Was Israel Punked by Hamas? Are Progressives Attacking Israel Being Punked too?

The blame game has started again. But this is no black and white picture.

Hamas fires, in one day, 80 Ketyusha rockets into Israel.

Israel responds with massive attacks.

This revenge and retribution has been going on for a very long time, but it is, sadly, not so simple.

Bad leaders on both sides keep it going. The Israeli leadership, in the middle of an election and power struggle, faced two choices, though, in a recent Israeli press conference, an Israeli spokesman denied that political considerations were involved. Livni's more moderate party could support the violent response, as they did, and remain a viable player in the election, or oppose a military response and lose to the hawk, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hamas leaders knew the Israelis would respond to firing 80 Ketyushas into Israel in just one day. Now, we learn that Hamas is benefitting from the Israeli attacks. A poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, before this conflict, showed that Hamas was less popular than George W. Bush, with only 16 percent of Palestinians supporting Hamas. Gaza elections were coming up. Hamas needed a popularity booster. What better than to fire scores of missiles at Israel?

Daoud Kutab, reports, in a Washington Post article, "Has Israel Revived Hamas?" the six-month cease-fire with Israel came to an end, Hamas calculated -- it seems correctly -- that it had nothing to gain by continuing the truce; if it had, its credentials as a resistance movement would have been no different from those of Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah. Unable to secure an open border and an end to the Israeli siege, while refusing to share or give up power to Abbas, Hamas could have had no route to renewed public favor.

For different reasons, Hamas and Israel both gave up on the cease-fire, preferring instead to climb over corpses to reach their political goals. One side wants to resuscitate its public support by appearing to be a heroic resister, while the other, on the eve of elections, wants to show toughness to a public unhappy with the nuisance of the Qassam rockets.

The disproportionate and heavy-handed Israeli attacks on Gaza have been a bonanza for Hamas. The movement has renewed its standing in the Arab world, secured international favor further afield and succeeded in scuttling indirect Israeli-Syrian talks and direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. It has also greatly embarrassed Israel's strongest Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan.

An article in the NY Times by Stephen Farrell asks,

...will the devastation in Gaza make Palestinians fall into line behind Hamas, as they reliably have in the past, or will Hamas lose their support as Gazans count the escalating cost in blood and destruction?

The leaders of Hamas knew their rocket firings would produce a strong response from Israel but surely underestimated just how big a response. They fired them fully aware of the deaths that would follow. This is consistent with Hamas now calling for Palestinians to become suicide bombers. Hamas leaders are ready to sacrifice the lives of Palestinians to further their political goals.

For example, Hamas leader, Nizar Rayan, who was killed, along with his four wives and 10 children, had, in 2001, sent one of his children as a suicide bomber and had said he wanted to be martyred. It's one thing to want to be a martyr. It's another, as a leader, to precipitate violence that makes helpless Palestinians who did not volunteer to be martyrs into victims.

The Hamas power ploy seems to have worked. A growing number of observers now believe that, Israel was, shall we say, "punked" by Hamas and that their response actually helped Hamas. Hamas knew that the political situation in Israel would force the Israelis to react militarily.

Can we conclude that the leaders of Hamas made a cold blooded decision to sacrifice hundreds of Palestinian lives. No. Most likely they expected a more moderate Israeli response. The Hamas leaders probably expected to only sacrifice ten or twenty Palestinian lives. They gambled. The Palestinian people lost.

Writing in The Nation, Robert Drefuss writes,

In Israel, the bloody holocaust they've unleashed is an election game, wherein Netanyahu and his slightly more moderate rivals in the Olmert-Livni bloc compete with each other to show who is best at slaughtering Palestinians. In Palestine, a similar election dynamic is underway.

Hamas, the Israeli politicians -- they both sound like Bush and Cheney, using violence and war to maintain their power base.

