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Israel's Friends in Gaza

Hamas was quick to declare victory in the latest conflict with Israel.   A closer look at the price it paid in terms of personnel and equipment shows that its bravado was false.  But the fact that Israel was able to destroy so many installations, weapons teams, smuggling tunnels, and high-ranking personnel, including Hamas’s military chief, Ahmed Jabari, reveals another, less evident fact: substantial numbers of people in Gaza have “betrayed the Palestinian cause,” in Hamas’s terms, and collaborated with Israel by providing it with intelligence.  These people do not “love death more than Israelis love life,” as Hamas would have it.  Instead they represent, within Gaza, a slender, complicating affirmation of life.

Israeli intelligence capabilities are estimable, but collecting precise information about an enemy territory like Gaza poses particular problems.  Israel’s intelligence collection starts in space, where Israeli satellites (like their far more numerous U.S. counterparts) track Iranian weapons moving by ship to Sudan, Egypt, the Sinai, and the Gaza coast.  But these satellites make their rounds only a few times a day.  Compensating for this limitation, Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles can stay aloft for hours or even days.  During the recent conflict, the skies over Gaza buzzed constantly with these drones; more than one reporter likened their sound to that of lawnmowers.  Night and day, electro-optical, infrared, and radar sensors allow the aircraft to see what goes on above ground and, to a limited extent, even below it, by detecting minute variations in heat or soil composition.  The drones detect and jam electronic communications.  They are the eyes of attack aircraft and artillery and can even attack targets themselves.

But what Israel accomplished in its bombing campaign required more information than drones can provide.  There were strikes on 1,500 sites, including 19 command centers, 140 tunnels, and 26 weapons manufacturing and storage facilities, as well as what an IDF spokesman laconically called “hundreds of underground rocket launchers” and “dozens of rocket launchers and launch sites.”  This feat could have been accomplished only with the much richer information that Israel had: a vast, three-dimensional map of Gaza’s every street, block, building, and floor, including names of families, their relationships, and their telephone numbers.  And movements in and out of this maze were not only mapped but to some extent tracked in real time. 

In part, this picture was created by satellite and drone imagery together with signal intercepts, the meticulous monitoring of telephone, cell phone, and internet traffic that conveys, to teams of listeners with powerful computers, who is talking to whom about what.  In this way, civilians can be partially distinguished from “militants”—but only partially.  Israel’s vast targeting lists, which involved hitting one floor of a building rather than another with precision munitions, or knowing just when an individual was traveling down a particular street in a single vehicle, required much more.  These lists could have been compiled only through use of human informants.

That is Gaza’s secret, the one that allowed the place to survive this latest round of fighting: It is full of Palestinians working ever so quietly with Israel against Hamas.

Since the beginning of the Zionist enterprise, substantial numbers of Palestinians have been willing to work with it, selling land and providing information.  Many of them, as Hillel Cohen makes clear in his book Army of Shadows, have done so for their own reasons, such as personal gain, family grudges, social divisions, and a kind of “local nationalism” that aimed to preserve their particular lands and possessions.  Such motivations are still at work.  Gaza is also directly and indirectly accessible to Israeli handlers who collect information from hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians.  Some of them, Cohen notes, actually view collaboration with Israel as patriotic, because it pursues a vision of the Palestinian national project—not Judeophilic, certainly, but resigned to Israel—that is marginally realistic. 

Mainstream Palestinian movements are understandably bitter about this phenomenon: few epithets are more contemptuous than “collaborator,” and the shocking recent spectacle of bodies of murdered collaborators being dragged behind Hamas-driven motorcycles sent a clear message (though, it turned out, at least one of those murdered was not a collaborator but an Islamist rival).     

Under this circumstance, the fact that Gazans inform at all is notable; and in fact the extent of collaboration, though unquantifiable, is clearly large.  It speaks to the failure of Palestinian nationalism, as opposed to local and family identification, to attract the loyalty of Palestinians.  Villages and clans remain more dependable and predictable repositories of allegiance than the reliably authoritarian and kleptocratic Fatah movement. 

