TIME Gaza

Hamas Says It Will Continue Fight After Ceasefire

An armed Hamas militant walks through a street in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City on July 20, 2014.
An armed Hamas militant walks through a street in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City on July 20, 2014. Wissam Nassar—The New York Times/Redux

“We are ready for a long war”

Hamas reiterated late Thursday that it plans to continue fighting after a temporary cease-fire ends Friday morning, if its demands are not met.

“The resistance is ready to pay the price and the people are behind the resistance,” Abu Obaida, a spokesman for the military wing of Hamas, said on Hamas-run television, CNN reports. “We are ready for a long war.”

Earlier Thursday, Hamas held a public rally in Gaza City and a top Hamas official, Mushir al-Masri, declared to the crowd that Hamas would continue to fight until the seven-year-old blockade on Gaza by Israel and Egypt is lifted, the Associated Press reports.

A three-day truce mediated by Egypt has largely quieted the three-week-long conflict that killed more than 1,860 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel. The truce is scheduled to end Friday at 8 a.m. local time, though representatives of Hamas and other Palestinian factions are in Cairo indirectly negotiating with Israel for a permanent ceasefire.

But hours before the ceasefire is set to end, talks have faltered, with Hamas demanding an end to the blockade and Israel saying the militants must first disarm, a condition Hamas has so far rejected.

[CNN]

TIME Israel

Cease-Fire Gives Israel, Gaza Time to Assess the Damage

Palestinians walk amid the ruins of destroyed homes in the Shujayeh neighborhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, east of Gaza City, Aug. 6, 2014.
Palestinians walk amid the ruins of destroyed homes in the Shujayeh neighborhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, east of Gaza City, Aug. 6, 2014. Finbarr O'Reilly—Reuters

Gaza officials say it's far too early to know the exact cost of the damage, while Israel estimates the operation cost it about $2 billion

Parts of Gaza, even to the people who lived there only days or weeks ago, are barely recognizable. Palestinians who fled neighborhoods like Shujayeh, Beit Hanoun and Rafah are having difficulty finding where their homes once stood, says Issam Younis, director of the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza. Those parts of the Gaza Strip — from which the Israeli military says it came under fire by Hamas militants — have seen the heaviest bombardments from Israel.

“It’s almost like a tsunami has hit the region. For some people, to know where your house is, or was, is impossible because the road isn’t even there anymore,” Younis tells TIME. He estimates only 20% to 30% of the people who evacuated their homes during the fighting, or were otherwise displaced, have livable homes to which they can return. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency says 187,000 people are living in its shelters. And only in the past 48 hours have outside agencies, like the U.N. Development Programme, been able to go out and survey the damage.

“To be honest, nobody has a clear-cut figure of what the damages are because we did not have access to these areas until Tuesday,” Younis adds. “It’s a level of unprecedented destruction that we have not been able to fully calculate yet.”

Based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority has been trying to do just that — calculate the destruction. It has kept a running tally not just of the death toll (which now stands at 1,886) but of every building that Israeli forces have hit in the nearly four weeks of fighting, now on pause after a cease-fire agreement.

The list the PA provided Wednesday reads like a major earthquake hit Gaza: Demolished structures: 5,930. Partially demolished structures: 4,820. Damaged homes: 32,150. Damaged hospitals and health centers: 17 hospitals and 7 public-health clinics. (The Israel Defense Forces says that in at least one case, Islamic jihad rockets aimed at Israel fell short of their target and landed next to Gaza’s Shifa Hospital and the Shati Refugee Camp killing at least 10 Palestinians; the IDF has disputed other incidents which it says it’s investigating.)

Factor in the major infrastructure that has been damaged in Gaza over the past few weeks, including water and sewage systems, electricity lines and roads, and the figure for rehabilitation could total somewhere around $6 billion, according to PA Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa. However, Dana Erekat, the PA’s head of aid management for the Ministry of Planning, says it’s too early to give an accurate estimate of rebuilding costs. The focal point person for a technical committee made up of different PA ministries, Erekat says the PA is working on an early recovery plan, then a phase of rebuilding and, finally, redevelopment.

“This is really the day after, where we’re looking at immediate needs, like finding shelter for people who are homeless and figuring out exactly how many structures were damaged,” Erekat told TIME. “A very high-level, preliminary assessment will be ready by early September.”

