TIME Gaza

Netanyahu: Gaza Fight Will Continue Until Tunnels Are Destroyed

IDF soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade guarding and neutralizing tunnels that were dug by the Hamas organization and leading into Israel, Khan Younis, Gaza, July 30, 2014.
IDF soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade guarding and neutralizing tunnels that were dug by the Hamas organization and leading into Israel, Khan Younis, Gaza, July 30, 2014. Ziv Koren—Polaris

"We are determined to complete this mission, with or without a ceasefire"


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Thursday to continue his country’s offensive against Palestinian militants in Gaza until tunnels facilitating attacks on Israel were destroyed, defying peace efforts and potentially extending the three-week war for at least several more days, if not longer.

“We are determined to complete this mission, with or without a cease-fire,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks ahead of a government meeting in Tel Aviv on Thursday, according to Reuters. “I won’t agree to any proposal that will not enable the Israeli military to finish this important task, for the sake of Israel’s security.”

The Israeli military also called up 16,000 more reservists, a move that an unnamed military official told Reuters was done to relieve some of the tens of thousands of other reservists already called up.

At least 1,372 Palestinians, most of them civilians, in Gaza—and 56 Israeli soldiers and three civilians—have been killed since Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge” on July 8 in response to rocket fire from Gaza. Netanyahu’s security cabinet approved continuing operations to destroy the network of tunnels in Gaza on Wednesday amid international efforts to reach a cease-fire.

[Reuters]

 

 

TIME Gaza

A U.N. School Is No Refuge as the War Worsens in Gaza

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Palestinian civilians wounded during Israeli shelling of a U.N. school wait at the Kamal Odwan Hospital in northern Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014 Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

A strike on a U.N. school being used as a refuge in Gaza leaves 15 people dead, and puts more international pressure on Israel

Seventeen times, officials from the U.N. called their contacts in the Israeli army to give them the exact GPS coordinates of a U.N. school in the Jabalya Refugee Camp. “There was fighting very close by and the staff there was very alarmed,” Christopher Gunness, the spokesman of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which works with Palestinian refugees, tells TIME. “We told them what the precise coordinates were.”

Despite the worried calls, the Jabalya Elementary Girls School was hit just after the early morning call to prayer Wednesday, when most of the 3,000 people taking shelter there were asleep. A few minutes later, the school was hit by a second explosion, in which a shell or a rocket crashed through the roof of the building. Fifteen people were killed and more than 100 injured.

However it happened, the devastating attack of the U.N. school seems such an egregious example of killing innocent civilians that it could be a turning point in the three-week-old war between Israel and Hamas that senior U.S., European and Middle Eastern officials have so far failed to halt. Strong condemnations have come in from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the strike “unjustifiable,” as well as from the White House. It is the second time over the past several days that a U.N. school has been hit, and the sixth such incident since the war began.

The refugees at Jabalya “are people who were told to leave their homes by the IDF,” Gunness says. As a result, there are 200,000 Gazans around the Strip living in 85 shelters, leaving UNRWA and other aid agencies struggling to provide for their most basic needs. That includes water, which is trucked in because most of the tap water in Gaza is undrinkable even during peacetime. “We can’t offer safe sanctuary. We ask people to respect the inviolability of our offices.” Earlier in the day, Gunness tweeted: “UNRWA condemns in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces.”

Israeli forces, however, have not taken responsibility for the attack on the school. As it did after fiery destruction of a power plant a day earlier, which seemed to indicate Israel was not just striking military targets but also the kind of basic civilian infrastructure that could permanently affect the more than 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip, the IDF said it was checking the incident and could not confirm who had hit the school.

“We don’t target U.N. facilities in any way, shape or form,” Lieut. Colonel Peter Lerner tells TIME. He describes the IDF’s version of events: “In the early hours of the morning, there was mortar fire launched from the vicinity of the school and there was an exchange of fire there. In the aftermath of that, there was a report of deaths in the school. We are reviewing this incident.”

Lerner says that in the past few days, there have been “several attempts by Hamas to pin on Israel launches from the Gaza Strip” that didn’t go as planned, landing on civilians instead of in Israel. “There are two cases in which we are aware of — the Beach Camp [Shati] and the attack on Shifa Hospital — which were the result of rockets that were definitely launched in Gaza.” As for UNRWA’s 17 distressed calls to the Israeli army, Lerner said that the location of the U.N. schools was not the issue. “We know where their schools are, as well as shelters and warehouses, and we have an ongoing relationship with their offices in Gaza to facilitate their humanitarian work on the ground. In fact, the humanitarian cease-fire today was to enable their ongoing activities.”

That cease-fire — though a four-hour lull or pause would be a more precise description — was declared by Israel in part because of U.N. requests, ostensibly to allow emergency workers to go out into the field and to remove bodies from the ruins. Hamas, for its part, has refused to participate in any cease-fires unilaterally declared by Israel, and continued launching several rockets even during the cease-fire, adding to the more than 2,670 that have been fired since July 7. During this so-called lull, Israeli warplanes struck a crowded market in Shujaiyeh, killing 15 people. Shujaiyeh, an area in the eastern part of Gaza City, has witnessed the heaviest bombardment by the IDF since it began its ground operation, with many of the buildings reduced to ruins.

At the Kamal Odwan Hospital in northern Gaza Strip, Said Sulaiman sits over the bed of his son Rezeq, who was seriously wounded by shrapnel at the U.N. School in Jabalya. As instructed by the Israeli army, two weeks ago they decided to flee their house in Atattra, near Beit Lahia — an agricultural area that in the past has been used by Hamas and other militants for launching rockets — and came to seek shelter at the U.N. school.

