Israel’s failure to make the right choices

Noam Sheizaf writes from Tel Aviv: When Hamas or any other organization fires rockets on Be’er Sheva or Tel Aviv, it supposedly doesn’t leave Israel with much choice but to retaliate. At least that’s how the argument goes.

But things also have a certain context that the Israeli public simply ignores. Hamas is weaker than ever. The tunnels to Gaza were destroyed and Egypt closed the border. Israel is preventing Hamas government employees from receiving their salaries, and has even threatened to deport the UN official who tried to solve the latest crisis. In recent weeks, Hamas’ politicians in the West Bank were also arrested.

Hamas isn’t just a militant organization. It is also a movement that represents half of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and runs the lives of 1.8 million people in Gaza. Leaving Hamas with its back to the wall gives the organization an interest for this kind of escalation, despite the fact that Hamas knows that Palestinians will pay a much greater price than Israelis.

Some questions need to be asked: maybe the months and years of relative calm before this escalation were a good time to lift the siege on Gaza? Perhaps Israel should have recognized the new Palestinian technocratic government? Maybe there was a way for Hamas to undergo a process of politicization, similar to that which Fatah went through?

All these issues were never discussed in Israel; raising them now, in the current atmosphere, is seen as “giving in to terror.”

“They left us no choice” is the ultimate Israeli argument. Yes, it makes sense that when Palestinians hurl stones on Israeli cars at night, in the West Bank or within the Green Line, Israeli security forces will be sent to make them stop, just as they are sent to treat any issue of law and order. When a protester throws a stone at a soldier near the West Bank village of Bil’in, the soldier is left with no choice but to respond. But what was this soldier doing on the village’s confiscated land in the first place?

The West Bank has been relatively calm for the past five years, yet Israel has never bothered to conduct a much-delayed national conversation on ending the occupation. Instead, it waged propaganda wars on the Palestinians, built settlements and confiscated more land.

Almost five years after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s Gaza policy – from the naval blockade to the “no go zone” it maintains at the edges of the strip – has never been questioned. Five years in which people have been warning this government that things will eventually blow up, and when they finally did, the same government responds with military force, because “we are left with no choice.”

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