JERUSALEM — It’s difficult to think about peace when missiles are flying from Gaza into Israel, and when innocent civilians on both sides are regularly forced to take cover.
Yes, it’s true that Hamas and its proxies in Gaza intentionally shoot at Israeli civilians, but it’s also true that many innocent civilians inside Gaza end up paying with their lives — killed by Israeli bombs. Go and explain to their families that their deaths were not intentional. Israelis hate it when someone calls what is going on a “cycle of violence,” because it implies a built-in assumption that Israel is also an aggressor, while it perceives itself as an innocent, passive target of Hamas aggression. For each new round of violence it is impossible to argue about “who started it,” since each side will choose a different starting point.
It’s so easy to engage in this competition of suffering. The politicians on both sides love it. Indeed, they revel in it, with their fists clenched and their flatulent rhetoric threatening more of the same. More firepower creates more deterrence, they say. And as we run for the shelters (those who have them) — the 1.7 million people in Gaza don’t have a single shelter, because it is true that their government doesn’t care about their needs — we continually fail to think of a better way.
I know the Hamas charter calls for our destruction, and is itself a horrible, anti-Semitic crime against humanity, but I seriously doubt if you could find even 50 Hamas members who can tell you what is in that document. Most don’t even know such a document exists.
I talk to people from Gaza every day. I spent this past weekend with a good friend from Gaza who I managed to bring to Jerusalem. He is a journalist from Rafah, married with three young children. He has spent time in Sderot, as well as on one of the kibbutzim nearby. He meets many Israelis and, like a majority of Gazans, is not happy with the present reality. He, like the Israelis he meets, wants a decent life for himself and his family. Most people in Gaza wish for the same.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap the Hamas military leaders have created for us. We play their game with such excellence; we do exactly what they provoke us to do. Of course there has to be an Israeli response to Hamas rocket fire, for no government can tolerate having its civilian population attacked by a neighboring territory. But I wonder if any of our generals have ever thought of a different approach. The Hamas strategy is aimed at increasing its support, while its public appeal is waning. The Palestinians are sick and tired of Hamas’s rule, but when Israel attacks them, such flagging enthusiasm disappears. It’s the natural response.
For some reason, our military people think that if we make the Palestinian public suffer, they will take it out on their rulers. Yet it never happens. The best Israeli strategy has always been to use force, and when force doesn’t work, use more force. And the Israeli public loves it. We don’t put names to them; we don’t see the pictures of destroyed families. All we know is that some Hamas person was killed; it doesn’t really matter if they were non-combatants, because we all know Hamas uses them as human shields, and why didn’t they just run away? And besides, they all hate us anyway, so they must all be Hamas sympathizers.
Why haven’t our leaders developed a strategy based on weakening Hamas’s control of Gaza? Could it be, as recent Wikileaks documents suggest, that there are people among Israel’s leadership who find it quite convenient to have Hamas next door? A strategy to weaken Hamas would have to be one that empowers the moderates, and the current government of Israel has either decided there is no such thing, or that empowering them might actually lead to peace.
In the case of peace, Israel will have to stop building settlements, Israel will have to compromise over Jerusalem, and Israel will have to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state on most of the West Bank, and compensate the Palestinians with parcels of land inside Israel proper in exchange for land we wish to annex. So since we have a government intent on not making peace with the Palestinians, why not ensure that we have Hamas in control of Gaza? As long as rockets hit southern Israel from time to time, international pressure to make peace with the Palestinians decreases every so often. All we have to do is tell the world that moderates don’t exist, or that they’re too weak, or that the area is really controlled by Hamas, and the only thing that prevents it from taking over the West Bank is the continued Israeli presence there.
We’re constantly getting better at this — we have moved from Cast Lead to an Iron Dome, and we are protected. So we can continue to delude ourselves — just as long as we continue to use our muscles instead of our brains.