“I came to the school in search of a safe place. My family is still in the school while I am here, and I hope no strikes will happen while I am away,” says Sulaiman, 55. “We are waiting here in the room until the operation room is ready to take him into surgery. I hope they won’t have to amputate his leg. I just want to return to my house with my family safe after the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, and for the aggression to stop.”

A more lasting cease-fire still seems elusive, however. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet agreed Wednesday night to intensify attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza and to keep destroying tunnels. The night before, Mohammed Deif, the head of al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said that only Israel lifting its blockade of Gaza would be enough for the militant group to agree to a cease-fire.

A Hamas-made video released on the same night, showing militants infiltrating Israel via a tunnel, successfully ambushing and killing five Israeli soldiers near Nahal Oz, has only confirmed for the government that the tunnels still pose a danger, encouraging the government to continue the fight. A poll released Tuesday found that 90% of Israeli Jews think the IDF operation in Gaza is justified. The survey, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, indicated that most expected the war to continue.

The Palestinian Ministry of Healthy put the death toll Wednesday at 1,361; Israel has lost 58 soldiers and three civilians. Israeli officials blame Hamas for many of the civilian deaths, repeatedly accusing the militant group of shooting from within populated areas, including residential buildings and hospital. Netanyahu himself has charged Hamas with regularly using human shields, purposefully putting people in harm’s way. That means Israel’s soldiers and pilots have to either have to retreat from their targets or shoot anyway, knowing that civilians will be killed in the process.

Gunness counters that on three occasions, including one this week, rocket caches have been discovered in U.N. schools, but noted that these were empty, out-of-use structures undergoing maintenance — not buildings housing refugees.

“On these separate occasions, [rockets] were found in schools that have been closed for the summer and which were being inspected by UNRWA,” Gunness says. “We condemned the groups that put them there as a flagrant violation of the sanctity and neutrality of the U.N., we immediately notified all relevant parties, and we have never handed them over to Hamas.” The dispute over who hit the U.N. school continues, but the day’s grim images make one fact indisputable: there are no safe havens in Gaza.

— With reporting by Hazem Balousha / Gaza City

TIME foreign affairs

How the United Nations Human Rights Council Unfairly Targets Israel

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Israeli army armored personnel carriers (APC) move along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014. JACK GUEZ—AFP/Getty Images

Curiously absent from the latest resolution is any mention of Hamas

There are 1,725 words in the latest resolution released by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which cynically chastises Israel for so-called “human rights violations” in Gaza.

Nowhere among those 1,725 words will you find the name of the terror organization that is truly responsible for every civilian death and every human rights violation in both Israel and Gaza: Hamas.

Instead of focusing on actual human rights violators around the world, as this international body was created to do, the UNHRC keeps its main focus on Israel—a nation that has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect and preserve the lives of civilians, both during this latest conflict and throughout previous defensive responses to Hamas’ terror.

A nation, Israel, which Colonel Richard Kemp, the Former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, has said “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

Since its inception in 2006, the UNHRC has released a total of 103 resolutions. Astonishingly, 56 have focused on criticizing Israel. The UNHRC has held a total of 21 special sessions to address dire humanitarian crises throughout the world. One has addressed Sudan, another Sri Lanka, another Ivory Coast and another Libya—while 7 of the 21 special sessions have irrationally targeted Israel.

While the UNHRC goes after Israel, it has completely ignored Hamas’ actions. There have been more than 2,600 rockets lobbed by Hamas at Israel. But you’ll find the word “rocket” appear only once in this latest resolution.

Hamas makes no secret of its intentions. This terrorist organization openly states that it deliberately fires rockets at Israeli civilians and calls for the kidnapping and murder of all Israelis.

Even the Palestinian representative to the UNHRC, Ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi, stated in a July 9 interview with Palestinian television that such attacks against Israel violate humanitarian law. He said, “the missiles that are now being launched against Israel, each and every missile constitutes a crime against humanity, whether it hits or misses, because it is directed at civilian targets.”

What makes Hamas’ actions a double war crime is that they target civilians in Israel while exploiting civilians in Gaza and using them as human shields.

Hamas is building its terror command centers and weapons storage facilities among schools, hospitals and mosques, showing no regard for civilian lives. Israel’s concerted efforts to avoid harming uninvolved civilians have been well documented. Hamas instructs the people in Gaza to ignore Israel’s phone calls, leaflets and text messages, warning civilians of pending attacks against terrorists. Knowingly, they put Palestinians in harm’s way turning them into propaganda tools.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a television interview earlier this month, “the fact that people are facing Israeli warplanes bare-chested to protect their homes, I believe this procedure has proved its efficiency. And we in the Hamas movement call on our people to adopt this procedure.”

Where is the condemnation for this war crime? Where is the so-called “Human Rights Council”?

UNHRC’s mechanisms for voting and membership seem designed to protect some of the worst human rights violators in the world. This is an organization whose elected membership has included such stalwarts of human rights as Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Iran and Libya under Muammar Qaddafi. Israel is the only country that is on the UNHRC’s “standing agenda” to be debated at each session—not Syria, not the Congo, not Sudan—but the only democracy in the Middle East.

There have been more resolutions aimed against Israel than all 191 countries in the world, combined.

The real tragedy is, of course, the suffering that civilians in Israel and Gaza are experiencing because of Hamas’ terrorist actions and motives. Hamas has disrupted the lives of millions of Israelis, forcing us into bomb shelters on a daily basis. Hamas’ decision to ignore and reject ceasefires, divert international aid meant to restore basic infrastructure in Gaza into the production of more weapons and an underground network of terror tunnels and, most heinously, their decision to use civilians as human shields are all evidence of how Hamas continues to perpetuate the suffering of their own people in Gaza.

