Gaza Ruins 311.
Israel’s internal critics fancy themselves modern prophets, boldly speaking
truth to power. Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy’s new book The Punishment of Gaza
denounces Israel for imposing “futile bloodshed and destruction... humiliation,
destitution, deprivation and bereavement” on Palestinians.
But Levy, like
many of his comrades, undermines his credibility by lacking the prophet’s faith
in the power of truth. His harsh, one-sided repudiation ignores the messy,
multidimensional complexities that keep the region mired in violence. As a
result, his book becomes the latest round in Israel-bashing, all too easily
dismissed, rather than the important call to conscience he hoped to
This is a shame because Levy offers powerful testimony that
Israelis should not ignore. The suffering Palestinians endure as a result of
bombs, bullets and bullying is heartbreaking. Israelis should acknowledge and
atone for the tragic losses so many families, especially in Gaza, have suffered.
Levy introduces us to Hamdi Aman’s family, to the Wahba family, to five children
killed in Gaza in eight days in September 2007. He testifies to the human toll
this ongoing conflict takes.
“To the best of my meager abilities, I am
asking all Israelis to be outraged – or at least to understand what is being
perpetrated in their name,” Levy writes plaintively, powerfully. Yet he cannot
fathom how his onesided caricature makes his goal more unattainable.
is not just that Levy pooh-poohs the suffering of Sderot, mocks the Gaza
disengagement as a sham and appreciates none of the steps toward peace, however
imperfect, Israel took over the Oslo years. His biggest failure, in a book
reprinting 40 short dispatches from Gaza originally published between 2006 and
2009, is to forget the fear that built up about Gaza over nearly 10
When Yasser Arafat led the Palestinians away from negotiations
back toward terror in September 2000, Israel was immobilized. It took over a
year and a half, the election of Ariel Sharon, the terrorist murders of more
than 130 Israeli Jews in March 2002, to prompt a systematic offensive into the
West Bank. Even then most Israelis remained terrified of Gaza. The conventional
wisdom assumed that the ambush that killed 13 soldiers during house-to-house
combat in Jenin in April 2002 would be replicated on a mass scale in Gaza. The
operational failures during the 2006 Second Lebanon War intensified the
Levy ignores all that. For him, the history of the conflict is
simpler: “We started it. We started it with the occupation, and we are
duty-bound to end it – a real and complete ending.”
whitewashes history. It ignores the Arab riots of the late 1920s and the 1930s.
It forgets how the grand mufti of Jerusalem turned the 1947 UN partition plan
from a flawed but optimistic compromise into the start of a decades-long war. It
minimizes the role of Palestinian terrorism, Arab rejectionism and the real
threats that precipitated the 1967 war.
Moreover, in the guise of
defending Palestinians, it actually insults them. Treating them only as the
victims of the conflict robs them of their moral agency, their dignity, their
responsibility. This form of modern leftist condescension is rooted in racism,
wherein the only credible actors in history are white Westerners, thereby
reducing Third World types to noble pawns, always acted upon, never acting for
As a result, “we” are always “pushing the Palestinians into
using what petty arms they have.” We are always acting.
They are always
reacting, nobly but feebly.
Amid this thin, diluted retreat from
history’s depth and complexity, despite usually overlooking Palestinians’
self-destructive tendency to resort to violence, Levy makes the valid point that
violence has worked for them. “Nobody would have given any thought to the fate
of the people of Gaza if they had not behaved violently,” he writes. “That is a
very bitter truth, but the first 20 years of occupation passed quietly and we
did not lift a finger to end it.”
A book exploring this “bitter truth”
and others would have been most welcome. How can we break out of this cycle of
violence? How does Israel feed the violence while trying to combat it? What is
the moral culpability of soldiers and civilians when innocents die or are maimed
during otherwise legitimate operations? These are tough questions someone with
Gideon Levy’s tenacity, humanity and passion should be tackling. Yet somehow, he
prefers to reproduce a series of hit-and-run columns that bash at the problem
without solving it. These hurried, angry dispatches will serve Israel’s enemies
in their quest to delegitimize the state, but will not serve Levy’s stated aim,
as a self-proclaimed patriot, to save the country from itself.
Israelis should be more self-critical. But Israel’s hypercritical critics could
benefit from more self-criticism and humility too. They would be much more
effective as a result.
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