Monday, July 28, 2014

How to replace Hamas: Demand free elections in Gaza.

One of the calls we hear from the Israeli right is that Israel should reoccupy Gaza and force the Hamas out of power.  Its not a very realistic demand.  Thousands of Palestinians would die as would many tens, perhaps hundreds of Israeli soldiers, the political cost would be huge internationally wth massive pressure placed on Israel to withdraw. Holding Gaza would cost far more lives then just bombing it occasionally, be very expensive and keep the army occupied as a police force instead of training for war.  It would also be deeply unpopular in Israel.  Its not even certain the Hamas would emerge any weaker.

It is however, true that Hamas are a problem for us in Israel. They are basically a religio-nationalist death-cult whose main reason for existing is to destroy Israel and who show little long-term interest in trying to improve the lot of their people. Peace is clearly not on the cards with such an organization.

The only way to have Hamas removed is for the Palestinians to do it themselves, the problem being that Hamas has an iron grip on Gaza and is still sufficently popular to maintain power.

Hamas gained power in a two stage process, first there were the only ever free elections in the territories, which they won and then they removed Fatah from Gaza. Since then there have been no new electionss, but it would seem that if elections were held and Hamas lost, it would be hard for them to prevent Fatah taking over Gaza.

Of course I don't know that Hamas would lose: they might just get stronger, or someone else like Islamic Jihad might win but there seems a resonable chance that Hamas would lose.  In addition it would be a major propaganda coup for Israel if it forced democratic elections on the Palestinians.

And if Hamas lost, what then? After all they could easily return in a future election wheither or not Israel makes peace with the Palestinians.  The doctrine of Israeli illegitimacy will not go away, and will always attract the Palestinians.  My view is that a peace treaty would strengthen Israel by giving it legitimate borders, and while I doubt that any treaty can bring permanent peace, surprises never cease to happen round here.

"Administrative Detention": Hamas prisoners and the Israeli version of Guantanamo Bay

  
The Hebrew word Megiddo, name of a Biblical town, somehow re-emerged in English as Armageddon. Today it is the site of a small archaeological site and nearby, of the prison Keleh Megiddo: "Armageddon Prison".

In the Nineties' I served as a Combat Medic in the Israeli Army reserves and in about 1996 I was called up for several weeks to serve as a medic in Megiddo Prison.  I was sick for the first couple of days of the reserve duty and so arrived a few days after the others. I was given my military kit which included a large amount of first aid gear and a rifle and then directed to the prison. At the prison I was told I could find my unit (actually an artillery unit) through a small door in the wall.  I opened the door and found myself walking a narrow path between two large enclosures, both with high fences topped by barbed wire containing a couple of hundred of Hamas members.  I was shocked and I remember them laughing at my horror. I felt like a rabbit walking a narrow path between two wolf enclosures.  Though I was armed and they were in prison.

Our Artillery unit was there to provide perimeter security, basically everyone slept in tents for three weeks and spent hours sitting in watch towers and doing the odd patrol. There were three combat medics and we were required to take the blood pressure and temperature of Hamas prisoners as they left or arrived, to deliver medication to prisoners to accompany the security guards when they went for shooting practice, to provide first aid to our unit and to do a couple of patrols at night. Because we were dealing with Hamas prisoners face to face, we had deluxe conditions: We slept in a caravan (not a tent), we ate with the prison staff (our unit ate in a makeshift tent) who had quite nice food and we weren't required to sit in the horrible watch towers.  We also had huge amounts of free time which we spent playing backgammon. One of my fellow medics was a member of the board of a major Israeli corporation and kept bringing us goodies in his huge American car.   

Most of the prisoners we handled were in "administrative detention", that means they were held without trial because they were deemed a threat but no evidence could be shown thatthey had actually done anything illegal.  A similar system is used at Guantanamo bay to hold themen there: they aren't POWs, they've broken no laws and yet they are regarded as a serious enough threat to warrant being held.

To be honest it was quite pleasant as reserve duty goes, but I did notice a couple of things:
1. The men in Administrative Detention had a lot of ulcer problems.
2. People arriving at, or leaving the prison all had high blood pressure.

The Hamas men lived in tents in the open air. There were two enclosures and they used to throw bits of paper with messages between them which the guards jokingly called "faxes". They had table-tennis tables and I remember books. I don't recall any large/decent exercise spaces, but the enclosures struck me as better then indoor prisons: Israeli weather is usually good, though it might be cold in winter and I think each enclosure was about the size of a basketball court, maybe a bit smaller. There were TVs and I recall that watching the evening news was a big social event for the inmates.  There were convicted killers held in the prison too but they were held in its interior and I had no contact with them.

