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A. Loewenstein Online Newsletter

Musings on daily life for Gazans


Posted: 14 Mar 2012


Amira Hass writes in Haaretz about the grim reality for those caught between Palestinian rockets and Israeli bombardment:

On the first day of the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians, children in the Gaza Strip went to school – as they did throughout the most recent exchange of fire. “There were two days I didn’t send the girls to school,” a friend told me on the phone, “but that was when it was very cold. During the recent bombardments I sent them.”

Another friend, a teacher, insisted that her children go to school just as she did. This, despite the fact that on Monday two Palestinians were killed near a school in Beit Lahia. Mohammed Mustafa al-Husseini, 65, and his daughter Faiza, 30, were working their plot of land near the Tel el-Za’atar school in Beit Lahia when a missile from an Israeli fighter jet was fired at them, according to Palestinian reports. The father was killed instantly and the daughter died of her injuries in the hospital.

“The fears from 2008 have come back and awakened,” the young daughter of one of my friends said. The bombardments remind Gazans of the December 27, 2008 missile attack on the police center in Gaza, which was near schools.

“We’re going to visit friends now,” another friend reported, while waiting for her sister to come downstairs and get a taxi. “We went out very little over the past few days, only what was urgent. School, work, grocery, clinic,” she said.

The Israel Defense Forces has not allowed Israeli journalists into the Gaza Strip since late 2006, and phone calls are a necessary, albeit pitiful, alternative to proper coverage.

On Tuesday the streets began to fill more. And if there weren’t that many cars, it’s because of the shortage of gasoline.

Gaza is getting ready for a victory parade that Islamic Jihad is going to hold this evening at 6 P.M., my interlocutors told me yesterday afternoon.

One friend uses the word “victory” cynically. He doesn’t believe what the Palestinians are hearing from Islamic Jihad – that Israel agreed to a cease-fire, including a cessation of targeted killings; otherwise, the small organization would aim its missiles at Tel Aviv.

But when another friend used the word “victory” it was without cynicism. “They were defending us,” he said of Islamic Jihad. Then we began discussing what “defense” means, a word used by those who justify the Palestinian rocket fire. How do primitive rockets protect them, in the face of Israeli bombardment and missiles? They did and do the opposite; they invite even more deadly and frightening Israeli attacks.

The discussion, too, is part of the routine, with or without a ceasefire.

My uncynical friend says rockets are a defense against the feeling of humiliation and helplessness engendered by every targeted killing.

“People know that rocket fire is not the solution,” my friend says. “And yet in the first moment of response, when firing a rocket or a Grad, they’re happy. Right afterward they’re afraid of what will happen.”

Another friend said Islamic Jihad gained support because it responded to an assassination of a member of another faction – the Popular Resistance Committees. “The mission of the rockets is not to liberate Palestine or win the battle, but to hurt, to cause the Israelis suffering,” he said.

State of the Taliban 2012


Posted: 13 Mar 2012


Fascinating insights, published by Matthieu Atkins in GQ:

This month’s issue of GQ contains an exclusive account of the 20-hour assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul last September. As the article shows, the attack—though militarily unsuccessful—was a public relations victory for the Taliban. In February, excerpts from a classified NATO report were leaked in the press that further undermined the official U.S. military line on the war. GQ has obtained a copy of the secret report, which contains a frank assessment of the Taliban, their ties to Pakistan, and their prospects for victory over the Afghan government.

PART I: What the Report Means
The report, “State of the Taliban: January 6, 2012,” is part of a regularly published series on the insurgency that’s based on the interrogations of thousands of detainees. It offers an unvarnished glimpse into the inner beliefs of the military establishment in Afghanistan for two reasons: First, as a classified document, it was intended solely for internal consumption, and second, it was put together by a special operations team working under the Joint Special Operations Command, which is responsible for the US military’s most secretive and demanding special forces missions, including the one that killed Osama bin Laden last year.

The special operations team that authored the report, known as Joint Task Force 3-10, allegedly helps oversee a “black site” prison at the largest US military base in the country, located at Bagram air base, just north of Kabul. In the introduction, the report describes how it was put together:

“Throughout the year, TF 3-10 conducted over 27,000 interrogations of over 4,000 Taliban, Al Qaeda, foreign fighters and civilians. As this document is derived directly from insurgents, it should be considered informational and not necessarily analytical.”While, as the authors note, the report is intended to be a presentation of the information they’ve gathered from detainees, in certain passages it clearly includes their own views and analysis. And though the ‘black sites’ operated by the CIA and special forces in Afghanistan have in the past been associated with detainee abuse, overall the interrogators seem notably sympathetic to the detainees’ motivations and understanding of Afghan politics and culture.

1. Who are the Taliban?
The report is remarkable for its clear-eyed view of the insurgency, a far cry from the caricature that often features in military press releases. Rather than merciless fanatics, the Taliban are portrayed as a nuanced and complex phenomenon — one deeply involved in violence and criminality, but also pragmatic and evolving, with a deep base of support among ordinary Afghans. It portrays them as motivated both by nationalistic and religious grounds:

“[Afghan government] corruption, abuse of power and suspected lack of commitment to Islam continue to provoke significant anti-government sentiment. The Taliban will be hostile to any government which appears to act as an agent of foreign powers to instill Western values.”The report makes clear the distinction between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, whose influence is seen as dissipating under the pressure of military strikes and the loss of much of its core leadership:

“In most regions of Afghanistan, Taliban leaders have no interest in associating with Al Qaeda. Working with Al Qaeda invites targeting, and Al Qaeda personnel are no longer the adept and versatile fighters and commanders they once were. Even Taliban groups with historically close ties to Al Qaeda, such as the Haqqani Network, have had little or no interaction with them in the last two years.”

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