I have one question about Israel and Gaza.

I am beside myself over the upsurge in violence between Israel and Gaza.

Israel says its strikes have been surgical and that it’s targeting terrorists — which is to say: Legitimate military targets, not civilians.

Given that the Kirya, one of Israel’s largest military bases, is located in the heart of Tel Aviv — literally downtown, surrounded by offices and businesses and schools and parks and vital roadways and apartment buildings and cultural institutions and falafel stands and kiosks and kids on bikes — I have one question:

If a Palestinian whose family has been killed in an Israeli airstrike bombs the Kirya — we’ll be cool with that, right?

Because, I mean, after all, what is Israel doing, hiding all those grunt soldiers and high ranking commanders and intelligence gathering infrastructure and so on among a civilian population? Why is Israel using Israeli civilians as a human shield?

Ok, my one question is really this: What happens if we switch the nouns around today?

What if this showed a “surgical strike” on an Israeli target?

*

What if this were on a street in Tel Aviv?

*

What if the place names were reversed in this snippet from the New York Times?

Health officials in Gaza quoted by news agencies said the Israeli attacks had killed at least nine people and wounded at least 40.

What if the toddler pictured here [graphic] were Israeli?

What if the shoe were on the other foot?

If Palestinians had somehow managed to get past one of the world’s mightiest military institutions and set off this kind of mayhem in Israel, killing (among, it should be noted, other children) an 11 month old — the world would be up in arms. Israel and America’s Jews would be rending their clothes. Fury and heartbreak and statements of support would be flooding the airwaves — and rightfully so.

But no. It’s just the Palestinians. Just the Palestinians in Gaza, no less. So the targeted assassination of (yes) a pretty awful person in the heart of a residential neighborhood, the deaths of civilians, the deaths of children, the relentless and endless pounding by air and sea of 1.7 million people who literally cannot even flee because Israel has them physically penned in on all sides (save for one small crossing into Egypt) — we’re really not terribly fussed about that. Because some of 1.7 million people have fired rockets into civilians areas of Israel.

Those rockets are horrifying, and living with that sort of fear (something I remember from the first Iraq War and from years of suicide bombings) is genuinely terrible. I ache for the people hiding in shelters now, told by their government that there will be no school or work in the days to come, because their government knows perfectly well what the consequences of bombing the hell out of Gaza will be.

But as Larry Derfner wrote yesterday (before it had gotten this hellish, back when it was merely really bad) in a piece entitled “The lesson Israel refuses to learn on Gaza”:

There is a proven road to security for the people of the Negev [Israel's south] – a total end to Israeli rule over the people who are shooting at them. But nobody of influence in this country will suggest taking that road for fear of being derided as a pacifist, if not an anti-Semite, by the public, politicians and media. Most Israelis, especially in the government and army,  are talking very hawkishly. They seem to think they’re keeping faith with the residents of the south who are under fire. In fact, by closing ranks on this continual march of folly, they are dooming the residents of the south, and not just them.

If you want to know more about what’s going on, I would recommend either the Palestinian Maan News Agency or the Israeli HaAretz. Both will be flawed, as all human endeavors are, but both do a pretty good job of reporting the facts from within a particular society.
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20 Comments

  1. Want2Know

     /  November 14, 2012

    The real question is–what does Hamas want? Their official position is that they want Israel destroyed. If that is no longer accurate, then what do they want? They are getting bigger and better weapons and it would not be surprising if they might soon reach the areas of Tel Aviv you mentioned. If there were no blockade, and no one checked or limited anything that came into Gaza, would that lead to peace, or larger buid-up of arms? Might not a better answer be the placing of a UN or other interntional peacekeeping force in Gaza and the disarming of Hamas. It wouldn’t be pretty and would need Egyptian and Israeli support. But what is the realistic alternative? Nothing that looks like peace, it seems.

