I have never wanted to live in the US, but now and again I have wished we had
Canadians as neighbors. Last week was one of those times. How refreshing to have
a democratically elected prime minister who not only says he’s a friend of
Israel, but means it, à la Stephen Harper. And, of course, there is another
benefit that became obvious on May 15. In the, highly unlikely, event of a mass
rally on the border, how much easier it would be to disperse a crowd of
Canadians – using megaphones to call on them to “Please leave the area” – rather
than trying to prevent loss of lives (on both sides) when highly charged
protesters try to provoke the IDF into an armed response, thus gaining a PR
victory if nothing else.
The footage of Palestinians from Syria charging
into the Golan Heights village of Majdal Shams on “Nakba Day,” chanting about
the “right of return,” was disturbing on many levels. Having served for a while
on the Golan in a position that brought me into frequent contact with its
residents, I wondered what they truly made of the “conquest.”
live there can be divided into those who say that Majdal Shams should return to
Syrian control and those who believe that, particularly after more than 40
years, it should remain in Israeli hands, with, hopefully, better access to
friends and family on the other side.
I have never met a resident of the
Druse village who even hinted that it was “Palestinian.” This wasn’t so much
changing the narrative, as opening a whole new chapter in future history
Even among the “pro-Syria” brigade, it seems clear that there are
those who are hedging their bets, and in the wake of recent incidents it’s easy
to see why. In the event of the village being transferred to Syrian control –
under Bashar Assad or any other ruler – people want to be able to prove their
loyalty rather than be suspected of having Israeli sympathies. And when
you realize that some of Israel’s most vociferous critics are Arab MKs, who
blast the state while drawing a salary to represent it, the Druse on the Golan
can feel safer with Israel’s policies than Syria’s.
I didn’t expect
Assad’s forces to stop the protesters from descending on Israel – it was, after
all, pretty obvious that the beleaguered president welcomed and encouraged a
diversion of attention from the riots at home. His condemnation of Israeli use
of force against the demonstrators, however, gave the word chutzpa an Arabic
Both the storming of the Syrian border and that of the Lebanese
border (where up to 10 Palestinians were killed, some of them by the Lebanese
Army struggling to stop them) raise other questions.
ONE ISSUE I have
written about before, but like a bad headache it tends to return during times of
tension: Where were the UN peacekeeping forces? Their inability to prevent
incidents like this brings into doubt their worth as a preventive force along
future boundaries – an oft-mooted measure whenever talk of some kind of peace
agreement and withdrawal comes up.
There was, of course, also the very
perturbing matter of Israeli preparedness: Given that the social media had been
calling for such a gathering for a while (and, if nothing else, the buses
transporting the demonstrators must have been visible as they approached),
clearly there was some kind of failure at either the Intelligence level or the
liaison with the ground forces. New IDF chief of General Staff Benny Gantz
reportedly called the events “not good.”
You can say that again – maybe
if you say it enough times it would receive sufficient
Obviously, the IDF was relieved that the soldiers on the ground
(who are also human, despite what Israel’s detractors believe) neither panicked
nor gave in to provocation and didn’t open fire.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos described the
demonstrators as “innocent.” Other officials called them “non-violent.” This
doesn’t explain how IDF soldiers were wounded. Throwing pebbles in a pond
is a peaceful pastime; throwing rocks at someone’s face is not. Hurling insults
at a demonstration counts as non-violent; hurling objects does
Sitting in Jerusalem, which has witnessed bulldozers turned into
lethal weapons, or seeing what appears to have been a deliberate Nakba Day
attack carried out by a truck driver in Tel Aviv, I guess we have a different
idea of what counts as violence and weapons.
Someone in Facebook’s
headquarters should also be breathing a sigh of relief, but it might not have
occurred to them. Just as international law has yet to catch up with an
era of warfare in which “human shields” and “suicide bombers” are two of the
more common terms, so, too has it failed to keep up with the more antisocial
side of the social network phenomenon.
While there are definite
advantages to Facebook and Twitter – spreading the idea of democracy and freedom
of speech, among them – there are also drawbacks. Issuing a rallying cry
to thousands of people to amass in one spot, particularly one bordered by a
fence, could result in a potentially lethal stampede – be it at a political
protest or a party. Had people been crushed to death at the Nakba Day events,
you can bet who’d have been blamed (and it wouldn’t have been the people who
Incidentally, had Israel amassed forces on the border it
would have been considered a casus belli.
Turning the Golan Heights into
“Palestine” is as much an indication of the future war than of past battles.
This is part of the battle for borders. I hope that Jordan is not only watching
but internalizing last week’s events, because buoyed by the Majdal Shams
precedent it’s not unthinkable that Palestinians in the Hashemite Kingdom won’t
try to create facts on the ground – the ground on both sides of Jordan’s
military correspondent Yaakov Katz last week
reported that the IDF is drawing up a doctrine on how to contain mass border
marches – a decision taken several weeks before Gantz realized how “not good”
such incidents can be.
Actually, the Border Police and riot police are
better trained to meet such challenges than foot soldiers and the Armored
Might I suggest that the panel include public relations and IT
experts (as well as specialists in international law), because, as we have all
noticed, war is now being fought in those great gray areas known as cyberspace
and lawfare as much as on the ground.
All eyes are on the expected
Palestinian declaration of independence in September, but anything can happen
It reminds me of a version of the fable of the frog and the
scorpion, which bears being told again: A scorpion wants to cross a river and
asks the frog to carry him on his back. “But how do I know you won’t
sting me?” asks the wary frog.
“Because if I did that, we’d both drown,”
replied the scorpion.
Halfway across the river, the scorpion does
suddenly sting the frog.
With his dying breath, the frog gasps, “But you
promised you wouldn’t kill me...”
“Ahhh,” says the scorpion, “but this is
the Middle East.”The writer is editor of
The International Jerusalem