By Rabbi Josh Weinberg, ARZA President
If you ever feel like following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sad rerun, where you might find yourself saying “no, don’t go in there!” or humming a refrain of “Mah Nishtanah HaLailah HaZeh…?” then you wouldn’t be far from reality.
Israel has once again come under fire. Hamas has unleashed a barrage of hundreds of rockets from the Gaza strip towards major population centers in Israel. Israel, in its response, has launched operation “Protective Edge,” with the purpose to fulfill its obligation to defend its citizens from external threats and to cripple Hamas’ rocket-shooting ability. For the third time in 5 years, we are witnessing another war-like escalation between Israel and the small strip to the South-West. I would like to take a step back and offer the following brief analysis of the current situation:
Who are we Dealing With?
Less than a week after the nation buried Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, who were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists, Israel finds itself engaged in another bout of warfare with Hamas from Gaza. In similar fashion to January 2009 and November 2012, Hamas has no defined objective for their actions. Hamas knows that the more rockets they fire, the further they reach and the more citizens are endangered the more Israel will have to respond plundering Gazans into further destitute. It knows that Israel will attack from the air and will eventually have to launch a ground incursion into Gaza ensuing massive loss of life and accruing lasting damage to its infrastructure. So why does it do that?
In 1987, at the early stages of the [first] Intifada, Palestinian Islamists created the –Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah or the Islamic Resistance Movement. The acronym itself means “strength and bravery” according to the group’s covenant. In its early years, Israel saw It as a potential ally in the struggle against the PLO (the enemy of my enemy…) only to confirm that Hamas is dedicated with all its might to the destruction of Israel (see article 35).
Hamas was bent on torpedoing the Oslo peace process throughout the 1990s and carried out several terrorist attacks.
After Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Hamas had a carte blanche to build Palestinian society and to show the world that Palestine, sans occupation, could be a vibrant thriving productive society. However, Hamas funneled any and all resources into the destruction of the existing infrastructure and the smuggling of weapons and materials for rocket production.
In 2006 Hamas won a landslide victory in the Palestinian national elections after which, in 2007, they violently took over and expelled PLO reps from Gaza creating Hamas-Stan.
Rather than flourishing, Hamas – to its constituency’s detriment – continued to prioritize fighting Israel over all and continues to produce, smuggle and stockpile large caches of rockets, missiles, mortars and anything they can get their hands on.
The rockets continued to fly in their thousands and Israel subsequently launched Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, and then Pillar of Defense in 2012. Much historical discussion can be had as to whether or not those two operations achieved their goals. What we learned is that it is much easier to start the operation than to end it. Now, Operation Protective Edge – or “solid cliff – צוק איתן” in Hebrew – is off and running. It is yet unclear whether or not we will see a massive ground operation or whether or not Hamas will be able to inflict serious damage to Israel.
Why are they doing this?
The recent operations in the West Bank took a toll on Hamas. The leadership of Hamas saw the arrest of some of its top West Bank leadership as a call to act. In desperate need of a popularity boost, they needed to something to be perceived as powerful and in control. Action means lashing out at Israel and unleashing their stockpiles of rockets, shocking us at the previously unseen long ranges reaching as far as Haifa. While doing this, it is clear that Hamas does not want to be dragged into a war, and is seen as ‘poking the bear’ with a stick with the not-so-subtle hopes that Gazans – as a result of Israel’s response – will suffer humanitarian losses which will result in the international demonization of Israel. It is clear that no one wants a full scale ground invasion into Gaza, and it is likely that Hamas is looking to create a short-lived escalation to be followed by an Egyptian brokered cease-fire to which they could claim victory.
Fatah (the PA government under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas), is in a precarious situation having recently joined Hamas in a Palestinian unity government. Hamas would love nothing more than Fatah joining in with them in the battle against Israel, and Fatah knows that doing so is really not a considerable option. By joining the unity government Abbas already made a strategic statement and decision and now he has to decide as to which path he chooses. At the recent Haaretz peace conference, Abbas said all of the same things, and end with a warm wish to make peace asking Israel to take advantage of this opportunity. He is painfully aware of the opposition that exists from within the Palestinian community, and no better picture captured the moment then the empty all at the end of the peace conference as all but one of the participants fled to the nearest bomb shelter as the sirens rang through.