    • Egypt was the country that literally threatened to “sweep Israel off the map”; Israel managed to make peace with Egypt. Jordan was involved in no few wars the intent of which was to sweep Israel off the map; Israel managed to make peace with Egypt. The PLO once called for the destruction of Israel, but in the early 1990s, Israel managed to negotiate with the PLO (in an aside, the current Palestinian President & PLO chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, has supported a two-state solution since the mid-80s).

      Enemies are enemies and they tend to behave like enemies. Unfortunately, we have to make peace with our enemies, if we want peace.

      And aside from anything else, Israel openly wants to destroy Hamas and less openly yet quite clearly wants to destroy Palestinian nationalism. Yet many Palestinians still manage to find a way to try negotiate with Israel.

      (As to what the realistic alternative is? I’m not so sure there is one anymore).

  2. Scot Barenblat

     /  November 14, 2012

    It is too simplistic to suggest that Israel “wants to destroy Palestinian nationalism”. Israel would want to destroy any movement that rejects its right to exist; but would openly embrace a Palestinian national movement grounded in principals of peaceful co-existence.

    Since Israel left Gaza in 2005, the Palestinians have not expended their resources to build a constructive and peaceful society there. Instead they elected a government whose charter calls openly for Israel’s destruction (if you don’t believe me, the Hamas Charter is easily found on the Internet) and whose leaders recently claimed responsibility for a hailstorm of rocket fire into southern Israel.

    As you mention above, Israel made peach with Egypt; Israel made peace with Jordan; Israel made peace with the PLO. The common denominator here is ISRAEL. If Israel cannot find common ground for peace with Hamas, perhaps the problem is with Hamas.

    • Want2Know

       /  November 15, 2012

      That is the point. Hamas did not devote is its effort to enhancing daily life in Gaza. Had they done so, they would have recieved international aid and support and would have a clear moral edge. They chose otherwise, and their message is reinforced daily through supportive clerics and in their media. Israel was able to negotiate and get agreements with Egypt and the PLO because, in these situations, both parties decided they wanted to negotiate. In this case, Hamas is nowhere near that point. As time goes on, they are also getting better and longer range weapons. In the short term, if the international community is really concerned about the loss of human life on both sides, the best course of action is some type of UN sanctioned international peacekeeping force. It won’t be easy. It will require the support of Egypt and Israel. It will also require the disarming of Hamas.

      What is the alternative? Continuous “mini-case fires” punctured by periods of intense warfare as more and more arms flow into Gaza? Eventually, Hamas will have weapons that will reach deep into Isreal. Just today, one of their rockets hit an apartment building 15 miles away, killing three Israelis. Last month, for the first time, a SAM missile was fired at an Israeli helicopter. All of this will only provoke greater Israeli responses.

  3. The sad thing about this conflict is that both sides have legitimate grievances. As long as both sides use those grievances to justify violence, the list of legitimate grievances is only going to get longer. The only way out is for one of the parties to say, “Enough. We’re better than this.” Given that Israel is nominally a democracy and certainly a viable nation-state, they’re the ones who are going to have to take the lead if they ever want peace. Sadly, given the new Lieberman-Netanyahu alliance, I’m not sure that peace is a goal of the Israeli government.

    • Patrick

       /  November 15, 2012

      How can Israel be called a democracy while the occupation persists? It’s at least as strange as calling the pre-Voting Rights Act USA a democracy.

      • Hence the “nominal” description — Israel is a democracy in name only. If Lieberman has his way, they won’t even be that.

      • Israel is absolutely a democracy, however flawed (and we Americans clearly know a little bit about flawed democracies) within its internationally recognized borders. The occupied Palestinian territories are not part of the state of Israel but live under military occupation — which is awful, terrible, must be ended, is undemocratic in nature, all of that, but it is a thing unto itself. It’s not unlike if we had said in 2004 “How can we call the US a democracy while the occupation of Iraq persists?”

        Having said that: The military occupation is a real threat to Israel’s democracy, because at a certain point, the veryvery thin line between “military occupation” and “annexed” will be crossed, and then what will Israel do?

