Israel/Palestine,  Your View

Gaza: Five Comments, and then Five More

This is a guest post by Alex Stein of False Dichotomies

Five comments on the situation:

1. In the more violent corners of the hip-hop community, reality is clear: Don’t walk around like you can’t get touched. Whatever the signals coming from your enemies may be, stay on your guard. I suspect the Hamas leadership doesn’t listen to much hip-hop, but I’m still surprised at how naively they’ve behaved over the past few days. Firstly, their post-ceasefire strategy has been based on the mistaken assumption that Israel wouldn’t react to rocket fire during an election campaign. Secondly, they were deceived by two Israel manoeuvres: the temporary withdrawal of troops from the Gaza envelope, and the decision to send in a relatively large number of trucks with humanitarian aid on Friday. Add to this the mistaken belief that Israel would never attack on Shabbat, and it becomes clear how Hamas were totally flummoxed. New policemen gathered at a Hamas headquarters for their graduation ceremony, while senior figures in the movement sat down together for a meeting. Both were met with the destruction wrought by the Israeli bombing campaign. The message was clear: do not expect to carry on managing your affairs as normal while your co-conspirators continue to attack Israeli with impunity. Whatever the circumstances, you can be touched.

2. The pictures of the deaths at the police graduation ceremony were particularly shocking. But this should not blind ourselves to the fact that they were employees of the Hamas government, participating in a ceremony in a Hamas installation. In an attempt to “civilianise” these casualties, some have pointed out that the policemen came from across the Palestinian political divide, that wearing uniform did not make them culpable for the sins of Hamas. Would the same be said if a uniformed member of the Israeli Home Front were killed in a Hamas attack? Once again, the primary responsibility lies with Hamas, a point understood clearly by the Egyptian Foreign Minister: “We told them to stop firing, but they refused to listen. The responsibility is with them.”

3. Without wishing to fall into the cliche of once again citing the famous midrash about not rejoicing over the death of one’s enemies, I’m disturbed by the fact that only on page 10 (of an old-skool style ’special edition’, noch) of Yediot Ahranot do we get to the bit about casualties in Gaza. Sure, there are a couple of articles written by Gazans themselves, but this is not enough. Whatever the circumstances, it’s vital to try and get a real sense of the suffering/feelings of the other side.

4. One of the more underreported aspects of Israeli planning towards “Solid Lead” are the considerations vis-a-vis Gilad Shalit. According to assessments, despite threats to the contrary, Hamas won’t harm the captured Israeli soldier. This is based on the conclusion that Shalit is a vital strategic pawn in Hamas’ hands, one that they wouldn’t want to risk losing. An extension of this is that the Israeli government – rightly, I think – views Hamas as a rational actor. The significance of this is that some kind of rapprochement – albeit of the conflict management variety – may eventually be achievable.

5. The best cautionary analyses of the weekend’s events have been written by Bernard Avishai and Yossi Sarid.  It is clear that the operation in Gaza has been carried out far more professionally (both in the political and military echelons) than the opening salvos in the Second Lebanon War. At the same time, it remains unclear what the end-goal is. Teaching Hamas a lesson is one thing, “changing the rules of the game” quite another. Our ambitions should remain modest, and our strategists should remember the limitations of force, that the longer the operation goes on, the greater the likelihood that Israel will be defeated. Anything more than a limited ground invasion, for example, would be a disaster. We can get touched too.    

Five more comments:

1. Normally, even those opposed to Israeli attacks will attempt to distinguish between civilians and combatants. Today, that no longer seems to be the case. I’ve already noted the attempt to ‘civilianise’ the victims of Operation Cast Lead, specifically the graduating policemen who – had Hamas not been so naive – wouldn’t have been so exposed.  But how many civilians have been killed? Writing in the Guardian, Andrea Becker relates the experiences of a colleague in Gaza. “Several major attacks were near her home. One of the worst – with reports of 40 dead – was a mere 50m from her children’s school.” In other words, not at her children’s school. Much has been made of the fact that the attack started while children were leaving school, but is there such a thing as a good time to launch an operation such as this? Furthermore, shouldn’t the timing be of Israel’s choosing? According to figures I have read, estimates suggest that 20 children and 10 women have been killed, out of around 300 fatalities thus far. While this is awful, it is important to note that a vast majority of those killed were members of the Hamas infrastructure, and hence the responsibility of Hamas. Those why cry for proportionality  might like to imagine what would have happened if Israel had lobbed Qassams back at Gaza’s densely populated cities. I suspect that the civilian casualty rate would have been much higher. In any event, the primary responsibility lies with Hamas. 

2. Writing in the American Prospect, Ezra Klein can’t get out of his head the idea that seven years of constant rockets from Gaza meant that Israel had to use military action. “No Death and no injuries,” he writes, as if life in Sderot was a picnic. Even the Binge Trader, no supporter of Israeli policy, tells me that “nothing I experienced when serving in the army compared to the fear of those in Sderot.” If you’ll forgive the irony of the analogy, life in Sderot is like something out of a Saramago novel: rockets falling randomly from the sky, an ever-present threat despite their ineffectiveness, only luck preventing tragedy. Should Israel have waited until a rocket wiped out a class of kindergarten children? According to Klein, it should have waited even longer – until the cows come home. ”But sometimes, Israel is simply wrong.” True indeed, but not today.  

3. Here’s some pre-emptive blogging. Soon, some will argue that Israel’s attack was “pre-planned”, that it has “nothing to do with the rockets launched on Sderot” but is part of a broader plan to “destroy Hamas and the Palestinian people”. Some are already moving in that direction. Feasting like vultures on the Haaretz analysis regarding the genesis of the operation, Ian Black reveals to the world Israel’s ”six months of secret planning”. He points out that plans for the current operation began soon after the ceasefire with Hamas kicked in six months ago. It’s clear that – in the absence of peace – enemies use ceasefires to regather their forces. Hamas did so by increasing the range and quality of its rockets, amongst other measures, while Israel did so by gathering vast amounts of intelligence regarding Hamas control over Gaza. This seems pretty sensible to me. A government that does not plan for all eventualities is remiss in its duties. As it became clear that Hamas did not intend to continue the truce, putting the plan into action became the only reasonable thing to do.

4. More on Israeli militarism: today’s Yediot Ahranot reports on the jostling between the elite Golani and Paratrooper units regarding who (in the event of a ground invasion) will get to go into Gaza. I understand that soldiers want to “do stuff”, but the idea of a rhetorical bloodbath over who gets the difficult task of entering the Gaza swamp is tasteless in the extreme. Israeli militarism is an unfortunate reality; it should not be heralded as an positive aspect of our culture.

5. Apart from – surprise surprise – Hezbollah in 2006, is there any example in history of a resistance/terrorist movement succeeding to liberate territory from the occupier, only to do all it can to invite the occupier back in again? This seems to be what Hamas wants. Hummus in the vineyard on me to anyone who can point to another time when this has happened.