‘Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas’ – ‘The Human Factor’ director Dror Moreh talks about the rise and fall of the Israel and Palestine peace process

FILE PHOTO: PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat (R) shake hands with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (L), as U.S. President Bill Clinton stands between them, after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord, at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 13, 1993. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: PLO Chairman Arafat shakes hands with Israeli PM Rabin after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord, in Washington

  • Oscar-nominated filmmaker Dror Moreh’s new documentary “The Human Factor” takes an intimate look into the Israel/Palestine peace process through the eyes of US negotiators.
  • Moreh spoke with Insider columnist Anthony Fisher about the delicate, sometimes comical, negotiations that kept the peace process alive and produced tangible progress.
  • With violence raging between Israel and Hamas, civilians dying, and the two-state solution all but dead, Moreh is not optimistic for peace because brave leadership on both sides is missing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

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.

james baker yasser arafat getty
Former Secretary of State James Baker, Director of the Institute for Public Policy Edward Djerejian, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat converse at a Rice University reception for students, faculty, and members of the Arab-American and Jewish-American communities.

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.

yitzhak rabin bill clinton getty
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meets US President Bill Clinton.

“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.

ariel sharon jerusalem getty
Opposition leader Ariel Sharon of the right-wing Likud gestures towards Jerusalem’s Old City 24 July 2000 on the Mount of Olives during a rally to protest any land concessions in Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

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.

Hamas marching
Masked Palestinian members of the Islamist Hamas movement march during a demonstration in Gaza Strip.

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.

netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv March 18, 2015.

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.

And by the way, it’s the same with the Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen (Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas) is 87 years old. He cancelled the Palestinian elections that were supposed to happen a few weeks ago. It’s one of the reasons for the current conflict.

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.

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Apple refused to remove negative ratings for the Facebook app left by pro-Palestinian activists upset over censorship

facebook apps
  • Pro-Palestinian activists have accused social media sites, including Facebook, of censorship.
  • In a coordinated effort, they’ve tanked ratings on the Facebook app.
  • Apple denied Facebook’s request to remove the negative ratings, NBC News reported.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Apple refused a request from Facebook to remove negative reviews in the App store after pro-Palestinian protesters coordinated an effort to tank ratings because of censorship of Palestinian content, NBC News reported.

On Saturday, the Facebook app had a 2.3 out of five-star rating in the App store compared to a more than four-star rating last week. The largest category of ratings is one-star reviews, with many comments saying their rating is due to Facebook censoring hashtags like #FreePalestine or #GazaUnderAttack.

“User trust is dropping considerably with the recent escalations between Israel and Palestine,” said one senior software engineer in a post on Facebook’s internal message board, NBC reported. “Our users are upset with our handling of the situation. Users are feeling that they are being censored, getting limited distribution, and ultimately silenced. As a result, our users have started protesting by leaving 1 star reviews.”

An internal message reviewed by NBC showed that the company was very concerned about the coordinated effort to tank ratings, categorizing the issue as an SEV1, which stands for “severity 1.”

Facebook App rating page
Ratings on Facebooks App in the App store were down to a 2.3 out of 5 on Saturday night.

Facebook contacted the App store to have the negative reviews removed and Apple denied the request.

Pro-Palestinian activists have complained that many social media sites have restricted or deleted pro-Palestinian content and accounts.

Instagram restricted posts with hashtags referencing Al-Aqsa, the holy mosque in Jerusalem, telling some users who posted with the hashtag that their content was associated with “violence or dangerous organizations.”

The restrictions came as Israeli airstrikes fell on Gaza and Hamas fired thousands of rockets towards Israel. The 11-day conflict would eventually kill 12 Israelis and more than 200 Palestinians and displaced thousands more in Gaza.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said it mistakenly labeled the location as being associated with a terrorist organization.

Users of both platforms have also said that their posts about the conflict had been removed. The company blamed a glitch in moderation algorithms for the removals,

The Los Angeles Times reported that some users resorted to using an ancient Arabic script that was void of dots and marks to trick online algorithms to not pick up and remove posts about Palestine.

Others intentionally misspelled words like “Palestine” or “Israel” or used COVID-19 themed stickers on their posts to make them more visible.

Facebook did not reply to Insider’s email request for comment at the time of publication.