And let's not forget that the Egyptians and Saudis, who don't like Hamas, were not exactly opposing Israel's response, initially. The Egyptians told Hamas not to do it and, once the attacks started, Egypt even helped block its Gaza border.

Why would the Saudis and Egyptians seemingly side with Israel? There's a reason we're seeing clearly now. Hamas, aligned with Hezbollah and supported by Iran, sets an example that could incite the people of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which the downtrodden in those nations might be inspired to replicate--uprising and rejection of the powers that be. Of course, this pattern of supporting power balances that repress and hold back democracy has been repeated again and again by US leaders.

Ah... but there's more, and I'm not selling Ginsu knives. The reason US leaders support dictators is because they justifiably fear that if democratic elections are held in Muslim nations, then the democracy will last one election, which will give power to mullahs and ayatollah types who will permanently install sharia-based government, like we've seen in Iran and, with policies like we see in Saudi Arabia, where th Saudi princes allow Wahabists to run a feudal theocracy.

The multiplicity of factors proves there are so many layers of influence and complications within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is almost impossible to tease them apart. That's what makes the conflict the hardest problem in the world. There are many who believe there can be no solution.

If there is one, it would require the major players pulling back and insisting that both sides stop the violence and work out a non-military solution. It's the only way and it must include compassion instead of revenge.

George W. Bush curried the favor of a small minority of Jews, mostly the Orthodox, who liked his hands-off approach. I think this was very bad for Israel and the Jews worldwide. Israel took many more extreme actions that engendered the enmity and hatred from much of the Arab world

Here's hoping that when Barack Obama takes office, he'll work more closely, through Hillary Clinton, with the region, and that he'll pay attention to not only AIPAC, Israel's top advocacy PAC, but also to J-street, the new, progressive Jewish PAC, which calls for less violence and a political solution.

Israel needs tough love -- strong, firm, determined guidance from the U.S. -- which drastically cuts back on the abuse of the Palestinians. They need more of a Three Cups of Tea approach -- helping them with education and health care. They need to work with Israelis who are not toxic bigots and haters like the settlers who break Israeli laws, who engage in the same kinds of pogroms against Palestinians that Russian Jews were subjected to by the Czar's army over 100 years ago.

The U.S. should put its foot down on further settlement by fundamentalist extremists in Israel and call for the arrest and prosecution of the Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians. The problem is, when George Herbert Walker Bush tried this, he was really hammered by AIPAC. Some attribute his loss to Bill Clinton partly to that position.

The Palestinian people should arrest and prevent those who fire rockets into Israel, giving Israel the excuse it needs to hit back ever so much harder. To do that, they need to elect people who promise to work with a Ghandian approach.

The only way the Israeli and Palestinian people have a shot at peace is for outsiders to put pressure on both sides to make it happen and to stop the violence. It can be done. It will take time. There will be times when progress made slides backward. But violence is not the answer. The answer lies in the direction of Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Anything else is simply incontinent emotional or political impulse. The world needs to come together to find a better way.

A PS. If you are one of those who simply vilify Israel, you are helping the right wing Israelis who want to keep the perpetual state of war going. They use your comments and postings describing your hate and vilification of Zionism and Zionists to prove that their approach is right. In an interview, I told Progressive Rabbi Michael Lerner, "On OpEdNews, we have some people who post saying Israel is evil, that Zionists are evil..."

Rabbi Lerner Replied, "...if I were the Israeli Right, or if I were the right wing fundamentalists in this country, I'd be putting those lefties who are writing that on their payroll - in fact, they might be on their payroll, for all I know. In other words, this is the kind of language and the kind of thinking that ensures the predominance of the right."

If you want to help the Palestinians, advocate for helping them--for giving them aid, education, schools, medical supplies. That's the solution Rabbi Lerner proposes. Adding blame, anger, hate to the middle east problem is just pouring gasoline as a way to put out the fire.Just as South Africa held truth and reconciliation hearings, Israel and the nation of Palestine-- two countries-- should do the same.

Crossposted from