Rather than contracting out any of the rebuilding to international firms, Erekat added, “we’re looking at the process to be fully owned by the government.” In other words, not only is it crucial for the shattered parts of Gaza to be rebuilt, but the very process could pave the way for re-involving the PA, led by the secular Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in the everyday lives of Gaza residents. Officials and security forces connected to Fatah were forced from Gaza in a violent coup seven years ago organized by Hamas. The PA’s presence has been almost invisible there since — PA President Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t visited the territory since before 2007, although Fatah formed a unity government with Hamas on June 2 this year.

At a press conference Wednesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “cooperating with the Palestinian Authority … and [we] are prepared to see a role for them [in Gaza].”

Destruction in Gaza
A Palestinian sits on a salvaged sofa outside his destroyed home in the Shujayeh neighborhood, east of Gaza City, Aug. 6, 2014. Oliver Weiken—EPA

While cease-fire talks in Cairo continue, the parties announced late Wednesday that they had agreed to extend an ongoing but temporary truce for an additional 72 hours, meaning it would expire next Monday. People on both sides of the conflict seem more than relieved. For Israelis, the truce has brought a sense of calm after almost a month of running for shelter from the nearly 2,700 rockets and mortars launched from Gaza since July 8. And for the Israeli government, the damages and compensation costs of Operation Protective Edge are likely to add up about $2 billion, the Haaretz newspaper reported, quoting an Israeli tax authority official. Israel also lost 64 soldiers in the fighting, as well as three civilians to rocket attacks.

For Gazans, however, life has changed radically and perhaps irreversibly, even for those whose homes are almost intact. Younis, for example, says he’s had one hour of electricity in the last three days. No electricity means no plumbing and no elevator, so he needs to carry jugs of water up the stairs to his fifth-floor apartment — water that he’s not even sure is clean enough to drink. When he manages to buy some diesel fuel, he powers up a small generator, which his family can use to watch television news.

“No electricity means we don’t use the refrigerator, so we must go out and buy our food day by day, and must wash our clothes by hand because there’s no electricity for the washer,” Younis says.

Younis’ three youngest children, ages 12 to 17, have ceased being regular teens. They will only sleep in the room with their parents.

“They’re scared. They ask when will we be bombarded again,” Younis says. “I’m trying to make them secure, but it’s difficult. All of Gaza is in post-trauma now.”

The biggest fear of all: not knowing whether it’s really over.

TIME Israel

Israelis Unhappy to See World-Class Military ‘Surprised’ Again

An Israeli soldier prays next to Merkava tanks at an unspecified location near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, Aug. 6, 2014.
An Israeli soldier prays next to Merkava tanks at an unspecified location near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, Aug. 6, 2014. Abir Sultan—EPA

A high Israeli troop death toll in Gaza, with inconclusive results, reminds some of a "severe sense of failure" after a 2006 ground war

Updated 10:42 a.m. E.T. on Aug. 7

Israel’s military can be fearsomely destructive. From the day in July 1967 when Israeli planes preempted an Egyptian attack by destroying Cairo’s air force on the ground, to surgical airstrikes on nuclear reactor projects in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007, the Israel Defense Forces have displayed crack intelligence and technical skill.

So why does Israel keep getting caught by surprise when it fights ground wars against its neighboring enemies?

Sixty-four Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza over the past three weeks—more than six times the 10 lost in Israel’s 2008 incursion into the Palestinian territory. The Gaza incursion “revealed worrisome shortcomings in the Israel Defense Forces in battle readiness and management,” the Israeli daily Haaretz laments. The chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is vowing to investigate both diplomatic and military failures, including the use of a poorly-armored personnel carrier in which seven Israeli soldiers were killed by a single missile last month. Military experts also say the IDF was generally “operating from an old playbook and [was] not fully prepared for a more sophisticated, battle-ready adversary.”

Other Israeli politicians are also asking “why the extent of the Hamas tunnel system into Israel was either not known or not prepared for better,” the New York Times reports, which adds that the tunnels were “a psychological and tactical surprise.”

Israelis may be angry and frustrated. But they shouldn’t be shocked. Israel has been here before.

Eight years ago, Israel mounted a ground offensive against Hizballah in southern Lebanon. In that operation, Israeli soldiers discovered that the Iranian-backed Shi’ite group came equipped with sophisticated weapons, training and tactics. “They are trained and highly qualified,” an Israeli soldier told the Times that year. “All of us were kind of surprised.” Israel lost 121 soldiers in that conflict, widely considered a failure that produced months of soul-searching within the country’s leadership.

Lo and behold, many of the dynamics from Lebanon in 2006 also apply to the fight in Gaza, which remains on hold at least for now under a cease-fire agreement. Israel was fighting to stop Hizballah rocket fire into its territory; the IDF’s incursion killed more than one thousand civilians; and Hizballah skillfully publicized those innocent deaths to damage Israel’s world image.

