Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wartime in Gaza

Here we go again? As everyone knows, large-scale violence has returned to Gaza with an Israeli air campaign the began on Saturday and is now entering its fourth day.

Many years of errors, miscalculations, idiocies, and crimes on all sides have led up to this moment, but the immediate background to Israel's attack was the breakdown of a shaky 5-month cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which has exercised full control over Gaza since it expelled Fatah in an armed take-over in June 2007. Over the past several years, going back well before that showdown with Fatah, thousands of rockets and mortar attacks have been launched from Gaza at Israeli civilian communities in southern Israel. The stream of rockets dried up during the recent cease-fire, but recently that arrangement had started to unravel, and starting in November Hamas resumed the steady bombardment of towns and cities in southern Israel.

Israel has made it clear for a while that this open-ended strategy of indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians (which happen to be unambiguous war crimes) was intolerable, so Hamas's resumption of these attacks looks like a deliberate attempt to provoke a confrontation--though the scale and timing of Israel's response may well have surprised them.

An Israeli military response was certainly justified, but whether it will turn out to be wise, disastrous, or something in between is another question. I don't pretend to know the answer to that right now--though it is hard to feel optimistic--so I won't speculate.

War is a terrible thing. All available information (even from the most anti-Israeli accounts, if one reads them with a careful eye) indicates that the Israeli assault is focused on Hamas's armed forces and organizational apparatus, who seem to account for the great bulk of Palestinian casualties. But there have also been significant numbers of civilian casualties, and the suffering and terror of Gaza's civilian population caught in the crossfire is bound to increase the longer this battle goes on.

Meanwhile, let me pass along two useful commentaries.

=> Judging from historical experience, most international news coverage and discussion of this conflict is bound to be one-sided (overwhelmingly, though not exclusively, in an anti-Israel direction), and it is also likely to get increasingly hysterical if it goes on much longer.

On the first day of the conflict, Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston pre-emptively offered
the first in a two-part guide to the 10 most gratuitous, least productive, most resolutely [dis]ingenuous claims likely to be hurled in an effort to attack Israel. The first five are arguments of the anti-Israel left, claims which are, curiously, as tired as they are unflagging.
You can find Burston's catalogue of these standard propaganda lines, and his responses to them, below.

As far as Burston is concerned, "the Alpha-male displays" of many on the on the allegedly pro-Israel right ...
the group which constantly berates the government and the IDF for not bombing Gaza into a parking lot, for not shooting and starving and freezing innocent civilians to death
... are also, in reality, anti-Israel. His response to them is promised for next week.

=> What should happen next? It's hard to even think about that question without getting depressed, since all the available alternatives at this point are so unpromising. But some of the responses I have read so far make more sense than others, and among these I refer you to a characteristically thoughtful, intelligent, and cogent contribution to the discussion offered by my friend Gershon Shafir, which you can find HERE.

--Jeff Weintraub
=============================
Haaretz
Saturday, December 27, 2008
The worst anti-Israel charges you'll hear in wartime
By Bradley Burston

It is, abruptly and again, wartime. Across the globe, the selective pacifists of the left and the recliner Rambos of the right are spoiling for their next battle, the war in Gaza.

They will fight one another in letters to Congress, in cable news sound bites, in raucous talk-radio phone-ins, in the virtual mega-heroics of the online battlefield of the talkback.

They will fight one another in the United Nations as well, unashamedly one-sided in their concern for human life.

Herewith the first in a two-part guide to the 10 most gratuitous, least productive, most resolutely [dis]ingenuous claims likely to be hurled in an effort to attack Israel. The first five are arguments of the anti-Israel left, claims which are, curiously, as tired as they are unflagging.
____________________

Leftist 1: Israel's true motive in bombing Gaza, is genocide against the Palestinian people and extermination of their right to statehood.

Israel's genuine interest in this campaign is strikingly similar to Hamas' interest in firing scores of rockets into Israeli population centers: Forcing a cease-fire on better terms than the one just ended.

For Hamas, this largely means easing Israeli economic sanctions against Gazans. For Israel, this centers on ending shelling by Qassam and Grad missiles and mortar shells. For both sides, this means a prisoner exchange, centering on Gilad Shalit and hundreds of jailed Hamas members.

Leftist 2: The Palestinians have no recourse but to defend themselves, and the makeshift rockets they fire are nothing compared to the world's most advanced warplanes and munitions, which the IDF is using against them.

The Human Rights Watch organization has been unequivocal in condemning the use of Qassam rockets as a direct violation of international humanitarian law and the laws of war. The firing of Qassams and mortars against civilian populations also constitutes collective punishment against hundreds of thousands of innocent Israeli men, women and children.

Moreover, the firing of Qassams began not as a response to the siege against Gaza, but as a marathon celebration by armed Islamic fundamentalist groups following Israel's withdrawal of its troops and settlers from the Strip. To purposely add insult to injury, Islamic Jihad and other organizations used the ruins of settlements as launch platforms.

Leftist 3: All that Hamas is asking, is recognition as the democratically elected government of Gaza, and an end to the Israeli economic embargo. Were they to attain these goals, there would be calm on both sides of the border.

It is both unrealistic and dangerous to believe that Hamas has abandoned its clearly stated and often reiterated goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in all of the Holy Land, including all land claimed, annexed by, or in any way occupied by Israel.

Beyond that, Hamas has strong alliances with the Egyptian opposition Muslim brotherhood, as well as working partnerships with the Iran-dominated Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.

Israeli restraint, when practiced, has been met with contempt and additional Hamas and Hamas-tolerated strikes against civilian populations.

Leftist 4: The Israeli blockade against Hamas is state terrorism and any means to fight it are legitimate.

There is every reason to believe that Israel's economic siege against Gaza is misguided, but not for an essential cruelty, rather because Hamas taxes collected on the influx of goods imported through tunnels from Egyptian territory have subsidized and cemented Hamas rule.

Leftist 5: The world overwhelmingly sympathizes with the Palestinians against Israel, and unreservedly backs their struggle for independence.

In an era of global revulsion against radical Islamic terror, Hamas' protracted program of suicide bombings, drive-by murders and shelling of civilian populations, coupled with its refusal to renounce violence, recognize Israel, or accept past peace agreements, coupled with its ideology of militant jihad, have drained the Palestinians of international sympathy and have, in fact, legitimized Israeli arguments of military self-defense.

Nothing has been more instrumental in harming the cause of Palestinian independence than Hamas, with its brutal take-over of Gaza in a war with brother Palestinians, and its frank efforts to build a large-scale regular army force in the Strip.

In Part Two, in the coming week: The second five will be newer claims, the Alpha-male displays of the Israel-bashing right, the group which constantly berates the government and the IDF for not bombing Gaza into a parking lot, for not shooting and starving and freezing innocent civilians to death.

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