Same story in Gaza, just different year

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s not hard to be an accurate prognosticator when it comes to wars between Israel and Hamas. Does this post from 2009 sound eerily familiar?

At what is likely to be at least a thousand dead, many more thousands injured and virtually every resident of the Gaza Strip traumatized for life, Israel may succeed in halting rocket fire for a while from Gaza. However, this action, like all the other military actions on Palestinian land will not win them peace. Others will soon be lobbing rockets inside of Israel again, or will blow themselves up at bus stations or will be finding other gruesome ways to seek retribution for the disproportionate violence inflicted on them, their families, their neighbors and friends. In reality, this incursion into Gaza simply sows the seed of future violence. Why should anyone whose home is destroyed or whose family members are killed or injured by the Israel military want to make peace? In truth, every bomb lobbed on either side simply creates a multiplier effect that ensures future military actions will be deadlier and that genuine peace will never arrive.

It’s hard to keep track of the body count in this latest battle in the extended war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Today’s press report says that at least 1060 Gazans have been killed as a result of this twenty-day (so far) battle between Israel and Hamas. It’s hard to estimate the number of wounded, but conservatively it should be at least six times as many people as those who were killed. Let’s round the number of dead and wounded to 10,000. With approximately 1.8 million people living within this 139 square mile area bordering the Mediterranean Sea, that’s roughly 1 in 200 people killed or injured within the Gaza Strip as a result of just this latest battle. To put that in perspective, if the same thing happened proportionally here in the United States, that would be 189,000 Americans dead and 1,589,000 wounded from 22 days of fighting. Over the course of this endless conflict of course, these numbers would be much higher. It would be on par, at least, with the casualties in our own Civil War, which at least ended definitively after four years.

Syrians embroiled in their own civil war can at least become refugees. Life may suck in a refugee camp in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey, but at least you are alive and in relative safety. There is no such escape for Gazans. Of course Israel won’t take them in. Egypt won’t let them in either. You would think they could become boat people, but the Israelis have banned even fishing and their navy would sink anything that dared to leave the Gaza Strip by sea. Residents there are trapped, with nowhere to escape to. They are doomed, it seems, to spend lives traumatized by war and made more miserable by poverty and a continuously degrading infrastructure.

Living in Gaza is sort of like living in a huge concentration camp, only it lasts much longer than the Second World War. Rather than dying in gas chambers or in work camps, the dying occurs principally during these battles, all occurring at close range, or afterward from wounds or as a result of the generally pervasive poverty. You would think Israelis would know a thing or two about concentration camps, but they seem thrilled that their army is inflicting punishment on these defenseless people, cheering from the highlands as their air force drops bombs on Gazans.

Not that the Israelis are getting off scot-free. As these battles go, it’s been painful for their army. 43 soldiers have died so far, and three citizens have died from rockets lobbed from the Gaza Strip by Hamas. Most missiles are mistargeted but those that aren’t are generally picked off by their Iron Dome defense system supplied by the United States. From Hamas’s perspective, they are doing well in this disproportionate battle. For a change the Israelis are hurting, at least a bit. None of this though is doing much to establish a cease-fire, at least one that seems likely to endure.

During the January 2009 battle I noted:

Israel says it will not agree to a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip until Hamas stops shooting rockets into Israel. It also demands international guarantees that armaments will not be smuggled into the Gaza Strip via tunnels from Egypt. Hamas says will not agree to a cease-fire unless Israel ends its blockade, which for months earlier has reduced living standards to subsistence levels and ratcheted up unemployment. It also demands that all Israeli troops leave the Gaza Strip.

Curiously, these are the same demands both sides are making to “end” this latest battle. It should be noted that this battle was wholly avoidable. Supposedly it was the natural reaction to the murder of three Israeli youth by Hamas, as claimed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But that claim appears to be false. As a reaction some extremists Israelis killed a Palestinian youth. That was all of a spark necessary for this latest battle to get underway.