And the unhappy parallels may continue: Israel had hoped the 2006 offensive would wipe out Hizballah’s rocket arsenal and lead to a demilitarization of southern Lebanon. It didn’t happen. Seven years later, the IDF estimates Hizballah’s arsenal at a staggering 60,000 rockets. While there’s talk now of a long-term cease-fire deal that will disarm Hamas, many Israelis are understandably skeptical.

“Hamas was not defeated; the organization will remain in power in Gaza and the key partner in any future agreement. If the cease-fire leads to a lifting of the siege on the Gaza Strip, Hamas may consider the heavy price worthwhile,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz. Even so, he argues, “[t]he second-guessing now underway in Israel now “does not resemble the severe sense of failure after the Second Lebanon War.” But as Harel notes, that could change depending on what kind of lasting cease-fire deal emerges from current negotiations.

An Israeli government official is more upbeat, calling recent polls that show sky-high approval ratings for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top military officials “a better indication of the public mood.” The official also calls a replay of the post-2006 aftermath is unlikely, given that the current regime in Egypt — which controls Gaza’s only border that does not touch Israel — has no love for Hamas and will partner with Israel to prevent the group’s rearmament. No such actor existed to clamp down on Hizballah after 2006.

Still, in Gaza this summer, Israel has been re-acquainted with the limits of its military power. (Never mind other memorably bungled Israeli operations, like the 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, or the cinematically bizarre 2007 assassination-and-revival of Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal.) Israel has again found that its intelligence is not infallible. And, while it enjoys massive military superiority over its rivals, it still faces painful limits when it fights guerilla-style groups on its borders.

Strange as it may sound, taking out an entire air force can be easier than winning a fight with a determined militant group — especially if you’ve underestimated its readiness for battle.

Updated: The original version of this story has been updated to include comments by an Israeli government official.

TIME Religion

What if Palestinians Became Israeli Citizens?

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Dear Rabbi, Do you think there is any hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

“Any hope” is setting the bar quite low; we can all entertain some sliver of hope, so the answer to your question “is there ANY hope for peace” is “yes.” But I doubt peace will come the way our pundits and politicians imagine it.

They still talk about a two-state solution as if this is possible, but I have little hope that it is. Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a lose-lose scenario, and only some bold new initiative can change the status quo. Given the nature of Israeli politics, I’m not sure what that would be on the Israeli side. On the Palestinian side, however, the initiative would be Israeli citizenship.

If I were advising the Palestinians I would suggest they drop all efforts to secure a state alongside Israel, and demand full Israeli citizenship instead. I would suggest a media campaign with slogans like “Let My People In” and “Let us in or let us go.” If citizenship were granted, demographics would see Israel become a majority Palestinian state within a few generations. If it were not granted, the world would turn on Israel at it did on South Africa during the apartheid regime. The result in either case would be a democratic but no longer Jewish state. Democracy would, I imagine, lead to Islamic rule that would in time lead to Jews fearing for their lives in what was the Jewish state.

US Jews would then pressure the United States to rescue Jews from Palestine (I imagine the state would be renamed Palestine) and allow mass migration of former Israeli Jews into the United States. This may or may not work, but if it does American Jewry needs to prepare itself now to assimilate Israelis on a massive scale.

Of course I am probably wrong about all of this. Perhaps Israel will agree to withdraw to the Green Line, share Jerusalem as a capital, and repatriate Palestinian refugees; Palestine will eschew all militarization and violence, welcome the Jewish settlers in their midst with open arms as fully enfranchised citizens of Palestine, and become a secular, democratic and economic dynamo; and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad will become nonviolent social organizations helping the poorest of the poor to get into the middle class.

Or perhaps not.

A congregational rabbi for 20 years, Rabbi Rami currently co-directs One River Wisdom School and Holy Rascals Foundation.

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TIME Middle East

No Easy Answers to Charges of War Crimes in Gaza

A Palestinian man enters his destroyed home in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, August 5, 2014.
A Palestinian man enters his destroyed home in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, August 5, 2014. Oliver Weiken—EPA

Experts on both sides say there were, but proving it will be hard and prosecuting even harder

A three-day cease-fire began in Gaza Tuesday, while Israeli and Palestinian delegations traveled to Cairo to negotiate peace.

