[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
The mighty Tsahal, the Israeli military, recently carried an air attack over the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The reason was the Qassam rockets that Hamas militants have been firing into the Jewish state for quite some time. After a week-long offensive, more than 100 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bombs. At least 25 of them were civilians, including nine children and three women.
Then the Israelis decided to end their bombings. “This operation has run its course,” said the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon. “This is certainly deterrence.”
No, not really. Actually, the people of the Gaza Strip were anything but deterred. According to the BBC, while Israel was pulling back, the Palestinians were “angry and unbowed in the face of Israel’s assault.” Not just them, but most Arabs and other Muslims around the word were, and still are, fuming against the Jewish State, whose bombs continue to kill women, children and babies.
Let’s get the matters straight. Israel is carrying out all such attacks, including its latest “war” in Lebanon, in order to “defend itself against terrorists.” Those “terrorists” indeed deserve to be called as such, because they deliberately target Israeli civilians. (Had they only targeted the Israeli army, that would be a gentlemen’s war.) But while Israel is hitting these militants back, it is also killing many civilians, and there are many signs suggesting that it does not give a damn about it. (In a famous occasion, the former chief of staff, Dan Halutz was asked what he felt when he ordered the dropping of a one-ton bomb on a residential neighborhood in Gaza in July 2002. The bomb targeted a Hamas militant, but also killed 14 innocent people, mostly children. All he feels when such bombs drop, Halutz said in reply to the question, is “a slight tremor in the wings of the plane.”)
Let me warn: The line between killing civilians deliberately and not-giving-a-damningly might not be as thick as the Israelis assume. Moreover, given the nature of the “asymmetry” between Israelis and their enemies, quite many people, at least in this part of the world, think that the tactics of both sides are not too different.
I know that there are many Israelis, including some good friends of mine, who care about the Palestinian suffering, and who question, criticize, and stand against, their own state. They say Israel is not acting morally by punishing whole populations for the actions of militants in their midst. Yet, unfortunately, modern states are not the greatest disciples of morality. Moreover, the Jewish state has its own political tradition that ridicules such notions. It was Vladimir Jabotinsky, the godfather of right-wing Zionism, who abhorred “childish humanism,” and counseled, “be always on guard, carry your stick always with you; this is the only way of surviving in this wolfish battle of all against all.” Today it is sad to see that the mindset of the Social Darwinist and ultra-secular Jabotinsky has been adopted by some of the religious Jews.
The ‘Realist’ Argument
Since morality does not count much in this situation for all those reasons, I will move on to the “realist” side of things. Here, the vision of the Israeli (or pro-Israeli) hawks is based on a reliance on ruthless force. “If people attack Israel,” they basically say, “we will teach them a lesson by giving them hell.” The argument goes that Palestinians need to be punished until the point that they concede defeat and accept whatever Israel gives to them. (The Japanese fascists or the Nazis, these hawks remind us, came to their senses only when they were “nuked” or totally defeated.)
If that would be the grand strategy of Israel’s militarists, then the “deterrence” operations they carry out against Palestinians are their tactical steps. But, as I noted above, this just does not work. The more Israel hits Palestinians, or the Lebanese, the more individuals among these nations swear to take revenge of their killed ones. Israel will never find peace and security within that vicious circle.
The best commentary I saw about this was the message on a poster held by an Israeli peace-activist: “There is no military solution to the Qassam!” (Yes, sometimes even the left get things right.) Therefore, just like Turkey’s state of affairs in its Kurdish question, Israel rather needs a “political solution.”
The analogies made to the Nazis and the Japanese fascists are misleading here. Nazis hated the Jews for simply who they were. The Nazi ideology, that evil incarnate, necessitated that Jews had to be wiped off from the earth. There was no way of making a deal with Hitler and his cult. But the anti-Israeli and the anti-Semitic attitudes in the Arab world are more related with what Israel does. Anti-Semitism was unknown in Muslim lands until the rise of Zionism in the 20th century. It became rampant after the Six Day War of 1967, when Israel occupied the lands of three Muslim nations, and started to create “facts on the ground” to make that occupation permanent.
We should also remember that since 1967, the only decent peace Israel made was thanks to not Israel’s ruthless “deterrence,” but the pragmatic land-for-peace logic. Egypt signed the Camp David peace treaty in 1978, because it got back all of the Israeli-occupied Sinai Peninsula. Moreover, the relative military success the Egyptians achieved in the war of 1974 had given them a sense of dignity.
Dignity is really a crucial value among the nations of the Middle East. Israelis need to talk with their enemies — in hidden or overt ways — and look for solutions that will give the latter a sense of pride. The maximalist dreams of Hamas will, and should, never be realized, but there must still be a way of making their leaders accept an enduring peace. Even if they call it “hudna,” i.e., truce, that will become permanent once life gets back to normal and Palestinians start to have things that they will fear to lose.
Remember the Crusaders
Let me remind you a historical lesson. Israel is sometimes compared to the Crusaders, who, a millennium ago, invaded the Holy Land and established a state there. Although the Crusader’s initial carnage was abhorrent to all Muslims — and other natives such as Jews and Orthodox Christians — Muslims actually got used to live with their Kingdom of Jerusalem. What sparked a united Islamic effort (a “jihad”) against that kingdom, after seven decades of its genesis, was the fanatic and ruthless figures among the Crusaders, such as Raynald of Châtillon, who did everything to insult and infuriate the Muslims.
Israelis should be wise enough to refrain from following a similar course. A decent bi-state solution is achievable, but it demands concessions from both the Israelis and the Palestinians. By constantly harvesting hatred among the latter, and in the broader Arab and Muslim world, Israel is making that peace less and less attainable.