Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Vision for Gaza

 On Sunday afternoon, July 20, 2014, the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco sponsored a “stop the sirens in Israel: emergency community gathering” to show solidarity with Israel.  Nearly 1,000 showed up.  The crowd marched nine blocks in festive, flag waving manner from the Jewish Community Center on California Street to the temple on Arguello, where they heard from rabbis, students, Dr. Andy David, Israel’s general consul to the Northwest, Congressman Jared Huffman, members of the Board of Supervisors, and others. 

There was a call from one speaker, without a hint of irony, that Hamas “stop the senseless killing,” and pious declarations by others that “not a single Israeli soldier would shoot if they had a Civilian in their sights; not one.”  The organizers were well prepared to stamp out dissent and disruptions.  Large lettered signs at the entrance warned that anyone disrupting the proceedings would be promptly escorted out, and a large contingent of security guards efficiently manhandled the four or five protesters from the sanctuary as they stood, at strategic intervals, to express their solidarity with Palestinians.  The crowd was prepared for this.  They jeered, hollered, and blew instruments that looked like a cross between a Shofar and a Vuvuzela to drown out what was said. “He’s an Arab; he’s obviously an Arab” an elderly man behind me remarked to his wife as one of the protesters was led away.  “Should we bet how many there will be tonight?” laughed one.  They did not hear the message the protesters would bring. They did not feel the pain or predicament of Gazans. 

The crowd was there to share the pain of Israelis.  And it’s true, sirens and rockets flying, are disturbing.  The rockets have larger range than in the past, and you never know when one of them will do real damage.  Yet, for now, there can be no doubt that the real victims are in Gaza.  Israelis have a ringside seat to the festivities, with beer and pretzels. 

 What does it all mean? No matter how we got here, no matter how this will eventually be resolved (and all conflicts come to an end), for now there is the stark fact of the rockets stockpiled and fired by militants from Gaza. Like hijacked airplanes, like suicide bombings, rockets cry out to be stopped.  Is there a vision for what comes next?

U.S. House Resolution No. 167, co-sponsored by Jared Huffman, and adopted by the House of Representatives on July 11, 2014 points out that the U.S. has provided $235,000,000 in fiscal year 2014 for Iron Dome research, development, and production.  Jared Huffman noted that this technology has granted considerable strategic latitude to Israel of how and when to respond to rocket attacks.  The fact that all rockets (surely it’s not just luck) heading for populated areas can be intercepted at will, means Israel can decide when and how to respond.  Huffman noted, carefully, that Israel has in fact shown considerable restraint in responding to rocket fire over past couple of years—until now.  It was a soft reminder that, perhaps, the option was there for Israel to continue not to respond. 

It’s worth noting that, assuming Israeli bombing has degraded 1/3 or so of the rocket arsenal, after 60 days of rocket attacks, the arsenal in Gaza would be effectively depleted.  There is no risk that this rocket barrage would go on indefinitely.  Had Israel stopped its bombing campaign and abstained from a land invasion into the densely populated areas, it seems certain that the rocket barrage would soon have ended.  Hamas would not fire at its current rate to the last rocket.  There is reason to doubt, therefore, the proposition that “of course” Israel must “do something” about the rockets.  It’s not at all clear that the killing of ~430 and injuring of ~3,000 to date is morally justified—and we’re only part way through.

Yet, even with the effectiveness of the Iron Dome, it is difficult to quarrel with action designed to stop a rocket barrage for days on end. If we put it in U.S. rocket/per capita terms, it would be like the U.S. absorbing 4,200 rockets per day: it’s hard to imagine we wouldn’t do something about this.  And so, morality aside, world leaders concede the point. 

Gabriel Scheinmann and Raphael Cohen have an article in The National Review on July 17, 2014.  They place Operation Protective Edge in the context of a very long war of attrition with the Palestinians. 

“While it may frustrate many, “mowing the grass,” as Israelis call it, is a strategy, just one for a different kind of war—a Long War. These conflicts are protracted and grueling battles of attrition. There are no quick political solutions. There are no big decisive battles. There are no victory parades. With this perspective, Israel’s ongoing operation is shaping up to be a solid victory in its extended campaign against Hamas on three counts. ….