But looming over negotiations to end the conflict is the ugly specter of war crimes, which both Israel and Hamas have been accused of committing. On July 23, Navi Pillay, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, suggested that attacks on civilians by both Israel and Hamas may have violated international law “in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”

That’s no idle charge — war crimes are breaches of international humanitarian law defined by the Geneva Conventions as:

“Wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including… wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial, …taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”

Investigating and proving this is a lengthy and complex process that could take many months. Nevertheless, experts on both sides of the conflict have already drawn their own conclusions.

“It is fairly clear that Hamas has committed war crimes as a matter of systematic [authorized] policy,” says Abraham Bell, Professor of Law at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. “Hamas has used child soldiers, human shields, indiscriminate firing and weaponry incapable of discriminate firing during the conflict. It has also committed perfidy – using protective objects in an attempt to shield combatants – such as storing rockets in schools,” he adds.

ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-GAZA-CONFLICT
A picture taken from the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip shows the trail of a missile launched by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system as it intercepts and destroys a rocket launched from Gaza into Israel on August 4, 2014. Jack Guez—AFP/Getty Images

Though aware Israel has been similarly accused of war crimes, Bell is unconvinced. “It’s hard to argue that there are significant war crimes going on from the Israeli point of view,” he comments. “The IDF has lawyers who accompany and advise commanders on missions.”

Israel’s detractors might argue that these legal experts could be more effective: The U.N. places the most recent death toll in Gaza at over 1,200, most of them civilians. Bell says civilian deaths are not necessarily war crimes. “You could end up with a lot of civilian casualties and have acted in accordance with the law,” he says. “It’s expected that there are going to be a lot of civilian deaths in urban warfare.”

Not on this scale, says Simon Natas, partner at ITN solicitors, who has worked with the UK-based organization Palestine Solidarity Campaign.”There are two enormously powerful inferences to draw from the extraordinarily high number of civilian casualties caused by Israel. Either it’s targeting civilians or its attempts to distinguish them from combatants is wholly inadequate,” Natas says. “Both constitute war crimes.”

“We know that Israel has directly targeted non-combatants… I don’t think there is any doubt that they deliberately attacked civilian targets such as mosques, hospitals and the Islamic University in Gaza,” he says.

Natas further claims that the extensive shelling — which, he says, “has characterized this conflict” — is the real “indiscriminate firing” Bell accuses Hamas of carrying out. “There are vast areas where all houses have been flattened,” Natas says. “It’s simply not possible to repeatedly fire these types of shells and not risk disproportionate civilian casualties.”

Though Israel says it warns civilians of attacks by dropping leaflets, leaving pre-recorded messages, and firing warning missiles, Natas is unimpressed. “A civilian is entitled to say ‘I want to remain in my home’ and it doesn’t mean they can be killed for exercising that right.”

Natas concedes that Hamas, too, fires indiscriminately at Israeli civilian areas but adds: “They don’t have the sophisticated technology to only hit military targets… they use extremely primitive weapons.” That lack of discrimination is not deliberate, he says, but due to a technical lack of control when retaliating against a more powerful, national military. That militant organizations can be accused of war crimes when they’re forced to resort to crude weaponry for self-defense, he says, is “an issue that international law needs to get to grips with.”

Accusations of war crimes are easy to come by, but prosecutions of them are not. While the UN Human Rights Council conducted a war crimes inquiry into a three-week conflict in Gaza in 2008-9 that concluded there had been serious violations on both sides, it had no powers of enforcement. For prosecution to actually go ahead, the domestic country must first have investigated its own conduct.

Natas says that Israel’s analysis of its own actions during war has never been carried out with sufficient rigor or impartiality, and believes it will be much the same after Operation Protective Edge. So, he says, “two NGOs in Gaza – al-Mezan and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights – will be impartially collecting evidence of war crimes along with the U.N.”

Though Natas says the Gazan NGOs will also report on any crimes committed by Hamas, Bell says the militant group won’t carry out an internal investigation into its own conduct either. “A terrorist organization is not going to investigate its own war crimes,” he says.

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA
Palestinians remove pieces of rubble from a house hit by an Israeli airstrike in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, on August 4, 2014. Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

Once the internal process has been completed, the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) can intervene if it thinks the process has been unsatisfactory. However, the court doesn’t have jurisdiction in Israel or in Palestine, meaning that it can’t prosecute them without U.N. Security Council referral.

Israel refused to ratify the I.C.C.’s treaty, the Rome Statute, in 1998, and though Palestine is keen to join the treaty after being declared a non-member state by the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, Natas says it’s under pressure from Israel, the U.S. and the U.K. to stay away lest it tries to prosecute Israeli officials. The U.S. also voted against making Palestine a non-member state.

