Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reflections on the Gaza War of 2014

At this writing Operation Protective Edge is almost two weeks along and Palestinian casualties just topped 800 today. IDF losses are in the low two digits but I don't recall the exact number. I'm copying here for future reference a long Facebook reflection buried in a comment. 

I'm reflecting on this idea as it relates to the IDF assault on Gaza.

At the outset of this IDF Gaza incursion I had a divided opinion about Hamas and the Palestinian resistance. In the weeks and days leading up to the war the political fortunes of Hamas were looking down. Byagreeing to a unity government with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority Hamas was signaling a timid but measurable step toward yielding to it's doctrinaire extremist position -- particularly the part about eliminating Israel from the map.

With the Muslim Brotherhood banished in Egypt and conflicts burning in Syria and Iraq the status of Hamas in the Arab world was (and still is) on the decline. No longer was Hamas the mascot of the Arab world. Finding common ground with Fatah was more than symbolic. It was huge.

The killing of three Israeli teens was not an action of Hamas. But it gave Netanyahu all the excuse he needed to stir up support for launching Operation Protective Edge, the name of the current military action. The revenge counter-killing of the Palestinian teen by burning alive was a renegade gesture, but the timing was right to give the IDF operation a boost.

Until then and for the next few days I had hopes that something would happen in Gaza to shift public opinion against that group. After all, launching rockets which were mostly symbolic in the face of an overwhelming military machine was a suicidal gesture. The damage they inflicted was real, but not fatal. As the Palestinian casualty count mounted and the body count rose to the hundreds I expected to see or hear some murmuring of discontent with Hamas among the people in Gaza.

But i was wrong. Although they may not care for Hamas, it seems the population of Gaza holds Israel, not Hamas, responsible for all that's happening. There is ample evidence now that they are becoming -- as Hemingway's quote suggests -- stronger at each broken place.

Over the last few days I have seen several indications of Palestinian unity.

>> A man in Gaza interviewed by NBC two nights ago said it was clear to him that the aim of the IDF was to annihilate the Palestinians altogether. He said clearly "I can't continue to live like this. I would rather die along with everyone else than run away. Let them kill a thousand more -- as many as they can -- it's better to die than go on living like this." He was unequivocal. 

>> A day or two before a Twitter message was about a father deciding if he should divide his family to different corners of the house so that some of them might survive, or all be together in one location so if they die they might all go together. 

>> I have posted a video and seen several others of Palestinians risking their lives to rescue or protect others by remaining in some dangerous place.

The stories are multiplying of increasing numbers of Palestinians preparing to die rather than giving up. I am reminded of a couple of items from Jewish history itself bearing the same level of social cohesion in the face of a threatened death.

A rather misguided book about the life of Jesus depicts Him as a "zealot." The writer uses that term in the historic sense. The meaning of the word derives from a historic reality described by the ancient Roman historian Josephus.
The year 67 saw the beginning of the great war with the Roman legions, first under Vespasian and then under Titus; and Galilee was at the outset chosen as the seat of war. The Zealots fought with almost superhuman powers against warriors trained in countless battles waged in all parts of the known world, and when they succumbed to superior military skill and overwhelming numbers, often only after some act of treachery within the Jewish camp, they died with a fortitude and a spirit of heroic martyrdom which amazed and overawed their victors. Josephus' own description of the tragic end of the last great Zealot leader, Eleazar ben Jair, and his men after the siege and final capture of Masada is the best refutation of his malicious charges against them.
As every schoolboy knows, the mass suicide at Masada is an integral part of Jewish history.

What we are witnessing in Gaza today is a recapitulation of that historic event. But the survivors of that sacrifice are now the perpetrators of the same phenomenon, this time with their Palestinian neighbors as targets of their rage.

There can be no other explanation of the slaughter of women and children. Calling them "human shields" implies that they are being forced to confront their deaths against their will. That does not appear to be the case any more. Clearly they are prepared to die rather than continue living under the conditions they know so well.

These children do not recall a time without the conditions of a harsh occupation. Their imaginations do not allow them to see anything different. As the world watches another genocide is in progress.


A few days prior to this one of my Facebook friends posed a question that prompted the stream of consciousness copied here. The post was a reflection of a Jewish writer, a holocaust survivor who was an infant in Poland during that time, recounting a conversation with an old friend from that time when both of them were among the first Zionists.  

Question: Should Israel just pull out of Israel and leave again? that seems the only solution, but i don't know where all they would go.

