US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. An alliance the world can count on (Washington Post)

As two nations that support the human rights and dignity of all people, we continue to stand with those brave citizens across the Middle East and North Africa who are demanding their universal rights, write Barack Obama and David Cameron.

2. India's Democratic dividend (Wall Street Journal) (£)

Last week's election results in five Indian states turned the conventional wisdom on its head. Voters, especially in India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, resoundingly favored parties that promised development. The elites are still in a state of shock, writes Barun Mitra.

3. Obama's pump debacle (LA Times)

Obama desperately wants people to think he's against higher gas prices -- at least until he gets reelected, says Jonah Goldberg.

4. Why isn't Mitt Romney "likable enough"? (Politico)

A candidate can attract or repulse in the same way a magnet can. Every time Romney tries to close the distance with voters and draw them closer, he seems invariably, to repulse them, writes J. Ann Selzer.

5. Afghanistan on edge (LA Times)

With each further crisis like that set off by the soldier's actions Sunday, the U.S. loses standing in the eyes of its Afghan government "partners," not to mention the increasingly skeptical population at large, says this editorial.

6. The perils of retreat (Wall Street Journal) (£)

Retreats are messy in warfare, and they can quickly become disorderly when the mission becomes something other than military victory, writes this editorial.

7. America's war on manufacturing (Philadelphia Inquirer)

In the wake of calls for tax breaks and other measures to support manufacturing from President Obama and the leading Republican presidential candidates, there has been an outcry from economists against such industrial policy, writes Clyde Prestowitz.

8. The double-edged health care debate (Oregonian)

It must be a bitter irony for the president that his greatest legislative achievement, a promise kept from his 2008 campaign, has become an albatross, writes Doyle McManus.

9. Obama goes to AIPAC (Plain Dealer)

Obama indeed did parrot the line that all options would be on the table. And he chest-thumped by saying Iran should not doubt his resolve, but he also said that all the war talk has not helped, says Jennifer Rubin.

10. Obama's phony compromise on religious freedom (Washington Examiner)

Obama had no intention of budging on the most critical issue -- whether the government or the church will decide how the church operates, writes this editorial.

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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