Dispatch

Victory or Death

For the hard-line brigades in Gaza, a cease-fire is only a temporary reprieve from a battle that never ends.

GAZA CITY — We met in a crowded cafe because Abu Anas thought it would be safer there. Refugees from war-torn areas of Gaza had established an impromptu tent camp on a slice of green space nearby, and they now filled the establishment, sitting in front of falafel sandwiches and glasses of tea. Three young men with laptops and cell phones arrayed in front of them sat with us, not speaking much -- the media team of the Kataib Mujahideen, or Jihadists' Brigade.

Abu Anas, a man in his 20s with a close-cropped beard, says he just arrived from the field -- he is a fighter for this Islamist brigade, which coordinates closely with Hamas in the war against Israel. He is a university graduate and has a day job as a calligrapher.

"I have participated in all of the three wars [against Israel in the past five years] and am willing to participate in other wars," he says, smiling.

Israel's domestic security service, the Shin Bet, considers the Jihadists' Brigade a splinter group from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Fatah party's military wing. More recently, the Shin Bet said, the group has developed close financial and military ties with Hamas, to the extent that it was effectively a "subsidiary" of the larger Islamist movement, headquartered in the Gaza Strip. In January, the Shin Bet announced that it had thwarted a plan by the group to kidnap Israelis in the West Bank. Months later, the very same sort of attack would spark the current round of violence.

The Jihadists' Brigade has played an active role in this round of violence. Its website claims that it has struck Israel with 445 rockets, missiles, and mortars and has engaged in five firefights with Israeli ground forces. Its YouTube page, meanwhile, advertises slow-motion shots of the group's rocket launches. Another video, posted on June 18, shows the group's fighters abducting a crudely Photoshopped stand-in for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I met Abu Anas on Aug. 9, a day before Israel and the Palestinian factions would agree on another 72-hour cease-fire. We began talking about how to end the war -- not just the current campaign in Gaza, but the entire conflict. The young fighter was clear: He's not only fighting to lift the blockade on Gaza or to liberate the Palestinian territories occupied during the 1967 war. He wants more than that.

"We will continue our fights until we liberate all of Palestine," he said. "From Ras al-Naqoura [a town on the northern Israeli-Lebanese border] to Umm al-Rashrash [the Arabic name for the southern Israeli city of Eilat]."

And what about the Jewish Israelis who currently live in mainland Israel? Would they be welcome in this new Palestinian state?

"This is not my problem," Abu Anas said. "They can go.... The Jews came from Argentina, from Europe; they can return back to their homelands there."

Abu Anas said that all Palestinian factions -- including the Jihadists' Brigade -- are united behind the demand that Israel must lift its siege on Gaza to end this current war. He said that the purpose of his brigade is to "fight God's war and to liberate all the holy lands," a goal that is shared by the military factions fighting alongside him, notably Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

I wanted to know what Abu Anas thought about the broader changes shaking the Middle East, notably the Islamic State's advance across northern Iraq, where it now threatens to exterminate Iraq's beleaguered minority communities. Does he see the Islamic State as a force for Sunni liberation -- a movement that not only is trying to sweep away Kurdish militias and Shiite leaders in Iraq and Syria, but could also be a potential partner in fighting the Israelis?

His answer was initially ambiguous. "We are not criticizing any other groups," Abu Anas said. "Anyone who is fighting the Israelis and wants to liberate Jerusalem and Palestine, we are with them."

But when pressed further, Abu Anas refused to conceive of a battlefield beyond the borders of British-mandate Palestine. He chafed at the idea of picking sides in a Sunni-Shiite war, saying that he would support any Muslim who is focused on liberating Palestine. That presumably includes support from predominantly Shiite Iran, which has expanded its military support to Hamas during the current conflict.

"The story of Sunni and Shiite [divisions], it was created by the Israelis," he said. "It is trying to erase this matter in order to weaken the ummah [Islamic nation], and not to think about Palestine."

Though another cease-fire has taken hold in the Gaza Strip, for young men like Abu Anas, the war never truly stops. His house was destroyed in the war, he said, and Israeli shelling had claimed the life of one of his cousins, "who was like a brother to me." While he said that he would respect any cessation of violence agreed to by the Palestinian delegation in Cairo, he drew a clear distinction between the parties' political and military wings: The military wings are completely united, he said, even as the political leaders might have different goals and are involved in their own maneuverings.

For Abu Anas, the diplomats are very far away, while his military comrades are an ever-present force in his life. He happily discusses the Jihadists' Brigade's capabilities -- the rockets it has fired, the tunnels it has built, the "special forces" units that confronted Israeli soldiers during the ground invasion of Gaza. The group, he said, has lost nine fighters in this current round of violence and is willing to sacrifice more.

"From the beginning of the war, even during the truce, we are not leaving our position, and we are staying there, and in our tunnels, until the end of this battle," he said. "And until we achieve victory."

HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images

Dispatch

Cabbage Soup and Ravioli

Russians have gotten used to some fancy foods in recent years. But they're willing to sacrifice Parmesan for Putin's foreign policy.

