Monday, December 29, 2008

Gaza: Food for thought -- or derision

On his blog, as well as over here, Dr. Lozowick, of Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations fame, has sort of prompted me to comment on the situation in Gaza.

One annoying aspect of Lozowick's bloggering is his didactic tone, always explicitly stating the conclusions that a less sophomoric pundit would leave it for his readers to draw (namely, that anti-Zionists are a bunch of morons, jackasses, nutcases and kneejerks). I suspect he's not so much interested in my opinions as in the possibility of making fun of me (although in a way it will be mostly his diehards who will find terribly funny) in a paragraph that will begin with the word "predictably".

Even so, I have a few ideas of my own re the situation in Gaza, and it will do no harm to express them even if I risk the doctor's derision.

1. I don't understand Hama's use of rockets against Sderot and other Israeli towns. It makes no sense even if you subscribe to some idiotic theory that "all Israelis are soldiers or future soldiers" or such. To put it cynically, if you know the world will condemn you for your actions, at least you should make it sure you hit your enemy hard. For instance, the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit, also indefensible under any civilized standard, at least made sense under a tortured tit-for-tat logic: Israel kidnaps Palestinians, so Hamas kidnapped an Israeli to gain bargaining power and possibly exchange him for the Palestinians held by Israel. Immoral, but not crazy. However, the rockets on Sderot achieve the rare feat, even by Hamas' standards, of being both immoral and crazy. Without dismissing the anguish and stress suffered by southwestern Israelis, it is pain Israel can live with, while Israel's responses (first a crippling blockade, now widesacale bombings, next possibly an invasion) are pain Gaza is much less likely to be able to cope with.

2. It's appalling that certain commentators are using the words "genocide," "Holocaust" or "Nazi" in connection with the Israeli op. These words do a great disservice to the Palestinian cause and make their users' credibility plummet. No; unlike those who have generalized the word "antisemitism," and now apply it to, say, people who don't talk about Tibet, I don't find it acceptable to similarly devalue the word "genocide." It means the systematic killing of a people, like the Armenians under the Turks, the Jews and Gypsies under the Nazis, the Tutsis under the Hutus and possibly the Pygmies under Les Éffaceurs. Israel has clearly never committed, will never in any likelihood commit and is certainly not comitting genocide in the present Gaza action.

3. That said, a lot of bad faith has been on display on the Zionist side in the context of explicating (is there such a word as "hasbarizing"?) the Gaza op. We know that the brainwashed will repeat clichés with admirable discipline, but the problem is with the brainwashers who supply them with the sound bites, who would seem to be missing (but one suspects are not) a few important points.

One ususally-made argument is "Israel withdrew from Gaza, and the Palestinians, instead of building a state, started to launch rockets." This is disingenuous for several reasons:

a) Gaza is a small and overcrowded strip of land with virtually zero natural resources and can hardly constitute the basis for a future state.

b) While Israel can disengage from Gaza, Gaza can't be "disengaged" from the West Bank. To make an analogy both silly and sound, if the United States took over Mexico and then withdrew from Baja California, the Mexicans living in the peninsula couldn't be reasonably expected not to keep on fighting for the rest of their country.

c) The disengagement was not part of an agreement, and involved none of the guarantees that are vital to get an economy functioning, such as freedom of movement into and out of the territory, the right to collect and use taxes, etc. Of course a point can be made that Israel can't offer that for security reasons, but the failure to build a state in Gaza can't be analyzed as if such guarantees had been in place.

d) Most importantly, Israel didn't withdraw from Gaza to allow the Gazans to rule themselves. It withdrew, in part, because Gaza is not a valuable piece of real estate; it has no water, scarce arable land and little strategic importance; it wasn't worth the budget it consumed. But it also withdrew precisely to be able to charge the Palestinians with not building a(n impossible) State and thus justify the failure to implement further withdrawals, for instance from any reasonable fraction of the at least 105 illegal outposts the Jewish settlers have established in the West Bank. Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon's foreign policy adviser at the time of the disengagement, explained it with remarkable candor in an interview with Haaretz:

“When you freeze that process [i.e. the political process with the Palestinians], you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem...Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state . . . has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

"The disengagement plan is the preservative of the sequence principle. It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the president's formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."

I want to remind you that there will also be a withdrawal in the West Bank.

"The withdrawal in Samaria is a token one. We agreed to only it so it wouldn't be said that we concluded our obligation in Gaza."

"On the other hand, in regard to the large settlement blocs, thanks to the disengagement plan, we have in our hands a first-ever American statement that they will be part of Israel."