(Reply)  I honestly don't know. There is no way for the clock to be turned back. And even if there were there is no assurance that it might not lead to an even worse outcome. This next to the last paragraph is sad and moving...
A few days ago I met with one of my dearest friends, a comrade from Zionist days and now professor emeritus at an Israeli university. We spoke of everything but the daily savagery depicted on our TV screens. We both feared the rancour that would arise.
They had everything important in common, and something told both of them that the discussion of Palestine/Gaza/West Bank would only lead to a bitter argument, even between them, two people who had shared the same vision years ago but had come to very different places today.

I recall when the 1967 war happened, I was in Korea, hearing and reading about it from half a world away. Because if my close association with Jews from my civil rights and high school days I had more than the usual sensitivity to the circumstances under which Israel was living. At that time I was fully sympathetic with Israel because the country really was surrounded on all sides by hate-filled neighbor countries that aimed to annihilate them from the map. That part of the narrative -- still intact in the minds of many Jews, especially in Israel -- was not imaginary.

I recall we had only one Jew in the little base where I was assigned as part of a seven-man medical detachment. He was following events of the war minute by minute, cheering on Israel like a sports fan supporting a team. He ran around yelling "Guns for the Jews -- sneakers for the Arabs!!" and was overjoyed at the outcome.

My take on the 1967 war was not that much of a gushing enthusiasm.After all, I was serving as a conscientious objector an my understanding of war was (and still is) not the same. But I did appreciate that Israel was really surrounded by hostile neighbors on all sides and they did what had to be done to secure their national safety. What are now the Occupied Territories (West Bank and Gaza) and territories beyond were all under the undisputed control of the Israeli defense forces. That control stretch Westward into Egypt all the way to the Suez Canal, East to the Jordan River, South into the Sanai and North into the Golan Heights -- all places that were strategically threatening to Israels official borders.

What happened next was a study in geo-political realism on Israel's part. Egypt's land was returned to Egypt, both to the West and South, but they retained control of the Golan Heights (where Syrian forces (which were mostly displaced Palestinian Arabs, many living in refugee camps that exist to this day) and the territories now known as the West Bank and Gaza.

It was an imperfect outcome, but at the time it was nothing more than an open and shut case of national self-defense. I was 100% supportive of Israel and like many others was in awe of the capability of their military. I don't recall if it was prior to that or later, but I vividly remember how the world watched in awe as an Israeli plane was hijacked by what we now would call "terrorists" and hostages were involved. With lightning surgical precision a relatively small Israeli force struck under cover of darkness, eliminated the perpetrators and recovered their plane. It was better than a movie plot-line, but it was real. The IDF was (and still is, tactically) among the world's most effective.

A lot has happened between then and now, but over time Israel which was a de facto American presence in the Middle East has become less critical in the overall global picture while their handling of the Occupied Territories has been anything but a case study in how an occupying force should handle a defeated enemy.

Unlike how Germany and Japan were treated following WWII, and how Vietnam and Korea have been dealt with after those conflicts, the Occupied Territories have not been managed with a view of rehabilitation. The situation was unique, of course, since the bitter hostility on the part of the Palestinians did not diminish. Instead it took a sinister turn, with bombs and killing of innocent people in Israel being the tactic of choice.

But Israel has shown nothing of the restraint that might lead to reconciliation. It has been official policy to incrementally seize the occupied lands and displace the people who have lived on them for generations, replacing them with newcomers from all over the world. The "settlements" that have made the map of the West Bank look like a piece of Swiss cheese are subsidized by Israel and populated in large part by newcomers to Israel.

In the case of Gaza there were Israeli "settlers" as well, but a few years ago Ariel Sharon led a deliberate policy decision to abandon Gaza to the Arabs and concentrate on developing the West Bank to be a de facto extension of Israel, taking it from the Arabs who have lived there for generations little by little, by whatever means it took to make that happen.

It was a dramatic news story when the Jews who had been settled in Gaza were forcibly removed from their homes, gardens, fields and businesses by none other than the Israeli Defense Forces. Perhaps you recall those news stories from 2004/5. It was after 9/11 and American attention was still more focused on our own tragedy, but I just looked and it is one of the longest topic articles in Wikipedia.

I'm writing off the top of my head from memory, and this is entirely too long for a Facebook comment, but I only want to communicate that I have more than the usual off-the-shelf Readers Digest summary of the background of this horrible and ongoing business with Gaza.

The link above, together with a large and growing number of Jews both in America and in Israel, indicates that after all this time the politics of Israel has become in many ways a model of the very forces that created Israel in the beginning. That for me means the establishment of Modern Israel -- not what is now called Eretz Israel by those for whom several thousand years of geopolitical metamorphosis has no meaning.

Dang, I have to stop and get going into my day.
Forgive me for running on.
I hope this has not been too much of a drag...

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