Two other options remain. The U.N.’s Security Council can request an I.C.C. investigation or an independent country that has universal jurisdiction can prosecute individuals for war crimes. Universal jurisdiction is possessed by 166 states, who, according to Amnesty International, “have defined one or more of four crimes under international law (war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and torture) as crimes in their national law.”

Both Natas and Bell agree that the former looks unlikely. Bell thinks the U.N. Security Council won’t target a Palestinian military group whilst Natas says that the U.S., Israel’s strongest ally and a permanent member of the council, would veto any attempt to take Israeli officials to the I.C.C.

However, prosecution of Israel or Hamas could still happen in one of those 166 states. “It remains a distinct possibility that the prosecutions could happen in another country,” says Natas. “It’s just a question of them having the will and the political power.”

Any attempt to prosecute either party would cause huge international ramifications, but it likely wouldn’t come any time soon. Any war crimes inquiry would need to come after the conflict has drawn to a lasting halt, and a domestic investigation has been carried out — and right now, less than a day into a shaky cease-fire, what everyone is hoping for is peace.

TIME Religion

Behind British Minister of Faith Sayeeda Warsi’s Resignation Over Gaza

Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, British Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities in Islamabad, Pakistan on October 10, 2013.
Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, British Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities in Islamabad, Pakistan on October 10, 2013. T. Mughal—EPA

Her choice is bold and dramatic, and it sends a strong statement that political will requires moral courage.

Politicians don’t often quit out of principle. They especially do not quit out of moral principle. But, on the rare occasion that they do, it is dramatic.

That’s what happened Tuesday morning, when Sayeeda Warsi, the United Kingdom’s first Minister of Faith and the first Muslim to serve as a Cabinet minister, resigned in protest of her government’s approach to the crisis in Gaza. “For some weeks, in meetings and discussions, I have been open and honest about my views on the conflict in Gaza and our response to it,” she wrote in her resignation letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, which she posted on Twitter. “My view has been that our policy in relation to the Middle East Peace Process generally but more recently our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.”

Cameron replied in a statement, thanking her for her work and regretting her decision. “Our policy has always been consistently clear–the situation in Gaza is intolerable and we’ve urged both sides to agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire,” he said.

At first glance, one might assume that this story is simply “Muslim minister resigns over U.K. support for Israel.” Warsi is, after all, the first Muslim to serve in so high a position, and soon after her resignation, she called for an immediate arms embargo against Israel in an interview with the Huffington Post UK.

But that’s almost certainly too simplistic an understanding of what happened. Warsi has built her professional career on a foundational principle that religious and historic divides do not necessitate irreconcilable divisions or violence. She made it her mission to help create a government that, as she often said, would “do God” and advocate for faith’s place in society. That meant working for people of all faiths. She spoke out against Islamophobia and worked to make sure British government was inclusive for Muslims. In 2012 she let the U.K.’s largest ministerial delegation to the Vatican. Last year she came to Washington, DC, to speak out against the global persecution of Christians. One of her main goals was to encourage the international community to develop a cross-faith, cross-continent commitment to protect Christian minorities. Religious persecution, she told me at the time, is the biggest challenge of the 21st century. “It is about working up the political will,” she said. “It is about getting some consensus, it is about politicians being prepared to take on these difficult challenges.”

Her personal faith story is also one that bridges divides often thought to be unbridgeable. She is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and grew up in a Muslim family with a blended theological background that included both Shias and Sunnis. “We were taught to respect and love other faiths as much as we loved our own, and I suppose, you know, quite strong teachings that you can only truly be a Muslim if you also are Christian and Jewish before that, that actually Islam is just an extension of the other faiths and it has been a process where various books have been revealed at various times,” she told me. “I don’t see there is a collision course between people of faith, I actually do think it is instinctively based up on the same values.”

Her whole story is rooted in commitment to a higher calling. It makes her decision to resign is all the more dramatic, and it sends a strong statement that political will requires moral courage. “I always said that long after life in politics I must be able to live with myself for the decision I took or the decisions I supported,” she said in her resignation letter. “By staying in Government at this time I do not feel I can be sure of that.”

She may have resigned, but that does not mean her voice has been silenced: it may be louder as a result.

TIME Video Games

Google Removes ‘Bomb Gaza’ Game From Play Store

Google Play

The company has removed several other games related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent days, claiming they violate the the Google Play store's policies.

In Bomb Gaza, a game about doing precisely what its peremptory title commands, you play as the Israeli Air Force, tapping a touchscreen to pour red-nosed bombs into a 2D multi-level landscape filled with cartoonish people wearing white robes and clutching children — meant to signify civilians — as well as others draped in black, clutching rifles, touting greenish headbands and grinning maniacally. The goal is to hit those black-garbed militants — presumably members of Palestinian militant group Hamas — while avoiding the white-clad civilians.

