The beginning of 2009 saw us engaged in an all out attack on Gaza as a response to years of continued shelling of Israeli towns, and a continuation of those same rockets after clearing Gaza of both Jewish settlements and army occupation.
An activist involved with the Palestinian plight wrote to me the following words:
"I think that Israel pushed Hamas into pushing Israel into attacking Gaza (siege,targeted assassinations of political as well as military leaders, firing on civilians....)...I agree it is very sad. "
THIS WAS MY RESPONSE:
I need to question your seemingly one-sided support of the Hamas predicament in the unfortunate fighting that is taking too many lives this month. I assume that all of what I write here is known to you, yet perhaps our interpretations are somewhat different. Then again, my comments may be too lengthy, repetitive and boring. I send them anyways, out of a truly great respect for your opinion and for what I know about your past involvement.
First let me qualify my own credentials. In the local parlance of political directions I am neither a rightist nor a centrist in the Israeli scene. I am probably considered by my Israeli friends as somewhat left of the leftists. This is (among other things which I will not itemize) because I have also spent many days during each of the last few years going into the West-Bank in order to help protect local farmers near Shchem from the criminal harassment of Jewish settlers. Unfortunately, very few Israeli “leftists” are there to join me (as you probably also well know from your own past experiences).
I must also qualify my starting point in any evaluation today of our Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have always contended that our original sin as a nation has been to allow Jewish settlers the “invasion” of occupied territories after our defense in the War of ‘67. This is an important qualification being that others around the world consider our original sin to be the creation of the State of Israel. There is much to be said about this anti-Zionist contention, and it has a great relevance in any discussion of our legitimate or illegitimate right to defend our safety in Israel. But I leave that discussion aside, and will for now comment on the present situation via my left of leftist Zionist viewpoint – one that rejoices in our ability to recreate our Statehood, while bemoaning our mistakes and crying at our behavior towards “others”.
It may well be (as I so think) that we share a good amount of responsibility for the rise of militant Moslem fundamentalism (e.g. Hamas) in the occupied territories. I write only “share” because the tsunami of militant Moslem fundamentalism is rooted and spread by much wider causes than us. I also have little doubt that the local situation would be vastly different had we not allowed the Jewish settlement of the West-Bank and Gaza (and eastern Jerusalem as well); or had we long ago pulled our settlers out, as we did much too late in Gaza; or had we not purposely worked to destroy the PLO government under Arafat; or a whole lot of other “or”s that we could have done or not done but did or didn’t. But my inclination is to support what I think we can and should do (or not do) today – at this juncture of history, which already incorporates all that happened till now and poses the present situation. Unfortunately, what could or should have been done yesterday is not always viable today.
This brings us to the year 2005, to the point at which even a goodly part of a right-wing government arrived at a (sadly temporary) conclusion that a two-state solution is the only viable solution, and that we will need to leave Gaza and slowly leave almost all of the West-bank along with a goodly amount of our Jewish settlers. The political right-wing split. A generally right-wing government took us out of Gaza and stated openly to our Israeli public that the next steps will be in the West-Bank. The Israeli public (mostly moderate right wing), tired of terrorist attacks and internal arguments, was “sort of” willing to try out this leftist approach to the Palestinians. This did not happen easily. But the process actually began (to my infinite dismay).
Unfortunately (for both us and the Palestinians) the Hamas kept us from reaching the point of no return. Seemingly, this was done deliberately, as the Hamas has been consistent in its militant opposition to a two-state solution. The Hamas is entirely honest publicly, perhaps to their credit, in still insisting on driving me and my family into the sea, and that the way to do it is by discouraging any progress towards a two-state solution.
As we left Gaza, there was no Israeli siege of the area. As soon as the Hamas gained full control of Gaza our towns began to feel a greater brunt of rockets than had been prior to our departure, with the open support and direction of the local government – Hamas.
(We live close to the Lebanese border and know full well the meaning of living for long periods (starting from 1969 and meanwhile still in 2006) under the threat of rockets. Shrapnel flew inches above our children’s heads as they slept in their bedroom. That was long ago. In 2006 my grandchildren learned the same threats. Friends of ours in the south have been learning about it for a number of years now.)