Instead of wasting its time on these misguided, one-sided resolutions that antagonize Israel, the UNHRC must turn its attention to true human rights violators throughout the world, especially terrorist groups like Hamas. Hamas and its ideological partners in Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and Hezbollah are committed to terror. They stand against the most basic and natural human rights, they have no regard for human life, they mistreat and violate the rights of women and they oppose all believers in free speech and democracy.

The UNHRC must shift its focus to eradicating these crucial injustices facing humanity today, and abandon its politically motivated and cynical agenda to target Israel.

Ambassador Ido Aharoni is the Consul General of Israel in New York.

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Joe Lieberman: Obama Administration “Has Gone Off The Track” On Israel

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-CT., during a press conference in the Senate Studio in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on December 31, 2012.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-CT., during a press conference in the Senate Studio in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on December 31, 2012. Douglas Graham—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

The former Democratic Vice Presidential nominee-turned-independent also says he is watching the rise of Rand Paul "with concern."

After 24 years representing Connecticut in the Senate, Joe Lieberman left Washington in Jan. 2013 as a man without a party—a Democrat-turned-independent-turned-GOP-endorser.

Speaking to TIME 18 months later, Lieberman is content with his decision to quit the Senate, but still has doubts about Washington’s handling of domestic issues and global crises. “I do feel that the Obama administration has gone off the track in the efforts to broker a ceasefire,” he says, saying that the reported terms of a U.S.-offered agreement would have left Hamas stronger from its ongoing conflict with Israel.

The former Democratic vice presidential nominee said he takes issue with the growing “neo-isolationism” within the Democratic and Republican parties, saying he’s watched the rise of Sen. Rand Paul “with concern.” “The world suffers and the American people suffer eventually both in terms of our security and our prosperity—and ultimately our freedom—if we’re not engaged in problems elsewhere,” he says.

Lieberman said he has yet to make a decision about who to endorse in 2016, after drawing fire from Democrats for his outspoken support for Sen. John McCain over then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. But he said he believes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would keep the Democratic Party engaged in the world.

Lieberman was recently named the inaugural Joseph Lieberman Chair in Public Policy and Public Service at Yeshiva University where he will deliver lectures and teach in the upcoming academic year. Lieberman says he hopes to convince young people to pursue public service despite the gridlock in Washington.

The following conversation has been lightly condensed and edited:

Looking at the dysfunction in Washington today, are you glad you left Congress? How do you plan on encouraging young people to go into public service in this political climate?

I didn’t leave because of the partisanship and the lack of getting anything done, but it made it a lot easier to leave. I will tell you that my last two years was the least productive of my 24 for me and for the Congress really. And I watch it needless to say from here with a sense of, oh, disappointment, frustration, and in some sense embarrassment because I still feel an identity with the institution. And I know how important it is that it gets some problems solved.

Notwithstanding all of that, or maybe in some sense because of all the dysfunction in the federal government and government generally, but the federal government particularly, people like me have to try to convince students that it’s worth getting involved and that they can still make a difference and maybe together with others of like mind and heart they can actually change things for the better. I look back on my years in public service with a lot of gratitude for the various things that I was able to do. Part of my message to the students at YU is going to be I never got, honestly, anything significant done without the support of people in the Republican Party. In other words, I never felt that I could do it alone as a Democrat, and obviously in my last term as an independent I needed support of people in both parties. It’s all about a willingness to put—as formalistic as it sounds—to put the interests of country ahead of the interests of party or ideology.

How do you view the turmoil in the world today and the American response, particularly to the conflict in Gaza?

These events have occurred of their own momentum. They have a life of their own. On the other hand, I’m afraid that the U.S. has sent a message that we’re going to be less engaged in the world than we have been at other times in our history and I’m afraid that encourages some others to try to take advantage of us and our allies. It’s not just President Obama and the U.S. government, I think in many ways it’s the Europeans as well. And I’m afraid that may have encouraged Putin to seize the moment and seize Crimea. So the world suffers and the American people suffer eventually both in terms of our security and our prosperity—and ultimately our freedom—if we’re not engaged in problems elsewhere. So that’s a general statement.

I think in the Hamas-Israel conflict, which is just one of a broader series of conflicts going on in the middle east, the administration has been strong in supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against the Hamas missile attacks and the Hamas terrorist attacks. But lately, I do feel that the Obama administration has gone off the track in the efforts to broker a ceasefire, as much as everybody would like to see the violence stop. Because I think those efforts, if they had been pushed any harder—it seems like they have fallen by the wayside now—would have really allowed Hamas to emerge from this much stronger than they went into it and they began this. Israel is our ally and Israel is a democracy and Israel is governed by the rule of law. Hamas is a terrorist organization that is a declared enemy of the U.S. as well as Israel. And the last proposal made by Secretary Kerry, who I greatly admire and like, but nonetheless if the proposal was as it was reported, it really would have strengthened Hamas and weakened Israel. And in some sense coincidentally strengthened Qatar, Turkey, and Iran who are backing Hamas and weakened our other allies in the Arab world like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE and the Palestinian Authority who don’t want to see Hamas strengthened. So I think it was a mistake and I’m glad it seems to have fallen by the wayside and I hope the Secretary tries again but with another plan.

Looking ahead to the 2016 election, what do you make of the field. Many Democrats are coalescing around former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, do you think you will as well?

I don’t know yet. It’s good to be out of active politics and watching it. I’ve known Secretary Clinton for a long time. We met briefly, though I got to know President Clinton much better, when they were both at Yale Law School. And I’ve known them well. So I have a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton and some of the things that I’ve worried about in both the Obama administration and the drift of the Democratic party which is away from American international leadership, I hope and believe would not be true with Hillary Clinton as the candidate, and if she’s elected, as the president. But it’s much too early for me, anyway, to decide what or whether or if anybody cares I will do in this campaign. The more fascinating part of the campaign, of course, will be the Republican presidential primaries.

