Over Thanksgiving, Israel launched an attack on the Gaza Strip, killing Hamas’ second-in-command, Ahmed Jabari. In retaliation, Hamas began firing rockets that were some of the first missiles to hit parts of Israel in 20 years. VICE traveled to the Israel-Gaza border to see what eternal tension had flared up this time.
The American taxpayer underwrites the existence of every Israeli citizen to the tune of $3 billion a year in subsidies—over the past ten years, that’s $200,000 per every Israeli family of five. Things are very good indeed for Israelis, as long as they’re not Arabs; far better, in material terms, than they are for the majority of Americans. What are we getting for our investment? Obviously, we haven’t bought a wonderful democracy in the theocratic desert of the Middle East, but another fascist enclave of masters and servants that happens to be run by Jews.
The Gaza Strip Cyberwar
As military strikes between Israel and Gaza continued with the deaths of 11 Palestinian civilians on Sunday, a complicated internet battlefront has appeared. A virtual info-war is just beginning, and it exists on multiple fronts. There is an unprecedentedly transparent wave of social media propaganda by both sides, a fairly predictable backlash of Israeli website defacement from Anonymous, and an effort to bring open internet access for civilians affected by the strikes from a group called Telecomix.
On Wednesday, the IDF released an infographic-filled video describing the methods the IDF uses (phone calls and precision strikes) to minimize civilian casualties. The IDF is also live-tweeting the strikes on Gaza using their shiny new Twitter account, @IDFSpokesperson. The Twitter feed for Al Qassam, the military branch of Hamas, has responded by tweeting numerous photos of dead children killed by Israeli strikes. These photos are a very effective and graphic response to the monochromatic circles Israel is using in their videos to say they’re not killing anyone who doesn’t deserve it.
Besides this public social media conflict between governments—which is shockingly savvy and direct—the hacker group Anonymous is also taking action through a campaign they’re calling #OpIsrael. According to Anonymous, Israel threatened to cut out electricity and the internet in Gaza, though that has not been confirmed by any news source. Anonymous responded to this supposed threat, and to the bombings in Gaza, with one of their trademark public service announcements on YouTube. The resulting offensive from Anonymous led to the temporary shutdowns and defacements of hundreds of Israeli websites, including the Bank of Jerusalem.
I was greeted with this defacement page on a website for the Israeli Tourism Board yesterday.
While most sources are claiming the number of Israeli websites taken down is between 663 and 700, Israel’s Finance Minister has said that the government has “deflected 44 million cyber attacks on government websites” and called this wave of attacks a “second front” in this conflict. Besides website defacements and takedowns, Anonymous leaked a document containing thousands of email addresses and passwords supposedly belonging to IDF operatives and Israeli government officials. Attached to the leaked document, the Anonymous leaker added: “this is/will turn into a cyber war.”
Anonymous has also been distributing a “care package” to the citizens of Gaza. The package, named “OpIsrael.Care.Package.v2.0” contains a press release, first aid instructions in English and Arabic, a technical guide with information on how to circumvent authoritarian internet shut-downs (like the one in Egypt during their Arab Spring), a proxy that can be used to hide the IP address and location of your computer, as well as a small image file of the Anonymous crest.
After running the documents through Google Translate, it’s clear that the information inside of the care package is designed to help civilians get online and spread information in the event of an Internet shutdown. The documents describe how to activate Twitter via text messaging in case the internet is inactive, advises people to use fax machines, make their own WiFi antennas out of spare aluminum, and to print out their email contacts in case they lose access to their virtual address book. It also encourages people to use the Telecomix dial-up network.
The situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, as they say. Another way to put it is that a war has just started, or re-started. Last night, Israel gave the green light for the military to mobilize 30,000 troops in preparation for a full-scale invasion of Gaza. Tensions are escalating, the death toll is rising, and more rocket fire is being exchanged between sides. So far, 21 Palestinians, including both militants and civilians, have died, along with three Israeli civilians.
People around the world are getting pissed off, naturally, whether they are for or against Israel’s “Pillar of Defense.” Human rights organizations and the UN are calling for the combatants to stop fighting, and protesters are taking to the streets both in the Middle East and elsewhere to denounce Israel’s aggression or denounce those who denounce Israel’s aggression.
