israel and hamas
The third in a series of air strike conflicts since 2008 between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Operation Protective Eagle has been active for only two days, but has seen 430 Israeli air strikes, 41 Palestinian deaths and 160 rockets.

Late Tuesday, Hamas set off 40 long-range rockets, some of which were intercepted over Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There were no reports of injuries, but the attacks spurred the Israeli government to respond with even greater force. Israeli warplanes struck 150 sites said to harbor Islamist fighters in Gaza, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called up 40,000 reservists, so if it came to it, Israel would have the option of ground invasion.

Wednesday, Israel released at least 160 air strikes on Gaza. Hamas responded with just four rockets, one of which was an M302, the same type of missiles that were in a shipment Israel intercepted from Iran in March. Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Learner says even if Hamas forces pull back, Israel will not back down. “We’re beyond that point now,” he said to a CNN reporter. “Hamas are going to pay for the attacks that they’re carrying out – it’s just unacceptable.”

Israel tries to make up for the violence by warning Hamas targets of attacks. Occupants of a building about to be bombed are given a brief warning in Arabic to evacuate – usually around five minutes before being bombed – in Israel’s efforts to reduce civilian casualties and avoid charges of indiscriminate killings. These targeted houses belong to Hamas members involved in military activity, and many have been used as operations rooms.

This isn’t the first time Israel has practiced this policy. During Operation Cast Lead in late 2008, Israel used telephone calls and leaflets to tell occupants to leave before striking, or they fired missiles without explosive warheads onto the roof as a warning to leave before the real missile came. But, often the warnings are in vain, and groups like Human Rights Watch have criticized the attempts because they can’t truly pardon armed forces from their actions. Often, people die from the attacks anyway because they defy the warnings or don’t leave in time, and sometimes missiles don’t hit the building at which they were aimed.

Operation Protective Eagle seems like just a repeat of history, following Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. But this time, it looks like Israel is getting stronger, while Hamas’s position is weakening. Israel’s new defense against rocket attacked, based on the Iron Dome system, is more sophisticated. So far, in this attack, no injuries or deaths have been reported from the Israel side. Meanwhile, Hamas lacks allies it once had – Hizbollah and Syria – because of the Syrian war, and its alliance with Iran is under strain. Because it didn’t support President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Hamas has seen a sharp drop in financing from Iran. Israeli experts warn to also be careful of a weakened Hamas though, as it could lead to extremism.

– Rachel Reed

Sources: Reuters, CNN, New York Times, Telegraph Blog New York Times (2)
Photo: Reuters

violence in gaza
There have been rockets flying into Israel and strikes on various targets in Gaza. Israelis claim they are defending themselves against the Islamist group Hamas, and that they trying hard to avoid hurting civilians in the process. But many civilians are getting injured and many of them are children.

Among the hundreds who have been killed due to the escalating violence in Gaza and Israel, over 20 children have been killed and many more injured in this past week alone. There have not been any reported deaths in Israel but many Israelis have been forced to run to bomb shelters. Due to the fact that about five million people are within range of the rocket attacks, these airstrikes are putting children under severe physical harm and mental distress.

Al-Shifa hospital, the primary hospital in Gaza, is having trouble fitting all the injured people. There is a low supply of medication and medical supplies. “Gaza is completely missing about 30 percent of essential drugs, while 15 percent of the remainder is expected to be exhausted within days of an Israeli assault,” said Ashraf al-Qedra, Health Ministry spokesman.

Many houses and public buildings have also been reported as destroyed. Although there have been many deaths, armed organizations in the Strip have stated that they will fight to the end. The Gaza Strip is a small coastal strip which is overpopulated right now and enclosed due to the airstrikes, making it difficult for civilians to escape.

There has been dozens of charities urging the violence in Israel and Gaza to stop. A statement was sign by groups that include ActionAid, CARE, Oxfam and Save the Children. Even President Barack Obama has shown concern and has said that the U.S is now prepared to help end hostilities. “ The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” Obama told Netanyahu in a phone call. Yet, the U.S. government refuses to work or negotiate with Hamas since it is considered a terrorist organization.