What do you make of the rise of Sen. Rand Paul and the Republican Party’s isolationist wing.

I’ve watched it with concern, because honestly, as a pro-defense Democrat, there’s a way in which I relied for some period of time on the Republicans—and some Democrats, but not other Democrats—to support strong defense, muscular foreign policy, etc. Now there is a certain attrition happening on the Republican side, mostly among the so-called libertarians and to a certain extent among tea party people who are so focused on reducing taxes that they seem more willing than Republicans have in recent years to cut back on support of America’s defense. There is—I don’t think any of us have found the right word for it, so I opt for neo-isolationism. There is a kind neo-isolationism, certainly a retrenchment from internationalism going on in both parties and to me it’s troubling. It’s troubling for the future of the country.

How did this appointment come about? What are you hoping to accomplish?

It ended up with an unexpected result. Richard Joel, the president of YU, reached out to me last year about wanting to do something in my name at YU in public policy. For the obvious reason, I suppose, that I am both Orthodox Jewish and was involved in public service. I was touched and honored by that. Because I hoped and still do that it’s going to be a permanent, endowed chair, but then they surprised me toward the end of the process asking me to be the first occupant of the chair, which I’ll do for a while as long as it’s working for me and the students, but i’m exciting about it. It’s very much part time. I’m going to give three public lectures in the fall semester in various schools of the university, probably starting with one Yeshiva College, one at Stern [College for Women], and then one at Cardozo [Law School]. And then in the second semester I will teach an undergraduate course in public policy, public service. So I’m looking forward to it. I actually taught this last semester at Columbia law School and I’m going to repeat that course this fall and I enjoyed it immensely, more than I expected actually. It was just very rewarding to try to convey what I experienced and learned to the next generation of students, some of whom, hopefully, will consider public service.

I’ve taught college courses way back to the late 70s and early 80s at Yale. So those were residential college seminars and I enjoyed that too. But I must say that I’m at a different stage of my life. I finished my time in elected office, I look back at it with great gratitude that I had the opportunities I did. There is no question I was influenced by people who were in once sense or another teachers of mine. So I view this as an opportunity both to try to inform students today about public policy, but also to hopefully attract some of them into public service.

TIME Interview

Inside Gaza and Israel: Two Photographers, One War

As the death toll rises in the war between Israel and Hamas, TIME LightBox profiles two photographers who have spent weeks covering the opposing sides: Andrew Katz interviewed Oliver Weiken of European Pressphoto Agency and Olivier Laurent spoke with Getty Images’ Andrew Burton.


The main border crossing between Israel and Gaza is a long, open-air, fenced corridor that begins in a town called Erez. Since 2007, when the militant group Hamas took control of the coastal enclave half the size of New York City’s five boroughs, Israel has enforced a blockade. Its purpose: to block in Hamas, but it also seals off 1.8 million Palestinians who, in effect, have nowhere to hide when war comes.

For Oliver Weiken, a German photographer based in Tel Aviv, there was “no question” he intended to cover the battle from Gaza. It was just a matter of getting in. He was working the World Cup in Brazil when the fatal abductions of three Israeli teenagers led to an Israeli crackdown on the West Bank and Gaza, followed by an increase in rocket fire from Hamas. The revenge killing of a Palestinian youth exacerbated the situation, with the militant group escalating its attacks and Israel responding with a large-scale military offensive on July 8.

Five days later, Weiken, 30, made the long walk into Gaza, his third visit since the eight-day war in October 2012. “It gives you a bit of time to think about what you want to see, what you don’t want to see and what you probably will see,” he tells TIME. The walk felt familiar, but any similarities to his previous visits soon vanished.

After more than two weeks, Weiken, who stays in the Al Deira Hotel on Gaza’s coastline, has formed a bit of a routine. He doesn’t sleep much — he’s usually out the door by 6 a.m. for first light — and he’s constantly on alert. For the next few hours, he seeks out destruction that might have rained down overnight. After filing his morning batch, he aims for a nap in the afternoon and heads back out when the light is good again. Daytime attacks can end the routine quickly, however, resulting in sudden trips to hospitals, morgues or funerals.

“It’s really hard not to repeat yourself on a daily basis,” he says. That has become increasingly difficult as the security situation has become more precarious, forcing many photographers to travel in small packs. “At this stage of the war, nobody really ventures out alone anymore.”

 

Gaza Strip, Gaza City: My friend Oliver in Shujaya district during the ceasefire on July 26, 2014. ALESSIO ROMENZI
Oliver Weiken in Shejaiya, in east Gaza City, during a ceasefire on July 26, 2014. Alessio Romenzi

Access hasn’t been an issue, though, as most civilians recognize why he and the other journalists are there. And since hospitals and morgues are dealing with so many injuries or casualties, they’re too busy to check credentials. That was the case on the morning of July 20 when, at the Shifa Hospital morgue, he walked into a room with four bodies on the table and a doctor at the opposite end, wiping tears from his eyes. They were children, three victims of shrapnel and the fourth without a head — just some of the many bodies he saw on what would become the deadliest day yet, until that point, between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants.

Weiken made a picture but he didn’t linger. He doesn’t want to invade anyone’s privacy but realizes he needs to be there: “I try to be as invisible as possible, yet still be close and actually capture a moment.”

During a more stable cease-fire on July 26, he captured a broader scene in Shejaiya that showed the full wrath of Israeli strikes, then took a step back. “Everybody who photographed this general view was simply astonished, put the camera down and stood there for a minute or two to see this destruction,” he recalls, “because it really looks almost apocalyptic.”

