These Images Sum Up the Mood in Israel Right Now

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If you’re wondering what it’s like to live in Israel during Operation Protective Edge, this piece should hopefully give you a pretty good picture. Here’s my Mic debut, titled “These Images Sum Up the Mood in Israel Right Now,” about the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

New blog at Times of Israel

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I sent over my latest blog post and not only was it accepted at Times of Israel, but they invited me to become a TOI blogger. Here it is, updated with the events that have unfolded since the operation began. Titled “Waiting for a final ceasefire,” I ask the question on many of our minds: What will bring a moderate, two-state oriented leadership to Gaza?

Any of your thoughts, comments, and shares would be most appreciated. Thank you to everyone who’s reached out to me since the operation began: hoping for it to end as soon as possible.

Photo of Iron Dome intercepting a rocket. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

In the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Everything Can Change in a Moment 

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I may be a journalist, but I am not a fortune teller. This is why I am glad I did not appear on the BBC Friday evening: I did not expect Israel to launch a military offensive in Gaza, which it did this morning.

Early Friday afternoon, the BBC’s World Have Your Say TV program asked if I would like to speak on their show as the “Israeli journalist.” They were interviewing several journalists to fill this one slot, including me. For 10 minutes, a producer talked with me over the phone to get a sense of what I would say on the program. 

The BBC journalist, sitting at a desk in London, asked me, “Do you think the violence will escalate?” 

On Friday, the funeral of Mohammed Abu Khdeir — the Palestinian teen kidnapped, burned, and murdered as a possible “revenge killing” for the kidnap and murder of Israeli teens Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Fraenkel by Hamas — was taking place in the East Jerusalem neighborhood where he lived. At that time, Jewish extremists were suspected of murdering Mohammad, and riots erupted near the funeral and in other areas around Israel in reaction to these allegations. 

Meanwhile, five rockets and two mortar shells had hit Southern Israel from Gaza Friday morning. Since the IDF started Operation Brother’s Keeper to find the Israeli teens kidnapped on June 12 and to weaken Hamas, dozens of rockets from the Gaza strip had hit Israel. But many questioned whether Israel’s incursions, arrests of hundreds of Hamas operatives, and restrictions of movement in the West Bank and Gaza constituted “collective punishment” against the Palestinians, or were necessary to deter Hamas, whose terrorists were responsible for killing the three Israeli teens. 

Courtesy of Abed Rahim Katib/Flash90

Yet, amidst all of this, there was talk about an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire possibly taking place. 

This is the information I knew when the BBC called me early Friday afternoon.

So I told the British journalist, “Assuming that no other large, harmful incident takes place, I don’t think Israel will launch an operation in Gaza. It doesn’t have the international backing, and I don’t think it would be strategically wise.” 

In the end, I did not appear on the show — and my predictions were wrong. 

Early this morning, Israel launched a military offensive in Gaza, titled “Operation Protective Edge.” During the four days between the phone call and the present moment, scores of rockets have hit Southern Israel, including 100 in the last day alone. On Sunday, our worst nightmare was confirmed that Jewish extremists did kill Mohammad Abu Khdeir, burning him alive. Riots have ignited across the country. Now, it’s looking more like the beginning of a third intifada than a deescalation. 

Strangely, a memory from Operation Pillar of Defense, the last time Israel started a military offensive in Gaza, gives me hope. On November 21, 2012, a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv, wounding 15 people. This was the first bus bombing in Tel Aviv in more than six years. 

Courtesy of REUTERS/ARIEL BESHOR

Courtesy of REUTERS/ARIEL BESHOR

The bombing occurred only a mile away from the Jerusalem Post’s office, where I was working. I immediately got calls from my partner to check if I was okay, and I wrote on Facebook that I was fine. Everyone called anyone they knew that could be close to the bombing, which was a lot of people. It reminded my Israeli colleagues of the horrific years during the second intifada. 

I was really scared. Not only was the bus bombing close by, but it could also intensify the operation. 

Instead, hours later, Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire agreement, ending the eight-day operation. Both a bus bombing and a ceasefire occurred within the same day: That’s Israel for you.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can often feel intractable. It increasingly is. 