Since its 2005 Disengagement, Israel has previously conducted three limited military campaigns in the Gaza Strip in order to quell rocket fire: Operations Summer Rains and Autumn Clouds in 2006, Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. Each operation led to an immediate and precipitous decline in rocket fire. ….
Israel, widely presumed to have a lower pain tolerance than Hamas, may now be able to win a war of attrition. To be sure, continued rocket fire still imposes a psychological, economic and human cost on the Israeli population. That said, by minimizing civilian casualties and limiting infrastructure damage, Iron Dome has leveled the battlefield.  ….
To date, Protective Edge can claim a modest series of victories, with the potential to achieve even more. Looking beyond the Palestinian arena, the operation serves as a deterrent to other terrorist groups poised along Israel’s northern and southern borders and Iron Dome’s effectiveness may cause Iran and Hezbollah to reevaluate their missile-centric strategies. Protective Edge may also cause the death-knell of the Palestinian unity government. These are solid, yet fragile, steps forward in a long war. It is easy to imagine how these gains can be reversed if Israel overplays its hand.

“Mowing the grass” will not produce singular, stunning victories, but it is a mistake not to recognize it as a distinct strategy—namely, attrition. Over time, by achieving modest gains, at an acceptable cost, and with wide international support, Israel can hope to exhaust Hamas. Attrition may not be crowd-pleasing, but it has kept Israel safe, successively neutralizing the airline hijacking, the suicide bomb, and perhaps one day soon, the rocket. As the unstated takeaway from Israel’s counterterrorism experience makes clear, tactics alone have actually served Israel pretty well.”

This raises the question, what comes at the end of this war of attrition against Hamas?  What does defeat of Hamas look like? Can Gaza hope to become a vibrant city state?  What kind of support would it need to succeed?  Would Israel and the world community come up with, say $3 billion/year, or more as needed?  If the Gazans stopped making rockets and set about to develop sophisticated infrastructure, develop industry, agriculture, I don’t think Israel would stand in the way. 

The annoying way Israelis have of putting this to Palestinians is to say: “If only you loved your children more than you hate ours….” Yet, it’s not totally crazy to ask why don’t Gazans devote themselves to building up a city-state.  Can visionaries be found for Gaza as a Singapore of the eastern Mediterranean?  Could such visionaries win out over the visionaries who are aiming to have Gaza join ISIS and conquer Israel?  Why not? 

For Gazans to accept defeat in a war of attrition with Israel, and to find the internal vision and leadership to build a shining City on the eastern Mediterranean would be a huge shift, perhaps on the order of Israel giving up on Zionism.  Yet, Gaza has gas reserves it could fight for in the ICC.  Gaza would be recognized as a separate state by the UN in a New York minute?  They would be able to marshal world support with the right non-corrupt leadership.  I know, it’s crazy.

Note, this has the usual solution backwards.  It separates Gaza from the West Bank, and says, perhaps, Gaza is easier to solve than the West Bank.  Perhaps Gaza becomes a separate state, and the West Bank becomes absorbed by Israel?  Crazy.

What Israelis need to recognize is they owe a great debt to Palestinians.  And they owe a great deal of empathy to Gazans for the challenge facing them today, empathy and understanding that was totally absent at the gathering I attended yesterday.   


  1. You know about the Israeli fear of being considered a "freier," or sucker.

    The urge not to be a freier may well be one of the most basic drives of the average Israeli. The sense of horror at the thought of being a sucker – which encompasses not just falling prey to a scam, but getting a rawer deal than someone else in just about any situation – can be said to contribute to a wide range of stereotypically Israeli behavior.

    It is hard to conceive of a coalition Israeli government accepting an allegedly non-militarized state in Gaza. As recently as 1945 Germans and the French were in the midst of decades if not hundreds of years of war. I believe Israel and the Palestinians are at the same level and it will take more than empathy and understanding to solve the problem.

    I don't know what will end the wars only that they will continue.

  2. It seems like Israel's reaction to the provocation of the rockets etc., and the attrocities against Gaza residents, will only strengthen Hamas and antagonism towards Israel. What could lead to a change in the political leadership of Gaza, towards one with objectives such a you present? Neither side seems headed in the right direction.