‘I pursued my enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed.” This quote, from Psalm 18, appeared on banners that were attached to poles all around the Knesset compound last week. By Saturday the banners were gone. Who put the banners up, and who removed them? Within the current political context the message being conveyed by the quoted verse is absolutely clear, and is that the IDF should continue its battle in the Gaza Strip until Hamas is totally beaten and its infrastructure obliterated, no matter what the cost. Most likely, those responsible for putting up the banners are among those who advocate Israel’s reconquering the Gaza Strip and reestablishing an Israeli administration there.
Though at the time of writing it is not yet clear whether Operation Protective Edge is in the process of folding up, or is merely being put on hold while various options and scenarios are examined, it is evident that our government has rejected the idea of turning the wheel back to the pre-Oslo situation, even though this idea is supported by Cabinet ministers from Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu and even the Likud.
What is it that has deterred them? The financial cost? The cost in lives? Unwillingness to get into an open-ended adventure? The understanding that the international community is unlikely to condone such action? The willingness to try out new options involving Egypt and possibly the Palestinian Authority? We really do not know.
The current situation is as follows: The IDF has apparently successfully destroyed all the known tunnels, and will embark on some serious R&D to deal more effectively in the future, and in real time, with the phenomenon.
What we do not know is whether the IDF was really aware of the full scale of the phenomenon before the current operation began (which is what several spokesmen have claimed), or whether there was a serious intelligence failure is this sphere.
As to Hamas, this terrorist organization, which is currently ruler of the Gaza Strip, does not seem to have a clear line of command or decision making process, which precludes the possibility of any sort of negotiations with it, at least at this juncture. Clearly, there is little coordination between the political and military branches of the organization, and the leadership in the Gaza Strip (which has been in hiding for the past month) seems detached from the leadership abroad.
It is said that the top goal of the Hamas at the moment, besides doing everything in its power to try to convince the world that Israel is an inhuman savage intent on killing innocent civilians, is to bring about a lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Repeatedly, the head of the military branch of Hamas, Mohammad Deif, and other Hamas spokesmen have declared that there will be no cease-fire without the lifting of the blockade, and one cannot help wondering whether they really do not understand that the blockade is a function of Hamas’ policies and activities vis-à-vis both Israel and Egypt, and not of anyone’s desire to torment the hapless 1.7 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, most of whom want little more than to be allowed a modest existence.
It is not clear at the moment whether it is really in Israel’s interest to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza. Some experts argue that if Hamas is toppled, there will be total anarchy in the Gaza Strip, or that terrorist forces more radical than Hamas will come to power in its place. Bringing the Palestinian Authority back to Gaza doesn’t really seem to be an option, both because of the PA’s weakness (for which Israel is undoubtedly partially responsible) and because it was never really popular in Gaza in the first place, which is why the Hamas managed to overthrow it in 2007.
Since Israel’s reconquering the Gaza Strip is also not an option, the question is what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon are hoping will happen in Gaza. Do they really believe that there is a chance that the international community will be willing and capable of acting to ensure that the Gaza Strip is demilitarized in return for its economic rehabilitation, and its being turned into a Middle Eastern Hong Kong? To a large extent this will depend on what the future plans of Qatar, Iran and to a lesser extent Turkey are vis-à-vis Hamas. But perhaps Netanyahu and Ya’alon are resigned to the situation remaining more or less as it was in the past year and a half, but with greater Israeli vigilance and willingness to act at short notice at the slightest provocation.
It seems to me that one of Israel’s most urgent tasks today is to try to act more effectively on the diplomatic front. Certainly there must be an effective way of countering the scandalous claims of many participants in anti-Israel demonstrations abroad, to the effect that Israel is committing a Holocaust against the Palestinians. With all due respect, the killing of some 1,700 Palestinians in Gaza in the course of four weeks of fighting – even if over half of them were innocent women and children, and even if the Israeli forces could have done more to avoid some of these deaths – is not genocide.
People seem to forget that the number of Palestinians killed by Israelis in the course of the 66 years since 1948, even though at least 10 times more numerous than the number of Israelis killed by Arabs in the same period, is still significantly lower than the number of Arabs killed by Arabs during these years (in the current Syrian civil war also at least 170,000 people have been killed –over 2,500 in the past month and 700 in the last week), and that none of this carnage – either between Arabs and Jews, or among Arabs – is even remotely reminiscent of genocide.
In wars – between nations and within nations – people get killed, and even though the IDF has on occasion apparently acted contrary to the rules of international law on warfare, it has undoubtedly been much more vigilant than most other armies (that of the US included) in avoided civilian deaths, though naturally there are individual military commanders who are more vigilant than others.
As to the issue of Hamas infringements of the rules of international law on warfare, there is ample proof – including televised footage – that Hamas has used UNRWA installations, hospitals, schools and mosques as arms caches and missile-launch sites, and has cynically endangered the lives of civilians just in order to “prove” Israel’s barbarism.
Certainly more could be done by Israel to spread this information.
At the same time Israel must understand that while Hamas may certainly be accused of bringing the humanitarian crisis upon the population through its actions, it is due to Israel’s deliberate retaliatory activities that a third of the Gaza population is currently displaced, and thousands of homes have been turned into rubble, even though their owners were not necessarily responsible for arms caches allegedly hidden near them, tunnels allegedly dug under them, or the identity of their neighbors.
It is also Israel that is directly responsible for the fact that there is currently a shortage of electricity and water in most parts of the Gaza Strip for most hours of the day, and that there is a shortage of basic commodities, even though it is allowing some supplies to get through the border crossings into Gaza.
All this is difficult to explain or excuse in the face of the horrendous images that have been coming out of the Gaza Strip.
The total absence of empathy on the part of many Israelis to the suffering of Palestinians resulting from our actions – as justified as the latter might be – is something that simply cannot be explained in any reasonable form to foreigners.
This brings me back to the quote from Psalms, and other biblical quotes that appear to support hawkish, right-wing positions.
Since there are also many quotes, especially from the Prophets, that can be brought in support of dovish, left-wing positions, it is perhaps desirable that out of respect for the Book of Books (in which proof can be found for almost anything), we simply leave it out of our current political controversies.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.