Total War in Gaza
July 29, 2014 § 1 Comment
I have subscribed to the English language digital edition of Haaretz, a major newspaper in Israel. I want information about what is going on in Israel and Palestine unfiltered by the editorial judgment of U.S. journalism. Haaretz is a newspaper with a political viewpoint. It is a liberal newspaper in a country where the right wing is presently in total control of its legislature as well as its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. So, especially in this time of war, I understand Haaretz will not afford me an accurate view of majority sentiment in Israel. I choose Haaretz because I trust it to be honest. I expect it to be willing to acknowledge contrary viewpoints.
Ari Shavit is a major contributor to Haaretz and I trust him because his book, “My Promised Land”, impressed me with its evenhanded treatment of the relationship between Israel and the Arabs.
Recent Items From Haaretz
So, having explained my choice, I offer some items from recent editions of Haaretz. They surprised me because they were written by people whose lives are regularly disturbed by the wail of sirens, Hamas rocket explosions, hurried trips to underground shelters; whose friends and relatives are serving in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). Despite the context of their lives, they write with compassion and acute concern about the behavior of their country toward its adversaries.
Here is an article from the July 28, 2014 edition of Haaretz: Morality
Here is an article from the July 23,2014 edition: Revenge
Here is a frontpage article from tomorrow’s edition: Law Professor
Tolerance and common sense are the usual casualties of a war, so a hapless law professor is labeled as a treasonous villain because he includes a solicitous remark about his students’ safety in a routine email about the timing of exams.
Complexity From David Brooks
David Brooks is not a favorite of mine. He occasionally reviews a book or an article that is interesting but his analysis of current events often buries the truth in wide ranging complexity and ambiguity. His article in today’s Times entitled “No War Is an Island” is a good example.
According to Brooks, the conflict in Gaza is a puppet show manipulated by string-pullers as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Qatar, Iraq and, I don’t know (I may have nodded off), maybe Lithuania. He claims that Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israel are really aimed at Egypt, because Egypt blocked tunnel commerce with Palestine; and Egypt did so because they wanted to weaken Hamas; because Hamas was allied with Turkey and . . . . I could go on with this but it would waste your time.
I don’t think Hamas needed any prodding from Egypt to wage war against Israel. It is true that the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” has been a series of conflicts throughout the Middle East, generally based on religious conflicts between different factions of Islam. I doubt those conflicts explain the animosity between Israel and Hamas.
The war in Gaza and Palestine is an example of how modern technology and tactics have transformed warfare. This began following the Revolution in France in 1789. The revolutionaries faced united opposition from the surrounding European and British monarchies. In response, the leaders of the Revolution called on all able bodied French citizens to arm themselves and become a citizens army to defend the revolution. This army, subsequently led by Napoleon, ended the era when professional armies, equipped and supplied by rival Kings and Queens, faced each other in set-piece battles to resolve arguments over disputed territories.
This trend reached new levels of horror in the American Civil War, when Sherman’s “March to the Sea” destroyed Southern plantations, crops and towns, deliberately waging war on civilians in order to crush the rebellion.
It finally attained its ultimate development during WWI and WWII, when whole populations were destroyed by artillery, bombs, poison gas, machine guns and nuclear weapons that did not discriminate between soldiers and innocent women and children.
In the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has employed a time-tested weapon of mass punishment: the blockade, which is designed to impoverish and starve into submission an entire population. After several years of experience as blockade victims, the Palestinians, led by Hamas, struck back with anti-civilian weapons of their own: rockets generally aimed at Israeli civilians. For the past two weeks, the Israelis have responded by attacking the densely populated Gaza neighborhoods with bombs, missiles and naval bombardment.
Although Israel claims that they take pains to spare civilians, their “pinpoint precision” has proved to be destroying a building full of families if a shot is fired from that building. There is little evidence that attention is paid to the number of innocent civilians who are sacrificed in order to kill a single suspected Hamas military official. Israel claims that warnings are given before the shells are launched, but there is no evidence that such warnings are accompanied with suggestions about where the targeted victims are supposed to seek refuge.
Such warning claims are hard to credit, given the well known obstacles to movement imposed by Israeli occupation, even before those barriers were enhanced by the addition of thousands of well armed troops.
One justification for the invasion is the Israelis’ understandable interest in finding and destroying a network of tunnels dug by Hamas as avenues to invade Israeli population centers, attack them by surprise and commit mass murder. Every fair-minded person can understand that Israel has a right to prevent such assaults.
What I find less understandable is why finding and destroying these tunnels requires the wholesale destruction of buildings and homes surrounding them. The tunnels are not destroyed by dropping bombs on them. They are destroyed by placing explosives in them and at their entrances, collapsing them. Women and children presumably are not living in tunnels and if they are in a tunnel, getting them out before setting off explosive charges would seem like a reasonably easy task.
Suppose the police learned that a vicious gang was operating in Houston’s Fifth Ward; that caches of weapons and drugs were rumored to be located there. No one would conclude that drone strikes should be called in to drop bombs on those living there. If a strike force of police was dispatched to search the area, apprehend the gang leaders and confiscate the caches of contraband, it might lead to some abuses, like groundless “stop and frisk” incidents and some unnecessarily destructive searches, but it would not lead to shooting hundreds of innocent men, women and children.
Such a circumstance might lead to some firefights between gang members and police. Some innocent people might be hit accidentally. But the police would not destroy every house from which a shot was fired at them. They would not drop a bomb on every building in which a gang leader was living.
Okay, I know that Hamas is a more formidable enemy than a Houston gang, but the IDF is better armed and equipped than HPD. The differences don’t, to me, explain why the IDF finds it necessary to devastate an entire neighborhood in order to locate and destroy tunnels.
I don’t apologize for my opinions. I may be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first or the last time. I have thought about these issues a long time. A few years ago, I read Jimmy Carter’s book. I thought he was too harsh in his judgment of Israel, but I respected him as a man of character and compassion. When I read “My Promised Land”, it struck me as exactly what I was comfortable with: An account by a proud and loyal Jew that expressed honest opinions about the policies and history of Israel.
I write this blog post with hesitation and reluctance. My family includes cherished members who are Jews. I understand and appreciate the importance of Israel, a nation bought with oceans of Jewish blood and earned by centuries of survival in the face of unimaginable evil and hatred. American Jews have long served as a conscience for American liberalism, always at the leading edge of every battle for idealism and justice. I believe, however, they are now on a course that will lead only to endless and escalating war that will undermine the trust and affection they have enjoyed from supporters throughout the world.
I think Netanyahu has faced himself and his nation with a dilemma: Hamas and Fatah can agree to an end to the conflict only if it also relieves their constituents from the oppression of Israeli occupation and the blockade. But Netanyahu cannot agree to any concession without presenting Hamas with a victory that will enhance their political strength and ability to attract more support. There is a whisper in today’s press that Netanyahu would agree to an international force assuming control over Gaza; disarming Hamas and reopening the borders and internal passages to normal traffic and commerce. I don’t know whether that is a possibility but it would certainly be an improvement over the alternative.
Such a solution would provide a temporary “out” for the conflicting parties and would merely presage further negotiations concerning Jerusalem, the settlements and the Palestinians’ “right of return”. If peace could prevail and some reasonable degree of normality achieved, those other issues could be debated indefinitely, as I suspect they will be. Meanwhile, children could return to school and adults could resume normal lives with access to health care, jobs and physical security.