UPDATE: Haaretz is reporting the death through Grad missile fire of a second Israeli in Ashkelon.
In the midst of this madness called Operation Solid Lead, I see one of my roles as recording who got it right and who got it wrong. I am grateful for Sol Salbe informing me of Tom Segev’s strong denunciation of Israel’s Gaza onslaught published in Haaretz. Here is a long excerpt full of wisdom. For anyone who asks how to end this mess, read the last paragraph below:
…The assault on Gaza…demands a few historical reminders. Both the justification given for it and the chosen targets are a replay of the same basic assumptions that have proven wrong time after time. Yet Israel still pulls them out of its hat again and again, in one war after another.
Israel is striking at the Palestinians to “teach them a lesson.” That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom – via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey.
The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to “liquidate the Hamas regime,” in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a “moderate” leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations.
As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over.
All of Israel’s wars have been based on yet another assumption that has been with us from the start: that we are only defending ourselves. “Half a million Israelis are under fire,” screamed the banner headline of Sunday’s Yedioth Ahronoth – just as if the Gaza Strip had not been subjected to a lengthy siege that destroyed an entire generation’s chances of living lives worth living.
…Hamas is not a terrorist organization holding Gaza residents hostage: It is a religious nationalist movement, and a majority of Gaza residents believe in its path. One can certainly attack it, and with Knesset elections in the offing, this attack might even produce some kind of cease-fire. But there is another historical truth worth recalling in this context: Since the dawn of the Zionist presence in the Land of Israel, no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians.
Most dangerous of all is the cliche that there is no one to talk to. That has never been true. There are even ways to talk with Hamas, and Israel has something to offer the organization. Ending the siege of Gaza and allowing freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank could rehabilitate life in the Strip.
Gideon Levy writes his usual incisive critique of Israeli policy in today’s Haaretz as well. Here are a few high points:
Once again the commentators sat in television studios yesterday and hailed the combat jets that bombed police stations, where officers responsible for maintaining order on the streets work. Once again, they urged against letting up and in favor of continuing the assault…And once again we need to wait a few more days until an alternative voice finally rises from the darkness, the voice of wisdom and morality.
In another week or two, those same pundits who called for blows and more blows will compete among themselves in leveling criticism at this war. And once again this will be gravely late.
…For two and a half years, they [Gazans] have been caged and ostracized by the whole world. The line of thinking that states that through war we will gain new allies in the Strip; that abusing the population and killing its sons will sear this into their consciousness; and that a military operation would suffice in toppling an entrenched regime and thus replace it with another one friendlier to us is no more than lunacy.
And of course there is much blather. In my last post, I featured blather from Meretz, Israel’s ostensible left opposition. Today’s N.Y. Times features more puerility from Ethan Bronner: With Strikes, Israel Reminds Foes It Has Teeth. The very concept behind the headline is sickening. You go to war and kill 300 Palestinians in order to cow your adversary into submission and remind them that you’re a force with which to be reckoned?? Once again, I point out that any nation which uses such a rationale for a major military strike is one that has lost its way.
Here are some of the passages I found equally troubling:
Israel’s military operation in Gaza is aimed primarily at forcing Hamas to end its rocket barrages and military buildup. But it has another goal as well: to expunge the ghost of its flawed 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and re-establish Israeli deterrence.
…Israel has a larger concern — it worries that its enemies are less afraid of it than they once were, or should be. Israeli leaders are calculating that a display of power in Gaza could fix that.
“In the cabinet room today there was an energy, a feeling that after so long of showing restraint we had finally acted,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking of the weekly government meeting that he attended.
Energy?? What does this mean? It reminds me of what I’ve read of the young English and French boys who celebrated the outbreak of WWI. In their minds, they imagined that they were embarking on some great life adventure. This is the “energy” Regev speaks of. It is a word empty of any true meaning because the goal of the attack, decimating Hamas and ending rocket fire, is both unattainable and unrealistic through military might. This is energy that will accomplish nothing.
Tel Aviv University’s Mark Heller places this comment in a proper context:
“There has been a nagging sense of uncertainty in the last couple years of whether anyone is really afraid of Israel anymore,” he said. “The concern is that in the past — perhaps a mythical past — people didn’t mess with Israel because they were afraid of the consequences. Now the region is filled with provocative rhetoric about Israel the paper tiger.
Here, Bronner reveals more of the folly of Israeli thinking regarding the Gaza operation:
At Sunday’s government meeting, Mr. Olmert portrayed the Lebanon war…not as a failure but as something of a model for the current operation, since the northern border has been completely quiet ever since. But most Israelis disagree.
Israel began that war vowing to decimate Hezbollah without fully realizing the extent of its military infrastructure, underground bunkers and rocket arsenals. And while many in Lebanon and overseas considered Israel’s military activities to be excessive, in Israel the opposite conclusion was reached — that it had been too restrained, too careful about distinguishing between Hezbollah and the state of Lebanon.
“We were not decisive enough, and that will not happen again,” a senior military officer said in reference to that war, speaking on condition of anonymity, some weeks ago. He added, “I have flown over Gaza thousands of times and we know how to hit something within two meters.”
Barak and Olmert claim the lessons of Lebanon and Winograd were learned. Clearly they were not. To hear otherwise intelligent people spout nonsense like this which will only come back to bite them in the ass, is tragic both for Israel and for Gaza.
Bronner trumpets the pro-Barak line also parroted by Haaretz’s Barak Ravid that the defense minister is a wily fox who fooled Hamas into believing the Israeli operation against it would be a cosmetic one. Barak is no fool as Peretz was. Barak is a wunderkind. Barak fixed everything that was wrong with the IDF’s performance during the Lebanon war. Barak this, Barak that. It’s all narischkeit.
The only true passage in the entire report is this one, which I wish I would see more of from Bronner:
There is palpable satisfaction at the moment in the Israeli government and the military because the operation so far is seen as a success. Few have focused on the fact that at this stage in the 2006 Lebanon war, there was the same satisfaction — before things turned disastrous.
I give Bronner some credit to the degree that he’s willing to hedge his bets in case the Israeli case for war goes south. But good Israel reporting demands more than cagey hedging of one’s bets. It demands decisive judgments. It demands clear thinking and seeing through the smoke-screen of government happy talk. Bronner hasn’t achieved that type of clarity, which makes the quality of his reporting disappointing.