-Priscilla Rodarte
Sources: AljazeeraWashington Post, Gulf Today, Electronic Intifada, UNICEF
Photo: Washington Post

Israeli Aggression Representatives of Islamic countries declared they would ask the Security Council to condemn Israeli aggression in the West Bank. Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour, as well as the ambassadors from the League of Arab States, Senegal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran, requested the Security Council to take action against Israel. Since three Israeli teenagers, 16-year-olds Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach, were abducted on June 12 while hitchhiking at night from Gush Etzion, Israel has assembled hundreds of Palestinians trying to find the teenagers. When Frenkel’s mother heard the news, she was praying that he simply did something irresponsible or stupid and he would be home soon. “But I know my boy isn’t stupid, and he isn’t irresponsible.” Unfortunately, on June 20, the bodies of the missing Israeli teens were found near Hebron, and Israel has taken violent action to retaliate against the teens’ deaths. Jeffrey Feltman, U.N. Secretary for Political Affairs, stated the United Nations is alarmed by the increasing death toll that is a result of Israeli aggression in the West Bank. Feltman calls for “restraint in carrying out the security operations in strict compliance with international law” and for Israel to not punish Palestinians for crimes they have not individually committed. Sheikha Alya Bint Ahmed Bin Saif al Thani said Qatar was “joining in solidarity with Palestine in also deploring the acts of aggression committed by Israel, the occupying power, against the Palestinian people.” She continued to say, “They are grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.” She claims that Israeli aggression in the West Bank and the air strikes in Gaza are justifications for the Security Council to take action. She said her representatives would work with the representative of Jordan to “see what could be done.” “Instead of denouncing the boys’ abduction, the Arab states have the gall to stand before the international community and criticize Israel,” said Israel ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor. He argued that the Arab nations are oppressive and aggressive, and they have no business in accusing Israel of human rights violations. They kill innocent people around the world and they are committing human rights violations in Syria. He asked global leaders to imagine being in Israel’s position. “Imagine if it were your cities were under fire and your citizens under harms way. No nation should live under these conditions, and no nation should be asked to submit to terrorist groups. The only responsible course of action is to denounce terror groups and their supporters. And this is exactly what we should all be doing,” Prosor concluded. This situation has demonstrated how complicated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is. Most Israelis see the missing teenagers as harmless civilians abducted on a hitchhike home from school, and the Palestinians who were killed as having done something to deserve it. On the other hand, Palestinians claim that the suppression is unjust collective punishment against people living under illegal occupation. – Colleen Moore Sources: The New York Times, International Business Times, The Jerusalem Post, Israel Hayom, Worthy News, NDTV Photo: Israel Hayom

Israeli teens
Rachel Frankel, mother of one of the kidnapped Israeli teens, victim Naftali Frankel, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council this week in an appeal to bring increased international attention to her son’s kidnapping. Frankel was one of three boys to have been kidnapped near Gush Etzion, Israel, on their way home from school on June 12. All three mothers, who have been actively voicing their support for increased attention to the case, have pleaded to the 47-nation council to do everything they can to bring back their boys. Yet, so far, the Council has remained silent.

U.N. Watch, an active NGO for human rights issues, invited Mrs. Frankel and the other two mothers, whom Frankel spoke on behalf of, to present in lieu of their slot at the council. “It is wrong to take children — innocent boys and girls — and use them as instruments in any struggle,” she said. In fact, as tensions over the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories rise, U.N. Watch hopes to bring more overall focus to the rising number of child and adolescent victims in these areas.

The mothers have received some support from officials. During her address, Mrs. Frankel publicly thanked the U.N. Secretary-General “for condemning the abduction of our boys” and the International Red Cross “for stating clearly that international humanitarian law prohibits the taking of hostages.” Comparatively, U.N. Watch has taken the most active role in the plight for returning the boys to safety, making the case the organization’s top priority.

While the boys have still yet to be found, security forces have informed the family that the boys are in fact still alive. As Israeli authorities continue searching for the boys (the investigation is about to hit its third week), two suspects have been named. Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha, both Hamas Islamists and former convicts, are currently being actively pursued.

Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the two men in question are only a small part of the boys’ kidnappings. Hamas, the Islamist group that holds power in the Gaza strip of Palestine and the group behind the boys’ kidnappings, has continuously called for Israel’s “destruction.”  Meanwhile, the mothers of the victims — and the rest of the world — continue to anticipate the return of their boys.

To watch Mrs. Frankel’s speech at the U.N. Human Rights Council, click here.

— Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Algemeiner, Cleveland Jewish News, Canada Free Press, The Guardian, Huffington Post
Photo: The Guardian

Naftali Frankel and Eyal Yifrach, 16, and Gilad Shaar, 19, were three Israeli boys found dead more than two weeks after being abducted on their way home from school in the West Bank in Israel. Since their abduction, the boys’ mothers were incredibly vocal about the return of their boys; Mrs. Frankel even addressed the U.N. to bring international attention to the issue. Now upon news of their death, those from Israel — and around the world — are looking for answers.

