Following the campaign in Gaza StripNew Year’s Eve, 2009
A good friend sent me one of those computer videos, accompanied by “A must see! Please watch and forward!” In the video, a little Israeli girl is counting from 1 to 15 before she uncovers her eyes in a hide-and-seek game. 15 seconds is the time that residents of Sederot and other towns in southern Israel have, in order to find shelter, before a Kassam rocket hits (hopefully) the ground.
A request followed that said “please sign the petition attached, so that people around the world would know how it feels to be a child in a town in Israel, well within the borderline of Israel proper”.
My reply was “sorry, but I can’t sign this, because children and other civilians in the Gaza strip don’t even have 1 second to hide”.
I am not saying this because I don’t feel compassion for the residents of the Negev (southern Israel). I am an Israeli, living in the Bay Area with my wife. My two sons are now in active duty in the Israeli military. On top of all, I grew up in Kiryat Sh’monah, a town on the northern tip of Israel, two miles from the Lebanese border. As a 7-year old, I still remember the first Katyusha rocket that hit my town, in 1968. Hundreds of similar rockets followed during my childhood and later on, when I was a soldier in the first Lebanon war.
The reason that I couldn’t sign this petition, was that it concentrated solely on the sorry fate of civilians in Israel, completely disregarding the full context of this conflict. By full context I mean – the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In particular, it disregarded the Palestinian side of the tragedy.
More than 300 people were killed in the first day of the Israeli campaign on Gaza. Many of them were police personnel, but many others were innocent civilians. “Who cares for those civilians, as long as people in Sederot and elsewhere can’t live in peace?” is a typical reaction among Israelis. Now, what kind of a society have we become, that we don’t care anymore for lives being lost? What kind of a country has to permanently be killing civilians to survive? Is this the country that the founders envisioned, when they strove to establish a normal country, where Jews would live in peace among their neighbors, like most other countries? Do we have to kill women and children to survive?
Some people would reply, “Well, you know, this is the Middle East. It’s a jungle out there. Those enemies of ours don’t understand talking. Violence is all they know.”
Those are tough arguments. But I think that there are good arguments to counter them.
The notion that all, or most, Arabs or Palestinians or Muslims, for that matter, are violent and cruel by nature, has a general term to classify it, and that is “Racism”. From all my experience in life, living in Israel and in the Bay Area, I developed a strong belief that we are all human beings. On average, under similar conditions, people from one ethnic group are not better nor worse than any others. It’s the particular situation that cause some people to behave differently.
The religion which used to be associated with so highly sophisticated and delicate culture, in the 350 years between the 10th and 14th century, namely the Islam, is now regarded as the most deadly and violent. It’s true, that many people living in Muslim countries today are living in poor, intolerant and violent conditions. But that has nothing to do with their religion – only with their political situation.
Check out the research of Dr. Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University and you will learn, that any group of people can be driven, under certain circumstances, to be cruel and evil.
And just as a side note, even if that was true, then what chance do we have, amongst hundreds of millions of “beasts”, to survive in the long run? The advantage of Israel over its neighbors has always been technological, and in my view, moral. But with moral values that are deteriorating, higher crime rates, and with an education system that is constantly going downhill, judging by its marks in international tests (I think that this is also related to the priorities set by the Israeli government) – do you really believe that we can maintain our edge forever?
Another common claim is this: we have pulled out of the Gaza Strip, haven’t we? What do they want now?
Well, I think they want what every normal nation wants – to manage their own lives. And we don’t let them, as long as the entire Gaza area is under siege. You can’t claim “the end of the occupation” when the people inside are not free.
But he Hamas is not willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state! – one might say.
Yes, so? Did Israel ever recognize the right of a Palestinian state to exist? I mean with real actions, not just declarations. The fact is, that 250,000 Jewish settlers still live, in what all International bodies see as illegal settlements – in fact, the Israeli government itself declared a few dozens of them as illegal – but so far did practically nothing to evacuate them.
Now let’s leave the moral considerations aside for a moment, and just ask ourselves, on a practical level: what does Israel hope to achieve in this campaign?
The release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas for more than two years – was not even declared as a goal. At least that we have learnt from the previous, “Second Lebanon War”. That war started after three soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbolla, and the campaign failed in bringing them back alive.
The official goal is, obviously, to stop the shooting of Kassam, Grad, and other, longer range rockets. This will not happen, everybody knows that. Ehud Barak, the Secretary of Defense, knows that. He has already been the military Commander in Chief and Prime Minister. He tried to calm down all those who demanded “an iron fist”, saying that most of them never saw how real war looked like. This week, he was forced to start the air strikes, after the number of rocket attacks has reached a breaking point (and eventually, a man was killed in Netivot). If Barak believes that there is a way to stop the shooting, even temporarily, then why did he wait so long? I am afraid that it was because at some point, the pressure on Barak caused him more political damage than the result of a military operation would do. Election day is coming up in February, and Mr. Barak, the head of the Labor party, is a candidate for Prime Minister.
How is the operation doing, you ask? Well, so far so good. Approval rate for Barak has risen 50%.
The sad reality, for both Palestinians and Israelis, is that none of them has any option to inflict violence on the other, without hurting their own cause. The Israeli military can kill many more people, but this would only cause more anguish, more hatred, and there will always be enough material and means for the rest of the population, to make more Kassam rockets. An oppressed population is like a dragon with multiple heads: unless you kill it in its entirety, it will have enough power and motivation to fight back, especially when they have nothing to lose but their misery.
The Palestinians, too, are hurting their own cause when they support the Hamas, which declares the annihilation of Israel as its goal. But this is where the symmetry breaks down: how can we judge somebody, who is so desperate as to support the only organization which puts some food on their table? Every side feels its own suffering, but fails to recognize that the other side suffers too. But in the case of Israel, being the more powerful side by far, the notion of being the victim is quite ridiculous, even considering the pain and fear that Israelis feel.
The Hamas has never been so popular before the Palestinian Authority was crashed by Israel. In many polls and programs, such as the Geneva Initiative (http://www.geneva-accord.org/) or the National Census (http://www.mifkad.org.il/), hundreds of thousands of people from both sides expressed their willingness to accept each other’s right for independence. This means that essentially, most Palestinians (who are not zealously religious), would not vote for Hamas if they had a decent alternative.
Unfortunately, they don’t. And Israelis don’t either. These two peoples, which possess so much talent in all areas of life, lack the one thing which could bring them hope for peaceful co-existence: brave and smart leadership. We need our own De-Gaulle, or our own Churchill, or our own Obama, for that matter. So that Jewish and Arab kids could play hide-and-seek, and won't have to worry about finding shelter in 15 seconds. Our own Obama is hiding somewhere in the academy, or in the high-tech industry, but he (or she) is definitely not in today’s political system.