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

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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