Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

1. Tim Pawlenty became the first Republican White House hopeful to start showing television adverts in Iowa, the state that holds the first contest in the presidential caucus and primary calendar. The 30-second advert was aired today, and will run til 3 July at a cost of $50,000.

Pawlenty is concentrating a lot resources in Iowa, where he needs a strong finish in February to win the GOP nomination. He formally announced his bit for the presidency at an event in Des Moines, Iowa, last month. He will spend about 15 days in the state next month ahead of an important straw poll in Ames on 13 August.

 

2. Michele Bachmann will also be descending on Iowa, where she will officially launch her presidential campaign on Monday. Several weeks of keeping a low profile mean that Bachmann is still riding the positive wave of her strong performance in last week's primary debate.

Her conservative credentials as the grassroots Tea Party candidate mean she is likely to do well in Iowa. The fact that she was born in the state and lived there until she was 12 will also help. The announcement might even take place in Waterloo, the place of her birth.

3. Republican women rushed to defend their party after a prominent Democrat said the party was waging "a war on women". Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida representative and the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said last month that the opposition's anti-woman stance would "not only restore but possibly help us exceed the president's margin of victory in the next election."

It is obviously a sore point for a party whose top ranks are dominated by white men. Women -- notably not including Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann -- jumped to defend the GOP.

"The Republican agenda is indeed pro-woman," said Kristi Noem, representative for South Dakota. "It is pro-woman because it is pro-small business, pro-entrepreneur, pro-family and pro-economic growth."

Expect the battle for the female vote to heat up.

4. Predicatbly, the love-in between Jon Huntsman and President Barack Obama is coming to an end. Huntsman wrote that Obama was a "remarkable leader" after he was appointed to serve as ambassador to China. He distanecd himself from these words on Fox News' Hannity show last night:

 

Asked if he still thinks the president is a "remarkable leader", Huntsman said: "No. I think he has failed in a number of ways both in terms of economic governance and stewardship and also internationally."

He added: "I wrote that after I was appointed. I thought he was a remarkable leader for appointing a Republican to a position as important and sensitive as the U.S. ambassadorship to China."

5. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head in January, is to release a joint memoir with her husband, Mark Kelly.

They will collaborate with author Jeffrey Zaslow, who worked on Randy Pausch's bestselling The Last Lecture. The book will focus on their separate careers (Kelly is a Nasa astronaut) and their relationship, including the moment that Giffords was shot as she spoke to consituents in Tucson, in an attack which killed six people and injured 12. Kelly said:

After thinking about it, and talking about it, we decided it was the right thing to do to put our words and our voices on paper and tell our story from our point of view. It's been really touching to us to see how much support there is for Gabby and her recovery, and how much interest there is in how she's doing and her story.

Giffords, pictured below before and after the shooting, is undergoing outpatient treatment after being released from a Houston hospital last week.

giffords

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Unlikely sisters in the Gaza Strip

A former Jewish settler in Gaza recalls her childhood friendship with a young Palestinian.

It was well after midnight, one summer night in 1995, when Inbar Rozy, a 13-year-old living in the former Israeli settlement of Alei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip, heard her parents answer the phone. Sitting up in bed, surrounded by potted plants, candles and fairy dolls lit by shafts of light from a nearby security outpost, Inbar listened closely.

“I could hear everyone talking around me, making calls,” Inbar said when we met recently in Nitzan, southern Israel. When she got up to find out what was happening, her parents told her to make up a second mattress. As dawn broke, they led into the room a young woman carrying a small bag and wearing a black shirt and jeans. “She had shoulder-length dark hair dyed with red henna and beautiful eyes – big, black with thick eyelashes,” Inbar told me, smiling. “[She was] quiet. She looked scared.”

The woman was Rina (her surname cannot be given for security reasons), a talented artist in her early twenties studying at a local art college, where she had fallen in love with a Christian boy. For Rina, coming from a traditional family, marrying a non-Muslim would be strictly forbidden.

