Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gaza Thoughts

It's been difficult to decide how I feel about what's going on in Gaza. I find it is sometimes easier to watch everybody else's reaction and to compare/critique their points of view than to offer your own. That said, here we go:

First of all, I am not disgusted with Israel. I want to make that clear. I reject the idea that Israel must be "holy" to the point of destruction. While the Israeli death toll during the past ten years has remained thankfully low (especially compared with Palestinian casualties), there is truth in the often-repeated claim that few countries would put up with a foreign nation attacking their citizens on an almost-daily basis. There is also no reason why Israel should be ashamed to put the lives of its citizens first, which is the way all countries operate. Is it the ideal? Certainly not. The ideal would be that we all value each other equally, and incidentally, didn't spend our time killing each other in the first place. However that does not tend to happen in real life, and it is unfair and dishonest to dogpile on Israel for failing to live up to an imaginary standard that no one else follows:

In San Francisco, Jewish protesters joined pro-Palestinian forces this week as hundreds gathered outside the Israeli consulate to make their voices heard, some carrying signs saying "Gaza = Warsaw Ghetto." Among them was Jack Fertig - known to many in town as performance artist Sister Boom Boom - who said, "I'm descended from Holocaust victims, and we need to identify with the oppressed, not imitate the oppressors."

I understand identifying with the oppressed, however it is unjust to create an idealized moral code exclusively for one group by virtue of the fact that they know what it's like to have a lot of their family and friends die. As much as everyone would like the Jews to be the most moral people on earth, sanctified by the Holocaust into perfect pacifists, that is not the course that history took. Rather than retreating from the world into a monastery, the Jews chose to create a country in a hostile neighborhood, to stay within the world. Which also means they had to adjust to the imperfect, Machievellian standards of survival and advantage. This is messy moral territory, but Israel has never had the luxury of being as good or holy as everyone (including many Israelis) would like to be.

Second, I am angry that Hamas continues to have as much support as it does despite the fact that it seems to prefer fighting with Israel over improving the lives of its people. While I originally was optimistic (or at least hopeful) that participation in government could turn Hamas into a pragmatic and responsible organization, as it did with the African National Congress and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Hamas has demonstrated this is not going to happen. It has also made it clear that cease-fires are not viewed in its ranks as a time to evaluate their situation and work for resolution to the conflict, but rather as tactical maneuvers to re-arm and prepare for the next stage in their long war with Israel. As such, I find that I am not very sympathetic to those who now clamor for a cease-fire, particularly since that seems to be just what Hamas wants. Hamas is hurting, and that is a good thing.

Third, I am encouraged that there are some voices in the wilderness, including those in the Arab world, that are saying what everyone already knows: Hamas exploits their people's misery, and does not really give a hoot about their welfare. When it comes to saving or improving Palestinian lives or trying, even just trying, to kill Israelis, Hamas' choice is clear. All of us who hoped that the election of Hamas would change things, who said we had to at least give them a chance, have seen the results. We gave Hamas a chance. We gave them a chance to change their views, to support peace, and so on. It turns out they meant what they said the first time. Their goal continues to be the same as it always has been; death to Israel.

Fourth, I will not say the IDF is perfect, or that Cast Lead is perfect. It clearly is not. I am very disturbed by the fact that Gaza is so dense, and that there is nowhere for the residents to run, making it all the more likely that civilians will be hurt and killed. I am also worried that despite the fact that I think Israel is justified in giving Hamas a pounding, this operation may be futile in the long-term.

Fifth, while I think Israel has justification for what it is doing, it is too easy to put all the blame on Hamas by saying the Gaza deaths are "their responsibility" becuase they're the ones firing the rockets. Hamas is firing the rockets but we're the ones bombing Gaza. It may be justified but it is still our hands pulling the trigger. We may have ways to justify it but we must still acknowledge our role in it.

