Friday, January 09, 2009

Warning to Jews who Think

Do so at your own risk- Grand Inquisitor Prager is still skulking around, and I don't think he'd like what I'm hearing.

See, on the one hand, Israel is boasting about its vastly superior intel, which is helping it find the right targets instead of indiscriminately bombing Gaza to hell. This, of course, is good, since no one is praying for needless innocent deaths.

Even those who object to the war in the Gaza Strip will find it hard not to agree that this time around, the intelligence community mostly succeeded in delivering the goods. Seen in the light of the Second Lebanon War failures, these achievements are particularly impressive.

The intelligence community has thus far succeeded in preparing a rich "target bank" to serve the air force and ground forces. Accurate and precise intelligence is of particular importance in a densely populated area like Gaza, where every mistake is liable to cause the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Nevertheless, despite its good intelligence, Israeli troops still killed dozens of innocent civilians. Particularly impressive has been the ability to identify three mosques, which stored rockets and served as meeting places for terrorists. This is no trivial matter. Mistaken information could have caused the destruction of an innocent mosque, which was not serving as a weapons store, which would have sparked tremendous hostility toward Israel in the world, to the point of forcing it to end the fighting.

...Another achievement enabled the air force to make precise hits on about 40 tunnels that Hamas exclusively used to smuggle in weapons, ammunition and diesel to generate electricity in its installations. This prevented the need to carpet-bomb the border strip along all of its 12 kilometers, which most probably would have killed more innocent civilians living along the Gaza-Egyptian border (the Philadelphi Route).

But somehow things are never that simple, are they?

However, it is dangerous and premature to boast of intelligence achievements. The longer the war, the lower the chance of continued intelligence successes.

And wait, there's more:

I don’t think Barak and I are talking about the same game. He wants a longer cease-fire and no more rockets and no more tunnels for smuggling in weapons and explosives. But look what’s bound to happen: Israel bombed the best targets in what it calls its ‘target bank’ on the first day, and by the third or fourth day it’ll be bombing sub-prime targets, and there’ll be more and more dead and wounded bystanders, and Fatah won’t be able to maintain its dialogue with Israel, and the new law and order in Jenin will fall apart, and every ounce of benefit Israel may wring from all this will be buried under a ton of new anger, new hatred.

...The question you need to ask is how to put an end to the miserable reality, how you can change the rules of the game. What Israel is doing now is just an enhanced version of its standard response — more planes, more bombs, bigger bombs. What’s the end game? What’s the strategy?

Even Israel's PR people are having a tough time of it...

I frequently get asked by Israelis, "why aren't we winning the PR war? Why don't people understand that this is what we have to do?" Many are convinced that there is something wrong with Israeli hasbara (public advocacy), that the spokespeople aren't effective enough, or that the Palestinians have a huge and demonically efficient propaganda machine.

Partly, of course, it's because the numbers are against it. Six hundred Palestinians dead versus nine Israelis, as of today's figures: There's just no way to make that proportion look pretty. Retired generals can drone on all they like about what "proportionality" really means in the laws of war, ambassadors can helpfully point out that many more Germans were killed than British in the Second World War, but these are theoretical notions; on television, what looks bad looks bad. (Nor do I really buy the argument that if Israel's casualties were more visibly bloody - if, say, the media showed the gory pictures of the few people who have been hit by Qassams instead of holding them back to keep the home front from getting agitated - then you could counter the stream of barbaric images from Gaza. There's just no competition.)

But the deeper reason is this: Israeli hasbara is perpetually trying to answer the wrong question: "Why is this justified?" Of course, it's natural for either side in a conflict to try to explain why it, and not the other side, has the moral high ground. But, especially in a conflict where both sides have been claiming the moral high ground for decades, nobody in the outside world is all that interested. From a foreign correspondent's point of view, it makes for boring journalism: "The Israelis said this, but the Palestinians said that." And since we're all studiously trying to be "neutral," we'll always balance your view against theirs; so the fact that you make more of an effort to explain than they do doesn't really matter.

The question the foreign media really wants answered is invariably not "who's in the right?" but "how will this round of fighting improve the overall situation?" And on that point, Israel never has a convincing argument. Given the country's long history of engaging in wars that kill many more of its enemies than its own citizens but only buy a few months or years of calm, it's a tough call to explain how this latest escapade will change the strategic balance, bring peace and prevent the need for another such bloodbath further down the line. Often that's because there is in fact no good reason: Wars are fought for short-term gains. And it doesn't help that with the constant competition for power within Israeli coalitions, it's easy to interpret this war, like many others, as a political imperative, not a strategic one.

And so when the question the world is asking is not "who's right?" but "what works?" the consistent impression Israel leaves is that it kills people because, at best, it simply doesn't have any better ideas, and at worst, because some Israeli leader is trying to get the upper hand on one of his or her rivals. And no amount of hasbara can make that look good.
The same questions, over and over again:

The mistake both sides make, the mistake that keeps the Israel-Palestine conflict going, is the assumption that death and destruction will in fact produce peace, security, and justice. In abstract terms, the Palestinians have every right to use force to defend themselves and to seek to right the wrongs they have suffered. And Israel has every right to use force to defend its population and its existence.

...Preaching to the Palestinians about the turpitude of launching missiles against Israel will get us nowhere, and neither will preaching to the Israelis about the incommensurability of the Palestinian versus the Israeli death toll. Leaders, and citizens, on both sides are quite right and justified in valuing the lives of their countrymen over the lives of their enemies. Moral condescension from writers outside the war zone whose families, friends, and fellow-citizens are not at risk will not change any minds.

If I’m to persuade my fellow-Israelis that this war is useless and wrong, the only way to do it is to show them that we are shedding blood and getting little or nothing in return. That may sound callous to the referees on the sidelines, but I’m not ashamed to say that I love my son more than my friends, my friends more than my fellow-Israelis, and my fellow-Israelis more than my enemies. What kind of father, friend, and Israeli would I be otherwise?

So, Mr. Prager, we have here several liberal Jews, mostly Israeli, all with well-reasoned and insightful views about the war in Gaza and why it may not be as fantastic as people are trying to convince us it is. Presumably you'll be shrilly condemning them next?

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