MOSCOW — There's an old saying in Russia: "Cabbage soup and porridge is our food." It speaks to a Russian sense of culinary simplicity and steadfastness. But for Russia's middle class in the Putin era, cabbage soup and porridge belong to the days of Stalin and Khrushchev. Urban Russians today augment their dinner with peaches from Spain, cheese from France, and salmon from Norway. Inexpensive chicken legs from the United States became so prevalent after the fall of the Soviet Union that they're popularly known as "Bush legs" in honor of the then-U.S. president.

But Russian shoppers will have to say goodbye to Brie and Camembert, Italian salami, and Spanish jamón as soon as current supplies run out. At President Vladimir Putin's order, the government last week banned meat, dairy, and fruits and vegetables from the European Union and the United States in retaliation for the latest round of Western sanctions on Russia.

About 25 percent of what Russians eat is imported, and foreign products take up a lot of the meat and dairy aisles in particular. Even dingy local supermarkets often stock cheeses and dairy products from France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Finland; cured meats from France, Italy, and Spain; fruit from Poland; and fish from Canada and Norway. Nonetheless, most of Moscow's shoppers seem to shrug at the sanctions. Many support Putin's decision, even while they admit they will suffer for it.

"It will be bad if there's a smaller selection and prices go up," said Yelena, a doctor who declined to give her last name, as she shopped for groceries at a Moscow supermarket specializing in imported foods. "I remember what it was like in the Soviet Union, and I don't want empty shelves again."

But Yelena said she backed the ban as the "right response" to Western sanctions. "America and Europe have responded poorly to the situation over Ukraine," she said, walking past a fridge full of Baltic and Scandinavian dairy.

State-controlled television has been downplaying any effects of the ban. "Consumers will barely be able to notice any price increase.... Even if people have to travel abroad for some dishes, it will lead to greater profits for Russian tourist firms," reporters on Rossiya 24 exclaimed during a newscast on Friday, Aug. 8.

But analysts predict an overall rise in food prices that will further exacerbate inflation, which has already risen beyond the Central Bank's predictions to 7.5 percent.

The import ban doesn't only affect luxury goods. Almost one-third of Russian families don't obtain the minimum amount of calories and nutrients designated by the Health Ministry, according to the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, and they will likely have even more difficulty as cheap products from Ukraine are taken off the shelves.

It was mainly affluent Russians in Moscow and St. Petersburg who were most derisive about the import ban. A picture of Putin with the caption "Let the Hunger Games begin" circulated on Twitter.

Tatiana, the owner of an upscale Italian restaurant-cum-art gallery named Rubens in Moscow's well-to-do Khamovniki district, wondered how she would replace the imported products, especially French and Italian cheeses, the restaurant cooks with. "The taste buds of our guests will be limited," she worried.

Yet shoppers were surprisingly calm late last week at Azbuka Vkusa, an upmarket grocery-store chain that stocks largely imported products, from American peaches to Australian honey. Although one well-dressed Muscovite wondered whether she could stomach Russian meat after her usual Australian lamb ribs, many others spoke out in favor of the ban even as they stocked up on imported products.

"Our mother raised us on simple Russian food," said Lana, a lawyer who declined to give her last name, as she picked out some fruit and cheese. "I'm all for allowing only food from Russia, domestic stuff so that we grow more and make everyday things ourselves."

But even Lana was going to draw the line somewhere. "I won't give up my Chanel, but I can buy domestically made products for daily needs," she said.

"I support the ban. It's not good that they were treating us so unfairly," Nina, a pensioner, said of Western sanctions as she examined a carton of Chavroux goat cheese from France. Climbing prices won't affect her, she said, while admitting she had already set aside a block of her favorite Finnish cheese, Oltermanni.

At a much cheaper supermarket near one of the city's main railway stations, attitudes were even more in favor of the import ban, and no one was worried about the disappearance of French cheeses. Olga Vinogradova, a doctor, said she doesn't typically buy anything imported anyway because foreign products are more expensive.

"It's only fair, although small consumers like us will suffer of course, as well as [food producers] on the other side," she said. "The West didn't need to do sanctions.... How long can [Russia] stay on its knees?"

Even the staff at the seafood restaurant Boston, whose signature dish is a New England clam chowder, weren't worried about the import ban. According to Oleg, a waiter who declined to give his last name, about 15 percent of the restaurant's food is imported from now-sanctioned countries like Canada and Norway. But, he said, the restaurant will replace them with suppliers from Asian countries and Russia.

But while Russians may be ready to change their diets to accommodate Putin's foreign policy, not everyone in Moscow is so amenable.

When John, an American public relations officer with an international company, heard about the sanctions he rushed to the grocery store and spent $200 on Parmesan, ricotta, bleu cheese, cream cheese, and "the last piece of cheddar." He'll be freezing the stash for later use. "I'll need ricotta in case I make some ravioli," he said. "And maybe I'll want to make a cheesecake in a few months."

OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images