Since 2005, having torn settlers out of Gaza, having pulled out all army out of Gaza, having opened mediocre but regular passageways between Gaza and the West-Bank…..rockets have continued to land on Israeli towns and yishuvim. This had two major results:
1. The Israeli public decided that leaving any of the occupied territories bodes more harm than expected. It was no doubt the major cause for putting the process towards a two-state solution on a definite hold. On that issue the Hamas won hands down. We shall need another significant breakthrough from within (doubtful) or from without in order to once again prod our Israeli public to wean itself of the West-Bank and begin a process for a two-state solution.
2. Israel tried to convince the Hamas government to cease and desist by a variety of attempts: a siege by closing the passageways out of Gaza to Israel and the West-bank; pinpoint assassinations of militant leaders; sporadic short-term stoppage of basic needs via the passageways (such as fuel). Perhaps these are the attempts which led to the Hamas agreeing to halt rockets for a half year period, during which time sporadic rockets continued to be launched (while weapons continued to be stockpiled). The half year ended with a mighty daily barrage of rockets along with Hamas declarations that such days will continue.
True, some of us (including myself ) thought it would be good to parlay directly with the leadership of the Hamas in an attempt to reach a mutual modus vivendi eliminating the threat of rockets and Israeli retaliation. But even many local lefties (like me) knew that this was a very dangerous gamble. It had the great likelihood of undermining the much more moderate West-Bank Palestinian leadership who were willing to negotiate for a two-state solution, an anathema to the Gaza Hamas.
In 2008 it became evident to all that (other than parlaying with Hamas, a gamble that may bring the Hamas to power in the West-Bank) the only options were to continue living under constant Hamas rockets or some more drastic solution that would stop the rockets.
The international community could have aided us with a number of possible options. It did not. (example: the international regulators at the Rafiach passagepoint left as soon as they were told to by the Hamas.) Nor did the international community and the international aid movements see anything weird with demanding that we continue supplying needed electricity and fuel and banking services and such to the same governing body that inflicts the threat of rockets on our communities and openly declares its plans for our demise.
It has also been disappointing to hear many in the international aid associations tell us to respect the Hamas as the legitimately elected leaders of the Palestinians, while also telling us that the people of Gaza should not suffer for our conflict with Hamas. Unfortunately, We all suffer the mistakes of our leadership. If we recognize their mistakes, and if the leadership is really a legitimately elected one, than we are also able to change it. Otherwise, the leadership is either illegitimate or its actions are fully supported by the people.
Our own leadership decided that enough is enough and decided to tell the Hamas that we will no longer endure their militant provocations. We gave a full blown military response as a result of smaller military responses not bearing any results, knowing full well that this military response is a last resort within such a dense population wherein the Hamas stores its prowess. And war is war is war.
Here is where my doubts begin and where I begin feeling unsure of myself and insecure about our future.
Every new war of ours has resulted in fewer and fewer positive results as far as obtaining political objectives and safeguarding our future. This is not because of weakening military might. It seems to be because the nature of war has changed and the complexities of our situation are such that military might can also aggravate affairs more than before. If so, there would be no sense in lives lost in order to end up as before or possibly worse. In this case, Gaza, lives lost means also the hundreds of civilians who may or may not be active supporters of Hamas, but are certainly not at all involved in militant acts towards us.
In December of 2008 I asked myself what type of action I would support to counter the daily rockets. Small military actions have been useless. Closing passages has not stopped the rockets. Peace talks?? With whom?? Directives are coming from Syria, munitions from Iran. Trying to talk with Hamas in Gaza, while they still insist on our demise would only greatly weaken those Palestinians in the West-Bank who are still willing to talk with us. But full scale WAR??!! I could think of no recipe as an alternative to this right of self-defense.
I am greatly disturbed by some of our Israeli reactions during this military action, already applauding our “victory” with a great smile and happiness: “we really showed them, didn’t we?”. Our Talmud relates that while we Israelites rejoiced at seeing Pharaoh’s charioteers drown between two walls of sea, God moaned and rebuked “my creations are drowning at sea and you choose to rejoice?!” It is difficult to rejoice over a “win” that kills so many civilian men, women, and children in Gaza. Hopefully the price paid in lives will bring us closer to quieter times. This, though, is far from certain. Evidently some things need to be done simply for lack of more viable alternatives. (I don’t think I would have written that last sentence a few years ago.)
I fully understand Louie’s dilemma. Reality is seldom lacking in grey areas of uncertainty. But reality also demands answers to situations, and so many answers in our present world are not foolproof and perfect. But they are our starting point for getting from today to tomorrow.
My best to you. I still think we will find ourselves on the same side of many, many lines.