As we enter yet another phase in yet another bombardment of Gaza, I find myself nodding my head to much of Roger Cohen’s latest column (he’s been on a splendid roll lately). Part of me doesn’t want to look or write about it, because there is little point. There is even less of a point in actually trying to defend the Palestinians or to express grief that so many are being killed by Western armaments.
Hamas has indeed made itself again a pariah – for its refusal of any cease-fire, for its desperate aggression with its hundreds of largely useless but still traumatizing rockets, and for its cynical preparedness to allow civilians to die in the rubble made by the Israelis, as they “mow the lawn” yet again. On this subject, the world is full of passionate certainty, and it is a fool’s errand to care.
But I cannot help myself, because I do care. And, yes, I’m aware of the now-exhausted arguments about proportionality. We have gone over this once before in the 2009 Gaza war. But my view remains a relatively simple one: when one side has overwhelming military, economic and diplomatic superiority, it is not now and never has been a fair fight or a just war. And the fatalities on both sides prove that in staggering ways:
Max Fisher notes that since January 2005,
when the conflict began to change dramatically, it has killed 4,006 people, of whom 168 have been Israeli and 3,838 Palestinian. That means that, since January 2005, only four percent of those killed have been Israeli, and 96 percent Palestinian. Since January 2005, in other words, the conflict has killed 23 Palestinians for every one Israeli it claims.
That is why when I hear Israeli outrage at the devastation of Israel’s security and peace by the latest Hamas offensive, it sounds to me like over-compensation. Yes, many are indeed traumatized by sirens and drills and rockets. I do not mean to minimize that or the Israeli deaths and injuries – but it is objectively infinitesimal compared with the living terror under which Gazans now live.
And look at the photograph above. Do these Israelis look terrified? They are watching Gaza get pounded into dust from a Sderot mountain. They’re within the rocket range, but they sure don’t look worried. They’ve brought chairs and beer and, yes, popcorn! Mackey has an excellent and devastating report on the atmosphere. When the sound of blasts occur, there is applause. And the same viewing parties happened in 2009, as children were being dragged out of rubble. Yes, Palestinians cheer Israeli deaths. But they have no power. To cheer even as you have overwhelming force and superiority tells you a lot about what has happened to the moral compass in Israel today.
There is also the question of rank ahistoricity in the coverage. Without an understanding of how Israel and Gaza got to this point, it is hard to put it in perspective. A reader puts it well:
Why is it that these seemingly now-routine flare ups of violence are treated as though they were unique situations? It’s always “they did this, so we responded” and an endless tit-for-tat follows until Hamas finally gives up. Rarely does there seem to be an appreciation of the consequences of having created an open-air prison on the West Bank with similar levels of control in Gaza.
I ask Goldblog and your dissenting readers, if not for these rocket attacks, are the Palestinians even relevant to the Israelis in any meaningful sense? The West Bank, in comparison to Gaza, has stayed relatively peaceful, but what does Fatah have to show for it? Ignorance of Palestinian suffering by the Israeli people, endless expansions of settlements, and lives utterly dictated by Israeli policy over which they have no influence. The Arab shopkeepers in Jerusalem staged a very visible protest and nobody cared. And now that Netanyahu has ruled out the possibility of a sovereign Palestine, they also have no future of their own. They are doomed to imprisonment forever, “state” or no “state.”
I keep returning to this article you posted by Max Fisher that early on remarks, “the occupation is wrong, it is the problem, and Israel is responsible.” I think this applies to Hamas’ futile rocket campaigns. I don’t believe that Hamas fires the rockets simply to raise the death toll, although that is probably part of the thinking there. Instead, I view this through the lens of street culture: they are firing these rockets for respect. The occupation is an endless line of indignities that Palestinians are subjected to every day, a fact that barely seems to register among Israelis, and Hamas is demanding they at least look them in the eye as they do it.
Returning to my earlier point, violence is the only case in which they are relevant to their captors, so they fire these rockets as a release, much as an ostracized kid will act out just to be noticed by someone else. They might be dominated in every sense by Israel, but they won’t be reduced to human livestock or a dehumanized “lawn” that must periodically be “mowed” to maintain an illusion of peace. Their lives may be completely dictated by Israel, but at least in this one case, they can defy that rule and be noticed for it – even getting the other side to admit their own powerlessness to truly stop it. Can Fatah claim to have ever gotten the Israeli government to admit defeat in any sense whatsoever? Hamas can.
And so the beat goes on …