Eugene Goodheart offered two angles on the war in Gaza just before the cease-fire, speaking truth to powers that be on both sides of the conflict.
Hamas’s Self-Destructive Leadership
The scenes of carnage in Gaza are awful. Israel’s bombing has caused massive destruction disproportionate to Palestinian missiles indiscriminately rained upon Israel’s civilian population. Those who support the Palestinian cause (and the support is world wide) justify the firing of missiles into Israel as an understandable reaction to the misery of life in a strip of land blockaded by Israeli military power. I have no desire to defend the policies of the Netanyahu government toward the Palestinians. However, in focusing exclusively on Israel’s behavior in blockading Gaza or on its failure to restrain expanding settlements or on its military actions, one loses sight of the egregious behavior of Hamas in betraying the interests of its own people. It is within the power of its leadership to stop the killing by agreeing to a longterm ceasefire. Since it is obvious that the suffering inflicted on the Palestinians far exceeds the suffering incurred by the Israelis, it would seem to be in the Palestinian interest to end the violence. Why then should Hamas want the war to continue? For at least two reasons: 1) the worldwide sympathy it elicits, thereby strengthening its own leadership position and 2) the ending of the blockade. The willingness to allow hundreds of its people to die and thousands of people to suffer injuries in order to gain sympathy from the outside world is grotesque. (As to those adults in Gaza who speak of a preference for martyrdom to life in what is in effect an open air prison, the question should be put: do would-be martyrs have a right to jeopardize the lives of children, who do not have the capacity to speak and decide on the matter of martyrdom? In a recent interview shown on television, a twelve year old Gazan already “educated” in martyrdom vowed to become a suicide bomber.) As for the blockade, is it possible to end a blockade with violent action, sending missiles into Israel and armed militants through tunnels to capture or kill the Israeli enemy? In such circumstances, would any Israeli government, even one willing to negotiate with Palestinians in good faith, reasonably contemplate ending the blockade? If there were a chance that the blockade would end if Hamas persisted in sending missiles, it might justify the action, but, on the contrary, the building of tunnels and the firing of missiles only intensify the understandable resolve of Israelis to persist in military action and concede nothing. What if in stead Hamas joined the PLO in acknowledging Israel’s right to existence, but not its current borders? What if, in other words, a united Palestinian organization promising non-violent action to promote its cause called Israel’s bluff? Hamas, we know, was losing support in Gaza: it is now apparently willing to risk the lives of its own people in order to strengthen its position without any prospect that Palestinian suffering will end or be alleviated. In fact, the firing of rockets into Israel only increases Palestinian suffering. Those who sympathize with the Palestinians need to speak out forcefully against such leadership.
What Israel Must and Must Not Do
Would any country not respond militarily to rockets fired indiscriminately upon its civilian population? This is the rhetorical question, really a challenge, the Israeli government addresses to its critics. Yes, the government has to respond, but the response must be proportionate to the provocation. It must be particularly scrupulous about avoiding killing innocent civilians—even in situations in which weapons are embedded where civilians live. Which seems not to be the case, despite the Israeli government’s claim to the contrary. (Even swat teams take care when hostages are taken.) In the self-interest of Israeli society as well as the interests of justice to the Palestinian people, any action must also take into consideration and acknowledge the grievances that inspired the firing of rockets. There is blood on the hands of both Israelis and Palestinians—at this point in history quantitatively more blood on Israeli hands given its much greater military power. Neither the firing of rockets upon Israel nor the disproportionate response of the Israeli military will bring either peace or justice. Israel will not disappear as a state as a result of rockets, and neither will Hamas be liquidated or demilitarized by Israeli bombs. What then is to be done? Israel needs to acknowledge Hamas as an enemy, not as a terrorist organization. Which means that Hamas would qualify as a negotiating partner in a peace process? One negotiates with enemies, if not with terrorists. This can occur only if Hamas recognizes the legitimacy of Israel as a state, if not its current borders. The immediate issue in negotiation would be the ending of the blockade of Gaza, a goal that could be reached if Hamas promises that freedom of movement will not be freedom to attack Israel. Given the deep mutual mistrust that exists on both sides, the Israeli side would want assurances that such a promise would be kept. The Palestinian side would want a good faith effort from the Israeli government to lift the blockade. Settlements, the status of refugees, the location of a Palestinian capital of a new Palestinian state, all need to be negotiated without the threat of violence on either side. It is unrealistic to expect a quick resolution of any of these contentious issues, but both sides need to negotiate so that mutual trust can evolve. Israel would also have to agree, perhaps with American support, to launch a version of the Marshall Plan to help Palestinians both in Gaza and on the West Bank to build the economy and institutions that would sustain a Palestinian State. All this will not be achieved overnight, but it can begin with a clear declaration on the part of the Israeli government that it would be willing to deal with a Palestinian authority united with Hamas once a permanent ceasefire had been established. What Israel needs to do is abandon its desire and the rhetoric that accompanies it to destroy Hamas just as Hamas must openly renounce its desire to end the State of Israel. The current course of mutual desired destruction will succeed only in realizing destruction.
From August, 2014