With talks in Cairo, a cease-fire has finally been struck between Israel and Hamas. But the atmosphere between both parties is still tense and underlying disputes regarding Israel's blockade still exist. As bystanders, let's hope the cease-fire is upheld and extended for as long as possible. An Israeli ground invasion in Gaza would spell disaster -- for both sides.
In this post, I hope to outline the Israeli government's strategic failures in keeping it safe, not moral arguments about its mandate to do so. It is hard not to conflate the two when the conflict is so charged and so many people criticizing Israel do not believe in its fundamental right to exist.
So here's a disclaimer: I am pro-Israel, pro-peace and anti-Hamas. I think that indiscriminate missile fire on civilian centers is reprehensible. So is locating those missiles in your own civilian centers, schools and hospitals. I fully realize that Hamas' founding constitution doesn't accept Israel's right to exist and is blatantly anti-Semitic.
But what is Hamas' goal in launching missiles at Israeli civilian centers to begin with? Do they believe they are going to wipe Israel off the map with crude, inaccurate scud missiles?
Hamas is a terrorist organization. A terrorist's aim is to provoke a state into acting in self-defeating ways, not to wage conventional warfare.
So, in a clearheaded manner, let's evaluate the results of the 2008 ground invasion of Gaza in order to determine whether such an invasion would be an effective remedy of the current situation:
In 2008: Israel spent money and manpower -- victory for Hamas. Israel killed 1400 Gazans, getting castigated by the rest of the world for a disproportionate, immoral attack -- victory for Hamas. And perhaps the plainest signal of Hamas' victory: it has recovered rapidly enough -- with new leadership, arms, popularity and now Egyptian support -- to put Israel in the exact same precarious situation it was in a mere four years ago.
In the words of lawyer and political commentator Alan Dershowitz: "...whenever Hamas decides to send rockets into Israel, it can expect a win-win-win result: it wins by terrorizing Israeli civilians; by provoking Israel into responding and thereby killing Palestinian civilians who are used by Hamas as human shields; and by weakening the Palestinian Authority".
So let's take the often-used corollary of the right wing: If California was being bombed by Mexico, our citizens living in constant fear, would Barack Obama be justified in taking reciprocal action? Absolutely -- but only if that action were effective in enhancing America's long-term security. For Israel, a ground invasion in Gaza would be undeniably self-defeating.
Ground invasions are one failed tactic. Assassinating Hamas' leaders during a ceasefire are another. Hamas' leaders come and go. Whether its Ahmed Yassin, Ahmed Jabari or someone else, rockets will continue to be launched from Gaza into Israel. Many of these rockets are launched by groups independent of Hamas; ones who have no respect for ceasefire deals struck with Israel.
Gershon Baskin, co-chairman of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information who was instrumental in the release of Gilad Shalit, recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times. He argues that the assassination of Hamas leader, Ahmed Al-Jabari, while morally warranted, was tactically shortsighted:
Mr. Jabari wasn't just interested in a long-term cease-fire; he was also the person responsible for enforcing previous cease-fire understandings brokered by the Egyptian intelligence agency. Mr. Jabari enforced those cease-fires only after confirming that Israel was prepared to stop its attacks on Gaza. On the morning that he was killed, Mr. Jabari received a draft proposal for an extended cease-fire with Israel, including mechanisms that would verify intentions and ensure compliance. This draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas's deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt.
Friends and family of mine -- Jews in west Los Angeles and the upper westside of Manhattan -- love to take to their Facebook and Twitter accounts in defense of Israel. They claim that the only reason Palestinian death tolls are higher than Israel's is that Hamas uses its own civilians as human shields. This is true -- I would expect nothing less from a terrorist organization. Take this analogy, though: If you're a soldier in a hostage situation and an enemy combatant is using a civilian as a human shield, do you shoot?
No, you do not. That is what distinguishes you from the terrorist -- the terrorist who deliberately targets civilians.
Context is important. Since its founding, Israel has tried to remain principled in the face of constant provocation from existential threats in the region. In 2004, it nobly, if naively, attempted to grant land for peace by pulling its citizens out of Gaza. Also, the discrepancy between Arab outrage over Israel versus that over the brutal slaughter of innocents in Syria is mind-blowing.
But Israel must face the fact that in recent history, exponentially more innocent Palestinians have died than Israelis and not, as many like to claim, over the question of Israel's basic existence; Israel will not be wiped off the map by Qassams and FAJR-5s. Even if these missiles have been supplied by Iran, the real existential threat is a nuclear Iran itself.
Perhaps the most frightening trend lies in America, though -- in the prevailing "AIPAC ethos" of the American Jewish community. It's this community whom I address in this post and it's they who've compelled me to formally proclaim my support for Israel in its introduction. This ethos consists of Jews who will support literally anything the Israeli government does, Jews who are quick to call other Jews self-hating and anti-Israel.
Conflating criticism of its current government with being wholly anti-Israel, is itself anti-Israel:
First, it's anti-democratic. It is the citizen of a democracy's duty to be critical of its leaders (and we are constantly told that Jews everywhere are welcomed citizens of Israel). Second, it's anti-Jewish, running against a longstanding tradition of internal debate and self-critique. Finally, in this case, it is clearly against Israel's own long-term security interests.
In fact, I criticize Israel rather than Hamas for the same reason I criticized Obama more frequently than Romney during the U.S. presidential campaign: I hold out hope for Obama. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his cabinet have been uncompromising at best and incompetent and inhumane at worst.
In the midst of the argument about who's in the right, we sometimes forget the larger goal - peace, an objective whose achievement requires both sides to be less concerned with historical claims and moral superiority and more concerned with effective strategy.
Let's hope the ceasefire continues.