Not only is this war unspeakably cruel, it won’t affect any meaningful change and will actually make things worse. It is the definition of insanity, which is to try the same thing again expecting it will render a different result. Israel lives in the fantasy that if it were somehow destroy Hamas, the remaining supplicant sheep in the Gaza Strip will somehow forever accept Israeli control and domination. You can see how great this is working out on the West Bank. The truth is that every time Israeli has yet another battle with Hamas, they only exacerbate their long-term problem. Hamas looks like a crazy government, but whatever replaced it is likely to be much worse. Hamas is at least reasonably secular and coherent. Israel does not have to look too far to see what would be worse than Hamas as it is emerging now in Western Iraq, and now goes by the name of the Islamic State. Hamas is not al Qaeda, but if they actually destroy Hamas, something like the Islamic State will likely replace Hamas, and it will be on Israel’s doorstep.

Conflicts like this generally succeed in hardening the positions of both sides. Israel of course is swinging more toward the right, having the effect of reducing the possibility of a solution that might actually achieve peace: a two state solution. Instead, Israel is busy tearing down more homes in the West Bank, a cruel policy of retribution against the relatives of those who hurt Israel. It’s doing this while expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and more recently by picking fights on the West Bank. All of this simply inflames passions more, making future conflict and war more likely, not less.

The “clear-eyed realists” in Israel are simply shortsighted thinkers, not looking at the larger dynamics and demographics. Peace is in their long-term interest. Indeed, it is the only way the nation of Israel will survive. But peace simply cannot be achieved wholly on Israel’s terms. Momentum is already underway internationally for nations to boycott Israel, since it is practicing apartheid, not against blacks, but against non-Jews. So Israel can expect more sanctions and economic boycotts as its positions harden. As I noted in 2009, their survival is dependent on us giving them the means to do so. The United States will not support Israel the way it does not indefinitely. As some point the international outrage will be too large for our country to stomach, just as happened with South Africa.

Israel has the chance, looking increasingly far away, to change the dynamic now through a two-state solution. It’s their only hope to still be a state a hundred years from now. Stupidly, Israelis are letting their emotions rather than logic dictate where they should be going. They are sowing the seeds for their own second Diaspora. However, during the next Diaspora there may not be an escape. The Islamic states that surround them will probably not let one of them out alive.

Eyeless in Gaza (and Israel)

The Thinker by Rodin

784 Gazans are dead. It is likely that the actual count is much higher. After all, it is hard to find bodies when they are buried beneath all that rubble. Traumatized children watch their parents die. Injured or unable to escape these children stay next to the corpses of their parents, crying, thirsty, starving, wounded and traumatized for life. There is no food, no heat, no water, no toilets and no escape from this war. Instead, there are massive, disproportionate and random acts of madness, terror and death. Bombs fall from the air and level buildings. For four days, the Israel army refused entry by the Red Cross to certain areas where innocent people were known to be dying. Even U.N. aide workers in the Gaza Strip are not safe. While driving a clearly marked UN vehicle during a three-hour suspension of violence, a UN relief driver is killed by Israeli soldiers.

Hamas retreats but continues to lob rockets into Southern Israel. The United States unhelpfully abstains from voting for a cease-fire resolution in the United Nations Security Council. Israel says it will not agree to a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip until Hamas stops shooting rockets into Israel. It also demands international guarantees that armaments will not be smuggled into the Gaza Strip via tunnels from Egypt. Hamas says will not agree to a cease-fire unless Israel ends its blockade, which for months earlier has reduced living standards to subsistence levels and ratcheted up unemployment. It also demands that all Israeli troops leave the Gaza Strip.

At what is likely to be at least a thousand dead, many more thousands injured and virtually every resident of the Gaza Strip traumatized for life, Israel may succeed in halting rocket fire for a while from Gaza. However, this action, like all the other military actions on Palestinian land will not win them peace. Others will soon be lobbing rockets inside of Israel again, or will blow themselves up at bus stations or will be finding other gruesome ways to seek retribution for the disproportionate violence inflicted on them, their families, their neighbors and friends. In reality, this incursion into Gaza simply sows the seed of future violence. Why should anyone whose home is destroyed or whose family members are killed or injured by the Israel military want to make peace? In truth, every bomb lobbed on either side simply creates a multiplier effect that ensures future military actions will be deadlier and that genuine peace will never arrive.

How is this war in the Gaza Strip being funded? Much of this death and destruction comes courtesy of you, the U.S. taxpayer. Since 2001, the United States has provided more than $15 billion in direct military aid to Israel, as well as over three billion dollars to an Economic Support Fund, which Israel is free to also use for military procurement. In addition, special supplemental appropriations for Israel for over a billion dollars have been signed into law since 2001. When many of those bombs have “Made in U.S.A.” written on them, is it any wonder why Palestinians do not trust the United States as an honest peace broker?