When her parents found out, they were furious and forbade her from seeing her boyfriend. But her male cousins felt this wasn’t enough. Earlier on the day the girls first met, Rina’s cousins had attempted to kill her in retribution for her perceived “honour crime”. Seeing that another attempt on her life was likely, Rina’s father called a relative, who in turn called Inbar’s father, Yossef, a friend of many years. There was no doubt she had to leave. Ironically, a Jewish settlement protected by the Israel Defence Forces was the safest place in Gaza for her to be.

In 1967, Israel seized the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the Six Day War. In time, it settled 21 communities on a third of the land, with a population of 8,000 by 2005. Soldiers guarded the settlements from 1.5 million displaced Palestinians, tens of thousands of whom were displaced in 1967 and moved to live in nearby refugee camps. In Gaza, before Israel’s ultimate withdrawal from the Strip in 2005, relationships between Israeli settlers and Palestinians were fraught. True, many Palestinians worked in Israeli settlements, earning wages higher than elsewhere in the Strip, but the two communities lived largely separate lives.

In the mid-1990s, even after the Oslo Accords, violence was simmering. Israeli military incursions increased with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. Thousands of home-made Qassam rockets were launched by Palestinian militants at settlers and those living in southern Israel. Security measures hardened. The veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who spent several years living in Gaza, describes neighbourhoods that were “turned into jails behind barbed-wire fences, closed gates, IDF surveillance, tanks and entry-permit red tape”.

And yet, in spite of the forced segregation, Inbar’s family enjoyed close links with their Palestinian neighbours. Inbar’s father worked as an ambulance driver, and on several occasions he helped transport those who lived nearby for emergency medical treatment in Israel. “Every Tuesday, my father’s Jewish and Arab friends would come to our house and we’d eat lunch together,” Inbar remembered.

Given the gravity of Rina’s situation, she couldn’t leave the house. Secrecy was paramount. The girls spent weeks together indoors, Inbar said, chatting, watching TV and drawing. “I’m not sure that as a child I actually understood it for real,” she said. “She taught me how to paint and sketch a face from sight.”

Almost as soon as Rina arrived, Inbar’s family began receiving anonymous phone calls asking about her. “My dad told me, ‘Don’t mention anything about Rina. Say you don’t know what they’re talking about – because otherwise they’ll come and kill us,’” Inbar said.

While the girls got to know each other, Inbar’s mother, Brigitte, found a women’s shelter in East Jerusalem for Rina. Whereas today Gaza is closed off by a military border under heavy surveillance, at that time it was porous. Brigitte drove Rina in to the capital, where she was given a new name and identity that would enable her to begin a new life, on condition that she contact no one in Gaza.

Today Inbar, who is 33, works at the Gush Katif centre in Nitzan – a museum dedicated to the memory of the Israeli settlements in Gaza. Despite her parents’ objections, the family was evacuated in 2005. Unlike most settlers in Gaza, some residents of Alei Sinai were determined to stay on, even if that meant forfeiting their Israeli citizenship. “I have no problem with living as a minority in a Palestinian state,” one of Alei Sinai’s inhabitants, Avi Farhan, told the Israeli daily Haaretz at the time.

Inbar now lives in Ashkelon, a city of 140,000 in southern Israel, and finds the big city alienating, especially when she recalls the warm relationships that once existed in Gaza. “I’ve never felt less secure,” she told me.

Years later, she learned that Rina had developed cancer and died. “The day before Rina left . . . she drew a portrait of me,” she said, describing how her friend had outlined, in charcoal strokes, the features of the teenager. Her parents packed the portrait with all their belongings in a shipping container the day they left Gaza. Soon after, the container was destroyed in a fire.

“I think if people had given it a chance . . . they would have had these kinds of friendships,” Inbar said, looking back. “We’d get along fairly well if we didn’t look at others as the monsters over the wall.” 

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism