The point is simple: You can argue, as Israel is arguing, that their air strikes are a response to Hamas’s missiles. But to the Palestinians, Hamas’s missiles were a response to the blockade (under international law, a blockade is indeed an act of war). Israel, of course, would argue that the blockade was a response to Hamas’s past attacks. And Hamas would argue that past attacks were a response to Israel’s unceasing oppression of the Palestinian people. And Israel would argue that…
The provocations and cassus belli travel as far back as anyone might care to trace. And whether you believe Israel, the Palestinians, or the international partitioners originally at fault, starting the clock on December 10th, when the ceasefire expired and Hamas’s missiles crashed into the fields around Sderot, is merely an Israeli press strategy. This is the latest tactic in an ongoing struggle over land and freedom and security and money and politics and religion and elections and oppression. It did not begin with the rockets, and it will not end with this attack.
Chait summons forth the obvious reply:
Look, it’s obviously true that both sides see the root of the conflict differently. But these two views just are not equally valid. Hamas has a problem with Israel because Hamas believes Israel has no right to exist. Israel has a problem with Hamas because Hamas believes Israel has no right to exist. If Hamas lay down all its weapons, Israel would lift its blockade. If Israel lay down all its weapons, Hamas would kill as many Israelis as it could. That fact doesn’t justify any Israeli response to Hamas, but it is a necessary starting point for any analysis. If you can’t grasp the asymmetric nature of the two greivances, then any reasoning that follows is going to come out crooked.
Exactly right. Michael Weiss expresses similar thoughts in an excellent essay for Jewcy:
No proponent of Palestinian rights can in good conscience look admiringly on such barbarism. Whatever its behind-the-scenes complexities, Hamas has clearly committed itself to an unsustainable status quo of militant authoritarianism, more concerned with saving face than altering the material conditions of its constituents. The economic sanctions imposed on the strip by Israel, justified or not, would be eliminated with the basic concession of Israel’s right to exist and the repudiation of terrorism as a legitimate means of resistance, two things Hamas stubbornly continues to refuse as Gazans continue to starve.
Once again, exactly right.
The Hamas government in Gaza has the destruction of Israel has its specifically stated goal. They are supported heavily by Iran, which likewise has the destruction of Israel as its goal. Hamas has shown its perfect willingness to target Israeli civilians through rocket attacks and suicide bombings.
Tell me, please, what Israel is supposed to do in the face of this reality. How would other countries react to direct attacks on their civilians by neighbors bent on their destruction? Would we be hearing pathetic bleats about proportionality if this were any country other than Israel? Would we be reading things like this:
In its efforts to stop amateur rockets from nagging the residents of some of its southern cities, Israel appears to have given new life to the fledging Islamic movement in Palestine.
That, incidentally, was Daoud Kuttab, writing in The Washington Post. The theme of his article is that Israel has revitalized Hamas by their actions. Yawn.
The disproportionate and heavy-handed Israeli attacks on Gaza have been a bonanza for Hamas. The movement has renewed its standing in the Arab world, secured international favor further afield and succeeded in scuttling indirect Israeli-Syrian talks and direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. It has also greatly embarrassed Israel’s strongest Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan.
While it is not apparent how this violent confrontation will end, it is abundantly clear that the Islamic Hamas movement has been brought back from near political defeat while moderate Arab leaders have been forced to back away from their support for any reconciliation with Israel.
Forgive me, but this is an old story. The Arab world is always about to make peace with Israel, until the Israelis go off half-cocked in response to some trifling attack on their civilians. The moderates are always gaining ground until they are driven back down, Sisyphus-like, by Israeli aggression. It is always the Israelis who are to blame for the breakdown of some fictitious “peace process.” It was only three years ago that the Palestinians voted overwhelmingly for Hamas, and Hamas was no less anti-Israel then than they are now. Am I really to believe public opinion has changed so much that peace was at hand but for the Israeli attacks?
You would have to be made of stone not to be horrified by the plight of the Palestinian citizens in Gaza. They have been ill-served by their corrupt and despotic government. But my sympathy is tempered by the fact that they elected a government that sees terror as a legitimate weapon. They elected a government more interested in picking fights with Israel than in providing a life for its citizens. When you support suicide bombing and attacks on civilians, I really do not care about your grievances.
The other line against Israel is that, regardless of the morality of their actions, they are being strategically unwise. That is possible, but I do not have a strong opinion on the subject. It is rather difficult for me, sitting comfortably on the other side of the world and reading a few newspaper accounts of what is happening, to determine what Israel can realistically accomplish by military action. In general, though, I would be more sympathetic to that argument if it were applied evenly to both sides of the conflict.
The people wringing their hands over what Israel hopes to accomplish ought to spend a minute or two wondering what Hamas hoped to accomplish with their relentless attacks on Israel. The people who fret about how Israel’s actions have radicalized their Arab neighbors ought also to ponder how Hamas’ actions have radicalized Israeli public opinion.
Reading much of the anti-Israel commentary in the American media makes me sympathetic to the idea of moral clarity. Israel is hardly guiltless, and has done many unwise things in its history. But there is no question where the lion’s share of the blame belongs. Hostilities in the region would end tomorrow if the Arab governments recognized Israel’s right to exist and renounced terrorism as a weapon. That, of course, will not happen. The Arab governments need to foment hostility toward Israel to distract public opinion from their own feckless and incompetent rule. Sadly, so far the public seems perfectly happy to play along.