Saturday, June 05, 2010
[Updated June 7]
Defenders of Israel say things would be different if people in Gaza didn't fire rockets into Israeli towns. I agree. Firing rockets into civilian areas is immoral. It is criminal. It is atrocious. It's also hopelessly impractical, in the sense that in no way will it get the Gazans the lives they want to live. The Palestinians would have been better off if long ago they adopted a policy of strict nonviolent noncooperation and resistance. Forswearing violence would have won the sympathies of many Americans and would have put Israel's heavy-handed anti-Palestinian conduct in the worst light.
But although Palestinians have often adopted violent tactics that tragically ceded the moral high ground, this does not the change the fact that Israel's political leaders from the beginning have been the main instigators of strife in Israel/Palestine. It was the founders of the future Jewish state who encroached on Arab farmers and other just occupants of Palestine. (I first learned this as a teenager from my orthodox grandfather, Sam Richman, who was foursquare in the tradition of Jewish anti-Zionism, a tradition alas forgotten.) The Palestinians, especially those in the territories seized in the 1967 war (Gaza and the West Bank), have always been regarded as, at best, a nuisance and usually something far worse. They were living on the land of the Jewish People, after all, land that had to be "redeemed." The number of Israeli children and innocent civilians killed by Palestinians over the years is minuscule compared to the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli government and armed forces. (Read about the 2008-09 22-day Operation Cast Lead in Gaza here.) Add the injuries and the misery from government control over economic life, and there just is no contest. I say this in no way to excuse Palestinian violence against innocents. But let's keep things in perspective, please.
If you want details, consult David Hirst's The Gun and the Olive Branch or the works of Rabbi Elmer Berger and Alfred Lilienthal.
Hamas now stands as the mortal enemy of Israel, but it was Israel's leaders who nurtured Hamas in the late 1970s. Arafat's PLO, which was supported by the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, was secular. Hamas is religious. The Israeli objective in aiding Hamas financially was to divide the Palestinians by promoting a religious rival to the secularists. Today Hamas strikes fear into Israelis. Such is how blowback works.
I don't think it's too late for Israel's leaders to change their policies -- beginning with an end to the devastating starvation embargo against Gaza -- and reach an accommodation with the the various factions of the Palestinians. This will require a willingness to really set the Palestinians free: no bogus arrangements in which Israel retains key powers and territory; no using settlement expansion (in areas other than Gaza) as a cover for aggression. Gaza was not set free when the Israeli military and settlements were removed. (See this.)
And of course, all transfers of money from the American taxpayers should cease at once. (The money to Egypt should also stop.) Which raises a rather urgent question: Considering that American taxpayers bankroll Israel, how many anti-American terrorists were recruited thanks to the events off the coast of Gaza last week, when Israeli forces stormed the aid flotilla? It was the U.S.-financed Israeli assault on Lebanon in 1996, Operation Grapes of Wrath, that prompted Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, to seek vengeance (according to author Lawrence Wright in The Looming Tower), and Osama bin Laden declared jihad against the United States during the onslaught.
The Palestinians could help things along by reading some Gandhi and taking up the tactics of strict nonviolence. I really believe they have nothing to lose by this and much to gain.
Background on the siege of Gaza is available here and here ("The siege on the Gaza Strip: 1.5 million people imprisoned") from B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization. For the record, B'Tselem has demanded the release of the Israeli soldier hostage, Gilad Shalit, who has been held in incommunicado by Hamas since June 2006. Hamas said it would free Shalit in exchange for Palestinians held by Israel.
B'Tselem has also condemned the rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilian areas as war crimes.