He relies on photographers and writers on the ground for information, but also on the radio and social media like Twitter. The latter is not always reliable, he realizes, but it gives him a sense of what’s happening at that moment.

Many times that has meant witnessing horrific scenes. He avoids overly graphic pictures, reasoning there are more efficient ways of illustrating tragedy than by showing gruesome injuries, bloody gurneys or gory streets. “I think people can better relate and better understand by seeing, for instance, the emotions of relatives reacting to a tragedy,” he says. “Every once in a while, you have pictures of dead people, dead children, but I think you also have to do this in a delicate way,” he adds. “I don’t think a picture of a child with their head blown off will change anything, because people will look away.”

In the end, Weiken considers himself a documentarian. He goes out, photographs what he sees, then shows everyone else. “It is still, in many places in this world, about living or dying, and you need people who are there who can document that.” For his part, he’s not sure what will happen, or when. “I hope that this ends soon. But it’s already dragged out longer than I would have guessed.”

For Andrew Burton, a Getty Images staff photojournalist who just returned to the U.S. after covering the conflict from Israel for two weeks, the hope is that if he and his colleagues “cover this story long enough, eventually, there will be a solution.”

An American based in New York, Burton, 27, frequently shoots domestic assignments but has also covered the revolution in Egypt, the war in Afghanistan and he’s spent time in South Sudan. “[When the conflict started] I mentioned to my editor that I’d be interested in going,” he tells TIME. “I like to cover stories where there’s a narrative arc; where there’s the possibility of an ending. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on for many decades, and I felt this was an important chapter in their story — hopefully one that would move them closer to peace.”

Two days later, his assignment was approved and he was on his way to Ashkelon, an Israeli town south of Tel Aviv and just 10 miles from Gaza. “The Israel Defense Forces doesn’t have an official embed program for journalists like the U.S. military does, so we spent a lot of time driving side roads alongside the border trying to find Israeli troops, to find images that told the story of what is going on.”

The work can be frustrating. “In a lot of cases,” he says, “we’d find a platoon of soldiers and they’d tell us not to take photos, so we’d have to leave.” But, in some cases, especially when Burton met with Israeli reservists, he was allowed to stay for as much as an hour. “From what I could tell, the reservists didn’t mind [being photographed as much as the standing Israeli military].”

Andrew Burton photographing Israeli soldiers responding to a missile siren near Kfar Aza, Israel, July 23, 2014. Albert Fishman Sadikov

“I was trying to find the photos that told the story,” he says. “The first week I was there, when the ground invasion had not yet happened, I’d shoot a lot of photos of tanks firing shells or of piles of shells [that had been used]. Once the ground invasion started, it was even tougher because the military locks down large areas of land, deeming them ‘closed military zones’, and you can’t physically get close enough to the border to actually show troops working inside Gaza.” There were also side stories to photograph, he explains, such as groups of Israelis who would watch the military operations from nearby hilltops, as well as Israeli soldiers’ funerals. “I tried to vary the coverage as much as possible, but there was an element of repetition.”

When Burton wasn’t shooting, he closely observed how Israelis behaved in war time: he was surprised to find a particular national mood that permeated all aspects of daily life in Israel. “I saw what you can expect to see when one country goes to war, which is a real national spirit,” he notes. “Many Israelis I met were very proud of protecting their homeland. There was a lot of symbolism, with many people flying Israeli flags on their cars, for example. That said, I also photographed multiple peace protests, where Israeli citizens strongly disagreed with their country’s actions and desired peace and reconciliation.”

And, as opposed to the U.S. where only a minority of the population has fought in a war, creating, over the years, what Burton calls “a disconnect between soldiers and civilians, in Israel, since [nearly] everyone has to serve in the military, there’s a much greater understanding of what it’s like to [defend your country]. There’s a better relationship between civilians and the military, and I picked up on that especially when I was working alongside other Israeli photographers.”

Burton is now back in the U.S., where he feels it’s important to reflect on what he saw and recorded. “When I’m on assignment, I try to have a thorough understanding of the implications of events I’m covering, but it’s hard to get a 30,000-feet view of what’s going on when you’re in it,” he says. “Compared to what’s going on in Gaza, it’s far less emotionally or spiritually taxing to cover this war from the Israeli side, but I still try to take time for myself to process everything.”

For Weiken, meanwhile, a time of reflection will come once the fighting has stopped. “The reconciliation with what you see in situations like this actually comes afterward, when the war is over and you have time to think about it.” That personal, internal reconciliation will likely start, Weiken believes, during the long walk back to Israel. “It’s cathartic.”


Oliver Weiken, a German photographer based in Tel Aviv, is represented by European Pressphoto Agency. Follow him on Twitter @OliverWeiken.

Andrew Burton, a Getty Images staff photojournalist, is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewBurton.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent.

Andrew Katz is a homepage editor at TIME and reporter covering international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited Burton’s and Weiken’s images for this post, is an associate photo editor at TIME.com. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.


TIME foreign affairs

In Ramallah, a Wedding Stands Against the Chaos and Hate

Israeli attacks continue in Gaza
Smoke rises when Israeli attacks continue in Gaza, July 29,2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Israeli and Palestinian narratives insist on continuing the carnage, with neither side seeming aware of the humanity of the other

Weddings in Ramallah usually take place on Saturdays or Sundays. But when my daughter Tania and her in-laws to be were discussing her wedding date, the main concern was to avoid the World Cup finals. The only available date was Friday, July 11th. Little did we know last April, when we met with the priest at the Latin Church in Ramallah with our expected new in-laws, that this July date would be in the crossfires of a war on Gaza in which rockets would be flying all over.

In addition to local friends and family, we were expecting relatives to arrive from Jordan and the U.S. via Jordan bridges, and some straight into Tel Aviv.

