Israel On The Brink, Ctd


A reader sounds off:

Look, I'm no defender of Israel, by any means.  Their illegal expansion of settlements and what they did to Gaza four years is abhorrent.  But what the hell is Hamas thinking firing rockets at Jerusalem?  Netanyahu has been waiting for an excuse to bomb Gaza City back to the stone age for years now, and it looks like he might have it.  And he has the means to do it.  Besides the humanitarian catastrophe it would be, I fear bombing Gaza would be an excuse for a larger Arab / Iranian – Israeli war.  Here's hoping that cooler heads prevail. 

Agreed on all counts. Another writes:

I understand your distaste, to put it mildly, for the Greater Israel crowd and by the way, I think I am 90% with you on that. What I do not understand is the connection between Greater Israel and the Gaza Strip: Israel left Gaza in 2005. Uprooted thousands of (fanatical) Israelis and handed it back over to the Palestinians. No one has seriously suggested going into Gaza and repopulating it with Israelis. There is no expansionist settlement movement with regard to Gaza. Just Israelis, in Israel proper, running for cover on a constant basis from projectiles falling from the sky.

The only connection this has to the Greater Israel crowd is that by continuously terrorizing the Israeli populace, Hamas justifies and bolsters the Greater Israel argument with regard to the West Bank. If you just ran into a shelter in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, as many of my friends just did, to avoid rockets from Gaza, how eager would you be to establish a Palestinian state whose rockets would be all the more closer? Where is Abbas loudly condemning this in Arabic, to ease the worries of the Israeli center who are about to vote for a new government in a few months (oh, he's at the UN, seeking condemnation of Israel for its response)?

Greater Israel feeds off this because it validates their point: Palestine cant be trusted. If Israelis feel they can't contain this sort of maniacal pointless terrorism from the sky, Palestine will never happen (which by the way is exactly what Hamas wants).

Exactly. Which is why I have never defended Hamas in any way, or denied its Jihadist nihilism, and support Israel's right to self-defense. What I don't support are the settlements on the West Bank that up the ante even further; and what I don't fully understand is how this kind of war, like the one four years ago, actually advances Israel's national interest in the long run, rather than actually eroding it. Which is this reader's point:

Just some thoughts on Operation Pillar of Defense. I’m not going to address the justice or rightness of either side at this point. Suffice to say that Israel has a right to self-defense and that a rise in rocket fire from Gaza is something they should certainly be concerned about. Right now, I just want to talk about the effectiveness of the Operation, and its future ramifications.

To start with, we can assume that the goal of Pillar of Defense is not to cripple Hamas’s war-making ability through military means.

Operation Cast Lead was a failure in this regard (as this crisis indicates), and the IDF is presumably not stupid enough to launch an attack with an unachievable goal. We can then assume that the goal is retributive – fire rockets at Israel and we’ll blow Gaza to hell. We can assume the message intended to be sent from this is that Israel is "teaching terrorists a lesson", or terrifying them into submission. Considering the social media propaganda aspect of this, the message is quite likely meant to reassure Israeli citizens as much as it is meant to intimidate Palestinians.

However, the message that it sends in actuality is quite different. Israel is once again stating that it considers each Israeli life to be worth far more than a Palestinian’s. Israeli has a long history replying with overwhelming and disproportionate force to any attack. When Operation Pillar of Defense was launched, no Israeli citizens had been killed in this latest flare-up. Now the death toll stands at 3 Israelis, 24 Palestinians. And that gap is actually quite small, historically speaking (2009: 11 Israelis killed, 1034 Palestinians. 2010: 9 Israelis, 82 Palestinians. 2011: 11 Israelis, 118 Palestinians).

Now, if these were, say, battlefield statistics, Israel would be praised for its brilliant strategy.  If they were unintentional but tragic collateral damage that occurred in the process of winning a battle, if might be forgivable. But as we have seen, the military value of this attack on Gaza appears to be negligible. For many, that leaves only two possibilities: callousness or revenge.

Now, let us step back a moment and examine another instant in history. It is Algeria, 1955. The country has been ruled for over a century by the French, who consider it an integral part of their country. The northern parts of the nation have been heavily settled by French citizens, who live in what is for all intents and purposes an outpost of Europe. They live under French civil law, and are highly affluent and economically successful. The other 8 million Muslim Algerians live under military law. Their economic situation is quite the opposite. By now, a pro-independence group called the National Liberation Front (FLN) is leading an insurrection. However, they have had little success in gaining either widespread support or military victory. To remedy this, they would put through a terrifying cold-blooded plan. On August 20th, FLN members enter the seaside town of Philippeville and proceed to massacre the inhabitants. Over a hundred people, mostly Europeans, were brutally tortured and killed. The victims included both babies and grandmothers.

Now, why did the FLN do this? Was it born from their insatiable lust for French blood? No. In fact, until then FLN standing orders had been to avoid killing Europeans. The FLN committed what would become known as the Philippevile Massacre because they knew it would goad the French into a specific action. And they were right. Over the following weeks, French soldiers, police, and settlers would kill hundreds of Algerians in retribution. The death toll might have been as high as 12,000, most who had nothing to do with the Philippevile Massacre. This did more to boost the FLN cause than any propaganda poster or speech they could ever have made. It showed the Algerians that their lives meant nothing to the French authorities, that the life of a European was worth the lives of hundreds of Muslims. The FLN had successfully manipulated the (understandable) horror and outrage of the French into the keys to victory.

Now, obviously, the Philippevile Massacre was not morally or ethically justifiable. In fact, it’s pretty horrific. Similarly, firing rockets into civilian towns is disgusting and reprehensible. And in both cases, the urge to respond, to fight back in some way can be overwhelming. But that way must be something other than indiscriminate reprisals. There are few ways of uniting a population under a despotic or militant regime more successful than convincing them that it is their only hope for survival. Dropping a thousand bombs on Gaza for each rocket fired at the Negev might make Israeli citizens feel more secure, and IDF soldiers more useful, but all it does is provide another tool for Hamas to use to hold onto power.

Sometimes, true strength is learning when not to shoot.

(Photo: A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows smoke billowing from a spot targeted by an Israeli air strike inside the Gaza strip on November 16, 2012. Israeli warplanes carried out multiple new air strikes on the Palestinian territory, including several hits on Gaza City, the third day of an intensive campaign which the military has said is aimed at stamping out rocket fire on southern Israel. By Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)