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Antisemitic hate crimes grew in the US and Europe over the past few weeks amid tensions in Palestine and Israel

Pro Palestinian and pro Israeli protesters face off in a violent clash in Times Square on May 20, 2021 in New York City.
Pro Palestinian and pro Israeli protesters face off in a violent clash in Times Square on May 20, 2021 in New York City.

  • 193 antisemitic attacks were reported to the ADL in the week after Israeli-Hamas tensions started.
  • Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire starting on Friday after 11 days of fighting.
  • The attacks left more than 200 Palestinians and 12 Israelis dead.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hate crimes against Jews in several US cities, as well as Europe, have surged in the past couple of weeks amid clashes in Gaza and Israel.

“As the violence between Israel and Hamas continues to escalate, we are witnessing a dangerous and drastic surge in anti-Jewish hate. We are tracking acts of harassment, vandalism and violence as well as a torrent of online abuse. It’s happening around the world- from London to Los Angeles, from France to Florida, in big cities like NYC and in small towns, and across every social media platform,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a statement.

At least 232 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,900 were wounded in Gaza during the 11 days of conflict, which ended on Friday after a ceasefire. Around 72,000 people, mainly in Gaza, were displaced.

12 Israelis were also killed.

The ADL, which tracks antisemitic incidents, said in the week after the fighting in Israel and Palestine began they received 193 reports, an increase from the 131 reports they received the week prior.

Police in New York City and Los Angeles are investigating antisemitic assaults.

The Los Angeles Police Department said they’re investigating an incident where two cars attempted to chase down a Jewish man on Monday in the Fairfax District of the city. People in the car were waving Palestinian flags, video of the incident showed.

The man escaped and was uninjured.

In another incident the following day, police said a string of cars waving Palestinian flags drove through the district, which is considered a Jewish hub, and stopped in front of a restaurant. Drivers harassed diners and fights ensued. Several people were injured.

In New York City, police arrested 23-year-old Waseem Awawdeh and are searching for several more suspects in the beating of a 29-year-old Jewish man in Times Square on Thursday during pro-Palestine and pro-Israel demonstrations.

The victim was released from a local hospital after being treated for minor injuries.

In a letter to President Joe Biden, the ADL reported that antisemitic rhetoric and attacks have been on the rise in person and online.

The organizations said that between May 7 and May 14, more than 17,000 tweets could be found that used variations of the phrase, “Hitler was right.”

The ADL found incidents of antisemitism across the globe, from a Jewish community center that was vandalized with graffiti that read “We are going to kill you” and “Jewish rats” alongside a Star of David in Argentina, to protesters hurling rocks and shouting slurs at pro-Israel demonstrators in Montreal, Canada.

In the UK, The Community Security Trust said antisemitic incidents were up fivefold since the fighting in Israel and Palestine began.

The group recorded 116 incidents between May 8 and May 19, up from 19 incidents in the 11 days prior.

The ADL reported that antisemitism has been on the rise in the US for a few years, with 327 incidents reported in 2020, a 40% rise from 2019, where 234 incidents were reported.

The recent tensions in Israel and Palestine have also resulted in a rise in Islamophobic attacks. While there isn’t comprehensive data, several mosques have reported vandalism in recent weeks, NBC reported.

On May 13, Police in New York City found “hate graffiti” spray painted on the door of the Tayba Islamic Center in Brooklyn. NBC reported that congregates celebrating Eid, which marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan, found reportedly found “Death to Palestine,” painted on the door.

Another mosque in Long Island was also found vandalized and had a sacred flag burned, NBC reported.

Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, called the attacks on Jews and Muslims in the US “despicable.

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Nearly 1,000 Apple employees sign letter calling on Tim Cook to issue statement supporting Palestinians

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook.

  • Apple employees called on Tim Cook to issue a statement supporting Palestinians, The Verge reported.
  • Employees said they were frustrated Apple has kept silent amid recent violence.
  • This is the second time in a week that large numbers of Apple employees have criticized the company.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Nearly 1,000 Apple employees have signed an internal letter to CEO Tim Cook urging the company to issue a public statement in support of the Palestinian people, The Verge reported Thursday.

“We are frustrated and disappointed because once more, many of those in positions of power and influence – who boldly stand for human rights in so many other just causes – either choose to remain silent or release ineffectually neutral ‘both sides’ statements with regards to the Palestinian situation,” wrote the letter’s authors, who are members of the Apple Muslim Association, according to The Verge.