As the wedding day neared, we had to reassure friends and relatives that Ramallah was safe. Friends from Nazareth, Jerusalem and Amman were calling us, saying that they are worried about coming. A week earlier, my brother-in-law, his wife and another couple were nearly killed by angry settlers as he was returning from a wedding in Ramallah. The incident caused us all to reserve half a local hotel in Ramallah to ensure that family and guests would sleep in town rather than risk returning home at night.

Our friends coming from the U.S. were bombarded with news about how almost all of Israel was being hit by rockets from Gaza. The news and images were accompanied with voiceover and scrolling text that portrayed Palestinians as merciless terrorists who were carrying out a totally unprovoked attack on innocent Israelis and terrifying the entire country.

Relatives from Jordan who were also invited to attend the wedding were seeing the same images, but with an entirely different subtext. The rockets were given names and the attacks were part of the heroic Palestinian resistance. In addition to the images of destruction and killing, the narrative of the Arab media was of the Palestinian heroes who were presented as nothing short of some kind of Superman that could go through fire without getting hurt.

Both narratives accompanied angry voices refusing a ceasefire and insisting on the continuation of the carnage in order to accomplish some unclear political or, rather, emotional goal.

The American relatives coming via the Israeli crossings on the Jordan River were extensively questioned and interrogated. In one case, after six hours of delay, Israelis finally allowed all but my nephew. The reason this young man, who belongs to the pacifist Mennonite Church, was not allowed to attend the wedding was because he had volunteered a year earlier with the Christian Peace Makers teams, a faith-based group that helps disenfranchised groups around the world. They have missions in Mexico and in the Palestinian town of Hebron. His main job at the time, in a Palestinian town without any Christian Palestinians, was to help kindergarten children cross the street and protect them from rowdy Jewish settlers who feel that the city of Hebron is their God-given territory, irrespective of who has been living in the city for centuries.

Our Mennonite relatives that did make it visited the Tent of Nations near Bethlehem. The farm, owned by a Christian Palestinian family, is dubbed “people’s bridge” and has turned into a Christian retreat for locals and volunteers. This educational and environmental farm has become a target of nearby Jewish settlers. A few weeks earlier, Israeli troops had uprooted some 1,500 fruit-bearing trees, an act the Palestinian Christian owners felt was a prelude to a possible confiscation to make room for the expansion of the nearby Jewish settlement.

One group of relatives from the U.S. were surprised to find us sitting relaxed in a local hotel balcony when they arrived in Ramallah. On their way, the tourist bus driver had an app on his cellphone that would blare a siren every time a rocket was launched from Gaza. After some hot shawarma sandwiches and Ramallah’s best Rukab ice cream, our relatives began to settle in.

Judging by the diametrically preconceived attitudes formulated by mass media, it is difficult to find anyone on the planet that is neutral in this decades-old conflict. Neither stereotypical images of Palestinians as terrorists or as superheroes does much to show the humanity of Palestinians.

The ongoing onslaught of Gaza is being spun, on the one hand, as an act of self-defense. No country can accept being shot at with rockets, is the typical Israeli line. The speakers never tell their audience that Israel is no ordinary country, that it has been holding another people under military occupation for 47 years, that it has brought Jewish settlers into and besieged the occupied areas in contravention of international law. This siege of Gaza for more than seven years hasn’t been approved by any international body, yet no one is able to put an end to this basic right, describing it as a reward to Hamas rather a right to the human beings living in Gaza.

On the other hand, Palestinian fighters facing up F-16 fighter jets and powerful tank and naval shells respond with unsophisticated rockets that have barely caused any fatalities or physical damage—yet has produced much anger. While the war on Gaza takes on an asymmetrical nature when you look at the reported casualties (more than 1,200 Palestinian civilians versus three Israeli civilians), the conflict is never written about with anything but stereotypical adjectives.

A follower of the Israeli narrative hears the word Hamas as if every one of the 1.8 million Palestinians is a Hamas fighter holding a knife in his teeth and waiting to destroy the entire state of Israel. The pro-Palestinian narrative is similarly oblivious of the humanity of the Israelis and the desire of the majority of Israelis for peace irrespective of the fact that their government is being pulled to extreme positions that have included the yet to be proven justification of the war. Even though Israel began the war on an unproven accusation against the Gaza-based Hamas leadership, the fact is that those killed in Hebron, or in Jerusalem as well as the hundreds in Gaza, are human beings.

Neither side, nor their respective supporters and allies, seems aware of the humanity of the other. After an unbearable seven-year-long siege, Gazans want to live in freedom and independence with open borders so they can visit relatives and friends in Cairo or pray in Jerusalem. And Israelis don’t want to have to run to their shelters every time a siren warns of an incoming rocket.

The day after my daughter was born, September 7th 1990, I got a message on my beeper. Israeli soldiers had clashed with Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, leaving 17 Palestinians dead.

Despite all obstacles since her birth, my daughter has grown into a beautiful, smart and outgoing young woman. Her wedding and the festivities following it were beautiful and joyful. The bride and groom went to Turkey for their honeymoon and returned. But the war on Gaza has not stopped.

The hatred and the dehumanization have escalated to unprecedented levels on both sides. Neither calls of death to Arabs nor anti-Israeli rhetoric will change the basic problem that continues to fester.

The underlying roots of this conflict are political. No military solution can replace the human aspiration of people to live in freedom and independence. The sooner all parties can deal with these yearnings, the sooner we all can have our humanity back.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist. He is a columnist with Al-Monitor and a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on Twitter at @daoudkuttab.

TIME Middle East

15 Killed in Gaza Market Airstrike As Temporary Cease-Fire Passes

As at least 15 were killed in the shelling of a UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza

Updated 1:22 pm ET

An Israeli airstrike on a busy market in Gaza has killed at least 15 and wounded 150 others, the Associated Press reports.

