
Not peace, but “coexistence”
Part of why I tell everyone with an an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to watch “The Gatekeepers” is because it’s so stunning to listen to these men who devoted their entire lives really to the security of Israel all come to similar conclusions.
One of them said, “You can’t make peace by military means.” Another said that even if your adversary “answers rudely,” you should still continue to pursue the conversation. And another said, “Israel wins every battle, but we may lose the war.” They all come to the conclusion that the only long-term solution for Israeli security is a disengagement with the Palestinians, which would mean a two state solution.
Israelis have a sarcastic phrase they’ll use for naive peaceniks: “You’re a beautiful soul.”
But here are the hardest of the hardcore Israeli security guys, and they’re saying we’ve bombed and maimed and killed in the name of Israel and the only way this country will survive in the long-term is through disengagement with the Palestinians.
Is there any chance this advice lands in the ears of the Israeli youth, where there’s some hope for a future in which coexistence is pursued?
I have to tell you, Anthony, that I lost hope. That’s the bitter truth.
I mean, look at the Gaza conflict. How many times have we bombed Gaza? How many times have we gone into a war? And, as we discussed, it’s all tactics, not strategy. It’s about sustaining and maintaining today and continuing to live in seemingly peaceful conditions until the next thing. So, no, I don’t think that this message can now land on Israeli ears.
We’ve been with the same politician as prime minister (Netanyahu) for 12 years. His impact on the [political] reality is huge. He’s negotiating and working with Hamas and downgrading and humiliating the Palestinian Authority. Benjamin Netanyahu is much better working with Hamas than with someone who says they’re for peace.
I hope there will be another leader soon. But I don’t believe we’ll see that kind of new leader from the Israeli political arena soon. It will take a few years before something can evolve in that sense.
But say you have a successor to Netanyahu and a successor to Abu Mazen, you still have Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. So wherever you look, it’s not very optimistic.
Almost all the former army chiefs of staff, all the heads of Shin Bet, all the heads of the Mossad, and all the heads of army intelligence, are for negotiation and for a two-state solution.
But you have a charismatic politician (Netanyahu) who is basically a good salesman. I mean, look at Trump. Look at what Trump did to your country. It’s unbelievable. You think that democracy is very stable and very strong, but when you have a demagogue who knows how to [manipulate] the media very well, this is where we are.
One thing I’m hoping people get out of this movie is the importance of the human factor. I’m currently doing a huge project about American politics encountering genocide, part of a series for American audiences, and for all over the world. And the importance of the human factor inside the decision-making room is stunning.