Gaza vs. Israel: The never-ending rematch

Targeting enemy civilians is a war crime. Let’s not entertain any doubt about that. Hamas and other Palestinian militants have targeted Israeli civilians with rockets for years; the fact that these rockets are crude and their aim poor doesn’t mitigate the simple fact: Targeting civilians is a war crime.

Trying to determine who “started” our current state of conflict is not quite so simple, though, unless we accept ideology as fact. For some Jews, the Palestinians started it by refusing to accept our nationalism as ascendant to theirs; for some Palestinians, the Jews started it, in precisely the same way.

If, however, we’re trying to uncover a chain of discrete events leading to the seemingly permanent state of war between Israel and Gaza, the waters are muddy. Did the latest round of rockets come in response to an IDF incursion, or the other way around? Did it start when Israel neutralized a terrorist infiltrator, or was that terrorist a farmer trying to gather crops? Both sides play into the provocation-response cycle, each conveniently forgetting that actions have consequences, often beyond those we first imagined.

Each society brings to this process its own dysfunctions, as well, picking and choosing which events support which narrative, often to paradoxical ends. Israel’s paradoxical storyline goes something like this: We control the West Bank, and Gaza’s borders and airspace, but only because we have no choice, because we’re victims facing annihilation, but/and our military (which we love and are very proud of because it’s the region’s most powerful) can be trusted to pound our enemies (armed with crude rockets and a shattered society, but that goes into the “forgetfulness” file) into submission. Just let the IDF win – t’nu l’Tzahal lenatzeah!

As problematic as any of our cognitive inconsistencies might be (and I can only assume Palestinian society has its own), the biggest discrepancy appears to be all but invisible: The IDF has, actually, been pounding Hamas for some time, and oh hey, look – here we are again.

Let’s go to the tape:

Israel officially withdrew from Gaza nine years ago; the following months saw both rockets and air strikes. On June 24, 2006, Israeli forces entered southern Gaza and kidnaped two suspected Hamas members from their homes. Hamas retaliated the next day with a cross-border raid in which two soldiers were killed, and Gilad Shalit captured.

Israel then launched Operation Summer Rains. Prime Minister Olmert was clear about the operation’s goals: “to release the kidnapped soldier and eliminate terror.”

In the course of hostilities, the IDF seized 64 Hamas-linked Palestinian officials, flattened Gaza’s power plant, razed several bridges, and by October, had killed 256 Palestinians, including 60 children. Two Israeli soldiers were also killed, and 31 civilians injured.

In the winter of 2008/2009, we saw Operation Cast Lead.

To read the rest, please go to Haaretz.

Yep, again, on HuffPost Live about Israel and Gaza. And Twitter.

No yelling this time, mostly agreement and gentle head-nodding. I’m pretty glad I managed to wrangle my needs-to-be-cut hair a little more successfully today.

If you want to watch, click here; if you’re my mom, I start talking at the 6 minute, 35 second mark.

“Who started the Israel-Gaza conflict?” – me on The Atlantic online.

You read that right – I have a piece up at The Atlantic online right now, and not just up, but up in the blog space of senior editor Robert Wright…!

He tweeted a question out to the world yesterday, I offered to help him with it, in the manner of “I used to be a correspondent’s assistant, I can totally do that for you,” and last night he let me know that he’d be posting it as my post!

It’s a timeline of events, as drawn from a variety of sources, from Nov 8 – Nov 15. Following is my introduction; to read Mr. Wright’s brief backgound on how the piece came about, and to read the timeline itself, click here.

Recent events in Israel and the Gaza Strip have been unusual only in scope. Violence and fear of violence is a near-daily reality for the residents of Gaza and Israel’s southern communities. There’s a constant back and forth, and on both sides, there’s always something or someone to avenge.

For instance, some Palestinian sources date the start of this latest round of violence back to November 4, when Reuters reported the death of “an unarmed, mentally unfit man” who strayed too near the border fence, did not respond to reported Israeli warnings, and was then shot. Palestinian medics report that Israeli security personnel prevented them from attending to the man for a couple of hours, and say that he likely died as a result.

But it’s genuinely impossible to date today’s hostilities conclusively to one incident or another; even the “two-week lull” that some outlets have said preceded Nov. 8 (when the timeline below begins) was, according to Reuters “a period of increased tensions at the Israel-Gaza frontier, with militants often firing rockets at Israel and Israel launching aerial raids targeting Palestinian gunmen.”

According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as of November 13, Palestinian militants had fired 797 rockets into Israel in the course of 2012 , and according to the Israeli human rights organization Btselem, between January 2009 (the conclusion of the last all-out Gaza war) and September of this year, 25 Israelis were killed by Palestinians, and 314 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces, with six more being killed by Israeli civilians.

To read the rest, please click here. (And thank you so much, Bob!)

Smart people write about Israel, Palestine, Gaza, Hamas, and Operation Pillar of Defense.

Matt Duss in The American Prospect, “Israel’s Airstrike Gamble”:

In other words, a policy with the stated goal of weakening Hamas in Gaza has not only had the effect of strengthening its rule there but also resulted in the proliferation of tunnels through which terrorist groups have been able to obtain weapons.

In any case, if the past is any guide, Hamas will still be there after the fighting has died down. After more rockets have been fired and bombs dropped, and more people have died, Israel will claim that “deterrence has been re-established,” and Hamas will declare victory by virtue of the fact that it had, once again, faced down the Zionists’ military might and survived.

Israeli Middle East analyst Avi Issacharoff in The New Yorker, “From Gaza to Tel Aviv”:

The operation is actually a gamble for the Israeli Prime Minister. If he manages to force Hamas to agree to stop shooting, and to put an end to all rocket firing carried out by smaller organizations in Gaza (primarily those associated with Al Qaeda), it would be a great achievement for Netanyahu—one that would likely guarantee his win in the upcoming election.