Here is the truth: Israel cannot have both genuine peace and remain a Jewish state. Moreover, Israel really does not want genuine peace because it will not make the concessions needed to actually achieve peace. The Israeli terms include rights to a monopoly on the water resources in the region, the right to indefinitely expand Jewish settlements in occupied territories and requiring that East Jerusalem never be the capital of a Palestinian state. They want all this along with the assurance that not one of the millions of Palestinians will ever engage in violence against them. And I want a pony!

Despite the carnage, probably a majority of Palestinians would love to have peace, maybe even on Israel’s usury terms. Unfortunately, among them is a virulent minority of militants who will never agree to peace under any circumstances. They are making it their mission to make sure their children carry on the cause after they are gone. It is not that hard to keep the cycle going. Every few years you just irritate Israel to the point where they feel they must take some sort of Orwellian action to keep the state “safe” again. Every time this happens, the cycle is guaranteed to continue into another generation. Israel seems to suffer from some cognitive dissonance. It seems to believe that by continually making war more miserable for the Palestinians, they will see the light. It has never worked with any other ethnic group, but they are sure it will eventually work with the Palestinians. In reality, fear spawned by vengeance ensures future violent retribution.

Can you pick the ultimate winner in this game? Perhaps it is obscene to suggest anyone can come out ahead when this ends. It will probably not end in our lifetimes, but it will end. It will end someday, probably after millions have died. Israel will dissolve because this is a war of attrition. Whoever remains standing “wins”. Since due to the toxic dynamics in play genuine peace is impossible, it will end when one side folds. Israel’s opponents will never fold because they also outnumber Israelis ten to one. So in the end it will be Israel that folds, probably some years after the United States decides to stop funding the carnage. And that will happen when the cost of supporting Israel eventually grows too burdensome for U.S. taxpayers to bear any longer. Then yet another Jewish Diaspora will begin.

Sadly, to hasten Israel’s end, smart Middle Eastern terrorists will emulate Osama bin Laden. Israel cannot be beaten militarily, but in a part of the world where it is vastly outnumbered, it cannot afford its military indefinitely without a benefactor. The United States is the only significant benefactor of note. We provide the means for Israel to exist when it could not survive long by itself. If it could survive without us, there would be no reason for us to give it aid. The terrorism will migrate to the United States because we are Israel’s Achilles Heal. They will find ways to explode dirty bombs on the National Mall. They will blow up airport terminals and metro stations. At some point, we will realize that the only way to stop them at home is to stop supporting Israel. While we support Israel, we will not support it indefinitely if it is at the cost of our standard of living and way of life.

A Jewish homeland is a wonderful dream, but it exists only through denying and oppressing the legitimate grievances of the residents that Israel evicted. Until these grievances are rectified, there can be no peace. They cannot be rectified if Israel is to remain a Jewish state. Meanwhile, as is demonstrated from this latest incursion into Gaza, Israel can only survive at the price of its soul. Such a state, like the quasi-state run by the thugs who run Hamas, is unworthy of any nation’s support. We would do all sides, including ourselves a favor by gradually reducing our aid to Israel now.

No Easy Answers on Islamic Terrorism

The Thinker by Rodin

Perhaps it got your attention on Wednesday when Senator and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama said this about the Pakistani government:

There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. . . . If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.

From the back of the Republican pack, on Tuesday representative and presidential nominee Tom Tancredo had this suggestion for what we should do if there is another 9/11 type event:

If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina.

Obama at least tempered his remarks by saying that he would double foreign aid to $50 billion a year, and allocate $2 billion to combat the influence of Islamic madrassas schools and to improve our public relations. These are actions that I support. However, statements like those quoted suggest to me that neither Tancredo nor Obama are ready to be our next president. Perhaps this is why I find myself drawn toward candidates who truly grasp the dimensions and nuances of the terrorist threat. Maybe it is time for me to give money to Senator Joe Biden’s campaign. At least Senator Biden gets it.

There is no question that our erstwhile ally in the war on terrorism, Pakistan’s president and possible dictator for life General Pervez Musharraf, could do a lot more to root out elements of al Qaeda. It, along with the Taliban, controls a rather lawless area of northwestern Pakistan. Osama bin Laden, if he is still alive, is likely living in that remote area. Even if he is not, it is clear that what leadership al Qaeda has is likely concentrated in that area.

