August 1, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
As a Liberal Zionist (if you want to know what that is, read here and then for a post-Gaza liberal Zionist view here) I have had to do a lot of thinking about what is going on in Gaza at the moment. Whilst I love Israel and want it to thrive, I can’t just sit by and accept that in order for that to happen I can condone the killing of 800 civilians, including 200 children, in response to the killing of 3 civilian Israelis. I think it is getting near the time where we need to consider alternatives to what is happening.
I can accept that there are arguments to be had about Israel’s creation, the operation of the 1967 war and the occupation since then. But I also accept that to many in the Arab world, the ‘occupation’ began in 1948 with the creation of Israel, and so there is an argument to be had that Israel is continuing to fight for it’s very existence. However, for that existence to continue to be legitimate in the eyes of the Western World, on whose support they rely, Israel really does need to think about how its behaviour looks.
The main reason for this is that the many people I am coming across on twitter and Facebook who think in terms of ‘either/or’, in that one side is completely right and one side is completely wrong, rather than ‘both/and’, in which there is an acceptance that some concessions will have to be made on both sides.
The trouble with the ‘either/or’ route that this relies on quite a massive amount of what I would called ‘rationalist naïveté’ which is best described as trying to justify their point of view by insisting that some things, whether they make sense or not are just so important to be true that to deny them would mean they must be contradicting themselves. Hence my wife’s aunt, who has worked in left wing politics for 40 years, writing a book on public service and who joined ‘Jews for Justice for Palestine’ a few years ago, has managed to convince herself that Hamas don’t actually want to destroy Israel (because to think otherwise would undermine her case that Israel is completely in the wrong) and also that Hamas’s rockets are completely harmless (because to think otherwise would undermine her case that Israel has any reason to be bombarding Gaza right now). Her sentiments are shared by many, which quite frankly makes it easy to understand why Israel ignores people like her, because to deny something that is openly written down and declared in Hamas’s charter and then pretend that the over 2000 rockets, all of which are specifically aimed at killing any Israeli (including both my and her relatives), are harmless is a ridiculous bending of the truth to try and justify your world view. The fact is that whilst the media call it violence in Gaza, it is actually violence in Gaza AND Israel.
it works the other way too. I have heard pro-Israel commentators argue that the population of Gaza ‘voted for the destruction of Israel’ when they voted for Hamas in 2006. But that ignores the massive corruption of the incumbent Fatah government of the time that Hamas gave an alternative too. I have also heard much about the Gazan people only using their ‘freedom’ once Israel left Gaza in 2005 to attack Israel and not to build an economic capability. But that ignores the blockade of Gaza that took place from that moment, meaning the land has never been economically free or in control of its own borders. It is important also to note that Israel has an extremely right wing government, many of whose senior ministers have been quoted as being hostile to any solution that involves giving up any land ever.
My point here is not to take sides, but to say that if people with such entrenched positions that they are blatantly twisting clear facts and complications about the issues just to try and justify their position are allowed to dominate, we will get nowhere. I believe, for the sake of my children growing up in a more peaceful world at the very least, that it must be possible to have a viable Palestinian state AND and secure Israeli state. I believe that BOTH sides have a viable case that must be recognised.
For us to get anywhere, supporters of Israel’s current behaviour can surely not ignore the blunt figures. Over 1000 dead in Gaza, many of them civilians, as against 50 Israelis, 3 of them civilians. It is easy to say that since every one of Hamas’s rockets are aimed at killing civilians. But the fact is that they are NOT killing civilians, because Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ defence system is so effective. Israeli rockets ARE killing civilians. Every time Israel launches a missile, even with all the warnings they give, they must know that they could kill civilians. They may be winning the military battle, but I feel that they are losing the war. I feel that the world is not behind Israel, and so something different needs to be tried.
In the movie ‘War Games’, Matthew Broderick’s character realises very very late that the only way to win against a computer that wants to start a war is to refuse to play at all. Now that Israel knows that the ‘Iron Dome’ works, they could refuse to play at Hamas’s game. If, as Israel claims, Hamas is using children as human shields, don’t let them win by continuing to fire missiles at those shields. If, as Israel claims, Hamas is firing missiles from inside schools and hospitals, put all your effort into filming that actually happening and disseminating it widely all over the media. If, as Israel argues, Hamas has built tunnels into their country from inside Gaza, wait until they emerge from those tunnels and capture them doing so, and make sure the world sees this is happening.
Yes, all this is a risk, and the Israeli government’s job first and foremost is to protect the security of the heir citizens. But it seems that the Iron Dome is capable of doing that. In the long term, the security of the Israeli people is bound up in having their legitimacy upheld by the international community, and the current situation is moving the international community away from that. Something different has to be tried. Israel needs to play a long game, and not Hamas’s game.