Hearts and mines: 9 things to know for April 8
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Israel media review

Hearts and mines: 9 things to know for April 8

The fighting on the Gaza border is recognized as a battle over perceptions, and one Israel isn’t necessarily winning

Palestinian demonstrators wave their national flag and shouts slogans against Israeli security forces during a protest on the Israel-Gaza border in the northern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Palestinian demonstrators wave their national flag and shouts slogans against Israeli security forces during a protest on the Israel-Gaza border in the northern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

1. Another weekend saw more deadly violence on the Israel-Gaza border, and, as a week ago, it’s quickly followed by both sides puffing up their chests and a healthy dose of hand-wringing from the sidelines.

  • Haaretz’s Sunday paper leads off with the number of dead and injured, but the absurdist quality of the protests is displayed on the front page of tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth, which features a picture of protesters dressed up as a bird mascot and a clown.
  • The paper’s headline, “Terror in disguise,” also highlights the nationalist tendencies of the country’s main tabloid press, together with Israel Hayom, both of which play up a Nazi insignia spotted on a Palestinian flag seen fluttering in Gaza during Friday’s demonstrations.
  • The featuring of the swastika flag is no coincidence, as it serves to make the Gazans as unsympathetic as possible, which is kind of the point. “The battle is over the narrative, over the minds,” writes Nahum Barnea in Yedioth. “The question is how this will look in the eyes of Israelis, in the eyes of Gazans, in the eyes of West Bank Palestinians, in the eyes of the Arab street, in the eyes of the West, five different fronts, each with its own politics. Israel cannot win this battle, it can only not lose.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Amnon Lord writes that the Nazi flag won’t change anybody’s mind about the conflict. “Will it prevent another unanimous vote in the UN Security Council against Israel and in support of the Palestinians’ war?” he asks rhetorically.
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that Israel thinks it will be condemned no matter what it does and will also be unconditionally backed by the US, hence its decision to deploy sniper fire less judiciously than it might otherwise: “The understanding was that international interest in events on the Gaza border was limited. Israel would be subject to the usual condemnations no matter how it handled the demonstrations,” he writes.

2. If it’s a battle for hearts and minds, then the killing of a Gazan journalist covering the protests is surely a major notch against Israel.

  • In classic style, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman refused to back down Saturday night, saying that anyone flying a drone near IDF soldiers, as Yasser Murtaja was doing according to Israel Radio, was putting himself in danger, though the army denies shooting him on purpose.
  • “I don’t know who is or isn’t a photographer,” Liberman said. On Sunday morning, he tells Israel Radio “there are no innocent people in Gaza,” repeating the Israeli talking point that the journalist was actually sent by Hamas to stir up trouble. (He later clarified that he had used the Hebrew word tamim to mean “naive” rather than “innocent”.)
  • News reports note that Murtaja was clearly marked as “Press,” and the incident is about as bad as a swastika flag, if not worse. “He was wearing a vest marked ‘PRESS.’ He was shot dead covering a protest in Gaza,” reads a headline in The Washington Post, which is about as bad press as is possible for the Jewish state to get.

3. Forget the perceptions. Can things get worse IRL? Even though Friday’s protests were slightly smaller and less deadly than the week before, the question of whether the demonstrations will grow and spread is still on peoples’ minds.

  • Israel Hayom reports that the IDF is already gearing up for next week, when a focus on burning tires will be replaced with a focus on Molotov cocktails.
  • “On Friday, we are expecting a rerun of the violence we’ve seen until now, maybe even worse than last Friday,” Yedioth’s Alex Fishman writes, noting that Friday will be Prisoners Day. “Each side is learning the other side’s weak points and deploying new tricks, ensuring more and more casualties.”
  • The Times of Israel’s Khaled Abu Toameh notes that chances of protests spreading beyond Gaza, at least, are slim, with an emotional distance festering alongside the physical one separating the Palestinians in the two territories: “It’s not that the Palestinians of the West Bank don’t care anymore about their brothers in the Gaza Strip. Rather, it’s the feeling that watching the news coming from the Gaza Strip is no longer all that different than watching what happens in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world.”

4. The decision of Honduran President Juan Hernandez to attend Israel’s annual state torchlighting ceremony to mark the start of Independence Day later this month throws a bucket of gasoline in the already flammable mix surrounding the event.

  • Hernandez’s move is seen as paving the way for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attend, following a blistering fight between Culture Minister Miri Regev and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein on whether the premier has the right to attend the event normally kept free of politics and run by the Knesset, not the government.
  • “Netanyahu has decided to speak at the ceremony despite protests by Edelstein and threats to boycott it,” Haaretz reports.
  • The paper, like other news sites, does not cite a source of the news that Netanyahu will go, which came out just as the long Passover weekend was beginning on Thursday evening, and was likely purposefully leaked then to minimize fallout.
  • Israel Hayom, which does cite “Netanyahu’s surroundings” as its source for the information, notes that the prime minister’s surroundings did not make clear if he will simply attend or speak as well.
  • The paper also reports that former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gilon is calling on the public watching the ceremony on TV to either turn it off or change the channel should Netanyahu get up to give a political speech at the ceremony.

5. Even the participation of Hernandez is seen as controversial. Yedioth Ahronoth points out that Honduras did not support Israel becoming a state at the UN 70 years ago (abstaining in the vote) and notes the allegations of election fraud surrounding Hernandez’s re-election last year.

6. As far as despots go, Hernandez is a far cry from Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is accused Sunday morning of orchestrating another chemical attack on his own people, this time in Douma, with the death toll as of this writing at 70 at least.

  • The attack is leading Israeli news sites, with some reporting a death toll as high as 150, and it comes amid Israeli misgivings over the planned US withdrawal from Syria.
  • “I hope the American and international presence there will be boosted, otherwise the genocide there will only spread,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tells Army Radio Sunday morning.

7. Liberman, meanwhile, indicates to Israel Radio that the US did not consult with Israel about its planned Syria withdrawal.

  • “President Trump didn’t ask me,” Liberman says.”I wouldn’t presume to give advice that hasn’t been requested from me.”
  • The statement comes days after a report that a call between Donald Trump and Netanyahu grew tense over the issue.

8. Another crack in the unbreakable bond between Israel and the US shows in the release of basketballer Omri Casspi from the Golden State Warriors just as they were on the cusp of playoffs.

  • ESPN reports that the Warriors let the Israeli player go to make room for Quinn Cook, since Casspi has minor injuries on the side of his right foot preventing him from running or jumping, both pretty essential skills in basketball.
  • “Since he was released after March 1, Casspi cannot sign with another team for the playoffs and so will again miss out on the postseason, which he has never been able to participate in during his nine-year NBA career,” the Walla news site reports, calling it “very sad” news.

9. Very sad is also this New York Times article and photo essay about the 150 Jews left in Bukhara, where there are over 100,000 Jewish graves, testifying to the once massive Jewish community in the Uzbek Silk Road city.

  • “We are all ready to leave. Only the old folk are hanging on,” one women is quoted saying, complaining about her father-in-law who refuses to make for Queens or Israel like the rest of the community. “He won’t leave so we have to stay.”
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