Apple taking a “both sides” approach, they wrote, “would feel to us as the equivalent of ‘all lives matter’ – a minimization of the disproportionately larger pain and suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Apple did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The letter follows a wave of violence in Gaza, where Israeli military forces have killed at least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children and 39 women, and the militant group Hamas has killed around a dozen Israelis.

On Thursday, Israel and Hamas announced a ceasefire.

International human rights organizations have condemned Israel’s attacks as possible war crimes, and have denounced its treatment of Palestinians as a form of apartheid. More recently, Israel’s effort to push Palestinians out of East Jerusalem, and an Israeli police raid on Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, have escalated tensions.

The letter to Cook is the second high-profile instance of a large number of Apple employees criticizing the company over ethical concerns in the past week alone – a rare occurrence at Apple.

Last week, The Verge reported more than 2,000 employees signed a letter slamming Apple for hiring Antonio García Martínez, citing “misogynistic” and racist past comments. Hours later, Apple said García Martínez had left the company (García Martínez claimed Apple fired him).

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The death toll from Israel-Gaza fighting keeps climbing as more countries call for a cease-fire

Israel Palestine
Palestinians walk next to the remains of a destroyed building after Israeli airstrikes.

  • Attacks between Israel and Gaza continued on Wednesday, with more than 200 people now dead.
  • Israel launched airstrikes and militants in Gaza fired rockets.
  • Countries are calling for a cease-fire. Biden said he supported one but blocked a UN statement.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Israel and Gazan militants continued to exchange violence, rockets, and missiles on Wednesday, despite growing international calls for a cease-fire.

Medical officials in Gaza said that 219 people have been killed in Gaza since May 10, while Israel said that 12 people there have been killed, Reuters reported. The deaths included dozens of Palestinian children, according to relief organizations.

Tensions between Israel and Hamas have flared since May 10, with Israel launching airstrikes and militants in Gaza firing rockets.

Countries like France, Egypt, and Jordan are calling for a cease-fire.

But on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there was no timeframe for a cease-fire, telling reporters: “We’re not standing with a stopwatch. We are taking care of the operation’s objectives,” according to The Times of Israel.

President Joe Biden and US officials have been privately urging Israel to wind down its operations, the Associated Press and Politico reported.

On Monday, Biden publicly expressed support for a cease-fire but the US blocked a UN Security Council statement that would have condemned the violence and called for a cease-fire.

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UN says at least 58,000 Palestinians have been internally displaced and made homeless in Gaza after a week of Israeli airstrikes

Palestinians inspect damaged building after airstrikes by Israeli army hit buildings in Gaza City, Gaza on May 17, 2021.
Palestinians inspect damaged building after airstrikes by Israeli army hit buildings in Gaza City, Gaza on May 17, 2021.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 58,000 Palestinians have been internally displaced within Gaza due to a week of Israeli airstrikes aimed at the Gaza Strip.

OCHA has said many of those now-homeless Palestinians are seeking refuge in United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East schools, and called on Israel to open Gaza’s crossings to allow humanitarian aid and basic resources into the area.

Israel’s weeklong bombardment of Gaza has killed at least 212 Palestinians, including at least 63 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Twelve Israelis, including two children, have been killed by rockets launched by the militant group Hamas that controls Gaza.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas militant leaders in the Gaza Strip. However, human rights groups have said that the bombing campaign has destroyed homes and hospitals. On Monday, Amnesty International said the Israeli attacks on residential buildings “may amount to war crimes.”

Hamas, over recent weeks, has launched thousands of rockets into southern Israel, at least 90% of which have been intercepted by its Iron Dome defense system.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signaled the Israeli Defense Forces will continue their current campaign in Gaza, despite urgent calls for a ceasefire.

One Israeli airstrike on Sunday destroyed a building that housed the offices of media organizations like the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. The Israeli military claimed there was a Hamas presence inside the building, and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed the US was given intel about the building but asked Israel for further information.

The Associated Press pushed back against the assertion, asking Israel to offer evidence and saying staff, “narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life.”

The US President Joe Biden spoke in Dearborn, Michigan, on Tuesday, the hometown of Democratic, Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and offered prayers for her family in the West Bank.

Tlaib and top Democrats in the US have continued to pressure the Biden administration to forcefully call for a ceasefire, as he finds himself at odds with many in his own party who are pushing for him to take a more forceful approach to end the conflict.