On the other hand, if missiles continue to fall on Israel, and more specifically on Tel Aviv, as they did on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, the Israel Defense Forces will be dragged into a long, complicated ground operation, which would lead to both Palestinian and I.D.F. casualties.

…[Operation Pillar of Defense] was a meticulously planned attack, based on stunningly detailed intelligence information, that resulted in a minimum of civilian casualties and the destruction of most of Hamas’ missile stockpiles. An hour after the operation began, Hamas found itself without its most admired senior commander and with limited capability to hit central Israel.

…The fact that Al-Jabari would have travelled almost out in the open throughout Gaza, without bodyguards, proves that senior Hamas militants felt nearly immune from Israeli attack. In the end, Hamas allowed itself to be dragged by smaller organizations, like those that identify with Al Qaeda, into a dangerous conflict with Israel, the end of which is still not in sight.

Janine Zacharia in Slate, “Why Israel’s Gaza Campaign Is Doomed”:

In four years, Israel’s playbook hasn’t changed. Nor did the Palestinian rockets ever truly end. But in the intervening years the world has changed. Most significantly, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who could ignore anti-Israel sentiment in his country, is gone. His successor, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, may have more sway with Hamas, but he also has less power to resist Egyptian calls to sever ties with Israel.

…Israel is growing ever more isolated just as its regional position becomes more insecure.

…An Israeli ground response “would be the best thing that could happen to Hamas,” the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, Ami Ayalon, told Israel’s Channel 10 news Thursday night. “Hamas’s strategy is to draw the Israeli army into civilian areas, kill lots of Israeli soldiers, and declare victory.”

…It’s time to declare Israel’s policy toward Gaza and Hamas a failure. This is not an anti-Israel statement. Rather, it is an honest acknowledgment of the facts, which are simply too numerous to avoid.

Israeli human rights activist Sari Bashi in Open Zion, “No To Collective Punishment In Gaza”:

International humanitarian law or the law of war and occupation are called customary laws and become binding because so many nations follow them. Why do so many armies see themselves as barred from engaging in collective punishment? Because it doesn’t advance any military goals. It doesn’t enhance Israeli security. It only makes civilians suffer.

Despite Israel’s withdrawal of settlers and permanent ground military positions from Gaza in 2005, it continues to exercise control over Gaza’s crossings. That control creates obligations, under the law of occupation, to allow people in Gaza the kind of access necessary for normal life, including the ability to market goods in the West Bank and Israel and to travel to the West Bank. International law allows combatants to fight combatants. It does not allow armies to punish civilians in retaliation for the acts of militants.

…Creative, responsible leaders know that soldiers and guns will not solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and cannot bring lasting security to the Israelis and Palestinians living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.  Only when we stop recycling policies that repeatedly fail, at great expense to civilians, can we open space to find a different way. Israelis and Palestinians deserve that.

Elisheva Goldberg in Open Zion, “Hard Left and Too Soft”:

Israel is left (pardon the pun) with a liberal camp that, on the one hand, is alienated, moralistic, and almost purely demonstrative, and, on the other hand, is almost pure ring-wing mimicry. The left in Israel needs to have its own political conversation, one that engages and is a part of a broader political universe. Until then, it won’t feel “Israeli.”

Former American negotiator Mark Perry in Open Zion writes in “Another Ceasefire Another Assassination” about his own role in nearly achieving a ceasefire in July 2002, only to have Israel assassinate the last, crucial signatory (Salah Shehadeh, then head of Hamas’s military wing in Gaza, the same role filled by Ahmed Jabari until Israel killed him on Tuesday), literally as he was about to be given the document for signing:

An Israeli F-16 dropped a one ton bomb on Shehadeh’s home in Gaza City. The Israeli bomb killed Shahadeh and fourteen other people, including Shehadeh’s wife and daughter. Seven people who lived next door, all innocent, were also killed. The then Deputy Chief of Staff of the IDF, Major General Dan Halutz later said that had he known that innocent people would be killed in the bombing, it would not have been ordered. I know otherwise. Later, he added: “What do I feel when I drop a bomb? A slight bump in the airplane.”

The next morning, as I walked from my hotel near the Damascus Gate to a meeting of the ceasefire team, I was approached by an Israeli official who we’d been dealing with. He smiled at me. “Ah, the naïve American,” he said, in greeting. “You had rough night.” I said nothing, but he continued: “You know Mr. Perry, you don’t seem to understand. We don’t want a ceasefire.” And he walked away.

Israeli international public opinion analyst and strategic consultant Dahlia Scheindlin in +972, “Gaza escalation: There was another way”:

 I can’t help considering just for a moment an alternate scenario.

Just over one year ago, the Fatah leadership presented its statehood bid to the United Nations. Had Israel not blocked the effort hermetically – forcing America to kill the process by steadfastly viewing statehood as an anti-Israel notion, what might have happened?

We can’t know. But Israel could have realized that Palestinian statehood basically along 1967 parameters was in its national interest.

Scheindlin presents a very reasonable and ever conservative analysis of how this circumstance might have played itself out and then writes:

In this context, realistically, the escalation, rocket fire, targeted assassination, mass civilian trauma on both sides we see now, might still have happened. There is also a possibility it might not have happened. It took me 10 minutes to play the scenario out in my mind, but I guess the Israeli government didn’t have that kind of time to waste before September 2011. So excuse me if I am not impressed by the argument “ein brera” (there is no choice). There are choices, and if we do not take them, we’ll have to remember that the next time people die.

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