There’s plenty of science and religion stuff out there, but I think talking about anything else right now would be to ignore the elephant in the room.
There’s a basic moral principle that I subscribe to that goes like this: When your neighbor is relentlessly firing rockets at you in an attempt to kill as many civilians as possible, or barring that to make life unlivable for civilian populations, then you have carte blanche to do whatever is necessary to make it stop.
I have no patience for bloggers who sit in perfect safety on the other side of the world, and, with steepled fingers and their feet on an ottoman, argue that any country can or should be expected to put up with that. Show me someone lecturing Israel about proportionality or just war theory, and I’ll show you someone you can ignore.
And I definitely have no patience for people who write things like this:
I’ve had people try to tell me that it is justifiable — that Hamas is firing rockets into Israeli neighborhoods. I freely grant that trying to kill random citizens with rockets is also unconscionable, whether it’s done by Palestinians, Israelis, or Americans. But how can anyone condemn one and not the other?
That, sadly, is P. Z. Myers. That sure is a tough question he asks. X hits Y because he hates him and wants to hurt him. Y, after getting hit for a while, eventually decides to hit back. P. Z. cannot figure out why we might condemn one but not the other.
Moreover, of the three groups he mentions; Palestinians, Israelis and Americans; only one actually has leadership that routinely tries to kill random citizens. It’s nice for him to provide the formula for successfully bombing your neighbors, though. Apparently, so long as you are willing to hide your weapons in civilian areas, your neighbor is helpless to do anything more than ask you nicely to stop.
Hamas, whose leadership is currently waiting it out in Qatar, is getting precisely what it wants from all this. Its rockets are not really about scoring any kind of military victory. It’s about deliberately provoking Israel to reply, after which the inevitable dead civilians will grant them a public relations victory. Yes, they are that cynical and nihilistic. Let us not forget that the Hamas charter does not just call for the destruction of Israel, but for the murder of Jews generally. I keep reading that public opinion was turning against Hamas, but what Israel is doing will drive up their support. If that is true, I can only say it is hard to sympathize with people who want terrorists to represent them.
Hamas has been running Gaza for quite a few years now, and in that time they have done nothing to suggest they are serious about setting up the institutions of a functioning state. Instead they have done everything they can to militarize Gaza, and to turn as many of their people as possible into martyrs.
Gaza was a prison before this latest incursion, but it did not have to be this way. Jeffrey Goldberg
explains things well:
The politics of the moment are fascinating and dreadful, but what really interests me currently is a counterfactual: What if, nine years ago, when Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza, the Palestinians had made a different choice. What if they chose to build the nucleus of a state, rather than a series of subterranean rocket factories?
This thought is prompted by something a pair of Iraqi Kurdish leaders once told me. Iraqi Kurdistan is today on the cusp of independence. Like the Palestinians, the Kurds deserve a state. Unlike most of the Palestinian leadership, the Kurds have played a long and clever game to bring them to freedom.
This is what Barham Salih, the former prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, told me years ago: ““Compare us to other liberation movements around the world. We are very mature. We don’t engage in terror. We don’t condone extremist nationalist notions that can only burden our people. Please compare what we have achieved in the Kurdistan national-authority areas to the Palestinian national authority . . . We have spent the last 10 years building a secular, democratic society, a civil society.”
What, he asked, have the Palestinians built?
So too, Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, once told me this: “We had the opportunity to use terrorism against Baghdad. We chose not to.”
In 2005, the Palestinians of Gaza, free from their Israeli occupiers, could have taken a lesson from the Kurds — and from David Ben-Gurion, the principal Israeli state-builder — and created the necessary infrastructure for eventual freedom. Gaza is centrally located between two large economies, those of Israel and Egypt. Europe is just across the Mediterranean. Gaza could have easily attracted untold billions in economic aid.
The Israelis did not impose a blockade on Gaza right away. That came later, when it became clear that Palestinian groups were considering using their newly liberated territory as a launching pad for attacks. In the days after withdrawal, the Israelis encouraged Gaza’s development. A group of American Jewish donors paid $14 million for 3,000 greenhouses left behind by expelled Jewish settlers and donated them to the Palestinian Authority. The greenhouses were soon looted and destroyed, serving, until today, as a perfect metaphor for Gaza’s wasted opportunity.