Last night, I went to the Israeli consulate in New York City to see who would show up for a pro-Palestine rally. By my count, there were roughly 220 attendees at the protest’s peak. Speakers touched on subjects that will be familiar to anyone who has shown up to an event of this sort—they attacked violence, human rights violations, racism, and apartheid, and asserted that US aid sent to Israel could be used instead to reconstruct areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. Chants of “Free, Free, Palestine!” and “Hey Israel, what do you say, how many kids did you kill today?” were frequent throughout the night.
On the opposite side of the street there was a counter-protest being held for those supporting Israel’s right to self-defense (or “self-defense,” depending on what you believe). This was a smaller crowd that numbered around 60. “Israel wants peace, Hamas wants terror!” they shouted. “God bless America! God Bless Israel!”
I wandered around and asked people on both sides of the fence for their opinions on what was happening in Gaza. Not surprisingly, the two sides didn’t agree on the fundamentals of the situation.
Charlie, rabbi: I think this is a horrible situation. Missiles continue to fly into Israel with the expectation that Israel isn’t going to respond. I don’t know of any other country in the world that would have missiles flying into it on a regular basis and not respond to an act of open warfare.
Spenser, tech start-up employee: It’s just an extension of what’s been happening for a really long time. People want to focus on micro-issues: “an IDF soldier killed a child,” or “Hamas is using children as human shields.” I think its much more important to look at the structure of the occupation that encourages people on both sides to do really atrocious things. There is no reason for [Israel] to cooperate or to advance the peace process because they have our financial and political support. That’s why I feel like I have a stake in being here—my taxes, although they may not be a lot, contribute to aid to Israel and I think it’s atrocious.
We Just Spoke to People in Palestine and Israel About the Gaza Crisis
As you may have read on VICE.com this morning, last night Israeli fighter jets rained down missiles upon Gaza. The assault came in retaliation to a week of rocket attacks on Israeli territory by Hamas, to which Israeli forces responded by assassinating the leader of Hamas’ military wing, Ahmed al-Jabari, with a missile. The end result is that the Gaza Strip is likely to be plunged into war yet again, one that many other nations in the Middle East and beyond may find themselves getting dragged into. Since al-Jabari’s assassination, another 300 missiles have been fired into Israel from Gaza and Israeli missiles continue to bombard the Strip.
Hamas have long held off firing on Israeli capital Tel Aviv, aware that to do so may provoke a full-scale war between Palestine and Israel. However, a couple of hours ago, air raid sirens sounded in the city for the first time in two decades, forcing residents to take cover as Palestinian militants tried to hit Tel Aviv with missiles fired from Gaza. It appears that the missiles missed Tel Aviv, one landing in the sea and another falling short just outside the city, but as of yet, no one’s certain what effect that’s going to have on the conflict. You struggle to imagine that it’d be a positive one.
VICE currently has film crews in both Tel Aviv and the Palestinian West Bank, so they put us in touch with sources in both places to find out exactly what’s happening.
First up, an anonymous source in Tel Aviv, who spoke to us about the missile attacks that may or may not have been targeted at the city.
VICE: Does Tel Aviv feel like it’s under attack?
Anonymous source in Tel Aviv: It’s actually kind of fine here. We haven’t seen any damage, and when the press say “missile,” it’s not a missile, it’s really very crude. It’s not even a bomb; it’s something full of old bits of pipe and scaffolding that sort of falls and breaks. It will kill what it lands on, it might damage a house, but it’s not hugely dangerous. And they’re not targeted missiles, so they’re not very accurate either.
What’s the general mood on the street?
The attitude of the Israeli people seems to say: “Hamas think that’s gonna hurt us? They can’t touch us.” There’s actually a bit of Jewish pride and joviality about it, but mainly everyone’s been totally normal. There’s no hysteria, and whenever you ask people what’s going on, they’re just like “Look, they’re not really going to bomb Tel Aviv because Hamas knows that this is our Achilles’ heel and that would be it; we’d fucking nuke them.”
OK, well the BBC says they just did, or at least appear to have tried to.