4. Another argument that has been put forward is that Israel had to do something about the rockets raining on Sderot and that the only thing it could do is what it did. Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, former commander of the IDF's Gaza Division, begs to differ:

"The state of Israel must understand that Hamas rule in Gaza is a fact, and it is with that government that we must reach a situation of calm."


In Zakai's view, Israel's central error during the tahadiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce that formally ended on Friday, was failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip.


"We could have eased the siege over the Gaza Strip, in such a way that the Palestinians, Hamas, would understand that holding their fire served their interests. But when you create a tahadiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues, it's obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahadiyeh, and that their way to achieve this, is resumed Qassam fire.

"The carrot is improvement of the economic situation in the Gaza Strip. You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they're in, and to expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing. That's something that's simply unrealistic."

This general with some on-the-ground experience seems to sense what the flat-screen warriors in Europe and the US don't, namely that a political process is necessary even under an imperfect truce, and that not punishing a whole population, even if it's the same population that voted for Hamas, over the rockets on Sderot, might be a good idea. "All stick and no carrot makes Israel a dumb boy..." or how was it?

5. Finally, the issue of proportionality. During a six-month period there was low-level violence materialized in isolated rockets (but not barrages) thrown from the Strip, causing stress but no victims, met with a crippling blockade of Gaza on Israel's part, also causing stress but no victims. Then on Nov. 5 Israel killed 6 people in Gaza. Call them terrorists, militants or resistance fighters: the fact is that they were the first people to be killed in the truce period.

Although much has been made of the fact that the Qassams are fired randomly and thus any rocket can kill people, the fact that no person had been killed does have relevance. (Even though the Zionists spoke of unbearable Israeli pain in Sderot, they are the same Zionists who were boasting that the terrorists hadn't been able to disrupt national life -- what gives?) If you use missiles that have an extremely low probability of hitting someone, not firing enough of them that a person will likely be killed is a form of restraint. And Qassams (and Grads, and Katyushas) began to be thrown in casualty-causing amounts only after the six Gazans were killed by Israel.

The Israeli bombing campaign started on Saturday does not seem to meet a reasonable standard of proportionality. While popular belief has it that civilian casualties are wrong and noncivilian ones are right, the actual distinction is between combatants and noncombatants. And for instance the young cops who died in large numbers at a police academy graduation ceremony are clearly noncombatants. Although Israel plays on the West's image of a Palestinian policeman as a dark-skinned, thick-eyebrowed guy with shining black eyes and a knife between his teeth, the group is more likely to be mostly composed of cops like this:

who doesn't strike me as an immediate threat to Israel's security.

Also, the destruction of administrative infrastructure would seem to indicate that the lessons of Iraq have been lost on some. The Americans destroyed the whole Baathist administrative apparatus (instead of recycling it for democratic purposes) and made the local population pay dearly for it during the period of chaos that ensued. But it's not that Mr. Ehud Barak doesn't know this. The answer may lie in the coming Israeli election and the deep dive of his Labor party in the polls. It's a dangerous thing when a candidate is accountable to a public that wants blood.

One thing is for sure: bombing 'em into the Stone Age won't do the trick. Any long-term solution requires a political strategy, complete with goals, sticks, carrots and the intervention of international players. And I don't see the Israeli leadership formulating any policy other than the ephemeral manu militari solution it is currently implementing.


Anonymous said...

"During a six-month period there was low-level violence materialized in isolated rockets (but not barrages) thrown from the Strip …"

Outside Gaza, truce means 'no violence at all'. Maybe the Gazans forget that during the years of carrots for free.

(anonymous, as I have neither a blog nor a blogger account nor an OpenID.)

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

But the Israeli general I quoted seems to understand that the isolated rockets were not official Hamas policy; Hamas even gave short prison terms to the groups that launched them.

This Israeli general believes that crippling the Strip with a blockade was not the right policy, and I think he's more knowledgeable than you or me.

Ernie Halfdram said...

Some good points, Ibrahim. However, the launching of qassams emerges, I gather, from much the same kind of ersatz 'reasoning' that motivates Israeli attacks on Palestinians - that if caused enough suffering, they will pressure 'their' 'government' to desist from whatever offensive conduct they engage in. Experience, if nothing else, shows this to be politicaly foolhardy for the Palestinians, but you can hardly fault them for wishing to respond in some way. Gabriel Ash over at Jews sans frontieres ( writes of the doctrine in international customary law of 'belligerent reprisal', which countenances tit for tat attacks on civilians, bearing mind that a siege is an act of war, apart from anything else. Still, I agree, the tactic is entirely counterproductive.

