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Remnick gets the timeline wrong

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Remnick, photo at UCLA site

Remnick, photo at UCLA site

David Remnick has a short piece in the New Yorker, “Aflame,” lamenting the current Gaza conflict. For me, it illustrates what is often wrong with the New Yorker these days: he’s glib and gets the essence wrong.

Remnick is a great writer. But the trouble with elegant prose is it can camouflage bad judgment. Remnick has been known to carry water for war hawks before. (For example, here he is advocating for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.)

Remnick is good buddies with Ari Shavit and helped peddle his book on these shores.  The main messages of Shavit’s book (“My Promised Land,” a book, Remnick said, “that if it’s not in your hands, you’re very foolish”) is that 1) the world hates the Jews, and it always will, so the Jews need their own state armed to the teeth; 2) If the Jews don’t have their own state, they’ll intermarry and live happily assimilated lives—and we can’t have that;  3) Iran is out to bomb Israel with nuclear weapons (See point 1); 4) Yes the “pioneers” who formed the state engaged in ethnic cleansing; it was necessary (but it means the Palestinians hate the Jews, they’ll never get over it,  so we need to keep a tight lid on the occupation);  5) Israel should abandon the West Bank—but it can’t happen for the next generation or four, so get used to it.  I doubt Shavit would entirely agree with this characterization, but read the book and tell me that this is not the gist of it.

Remnick doesn’t display much wisdom in this latest New Yorker piece either.  He locates the source of this conflict with the kidnapping of the three yeshiva students on June 2.  This misses the point and is misleading.  To be sure Remnick adds wise-sounding weasel words —but that’s where he puts his finger: the kidnappings. However, even without unspooling to 1917 (the type of casting back that Remnick deplores here), the cause of the present flare up is the Hamas/PA reconciliation pact, which Netanyahu went more or less apoplectic about.  That’s where Remnick should point his finger.

Here’s the timeline:

Hamas and the PA announced their intention to form a unity government on April 24, 2014 (while I was in Israel).  This was to be followed by elections within six months.  The U.S. indicated guarded support. The EU felt it was an important step towards a two-state solution. Israel harshly condemned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for choosing a pact with Hamas and Netanyahu promptly cut off the Kerry led peace negotiations.

The technocratic unity government was sworn in on June 2, 2014.

Ten days later, on June 12, three Israeli yeshiva students were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank by a rogue element loosely associated with Hamas.  This group has acted in the past to undermine any softening of Hamas’s position.

Israeli investigators knew the next morning the three had been killed because one of them placed an emergency “100” call, and there was an open recorded line as they were shot. The police soon found a burned-out Hyundai which contained a pair of tefillin (leather-bound texts that religious Jews strap on for prayer), DNA evidence that was quickly matched to the boys’ parents, and eight bullet holes.  But Netanyahu put a gag order on the press and for three weeks pursued Hamas on the West Bank, destroyed homes, arrested about 400—including every Hamas guy they could find, and killed at least five Palestinians, all the while professing they were hoping to find the boys alive.

This led to a barrage of Gaza rockets, Israeli bombing, an Israeli ground invasion and, as of this writing, 1,221 Palestinian dead, 56 Israeli dead, thousands wounded, and Gaza being demolished.

Remnick, rightly laments the politics of all this:

The politics are as disheartening as the casualties are heartbreaking. Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned that if the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, did not find a way to make serious progress on ending the occupation and creating feasible borders and mutual guarantees, the outlines of which have been clear for decades, the consequences would likely be catastrophic—from a third intifada to the end of a two-state solution. Moshe Ya’alon, Netanyahu’s Defense Minister, made plain the leadership’s attitude toward the peace talks by telling associates that Kerry was “obsessive” and “messianic.” “He should take his Nobel Prize and leave us alone,” Ya’alon said.

But what is he saying?  This seems like unintelligible gibberish aimed at sounding smart, while saying nothing.  Is he criticizing Kerry, or supporting Kerry?  Who knows. Is he seconding Israel’s criticism of Kerry, or holding it up for ridicule.  The reader can take away what she may.