The strike occurred during a four-hour humanitarian cease-fire,which occurred between 3pm and 7pm local time, in the Gaza Strip. The market is situated within Shejaiya, an area which Israel said wasn’t protected by the parameters of its cease-fire.

A Gaza healthy ministry official, Ashraf al-Kidra, told the AP the Gazans shopping in the market believed they were protected.

In a statement released before the cease-fire, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that the humanitarian window would “not apply to the areas in which IDF soldiers are currently operating” — among which is Shejaiya.

The IDF told residents not to return to areas which they were asked to evacuate, and warned “the IDF will respond to any attempt to exploit this window to harm Israeli citizens and Israeli soldiers.” During the cease-fire, the AP reports, Palestinian militants did fire rockets into Israel.

The IDF scheduled the cease-fire earlier Wednesday, after another night of heavy fighting between it and Hamas saw 15 people killed in the Israeli shelling of a UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency said that Tuesday’s attack was the sixth time the IDF had struck a U.N. school during the current conflict. In a statement on their website they called the incident “an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.”

A spokesperson for the IDF told TIME: “The initial IDF investigation suggests that [Palestinian] militants fired mortar shells from the vicinity of the school,” to which the IDF responded. The spokesperson added that the investigation is ongoing.

The White House condemned the UN school shelling Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press reports, but did blame any party for it.

The shelling of the school happened during the 23rd day of operations in the Gaza strip which has so far seen over 1,258 Palestinians killed, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Israel has lost 56 in the fighting.

[AP]

TIME Middle East

Israel’s Operation in Gaza Spreads Beyond Just Tunnels

The collapsed minaret of mosque seen from the destroyed living room of a Palestinian family in a building across the street in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, July 30, 2014.
The collapsed minaret of mosque seen from the destroyed living room of a Palestinian family in a building across the street in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, July 30, 2014. Oliver Weiken—EPA

The Israeli Defense Forces now have Gaza's infrastructure in their sights

Updated July 30, 6:06 a.m. ET

Israeli officials have said in the past week that their main goal in the war against Hamas in Gaza is to destroy as many of what it calls “terror tunnels,” the underground passages built by the militant group that have repeatedly been used to infiltrate Israel. But following a day in which Hamas militants managed to kill 10 Israeli soldiers, Israel responded Tuesday with massive air strikes that seemed aimed at both major infrastructure as well as the visible symbols of Hamas’s power in the Gaza Strip.

In overnight strikes on Monday by aircraft, tanks and navy gunboats, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) attacked 150 targets in Gaza, including the home and office of Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh’s home, the influential Shujaiyeh battalion commander’s home and the Ministry of Finance, as well as al-Aqsa Radio and al-Aqsa Television, two media outlets operated by Hamas. The IDF said it attacked two Hamas command centers and four weapons-storage sites hidden inside mosques and a tunnel Tuesday, before targeting five mosques overnight where it said Hamas had hidden weapons.

Most prominently, it struck Gaza’s main power plant, all but destroying it. “The plant wasn’t working fully in the past few months due to shortages of fuel that comes from Israel,” Rafeeq Abu Maliha, the plant’s director, told reporters. “Three days ago Israel started to hit the station. The first time one missile hit the water and cooling engine. The second air strike they hit the administration building. Last night’s strike was on [a] streaming engine, and in the morning today the tanks of fuel were hit and caused a huge fire in the station.” Gaza has been suffering from severe shortages of power for years,” he said, and many areas of the power plant hit over the course of the war were not currently repairable because of “access difficulties.”

Israel renewed intense airstrikes on Gaza
A Palestinian man walks in front of a fire raging at Gaza’s main power plant on July 29, 2014, in Gaza City, following an overnight Israeli air strike Oliver Weiken—EPA

A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces denied the power station had been on Israel’s hit-list. “The power plant definitely was not a target,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner tells TIME. “We checked with all the forces in the area, air, ground and naval, and we’ve not been able to determine that the IDF has carried out this strike. It could be a Palestinian mortar hit it – we don’t know.” He said the IDF was “looking into” the incident.

Tunnels and rockets are easy for Israel to explain as military targets — both directly threaten Israeli citizens. But if it did intentionally hit the power plant, as well as government and communications buildings, it might indicate that Israel is taking its Operation Protective Edge to a far more punishing level — a move some more conservative members in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have long advocated. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of the influential Jewish Home party on Tuesday said that simply destroying Hamas’ tunnel network isn’t enough, and called on Israel to continue the operation until Hamas loses control. “Hit Hamas without mercy,” Bennett said. “Day and night. On weekdays and holidays. Without respite and without rest. Until they are defeated.”

Whether or not the more conservative Bennett represents the mainstream thinking of the Israeli government, he’s been able to repeatedly make strong statements without a public reprimand from Netanyahu. What seems clear is that the Israeli government and the top political brass fall into two camps: those who see the war ending with the goal of deterrence — hurting Hamas’ military capabilities and making them think twice before launching another rocket once a meaningful cease-fire is actually reached — and those who are gunning for destruction, whether by bringing Hamas to its knees or by managing to overthrow it altogether.

But Talal Okal, an independent Palestinian analyst who lives in Gaza, argues that an extended bombing campaign would be unlikely to topple Hamas. On the contrary, the destruction being broadcast from Gaza will only underscore the need for the kind of international rebuilding efforts that can only be achieved by lifting the embargo on the strip — which happens to be a main demand of Hamas. “I don’t think the Israeli targeting of infrastructure will push Hamas to collapse, but it will be an extra reason to insist to make removing the siege that was imposed seven years ago,” he says. “Everyone suffers from it, Hamas people and ordinary Gazans.