The fact of collaboration also shows the shortcomings of Hamas’s Islamized version of Palestinian nationalism, confounding easy notions about Hamas’s iron control and the radicalization of the populace, as opposed to the leadership.  Hamas leaders indeed love death, but for other people.  They are happy to consign eager young men to suicide and to contemplate the blood of the children who are sacrificed as human shields when Hamas hides near schools and hospitals to avoid Israeli airstrikes.

The attraction of dying for Islam has limits.  The average Gazan, when he makes a phone call to a particular number to say that a specific individual is walking down this or that street, is embracing life in a roundabout way.  Gazans, like other Palestinians, have no love for Jews and Israel and readily celebrate their murder; but they are not anxious to die themselves.  There remains, then, this spark of humanity, if only the impulse to self-preservation.

Does this realization change the military calculus?  It certainly made possible the most detailed sort of pinpoint bombing campaign.  It also shifts perceptions of the conflict, at least slightly.  But it yields few specific prescriptions.  Palestinian collaboration, however widespread, is hardly a sign of a people who wish to be free, or even free of Hamas.  As America discovered in Iraq and Afghanistan, militarily defeating fascism, religious or otherwise, means little unless populations challenge its patriarchal, theocratic, or authoritarian culture.  Supplying human intelligence is not the same thing.  So, the war continues.

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Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom on November 29, 2012 at 6:50 am (Reply)
The subtitle of Hillel Cohen's book is: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917–1948. Since 1948, and to a much greater extent, since 1967, Israel has been able to recruit collaborators in ways that it couldn't before 1948: through blackmail and in exchange for favors such as work permits, family unification, dropping of criminal charges of various kinds, etc. Under these circumstances, to suggest that collaborators are idealists or friends of Israel is an insult to anyone's intelligence, an exercise of the most cynical kind of hasbarah.
Jules Fe on November 29, 2012 at 7:04 am (Reply)
I recommend Hillel Cohen's Army of Shadows.
Cohen documents how in the 1920s until 1948 the internal violence among the Palestinians was such that often the only way to remain safe was to request Jewish help. The mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini ran an ongoing civil war among the Palestinians that effectively destroyed the Palestinian national movement. One can almost say that it was not Ben Gurion who founded the Jewish state but Haj Amin.
Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom on November 29, 2012 at 8:57 am (Reply)
I forgot the most outrageous way Israel (my country, BTW) recruits collaborators from Gaza: people in need of medical treatment in Israel -- options for sophisticated medical care in Gaza are not plentiful -- are often pressured into working for Israel in return for medical treatment in Israel. This is terrible, and should have been mentioned in the article -- in fact, the article would read totally differently.
    Igor Washetko on November 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm (Reply)
    Absolutely and thank you for that. I agree, much of the article would have read differently as well as more accurate and less idealistic.
    I found this statement rather racist or dehumanizing (whatever you want to call it) as well, "There remains, then, this spark of humanity, if only the impulse to self-preservation".
    Well why would we question the humanity of the people in Gaza, or Israel or the U.S. or anywhere for that matter? Have we not long ago established that we are all from one race, one people...Or has religion finally won the battle over reason, well science actually, or dare I call it "common sense"?
    ed on November 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm (Reply)

    sometimes 'persuasion' is required to bring out the good in people.
Harold Zvi on November 29, 2012 at 9:05 am (Reply)
I am frankly surprised that such articles are published. It enhances the danger of even more savagery by the Hamas secret police on those even "suspected" of collaboration, and as for boasting to the world of our hitherto unknown "1984" type penetration of life in Gaza, it can only lead to more enraged reprisals, and damage to our presentation of Israel to the outside world as the "injured party".
Nachama on November 29, 2012 at 10:39 am (Reply)
With all due respect, "Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom," but how did an article with statements such as, "Gazans, like other Palestinians, have no love for Jews and Israel and readily celebrate their murder; but they are not anxious to die themselves. There remains, then, this spark of humanity, if only the impulse to self-preservation" or point after point about the various, self-serving reasons for collaboration that the article details somehow get warped in your mind into the "suggest[ion] that collaborators are idealists or friends of Israel?"

I think that your comment, which clearly reveals that you either did not read the article or did not understand it, is the only insult to anyone's intelligence; though in this unfortunate case, only your own.