At some point in the past 24 hours, Google removed Bomb Gaza from its Android Play store (the game was released on July 29). It’s not clear why. Google’s only officially saying what companies like it so often say when handed political hot potatoes: that it doesn’t comment on specific apps, but that it removes ones from its store that violate its policies. The game’s dismissal comes just as Israel says it’s pulling out of Gaza in observance of a three-day ceasefire, on the heels of a month-long fight that has to date left nearly 1,900 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 67 Israelis (mostly soldiers) dead.

It’s unclear which of Google’s policies Bomb Gaza might have infringed, but in Google’s Developer Program Policies document, it notes under a subsection titled Violence and Bullying that “Depictions of gratuitous violence are not allowed,” and that “Apps should not contain materials that threaten, harass or bully other users.” Under another titled Hate Speech, Google writes “We don’t allow content advocating against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.”

Bomb Gaza isn’t the only Gaza-centric game Google’s removed: another, dubbed Gaza Assault: Code Red is about dropping bombs on Palestinians using Israeli drones. Its designers describe the game as “[bringing] you to the forefront of the middle-east conflict, in correlation to ongoing real world events.” It was also just yanked, as was another titled Whack the Hamas, in which players have to target Hamas members as they pop out of tunnels.

Politically-themed games about touchy current issues have been around for years, from depictions of deadly international situations like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to others modeled on flashpoints like school shootings. In late 2008, a game called Raid Gaza! appeared around the time Israel was carrying out “Operation Cast Lead,” a conflict that left 13 Israelis and some 1,400 Palestinians dead. In that title, you’re tasked with killing as many Palestinians as you can in three minutes, and actually afforded bonuses for hitting civilian targets, all while listening to a version of the Carpenter’s saccharine “Close to You.”

But the game wasn’t merely a pro-Israeli celebration of violence against Palestinians, it was a pointed editorial reflection on the horrors of the Gaza conflict. As games critic Ian Bogost wrote at the time:

The game is headstrong, suffering somewhat from its one-sided treatment of the issue at hand. But as an editorial, it is a fairly effective one both as opinion text and as game. It is playable and requires strategy, the exercise of which carries the payload of commentary.

Other games about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persist: There’s Peacemaker, a more serious and simulation-angled game about the conflict that its developers say was designed “to promote peace.” Another, called Iron Dome (still available on Google’s Play store), lets players intercept incoming rockets using Israel’s eponymous missile defense system. A third, called Rocket Pride (also still available on Google’s Play store), lets players provide “support for the besieged Gaza Strip” by firing rockets at targets in Israel. There’s clearly a winnowing process here, in other words, with Google favoring some apps but not others. It’s just not clear what that process is.

I haven’t played Bomb Gaza, so I can’t speak to its efficacy as either a game or an editorial commentary (or whether it was even intended as the latter). When I reached out to the game’s creator, he told me it had been “developed without any budget” and “more for fun,” and that he was “very surprised to catch such attention with it.”

But the game’s removal raises older questions that we need to keep asking: Should companies like Google remove politically charged games because passerby find them offensive? Are we overreacting to some of these games instead of taking the time to consider whether they’re intended as satirical (be it nuanced or crude, successful or misguided)? Are games that depict violence related to a current event fundamentally so different from caustic political cartoons or scathing op-eds? And should companies like Apple and Google and Amazon — and thereby the swiftly narrowing channels through which we’re acquiring more and more of our content — also be the arbiters of what’s morally tasteful?

TIME Gaza

Cease-Fire Takes Effect to End Gaza War

Israeli Merkava tanks drive near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip as they return from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian coastal enclave on Aug. 5, 2014, after Israel announced that all of its troops had withdrawn from the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Merkava tanks drive near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip as they return from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian coastal enclave on Aug. 5, 2014, after Israel announced that all of its troops had withdrawn from the Gaza Strip. Thomas Coex—AFP/Getty Images

The fighting has claimed nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives — most of them civilians. The war has also left 67 Israelis dead

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas meant to last at least three days and end nearly a month of fighting went into effect in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning.

The truce came ahead of talks in Cairo aimed at brokering a deal that would prevent future cross-border violence.

The temporary truce, agreed to by both sides, started at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and was to last for 72 hours during which Israel and Hamas are to hold indirect talks in the Egyptian capital.