The real goal of the United States is to reduce and eventually eliminate Islamic sponsored terrorism. Would capturing Osama bin Laden solve this problem? It probably could not hurt. Certainly, the man deserves to be brought to justice. However, al Qaeda has no centralized leadership. Those who think al Qaeda would go away with his capture or death are likely deluding themselves. Indeed, it could be argued that we are better off with bin Laden alive but on the run than we would be if he were dead. There is no way to know for sure, of course. That is part of the problem. The chessboard we are playing is bafflingly complex. One thing we have learned is that our actions, which often seem entirely reasonable and logical, are often counterproductive. Our invasion of Iraq is a case in point.

If our military were to strike in northwestern Pakistan with a limited but sustained military campaign to root out al Qaeda, what would be the results? It is hard to say for sure but I doubt we would end up safer than we are now. I hope that we would not try to emulate our tactics in Iraq by essentially occupying that part of Pakistan and hoping for its eventual pacification. I hope that if we did go into that lawless area that our mission would be targeted, surgical and we would withdraw after a matter of days or weeks. However, even if we succeeded in finding bin Laden and destroying the nexus of al Qaeda in that area, I doubt we would end up more secure from Islamic terrorism. I think it is much more likely that it would inflame anti-American feelings, already very high in that area of the world. I think it would lead to the recruitment of fresh terrorists to take up their cause. Islamic inspired violence directed against our country would increase rather than decrease.

Osama bin Laden understands all this of course. The reason he chose to attack us on September 11, 2001 was that he knew we would respond with 20th century tactics to a 21st century problem. By doing so, it aided his ends, as the spread of terrorism inspired by al Qaeda since that event demonstrated.

Just as we cannot solve Iraq’s problems through military force, neither can we win the war on terrorism through military force. Iraq’s problems, in the unlikely event they can be solved at all, are political in nature. The same is true with our war on terrorism. This is a political war that is won through succeeding at political tactics.

Obama was half-right by realizing that in order to end terrorism we have to address the issues that feed it. It is much as firefighters create fire lines to stop forest fires. We need to focus most of our resources in the war on terrorism, not by sending occupying troops or selling high tech military hardware to Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, but by working toward political reconciliation and improving the living standards of people in the region. We must replace religious fanaticism, oppression and despair with its most potent antidote: hope.

Principally this means bringing a just and lasting political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It will require personal diplomacy, it will require the United Nations, it will require the organizations like the League of Arab States, and it will require any resource that can be brought to bear. While we are doing this, we must invest massively in sound non-partisan non-governmental organizations. We need to use these organizations as proxies to address the poverty, oppression and lack of opportunity that feeds the cycle of violence in that area. It means building schools by the hundreds in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It means creating affordable housing instead of refugee camps. It means building and improving roads, bridges and water treatment plants.

It also means making our military aid to Israel conditional on their solemn commitment to remove government support for Jewish settlements outside the state of Israel. It means making our aid to Israel conditional on their agreeing in principle that it will eventually withdraw to their 1967 borders. The conflict in that part of the Middle East is has its roots, not so much in the creation of the state of Israel, as it does in aftermath the 1967 Gulf War. Obviously, these are not easy things to do, which is why new workable political and economic tactics are vital.

Our real national security interests are in fact intimately tied to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. We must not do this unilaterally but together with the United Nations and other multinational organizations. We need to reduce the number of sticks and increase the number of carrots. The one resource Americans have in abundance is money. We have huge gobs of money, which are a direct result of our peace, freedom and stable democratic government. By the time our debacle in Iraq is over, we will have squandered at least a trillion dollars. Yet even this vast sum will hardly be noticed in our massive economy. We can afford to sponsor a Marshall-type plan for the Middle East, through neutral parties, that should replace hopelessness with hope. We also need to provide huge amounts of basic humanitarian assistance for a region that is still very much war torn and overflowing with refugees. Any new Marshall plan should cost a tiny fraction of what we have already recklessly squandered away in Iraq.