I'm kind of embarrassed for you.
Laurence Burris on November 29, 2012 at 11:07 am (Reply)
rabbi Jeremy Milgrom on November 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm (Reply)
You're right, Nachama, there's no statement of idealism on the part of collaborators; I took the headline seriously, perhaps too seriously. But I hope you found the additional information I provided -- about the coercion involved in recruiting and managing collaborators to be a valuable contribution.

But since you quoted, I do feel we must address the sweeping, damning generalization in "Gazans, like other Palestinians, have no love for Jews and Israel and readily celebrate their murder." When we came back to Zion (at least I did, did you, Nachama? And reading the author's bio, one gets the impression that he's mostly in the U.S.), we came to a land with a people, and our future depends on our ability to live with them, respecting their dignity and preserving their rights. With disparaging attitudes like those that this article presents, typical of the most extreme right wing xenophobic elements of Jewish society both in Israel and abroad, we are forced into an all-or-nothing, zero sum game scenario. Thanks, but no thanks, Alex Joffe!
YM on November 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm (Reply)
If Alex Joffe, the author of this article is correct, that there are perhaps thousands of Palestinians working on Israel's behalf, I don't think you can dismiss all of this as due to blackmail, etc.
David Levavi on November 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm (Reply)
Happily, Milgrom is merely a rabbi of some type (Reform or Reconstructionist I'll bet) and not someone in a position to influence policy. Milgrom's kind are always far more ready to criticize Jews with whom they are familiar than Muslims with whom they have little or no genuine contact beyond minor commercial exchanges. A proper rabbi does not differentiate between right wing Jews and left wing Jews or set Israeli Jews against American Jews.

This "zenophobic element" will take Milgrom seriously when he hears sentiments like Milgrom's from an imam or Ayatollah. Meanwhile, coercion or any other method to extract information that saves Jewish lives is perfectly fine.
    philipmax on November 29, 2012 at 5:51 pm (Reply)
    David, your remarks are prejudicial. I don't know the Rabbi and don't agree with his views, but I resent the inference that by characterizing this man as a non-orthodox Rabbi and therefore, he is not " a proper rabbi" and thereby is incapable of understanding of human relations. If you don't care for this one Rabbi's views, that's fine. But to castigate all rabbis who don't wear your color is offensive.Your very misguided prejudice is embarrassingly visible.
Benzion Hirsh on November 29, 2012 at 6:59 pm (Reply)
Great article. In a world that's not perfect, when Israel's very existence and security is based on 'using' what means Israel can muster, there is a history of people providing information to anyone willing to pay. What some comments may not contain is, the Gazans are sick of the Hamas leadership; they see themselves as prisoners of this "democratically elected" regime and hope that it is overthrown - by any means possible. Those who don't live in Israel have no right to give Israel advice on how to run the country or how to fight its wars. I am an Australian observer who loves Israel and totally agree with its fight for existance.
David Levavi on November 29, 2012 at 7:21 pm (Reply)

Orthodox, shmorthodox. Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis are uniformly liberal. And yes, in matters political, I usually don't agree with them. Nor with liberal Gentiles.

But that is not why I insist Milgrom is not a proper rabbi. A proper rabbi does not differentiate between Jews and set one Jew against another. You throw around accusations of prejudice as easily and thoughtlessly as Milgrom flings accusations of xenophobia.

With respect, it is your silly nose-in-the-air fantasy of moral superiority that is embarrassing and you are the one who should be embarrassed.
Carl on November 30, 2012 at 2:39 am (Reply)
As an Israeli I'm glad that the security services are doing whatever is necessary (including blackmail), to eliminate our enemies that openly declare their wish to commit genocide on the Jewish people.
rabbi Jeremy Milgrom on November 30, 2012 at 7:21 am (Reply)
I woke up this morning eager to check on our virtual community (shall I say "minyan"? There are ten of us...), regretting that I (and perhaps others as well) were quick to judgment and didn't resonate to the legitimate concerns raised in some of the responses:

-- we're united, Lawrence Burris, in wanting Israel safe, and I believe that we can all contribute, each from our own angles, experiences, perspectives, etc., to a safe and honorable Israel

-- yes, Harold Zvi, there's a lot of savagery in the Hamas arsenal; it must be awful to live in a situation where suspicion can get you executed without trial, evidence, defense, decent burial. I deplore Palestinian violent resistance -- which is both impractical and immoral (my daughters studied at BGU, within range of rockets; my son also came under mortar attack), but I also reject the permission Israel gives itself to kill innocents under the notion of collateral damage...