But wide gaps remain and previous international attempts to broker a temporary halt in the fighting have failed. Hamas wants Israel and Egypt to lift their seven-year-old Gaza border blockade. Israel is reluctant to open Gaza’s borders unless Hamas is disarmed.

The situation is still volatile. Just minutes ahead of the start of the truce, shelling still echoed across Gazaand Israel said Hamas fired a heavy barrage of rockets at southern and central Israel.

The war broke out on July 8 when Israel launched airstrikes it said were in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. It expanded the operation on July 17 by sending in ground forces in what it described as a mission to destroy a network of tunnels used to stage attacks.

The fighting has claimed nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives — most of them civilians. The war has also left 67 dead on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers.

Talks in Cairo will be crucial in the coming days. Ending the Gaza conflict without a sustainable truce raises the probability of more cross-border fighting in the future. In the hours leading up to the cease-fire, there were also signs of tensions created by the Gaza fighting spreading to Jerusalem and the West Bank, including two attacks police say were carried out by Palestinian militants.

A unilateral withdrawal would have allowed Israel to end the conflict on its own terms, without engaging in protracted negotiations with Hamas over new border arrangements in Gaza. In such talks, brokered by Egypt, Israel would be asked for concessions it has been unwilling to make, such as opening Gaza’s borders.

Earlier Tuesday, the Israeli military announced that all its ground troops would leave Gaza by the start of the new cease-fire.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the withdrawal was going forward after Israel neutralized cross-border tunnels that were built for Islamic militant attacks inside Israel.

“Overnight, we completed the destruction of 32 tunnels in the Gaza Strip,” Lerner said. “They were part of a strategic Hamas plan to carry out attacks against southern Israel.”

The rocket fire continued throughout the war, and by the time Tuesday’s cease-fire went into effect, some 3,500 rockets had been fired at Israel, Lerner said. He estimated that Israeli forces destroyed another 3,000 rockets on the ground — but that Hamas has an equal number for future use.

Lerner declined to say how many ground forces had been involved in the Israeli operation, though the military acknowledged calling up 86,000 reservists, including rotations, during the course of its Gaza operation.

TIME movies

Arabic-Language Anne Frank Documentary to Include Israel-Gaza Footage

Anne Frank
Anne Frank poses in 1941 Frans Dupon—Anne Frank House/AP

The director hopes the film can foster understanding between Palestinians and Israelis

Seventy years after Anne Frank’s arrest, a new Arabic-language docudrama will use footage of the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict to help tell Frank’s life story and explore the topics of her widely published diary.

Six Palestinian actresses will portray Frank, who died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945 at the age of 15 following two years spent in hiding with her family, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Croatian director Jakov Sedlar and son Dominik will helm the film, titled What Does Anne Frank Mean Today?

“Although the closest I got to Gaza was 3 km, our Palestinian crew were in the city filming between bombardments,” the award-winning director said. “The last few scenes in the film include some real footage from the violence.”

The film mixes scenes from a production of The Diary of Anne Frank with footage of young Palestinians talking candidly about war, first love and topics that Frank wrote about as a teenager.

Sedlar said he hopes the film can foster understanding between Palestinians and Israelis.

“Art cannot change the whole world, but we can help to understand it a bit more,” he told THR. “The fact that we are doing this film in Arabic means we hope that we can do a bit to show how we must not repeat history.”

[THR]

TIME Middle East

If the Gaza Truce Holds, What Then? 5 Possible Outcomes

An Israeli soldier sits in an armored personnel carrier flying the Israeli flag as they return from the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip after pulling out of the Palestinian enclave on August 4, 2014 as Israel has begun withdrawing some ground troops.
An Israeli soldier sits in an armored personnel carrier flying the Israeli flag as they return from the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip after pulling out of the Palestinian enclave on Aug. 4, 2014, as Israel has begun withdrawing some ground troops. Gil Cohen Magen—AFP/Getty Images

How Operation Protective Edge might end — or carry on interminably

Egypt announced that Palestinian factions declared a 72-hour cease-fire to begin on Tuesday at 8 a.m. Israel sat out of the Cairo talks that produced the humanitarian truce but said it would hold by the cease-fire, a government spokesman told TIME.

Whether or not the parties actually make it through a full three days with no air strikes or rocket attacks remains to be seen. Every other cease-fire effort undertaken since the escalation in early July has failed. But there is a more pressing question: What now? Who and what can put an end to the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Gaza — with 1,865 Palestinians and 67 Israelis killed so far – and also propose a longer-term solution?