Yes, but no one in Tel Aviv is taking those ones seriously. Like I said, Israelis are laughing because of how crudely designed, inaccurate, and harmless they are. They’re seen as pathetic, laughable, empty threats. That said, if they really start to cause damage then yes, the general opinion is that Israel will retaliate with a vengeance, AKA all-out war.
Jesus. Have you been told to go to a bomb shelter?
No, but if we do have to go to a bomb shelter, apparently there’s one about a minute-and-a-half away.
Have you seen more members of the Israel Defense Forces since the attacks?
No. The only IDF we have seen were just off-duty people, very casual, the girls have got their uniforms on with their handbags over it and stuff. Out of the IDF that we’ve seen, none of them have been engaged. You wouldn’t have known that there was anything going on, to be honest.
Do you think everybody’s so calm because they’re used to this kind of environment, or because they genuinely don’t feel threatened by Hamas?
Well that’s the thing, because they’re not used to it, and the last time anything like this happened was many years ago. So I don’t know, maybe people are a bit in denial, because they know that the rockets aren’t very effective. What’s clear is that they really believe the last thing that Hamas is actually going to do is fuck up Tel Aviv, because they know that that means out-and-out war.
How has it been over the past few days?
Last night when it was really kicking off, I sat outside a cafe and there were people smoking weed and cycling around on their bicycles with baskets full of grapefruits. Absolutely everything is carrying on as normal. Well, people are calling each other to make sure that everything’s OK, but that’s it. Of the rockets that came close-ish, one of them went into the sea and one of them landed in an undeveloped area. They’re not even explosive. We’ve been speaking to people about what they were going to do tonight. People still go out, the bars will still be open, clubs will still be full.
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An Israeli air strike hits the earth in Gaza
Next we spoke to an anonymous source in the West Bank, who told us about the protests that have sparked up there in the past couple of days.
VICE: Hey, what’s happening over there? What are the repercussions of the Gaza attacks in the West Bank?
Anonymous source in the West Bank: We heard that everything had escalated in Gaza yesterday and that the Israelis were firing more regularly. The rockets kept coming in and people here in Ramallah felt the need to take to the streets, so a lot of people gathered in the main square and moved from there.
Where were they going?
They started chanting that they wanted to go all the way to Bethel, which is a settlement just outside Ramallah. On the way there, they were chanting that they want unity for the three factions in Palestine: Fatah, Hamas, and The Popular Front.
Who was marching?
Oh, it was everyone. Everyone was there together; men, women, the elderly, and children. It was quite fascinating to see everyone together like that on the streets. They kept walking towards Bethel and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was kind of scared, because I knew if people actually did reach Bethel they’d have been met with Israelis firing live ammunition at them.
They didn’t make it there, though, right?
No, on the way—surely enough—the Palestinian Authority (PA) showed up like they always do, stopped the crowds, formed a line on the main road, and didn’t let anyone pass. The crowd stuck around, though. They were shouting at the soldiers and trying to humiliate and shame them, asking them whose side they were on.
Khamis’ destroyed land.
The youth of Gaza may spend their lives trying to surmount the shitty hand they’ve been dealt, but the old seem a little too tired to keep up the struggle. Khamis Sukkar is a Palestinian and the vice president of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a political and paramilitary group acting as the official representative of the Palestinian people. He grew up in Gaza until he went to the UK to study. He now lives between London, Jordan, and Gaza—where most of his family are still situated.
A few years ago, the Israeli Army wandered over and tore down the 400 olive trees that covered his 46,000 square feet of land. Each tree would produce a little over 5 gallons of olive oil, so you can imagine the devastation for Khamis and his family. Now, after re-planting them, he has to wait another decade for production to begin again.
I spoke to him about his burned trees and, y’know, a few of those other problems Palestinians might have with Israelis.
VICE: Hey Khamis. So what did you do after your olive trees got destroyed?
Khamis Sukkar: I never complained about the land, actually, because I know the Israelis will just make problems. I spoke to an Israeli solicitor in London who told me I should forget about it. He said there was no way I could win the case and the Israelis would bother me all the time.
Do you know why they destroyed them in the first place?
They did it because the land is on the border. They want to clear the border of any kind of trees, in case what they call “terrorists” sneak through. The Israelis will always give you good reasons. It is their security, they are threatened constantly by “terrorists.”