I think you will find if you consult the Genocide Convention that Israel's actions in Gaza over the past several days, and more generally, comfortably fit the definition provided there. I find the argument about whether it is or is not appropriate to characterise Israeli actions as comparable to Nazi actions tedious. At one level, I would say that if Israel is so sensitive about such comparisons, they should eschew activities that explicitly echo pre Final Solution Nazi antisemitism. Forcing a Palestinian violinist to perform at a checkpoint for the entertainment of his oppressors is one such example. And the siege of Gaza inevitably evokes the Warsaw Ghetto. That said, and much more importantly, we need to ask whether making such comparisons explicit advances the struggle. In my view, most of the time, however apropos, it does not.

British Babe said...

Why have you mentioned only the missile attacks organised by Hamas?

You have utterly ignored the suicide bombings that for eight long years, Israeli civilians have suffered courtesy of Hamas.

Israel has not gone into Gaza simply because of Sderot and the rockets, though of course, this is part of the reason. Israel has gone into Gaza because of the hundreds and hundreds of dead Israeli innocents who lost their lives at the hands of this terrorist organisation.

And in addition, it has now transpired that Hamas has missiles from Iran - already they have reached as far as Beersheba. Across Tel Aviv, people are readying their bomb shelters. Ashkelon has already been hit.

As for your comments on why Israel left Gaza: she never particularly wanted to be there to start with. The fact of the matter is that nobody wants Gaza. Why hasn't Egypt opened its border? Remember, also, that pre 1967, Egypt herself occupied Gaza - and she mined the borders, thus trapping the Palestinians there.

The world did not issue so much as a murmur of protest.

The Palestinians keep saying they want their own state. That is understandable. Yet, at the same time, they expect Israel to continue giving them free water, fuel and electricity.

Israel must be the only country on earth who, when attacked for years, is expected firstly to ignore said attacks and not try and go after the terrorists and secondly, to continue feeding and helping the very people who ELECTED THE TERRORISTS TO START WITH!

Have you read the Hamas Charter? I think it's amazing that Israel waited this long before going in, frankly.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tabatha:

If Barak really offered 97% of the West Bank, how come he did nothing to halt new settlers from moving in?

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...


First, a small correction:

Yet, at the same time, they expect Israel to continue giving them free water, fuel and electricity.

Israel does not provide those goods and services for free. Israel sells them to the Palestinian Authority, which pays for them with money donated by the European Union, among others. Israel's trade surplus with the PA is in the order of 1.3-1.5 billion dollars.

With regard to Camp David and Taba, see here.

And with regard to Hamas' charter, you've given me an idea for a new post. I'll publish it tomorrow.

Ernie Halfdram said...


The irony of water is that much of Israel’s water supply is sourced from the West Bank aquifers, which Israel is very keen to annex in any eventual repartition of historic Palestine, and then sold back to Palestinians, whose wells settlers have poisoned and filled.


I think it’s traditional in blog comment threads, as in many forms of human discourse, to address yourself to what your interlocutors actually say. In this case, what I said was, '...if Israel is so sensitive about such comparisons, they should eschew activities that explicitly echo pre Final Solution Nazi antisemitism' [emphasis added, if my tags worked]. Try googling Yosef Lapid and see what he had to say about the matter.

I don’t ordinarily respond to hasbara crazed fanatics, but just for the record, the UN, which in my view has been altogether too kind to Israel ever since the GA admitted Israel to membership, explicitly accepting its excuses for refusing to implement Resolutions 181 and 194, estimated that AT LEAST 25% of the dead were civilians, emphasising that they were only counting women and children as civilians. I’m intending to write something about these noncombatant issues on my own blog as soon as I get around to it.

As Ibrahim points out in the post he links to, it was Israel who walked away from Taba. More to the point, Israel has decidedly NOT ‘offered the Palestinians all they have demanded’. Just for starters, it has always refused the right of return, the most fundamental Palestinian demand. Nor, in the context of a two state ‘solution’, has it ever addressed the issue of a secure corridor between the West Bank and Gaza, which is one of the reasons there has never been a realistic possibility of a really viable Palestinian state. In any case, it’s entirely disingenuous to write of Israel ‘offering’ anything when everything they have to offer belonged to the Palestinians in the first place. ‘Land for peace’ is just a slogan to snare the unwary – it’s up to the aggressor to offer peace.

Medicine said...

Experience, if nothing else, shows this to be politicaly foolhardy for the Palestinians, but you can hardly fault them for wishing to respond in some way.