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister, on Monday offered a new idea for solving the Gaza problem: let the U.N. take control of the long-troubled territory. “Everyone is asking, What happens after the operation ends? Suppose Israel defeats Hamas. There are a few options. International control of Gaza, by the U.N., should certainly be considered,” Lieberman said at a press conference. This has been tried in other war-torn locales, from Kosovo to East Timor. Why not Gaza?

Well, for one thing, it would be an enormous and expensive undertaking for the international community to take responsibility for Gaza. It would also require Hamas and other militant groups to agree to participate in such a scheme, which is difficult to imagine given that they’ve built their entire identities around what they view as legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation. Still, many of the key players here say that almost a month into the bloodiest phase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the second intifadeh, some significant change must emerge at the end of it. TIME looks at five possibilities for how this could end:

  1. Send in the U.N. This would involve what’s been referred to as mini–Marshall Plan, including a massive rebuilding program that would help Gaza pick up the pieces. The task would be huge: electricity and water supplies have been compromised, and an estimated 10,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged. Shaul Mofaz, a former Israeli Defense Minister and IDF chief, has proposed some specifics. These include having the international community oversee the demilitarization of Gaza — a goal recently endorsed by Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, but opposed by Hamas — and approximately $50 billion for rebuilding. E.U. foreign ministers issued a joint statement July 23 backing demilitarization.
  1. Bring the PA back to Gaza: Israel and Hamas will eventually be brought into some kind of proximity talks under an umbrella of Egyptian sponsorship, and the outcome of those discussions would likely involve the return of the Palestinian Authority and its security forces to Gaza, casting them in a key role as guardians of the crossing points into Israel and Egypt — along with international help. The PA, run by the PLO’s secular Fatah faction, was forced out of Gaza in 2007 as part of a violent coup staged by Hamas, whose name is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement. Bringing a PA political and security presence back to Gaza would help beef up the legitimacy of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As part of such an arrangement, Israel would likely demand a joint patrolling mechanism on the Gaza perimeter to prevent infiltrations and renewed attempts to rebuild tunnels, more than 30 of which the IDF says it has destroyed. However, the rockets from Gaza did not start when Israel pulled its troops and 8,000 settlers out of Gaza in 2005, but rather, Israel points out, in 2001. Therefore, Israel is likely to refuse any agreement that doesn’t include a mechanism for preventing Hamas from rebuilding its rocket arsenal. The fact that Hamas and Fatah joined in a “reconciliation” government in April makes this form of cooperation more feasible than it was even a year ago.
  1. A 10-year truce: Almost two weeks ago, Hamas offered Israel a 10-year hudna, or Arabic truce. Its terms include — but are not limited to — the following: 1) the release of approximately 50 Palestinian prisoners who, after being released as part of the Gilad Shalit deal in late 2011, were re-arrested by the IDF in June following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, 2) the opening of the border crossings with both Israel and Egypt, 3) international supervision of the Gazan seaport instead of the Israeli naval blockade, as well as extended fishing rights to 10 km off the coast of Gaza, 4) an international airport under U.N. supervision, and 5) international forces on the borders of Gaza. Even if Israeli officials were prepared to accept all of that — which would be unlikely — they have said that the very concept of a hudna, a concept rooted in Islamic history, is problematic because it suggests Hamas only believes in a limited period of calm with the Jewish state but refuses a more permanent solution because it seeks its destruction.
  1. Possible reoccupation of the Gaza Strip: This is an option that is often mentioned by Israel’s far right, including some members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet. Coalition partner Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Economy, said last week that Israel should continue its military operating until Hamas is completely defeated. Lieberman, the Foreign Minister, had suggested in late June that Israel reoccupy Gaza, saying only that would stop the rockets. Ultimately, Netanyahu appears to have rejected these calls, realizing that such a move would likely cause far more bloodshed and further rattle Israel’s already compromised international legitimacy.
  1. Indefinite war: In this scenario, Israel withdraws its troops and tanks from Gaza, but continues to use air and naval strikes as it sees fit. Hamas stays in power and launches rockets at Israel whenever it pleases, and essentially, nothing substantial changes from how things looked a month ago — other than a great number of destroyed buildings and upwards of 2,000 lives lost. If the parties cannot agree on a cease-fire deal that feels satisfactory, Operation Protective Edge could simmer down into a indeterminate cycle of occasional attacks, robbing both Israelis and Palestinians of a return to normal life. Some are hoping that the right cease-fire deal is just around the corner, and some are wishing their leaders will keep holding out for more. But the possibility of a low-level war of attrition, lasting years and costing yet more lives, is not remote.

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