If Gaza had, despite all the difficulties, despite all the handicaps imposed on it by Israel and Egypt, taken practical steps toward creating the nucleus of a state, I believe Israel would have soon moved to evacuate large sections of the West Bank as well. But what Hamas wants most is not a state in a part of Palestine. What it wants is the elimination of Israel. It will not achieve the latter, and it is actively thwarting the former.
I would love to end the post there. The trouble, though, is that Israel has largely been taken over by their own crazed right-wingers. Sometimes we do not realize how good we have it in the States, where the Tea Party is all we have to worry about. Much of the Knesset, the ultra-Orthodox, and many of the settlers make Netanyahu look like the calm, reasonable one. But they are the ones who are running the country right now.
While I get very absolutist when one country is randomly firing rockets at its neighbor, the fact remains that Israel has spent much of the last several years deliberately sabotaging moderate forces within Palestine. Mahmoud Abbas was someone they could really have worked with, and he desperately needed to be seen as legitimate by his constituents. There was much that Israel could have done to strengthen him, but the right-wing forces within Israel did not want to see that happen. They are perfectly happy to have Hamas be the public face of Palestine, precisely because they do not want to end the occupation. They do not care about a functioning Palestinian state any more than Hamas does. All too many of these folks are in thrall to a lunatic religious view in which God has bequeathed the entire West Bank to hem.
Israel accomplished something incredible in its first fifty years. Even as they faced relentless war and violence from their neighbors, they built a country to be proud of, with contributions to the arts, science and technology out of all proportion to their tiny size. But the endless violence has caught up with them, and now their citizens have become radicalized. Just as many Palestinians have abandoned all hope of a two-state solution, so too have many Israelis given up all hope of peace. They are so resigned to endless violence and the scorn of the world, that they no longer worry much about creating the next generation of terrorists or of finding moderate voices to support.
Sorry to be so grim, but I don’t see much reason for optimism.
I’ll give the final word to Leon Wieseltier. He is not someone I usually quote favorably, but I agree with pretty much everything he says here:
A thousand Hamas missiles cannot erase the stain of the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, nor can the murder of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel extenuate it. Introspection in a time of war is perhaps a lot to ask; people under attack are not inclined to guilt. But the burning of the Palestinian boy must not be eclipsed by the struggle against the aggressions of Hamas. There is no Iron Dome to intercept the conscience. The day of the atrocity against Muhammad Abu Khdeir—a revenge killing in a society that mocks revenge killings in other societies—was a dark day in the history of the state and the religion in whose name it was, however falsely, perpetrated. The maniacs who perpetrated the crime did not, in their ideas and words, come from nowhere, from no politics, from no culture. The top-to-bottom revulsion in Israel at what was done in the forest near Jerusalem, a sincere revulsion, does not end the matter. Regret, if it is to be genuine, cannot be efficient. It certainly must not become another ground for the sensation of moral superiority. The makeshift monument in the forest that was erected to the memory of the Palestinian boy was defaced, and erected again, and defaced again. Even as it endures sirens and shelters, Israeli society must cultivate its revulsion, its sickened feeling, not least because the ruin of relations between peoples is even more dangerous than the ruin of relations between presidents and prime ministers.
But this is not all that needs to be said. (Yes, the other shoe is about to drop. I have two feet.) Israel has not only demons, but also enemies. One of its enemies, according to Human Rights Watch, is committing war crimes by launching missiles indiscriminately against civilian targets. The Israeli campaign in Gaza is not an act of revenge for the slaying of three Jewish boys; it is an act of retaliation against the Gazan barrage of rockets at Israeli towns and cities. What is the difference between revenge and retaliation? It is a fair question. The difference lies in the legitimacy of self-defense. Revenge protects nothing, except the maddened psyches of those who commit it. It is not an act of self-defense, it is an act of self-expression. It is certainly not a “response” in any rational sense. The Israelis who slaughtered the Palestinian boy were not provoked; they were pre-provoked. Yet in the matter of the rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel was provoked. The security of its citizens was at risk; and security is assessed empirically, not ideologically; and security is no less fundamental, morally speaking, than peace. Israel is acting strategically, not emotionally, in Gaza. It is “degrading” an incontrovertible threat. This does not exempt it from the means-ends question, but the campaign to destroy an arsenal that is being hurled against one’s population is warranted by reason and dignity. It is not a political solution, but a missile in mid-air is not a political problem.