I also don't buy the line that there are no (or very few) innocents in Gaza due to Hamas' election victory there a few years ago. Hamas' win was indeed a landslide, but there was still 37% of voters who didn't support them- and that's without considering people who boycotted the elections or were inelligible to vote, like, say, children. Additionally, the elections were almost four years ago- before the Disengagement, before Hamas' Gaza coup d'etat, before their Talibanization of the Strip, before the cut-off of International Aid, and before the Israeli blockade. Did Hamas get votes because of its radical agenda? Absolutely. But it also got votes for its humanitarian work, and because of its claims to be corruption-free and the idea that they would achieve more than the PA could. Gaza has disproved this, brutally. The Gazans have nothing, a development which is particularly apalling given that the Disengagement left the people there with Israeli resources and infastructures that could have been used to improve the quality of life in the strip immeasurably. Think of how many Gazan children could be fed with the agriculutral technology left in the settlement greenhouses if Hamas had used them instead of burning them to "stick it" to the Israelis and the world.

Given all this, I am suspicious of how much support Hamas actually still has among the residents of Gaza. Which begs the question- if a former supporter of Hamas decides to withdraw his support because they have not improved his life, then they cease to be an "active enemy," no? In fact they become the target people Israel should try to culviate a relationship with. However, if this person's house is then bombed, or his children killed, or starve because of no food, etc., does this make him more likely to be a friend of Israel? Of course, Israel is right to attack Hamas. The dilemma is that Hamas ensconses itself with the civilian population.There is no easy answer. The attack is justified, yet the deaths of the innocent are tragic.

In the end, it comes down to Hamas' struggle. It is always about the struggle. They prefer their war to saving their own children's lives. I would love things to be different and believe that there are people in Gaza who do want peace, but they are not Hamas. And at the moment, I don't know how to reach out to those others. I also worry about whether Hamas can truly be marginalized or forced into cooperating with Israel and the PA. Some people are saying that Hamas isn't going anywhere, and I'm concerned they might be right, since right now it doesn't look like they're interested in changing their minds, either. Which leaves us right where we started, doesn't it?

Last, there is a silver lining- the West Bank remains quiet, disproving the theory that Palestinian politics and people are monolithic. The West Bank residents see what is happening in Gaza and most want no part of it. Does this mean we can trust the Palestinian Authority? Maybe not. But we are certainly in a much better position to evaluate the differences between the two groups of Palestinians- and they are staggering. However, my fear is that this columnist's words continue to ring true in the minds of many:

The Hamas people look at the moderate-to-the-point-of-groveling leadership of Abu Mazen in the West Bank and rightly do not see any achievements that can be attributed to the policy of surrender. The head of the Palestinian Authority does not have even one small achievement that he can hold up to the inhabitants of Gaza and promise that his way does indeed pay. Abu Mazen will not inherit Gaza from Israel because he does not want to head the South Lebanon Army redux. It would be better for Israel to control the Gaza Strip; an open occupation is preferable to a disguised one. If only the PA would hand the leadership baton back to the army, that would really be better at this point, as the PA is becoming more and more of a joke with each passing day.

Hamas is seeing Israel's stick, and it is well-deserved However, at the moment, there is no carrot to speak of. The Palestinians in the West Bank have themselves, for the most part, under control. There have been few attacks in the past few months (though attempts have increased since the Gaza War, all of which have been thankfully foiled). What has been their reward? What diplomatic progress has been made? (For that matter, was anything happening on the diplomatic front during the four-month ceasefire in Gaza?) We already know that Fatah and Hamas don't get along, especially since the Hamas coup. Why not use this as momentum to re-open talks with Abu Mazen and show the Palestinians that there IS an alternative to Hamas, and that it can actually get them somewhere?

Times like these are truly discouraging for those who believe that, as in Iraq, true peace comes from both military and political means. Right now, the leaders on the ground do not seem very interested. Pound Hamas (if it will help,) but remember that it will not create a long-term solution. If we really want to show the light to the people of Gaza, we would do well to start with the West Bank. At least then we could feel optimistic that something productive is being accomplished.


Anonymous said...

Please consider:

Anonymous said...

Friar Yid,

Well said.

I enjoyed your dismantlement of the ersatz Habbani Bruce Lee and guessed that you would have something equally interesting to say about Gaza.

The idea that you can punish a population into either subservience or rationality (depending on your viewpoint) just doesn't make sense. It's been tried before by parties way more brutal and clinical than the IDF.

The Romans fought religious semitic speakers for two centuries and found that it just didn't work the way they intended. Of course, in the end, it was the zealots who paid the ultimate price for their lack of subservience/rationality until their haggarist cousins took revenge many centuries later. A cold comfort at best for the razed second temple and several millenia of exile.

Are we always doomed to reprise history?