Remnick did an excellent piece on the new right in Israel, Naftali Bennet, Avigdor Lieberman, and Moshe Feiglin, in January ’13.  But to suggest that Natanyahu was ever seriously behind a two state solution, as Remnick does in his penultimate paragraph (referencing the 2009 Bar Ilan speech),  is not really credible.  What’s more believable is that Benzion Netanyahu, an unrepentant racist whose motto was “never give up any part of the land,” is presently smiling proudly down on his son as I write this.

Remnick concludes:

Last week, Reuven Rivlin, the scion of an old, right-wing Jerusalem family, took the oath of office as Israel’s President. The post is largely ceremonial, but there was meaning in the occasion. Rivlin was replacing Shimon Peres, who was a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1994, for his role in forging the Oslo Accords. Peres, who is ninety, is a champion of the two-state solution. Rivlin is a champion of the Israeli settlers. As he has put it, “I wholeheartedly believe that the land of Israel is ours in its entirety.” Tragically, it is Rivlin’s absolutist view that is in the ascendance for so many, both in Palestine and in Israel.

It’s true, Rivlin is a one state guy, but he’s willing to give everybody citizenship.  Netanyahu’s heart lies with the Greater-Israel-without-any-Palestinians crowd. Peres was an old hawk who became a fig leaf for the “we are so peaceful, and would like to compromise, really—if only we had a peace partner—but we-don’t-so-we-really-must-settle-and occupy-forever” crowd.  Give me Rivlin over Peres any day.

A version of this post appeared first on Roland Nikles’s blog. 

Roland Nikles
About Roland Nikles

Roland Nikles is a Bay Area writer and attorney. He blogs here: And you can follow him on twitter @RolandNikles

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26 Responses

  1. mondonut
    mondonut on July 30, 2014, 2:49 pm

    Israeli investigators knew the next morning the three had been killed because one of them placed an emergency “100” call, and there was an open recorded line as they were shot.

    Nonsense. They did not “know” they had been killed. They may have suspected it but they did not know if one child or all had been shot and they did not know if they had been murdered or wounded. They “knew” they were dead when they found the bodies.

    • John O
      John O on July 30, 2014, 3:25 pm

      If they did not know, then they launched a staggeringly incompetent and counterproductive search for them. Since the burnt-out car they were abducted in was found very soon, it is almost certain they knew well before the official discovery of the bodies, from which it follows that the search was equally almost certainly a cynical charade.

    • Mooser
      Mooser on July 30, 2014, 3:59 pm

      “Nonsense. They did not “know” they had been killed.”

      Oh, give it up, Mondonut. Everybody at schul was speculating about this tragic love-triangle ending in a murder-suicide. It’s awful but when love dare not speak its name it goes out in the road and frightens the horses. Not, of course, that there is anything wrong with that. And the IDF killed all the horses.

      Anybody who thinks I am replying to an honest comment with sarcastic persiflage is free to look at “Mondonut’s” archive and decide for yourself if you wish to engage him in a serious conversation. Even the other Zio-trolls avoid this little potzevateh.

      • piotr
        piotr on July 31, 2014, 1:49 pm

        You are making easy but falsifiable assumptions, like that Israelis who had the access to evidence could draw obvious conclusions.

        10 minutes of web searching shows that Iran is full of suppliers of jeans, because of sanctions and currency shortages they actually make them locally. Even so, Netanyahu’s office, benefitting from the best intelligence of the State of Israel, posted on social media the poor Iranians are not allowed to wear jeans. Iranians mocked and cheered.

        A week before “kidnapping” IDF finished a cycle of training for then hypothetical situation of a kidnapping of a young settler girl. So they went ahead with all planned and exercised activities. 90% of people “know” what they assume, and the minority does not fare well in IDF, Israeli police, intelligence (until they retire) or government.

    • Interested Bystander
      Interested Bystander on July 30, 2014, 4:01 pm

      I don’t quarrel with that comment. However, there are different senses of “to know.” At which point, as the Columbia shuttle reentered the atmosphere, did NASA control know the astronauts were dead? At which point did we “know” there were no weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s possession?