But everything can change here in a moment, for the better or the worse. I just hope that this operation ends as quickly as possible and we can get back to the real work that needs to be done: making peace. Israeli President Shimon Peres almost made peace with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2011: I’m just waiting for that moment to come back. 

‘We are like this’ – 6 Jews suspected of killing Palestinian teen in revenge attack

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Our worst fears have come true: Six Jewish extremists are suspected of kidnapping and murdering Palestinian teen Muhammed Abu Khdeir as a revenge killing for the kidnap and murder of Israeli teens Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali.

This disturbing turn of events makes me remember a powerful quote from the Laramie Project, a play about Matthew Shepard – who was killed for being gay – and his town’s response. “Someone got up there [at Matthew’s vigil] and said, ‘C’mon, guys, let’s show the world that Laramie is not this kind of a town.’ But it is that kind of a town. If it wasn’t this kind of a town, why did this happen here?… And we have to mourn this and we have to be sad that we live in a town, a state, a country where shit like this happens. .. I mean, these are people trying to distance themselves from this crime. And we need to own this crime. I feel. Everyone needs to own it. We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this.”

Yes, Jews are like this too. So what are we going to do about it? 

Poster depicting 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir during his funeral in Shuafat. Courtesy of CBC.

20 Israeli celebs support civil unions in cute video

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This is a very sweet video of Israeli celebs, including Bar Refaeli, supporting a civil union bill. To give some background, Yesh Atid, a large centrist party in Israel, introduced the legislation in late October. It would not only give same-sex couples access to marriage benefits, it would also free heterosexual couples that can’t (or don’t want to) get married through Israel’s Orthodox Rabbinate. Right now, Arab-Israelis can get married through Islamic or Christian authorities, and Jewish-Israelis can only get married through the Orthodox Rabbinical Court. If either group wants to get married to a same-sex partner, intermarry, or get married outside of religious strictures, they must get married abroad.

The video, which was released on Sunday, asks the question “Why do I support the civil marriage bill?” At the end, the video asks people to share the video and raise awareness about the new bill. Hopefully the bill will be voted on in December. I don’t normally ask people to share stuff on my blog, but I feel this is important. So if this moves you (even though you can’t understand all the Hebrew…thankfully the visuals tell most of the story), please share this with your friends!

The Israeli Palestinian peace talks spark a few glimmers of hope

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Photo courtesy of hromedia.com

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced in Jordan that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have “established a basis” for resuming direct peace negotiations. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy Isaac Molho are expected to begin initial talks. They will meet with Kerry in Washington in the next week or so.

Most reports of this initial breakthrough focus on the expected challenges of these negotiations: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s political weakness; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition; the split between Hamas and the West Bank; the Israeli public’s increasing domestic concerns. Then, they focus on the longstanding grievances that hold up most peace talks: borders, settlements, Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees.

Additionally, few believe that Abbas and Netanyahu can make real progress towards ending the Israeli Palestinian conflict. In a poll published earlier this month in The Jerusalem Post, “68% of Israelis and 69% of Palestinians view the chances of an independent Palestinian state’s formation in the next five years as low or nonexistent.”

Interestingly, although both groups are pessimistic that peace negotiations will succeed, the majority of Israelis and Palestinians still support a two-state solution. The poll states that “62% of Israelis and 53% of Palestinians” say they “support a two-state solution.”

Even though many analysts still claim the chances of the negotiations’ success are slim, there are several key distinctions in the beginning of these peace talks that may make them more feasible. First, The New York Times reports that Kerry won “concessions on the new framework, which American, Israeli and Palestinian officials said would allow Washington to declare the 1967 prewar borders as the basis for the talks — along with the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state — but allow Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas to distance themselves from those terms.” (As of the last New York Times report, it is unclear whether the framework explicitly declares the 1967 prewar borders as the basis for talks.)

Kerry was partly able to separate Netanyahu and Abbas from these potentially controversial terms by commencing the talks with their negotiators instead of the two men themselves. This way, the leaders can’t be blamed at the outset, and the initial negotiations are more likely to stay behind closed doors. Kerry asserts that the best way to ensure the talks’ success is to “keep them private.” Ynet, the leading Israeli online news site, echoed this sentiment, with a top headline reading “Without them [Netanyahu and Abbas], talks have more of a chance” (article in Hebrew).

