Did Israel Provoke Increase in Rockets to Justify Operation Cast Lead?

Prior to Operation Cast Lead, the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008-09, there had been six months of a truce which both sides claimed the other did not maintain in good faith. Still, the truce endured.

When Israel escalated the tensions on November 4, 2008, killing six Hamas men in an operation Israel said was meant to thwart a tunnel Hamas was building to abduct more Israeli soldiers, some people felt that Israel was intentionally raising the stakes because the truce was holding and Hamas was fortifying its position in Gaza.

Destroyed buildings in the the Bau'lusha family's neighborhood. Picture: B'Tselem.

Therefore, the thinking went, Israel struck hard at Hamas with an excuse knowing that Hamas would feel it had no choice but to retaliate.

Well, that line of thinking got quite a boost when Wikileaks released a cable earlier this week containing an American report on a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. Here is the relevant passage: Continue reading

What You Need To Know About the Protests in Egypt

Some of you may have some questions about what is going on in Egypt these days. Or perhaps you have friends who do. Either way, below is some of the basic information you need to make sense of current events.

What are the protests about?

The focus of the media coverage and the public calls has been on the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and this is certainly the central demand of the protests. Less talked about are more fundamental demands, like the rescinding of the emergency laws that have been in force continuously since 1981 and for much of the period before that year since the law was passed in 1958. These laws allow for extreme restrictions on basic freedoms.

The crowd in Tahrir Square in Cairo

Protesters also want Parliament disbanded and elections held for the 454-seat body as well as the presidency. The western media (and much of the Middle Eastern as well) has focused on Mubarak, understandably, since he has also been so prominent in the protests. But while the protesters are certainly insisting that Mubarak resign immediately, the point is much broader than merely replacing the president. It is a call for a broad reform, even restructuring, of the Egyptian government. Continue reading

Thoughts for the Day I: Are You Kidding With Suleiman? and Waiting for the Islamophobic Ravings

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s end is now inevitable, and his appointment of Omar Suleiman as Egypt’s “first vice president” shows his desperate flailing and lack of realistic options. Suleiman is very close to Mubarak and has always supported his policies, domestically and internationally. He has been heading Egypt’s intelligence services for almost two decades. But he has also been Mubarak’s most prominent emissary in dealing with the Israelis and in strategic discussions with the United States. One can only interpret this as an attempt to pander to the US, in the hope that they can and will do something to rescue Mubarak, or at least try to sustain the current government’s policies with his successor. It won’t happen….

So far, it seems the Western anti-Muslim hysteria has not been able to latch onto anything to promote irrational fear of “radical Islam” taking over in Egypt, despite the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in these protests. The MB, which, contrary to its frequent portrayal in the US, is actually a moderate Muslim group these days who, in Egypt and elsewhere, have forgone violence and embraced popular activism and political agitation, has been used as a frightening specter in the West in the past. But both the fact that this is clearly a struggle for freedom and the fact that the protests were not sparked by the MB (indeed, they were probably a little late in joining in support) and have featured an astonishing cross-section of Egyptian society have prevented this. But the fact is that whatever emerges in Egypt is likely to be more independent-minded than  Mubarak and certainly less willing to be complicit in Israel’s policies vis a vis the Palestinians. When that becomes apparent, the demonization is sure to begin…