As David Horovitz posted in the Times of Israel: “Hamas is firing some of its vast rocket arsenal because it has nothing much to lose anymore — that it has lost the support of Egypt; that it can’t get the money to pay salaries; that it is retaliating for the deaths of several of its terror operatives in a tunnel that collapsed upon them after Israel had the temerity to attack it; that it is seeking to reassert itself as the only credible “resistance” to Israel…”
What it is resisting, is not entirely clear. If I had to guess, it is resisting the hard work of taking responsibility for self-determination and its fate and the fate of its constituency. As al-Qaeda reminded us on Sept. 11, 2001, it is far easier to destroy than it is to create. Firing rockets and espousing violence is actually the easy way out. It’s the cheap trick that the self-conscious bully uses in school to attract attention.
What do we think?
I am generally wary of anyone who claims to know exactly what must be done, and I am never envious of those in power who are responsible for fateful decision making. Sometimes it is also ok to identify with multiple views. On the one hand we want strength and harsh responses to violence, and on the other we want to minimize the loss of life at all costs and to return tranquility and peace for both sides.
There are those on the left, such as Haaretz correspondent Gideon Levy, who bluntly ask “what did you expect?” We keep 1.5 million people locked up in the largest open air prison, while blockading it and expect then to be complacent about it. Did Netanyahu expect Hamas to sit idly by while he piggy-backed on the kidnappings to arrest and re-arrest the top echelons of Hamas in the West Bank. There is NO military solution to this problem and every opportunity to explore diplomacy has been missed.
Furthermore, many in the international community will point the finger and accuse Israel of disproportionality and of using excessive force. That since Israel shares a far lower death toll, it cannot be “fair”. Israel should only respond once many more are killed and that until the Israeli death toll is higher, it cannot respond as it has been. Hamas’ own claim that Israel should NOT be allowed to respond to rocket fire from Gaza into Israel by firing from Israel into Gaza often picks up traction and will undoubtedly be repeated and spouted on college campuses and social media despite its ridiculousness.
On the right, there will inevitably be those who chastise the government for not doing enough. What would America do if a quarter of its population was sent running to bomb shelters at all hours and faced a gross economic downturn as a result of a loss in tourism and investment?
The right will point out that any attempt at negotiation has always been met with unrealistic expectations and the Palestinians will not even recognize Israel as the Jewish State. Moral equivalencies will fly off the cuff, explaining that they celebrate murdered teenagers while we are ashamed by it. There are those that will recommend extreme draconian measures of collective punishment such as cutting off of electricity, water or other basic utilities until the rockets stop as those are the only ways in which they will surrender. There simply is NO diplomatic solution, and they only understand violence and strength. The right will remind us that in every generation there rises up an enemy to destroy our people, and Hamas is today’s Haman whose very name we must obliterate.
Get us out of here.
Israel painfully extracted itself from Gaza 9 years this summer, with the knowledge that they might have to return. No one wants to be in Gaza any more than we want to be in Lebanon. The government and the generals must formulate a clear and multi-faceted exit strategy for a wide range of scenarios that will make exit as painless as possible. Gaza has the potential to be a lose-lose quagmire in which we do not want to sink. As soon as the objectives are achieved, leave.
For those of us watching and following closely from abroad it is difficult to identify and as much as our hearts and minds are with our Israeli brethren, we do not have to get up from our computers every time there is a siren. That is not to say that we don’t have an opinion and should not voice it loudly – we do and we should. We should also write, talk, tweet, comment and blog about everything we read feel and think.
We must support Israel, and must continue to be thoughtful Zionists who pay very close attention to what happens, to who says what, and how words can spiral out of control. While we all desperately yearn for peace, we must also help and react during war.
May we see peace in our days and quiet in our streets.