According to the Israeli military, the boys’ bodies were found on Monday afternoon in a field a few miles south of where they were last seen. The three boys were buried together on Thursday, and candlelight vigils honoring the boys lit up the sky in areas of the country. The discovery, which brought a tragic end to the search for the three boys, has laid further questions regarding Israel’s response.

Israeli Prime Minister  Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly blamed the abductions and deaths on Hamas, the militant Islamist group. Upon hearing of the boys’ deaths, Netanyahu called an emergency meeting of summoned senior ministers to address further action. “They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood,” he said. “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay.”

Yet fault may not be so clearly placed on Hamas. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, an Egyptian group responsible for an alarmingly high number of bombings and attacks, came forward this week saying it killed the three boys. The claim, which was published on the Jihadist Media Platform, came the day after the group pledged allegiance to ISIS, the violent radical group which has conquered vast amounts of Syria and Iraq. Yet terrorist groups often make false claims, and many officials believe this could be a ploy to divert attention away from Hamas, with whom the Egyptian group has ties.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu ensures that the Israeli military will find those responsible for the boys’ deaths. “Whoever was involved in the kidnapping and the murder will bear the consequences,” he said. “We will neither rest nor slacken until we reach the last of them.” These actions are already well underway. More than hundreds of Hamas activists have been arrested; dozens of homes and institutions in Gaza have been destroyed, and the Israeli army has launched 34 strikes targeting terror infrastructure. While none of this can bring back the boys, many hope it will prevent future abductions. As Israel continues the investigation, many countries — including the United States — have voiced support against these horrific crimes.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: CNN, Vocativ, TIME, CNN
Photo: Time

In 1985, American analyst Jonathan Pollard was arrested for sending classified information to the Israeli government. He was given a life sentence, marking the first time in U.S. history that a life sentence was given for spying for an ally of the United States.

Now, Israeli President, Shimon Peres, is traveling to Washington, D.C. where the issue of Pollard’s release will be front and center. Officially, Peres is going to receive the Congressional Gold Medal as well as the 2014 Lantos Human Rights Prize. In addition, he has promised to meet with President Obama about the prospect of releasing Pollard, who has been imprisoned in America for nearly three decades.

One of the organizers of the movement to free Pollard, Efi Lahav, implored President Peres to lobby President Obama during his trip, stating that, “We believe your upcoming visit to the U.S. is the most serious opportunity yet to release Jonathan Pollard.”

Previous talks to release the convicted spy have fallen through at the last minute, and this trip may prove to be the final opportunity to strike a deal. Pollard is up for parole in 2015. His release could be part of a larger prisoner swap in which Palestinian prisoners would be released by Israel.

However, those talks fell short in the past. Instead of using Pollard as a bargaining chip, President Obama could also free him as a humanitarian gesture that would reaffirm ties with Israel. Whatever Obama decides, it is certain that the issue of Pollard’s release will be broached by Peres.

The day before Peres left for the U.S., he met with Pollard’s wife where he claimed that, “It is a national responsibility to work to free Pollard, I will speak to the President of the United States on behalf of the people of Israel. I intend to do this during my meetings in Congress and at the White House.”

On top of that, Peres will also deliver a speech to Congress, thus giving him another opportunity to exert influence in Washington.

While Peres will no doubt be pleased with his prestigious awards, the focus of the trip will certainly be Pollard.

Pollard was once a candidate for a CIA graduate fellowship, but was turned down due to a history of emotional instability and drug usage. He eventually landed a position as an analyst at the Navy’s Anti-terrorist Alert Center where Pollard had access to a wealth of classified intelligence information.

As a lifelong sympathizer of Israel who had dreams of eventually emigrating, he was easily talked into becoming an Israeli spy. In 1984, Pollard was contacted by a family friend in Israel who set up a meeting with his eventual handler. Shortly after, Pollard began handing over documents in bulk.

During the course of his 17-month spying career, Pollard leaked over 800 highly classified documents.

After a co-worker noticed Pollard accessing classified documents without authorization, the FBI became suspicious of Pollard. Spooked, Pollard attempted to seek refuge at the Israeli embassy in D.C., but he was turned away. He was arrested shortly after.

What happens next remains to be seen. Over the next few days, Pollard could be released in a deal that would help to deescalate the Israeli Palestinian conflict. President Obama could also opt for the humanitarian route and free Pollard with no strings attached. Whatever happens, Pollard’s usefulness as a bargaining chip is quickly running out, and President Peres’ trip to D.C. will likely be a decisive turning point on the matter.

While the official purpose of the visit is to honor Peres’ past accomplishments as a human rights leader, the true reason for the trip could have humanitarian implications that extend far into the future.