About ten years ago I did an MA in History in London and studied Jewish immigrants who were held without trial in British camps in Cyprus.  One of the things they noted was that not knowing when you will be released is very stressful.  Long term detainees need to know when they will be released.  Reading that I recalled all the guys with ulcer problems (I gave them their medication in person), I remember they were quite friendly, maybe a little bit desperate.  It was an odd situation where I would have a couple of young guys with guns behind me as I went to the entrance of the enclosures and dealt with the people getting the medicine.

Until a couple of weeks ago, the Hamas "Adminstrative Detainees" were on hunger strike demanding their release.  There were calls to force feed them (Solzhenitsyn said it was like being raped - See The First Circle).  A deal was eventually reached giving them improved conditions in return for an end to the hunger strike.  (see also "Navy nurse refuses to force feed Guantanamo prisoners").

After the recent murder of Israeli teens a lot of Hamas members who were released under the deal to free Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas were re-arrested. Since they were already pardoned for their offences I assume they were taken into adminsitrative detention.  The current conflict is related to their re-arrest - I have seen a report that Hamas are demanding their release as a condition forr a cease fire.  Meanwhile any Hamas fighters the IDF captures are put into Administrative Detention.

Administrative Detention is a fancy word invented by the British for holding people indefinitely without trial.  They used it in the British Mandate of Palestine and, presumably in other parts of the British Empire.  Both Arabs and Jews were arrested using this legal device and, in many cases held in other parts of the Empire: A couple of Palestinian-Arab leaders were held in South Africa and several hundred Jews were held  in Eritrea. It was mainly used during the Second World War and the few years of British rule after the war.

Administrative Detention is not legal for Israeli citizens, just as it was probably illegal to hold British Citizens during the Mandate. If you recall the story of St Paul, he had to be tried in Rome because he was a Roman citizen.  Israeli citizens must be brought before a judge within three days, and Habeas Corpus applies to them, however, in the occupied territories, under military rule, the Israelis use Administrative Detention.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Watching the rockets go by: Hamas missiles over Tel Aviv.

Missiles are currently being fired at Tel Aviv almost every morning, around 8:30 am. I assume that Hamas leaders go to morning prayers, pray to God and then press the firing button on their automated rocket launchers, before heading home to sleep off the exertions of Ramadan.

The other day they caught me on my bicycle. There was a siren and people around me began running for cover.  I considered the option of crouching next to a wall and decided to ignore the whole situation: in Tel Aviv being hit by a rocket is a bit like winning the lottery: Extremely unlikely but just as that never stops people buying tickets, so it doesn't stop Hamas firing or people running for cover. 

On the highway near me, the cars had stopped and some drivers were crouching behind their cars while others were simply standing there looking up into the sky.  There was a bus full of black hatted Haredi men who just got out and watched upwards, making no effort to take cover.

I also stopped and craned upwards, trying to see the missile heading towards me, when I saw four smoke trails rising up from the East - not from Gaza - they were heading up at incredible speed and I realized they must be Iron Dome missiles. Then I saw a bright light high in the sky heading South to North. Coming from the direction of Gaza, it was clearly the Palestinian missile: the light must have been its engine. One of the missiles fired by Iron Dome went straight for it and the light went out.  

The explosion came about five seconds later: sound travels at 350 meters per second and this must have been a few kilometers away.  It was followed by several more explosions.  If there were more missiles I didn't see them but some of the action was in the clouds so it seems reasonable to assume there were more.

The siren lasted a couple of minutes, but the missile drama was over in seconds, too fast to photograph. I got back on my bicycle and headed to work, as I rode through the park, every one I saw seemed to be smiling: perhaps from relief.  Perhaps happy to know that Iron Dome is out there protecting us. I spent my ride thinking about how I would write this blog.  Its taken me a couple of days to get round to it because of work pressure.  
Yesterday evening we finally went out to see a movie - a wonderful Israeli film called Zero Motivation about teenage girl soldiers. We took a baby sitter and figured that the Hamas rocket men would, as usual, leave their rockets for the morning prayers.  Well they didn't. The siren went off at the exact moment that the cinema advertising ended and the movie started: so it didn't interrupt our viewing and we had the strange experience of the entire movie audience going down into the exit tunnels to wait for "the booms" which indicate that its all over and then wandering back to their seats.  "Where were we?" shouted the bloke who was manning the device that runs the movie (can't think what he's called).  "Just start from the beginning!" we all shouted.

This shows something like what I saw: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPO_IFrs6WA