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Israeli airstrikes kill 11 children who were enrolled in a program to address past trauma from war

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A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a six-story building which was destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

  • Israeli forces killed 11 children enrolled in a Norwegian Refugee Council program to address past trauma.
  • The children, ages 5 to 15, were killed while in their homes in Gaza.
  • At least 212 people have been killed by the Israeli strikes, including 61 children, Gaza health authorities say.
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Eleven children in Gaza who were taking part in a program to recover from past trauma have been killed by Israeli airstrikes while sheltering in their homes, the Norwegian Refugee Council said Tuesday.

“They are now gone, killed with their families, buried with their dreams and the nightmares that haunted them,” NRC Secretary-General Jan Egeland said in a statement.

The children, ages 5 to 15, had been taking part in the group’s Better Learning Programme, designed to help youth “exposed to war and conflict in Palestine.”

One set of Israeli airstrikes in central Gaza City killed eight of the students, according to NRC, including two siblings and their father, Dr. Ayman Abu al-Auf, who was head of internal medicine at a nearby hospital.

Ten-year-old Rafeef Murshed Abu Dayer was killed by shrapnel, a week before his birthday, while having lunch in a garden outside his family’s home, the group said.

تاله أبو العوف
Multiple air raids at around 1am on Sunday 16 May in Al Wahda Street in central Gaza City killed eight children that NRC worked with, together with several family members. These included Tala Ayman Abu al-Auf, 13 and her 17-year-old brother. Their father, Dr Ayman Abu al-Auf, head of internal medicine at Gaza City’s Shifa hospital, was also killed.

“As an urgent measure, we appeal to all parties for an immediate ceasefire,” Egeland said. “But the truth is that there can be no peace or security as long as there are systemic injustices,” he added, calling for an end to the years-long Israeli blockade of Gaza, which is controlled by the militant group Hamas.

NRC is a humanitarian organization that employs 15,000 people in 30 countries, providing displaced persons and others shelter, food, and others forms of assistance.

At least 212 people in Gaza, including 61 children, have been killed since Israel launched its air campaign last week against the Palestinian territory, responding to indiscriminate rocket fire from Hamas militants. Roughly 3,000 rockets have been fired at Israel by Hamas, the majority of which have been intercepted by Israel’s defense system the Iron Dome. A dozen Israelis have been killed, including two children.

The Israeli government says it takes steps to minimize the loss of civilian life. But human rights groups have said it has repeatedly bombed civilian homes without warning. On Monday, Amnesty International said that the Israeli attacks on residential build “may amount to war crimes.”

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Israel and Hamas aren’t trying to end their war. They’re trying to look strong.

israel hamas palestine fighting
Israeli soldiers fire a 155 mm self-propelled howitzer toward the Gaza Strip, May 17, 2021.

  • Every few years, violence briefly erupts between Israel and Hamas and ends with a return the to the status quo.
  • Neither side has a vision of military resolution or a diplomatic solution, but they keep escalating in order to be seen as tougher than the other.
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Israel and Hamas are locked in ever-escalating rounds of violence.

This is not new. Every few years, large-scale violence erupts for a few days or weeks and ends with a temporary ceasefire that essentially returns the situation to the same depressing status quo: The Gaza Strip besieged and devastated and the adjacent Israeli population in a constant fear of the next attack as well.

Though this is far from a symmetric conflict – Israel has vastly more military resources than Hamas – it is traumatic on both sides.

And neither side has a vision of either actual military resolution or a diplomatic solution to the impasse.

Israeli leaders know that pressing the offensive in Gaza will prolong the missile barrage on its towns and cities, including even Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, which in the past has not endured such ferocious rocket attacks. Hamas leaders know that the price the people of Gaza pay for their continued rocket launches is disproportionately high and rising.

So why keep escalating? Because the prize for each side is to be seen as tougher than the other. And there is no end to that contest.

Making the other side suffer

Gaza
Palestinians carry the body of a child from the rubble of a house that was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes on the town of Beit Lahiya, May 13, 2021.

The Gaza Strip is a tiny and densely populated strip of land by the Mediterranean Sea. Since 2007, Hamas, which Israel defines as a terrorist organization but most Palestinians regard as a legitimate political party, has been the de facto ruler of the area.