  4. Forgive me for meddling in the affairs of the Israeli and Palestinian people, as one of the many armchair quarterbacks in the U.S., but doesn’t this seem like a good time for the peace process to rear its head? Wouldn’t a Two-State Solution pretty much bring this to a halt and leave Hamas out to dry? Perhaps it’s my naiveté talking and maybe I am out of place, but it seems to me that the fundamental problem is of the dog chasing its tail.

    Hamas lobs rockets from Gaza into Israel proper. Israelis die. Israel — enraged — retaliates and strikes back at Hamas and its “military” wing to stop the rockets. Israel kills Palestinians, and how could they not, given Hamas is secreted away among the civilian population, and all these people are crammed together in the Gaza Strip. Hamas — enraged — fires more rockets. So it goes.

    The cycle must be broken and that can only happen where Israel & Palestine accept that they share a mutual interest in the land that is the Israeli nation, and that it has some sacred value to both that supersedes petty thuggery and killing. Both Judaism & Islam preach peace — how hard can it be for both sides to come together around that central tenet? Apparently, very hard. But think: putting the guns down is the only way to end the killing. At some point, one side has to take the bold step of laying down arms, which would force the other side to do so as well, lest they be tarred for unnecessary brutality against a peaceful foe. It would seem to me that Israel, in the position of strength, could do so more easily.

  5. Dizzy

     /  November 15, 2012

    The point you raise about Israel locating some of its military bases in densely populated areas is a fair one, and you and Derfner are certainly correct that there is no way in which this operation, or anything like it, will ultimately lead to increased security for Israelis in the long run. The entire point of Hamas’s rocket attacks is to provoke an Israeli (over)reaction.

    I’m not sure why all the questions you pose (“What if the shoe were on the other foot?”) are hypotheticals, though. You needn’t exactly look far to find real life examples of Israeli civilians, including children, being killed. And not because they were too close to some IDF military base and could, in some sense, be considered collateral damage. No, they are the target, which is the whole point of terrorism to start with.

    One not need conflate targetted military strikes that will inevitably cause collatoral damage in a dense urban area with intentional targetting of civllians – they are a materially different thing, ethically and otherwise, though the size of the collateral damage looms large in the equation – in order to conclude that said targetted military strikes are a terrible idea, get you nowhere in terms of long-range strategy or pursuit of security, are counerproductive, play directly into your enemy’s hands, and all things considered are probably unethical on their own terms.

    There’s a temptation on both sides. On one, to say “we don’t negotiate with terrorists – kill ‘em all!” On the other, to say “Israel/USA/whoever is terrorist #1!” or that “both sides are terrorists” or the like. Neither of those attitudes leads anywhere but further entrenchment.

    It is much harder to say “yes, they’re terrorists. And we have to find a way to negotiate with them anyway.” The UK found a way, even if it took them the better part of a century. Israel has to find a way, else it is surely doomed. Actually, it is surely doomed anyway, at least in its current conception as a “Jewish democracy,” which explains the entrenchment of the Israeli right – to them, the Jewish is more important than the democracy. But only the latter is a universal value and it is the only path to stability.

    • My point is that for all that Israel has suffered, it’s never seen anything like what it rains down on Gaza. 2006: 202 dead in Operation Summer Rains, and the power plant, bridges, roads, and Education Ministry destroyed. 2008/9 Operation Cast Lead: 1,400 dead, and all the expected other mayhem. In the first 9 months of 2012 alone, more than 300 dead. Now this.

      If anything anywhere close to the magnitude of what Israel does in the middle of Gaza were to happen in the middle of Israel, the outcry would be deafening and the response all-out. As I think we may very well be about to see, because a single rocket fell somewhere near Tel Aviv, doing no damage and hurting no one.

      I suppose my larger point is: Why does no one expect Palestinians to react as Israelis do?