Additionally, both sides made concessions. Israel will free some Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture before talks. The Palestinian leadership gave up on previous demands for a settlement freeze before entering talks. NPR relays that Palestinian officials “wanted guarantees the 1967 lines would be the basis for talks, saying that if Israel accepts that, it would make most of the settlements illegitimate.” Although there is no public settlement freeze, The Times of Israel reports that Kerry promised Abbas there would be a de facto settlement freeze.

The Palestinian leadership may have felt more able to make such a public concession because of the Arab League’s support for Kerry’s talks, which was announced on Wednesday. This came after a substantial diplomatic breakthrough in late April, when the Arab League stated for the first time that it would back a peace plan that allows small land swaps based on the 1967 prewar borders. Previously they had only supported an agreement based on these borders, without land swaps. This change in policy would allow Israel to keep some of the largest settlement blocs in exchange for largely Arab-populated areas within Israel that would become part of a future Palestinian state.

Kerry’s intensive diplomacy, and more importantly, changes in the region likely influenced the Arab League to change their stance. Since the last peace talk attempts, which broke down in 2010 within three weeks, the Syrian civil war and Iranian threat have deeply concerned the 22-member Arab League. They may view a solution to the conflict as a strategy to gain needed backing from the United States for their security concerns.

Increasingly, European and Israeli top officials have criticized the intransigence of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. This week, the EU released a harsh rebuke of Israel’s settlement policy, insisting that all future agreements with Israel exclude Jewish territories in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights, which were captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Furthermore, The Guardian reports that, “EU guidelines will prohibit the issuing of grants, funding, prizes or scholarships unless a settlement exclusion clause is included.” Palestinians and their supporters applauded this move.

Also this week, Yuval Diskin, a former chief of the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service), wrote a highly critical op-ed in The Jerusalem Post about Israelis’ complacence with the conflict. He declares in its opening paragraph, “We are approaching a point of no return regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, it may be that we have already crossed it.” Earlier this year, six former Shin Bet chiefs profiled in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers profess that “the occupation is immoral and, perhaps more important, ineffective,” urging Israel to withdraw from the West Bank like it did in Gaza in 2005. In May, former prime minister Ehud Olmert revealed details of his peace plan with Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, putting pressure on Netanyahu to come back to the negotiating table.

One important question is how much Kerry will be able to influence negotiations moving forward. Many critics have been skeptical of how much Kerry can individually impact talks, including Barak Ravid, a leading columnist for Israeli paper Haaretz. Two months ago, Ravid wrote that Kerry was naive, “that instead of conducting himself as the United States’ chief diplomat, he is acting as a lone ranger who still thinks he’s a senator, propelled by messianic zeal and the belief he was sent by the gods to bring peace to the Middle East.” Now, he admits that, “Kerry deserves the applause… The U.S. secretary of state managed to end the impasse of more than three years in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy with the power of his will.”

Another important factor is if Saeb Erekat and Tzipi Livni, who both led negotiation teams in 2008 between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, can produce better results this time around with Kerry. If they can stay at the negotiating table for at least six months, as has been agreed upon, that will be an improvement from 2010. Can they come up with a final status agreement? That answer is for more elusive.

Laurarosbrow.com was quoted in the BBC

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Two days after writing the post “Why doesn’t Moore, Oklahoma have any public tornado shelters?,” I was quoted in the BBC. (I refrained from posting at the time because 1) I was on vacation and 2) I didn’t want to sound too enthusiastic to the readers coming to the site from the BBC article). In Tara McKelvey’s piece “Why so few storm shelters in Tornado Alley hotspot?,” people in Tornado Alley explain why there are so few storm shelters. Towards the end of the article she quotes my blog post, the only international perspective in the piece:

One Israel-based blogger, Laura Rosbrow, says that she cannot understand why people in Oklahoma do not have more publicly-funded shelters.

In Israel, Rosbrow says, bomb shelters are located “within blocks of every residence”.

“In Israel, you feel like the country is giving you peace of mind,” writes Rosbrow on her blog. “Isn’t that the way it should be?”

From BBC article.

Thank you Tara McElvey, whose career I respect enormously.

And dear readers, now that I am back from vacation, expect more regular posts. Getting back into gear!