Also since that year, Israel has been blockading the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza, aimed across the border at Israel. The result has been an increasingly severe economic crisis, hunger and desperation in Gaza. Repeated rounds of violence did not fundamentally change this situation, and the current one is looking no different.

Israel’s main goal is to be seen as tough against its enemies, including Hamas. This isn’t done to achieve better lives for its Israeli citizens or even to advance national interests, but as a goal in and of itself, as demonstrated in a book Wendy Pearlman and I authored on the subject.

Despite the asymmetry of their forces, the mode of thinking is quite similar in the leadership of Hamas. That’s evident from the repeated rounds of violence that it initiates that result in no strategic achievement, but which enhance the prestige of Hamas as standing up to Israeli oppression.

And for both sides, reputation is not defined as showing resolve, resilience or perseverance. That could be accomplished by defensive means.

This boils down to a deadly calculus: The more the other side suffers, the better your reputation, no matter how much your side suffers as well.

Here’s how that works: An Israeli child is killed in a Hamas rocket attack on Sderot, just east of the Gaza Strip. Israeli rockets then pulverize a building in Beit Lahia a few miles away, killing four children from one family in the process.

Israel flattens a residential tower in the Gaza Strip. Hamas then increases the range and quantity of missiles launched toward central Israel.

And so it continues in a fatal tit-for-tat, with Israeli violence responding many times more intensely to each instance of Hamas violence.

Not rational

iron dome israel gaza palestine rockets
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, seen from Ashkelon, Israel, May 12, 2021.

Scholars generally see a country’s attempts to establish a reputation for resolve as part of a rational action to deter attacks by its enemy.

So, if either Israel’s leaders or those of Hamas think that their action would prevent future attacks by the enemy, this ferocity might make sense – regardless of its morality. But, as is obvious, neither sides’ actions do.

When actual victory is impossible and when the two sides are reluctant to engage in meaningful negotiation, the escalation is meant, instead, to create “a picture of victory,” as Zvi Bar’el, a news analyst for Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz described it on May 12, 2021.

On May 11, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared that the organization “achieved victory in the battle of Jerusalem,” referring to the conflict over eviction of Palestinians from their homes that started this round of conflagration. He said the organization has “set a new balance of power” against Israel.

Yet clearly, as Gaza is crumbling under the ferocity of Israel’s bombardments and Jerusalem remains firmly controlled by Israel, Hamas made no such achievements.

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the Israeli leadership’s goals were “to bring long-term peace, strengthen the moderate forces in the region and deprive Hamas of strategic capabilities.”

Yet Israel’s actions, like previous rounds of violence, only strengthen the political and military power of Hamas, as evidenced by its ability to target more of Israel’s territory than ever before, and over a longer time period than before.

Israel’s citizens, in cities from Beer-Sheva in the south to Tel Aviv, farther north, continue to face a barrage of missiles from Gaza. And as the carnage in Gaza increases, the diplomatic damage to Israel is increasing as well.

Playing to their audience

Israel palestine attack gaza hamas
A man is pulled from a destroyed house after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, May 16, 2021.

What could be the purpose of the Israeli and Hamas leaders’ actions?

Their picture of victory is targeted solely at domestic audiences. Both Israel and Hamas frequently use the term “deterrence” when justifying their action against each other.

But their practice is not actually a rational attempt to sway the opponent’s action. It is not a rational attempt to make their own public more secure. It does not, therefore, serve to enhance deterrence. Convincing your own public that you have been victorious does not affect the degree to which your enemy is deterred.

For Israel, such distortion of the understanding of dynamics of deterrence is not new. Israel’s retaliation policy started in the 1950s as a fairly rational attempt at deterring enemies from threatening Israeli interests.

But then it became a “strategic culture,” or a habitual reaction to any attack on Israeli soil, whether that retaliation is likely to yield positive results or not.

Israeli bombing of Lebanese infrastructure during the 2006 war serves as a good example. As in that war, Israel attempts today in Gaza to achieve a picture of victory rather than concrete aims. And Hamas wants to achieve the same goal.

So long as the two sides are each aiming to convince their own public of their superiority, military ingenuity and resolve, and as long as the leaders on both sides do not care about the consequences of their actions, their citizens and the rest of the world – watching in horror – should expect no progress.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

Boaz Atzili, Associate Professor of International Relations, American University School of International Service

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The Biden administration is gearing up to sell $735 million of smart bombs to Israel, as conflict rages on with Gaza

Israeli artillery firing at the border of Israel and Gaza.
Israeli soldiers stand by an artillery unit at the border between Israel and Gaza on May 17, 2021.