Our primary goal should always be to do what we can to reduce the factors fueling Islamic terrorism. If a particular action is likely to add fuel to the fire, we need to assess whether it is really in our national interest. Certainly destroying cities like Mecca and Medina as Rep. Tancredo suggested would guarantee eternal war and enmity against our country. It would be the most counterproductive, not to mention the stupidest thing we could possibly do in reaction to Islamic terrorism.

Our next president, unlike our current one, needs to be fully mindful of these tradeoffs. He or she must be progressive enough to push for the real political changes that might actually solve our long-term problem with Islamic terrorism. Senator Obama’s unwise remarks suggest he has not grasped the totality of the problem facing us. Let us hope that Democrats choose a nominee, based not on how inspiring they find his or her speeches at political rallies, but on whether they have the maturity, wisdom and judgment to apply our country’s resources wisely in these areas of the world during these very turbulent times.

Wanted: Grownups Running in Israel and Palestine

The Thinker by Rodin

The grownups need to get back in charge of the planet, but in Israel and Palestine in particular. This week’s assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin by Israel is just more proof.

Yes, I know what Israeli leaders said about the assassination: that they are crushing terrorism and no one who takes arms against Israel is safe from their swift and terrible retribution. Yada yada yada.

Of course being a grownup you know what is going to happen. Is this going to stop terrorism? Is Hamas going to go lick its wounds somewhere and foreswear terrorism forever? Not a chance. Pretty much the whole Gaza Strip turned out for the funeral of Sheikh Yassin. As if there weren’t enough impoverished, angry and desperate Palestinians willing to give their lives before this act now there will be hundreds or thousands more. Rather than striking a blow against terrorism, all it did was provide the fuel for more terrorism.

Israel of course will do its best to prevent the terrorists from penetrating their defenses. But it is just a matter of time before another incident (and scores more like it) kill more Israelis. Each incident, of course, will inflame the Israeli public and put pressure on their leaders to do more to combat terrorism. So of course there will be more raids, more missiles launched at crowds from Apache helicopters (provided courtesy of the United States taxpayer), more targeted assassination and of course more blockades, checkpoints, home demolitions of innocent relatives and general harassment.

Israel’s approach to peacemaking first requires all Palestinians to completely give up all forms of terrorism and violence against Israel. This goal of course cannot happen in the current political environment. It has as much chance of happening as Israeli settlers have of cheerfully and unilaterally withdrawing inside the Green Line because they feel sorry for the poor oppressed Palestinians whose land they occupy.

All this sort of naive attitude does is ensure the conflict continues indefinitely with the level of the conflict slowly ratcheting up over time.

Neither side in this conflict is thinking with the left (logical) side of their brains. Rather they are reacting out of hurt, anger, stubbornness and pomposity. In short the right sides of their national brains are fully in charge.

Of course there are ways out of this conflict. But it requires engaging the left side of the brain and putting the grownups in charge. First of all it requires a frank admission that the root of the problem is a political one. Everyone knows what it will take to get real peace in the Palestine. But no one wants to actually start the process to make it happen. Israel has to move behind the Green Line. Its settlers must give up forever their notion of a greater Israel. Eastern Jerusalem will become part of the state of Palestine. Perhaps Jerusalem itself will become an international city overseen by the United Nations. For the Palestinians, those who were forced off their ancestral lands will have to give up their right to return.

Will it stop the terrorism? No, at least not right away. But it will put in place a climate in which terrorism can finally ebb. Palestinians will have a hopeful future. There will be international aid, increased prosperity, and the ability to trade goods and services with Israel again.

We can see what is likely to work by examining the dicey situation in Northern Ireland over the last forty years. Both sides have had to become engaged in the political process. Both had to have mutual stakes in the outcome. Even today there are still scattered incidents of Protestant or Catholic terrorism in Northern Ireland. But these incidents are fading and are nearly gone. Engagement and negotiation have been a slow process but it shows every sign of working.

Does anyone think that if the British had hunted down IRA terrorists like dogs in Northern Ireland and lobbed missiles from Apache helicopters at crowds that they would have defeated terrorism? Soldiers did their best to keep warring factions apart while a political process continued to engage both sides of the conflict. It’s a model that should work over time in Israel too.

We need are grownups on both sides of the conflict to emerge and to act pragmatically. We do not need more of this hopelessly naive, idealistic and anger driven approach to diplomacy. Until we get grownups on both sides of this issue in charge the region will doubtlessly continue to spire ever slowly into lower levels of Hell.