– Sam Hillestad

Sources: Jewish Press, CNN, USA Today, Jerusalem Post
Photo: The Algemeiner

unity government
After only a week of peace, Israel attacked the Gaza Strip via aircraft, injuring three and killing one. This is the first act of aggressive violence between the two nations since the Palestinian government developed the unity government plan. The aircraft attack was a response to the rocket fired into southern Israel earlier that day by Palestinian extremists.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas pledged to create peace with Israel and said this attack was nothing but a simple rebuttal. Israel blames the terrorist group Hamas for these actions.

Hamas senior leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, when interviewed by the Associated Press, claimed that “The reconciliation is ahead of us and the split is behind us. We are heading this way because reconciliation is the choice of our people. We have taken real steps and will continue.” The flare ups, such as this interaction, will continue but will not impede the direction of progress they are heading in.

Since 2007, Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since taking it from President Abbas, creating high levels of tension on top of previous issues. Hamas is the de facto leader of Gaza, but Abbas is still considered the international representative.

One of the victims in Israel was identified as a militant, an active member of Hamas police, who was linked to a group inspired by al-Qaida. In response to this report, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that “our policy is clear. Kill those who rise up to kill us.” It is evident that both countries wish to get rid of groups such as Hamas and other known terrorist groups.

Israel is tentative to respond to peace offers from Palestine, citing to Reuters that the unity government merely serves as a protective shield, allowing the voices of Hamas to have their way, and suspending peace talks with Palestinians.

The unity government appeared to many as a sign of change, but it’s becoming evident the new government will have little impact on relations between Palestine and Israel. Even with the support of western countries and the United Nations, the unity government is receiving little positive feedback in terms of internal opinions.

Gaza is a hot bed for conflict between the two and it’s clear that this will not be the end of their violent interactions.

— Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, Chron
Photo: Epoch Times

Israel is but a pawn on the playing board of the massive Chinese economy. But it is a strong and able pawn.

On April 8, Israeli President Shimon Peres made the first trip to China by an Israeli President since 2013. He met with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, in order to improve economic and diplomatic ties between the countries and to bolster a mutual commitment to opposing the spread of nuclear and other non-conventional weapons throughout the Middle East. According to Peres, China has the ability to strengthen safety and stability in the region.

Just last year, in 2013, Xi met with both Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. China has made a point of urging a revival and reinvigoration of peace talks, giving Israel confidence in cooperation.

A member of the United Nations P5+1, Xi comforted Peres with a pledge from China to continue supporting international nuclear negotiations with Iran. He said China understands Israel’s security concerns with Iranian nuclear proliferation and that he wants to help prevent Iran from obtaining those weapons.

China’s stance on Iran, however, is a bit complicated. A customer of Iranian oil and thus a backer of Tehran, China has resisted imposing heavier sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Consequently, in an effort to achieve diplomacy in all corners of the ideological world, China hopes to both maintain ties with Iran and to improve relations with Israel simultaneously. Israel shares these hopes.

If China manages to retain its close ties with Iran, Israel can potentially utilize those connections and push its own initiatives through the Chinese hand. Peres, for example, claims that China can significantly help in the Middle East, particularly in light of the present tumultuous circumstances of the Arab Spring aftermath. China has brought millions of people out of poverty without relying on foreign aid and assistance and, as such, Israel believes China can bring its expertise to the region.

Though circumstances may not be the same in reverse, China is Israel’s third largest trading partner and Israel can use China’s desire for diplomatic ties in the region to its advantage. In order to solidify ties, Israel is even considering setting up a model farm in southern China. That way, China can study and make use of Israel’s agricultural technology while asserting its power in the Middle East.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: The Jerusalem Post, The Diplomat, The Times of Israel

Although the Oslo Accord was designed to facilitate the peace negotiations in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine under the supervision of the UN, some are starting to believe that the whole process will ultimately result in failure due to two decades of no deals being reached.

In an Al Jazeera article, Mairav Zonszein said that despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s goal to help both sides reach an agreement, Israel appears to be controlling the region anyway.

“Prospects for negotiating a two-state solution to conclude the Oslo peace process, launched in 1993, appear more remote than they were 21 years ago,” said Zonszein. “The difference, perhaps, may be in the balance of pressure operating on both sides then compared with now.”

According to Zonszein, Israel considers itself a sovereign nation and dominates the lives of all Palestinians who live under its occupation. In fact, Israel is so powerful that even Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Palestine, is required to seek permission to leave the West Bank.

While the Palestinians (and the international community, including the U.S.) demand that the boundaries drafted in 1967 should be considered by Israel to grant statehood to Palestine, Israel continues to expand settlements beyond those boundaries.

