A Palestinian boy looks out across Gaza City on 6 August 2014. Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty
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Conflict in Gaza is all part of Israel’s indirect system of control over Palestinians

2014’s Operation Protective Edge was just the latest in a long list of operations used by the IDF to “cut the grass” in the region.

Eleven years ago I was discharged from my military service as a combatant with the Nahal Brigade of the Israel Defence Force (IDF). After my release I founded the organisation Breaking the Silence together with several friends. Since then, I have spoken with hundreds of soldiers who described their military service in the territories. I never came across such lenient rules of engagement as those described by dozens of soldiers and officers who took part in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. Their testimonies describe how the IDF conducted itself and can explain to a large extent why there were such fatal results. 

But the testimonies from Protective Edge do not tell the whole story. They do not recount that last summer’s operation was only the latest in a series of operations conducted by the IDF in recent years in Gaza. (Warm Winter in 2008, Cast Lead at the start of 2009, Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Protective Edge in 2014). They also neglect to explain why it is apparent that it is only a matter of time until the next operation.

This succession of operations in Gaza is an expression of a strategy nicknamed by senior IDF officers as “cutting the grass”. Those who advocate for this strategy describe it as a necessary response to the terror threats facing Israel. These officers present the strategy as a defensive tool designed to undermine terror groups’ ability to threaten Israel’s security. They claim that because the threats facing Israel are constant and can never be completely averted, Israel must periodically and cyclically “cut” terror organisations’ capabilities and disrupt their readiness for combat. An operation every two or three years is an expression of cold and calculated logic, not whimsy.

But the last operation, like those that preceded it, not only damaged Hamas’s infrastructure and that of other armed groups. The principal casualties from the “grass cutting” policy were Palestinian civilians, whose population is being torn apart under the throes of war. Think about what happens to a society when hundreds of its children are killed within the span of two months, along with 18,000 of its homes. It is impossible not to discern whether what the IDF is “cutting” every couple of years is terror capabilities, or the ability for an entire society to develop and subsist.

In effect, the “grass cutting” policy is but another component of Israel’s system of control over the Palestinian population, both in Gaza and the West Bank. In order to preserve its control, Israel continuously operates to ensure Palestinians remain weak and vulnerable. As a soldier, I took part in countless operations aimed at “lowering the heads” of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. Many other soldiers have and continue to do the same.  Patrols at all hours of the day and night throughout the streets of Palestinian cities, raids in arbitrarily chosen civilian homes, checkpoints in the heart of densely populated Palestinian areas – all these activities are designed to show the Palestinian population that Israeli soldiers are always present in every place, and to create a sense of persecution. Other operations, like curfews on a village or the arrest of all the men in it for an undefined period of time, allow for the entrenchment of fear in the population, and with it the strengthening of control over them.

The difference between the soldiers’ missions in the West Bank and Gaza stems from the difference in the nature of control Israel has on these two territories. The West Bank has been under full, direct and daily military control and partial civilian control for the last 48 years. In the Gaza Strip, Israel has not implemented direct military control since 2005. However, to this day, it continues to retain control over the most basic aspects of daily life in Gaza. We control Gaza’s air and sea space, as well as its population registry and the passage of trade and people. The periodic conflicts in Gaza are another tool in Israel’s indirect system of control over the population, and is another means of dismembering Palestinian society.

We should remind ourselves that when we cut down Palestinians’ freedom to choose how to live their lives and their right to live securely with a roof over their heads, we are also cutting ourselves down. We are cutting down our values and our humanity, as well as our security and hope to live without anticipating the next round of war.

If we do not act to stop Israel’s perennial “grass cutting,” within the West Bank and Gaza, then we can only expect more death and destruction on both sides. Only a determined political struggle to end Israeli control can prevent the next war and bring peace and security to the people of the region. Only freedom for Palestinians can guarantee freedom and security for Israelis.

Yehuda Shaul is a co-founder and member of Breaking the Silence, an organisation of almost 1,000 Israeli veterans who work toward ending the Israeli occupation

DebateTech
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Politicians: it's no longer OK to know nothing about technology

It’s bad enough to joke about not being "techy"; it's worse to write a piece of legislation from a position of ignorance. 

Earlier this week, facing down a 600-strong battalion of London’s tech sector at a mayoral hustings in Stratford, Zac Goldsmith opened his five minute pitch with his characteristic charm. “I’m not very techy!” he exclaimed. “I understand coding about as well as Swahili!”

Pointless jibe at a foreign language aside, this was an ill-chosen way to begin his address - especially considering that the rest of his speech showed he was reasonably well-briefed on the problems facing the sector, and the solutions (including improving broadband speeds and devolving skills budgets) which could help.

But the offhand reference to his own ignorance, and the implication that it would be seen as attractive by this particular audience, implies that Goldsmith, and other politicians like him, haven’t moved on since the 90s. The comment seemed designed to say: “Oh, I don't know about that - I'll leave it to the geeks like you!"

This is bad enough from a mayoral hopeful.  But on the same day, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament filed its report on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, the legislation drafted by the Home Office which will define how and how far the government and secret services can pry into our digital communications. Throughout, there's the sense that the ISC doesn't think the MPs behind the bill had a firm grasp on the issues at hand. Words like "inconsistent" and "lacking in clarity" pop up again and again. In one section, the authors note:

"While the issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, we are nevertheless concerned that thus far the Government has missed the opportunity to provide the clarity and assurance which is badly needed."

The report joins criticism from other directions, including those raised by Internet Service Providers last year, that the bill's writers didn't appear to know much about digital communications at all, much less the issues surrounding encryption of personal messages.

One good example: the bill calls for the collection of "internet connection records", the digital equivalent of phone call records, which show the domains visited by internet users but not their content. But it turns out these records don't exist in this form: the bill actually invented both the phrase and the concept. As one provider commented at the time, anyone in favour of their collection "do not understand how the Internet works". 

Politicians have a long and colourful history of taking on topics - even ministerial posts - in fields they know little to nothing about. This, in itself, is a problem. But politicians themselves are often the people extolling importance of technology, especially to the British economy - which makes their own lack of knowledge particularly grating. No politician would feel comfortable admitting a lack of knowledge, on, say, economics. I can’t imagine Goldsmith guffawing "Oh, the deficit?  That's all Greek to me!"  over dinner with Cameron. 

The mayoral candidates on stage at the DebateTech hustings this week were eager to agree that tech is London’s fastest growing industry, but could do little more than bleat the words “tech hub” with fear in their eyes that someone might ask them what exactly that meant. (A notable exception was Green candidate Sian Berry, who has actually worked for a tech start-up.) It was telling that all were particularly keen on improving internet speeds -  probably because this is something they do have day-to-day engagement with. Just don't ask them how to go about doing it.

The existence of organisations like Tech London Advocates, the industry group which co-organised the hustings, is important, and can go some way towards educating the future mayor on the issues the industry faces. But the technology and information sectors have been responsible for 30 per cent of job growth in the capital since 2009 - we can't afford to have a mayor who blanches at the mention of code. 

If we’re to believe the politicians themselves, with all their talk of coding camps and skills incubators and teaching the elderly to email, we need a political sphere where boasting that you're not "techy" isn’t cool or funny - it’s just kind of embarrassing. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.