Gaza and the New Year

I have just three wishes for the coming year. The first is for the Israeli government to realize once and for all that the Middle Eastern conflict cannot be solved by military means. The second is for Hamas to realize that its interests are not served by violence, and that Israel is here to stay; and the third is for the world to acknowledge the fact that this conflict is unlike any other in history. It is uniquely intricate and sensitive; it is a human conflict between two peoples who are both deeply convinced of their right to live on the same very small piece of land. This is why neither diplomacy nor military action can resolve this conflict.

The developments of the past few days are extremely worrisome to me for several reasons of both humane and political natures. While it is self-evident that Israel has the right to defend itself, that it cannot and should not tolerate continuing missile attacks on its citizens, the Israeli army’s relentless and brutal bombardment of Gaza has raised a few important questions in my mind.

The first question is whether the Israeli government has the right to make all Palestinians culpable for the actions of Hamas. Is the entire population of Gaza to be held responsible for the sins of a terrorist organization? We, the Jewish people, should know and feel even more acutely than other populations that the murder of innocent civilians is inhumane and unacceptable. The Israeli military has very weakly argued that the Gaza strip is so overpopulated that it is impossible to avoid civilian deaths during their operations.

The weakness of this argument leads me to my next set of questions: if civilian deaths are unavoidable, what is the purpose of the bombardment? What, if any, is the logic behind the violence, and what does Israel hope to achieve through it? If the aim of the operation is to destroy Hamas, then the most important question to ask is whether this is an attainable goal. If not, then the whole attack is not only cruel, barbaric, and reprehensible, it is also senseless.

If on the other hand it really is possible to destroy Hamas through military operations, how does Israel envision the reaction in Gaza once this has been accomplished? One and a half million Gaza residents will not suddenly go down on their knees in reverence of the power of the Israeli army. We must not forget that before Hamas was elected by the Palestinians, it was encouraged by Israel as a tactic to weaken Arafat. Israel’s recent history leads me to believe that if Hamas is bombarded out of existence, another group will most certainly take its place, a group that would be more radical, more violent, and more full of hatred toward Israel than Hamas.

Israel cannot afford a military defeat for fear of disappearing from the map, yet history has proven that every military victory has always left Israel in a weaker political position than before because of the emergence of radical groups. I do not underestimate the difficulty of the decisions the Israeli government must make every day, nor do I underestimate the importance of Israel’s security. Nevertheless, I stand behind my conviction that the only truly viable plan for long-term security in Israel is to gain the acceptance of all of our neighbors. I wish for a return in the year 2009 of the famous intelligence always ascribed to the Jews. I wish for a return of King Solomon’s wisdom to the decision-makers in Israel that they might use it to understand that Palestinians and Israelis have equal human rights.

Palestinian violence torments Israelis and does not serve the Palestinian cause; Israeli military retaliation is inhuman, immoral, and does not guarantee Israel’s security. As I have said before, the destinies of the two peoples are inextricably linked, obliging them to live side by side. They have to decide whether they want to make of this a blessing or a curse.

First appeared in The Guardian on 1.1.2009

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