I have just returned from the Middle East and witnessed how Israel’s assault on Gaza is radicalizing mainstream Muslim opinion. Shown endlessly on Arab and Muslim television stations, the massive killing of civilians is fueling rage against Israel and its superpower patron, the United States, among mainstream and moderate voices who previously believed in co-existence with the Jewish state. Now, they are questioning their basic assumptions and raising doubts about Israel’s future integration into the region.
Many professionals, both Christian and Muslim Arabs, previously critical of Hamas, are bitter about what they call Israel’s “barbaric conduct” against Palestinian noncombatants, particularly women and children. No one I have encountered believes Israel’s narrative that this is a war against Hamas, not the Palestinian people. A near consensus exists among Arabs and Muslims that Israel is battering the Palestinian population in an effort to force it to revolt against Hamas, just as it tried to force the Lebanese people to revolt against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. But Hezbollah weathered that Israeli storm, acquired a sturdier immune system and became the most powerful institution in Lebanon. In so doing it shattered Israeli deterrence, delivered a blow to US Mideast policy and expanded the influence of Iran, Hezbollah’s main supporter in the region.
In my recent travels I was struck by the widespread popular support for Hamas — from college students and street vendors to workers and intellectuals. Very few ventured criticism of Hamas, and many said they felt awed by the fierce resistance put forward by its fighters. Israel’s onslaught on Gaza has effectively silenced critics of Hamas and politically legitimized the militant resistance movement in the eyes of many previously skeptical Palestinians and Muslims. Regardless of how this war ends, Hamas will likely emerge as a more powerful political force than before and will likely top Fatah, the ruling apparatus of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. [continued…]
In most of the world, the Israeli attack on Gaza is viewed as an intensely controversial act and, more commonly, an excessive, unjustifiable, and brutal assault on a trapped civilian population. But not in the United States—at least not among America’s political and opinion-making elite. Here one finds a bipartisan consensus as simplistic as it is unquestioned: Israel’s bombing campaign and invasion of Gaza are right and just, and it is the duty of the U.S. to support these actions unequivocally.
From the moment Israel began dropping bombs on Gaza, leaders of America’s two major political parties rushed to announce their total support, competing to see who could most fulsomely praise the offensive. So complete was the agreement that they all seemed to be reading from the same script. While other Western governments issued even-handed statements condemning both Israel and Hamas and their diplomats worked furiously to forge a ceasefire agreement, America’s political leaders stood on the sidelines, cheering with increasing fervor.
When it comes to Israel’s various military actions, there is far more dissent within Israel, where one commonly finds prominent, vehement criticism of the Israeli government, than there is within the U.S., where such criticism is all but nonexistent. Indeed, in the U.S. Congress, there is far more unqualified support for Israel’s wars than for America’s own. [continued…]
In 2004, the Israeli army began building a dummy Arab city in the Negev desert. It’s the size of a real city, with streets (all of them given names), mosques, public buildings and cars. Built at a cost of $45 million, this phantom city became a dummy Gaza in the winter of 2006, after Hizbullah fought Israel to a draw in the north, so that the IDF could prepare to fight a ‘better war’ against Hamas in the south.
When the Israeli Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz visited the site after the Lebanon war, he told the press that soldiers ‘were preparing for the scenario that will unfold in the dense neighbourhood of Gaza City’. A week into the bombardment of Gaza, Ehud Barak attended a rehearsal for the ground war. Foreign television crews filmed him as he watched ground troops conquer the dummy city, storming the empty houses and no doubt killing the ‘terrorists’ hiding in them.
‘Gaza is the problem,’ Levy Eshkol, then prime minister of Israel, said in June 1967. ‘I was there in 1956 and saw venomous snakes walking in the street. We should settle some of them in the Sinai, and hopefully the others will immigrate.’ Eshkol was discussing the fate of the newly occupied territories: he and his cabinet wanted the Gaza Strip, but not the people living in it. [continued…]
What prompts the fantasy that you can “kill all the terrorists” without sowing the seeds of new terrorism? Partly, the fantasy comes from the idea that any civilian deaths you cause will be forgiven; but, much more, it derives from the secondary fantasy that civilian deaths will go mainly unwitnessed. They will be recorded as numbers, perhaps, but they will pass out of the awareness of the world. That is not the way things work, of course. There are people in the world — not hundreds, not thousands, but hundreds of millions — who feel more closely allied to the killed than they do to the killers.
“Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.” In every culture and every civilization, to kill the innocent is evil. Fifty civilians who live in a neighborhood where one terrorist has built a hidden sniper’s nest are understood to be innocent. If you kill the fifty, you have done something worse than not killing the one.
Yet to put it like that brings up the revaluation of state terror that entered our language with the Sharon-Bush doctrine, first propounded in 2001-02. According to the Sharon-Bush doctrine, if you harbor a terrorist — that is, if you live anywhere in the vicinity of a terrorist — you are yourself as blamable as the terrorist and are as appropriate a target of destruction. This, no matter what the impediments on your freedom of movement, no matter how unconscious you may be of the existence of the terrorist, no matter how much your toleration of him may have been driven by fear. [continued…]