On most issues my politics are decidedly left-wing, but there is one big exception to that. That exception is Israel. On the subject of Isreal I get very right-wing.
When I look at Israel I see a Western-style democracy that has achieved extraordinary things in just sixty years. Their universities and technological achievements are among the most impressive in the world. They have achieved a standard of living for their people that puts the surrounding, mostly despotic, Arab regimes to shame. This they have done while facing relentless terrorism and threats to their existence from neighbors so consumed by religion-fueled hatred that they will not even take the elementary step of recognizing Israel’s right to exist. I see a country that spent decades negotiating in good faith with Palestinian leaders who were not returning the favor. Reading much of the outraged, but ultimately clueless, self-righteousness from liberal pundits I respect on most other issues can be a painful experience.
Unfrotunately, I also see a country that has, more recently, been radicalized by the growing realization that it is unlikely that there will ever be peace in the region.
By now you have no doubt heard about the raid by the Israeli navy against a flotilla of ships claiming to be bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip. More than a dozen people were killed in the ensuing violence. The people who delight in pointing to israel’s moral failings are having a field day, of course. But, as usual, as more facts come out it looks increasingly like the purpose of the flotilla was to provoke precisely what happened. From what I have been able to learn so far, Rabbi Daniel Gordis has it right when he writes:
Israel’s actions were “misguided”? Let’s take that first. Were there tragic outcomes? Obviously. But “misguided”? Gaza is under the malicious and cynical rule of a terror organization sworn on Israel’s destruction, that is holding an Israeli soldier captive in contravention of all international treaties, and that oppresses its own population while even Palestinian witnesses there acknowledge that there is no food shortage. Given Hamas’ military objectives, Israel would be crazy not to check what’s going in. But Israel had already pledged to pass on any humanitarian goods after they were inspected, and told the boats the same thing. So, no, I don’t think that the idea of stopping the boats was misguided.
What we know is that on five of the ships, the commandos (among them friends of our kids, by the way) boarded the boats, and there was no resistance and no fighting.
On one boat, however, the first soldiers to land on the boat were attacked with metal rods and knives. There’s video of it. It’s playing all over Israel and all over the internet. In some cases, soldiers’ weapons were stolen and used against them. One was stabbed, apparently in the abdomen. Another was tossed from a desk and trampled when he landed. There were a handful of commandos there, and 600 “peace activists.” On Israeli news tonight, the soldiers on helicopters taking them to the hospital were interviewed. They descended the ropes, they said, planning to talk the “activists” into going to Ashdod. Their weapons were not in their hands, but strapped to their backs. “We went into war,” one in his 30′s said bitterly tonight, “and all we had were toys.” They were beaten, trampled, shot (yes, there were bullet injuries) but only after forty minutes of combat did they resort to live five. They were going to get lynched if they didn’t fight back, they said.
Was I there? No. Do I know what really happened? No. But do I trust these kids and their officers? Yes, I do.
As for “peace activists,” David, how much do you know about the IHH? It’s a terror support group, supported by Turkey (among others) and it was sent to provoke. If they just wanted the goods to get to Gaza, they could have agreed to transfer them to an Israeli ship, or to unload them in Ashdod, as the Navy personnel asked them to. But they didn’t want that. They just wanted to break the blockade. Why? For food? Even a few Palestinian journalists with some guts are reporting that there’s no humanitarian food crisis in Gaza. No, it wasn’t about food. They want the blockade broken so that after that, non-humanitarian items (read weapons) could brought in. Why should Israel allow that? So that they can be better armed the next time we have to send our kids into Gaza?
Compared to that litany much of the commentary I have been seeing from the other side just seems morally obtuse to me. That the attack happened in international waters, for example, hardly seems like the really important issue here.
Of course, the broader issue is the blockade on Gaza. At the risk of stating the obvious, Israel has legitimate security concerns there. Let us not forget that it was Hamas who declared war on Israel not the other way around, and that Hamas seems more interested in lobbing rockets into Israeli cities in the desperate hope that they can kill some civilians than they do in actually governing. Also do not forget that Egypt does its part to maintain the blockade on Gaza, which should tell you something about what other countries in the region think of Gaza’s leaders.
That said, Peter Beinart is surely correct when he writes:
No, the guilt lies with the Israeli leaders who oversee the Gaza embargo, and with Israel’s American supporters, who have averted their eyes. Yesterday’s events are the most dramatic example yet of why the epidemic of not watching must end.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations greeted news of the flotilla disaster by repeating a common “pro-Israel” talking point: that Israel only blockades Gaza to prevent Hamas from building rockets that might kill Israeli citizens. If only that were true. In reality, the embargo has a broader and more sinister purpose: to impoverish the people of Gaza, and thus turn them against Hamas. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported, the Israeli officials in charge of the embargo adhere to what they call a policy of “no prosperity, no development, no humanitarian crisis.” In other words, the embargo must be tight enough to keep the people of Gaza miserable, but not so tight that they starve.
This explains why Israel prevents Gazans from importing, among other things, cilantro, sage, jam, chocolate, French fries, dried fruit, fabrics, notebooks, empty flowerpots and toys, none of which are particularly useful in building Kassam rockets. It’s why Israel bans virtually all exports from Gaza, a policy that has helped to destroy the Strip’s agriculture, contributed to the closing of some 95 percent of its factories, and left more 80 percent of its population dependent on food aid. It’s why Gaza’s fishermen are not allowed to travel more than three miles from the coast, which dramatically reduces their catch. And it’s why Israel prevents Gazan students from studying in the West Bank, a policy recently denounced by 10 winners of the prestigious Israel Prize. There’s a name for all this: collective punishment.
That’s the problem. From what I have been able to glean of the situation it seems clear that Israel is doing a lot more in Gaza than just tending to its legitimate security concerns.
I have no idea what the solution is. Israel can not just tolerate having its cities bombed, but it also can not afford one PR disaster after another. It has a legitimate right not to do business with a terrorist regime bent on its destruction, but it also can not just turn a blind eye to the suffering they are heaping on millions of people. In the end, I think Kevin Drum sums things up all too well:
Fanatics on both sides have been in control of the region for years — the hardline Orthodox population relentlessly gaining influence in Israel and Hamas terrorists among the Palestinians — both convinced that they can win if they can only provoke enough insane overreactions from the other side. Which they do with depressing regularity. Hamas’s rocket attacks are indefensible, the Gaza embargo in return is indefensible, the blockade runners in their turn were plainly hoping to provoke an overreaction that would force Israel’s hand, and the Israelis then went insanely beyond anyone’s expectations by landing commandos on one of the ships and killing more than a dozen people while it was still far off in international waters. And now, there are rumors that the Turkish navy might escort the next ship that tries to run the blockade.
In David Petraeus’s famous phrase, How does this end? Unless something dramatic happens, it ends with Israel as a nuclear-armed pariah state. Where else can it go? Hamas and Hezbollah are never going to stop attacking, Israel’s responses will continue to get deadlier and more hysterical, the West Bank will never be freed because no Israeli government can any longer cobble together the public support it would require to take on the most extremist elements among the settlers, and like it or not, Israel eventually becomes a permanently armed camp and an apartheid state. Israelis may have hated it when that’s what Jimmy Carter called it, but even if it’s arguably not quite accurate today there’s very little question that it will be before long.
Not much to argue with there.
A final note. You are welcome to have at me in the comments, but I will not be tolerating personal attacks, insults, or anything else I choose to get annoyed about. I know emotions run high on this issue, but please keep it civil.