I Refused to join the Israeli Defense Forces
Moriel Rothman doesn’t sound bitter when he reflects on the contradictions that formed his childhood identity and eventual political outlook. In fact, he sounds more saddened, if anything. “On the one hand, my heroes were Israeli commandos, and on the other they were the young Jewish American Freedom Riders [Jewish civil rights activists in 1960s America]. I held these two together without fully coming to terms with the fact that there might be a contradiction.”
That contradiction, if you hadn’t picked up on it, stems from the fact that while the Freedom Riders were fighting for the rights of America’s persecuted minorities, Israeli commandos were systematically crushing the rights of their persecuted Palestinian neighbors.
Moriel is a 23-year-old American-Israeli who was born in Jerusalem, spent most of his life in the US, and is now back in the city of his birth. “I think we’re brought up to talk on a universal level about values of justice, standing up to inequality, breaking the law when the law is unjust, and standing up for the oppressed,” he continued. “But not when it comes to our own context—not when it comes to Israel and not when it comes to standing up for Palestine.”
Late last year, Moriel spent time in a military prison for refusing to live out the first part of his childhood dream: the military commando. Military service in Israel is mandatory by law for Jewish youth and young people from the Druze religious minority, however, only around half of those eligible enlist and many more leave during their service.
World Peace Update
Israel and Hamas really kicked peace in the balls last week, with an impressive and rather one-sided attempt to flatten out the whole of the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, respectively. However, their style was eventually cramped by Egyptian President Morsi, who brokered a ceasefire soon after Hamas had planted a bomb on a bus in central Tel Aviv.
It was a happy moment for everyone: The world stopped hyperventilating, and a bunch of French eco-warriors, Egyptian autocrats, and Belgian milk farmers were allowed to get back to the important business of hurting other people and getting hurt themselves, giving me plenty of options to choose from for this week’s column. Could you imagine a world without violence? Sounds boring, right?
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.
DID ISRAEL ASSASSINATE HAMAS’ CHIEF PEACE NEGOTIATOR?
Wednesday begins normal enough. The regular policeman at the Al Sarayya junction conducts traffic from his usual spot. Families rush about collecting supplies, and shopkeepers tidy up. A mother urges her children, distracted by something tantalizing, to move faster. To the west, the sun begins to set. A slight Mediterranean breeze scented with the salt and seaweed stirs as the residents of Gaza prepare for the evening meal.
I’m going with a group of my journalist colleagues to select an invitation card for my wedding. The lady in the shop starts to show me the cards, and then…
A missile explodes across the street, The mostly residential road of Al-Khidma Al-Ammah turns black. A fireball the size of a small car shoots down the middle of the street, dissipating nearly 100 feet away. Dust, grease, and concrete rain down as residents of the area rush toward any shelter they can find. But none exists. As the breeze parts the black cloud, an ominous vision emerges. A car is engulfed in flames, its Kia logo barely visible, the metal liquefying from the heat. Inside the occupants burn. The smoke, fueled by oil, petrol, and rubber grows denser and black. It smells of burning tar mixed with flesh.
Onlookers stare, ears ringing from the blast. Others move toward the burning car to help survivors—if there are any. As they approach a macabre patchwork of severed limbs and disemboweled entrails greet them. Moving closer, there’s a portion of someone’s head. On a nearby building, four stories up, a scrap of unidentifiable flesh sticks to the wall—a testament to the awesome power of the missile blast.
Residents of the street rush into their homes, each grabbing buckets of water. Women run carrying children away from the terror. The first ambulance arrives, and the Kia continues to burn. Not much can be done for the victims inside. They’re dead.
Within minutes, emergency vehicles arrive. Nobody knows how many passengers were in the car. Identifying those killed will be difficult given the messy remains. As the fire and ambulance crews do their work, a witness thinks he recognizes the license plate. As he speaks, he begins crying.
Firemen continue to battle the fire, as paramedics sift through the burning wreckage. One firefighter pulls out the remains of fingers clutching a white blood-soaked satchel. Neighbors and witnesses join the emergency workers in the grim task of collecting body parts and burnt flesh from the scene. As more charred body parts are pulled from the wreckage, the identity of one of the victims becomes clear. The crowd murmurs in disbelief… “It’s Abu Mohammed…”
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.