Providing a summary of the events of the past week from the West Bank
and Israel, Jesse Rosenfeld, freelance journalist based in Ramallah and
Tel Aviv speaks to Lia Tarachansky on the Gaza attack. He connects the
upcoming Israeli election to the motivation behind the bombing of Gaza
which in the past week killed 420 and injured over 1300. Rosenfeld says
Ehud Barak decided to carry out Operation Cast Lead, the name given to
the attack, at this time to boost his votes for the February 10 election.
During election years, politicians known to take the most hard-line
position against Palestinians tend to gain more seats in the Israeli
Knesset. Operation Cast Lead now threatens to escalate into a ground
invasion as Israel amasses its troops and tanks at the Gaza border.
Israel’s politics spill all over Gaza
Real News Network staff
MISHUK MUNIER, TRNN (VOICEOVER): It’s been a week since Israel began bombing the Gaza Strip. The casualty toll is up to over 420 dead, 1,300 injured. Israel continues to mass ground troops and armament along Gaza’s border. Palestinians in both occupied territories and in Israel have been reacting to this attack. To understand the significance of this reaction, we spoke to Jesse Rosenfeld, freelance journalist based in Ramallah and Tel Aviv. Jesse, you’ve just got back from Ramallah in the West Bank. Can you walk us through what’s going on there?
JESSE RISSIN ROSENFELD, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: The West Bank has sort of been shaken to the core. There’s really a popular sentiment of both anger and frustration at Israel and at the Palestinian Authority. Since the bombings began, there’s been a three-day general strike across the West Bank, which involved stores closing all their doors, you know, no sort of public street life, apart from demonstrations that took place in all major cities as well as, you know, towns across the West Bank and Jerusalem. Riots have broken out at checkpoints, you know, across the West Bank, and riots in East Jerusalem too. There’s also been the spread of riots and demonstrations through Palestinian-Israeli villages and towns and cities across Israel’s 1949 territory.
MUNIER: Does this mean Hamas’s popularity in the West Bank is on the rise?
HABEEB: There is a certain potential for that. The PA has definitely been very worried about it. Solidarity demonstrations across the west Bank that took place on Sunday, the PA actually cracked down on the demonstrations. For example, in Ramallah, there was a mass demonstration of thousands of people that started to march. And when, you know, some Hamas flags appeared in the demonstration, the PA was feeling incredibly threatened by it. In Hebron, a Palestinian that was demonstrating was shot by the PA. In Bethlehem, when, you know, Palestinians marched from the Dheisheh Refugee Campï¿½they were refugees from Dheishehï¿½through Bethlehem, they were actually blocked by Palestinian Authority forces before they could actually get to where the Israeli Army was stationed at the checkpoint. But as a result, they actually received a barrage of stones that were being reserved for the Army. It’s kind of a humorous image of, you know, [chucking] stones backwards and forwards, but it really demonstrates a sort of torn identity that a lot of the Palestinian Authority forces have, where they’re resenting what the Palestinian Authority is doing, in its inability to really confront Israel, its unwillingness to, and its playing of divisive politics between Gaza and the West Bank. However, they are still fulfilling their job as security forces to Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.
MUNIER: What does it look like on the streets in Israel, in Tel Aviv, for example?
ROSENFELD: Tel Aviv’s a bubble. I mean, it was interesting. I was in a cafï¿½, writing a comment piece about everything that’s been going on in the West Bank and Gaza earlier today, and, like, people were, you know, pretty much ignoring the war, having coffee, having wine, you know, chatting about their own personal lives over lunch. I mean, there have been demonstrations in Tel Aviv by the Israeli left, and especially the radical left. The demonstration in Tel Aviv which was actually impressive only had about 600-700 people. There really is a strong sense of bubble, even though missiles are getting closer and closer. Katyushas that were fired from Gaza hit Beersheva, and the day before hit Ashdod.
MUNIER: Many have linked the timing of this attack with the upcoming Israeli elections, specifically with Ehud Barak, Olmert’s minister of defense and the leader of the Labor Party, suggesting that he is using this attack for political gain. What do you think?
ROSENFELD: The attack happening right now has everything to do with the elections. Barak and the Labor Party have basically been collapsing and floundering. Shas earlier in the election campaign lashed out at Labor, claiming that Barak would act far more quickly if there were missiles falling on central Israel or Tel Aviv, rather than just falling on the south. So basically what Barak has done is seen an opportunity in this attack on Gaza as an advantage for the Labor Party to try and make a statement that Labor comes to the defense of Israeli citizens everywhere and is actually the most effective at defending Israel. And it’s also using an anti-Palestinian sentiment in order to bolster Labor’s own potential, at least raising their seat count if not trying to form the government. It’s one that seems to have, over the past couple of days, had a positive effect on the Labor Party, the attack on Gaza, that is. It’s also not out of context for Barak. I mean, he’s known here as being a violent and explosive politician.
MUNIER: In spite of this attack, Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] is still ahead in the polls. His party, Likud, is known as more right-wing. Do you think this means a move to the right for Israel?
ROSENFELD: Based on the kind of slate that he’s got, or his list of candidates, despite the fact that he’s tried to marginalize the most right-wing and the most nationalist, he will have a very right-wing government. And so what you’ll see is a far more aggressive and unapologetic Israeli policy that won’t use the nuanced strategy of, while expanding occupation, using the language of peace. [inaudible] see is [inaudible] rhetoric of the elections, in terms of developing a highly militaristic and highly anti-Palestinian sentiment.
MUNIER: [inaudible] of Al Jazeera reported on Sunday that, and I quote, “During an Israeli election year, a hardline position towards Palestinians has always won more seats, making the timing particularly risky for Hamas,” unquote. So what about Hamas? Did they not foresee Israel’s actions?
ROSENFELD: Hamas is trying to get a better deal in a ceasefire negotiation. Their main reason for ending it was because Israel didn’t end its siege of Gaza. That was the main conditions for Hamas entering the ceasefire. They’ve clearly stated in their own PR and media that if Israel invades with ground troops, they’ll turn this into another Lebanon War. And with their tens of thousands of guerrilla fighters that are well trained, that itself could completely shift the election in an entirely different direction.
MUNIER: With all these Israeli ground forces now amassing along the border, what do you think is going to happen next?
ROSENFELD: They may very well try a ground invasion in this election and just try and bomb Gaza a lot more before they do, in the hope of destroying a lot of, you know, Hamas’s resistance infrastructure. There was assessments that Hamas had about 20,000 guerrillas. Shabak, Israeli security services, in their recent analysis of the situation said, you know, and are trying to prepare the public for heavy Israeli casualties. However, it will have very strong political ramifications once Israeli troops start dying.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.