Published by Ben Cohen
on February 27, 2009
in Gaza Crisis, Hamas and Israel
This article by AJC’s Doug Lieb appears in the latest issue of Tikkun, as does the article by Jerome Slater which he refers to.
The title of Jerome Slater’s “A Perfect Moral Catastrophe” pretty well sums up this comprehensive brief against Israel.
For Slater, Israel doesn’t just suffer from bad policymaking. It is rotten to its core. Slater’s Israel deliberately blows up hospitals, violates every principle of just war theory, and endangers “the entire world.” Its leaders are not to be believed when they say they want peace, nor are its adversaries when they say they want to destroy it. Those looking for the shades of gray of a complex reality should look elsewhere.
To be fair, however, Slater’s essay is original and illuminating in its own way. For he has the courage to argue explicitly what most of Israel’s critics would rather let linger under the surface: that unless Israel withdraws completely to its pre-1967 borders, Israeli civilians should be allowed to die.
This erroneous, counterproductive, and unethical view has little to do with just war theory, and much in common with those who just want to wage war on Israel.
Slater begins with the question, “Did Israel have a moral right to go to war against Hamas in order to end its rocket attacks aimed at the Israeli population?” He says no, as “it is widely argued” that Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza was just a ruse to consolidate its control over the West Bank.
Many things are widely argued, of course, but that does not make them true. In reality, Israel left Gaza because it was not in Israel’s interest to continue ruling 1.5 million Palestinians there. The scrupulously balanced European Union welcomed “the historic progress made on Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza,” believing that “disengagement should be a significant step towards implementing the Quartet Roadmap.”
After Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian elections, the United States and European Union refused to directly fund a government run by a terrorist organization, but funds were transferred to humanitarian groups instead. The Rafah crossing to Egypt was open. Goods moved back and forth to and from Israel-except when Hamas tried to launch a massive attack on the Karni border crossing in April 2006. Gaza hardly enjoyed the economic openness of Singapore, but there was no blockade.
So why were there 946 rocket and mortar strikes on Israel from Gaza in 2006? Why was an imported Katyusha rocket fired deep into
Israel in March 2006? Why, indeed, has southern Israel been indiscriminately fired upon for the last eight years?
Slater would answer that, blockade or not, Hamas was responding to constant Israeli “repression,” including the destruction of Gazan institutions during the 2002 confrontation with Yasser Arafat. Of course, if Hamas were really concerned about the shortage of schools, hospitals, and administrative offices in Gaza, one might wonder why it did not just renounce violence, acquire international assistance, and build some. In reality, Hamas prefers to exploit rather than fix Gaza’s deprivation, as evidenced by its theft of blankets and food parcels from a UN warehouse on February 3.
Israel is so committed to repressing Palestinians, Slater argues, because it wants to crush “all forms of resistance to Israeli control, including nonviolence.” This argument is absurd in light of Israel’s full-throated embrace of today’s Palestinian Authority, which nonviolently resists Israeli control of the West Bank by seeking to negotiate its end as quickly as possible. In fact, the premise of Israel’s strategy toward the Palestinians is to strengthen the PA leadership and to demonstrate the practical rewards of moderation.
President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad work cooperatively with Israel, but they also do not hesitate to criticize its occupation and advance hostile initiatives at the UN and in foreign capitals. They are precisely the nonviolent adversaries that Slater claims Israel cannot abide. Yet if Hamas relinquished one of its thousands of rockets every time a senior Israeli bolstered Fayyad’s excellent credentials, Gaza would be quiet within a week. (And if Fatah’s armed wing foreswore martyrdom and became the Al-Aqsa Sit-In Brigade, Israelis would be nothing short of ecstatic.)
Clearly, then, Hamas violence cannot be explained by “repression” that forecloses any alternative. In fact, judging by its pervasive (and underreported) torture and execution of Fatah members in Gaza during the recent conflict, Hamas is not only well aware of the nonviolent Palestinian alternative, but also finds it threatening.
The better explanation for Hamas terrorism is its ideology. Slater attempts to explain why we should not believe Hamas when its charter defines all of Palestine as an Islamic waqf that cannot be relinquished. Or when it welcomes the sixtieth anniversary of the UN Partition Plan by declaring: “Palestine is Arab Islamic land, from the river to the sea, including Jerusalem. There is no room in it for the Jews.” Or when Khaled Meshal travels to Tehran after the Gaza conflict and, according to NPR, tells Iranian leaders that Hamas “is preparing to liberate all of Palestine, retake Jersualem, and ensure the return of all Palestinian refugees.”
Slater contends that Hamas will cater to the 73 percent of Gazans who support a two-state solution, not the 1 percent who want it to implement Islamic law. Even assuming that the percentages are accurate, this logic is belied by Hamas’ effort to implement a sharia penal code, as reported in December 2008 by the London-based Al Hayat. More important, if so many Gazans support a two-state solution, and if Hamas listens to them, why wouldn’t it have proudly announced its own support a long time ago?
Unless Hamas is just historically inept at responding to obvious political incentives, this facile picture of democratic Hamas catering to peace-loving Gazans must be false. Lest anyone be misled, Musa Abu Marzouk, the “deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau,” wrapped up the Gaza conflict by inveighing against the “settlers of Sderot” in a blog for The Guardian. For Hamas, all of Israel is a colony to be liquidated.
Thus, negotiations cannot be reasonably expected to yield a deal, unless Israel is expected to negotiate the terms of its own disappearance. And even if an agreement could be reached, it would not be implemented-as Slater acknowledges, to his credit-unless Israel is assured that it is “enforceable.” How could Israel trust a ten-year truce with a group that resolves to destroy it once the ten years are up? This is why the Quartet insists that Hamas recognize Israel before negotiations commence. Otherwise, they have no purpose except to reward Hamas’ intransigence.
Of course, the fruitlessness of seeking a comprehensive agreement did not prevent Israel from agreeing to a tahdiya, or calm, with Hamas in the months before the Gaza operation. This did not halt the rocket fire. Excusing these attacks as Islamic Jihad retaliation against Israeli actions in the West Bank, as Slater does, is insufficient. Hamas is responsible for what happens in Gaza, and the Palestinian government of the West Bank did not resist the Israeli actions in question.
Israel’s operation was, therefore, a legitimate response to attacks by a hostile government. It might have even been the only viable option.
Nor should Israel have been dissuaded by a “predictable” lack of success. While Slater may think that Israel should have foreseen its own failure, his opinion is rendered irrelevant by the fact that Israel sees its operation as successful. The senior military and political officials to whom I spoke when I visited the country in January were uniformly convinced that they had achieved key objectives. They believe that Israel has significantly reduced the attacks; diminished Hamas tactical capabilities; introduced new fissures within the Hamas leadership; strengthened international resolve to address weapons smuggling; and sent a clear signal to Iran that Israel’s military capacity remains strong.