Israel/Palestine,  Your View

Reflections on Cast Lead and collective madness

This is a guest post by s.o.muffin

It is more a month since I have neither commented on HP nor, indeed, read the blog. Succumbing to occasional megalomania, I allow myself to imagine that it matters and that somebody noticed. I am probably wrong.

I can imagine the heated discussion and the sparring, in particular in the context of Operation Cast Lead. Well, I have a lame excuse: as events were unfolding, I have been away (in Israel, since you’ve asked), with virtually no Internet connection. Being in Israel, watching the TV in real time, talking with friends and relatives, all this made the experience much more visceral. And considerably more hopeless.

I have returned from Israel before the guns went sort-of silent, in turmoil and despair, and busied myself in work. Of course, in spare time I have been conducting lively conversations with myself and promised myself to share them wider. Not, however, too soon. I wanted the raw emotions to subside, the small voice of reason and introspection to be heard again. The time, I believe, has come, and here I am.

To make it clear, I wish not to dwell upon the moral aspect of the war. Not, I hasten to say, because the moral aspect is unimportant. It is absolutely vital. Societies that abandon morality, see human interaction as merely an abstract exercise in game theory, are giving up much of what it means to be human. Yet, the problem with talking morality is that one addresses emotions and subjective views of what morality is all about, and this is not good at all in persuading others. I can easily play to the gallery, elicit showers of praise from those who already agree with me, but frankly this is of minor importance. I wish to reach to those who disagree with me. To beseech them to examine their minds, rather then their hearts, to ask themselves whether perhaps, just perhaps, they are wrong.

My thesis is not that Cast Lead was immoral (although it was), it is that it was stupid. The operative difference between immorality and stupidity is this.

Immorality is when you are inflicting unjustified damage upon others. Stupidity is when you inflict unjustified damage upon yourself.

What, for goodness sake, was the purpose of Cast Lead. (Or, to the cynics among you, who suspect that the purpose was saving the political careers of Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni, why was Cast Lead so supposedly conducive to this project? Why, in other words, was it overwhelmingly supported by the Jewish Israeli voting public?) The strategy underlying it, indeed underlying much of Israeli (and Palestinian) behaviour for generations, is the wish “to teach them a lesson”. To show them in this particular instance that, once they fire Qassams or Grads, the retribution will be terrible, out of proportion. To sear in their consciousness, in memorable words of Lt Gen. Yaalon, that “violence doesn’t pay”. (By what he meant “their violence”.)

The simple point is that this lesson is doomed. The actual lesson that they learn is the exact opposite of what you intend. You wish to teach them that their violence doesn’t pay, they learn that they must acquire bigger weapons, so that they can’t teach you their own lessons. Each side repeats this obvious blunder, each side escalates the conflict – only for the other side to escalate it in turn. Cast Lead might have achieved few months of lull but it generated enough rage and determination for Hamas to acquire bigger and more effective weapons, to target Tel Aviv rather than Sderot.

Each side has all these Mickey Mouse theories that the time is on their side. No, it isn’t. As this conflict simmers, occasionally boiling over, it escalates and both sides are condemned to pay the butcher’s bill. The simple fact is that there is, as there always was, only one way of solving this conflict. Everybody, friend and foe of peace, knows it. Not just the outlines of peace are clear as a pikestaff, but its details. And this is the only alternative to ongoing ratcheting up of the conflict. Neither Greater Israel nor Greater Palestine nor the ridiculous idea of two people, hating each other with all cells of their bodies, living together in a unitary state. In their cooler moments a majority of people on both sides agrees with this, yet cooler moments are becoming increasingly rarer.

Until last month I believed that the mission of those who wish to rescue Israelis and Palestinians from themselves was to persuade silent majorities on both sides. I now realise that, although this is a nice idea, it will not fly. Both sides (an aberration familiar in prolonged ethnic, tribal and religious conflicts) took collective leave of logical, calm thinking. Each is wrapped in its own (true or false, but always ever-so-convenient) victimhood, each starts and stops the narrative whenever it suits its own outrage, each sees the other side as acting (with malice), itself as reacting (with no choice). Inconvenient facts are dismissed out of hand or explained away. It is easy to blame politicians, except that politicians are giving their public what their public wants. And, while it might be possible to replace politicians, it is impossible to replace the relevant publics.

In other words, this conflict cannot be resolved by its main protagonists and it must be solved by concerted, determined action of outsiders. After all, the Quartet, Americans, Europeans, Russians, even the Arab League, all agree on the blueprint. And all agree that this conflict is much more than just a cancer eating into lives of Israelis and Palestinians. The world, frankly, can afford it less and less. And the world must step in – not to entice, facilitate, persuade or bribe, but to force a compromise. Using all the levers the world has, short of direct military action.

As long as the purpose is clear, the end game agreed, explicit and detailed, the vital interests of both sides catered for and the pressure equitable and proportionate and applied to both sides, I believe that this can work.

And that, unless we wish to advance through the Periodic Table, from Cast Lead all the way to Fissile Uranium and beyond, it better should work.