“The original premise of the Oslo Accord was that a decades-old conflict could be resolved through bilateral negotiations in a framework based on relevant UN resolutions, out of the understanding that is must be a win-win situation for both sides,” Zonszein argued.

However, the only winner in the region turned out to be Israel. After realizing that the talks between Israel and Palestine are going nowhere, Kerry proposed a new idea to resolve yet another of the many problems the two sides have with each other.

“In a last-ditch effort to stop Israel reneging on a promise to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, the U.S. briefly threw in possibly the biggest bargaining chip in its hand: the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard,” said Jonathan Cook in a Counterpunch article.

Cook argues that both Israel and the U.S. have been involved in negotiations that did nothing but distract the true developments within the region.

Cook also references Richard Falk, professor emeritus in international law at Princeton University, who claims that the Israeli policies were created to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from their own homeland.

This is the reason the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as an official Jewish state in the first place.

Thus, “if negotiations collapse, it should be clear that, while both sides were supposed to be talking, one side – Israel – was vigorously and unilaterally acting to further its goals,” Cook said.

At this point, only time will tell whether or not the Israelis and Palestinians will one day reach a deal that has already been delayed by two decades.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Al Jazeera, CounterPunch
Photo: Al Jazeera

An Israeli heavy metal band by the name of Orphaned Land has generated a loyal fan base with their catchy lyrics and head-banging beats. Besides this accomplishment, however, this band has also transformed their artistic abilities into a political movement, as they convey the message of peace to their listeners. 

Orphaned Land has been on their ‘All Is One’ tour since the summer of 2013. The band toured in Europe, playing 18 shows in six countries, during the fall of 2013. For that leg of the tour, Orphaned Land invited the Palestinian heavy metal band, Khalas, to perform with them and share in the small confinements of their tour bus.

Other bands to join the tour were Klone, The Mars Chronicle and Bilocate. The latter two are bands from France, and the third is from Jordan. This added to the diversity of the tour, and consequently portrayed to the world that people can collaborate harmoniously despite their differences.

The decision for Orphaned Land and Khalas to play together specifically gained attention, as it is an unlikely occurrence for Palestinians and Israelis to work together. The two bands respected the cultural disparities between them, however, and even embraced these differences. This union exemplified the importance of focusing on what brings people together, rather than what drives them apart.

Orphaned Land’s lead singer, Kobi Farhi, highlighted the purpose of the tour, besides the obvious reason of expressing themselves through music, as he explained, “We can’t change the world, but we can give an example of how coexistence is possible… Sharing a stage and sharing a bus is stronger than a thousand words. We’ll show how two people from different backgrounds who live in a conflict zone can perform together.”

The conflict that Farhi mentioned refers to the fight over territory and disputes over ambiguous borders between Israel and Palestine, which arguably began in the late 19th century. Conversely, the war in 1947 was when the extreme violence amplified, which completely changed the map of the Middle East and the temperament of the neighboring states. The conflict and turmoil has persisted ever since, with constant cases of illegal settlements on each other’s land, and violent attacks occurring daily.

Despite this perpetual turmoil, these bands left the conflict behind them for the sake of their love for music. This is a political statement in and of itself, since they are epitomizing tolerance, which is a necessary virtue for the resolution of such a pressing issue.

“We’re living together, we’re playing together, and we’re pissing on all those politicians. It takes them ages to even come to the table or talk about something,” Farhi stated about the politics imbedded in the tour.

The lyrics in the songs composed by Orphaned Land are also focused on politics, as opposed to typical songs written about heartbreak. One of their most popular songs, Disciples of the Sacred Oath, contains the line, “Shall we see the end of war, blood brothers? Or shall we fill another grave, for ourselves we couldn’t save,” which is a direct reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Khala’s lead guitarist, Abed Hathut, claimed, “We are metal brothers before everything.” Khala as a group also holds the message of peace close to their hearts, as Hathut added, “There is no bigger message for peace than through this tour.”

The ‘All Is One’ tour certainly speaks volumes on the possibilities for the future of both Israel and Palestine. With younger generations creatively projecting peace through the arts, perhaps a wave of sensibility can overcome these two warring states.

The devastation and poverty caused by the constant conflict between Israel and Palestine cannot be resolved until both sides can shake hands across the table at peace talks. Until then, Orphaned Land and Khalas have left a positive example of cultural harmony, both through their music and their ability to focus on their similarities rather than their differences.

– Danielle Warren

Sources: The Guardian, Orphaned LandSBS
Photo:  StockFreeImages