“But at the same time it might push the people to trend more toward finding a political solution soon, as the war is more tiring by the day. I think people are actually supporting Hamas more than in previous wars as there are dead [Israeli] soldiers” for Hamas to point to as a tangible achievement, he explains. “The loss is not only in Gaza but also in Israel, so that would make the people here able to survive and stand more.”

No one doubts that the conditions in Gaza have become extreme. The loss of electricity is causing water shortages and sanitation challenges. The electricity lines along the main street of Gaza City are down entirely, as well as in frontline areas like Shujaiya, Beit Hanoun, Zaitoun and the east of Khan Younis. With no electricity available to charge phones and with many land lines cut by IDF strikes, it is becoming hard for many Gazans to so much as place a phone call to check on a relative or call an ambulance in the event of an emergency.

“Since last night we have been hearing shelling and bombs in the area of the plant, and we’ve had no electricity for three days now,” says Yasser Bakheet, 28, a resident of Nussirat, a neighborhood near the power plant. As much as a missile strike, he now fears an ongoing humanitarian disaster and the outbreak of disease in Gaza. “I don’t care about politics,” he says. “What I care about now is to live normally or at least get the basic needs for me and my family.”

Late Tuesday, the latest diplomatic efforts raised hopes that a cease-fire could be on the horizon. But Mohammed Deif, the head of al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said in broadcast comments that there would be no truce in Gaza unless Israel lifts its “siege.” Fighting continued overnight, with a UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp attacked and at least 15 Palestinians killed. Tuesday was the deadliest day in the conflict so far, a Gaza health official told the AP. A war that was billed as an operation to halt Hamas rocket fire seems no closer to resolution than when it started three weeks ago.

— With reporting by Hazem Balousha / Gaza City

TIME Israel

White House: Purported Leaked Obama-Netanyahu Transcript ‘Totally False’

Obama Talks With Netanyahu
In this handout frm the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the Oval Office September 28, 2012 in Washigton, DC. The White House—Getty Images

U.S. and Israeli officials roundly criticized the report as a "shocking and disappointing" fabrication

The White House rejected reports Tuesday of a transcript purporting to detail a private phone call between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling the distortions “shocking and disappointing.”

“Neither reports nor alleged transcript bear any resemblance to reality,” read a tweet from the President’s National Security Council.

And White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes tweeted the transcript is “totally false:”

The transcript surfaced on a broadcast by Israel’s Channel 1 which claimed to capture an oddly stilted exchange between the two leaders, in which Obama repeatedly insisted on a cease-fire over the objections of Netanyahu.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s office also tweeted the NSC rejection and condemnation word-for-word.

TIME celebrities

The Lessons of the One Direction #FreePalestine Tweet

Zayn Malik
Zayn Malik of One Direction performs at on May 24, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. Dave J Hogan—Getty Images

One Direction's Zayn Malik has learned — as have others before him — the dangers of mixing celebrity and conflict

Usually when One Direction and the phrase “death threats” are in the same sentence, it’s a case of overenthusiastic fans defending their favorite pop stars — but the group’s Zayn Malik has learned that the backlash can go in the other direction too.

On Sunday, the singer tweeted the phrase “#FreePalestine” — a tweet that’s been both retweeted and favorited over 200,000 times, while it’s also led some of his own fans to lash out at him, death threats and all. He’s not the first to experience blow-back over the topic:

  • Earlier this month, a similar message from Rihanna led her to delete the tweet within minutes of posting it. The singer claimed to have tweeted in error, having clicked a tweet link on a website.
  • Basketball player Dwight Howard followed a similar script the same week, adding that he’s never commented on international politics.
  • Cricket player Moeen Ali has been banned by the International Cricket Council from wearing “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” wristbands.
  • Scarlett Johansson‘s dual roles as Oxfam ambassador and SodaStream spokesperson caused controversy that led her to tell the New Yorker felt like she was “put into a position that was way larger than anything I could possibly—I mean, this is an issue that is much bigger than something I could just be dropped into the middle of.”
  • Back in 2012, Kim Kardashian tweeted that she was “praying for everyone in Israel” and subsequently that her prayers were also for Palestine, and then later deleted both tweets, explaining on her blog that she was sorry to have offended anyone on either side.

So one possible takeaway from Malik’s experience, and those before it, is that celebrities should just keep their mouths shut when it comes to Israel and Palestine — especially when even Secretary of State John Kerry has trouble being diplomatic about the issue.

No matter what one thinks about Israel, it’s hard to deny that (a) the subject is controversial, and (b) Twitter (or a symbolic accessory, or a product endorsement deal) isn’t exactly a great place to express a nuanced thought about a complicated topic. Case in point: celebrities aren’t the only ones who’ve found that to be true. Even the Associated Press has experienced the pitfalls of tweeting about Gaza, having decided to revise a tweet that seemed to express negative judgment about U.S. lawmakers who support Israel. In a time when people like Malik and Rihanna have a direct line to their legions of fans, they’re all one click away from saying something they don’t really mean, or saying something they think they mean but haven’t really thought through. Safer, then, not to say anything. If the point of being a celebrity is to please fans, it’s pretty clear that Tweeting about Israel is not the way to do it.

On the other hand, Malik’s #FreePalestine tweet was followed by silence. He hasn’t responded to any fans, he hasn’t apologized and he hasn’t deleted what he said. So maybe “#FreePalestine” was really what he meant, with all its possible connotations and consequences. There’s no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Which means that the other possible takeaway is that maybe pleasing fans isn’t actually what celebrities care about most, and that asking them to be quiet about their opinions is an unrealistic expectation. In that scenario, they’re not different from any other Twitter users in that they can say whatever they want — and in that, when other users disagree, they’ll hear about it.

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