      • Dizzy

         /  November 15, 2012

        But of course Israelis do not take sporadic Hamas attacks in isolation, they see them as merely the latest instances of a long conflict, stretching back to 1947 (~6,400 Israeli casualties, of which about 2,400 were civilians), 1967 (Israeli casualties somewhere in the high hundreds), and 1973 (somewhere in the mid-to-high 2,000s.) There is a very real sense in Israel, which I’m sure you understand well, that the only reason Israel’s losses are fewer is because of Israeli strength and military superiority, not because of any greater hesitancy on the part of the Arabs about inflicting civilian casualties. Quite the opposite really. And they kind of have a point. Realist theories about balancing notwithstanding, if Hamas were to suddenly achieve military parity with Israel, the result would not be less bloodshed and fewer civilian casualties.

        There are would-be genocidaires on both sides, but they’ve usually only found in the government and leadership of one side. Although Эвет Львович seems to be doing his damnedest to change that.

        The question is: how do you negotiate with the genocidaires? And does anyone outside of Meretz even want to try or think about trying?

      • Dizzy

         /  November 15, 2012

        But to directly answer your question “Why does no one expect Palestinians to react as Israelis do?”

        Plenty of people do. I’m sure the general staff of the IDF and much of the government and defense apparatus does. They simply don’t care. They don’t believe a peaceful solution is possible. Once one accepts that, the only logical course of action is to do that which maintains Israel’s military superiority over its enemies. “Mowing the grass” in Gaza every couple of years is a means to that end, and it seems to be working.

        At least until Hamas or PIJ gets an NBC weapon and goes to town on Tel Aviv or Haifa.

  6. Emily, thank you for this post; I couldn’t agree more. In the past few days I’ve seen lots of posts on Facebook to the effect of “They bombed Israel first” and it makes me cringe every time. I have yet to figure out how sounding like three-year-olds on a playground is going to help us reach a rational solution.

  7. Hamas ‘may’ have threatened to destroy Israel, but Israel has demonstrated that it is destroying Palestine and Palestinians within it. Their crime, for this collective punishment, is that they were there at the wrong time, born in the wrong place, and live in the wrong place.

    Let’s not forget that Hamas was democratically voted into power, yes, hard to believe but democratically voted by the people in Palestine-Gaza. Yet, this isn’t good enough, because this democratically elected party does not bow in front of mighty Israel. So, they need to be taught a lesson – that is to collectively punish Hamas and those who voted them into power. Hamas is a not just a militant organization, but a political party, a very extremely popular popular organization because they have been forming a militia to defend Gaza. But in early 2008, they had a battle with Fatah’s militant organization in Gaza, and they won the battle. There, the people had to decide between Fatah, or Hamas, they voted Hamas over Fatah for some reason. Fatah now controls the West Bank, but they are letting the Israelis build settlements there. In Gaza, Hamas rejects Israelis building settlements. So Israel favours Fatah because he is basically powerless, while Hamas is much stronger and more politically active than Fatah’s members.

    As for who started what, well, its not unknown for Israel to provoke a reaction. You know the stuff like ‘shoot a kid’ or ‘bulldoze a Palestinian home with its occupants in it’ or you know the stuff like ‘arrest couple of Palestinian kids, beat them, strip them naked and then humiliate them in front of others’. You know this is the sort of stuff Israel is doing daily – so how much can someone take – especially when they are surrounded, have limited medicine and food, fuel, etc.

    Since Israel elections are on the horizon, its worth for them to kill as many Palestinians as possible, so those who are in power stay in power – its the oldest trick in the book – oh and its worth mentioned Hitler used these very same tactics – I wonder who those same tactics ended up in Israel?

  8. Emily,

    This piece is so thoughtful and smart. Thanks for posting it. I recently wrote about this at Good Men Project: http://goodmenproject.com/politics-2/no-israeli-boots-on-the-ground/

    Hope you’ll continue to add your voice to this situation.

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