Friday, January 9, 2009

Sane Voices from Israel/Palestine IV

Berny Avishai and Sam Bahour are clear thinkers and great human beings. Would that they were running the show here, and not the small leaders of Hamas and Israel, their only distinction being the beards.

This piece appeared today in Haaretz, probably on Berny's and Sam's respective blogs.

Playing into the hands of Hamas 

By Bernard Avishai and Sam Bahour 

Israel and Hamas are not equals on the battlefield - not at all, clearly - and when the power to harm or control others is this uneven, it is meaningless to speak about moral symmetry. But as the current onslaught in Gaza unfolds, it is sadly evident that both sides are continuing to respond to real provocations in ways that are not morally right, or even politically smart. 

If Hamas thought that lobbing missiles into Israeli civilian neighborhoods was a decent or proportionate response to the grim realities of the occupation, they were wrong. On the other hand, if Israel thinks it can bludgeon the Palestinians into political surrender, or get Hamas - or the Palestinian community at large, for that matter - to acquiesce to military occupation then it, too, is wrong. 

There is no military solution to this conflict. Until both sides fully grasp this, the world can expect only continuing violence and vendetta, with civilians on both sides paying the price for leaders who - because of pressure, ambition or hubris - feel that they must do the most damage, fire the last shot or make the most credible threat. Indeed, it is sad, and repellent, to hear military correspondents speak of "teaching a lesson," "increasing pressure," "making a statement," achieving "deterrence," when those they are reporting on are really trying to control the news cycle, or win arguable (and in any case temporary) psychological advantage, by killing, or accepting the deaths of, people at random on the other side. 

Operation Cast Lead - the heart-wrenching death and wanton destruction the Israeli army is inflicting on Gaza as we write - is the product of just such thinking. In the first week, Israeli air raids killed over 500 people, many of them non-combatants; invading ground forces have now killed 100 more. Israelis knew in advance that Hamas forces are not a regular army; they will not come out of hiding and be mowed down like soldiers in World War I. To go after them effectively, in, of all places, the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated places on earth, the IDF would have to level its towns and cities, block by block, and intensify the nightmare of the Gazan population, more than half of which is children under the age of 15.  [Jerry's note: as of today, Israel has killed more than two hundred children, according to Palestinian and international observers.]

This cannot succeed in achieving Israel's stated aim of degrading Hamas' long-term capabilities and motivation. It will certainly not undermine Hamas' appeal, especially since the electricity and water infrastructures are also inevitably targeted. Now that Israeli soldiers have been killed in this tragic operation, there are the unavoidable cries that the IDF "go all the way," so their deaths would not have been in vain. But Israel cannot make Hamas surrender - it cannot "win." Meanwhile, the carnage will help Hamas, and other Palestinian military factions, make their case - not only in Gaza, but across the West Bank too. A glorious stand will even turn them into cultural heroes among Israel's Palestinian Arab citizens. 

It should be clear by now that Hamas' appeal only grows when Israelis attacks Palestinians. It increased when Israel insisted that occupied territory was merely "disputed," ignoring its obligations under international law, and tried to dissociate its unilateral "disengagement" from Gaza from the continuing occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Hamas appealed to circles upon circles of Palestinian youth, who, grieving for friends or relatives killed in clashes with occupation forces, or appalled by iron-fist policies, succumbed to rage or survivors' guilt. Its appeal increased in the absence of any concrete progress toward peace, indeed, when the peacemaking process seemed endlessly stalled. 

Hamas' appeal spread, finally, when Palestinian economic life seemed futile, or inevitably corrupt - when a fight to the last martyr seemed the only chance at a meaningful life - or death. Give Gazans open borders, relief from grinding poverty, and business opportunities with West Bank and foreign partners and, over time, this will win over Hamas-controlled tunnels and smuggling every time. The Palestinian private sector, centered in Ramallah, has begged Israel and the international community for 18 months to allow it access to Gaza, to build new businesses. Israel refused. Tragically, many who have been killed this past week were not Hamas militants, but rather Palestinians who worked in Hamas-run ministries or institutions because they had no choice if they wanted to feed and clothe their children. 

The critical point, surely, is that one cannot do in two weeks with force what you need to do over a generation with reciprocity. Even as it worked toward an overall solution to the conflict, Israel could have respected international law regarding occupation, observed the Geneva conventions, helped build Palestinian civil society, stopped settlement construction, invited international monitors, and allowed Palestinians to compete non-violently, politically, economically and socially. It could have, in short, allowed for unity and rationality in Palestinian politics. This is not, well, rocket science. 


Anonymous said...

Foreseeing our inevitable victory in our most just war in Gaza, I have opened up a new celebratory blog (in Hebrew):

A blog for the Jews, by the Jews, against the Jews!

Anonymous said...

Interesting and well argued...but what happened to the businesses that Israelis left when Gaza was vacated? There was an opportunity for economic development with the infrastructure in place. Greenhouses, for example, were paid for by others for the Palestinians, and destroyed within hours of Israelis leaving. Therefore, I think the premise that an improved economy will solve the problem is wrong. You are not dealing with the underlying mission of Hamas which is to destroy Israel, and never to accept it. Given that mission, there is very little Israel can do except protect itself and take Hamas, elected by the people, at its word. To do otherwise, is a death wish.

Anonymous said...

Anon above, re: greenhouses destroyed. Please, take time ot read Israel shuts off water, dries Gaza greenhouses. Excerpts:

"After months of intense negotiations recently culminating in a deal allowing for the transfer of Gaza's high-tech Jewish greenhouses to the Palestinians, several former Jewish residents who briefly returned to their farms told WND they were shocked to find most of their produce has died because Israel turned off the water in the area.
"I couldn't believe it. Almost all of my crops are dead, and the rest is dying," Anita Tucker, one of the settler-farmers of Jewish Gaza told WND. "I hope the Palestinians aren't expecting fresh produce. ... A fortune in crops is now all gone."
The greenhouse deal, reached just days before the Gaza evacuation, sold the area hot houses for about $14 million to the Economic Cooperation Foundation, an international fund which in turn will transfer the structures to the Palestinians. The foundation consists mostly of private capital, including a personal $500,000 donation by James Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president who is a special Middle East envoy for the "quartet" of the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. About one-quarter of Gaza's Jewish greenhouses were previously dismantled and moved to new communities in Israel by their owners. The foundation deal reportedly covers the majority of the remaining hothouses. The first payment to the former settler-farmers of Jewish Gaza was transferred this weekend to a committee working on their behalf. A final payment will be made later this month, a member of the greenhouse negotiating team told WND. But several Jewish Gaza settlers who were allowed to briefly return to their hothouses said most of the produce currently inside is now dead. Tucker, who owns large structures, said her hothouses were set to be watered by automatic irrigation systems.
"The sprinkler systems didn't work because Israel stupidly turned off the water after the Gaza withdrawal," said Tucker. "All my work, down the drain." A former resident of Jewish Gaza's Ganei Tal farming community who asked his name be withheld said, "Most of the greenhouses in Ganei Tal are dried up. This better not effect our payment because it's not our fault Israel turned off the water."

So, next time, please, remember that it was Israel that destroyed the Gaza greenhouses.