-- yes, YM, not all the collaborators are blackmailed; some chose to do things they are totally against because it's the only way they can put food on the table (a Palestinian friend of mine, proud, upright, hardworking, was in a deep depression 8-10 years ago, and I tried to arrange psychological treatment for him; his father said, he doesn't need a shrink, he just needs a job! The job he found: constructing the 28 ft. high wall that casts a shadow on his house...)

-- yes, David Levavi, I am more likely to criticize Jews than I am Muslims, because I can engage Jews in conversation and am motivated by the mitzvah of hocheakh tochiakh et amitecha -- that thankless task comes with being a rabbi (you're certainly within your rights to prefer rabbis of other stripes, but I believe we're all united in a commitment to upholding moral standards)

If any of you are still reading this thread, I hope we can continue the conversation with considerate listening: eizeh hu khacham? Halomed mikol adam!

Shabbat shalom,

Ray Kestenbaum on November 30, 2012 at 7:56 am (Reply)
If the Arabs rejected the Partiton Plan of 1947 calling for separate states on separate tracts of land, by virtue of what do they claim that the West Bank is theirs?
    S W on November 30, 2012 at 10:00 am (Reply)
    Let us understand the comments threads under a comment attributed to Milgrom. The younger Rabbi Milgrom is quoted at as follows: "The best way to characterize the situation is by calling it colonialism. It’s the systematic domination and marginalization of the Palestinian people."

    When one suggests that Israel is perpetrating "colonialism" against the Palestinian "victims," is becomes linguisitically logical to conclude Israel is a "victimizer." Yet, when a larger and longer history of the entire Middle East is taken, the argument is much greater than the Muslim world as represented there is the colonialist, and in the moment, with ever increasing calls for sharia in Egypt, essentially totalitarian. Not the victim which Milgrom would have us accept.

    Colonialist? Victimizer? Survivor? Victim? Ignoring the political posturing, it is certain that 1) Israel will do what is necessary to survive, and that 2) Rabbi Milgrom has expressed no plan to show his support for the Palestinians by -- say -- living in either Gaza or the West Bank. Living with the colonialists seems safer, one might conclude.
William on February 28, 2013 at 6:22 pm (Reply)
Why should we surprised by this story? What the "Palestinians" have to look to besides daily messages of hatred spewed at Israel? Hamas lives and breathes hatred! Their only contribution to the region is war and mayhem, destruction and murder. Hamas was, and is, getting millions of dollars of "foreign aid", but one has to use a microscope to see any results. Had those funds been used on their intened targets, there would not be so many "Palestinian refugee camps", the citizens of Gaza, and the West Bank, would be living as normal lives as their neighbours in Israel. But that would be defeating their, Hamas's and their Hesbulah "friends", agenda. Let's see: few years ago the IDF retreated from Gaza and left the Palestinian Authority in charge . The Israelis left many buildings behind, buildings ready for next occupants. But, again, the Hamas had said ""NO!" and decided to tear those buildings down! So much for "we want to improve our peoples' lives!" Improve? How? By housing them in ruins, to show them to West-Europeans as to prove the point of Israeli intransigent? (BTW. There is a series of photos floating on-line, from Gaza, the other Gaza, the Gaza not seen by many people, showing "how the other half lives". I'll bet the West-Europeans have not seen those photos. What a shame!But I am transgressing; back to story). By faking conflicts with the IDF and then to show those on Youtube? To what other purpouse than to bring more "foreign aid funds" into Gaza, and the West Bank, only to syfon off greater chunks for their own "benefits", ie. weapons and more hatred. And, unfortunately, people of Western Europe lapping it all up; they are using all that false information as a stick to beat the Israelis with. And they are supposed to be inteligent and educated, REALLY??

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