  • The White House approved $735 million worth of precision weapons to Israel and told Congress on May 5.
  • That was about a week before the deadly clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.
  • Lawmakers have 15 days to object to the proposal. Some Democrats are unhappy with it and want a delay.
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President Joe Biden’s administration is readying a $735 million sale of precision-guided weapons sale to Israel, a move that was prepared a week before the country became embroiled in deadly conflict with Gaza, multiple reports said.

The White House notified Congress of the plan on May 5, five days before the Gaza militant group Hamas started firing rockets toward Israel, and Israel retaliated with airstrikes, sources familiar with the plans told The Washington Post and CNN.

The conflict has now stretched into its second week of fighting, with more than 2,500 Hamas rockets directed towards Israel, killing 10 as of May 16, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli air and artillery strikes have flattened buildings and infrastructure in Gaza, with Hamas reporting at least 197 Palestinians killed, according to Al Jazeera. Gazan and Israeli authorities disagree on how many of the Palestinian victims were militants, the BBC reported.

Biden expressed support for a cease-fire in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday after growing pressure from top Democrats. He had previously held back, saying that Israel had “the right to defend itself.”

Press Secretary Jen Psaki told a Monday press briefing that the administration was making use of “intensive, quiet diplomacy behind the scenes.”

The proposed weapons sale is largely of kits that convert unguided rockets into precision missiles, according to The Post. Lawmakers have 15 days – until May 20 – to object, but a resolution of disapproval would be nonbinding, The Post reported.

Such moves have generally gone without objection in Congress, but in the shadow of the current conflict, the Israeli arms sale is now being questioned by a small number of progressive Democratic voices.

Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on August 11, 2020.

‘We’re lucky to catch this weapons sale’

Rep. Ilhan Omar said in a statement Monday that it would be “appalling” if the sale went ahead unconditionally.

“We should be standing unequivocally and consistently on the side of human rights – holding all state and non-state actors accountable for their crimes and using every tool at our disposal to end the violence and bring about peace,” she said.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee met Monday night to discuss the sale, and decided to ask for it to be delayed, Politico reported.

“We’re lucky to catch this weapons sale,” an unnamed Democratic aide told The Post.

Regardless, The Post noted that it would be “highly unlikely” that Congress can block the arms sale by pushing through a disapproval resolution in time.

The resistance comes amid a broader questioning of the Biden administration’s stance toward the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Twenty-nine Democratic senators, led by Sen. Jon Ossoff, called for an immediate cease-fire in the conflict on Sunday night in an implicit rebuke to Biden’s hesitation at the time to do so.

Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted Sunday that the US should take a “hard look” at the aid its sends to Israel every year.

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Israeli airstrikes wrecked the only coronavirus testing lab in Gaza

Gaza
Fire and smoke rise above buildings in Gaza City after strikes from Israel on May 18, 2021.

  • Gaza’s only COVID-19 testing facility was damaged by Israeli airstrikes on Monday, officials said.
  • The clinic was damaged when a nearby building was hit, forcing it to stop conducting tests.
  • Gaza already has a high rate of positive coronavirus test, and a low vaccination rate.
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Israel’s airstrikes damaged the only coronavirus testing facility in Gaza, Palestinian officials said.

Agence France-Presse reported that local authorities said the al-Rimal clinic had to stop carrying out testing after it was wrecked as part of a strike.

Middle East Eye reported that the facility was damaged after a nearby residential building was struck, forcing testing to be suspended.

Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Qidra said that Israel’s strikes “threaten to undermine the efforts of the health ministry in the face of the COVID pandemic,” AFP reported.

AFP reported that Gaza has one of the world’s highest positive coronavirus test rates, 28%.

Its vaccination rate has also been slow, especially compared to Israel’s rapid rollout.

Last week UN and WHO officials in Gaza told The New York Times they feared of a surge in cases as a result of civivlians having to cram into shelters to avoid the fighting.

Israel has launched airstrikes into Gaza and Hamas, the Gaza-based militant group, has fired rockets toward Israel since last Monday. Dozens of people have died, mostly on the Palestinian side.

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