      One of the interesting parts in the film “Zero Dark Thirty” is the quandary of Leon Panetta, head of the CIA at the time, whether he should trust the passionate, but young and inexperienced (fictional) Maya, who is telling him she “knows” Osama Bin Laden is in this particular house outside Abbottobad. Political leaders always have a challenge of acting on imperfect “knowledge.”

      We haven’t seen the details of the investigation, but based on the news reports we have, it appears that the investigators heard the shots on the “100” call, found eight bullet holes in the car, blood of the boys, and (apparently) confirmation by the kidnappers that they had shot the three boys.

    • chocopie
      chocopie on July 30, 2014, 4:36 pm

      Yeah, they knew. Unless they were idiots, which is possible.

    • Kay24
      Kay24 on July 30, 2014, 4:38 pm

      Aw that innocent little Israel did not know they had been killed, did not know who did it, accused those they hated immediately, but certainly knew how to wage a campaign of terror on poor Palestinians who had nothing to do with it. They even resorted to collective punishment. When kids were killed by snipers during the Nakba anniversary (the world saw the videos very clearly), then innocent little Israel ignored the entire slaughter, and would have been outraged had Hamas waged some collective punishment on them, whining they were victims again.
      Give it a rest. The lies are sickening.

    • Paldi5
      Paldi5 on July 30, 2014, 6:17 pm

      Well if you find the blood from the three teens and match the DNA to each of their parents, it’s pretty conclusive. Eight bullet holes, lots of blood to conclusively match DNA, three teens hit by 2 or 3 shots each… not really likely to be wounded and still alive. Nobody tried to ransom them either.

      • seafoid
        seafoid on July 31, 2014, 12:46 am

        Israel probably killed them with an errant shell.

    • MRW
      MRW on July 30, 2014, 6:45 pm

      Max Blumenthal covers how they knew here: “Netanyahu government knew teens were dead as it whipped up racist frenzy”.

      Everyone is overlooking–including Max–this critical piece of the timeline: the senseless and needless killing of two Palestinian boys on May 15, 2014 caught on film by CNN, which puts a lie to Israel’s claim that they were using rubber bullets or blanks. Military experts examining the outtakes saw the soldier load the red-painted magazine that indicates he was using live bullets, and wilfully used them. Watch

    • Shingo
      Shingo on July 30, 2014, 10:07 pm

      Nonsense. They did not “know” they had been killed.

      Yes they did. They had the car of the suspects with spent bullets and the blood of the three boys

      Stop lying.

    • talknic
      talknic on July 30, 2014, 10:55 pm

      @ mondonut “They did not “know” they had been killed.”

      Uh huh. So why did they launch a violent program of collective punishment!

    • Citizen
      Citizen on July 31, 2014, 5:58 am

      @ mondonut
      Yeah, it took awhile to officially find the dead bodies, so near where they were kidnapped, because Bibi was more intent on putting anybody associated with HAMAS in the WB back in jail. His goal has been to stifle the Palestinian unity government.

    • Marnie
      Marnie on July 31, 2014, 9:15 am

      Okay, your are hung up on the “knew”. I hope this helps you.

      “Israeli investigators FELT SURE the next morning the three had been killed because one of them placed an emergency “100” call, and there was an open recorded line as they were shot. The police soon found a burned-out Hyundai which contained a pair of tefillin (leather-bound texts that religious Jews strap on for prayer), DNA evidence that was quickly matched to the boys’ parents, and eight bullet holes”. Is that better motek?

      “But Netanyahu put a gag order on the press and for three weeks pursued Hamas on the West Bank, destroyed homes, arrested about 400—including every Hamas guy they could find, and killed at least five Palestinians, all the while professing they were hoping to find the boys alive.”

      Nothing to dispute about the rest of the paragraph? Didn’t think so.

  2. seafoid
    seafoid on July 30, 2014, 4:14 pm

    It all started in April,when the bots screamed blue murder at the hamas/Fatah reconciliation.

    There is no way Israel sustained 60 IDF martyrdoms for the sake of 3 dead teenagers. The maths don’t add up.

    Remnick is ALWAYS introduced as a great writer. But he has lousy judgement betimes.

  3. Eva Smagacz
    Eva Smagacz on July 30, 2014, 8:13 pm

    Let’s not forget this incident on 15th of May 2014:

    Nadeem Siam Nawara, 17, and Mahmoud Odeh, 16 of Beitunia, West Bank, both shot and killed by IDF soldiers outside Ofer prison near Ramallah where surveillance video revealed that they were assassinated while peacefully walking down a street near the prison.

    And little Ali Abd al-Latif al-Awour, 7, of Beit Lahi, who died on 14th of June in the northern Gaza Strip, of wounds suffered in a June 11 Israeli missile attack, which killed his uncle Muhammad Ahmad al-Awour. – these attacks preceded kidnapping.

    • Marnie
      Marnie on July 31, 2014, 9:19 am

      Eva –
      Nothing like leaving out salient details!

      And they still haven’t found the killers of those guys, or have they?

  4. Nevada Ned
    Nevada Ned on July 30, 2014, 9:33 pm

    Resnick has written a lot of rubbish about Israel/Palestine, and published even more. But even The New Yorker has a good article by Rashid Khalidi, Collective Punishment in Gaza, just out. Check it out. (Sorry, I don’t have a link. Find the article yourself!)

    A few years ago, there was zero chance of this being published in The New Yorker. Now the door has been forced open a crack, and the truth is starting to leak in!

    • amirflesher
      amirflesher on July 31, 2014, 12:35 am

      Khalidi writes of an “unswerving, decades-long Israeli policy of denying Palestine self-determination, freedom, and sovereignty.”

      This is not entirely true. According to all accounts of negotiators on both sides, Israel and the PA were twice very close to a deal–in Taba in 2001, and in late 2008, when Olmert and Abbas were very very close to a deal. Both deals included complete Palestinian self determination, and sovereignty, (albeit with demilitarization).

      The sticking points in 2008 were the continued existence of Ariel, and the number of refugees to be allowed back into Israel proper.

  5. bpm
    bpm on July 30, 2014, 10:13 pm

    In comments two weeks ago, Netanyahu clearly rejected the two-state solution. For Remnick to pretend otherwise is not only wrong, but dishonest. He’s not a journalist; he’s an Israeli shill. Same for the New Yorker.

  6. seafoid
    seafoid on July 31, 2014, 4:42 am

    I’m sick hearing about what a good writer Remnick is. As a Zionist he’s a defective human being. Zionism means killing kids in Gaza. Surely Israel can do better than that.

  7. Sibiriak
    Sibiriak on July 31, 2014, 5:00 am

    It’s true, Rivlin is a one state guy, but he’s willing to give everybody citizenship.

    Perhaps not. According to the provided link:

    4. An unabashed proponent of the one state solution, Rivlin advocates giving full Israeli civil and political rights to West Bank Palestinians in a single-state scenario.

    No mention of GAZA and its 1.6+ million Palestinians. Israeli annexation of the West Bank alone is not a “one-state solution.”

  8. eGuard
    eGuard on July 31, 2014, 6:43 am

    “Remnick is a great writer”. How do we know that? Why does it not show in this piece?

  9. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870 on July 31, 2014, 10:57 am

    RE: “[T]he cause of the present flare up is the Hamas/PA reconciliation pact, which Netanyahu went more or less apoplectic about.” ~ Roland Nikles

    MY COMMENT: In fact, I think it’s quite accurate to say that the Hamas/PA reconciliation pact caused Netanyahu to go ballistic.

    • just
      just on July 31, 2014, 11:04 am

      Yep. “Ballistic” enough to target schools, hospitals, ambulances, journalists, children, and the wounded– even using illegal weapons. CNN anchor just called it a “bloodbath” prior to showing the Gaza market shelling by Israel and results. You can hear the “prayers of the wounded” “bodies torn apart”. Now Karl Penhaul on to tell some more of the truth.

      And we’re supplying the ballistics and the approval!

    • Marnie
      Marnie on August 1, 2014, 3:42 am

      Yes and then go right into war planning.

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